Chill Out

A spokesman for Exeter City Council has offered hope to the terminally bored teenagers in St. Thomas. Apparently the council has been having lots of ideas, and it's receptive to more, but so far it's come up with "a basketball area, a table tennis area, a teen village where young people could have some seats, some shelter and tables", and also, and here we move into the 21st century with a vengeance, "a chill zone".

This is all exciting stuff, but I think there is greater potential. If we are really going to help cheesed-off teenagers in the St. Thomas area, then we need something more constructive than a Teen Village, which may be the bees' knees in seats, shelters and tables, but is not guaranteed to raise the temperatures of the young people when they come out of the chill zone. After all, if you've been chilling for a bit, you want something a bit stiffer than a sit-down under a good roof, however interesting the graffiti.

First off, what they obviously need is a series of educational talks, delivered by experts, ranging over the widest range of subjects possible, full of fascinating and arcane information, all in bite-size chunks of about 45 minutes. The fashionable word for these is Lessons, and they could be provided by a little-known group of people called Teachers. These could take place in a hastily-erected building with very long corridors, to be popularly called a School. Only in a place like this, I suspect, could they really chill out completely. The rooms would be arranged so that there were no front seats, only back rows.

Another idea I've had would Prepare Young People For Life. This would involve hearing from people who are the age they're all going to be one day, and then passing on the message to those who are not yet their age.

What the Council could do is recruit some Old Duffers (must be 21 at least) to visit the teen village and let the teenagers know what life was like In The Old Days. They would hear that, in the Duffers' Day, people didn't have basketball courts and table tennis and seats and shelters and chill zones. In the Duffers' Day, young people had to stand up with transistor radios, drinking espresso coffee, and writing letters to the paper about allowing chopper bikes into Princesshay. They didn't have luxuries like mobile phones and great-great-grandmothers and SATS and pierced tongues and Uri Geller in charge of Exeter City. They had to stay in and watch television and learn how to kill the art of conversation.

A few sessions like this in Teen Village, and the local youngsters would be very excited. They could go off and practise on toddlers in the Toddler Village, telling them that in their day, they didn't have toy computers and Gareth Gates and Teletubby Toast and the UK Independence Party.

Pretty soon, everybody of every age would have a good idea of where they stood in the scheme of things.

Meanwhile, in Teen Village, there is definitely scope for more amenities and activities. There could be, for instance, a place where you learned to speak Text Message. It's all very well being able to write the stuff, but there are precious few people able to speak completely in consonants and symbols, and this is a skill which would enable teenagers to communicate face to face.

One of the problems of being a teenager these days is being unable to look up, because your fingers are charging across the pad of a mobile. Every day there are countless examples of teenagers being knocked out by walking into each other, or into walls, because they are looking down all the time. Teen Village will get them looking into each other's eyes when they chill out.

I was also interested in Councillor Browning's suggestion that "Young people want things yesterday."

It will be very sad if the council do not take Councillor Browning up on the suggestion of time travel. It ought to be reasonably easy to instal a teleporter in the Chill Zone which enabled young people to go back a day, and see what they were doing then. With a bit of investment, they ought to be able to go back a week, a month, or even a few years.

This will enable them to visit their bedrooms bit by bit, to see how the levels of rubbish have built up, where missing CDs, hairbrushes, parents, pot noodles etc. have gone. It will give them an insight into archaeological practice which will be invaluable in years to come. They will learn about strata and sub-strata, about cultural artefacts, about the history of the skateboard.

If they go back far enough, they will be able to see what passed for fashion in their grandparents' day - bell-bottomed hipsters with scuffed edges, muddy from trailing along the pavement. How times have changed! Who would wear "loons" these days?

And after all, if the City Council is prepared to pump money and cold air into a Chill Zone, it ought to be looking for a decent return on its investment. In Exeter, we are very much into a culture of digging things up. If we produce a generation of archaeologists, this will enable us to relax in the knowledge that, in 30 years time, they will dig up the Bedford Street area, and uncover the relic of a historic pedestrian precinct, which could by then be a tourist attraction.

They will also grow up with a chill zone culture, and realise that it is not just teenagers who are bored. What have our adults got? Shops and pubs! Huh! It is time that the over-50s were able to get together in a chill zone of their own, and admit to their stress counsellors that they are bored to death with hanging about in "jobs".

One day, Exeter will consist of chill zones for all ages. There will be special chill zones for each age range, from babies to pensioners.

It is time for the City Council to get its skateboards on.

Bill Greenwell

From Express and Echo