The need to fly the nest

My generation does not have it easy. I know that every generation probably uttered the same words at some point. For every kid livin’ it up in the flower-power late 60s, marvelling at the wonders of dope and travelling around in a camper van, there was a family in some grim northern shithole with a single outdoors toilet shared between two streets. Come the 70s, teenagers were given a bad name by the brattish tendencies of punk and flared trousers. In the Thatcher era, if you were a miner, an industrial worker or one of Jimmy Savile’s favourite patients, you were doomed. Children of the early 90s had to work out why leaving the ERM was such a big deal, while the noughties bought the twin horrors of the internet browsing history and ubiquitous celebrity culture.

Yet throughout these times, generally speaking, most people had the ability to fly the nest and move out. It was a given that by the age of 21, your sons and daughters would shove off and leave you in peace. Even during the bleakest periods in the 80s, young people managed to squat in an abandoned house or rent a squalid little bedsit and still have enough money left over at the end of the month to buy a nice new pair of Dr. Martens and visit the local club on a Saturday night. Try buying a round in a club on a weekend now and you feel like a Zimbabwean ferrying in wheelbarrows full of cash to buy half a watermelon.

I look at the housing market – or to narrow it down further, because I can’t get a mortgage earning tuppence a week as I currently do, the rent market – and a sudden desire for revolution appears. You know… proper revolution. Screw the monied masses! Equal housing for all! Landlords to be taken to the gallows! C’mon boys and girls, let’s sing ‘Red Flag’ and nab that nice four bedroom house in Gladstone Terrace with a walk-in aga and an extended patio.

We can’t squat any more, as the government have cracked down on freeloaders. They chose to assert the rights of rich Russian property magnates over young urban offspring who wish to have a place to themselves, instead of being locked up with Mum and Dad in the ensconced Alcatraz of the family home. Two choices remain. You accept the scandalous rents and take a vow to eat nothing but beans on toast in order to afford it. Or end up looking emaciated and malnourished on a homeless charity poster: “Please text GIVE to 87555 and bring Chris out of the cold”.

Then again, you could always stay at home. Politicians point out that in Japan, it is perfectly normal to have three or four generations living under one roof, although I am dubious when told we should listen to the Japanese, as their idea of pornography involves cartoons of pre-pubescent girls squealing. Besides, in practise this would be horrific. It puts huge pressure on the ‘middle’ tiers of the family. If the grandchildren and grandparents were living in the same place, Mum and Dad would be worked off their feet, not only ensuring that everyone is fed, watered, bathed and drugged up – ADHD pills for the kiddies, Prozac for the geriatrics – but earning the only income as well.

I desperately want to move out now. Not because I’m being treated badly at home. The opposite is true – life is too good: not worrying about bills and food and laundry isn’t a realistic portrayal of the adult life I will need to make my own at some undefined point in the future.

More trivial problems crop up. God forbid, I want to bring a girl back. Suspend your disbelief and imagine this is a tangible possibility. What am I supposed to do? Tell her to ignore the snoring parents next door who must wake at the crack of dawn to chivvy the kids to school? Promise her that the dog will stop barking and sniffing her soon? Ask her not to make any noise because my sister is a light sleeper? I don’t care if she’s really enjoying it; she needs to keep it schtum. Not forgetting that I’d require her to shimmy down the drainpipe afterwards to avoid awkward breakfast conversations.

It’s not like I’d become Hugh bloody Heffner with a pad of my own but it’s nice to know you have that option. I presume there are other reasons for moving out – independence, responsibility, choosing my own colour schemes etc. – but I can’t move much beyond this key point. I might buy a DVD of something respectable like Game of Thrones but it involves so much gratuitous sexual mischief I can barely bring myself to watch it. Mum might rock up outside my bedroom door with a pile of washing and mistake the ecstatic grunts and grrrs for something more illicit.

Plus there are numerous photograph albums in the house, documenting my misspent youth. I know that Mum would waste no time in whipping out (pardon the expression) the revealing snap of me as a toddler, sitting starkers in a washing up tub, having a bath. In short, I’m thinking with my groin rather than my wallet.


