My young friend Chloe (23) was sobbing after watching a viral Youtube video about the elderly talking about loneliness. Some old biddy with all her chachkas and doilies and you know, those things that cover the arms of armchairs that no one ever sits on, cos she has no visitors, saying how some days she talks to nobody, and then the advert bit comes on, and it’s something like, make a difference! Ring an old person! Chat shite. They will love you for it. Not exactly, but that’s the gist. While you youngwhippesnappers are snappy chatting on the interweb, or eating raw fish, or going to discos, whatever it is young people do, old people are at home, rotting in front of their stuff, feeling dead sorry for themselves. Call em. Tell em about your sushi. It will make their day.
And Chloe said to me, “I really want to ring my nan, but she says never during Emmerdale.”
And I thought, I’ll have that. Never during Emmerdale. So I says to Chloe, you know, you must never ring me during Emmerdale, either.
Chloe goes, “But our Michele, you don’t have a telly.”
“Don’t care. We have to establish boundaries, Clo…”
Chloe is one of my Bright Young Friends in Jobs that have Nothing to Do With Their Degree And Are in Shitloads of Debt. I have many, because after coming out of a treatment centre for tranquilizer addiction in 2012, I found myself gravitating towards the sort of dumbass jobs I did at the beginning of my working life. Cleaning. Washing glasses, FOR A YEAR, at a big chicken and steak restaurant. Positioning myself as the strange granny type with a bit of a rock and roll past.
After a few conversations, after establishing that English was my first language (in most of the jobs I do, it’s not even essential) and actually, some time ago, I sorta made a living from this language, I started to get young people coming up to me, for love advice, to ask what music I listened to in the olden days ((New York Dolls, I would say, waiting for a glint of recognition. Always a pause, and then, “Wow”, the implication to me being, how can someone so very fucking old, as old as my mum, have liked something I’ve had my eye on in the vintage record shop?)
When I was at the chicken and steak place, the young, usually beautiful waiters and waitresses would come in and between gasps for breath or bitching about a difficult customer, would tell me something personal, something a little deep, or a little lovelorn, something to which I could be of some sort of matronly assistance.
And I loved it. I loved, for the first time in my long life, being mistaken for the wise and sensible one. You fake it long enough, you actually begin to feel it. I found myself telling all of them, “You are young, you are free, friggin Supergrass wrote a song about you, (Who are Supergrass, they say) this job will be nothing to you next year, when you are modelling for Topshop, or representing refugees in your law surgery, or filling out mid- sized venues with your indie band (I said mid-size to manage their expectations).”
And I really like, for years after being a sort a chaos queen, being scatty in my personal life at best, downright deranged at worst, I was finally at a peaceful, sensible place where kids the same age as my kids (who were not talking to me at the time: they are now) would ring me up, ask me out, hang out with me after work. I saw with sober eyes how very hard it is to be young these days, much more so now than when I was young and you could have a crap job, live in a bedsit, buy very cheap drugs and have a really good work/life/drug balance.
Now I work in a café where all the staff, most of em still young enough to be my kids, including my boss – are in recovery. They are drug and drink free, and very sorted. They have dreams they still have oodles of time to fulfil. I am now the one with no plan B, happy to flip eggs for the rest of my working life, but I can vicariously enjoy their hopes and visions and dreams. I love it that my expectations are extremely managed, and they are still in grit and determination mode. And every day I look forward to hearing about their lives, their loves, their dreams, their possibilities. But never during Emmerdale.