Winner of Youth Of Today announced! Zygmunt Day brings the light of natural wisdom to bear on the entries…
25th February 2016
From matter-of-fact accounts of big nights out, to Twilight Zone-style meditations on the nature of time and deals with the devil, it was great how many different perspectives this week’s writers had on the title “Youth Of Today”.
Although a lot of writers interpreted the title literally, writing about the relationships of adults to children, there was a range of stories to be told; there were some about teachers; one who changes her image to attempt to win over a class of unruly children, with unexpected results, to a wider, well-observed rumination on the nature of teaching, and the humour and frustrations that come with it. Of the pieces that were about children, though, the poem by Huntersmum about a mother who imagines her disabled child as a “normal” young person was the most moving for me, as it described the randomness of chance, and birth, that can determine how life goes, especially for children:
“Do they see his otherness
A simple mistake in tangles of DNA
that has diverted his future
Waste products building up in this
body I love so much
Grinding his brain to a halt?
I wish I could see further
See him strutting with the other lads
Being teased by a girl.”
Briergate’s piece took a different angle on the title, emphasising the relativity of youth, as a story from an elderly care-home resident causes a woman reflect on her own relative youth and the chances she still has in life. There is also a theme about realising that youth, beauty, energy, is an opportunity whilst you have it, about being able to recognise it and not shy away from possibilities:
“Washing my hands, I glanced up and saw my reflection. I studied it for a moment. Yes, my hair was beginning to grey. My eyes were lined, and I had pronounced creases and newly-developed hollows and marks, but I was still me. Me, but with an etching of experience. I wondered if I would have the courage to embrace the years ahead, understanding that they would mark me, and recognise the beauty in those marks. I smiled, suddenly, feeling a rush of gratitude for my family; my life. The fact that Bell and I could walk away from here, and we hopefully had many years ahead, to carry on aging.”
But for the characters in Corone’s story, although they are aware of their youth, they are also aware that their youth is all they have; underneath their night out, with its euphoria, openness and the possibilities of romance, there is a broad hopelessness and a sense of inertia, of a lack of future. The mundanity of the “big night out” is also underlined – it’s a prosaic sort of fun, it’s got a sense of inevitability about it, and offers very little chance for real escape:
“I’ve got a little way to go before Tufnell Park and so I close my eyes. Behind the warm feeling from the drink, and pills, and Mel I can feel it there. What will I do if I can’t go to college when they want a degree to stack shelves in Tescos? How much of the planet will be left for me now the older generations have burned it? Will there be any help for me when I’m sick if the NHS is sold off?”
I thought that this piece touched upon themes that I have also tried to write about in my own work – namely what young people do when their future is denied to them. People who have grown up in my generation, who experience austerity policy for the majority of their adolescence and early adulthood, and who face cuts in youth services and shrinking prospects in life, are easily misunderstood as a generation of narcissistic hedonists. In actual fact, we have little opportunity available to us to have a meaningful stake in anything else.
About the judge
Zygmunt Day is a musician, writer and construction worker who lives in London. He releases music with his band, Echo Pressure, as well as solo material, which can all be found on Soundcloud, Bandcamp and Youtube. His music has been featured in national and local press and played on the radio. At the weekend he drinks twenty pints of Guinness.