I was on the train today surrounded by school pupils from a secondary school in Stratford. The girl behind me leaned over to her companion and said, “They’re in a ship.” “What ‘ship’? How are they in a ship?” asked the unenlightened girl (I had the impression she was a bit slow on the uptake, perhaps repressed). “You know, they’re in a relationship—it’s just a ‘ship’, we say,” replied the adolescent cognoscente—perhaps they were from different schools, different schools acquire different slang; and the girl with the active intelligence elaborated a little further on the two classmates who were in the same boat together.
Adolescents in particular bemuse me, because in their sameness they are my eternal return; sometimes it is poignant—on the same train one evening I sat opposite three final year gay students; they talked about how they went to Snobs, a nightclub I went to (not gay), and they tried to puzzle over some straight couple they knew—“She thinks she’s so intelligent.”
Then the younger one talked about some man he was with who bothered him for n00ds even though he was with another man—the young man seemed confused, slightly; though not like a straight would be. I thought, “Ah, he’s too young to realise what he is, it won’t be like with his parents. He has a man’s sexuality, so he doesn’t really mind—but he doesn’t quite ‘get’ that for gay men it’s just a free for all; there’s no expectation that you won’t just sleep with other people—he looked for love, of course.” Still, I felt I had seen this teenage scene before; they talked in a certain way—my little characters.
These adolescents recall Homer for me, the same leaves fall again—perennially: “Generations of men are like the leaves. In winter, winds blow them down to earth, but then, when spring season comes again, the budding wood grows more. And so with men: one generation grows, another dies away.”