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Suffer in Glory

It’s 2020. A teenager locked down in a Covid ridden halls of residence posts a picture of a measly croissant provided by the uni for breakfast. “At 18, my uncle was running up a beach at Normandy, avoiding mortar fire,” a random gammon scolds, disgusted by the young woman’s brazen request for nourishment.

Planet Earth is in the grip of a deadly pandemic. The world is burning, icecaps melting. Society is crumbling, propped up only by fascism. The cost of Covid stacks up in pounds sterling, casting a long shadow over the futures of the young. Nothing is certain, only the constant thrust of capitalism. Unmoved by tragedy. Shameless in it’s demands of the workers. Oblivious to the trauma inflicted on the young.

Back to work. Back to school. Watch the case numbers explode and newsreaders scratch their heads in faux confusion. A reprimand from Johnson. The public have grown complacent, we’ve only got ourselves to blame. Back to uni. Tell them they need to be on site for lectures, give them freshers week. Just long enough for student rents to hit landlord’s accounts and for Covid to take grip in the halls. Call in security. Lock the doors. Switch to online learning.

I wait for the anger, for an uprising of parents ready to halt the exploitation of their young, but only mildly worded rebukes catch my eye on social media. I wonder how many are biting their tongues because they voted for this. Posters on the windows of halls of residences relay messages from students. Right wingers bristle at their demands for food and mental health support. Entertained by their discomfort they laugh at their anguish and temper their righteous rage with stories of greater suffering. I’m repulsed, but most of all afraid. These bastards would watch the young eating gruel with a reminder to count their blessings.

Before I got kicked out of a patriotic Londoner’s group, I got a clue as to how this vicious cycle began. A picture of a shoeless Edwardian boy looking wistfully through the window of a pie shop, provoked a longing for a time when Londoners could muster a hopeful smile while barefoot and hungry. “They had nothing, but they were happy.” The patriotic Londoners insisted, listing the ways in which their grandparents were oppressed and exploited. I read their accounts and, between the lines, the echoes of their ancestors’ reprimands anytime they dared to express a desire for more or better. Imposing limits on their futures while their rich prepare their descendants for a lifetime of excess.

Once upon a time, fourteen-year olds worked for a living, stepped up as heads of households and died in wars. Full time education provided an extension of childhood and a space for youth culture to emerge. The teenager was born and ever since, has carried the burden of the previous generation’s disappointment that they’d never see the inside of chimney. For this privilege they must gratefully accept anything between climate disaster and being tricked into paying grands to spend a pandemic in solitary confinement. This isn’t some random consequence of modern living. The division between young and old has been nurtured by capitalists. It’s been exploited by advertising and media, but its most valuable function has been to restrain the limitless hope and potential of our youth. To prep them for mistreatment and kill the idea of a tomorrow where no one suffers.

The food banks and mutual aid groups have stepped in to plug the gap and the story of the young people held captive for rent money has faded from our newsfeeds. I’m unnerved at how swiftly this scandal has been accepted and afraid this tolerance for hardship has no limits.

It’s 2120. A teenager complains that their government issue gruel is cold and lumpy. “In 2020, 18 year olds fought a pandemic with nothing in them but cold croissants,” a random gammon reminds them.

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