D’you know what really annoys me? On chavs and other subgroups
The choice of title here is a phrase I am often heard to utter right before departing from issues of carefully crafted analysis and descending into the bear pit of pub gossip. In doing so I’m joining Tom and a few others, to discuss the subject of chavs. What are they? Who are they? Working class? Better or worse than punks and mods and skinheads? Apply within dear reader and all of this will be answered…
As a kid growing up in Northern Ireland, I wore tracksuits. I got my first named brand pair when I was about eleven – two pairs of the latest Adidas. I had Reeboks, Lecoqsportif and Kappa too. This was all the rage at the local youth club, held in the local Catholic secondary school. Said school was no picnic, but it was emblematic of the very real social divide that occured after primary school.
Kids who were poorer, without exception, went to the secondary school. Kids who were richer, without exception, went to the grammar school. My mother wasn’t wealthy, at least to begin with. I’m not sure when we crossed from being ‘poor’ to being ‘well-off’ but the shift was subtle. It may have been to do with the influence of richer kids at the grammar school or part of a universal trend…but the tracksuits fell by the wayside.
Jeans took their place. Jeans and shirts. And, when I had the money to afford it, long dark coats and fancy shoes. The tracksuit and baseball cap subculture continued to exist. When I went into town, I tended not to eyeball these kids too closely, largely because I was never the fighting type except at need. I remember an attempted robbery by a group of three of them, as a matter of fact. Broad daylight, walking down the streets of Belfast!
So when people talk of the chav stereotype, I have something to relate to. In Northern Ireland, actually, we called them ‘steeks’ or ‘spides’. I’ve heard that we also called them ‘skangers’ but I suspect that was a Derry or countryside slang. Some guys I know were interested in punk and dressed all in black with the funny hair and they got beaten up occasionally – though they did the same in return to the chavs.
Yet, strangely, all the people I knew who were interested in Rancid and Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedy’s were at grammar school. At our grammar school, that was one extreme, then there were the non-jocks, listeningn to Nirvana, Pearl Jam and stuff. Then you had the jocks and I’ve got no idea what they listened to; they were the ones going to the different discoes to pick up girls and having relationships. Presumably they listened to some combination of whatever was ‘hot’ at the time.
Separate from all this were the chavs, who didn’t enter within the confines of school. This may be a Northern Irish thing because we still had the transfer exam, but only in very unusual cases did one come across a chav at our school. At home, they were everywhere, rarely walking alone, often shouting insults and trying to pick a fight for no other reason than they enjoyed it.
Did I like them? No, not really. I lived in a town suburban to Belfast, combining some of the wealthiest and poorest parts of Northern Ireland and chavs roaming the streets after chucking out time largely alienated me from that town. So when I went to university and began having lots of free time, I spent most of it either on campus in Belfast or at home – online, playing computer games or reading.
Overwhelmingly these people were poor and lived in squalor. They weren’t the only ones; some of the middle class punk kids would eventually choose to live in “communes” in Belfast, and I suspect these were no different. One of the reasons I never fully committed to political activism while at university in the same way that some of my peers did was that I was heart scared of becoming like them. I enjoyed having a computer, and money for books and listening to classical music. I wanted to get out of Northern Ireland.
For all that, however, chavs were just accepted. It’s another part of youth culture, no different from any other. Who gives a toss what people wear? Certainly no one did when I was growing up, and though we took the piss out of boy racers in their Vauxhall Novas, or out of local crap radio station with its dance tracks, Energy 106, that’s where the maliciousness and the sneering ended: a joke.
One of the things that really irks me about all this is how the media have managed to convince everyone that being a chav is somehow morally degenerate. Sure, there are plenty of benefits scroungers out there…but how is that different to corporate tax avoidance? There are people getting knocked up because they want a house from the Council (fat chance, these days!) but how is that different to prostituting yourself to the press on your wedding day for lots of lolly?
Endlessly we read about different celebrities going out to get pissed, falling down, exposing themselves, fighting or whatever. We don’t read about the ones who sit in, maybe have a glass of wine over a book and cook some dinner. This sort of activity is not limited to the poor or to people who can be categorized as ‘chavs’. Young blokes, lagered up, will fight. So what? Chav clubs employ teenage, underdressed girls as dancers and this teaches us to see women as breasts and an ass. That’s life.
We’re not going to fix it by attacking the subculture itself. Just because you happen to like Vivaldi over Scooter doesn’t make you a better person. It doesn’t cure you of racism. You may not pass around jokes about Muslims or ethnic-subgroup-of-the-week, and you may volunteer at the local church fayre, you may be well qualified but smugness with regard to these things is just about as harmful as it gets.
Indeed, some of the alternatives to being a poor kid dressed in tracksuit bottoms are even worse. I was sitting in my usual coffee shop having a cup of tea the other day and I noticed a guy’s hands. He’d been saying something snide about a political matter, and on each of his fingers was a symbol of one of the world faiths. My first reaction was, “What a wanker!” I’d rather be illiterate than be that far up my own arse.
But Dave, you say, maybe he is just religious. To which I retort, “So?” I’m political and I don’t go round wearing a red star with a hammer and sickle. I grew out of that when I was sixteen. We all get a pretentious git phase, and this guy was about thirty. Maybe this is the part of me which is irredeemably chav, but I resent most students. They may pass exams but they have an ignorant, dull and unimaginative streak that’d put a chav to shame. Worse, they think of themselves as somehow better.
Working in Tesco, I was alongside kids who failed their GCSEs or AS levels, which woke them up sharpish. They were working to put themselves through tech – and to keep their chav-mobiles on the road, and to get themselves the latest phone and to pay rent. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but for a large number of the rest of us, this is similar to why we work? They wanted to get a trade, to make money; most university kids haven’t a clue what they want to do, so they pick arts subjects.
I always knew I wanted to rule the world, so history was a natural choice really.
Often some of the most inoffensive people have some of the most authoritarian, tyrannical views. One chap I get along well with is Catholic; he believes that secularism is unfair because it constricts Catholics from living how they ought (by which he means, telling the rest of us how to live and compelling us to do so). He thinks that formal education is wrong as parents should be allowed to teach their kids whatever they want. He believes that rebelling against social or economic factors is irrelevant because Christians should live in any world in the same Christian way.
Frankly, give me a chav and a can of lager any day.
Or law students. I’ve never met such a bunch of weasels. Not a passionate opinion between them. I’d rather be an ignorant and lecherous chav, with some peroxide blonde girl astride me than so completely unable to take a genuinely, full-on, red blooded position on real issues of the day. What really annoys me, therefore, is pretty much everything; chavs don’t get a bye-ball, why should you?