This family’s very public angst is all about making cash, says Rod Liddle. And the parents were not showing ‘tough love’ when they kicked out their son, but washing their hands of a problem
Not my vegetarian dinner, not my lime juice minus gin,
Quite can drown a faint conviction that we may be born in Sin.
— John Betjeman, ‘Huxley Hall’
It’s the perpetual adolescent in me, I suppose, but I’ve always rather had a thing for public enemies — people whom the entire British public wish to see flayed alive, hanged or deported. I enjoyed a fairly lengthy correspondence with the pop singer and entrepreneur Jonathan King when he was banged up in Belmarsh for having buggered several children; he was a clever and entertaining communicant and even seemed to agree with my assessment that he should have been imprisoned for even longer for the crime of inflicting ‘Una Paloma Blanca’ on an unsuspecting public. I struck up a friendship with the whacko hook-handed Muslim cleric Sheikh Abu Hamza al Masri, too, and even wondered about maybe having him over for dinner. ‘You call it homosexuality, Rod, I call it digging filth out of young men’s bottoms,’ he once admonished me when I was whining at him in a very liberal manner about his somewhat right-of-centre stance on sexual preferences.
A dinner party with old Abu and Jonathan King, I contest, would have about it a certain élan. Which is not to say that the evening would be problem free. I once witnessed Abu Hamza attempting to urinate; he had this young, extravagantly bearded and devout chap with him whose job it was to part the robes of his master and then point his implacably righteous todger toward the urinal, thus sparing it from hook-related injury, inshallah. But then I suppose one could hire someone for the evening to perform such a task — a Pole or a Bulgarian probably. And thinking about it, maybe he and Jonathan would have got on fine in the end, after early misgivings.
But even I would worry about having the Myersons, Jonathan and Julie, over for supper right now — one would be blackballed from polite society for a decade or more. Julie is a Man Booker-nominated novelist, Jonathan a writer and magistrate. Both of them are, supposedly, further to the left than a soup spoon. They write, from time to time, for the Independent and the Guardian; both are New Labour. Jonathan — despite his wilfully recherché 1970s haircut, his delicate sensibilities — is a magistrate. They are, the two of them, where we are now as a society — concerned, consensual, caring, socially libertarian: in the abstract, when it doesn’t bother them. When it does bother them, they are less consensual, caring and libertarian. When it bothers them, they turn into fascists.
Julie and Jonathan are in trouble because Julie has been writing about her son, Jake, and how she had to kick him out of the family home because of his appalling behaviour. Jonathan has supported what Julie has written in a long interview in a low-circulation liberally inclined national newspaper. The stuff which drove Julie to kick Jake out of the home is detailed in a new book of hers which, given the publicity, should earn the woman a mint. Apparently Jake was difficult. Here’s the charge sheet: he got up late for his Maths GCSE and almost missed the exam. He had tantrums sometimes. On occasions he came home at 2 a.m. and made cheese on toast for himself before listening to music or watching a DVD. He smoked pot — not just pot but, as Jonathan points out, ‘GM cannabis’, or ‘skunk’. I think it was the GM business which did it for the magistrate — I hope he comes down tough in court on youngsters who eschew naturally grown marijuana for this agro-industry Frankenstein herb.
Julie adds that sometimes after he has cooked cheese on toast he leaves the gas ring on. I don’t know why you would need a gas ring to cook cheese on toast. Maybe the real reason she’s cross with him is because he doesn’t cook cheese on toast in an orthodox manner. Jake has also, reportedly, nicked money from them. His parents first called the cops on him when he was 16 and Jonathan found a small amount of dope and also a stencil (no, me neither) in his bedroom. He was kicked out of the house at the age of 17. He was homeless. He now dislikes his parents and wants nothing more to do with them. ‘They are very naive people and slightly insane,’ he has said.