Getting your fair share

Many people failed to take Ed Milliband seriously. After a supreme act of fratricide to bulldoze his brother’s dreams, he spent a couple of years adopting a policy platform not too dissimilar from a drunken teen stumbling home after one too many cider and blackcurrants, frantically shushing the creaking floorboards. Labour stood for oppositionism, crying foul at any misguided spending decisions made by the coalition but pointing enquirers of their own spending plans to the back of Yvette Cooper’s fag packet.

I always had a bit more faith. I am proud to say I voted for him in Labour’s leadership election. Not because I get a vote due to union membership (the student’s union doesn’t get a ballot, mainly because its members care more about student happy hour at the local than who gets to lead the Labour party) – no, I’m actually a fully paid-up comrade. Despite paying my subs, I reserve the right to slag them off unconditionally, especially when John Reid piles in to a debate with all the grace and poise of a weightlifter accidentally entered in the figure skating. I did consider voting for Diane Abbott but when she defended sending her children to private school, her Marxier-than-thou, woe-is-me, touchy-feely responsibilityless bullshit appeared less inviting.

Plus, I always support an underdog and at the time, David Milliband’s brand of hokey Blairism chimed with various media outlets, making his anointment a matter of destiny. Two years later and the younger Milliband – Scrappy-Doo to David’s Shaggy – has started wearing the Tories’ clothes. If the thought of Ed Milliband wearing Theresa May’s turquoise all-in-one revolts you, panic not – I am speaking metaphorically. During his conference speech, Ed Milliband revived the corpse of ‘one nation’ government (an original Tory concept) to gasps in the auditorium. Then once the asthmatic had been given his inhaler, everyone speculated what ‘one nation’ really meant.

At least Labour’s conference garnered some decent headlines and demonstrated a party united in one common goal – kicking Nick Clegg’s head in. However, it looks increasingly likely that a Labour-Lib Dem coalition might rear its ugly head at the next election, so Vince Cable has apparently been texting Ed Milliband, which has got him in to a spot of bother with his own side, as it’s like a political version of cheating (hopefully without the sex).

Meanwhile the Tories are under pressure from all factions. The Lib Dems want taxes on the rich in lieu of further, deeper benefits cuts. Unfortunately, in Gideon and Cameron’s rarefied world, many of their acquaintances live in the very mansions the Lib Dems want to levy with higher rates, so adopting such a measure would be the equivalent of attending a Chipping Norton supper party and pissing in the tossed salad. The right wing of the party want a more Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant hard-line stances on everything from abortion (funny how conservatives think that everything should be about choice, whether it be at the sweet shop or in a private nursing home, yet recoil whenever choice is mentioned in the same breath as a woman’s uterus) to the economy. “What we need is more free-market thinking”, your average Tory blowhard announces in a Brian Blessed-style bellow, “like privatising oxygen”.

The biggest shock at the Tory conference came from George Osborne, who promised to create jobs by hacking away red tape. Employees can now waive their rights to employment protection or unfair dismissal, and will receive shares worth between £2k and £50k for the privilege. So if you were employed under this system, you could be sacked in a deep recession for absolutely no good reason, while the shares you received to compensate for your chance of no-fault dismissal are worth bugger all because the FTSE has tanked.

I am relatively open minded. I watched an episode of Two And A Half Men without Charlie Sheen, giving Ashton Kutcher the chance to carry the lead role off. The fact I was horribly mistaken is beside the point. I agree with tuition fees, which as a relatively lefty person, makes me stick out like a sore thumb, but I listened to the arguments, I experienced the system myself and came out the other side with an opinion which causes arguments whenever I mention it.

Yet I’m struggling to jump into bed with the idea that an unscrupulous boss could confer £2k of shares to an employee and fire at will. Plus, why are they considering such a wide range of shares? £2k to £50k? I wonder to which end of the scale businesses may lean towards? It’s like tuition fees of £9,000. I may agree with the fees because the system is relatively progressive but the government seemed to be under the impression that universities would offer different rates according to how good they were. Lo and behold, any old disused office block with sixteen typewriters and a few beardy blokes in white lab coats decided to charge the full whack.

