The Jury Room  (Week 3)                                                                                                                                      Posted 6th April 2014

There are two sides to every generation gap.                                                  From The Herald : Sat 04-Apr-1998

In the third of this innovative series, the regulars of The Jury Room try to come to terms with the alien remoteness of the young, whose values alter with such erratic rapidity that those of a more sedate intellect fear for the immediate future and call for another round.


You can't do that! How often have I told you? You can't do that!

Liz (sometimes called - but never in her hearing - Miss Tonguelash) has finally exploded. Expert observers (and, given enough drink, everybody is an expert) have seen this coming since she appeared through from the hotel and went behind the bar of The Jury Room. She has been moving about, arranging things already arranged, and washing glasses already washed. Harry Kari, demoted instantly from regular barman to redundant bystander, is dodging her snow-plough presence like an elephant trying to learn the quickstep.

It is a good idea to dodge Liz in her present mood. There is obviously something she is going to say and you'd better hope she doesn't say it to you. Now that she has finally said it, it's like a klaxon going off.

The people sitting round the room become an audience at a command performance. There is the usual scattering of strangers at the tables, women on a night out, businessmen who are putting up at the hotel and have perhaps thought they might enjoy the louche atmosphere of The Jury Room.

I wonder what they think is happening. Maybe they think they have wandered into one of those trendy bars, like Bonkers, where the staff double as entertainers, and Liz is giving them her rendition of Maria Callas.

The regulars know different. Two of the women known as the Post Romantics, who often take refuge here from the depressing quality of the talent at the Singles Night, are at one table, raising their eyebrows in a here-we-go-again expression. The third Post Romantic, Mary Contrary, is standing at the bar with us, as she often does. She is looking on with her customary quizzical expression, thus justifying Gus the Guru's description of her as the Mona MacLisa of The Jury Room.

We all know who the target of Liz's anger is. It is Eric the Red, who came into the bar earlier and is standing along the counter from us. Liz followed him in a few minutes later and since then has presumably been not so much working as working herself up.

How dare you! she says.

Watching their confrontation, any of the strangers may think they know how to bet. Liz is maybe 30, strikingly attractive in a blue costume with padded shoulders, and she looks about as easy to intimidate as a Valkyrie. Eric is in his eighties, his features blurred like an old polaroid, and his sports jacket is pleading to be taken to a dry cleaner. The only thing bright about him is his tie, vivid as a red flag.

But any regular could give at least three reasons why Eric will hold his ground. First, he owns the whole complex - the hotel and the reception rooms and restaurant as well as the snug and The Jury Room. The last two he has insisted on keeping as they were before modernisation. Secondly, he is Liz's father. Thirdly, he is Eric the Red, fighter on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, who still thinks the result was rigged. If you've wanted a rematch with Franco you're not likely to back off from a woman wearing shoulders four sizes too big for her.

What are you talking about? he says.

You know what I'm talking about. The way you spoke to Denny. He's been our chief steward at the Singles Nights for months.

Steward? He's a hooligan bouncer. Steward? That's like calling Adolf Eichmann a gasman.

Why did you do it?

He threatened a fella for bumping into him. He doesn't sort out trouble. He causes it. Ye think because ye put a bow tie on him he's civilised? Probably thinks it's a clever way to carry a garrotte.

He's still our chief bouncer.

Was. I just bounced the bouncer.

Is there any chance - Liz is choosing her exit line carefully before she sweeps out of the bar - you could manage to join us in the twentieth century before it shuts?

I think I fathered that one too late. (Eric is talking more or less to himself. She is the child of his second, late marriage.) We're talking across a generation gap like the Grand Canyon.

Isn't every parent? Mary Contrary says.

As far as I know, Mary has never married. But she is a studious observer of the changing scene. Her remark touches a communal nerve.

OU Wilson says he is looking for a night-school course that will teach him how to speak to his own children. Given some of the weird expressions they use, they might as well be refugees from Bosnia. Shady, they think, means bad.

Greyman, who married late and was dumped not much later, can't believe how hard it is to connect with his only son. The only authority his son seems to take seriously is his peer group. Everybody else is just an alien.

It's the speed of change in our society, Mary thinks. Children are under pressure to reinvent themselves every year or so. Probably about the only experiential constant in their lives is their own age group, who are at least going through the same things, seeing them from the same perspective.

She has a point, we all think. Even their trainers have to be the ones that are in fashion, not just any pair. Big football teams these days change their strips every year, making fortunes in the process. How many recent pop groups can hope to have the cultural longevity of the Beatles or the Stones?. . .

Yes, I'm thinking.

I can appreciate the problems of being a child or a teenager in the present social climate. But the sentimentalisation of these problems is a way of hiding from one of their root causes. There are two sides to every generation gap. When children can't hear their parents clearly, it could be that the parents aren't talking clearly enough. A lot of parents these days make Hamlet look decisive.

While the current confusions of adulthood may not have created the capacity for selfishness most children have, they have certainly fed it. Where parents lose the art of saying no to children, children may never learn the art of saying it to themselves. They will take on the status of mini-adults without the inconvenience of having had to grow up. They will assume authority for their own lives without having learned responsibility towards the lives of others, like people who can't drive and see no need to take lessons being given a Masserati for their Christmas.

The situation already seems to me extremely hazardous. To some extent we live in an anarchic teenocracy. In quaint former times they used to say the age of consent was 21. These days the age of dissent seems to be whenever you feel like it, even if you can't spell it and are not very sure what it means.

It also seems to be an accelerating process. If the present trend continues we can perhaps look forwards to an infantocracy. Finally, each new birth may be approached like the arrival of a Messiah. Relatives will arrive like lobotomised Magi, bearing gifts of Nike, Mothercare, and Fisher Price, intoning: We have followed advertisements from afar. Perhaps this new consumer can finally show us the meaning of life.

Let's get a grip. The infantalisation of our culture has gone far enough. In order for children to grow up into a realistic sense of what life owes them and they owe life, it is necessary for adults to grow up first . . .

Mary Contrary is still talking.

Even the physical landscape around the young - she says - doesn't have the stability of character we enjoyed in our childhood. What about those precincts that have flattened the individuality of so many town centres into an identikit anonymity, like face lifts that fell?

I can remember writing a novel about Glasgow and using actual locations.

Between completion and publication I discovered that about half the places had been obliterated or transformed.

I know what you mean, Eric says, still brooding. Liz wants to do away with The Jury Room and the snug. Make them more trendy. That's what the argument was really about. That's always what the argument's really about. I don't know how long I can hold out.

Matt the Mesomorph, never a man to let abstract problems interfere with immediate pleasures, signals to Harry Kari behind the bar.

Same again. (Matt is making a sweeping gesture with his hand along the bar.) Eric, what d'you want?

A time-machine?

I sympathise with Eric. I am realising with a small shock that the fixed point from which I thought we were observing the shifting world is itself a part of the shiftingness.

All things are a flowing,
Sage Heracleitus says:
But a tawdry cheapness
Shall outlast our days.

Hurry up with that pinta Guinness, Gus the Guru says. Ah'd like to finish it before they turn this place into a theme pub round about me.