This morning, on broad footpaths up and down the country, middle-aged men stood pointedly to the side of trails. From Bolton to Bermondsey, they could sense a young person’s approach.
Head lifted slightly, sniffing the air for ‘reefer fumes’, Keith Smith, 46, took up the position: hands on hips, eyes narrowed to a point. Usually this stare is reserved this for that artsy ear-ring fucker down the local when he pours a pint with a bit too much head, but these are ‘unprecedented’ times.
John Speirs, a second year undergraduate carefully keeping in line with lockdown restrictions, was still a good thirty metres away when he felt a shiver run down his spine.
“Well, I stopped in my tracks. There was this strange energy emanating from this guy in front of me. I suddenly had these intrusive thoughts pop up in my head; about really, really boring shit, like, how I needed to have a LinkedIn account if I’m the sort of go-getter people will take seriously. I felt this animal urge to look further into what credit-rating I’m aiming to have in five years. When I looked down at my young and un-calloused hands I was almost sick.
“As I got closer and closer it all got more and more intense, until it just spilled out of me. For some reason, I fell to my knees and screamed, tears in my eyes, ‘You’re right Mister! I – I am an unkempt, filthy vector of disease. My youth is poison, bathe me in sanitiser — never venture to touch me with a barge-pole. I will grow out of this ‘experimental’ phase, my hair will be its natural colour, and one day I will aspire to live a life just like yours!’
“I was stunned. Couldn’t believe what I just said. I looked up at him. He uncrossed his arms and nodded slightly, and gestured I should move on. As I walked off, shaken to the core, I still heard him mutter under his breath ‘Fucking dirty prat.’”