If you want a trickle down structure, impose the fucker. Don’t wring your hands and give control to the very people who are trying to make money out of the system. If you genuinely want some companies to offer £50,000 of shares, force them! You’ve got that little thing called power. Stop using it to call police officers plebs.

The cure is to visit a casino

Potentially, I could become a serious gambler. I know it. I’ve seen my betting habits escalate upwards from a quid here and there to regular fivers and tenners. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need Gamblers Anonymous. I always know when to walk away and occasionally I have a nice win. But there is every chance that it could turn from a luxury to an addiction.

This was all rammed home on my first visit to a casino named the Grosvenor in Brighton. The place was everything I thought a casino would be. Row upon row of slot machines whirred continuously, chaired by hardened vultures, committing anything up to five pounds on a single spin. Hordes of Asian men wearing identical glasses were throwing betting chips at the roulette tables like confetti. In the corner an Elvis tribute act was cooing his best “uh huh huh”s and striking ridiculous poses, barely letting a beat pass before emphasising his bushy chest hair to the cheering, breathless patrons (mostly female but let us not forget this is Brighton).

It was a busy Saturday night and it struck me how spot on the advertising for the place was. Most adverts are over-the-top, economical with the truth and present a much rosier picture than reality. Take the Egypt Tourist Board’s new campaign, entitled ‘Visit Egypt’. Amid pictures of smiling children and contented adults playing in the sea, the tag-line reads “We’re laid back”. Yes, bloody battles between protesters and police in Tahrir Square, the deposing of a despot and a newly elected government which many argue is a de facto military operation signifies tranquillity better than anything. Next they’ll be telling us that America is the place to be if you like sarcasm, small portions of food or making jokes about bombs with airport security.

Yet at the Grosvenor, the billboards of joyous middle-aged women changing up an armful of winnings were surprisingly accurate. The longer I stayed, however, the more I realised that the cashier’s area was the most disappointing place in the casino. Gamblers would tip up and demand a wodge of chips to fritter away. An hour later, with a slightly dourer disposition, they would return sheepishly and ask for more, handing over their card a little more dubiously. This would repeat itself until they went home penniless and unsatisfied, like going on a disastrous date at an expensive restaurant.

As it was my first visit, I had to sign up at reception. “I’m new around here” I said to Rebecca, the pretty girl behind the desk, as if she was expecting me. When you’re a handsome individual leaving a trail of besotted girls where you walk, you can get away with saying shit like that. I can’t. I have an appalling eye for fashion or trends – for instance, opinion currently holds that wearing mustard-coloured chinos is the ultimate in youth apparel when I think it makes you look like an explosion at a maize factory. The first few times I saw mates wearing them I presumed they were on their way to a fancy dress party and I kept asking “What are you going as, a top notch wanker?”

After announcing myself so cockily, I cringed and my friend jumped in and whispered “‘I would like to become a member here please’ is what I think he meant”. Then I was told to smile as they were taking a picture for their records. This sort of thing annoys me – you should be given at least five minute’s notice. My hair was all sticking out in one direction, like I’d been walking parallel to a wind machine for the previous half hour. I didn’t even know where the camera was until my friend pointed to the one on the wall, by which time the picture had been taken. Not one for the photo album, I fear.

The receptionist introduced me to ‘PLAY points’ which is the casino’s loyalty card. She handed me a booklet which stated that if I collected 450 points I would be allowed a bet worth the princely sum of one pound. After fetching a couple of pints from the bar, I had collected 28 points. Thirty pints later, I would have enough points to place a solitary bet worth one hundred of Her Majesty’s finest pennies. It’s enough to turn one towards drink.

I did win a bet once I summoned the courage to change up a fiver – I’m such a daredevil I know. My last chip was flicked in the air and landed on 20, which came in for a cool £18. You hear all the time that the house always wins at a casino but I thought I would be better than that, a different breed of casual gambler. Shortly after cashing in, I thought “Just one more bet, I might be on a roll”. £18 later (bets which lasted just a few minutes) and I was humbled, bowing down to the all-knowing casino gods.

They had my money, they had my pride. And they had my assurance that I would never return.