When I was 12 I stole a turkey roll from my school canteen. Fortunately, I was a truly crap thief, and decided to eat it straight away, 20 metres from the fridge. I was caught, and duly suspended from school. What a knobhead.
I’ve often wondered why I did it. It wasn’t because I couldn’t afford it. It wasn’t because I was angry at my school, or the canteen, or was hungry. There was definitely a part of me that thought it would make me look cool. But mostly, it was because I was bored.
In between stuffing the turkey roll into my pocket and getting caught, I experienced five minutes of exhilaration. My heart raced. It was thrilling. It was the dramatic, zinging opposite of being bored.
Watching the riots and looting in London, seemingly so devoid of cause or motive, I couldn’t help thinking that, ultimately, these kids were bored. Not bored like a knobhead middle-class 12-year old who’s thinking of pinching a turkey roll – but seriously, horribly bored. Bored on an epidemic level. Every day I see kids in north London just milling around, doing mostly fuck-all. And they are the ones who leave their flats. This was a chance for them to do something truly exciting. A chance to flee their listless lives for a few hours and do something pulse-raising. And once the boredom has given way to anger, however unfounded, the anger sticks, and gathers momentum.
But the underlying boredom is a lot worse than the eventual anger. Anger carries cause. Anger is intoxicating, and inspiring. Stodgy, nothingy boredom holds none of this. But it’s as deep a sign of societal disillusion as anger, if not deeper.
People are pointing to all sorts of explanations for what is happening – disenfranchisement, unemployment, recession, social division. And yes, I’m sure all of these elements are there, and, cumulatively, could justify what we’ve seen. But as the fires are being extinguished, and the chin-scratching post mortems abound, I hope we don’t miss one of the biggest blights of all – when there are a hell of a lot of kids with nothing to do, they’ll do stupid things. And this is a very sad problem.