By and large, the British media is entirely on Jake’s side. Both Julie and Jonathan have been attacked for having been, in the first place, rotten parents and worse still for having compromised the privacy of their supposedly errant child by having written about him in every possible publication which waved a cheque in their direction, as well as in a book (perhaps soon to be a major television series). Indeed Jake, in an interview of his own with the vile Helen Weathers of the Daily Mail, has claimed that his mum has been writing about him since he was two years old. In the same paper the columnist Amanda Platell stuck the boot into Julie for having made money out of her son’s problems. The Daily Mail, then: a stalwart respecter of privacy, a publication which would never stoop to running the bitter reminiscences and pitiful whining of individuals who believe they have been transgressed. Helen, Amanda and the rest of you — if you don’t approve of the Myersons’ decision to talk to the press, don’t report what they are saying.
Almost everyone in Fleet Street is agreed that Julie was wrong to have written about her troubles with Jake, despite gleefully reporting all the things she said and running pictures, taken during happier times, of the entire family. What utter cant.
In a sense the Myersons are the perfect example of modernity. There is, in the first place, the fashionable and perpetual wish to divulge personal and private problems, to display the whole business of personal life for public entertainment, no matter whom it hurts or offends, perhaps kidding themselves in the meantime that it is of some consequence to someone, somewhere. At the same time there is the propensity on the part of the newspapers to publish this epic bilge (‘sometimes he left the gas ring on!’) while simultaneously vilifying the Myersons for having divulged it in the first place. The Myersons are a sort of semi-upmarket version of the Jade Goody story — a personal tragedy displayed in return for hard cash. Something which should have been kept to themselves but which they justify morally by suggesting that it might help others come to terms with their own errant children but knowing, underneath, that this is probably not the case and that really they have written about it for the money and out of a magnificent sense of self-importance. And yet it is difficult to blame the Myersons for this: it is how we are now. It is what we do and what we have been conditioned to expect.
And then there is the little issue of the parenting. By which I mean the enormous gap, the chasm, between Julie Myerson’s horror at her son’s behaviour now and the sensibilities she possessed when she gave birth to him 20 years ago. It was, according to Jake, a very liberal family. I suspect the Myersons, 20 years ago, even ten years ago, would have been pretty indulgent on the subject of soft drugs like cannabis. It is hardly inconceivable that left-wing, educated, liberated, middle-class artists such as the Myersons may have encountered cannabis themselves — hell, they may even have inhaled. But then the edifice of this liberalism comes crashing down upon their heads; indulgence, letting the kids do what they want, is all very well in theory. They forget, though, that there are reasons for these prohibitions, that they are not simply the purposeless reflexes of a conservative society. Drugs make people behave badly; it really is as simple as that. Sometimes they do more than make people behave badly, of course. But either way, there is a reason why parents should worry when their kids do drugs. The Myersons seem to have been caught between the theory of parenting which pertained when they first had their children — that the kids should be left to decide for themselves,
to make up their own minds, m’kay? — and the consequences, later on, of such an ideology. In the end they kicked 17-year-old Jake out of home, claiming that this was an attempt at ‘tough love’. But it isn’t tough love at all. It’s saying ‘f*** this for a game of soldiers’ and washing their hands of the whole business.
Even this, though, is not entirely the fault of the Myersons. I blame society — no, really, I do. It is the hallmark of the Myersons’ incalculably selfish and feckless generation, perhaps the worst generation we have ever witnessed in this country. Both Julie and Jonathan were born in 1960 (as was I, incidentally). This is the generation which has managed to spend the hard-earned cash built up over years by its parents and also has busied itself spending any possible inheritance to its children. A generation which takes but will not give. The money spent uselessly on divorces, or serial monogamy, or holidays, or consumer durables. A generation deprived of genuine hardship and poverty and cosseted by a liberal theology which insisted, at every turn — no, go on, do your own thing, whatever that is, and let there be no recriminations. A generation for whom notions such as discipline, obedience and conformity were not merely antithetical but actually risible. A generation which inherited the highest standard of living this country has ever enjoyed and thus saw no great problem in simply spending until all the money was gone. A generation which believes in self-expression and emotional incontinence, which believes it owes nothing to anyone. And nor is it to blame for anything, even when its kids turn out to be real trouble.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated March 14, 2009