This weekend we went to see friends in Sheffield. For a change, the (outrageously expensive) train journeys changing at Birmingham were almost entirely faultless: certainly nothing we could complain about. That is, only if you consider what the train companies could be held responsible for.
On the way there, we had to spend a toe-curling hour and a half coming into Sheffield, in the company of a kind of rolling tag-team of just ex-students. The fellow who thought he was South Yorkshire’s answer to David Mitchell, with his friends, had banged on almost as far as Derby when he briefly warmed up the conversation of a young woman with dyed hair who kept laughing in a forced way, with a voiced intake of breath immediately prior to the laugh, reminiscent of whooping cough; at which point, he departed at Derby, leaving her to very capably entertain the remaining few ex-students.
Hearing them all declaim on such topics of the history of art (“what’s the point of that, when art is a—” K. will know better what he said here; a “primary source of mumble something?”) and, much later, being unable to avoid Dyed Hair Girl chirp and honk about her tutors at York University, would have been far less teeth-grinding were it not for the fact that I very much recognized myself and many of the people I knew in their brash, loud way of showing the world that they had opinions, and were unafraid.
On that basis alone, it would’ve been churlish to ask them to keep quiet, in a way that I never did; to refuse to pass any judgments until their precociousness might fade, in a way that I never did either. But it seemed somehow sad that, as our table of thirty- and forty-somethings exchanged wry grins; as our oldest temporary comrade—a stranger in his late forties—tackled a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc all by himself as a way of numbing the pain: we all seemed to tacitly acknowledge that we’d passed some kind of torch on to these youngsters. A torch that we no longer really wanted, and were glad to be rid of, but still…. Every torch you do pass on takes a little warmth with it, doesn’t it?
Once they’d all finally left at Chesterfield, along with Mr. Sauv Blanc, K. and I chatted to the remaining stranger at our table. She was a history researcher and occasional tutor herself. At York. And yes, she did know at least some of the people Dyed Hair Girl had whooped on about. But DHG had probably been, she felt, a good and conscientious student, for all her posturing, and probably didn’t deserve censuring for trying so hard to simply fit in for an hour. And so, at least a little bit, we tried to forgive youth for its strident youthfulness. Forgiveness seems a fair price to pay if, once in a while, we might crowd round that white, blazing heat.