Who’s a waste of space, then?

A letter to … My godson, with whom I’ve decided to sever ties | Life and style | The Guardian

When I used to read the print edition of the Guardian, the paper I’ve read for most of my adolescent and adult life, a pet hate of mine in the last few years was the wastage of space, particularly after it moved to the Berliner format. As a standard part of their ‘style’, there were almost whole columns of empty space and on one occasion, a four-page feature on Syria (early in the civil war) featured a headline that spanned the top half of two pages, along with a small picture and some empty space. I wrote to complain, because the cover price had just gone up and I was annoyed at having to pay extra for blank paper. The wastage would have meant that another whole feature had to be cut.

But actual features can be a waste of space too. Back in the days of Q-News, the Muslim youth magazine that ran through most of the 90s and early 2000s, I once wrote them a fairly constructive letter, I thought, and it was never published — but a foully-worded letter, calling the writers “vermin” and “sewar (sic) rats Wahabi/Salafi” was. In the Family section of today’s Guardian, there’s an anonymous letter from an uncle who says he has cut ties with his godson/nephew because he won’t communicate promptly or warmly enough after the author cut ties with his parents.

This is the second anonymous letter slagging off a child the paper has published in about a month. The first featured a mother, whose 10-year-old son had been rude when she told him to tidy his room, lecturing him on all she had done, including the difficult pregnancy and birth. I thought it a bit pointless to lecture a 10-year-old girl, let alone a boy, on their mother’s pregnancy sickness and labour pains (an adult, maybe), but I also thought that the aggression he displayed was the same as he had to deal with a lot of the time at school. There are a lot of adults who do not think a child, particularly a “difficult” one (i.e. one who disagrees or argues) deserves good manners or civility, and he will be meeting a lot of other children whose manners are poor. That will only get worse when he enters secondary school. (More: Looking for Blue Sky.)

In today’s letter, the uncle/godparent complains that the most his nephew has ever said to him is a brief text thanking him for Christmas and birthday money. The main source of his dislike is the boy’s father, who he says never forgave him for turning his back on his working-class background and going to college (“Actually, not just college, university”) rather than getting “a safe, comfortable job with a nice pension in the local council”. I presume these people are old enough to have been able to get such a job without a degree. As for the boy’s mother, “he found the perfect partner: she doesn’t think out of the box either”. The boy had an ambition to go to the same college and follow the same career as the uncle, but failed to get in, and the uncle texted and suggested they meet up. The boy did not reply for a week. The uncle was hurt, but reminded himself that his nephew was “just 17: stupid and selfish, just like every other teenager”. Then he offered help a second time:

You took 24 hours to text that you did not reply earlier because you had been “out all day”. How many times a year do you get a message from your estranged uncle? And this is how you respond? You showed no enthusiasm for my help, but your text had the same polite formality and cold-blooded insincerity that I always associate with your father. Then I realised that, for better or worse, you have, in fact, become another version of your father.

This man is an adult, and knows that 17-year-olds are often stupid and selfish (they are, actually, not all). He should also know that his 17-year-old nephew is still under his parents’ care and is probably more sensitive to their needs than he is to his uncle’s, when that uncle is estranged and does not see them. His parents have probably told him a thing or two about his uncle’s behaviour (which, of course, he was free not to mention in this letter), and no doubt he didn’t like what he heard and believed them, because he has no reason not to (maybe he got the impression that his uncle is a petty-minded, immature jerk, the impression I get from this letter). He is under their influence, and no doubt absorbed some of their personality traits. Until he has got a job and some space and a family of his own, that is only to be expected.

Perhaps, in a few years time, he might be able to agree to talk to you or meet his uncle. Perhaps he might have grown up a bit. But the uncle will have to as well, because he sounds like a quite unpleasant person from this letter. A lot of people think the teenager is well rid of him.

And why is the Guardian wasting space on such drivel written by adults who think and behave like children, or worse?

(Yes, I’ve got a piece on Paris in preparation. I’m busy these days.)

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