Class Monitor No. 9: Big kids

“Ooohh." A noise goes up from the crowd of big kids looking at the shiny red sports car. The car is parked on a raised dais and a man with a microphone attached to his head stands next to it. He has just opened the door and the big kids throb and mill beneath him, craning to glimpse the leather and wood within.

“This could be your car," he tells the big kids. They look at the car. Surely not - not them with this car? But, yes, it turns out to be comparatively easy, amounting to not much more than filling out one of the forms that his blonde female colleague is now handing out to them.

The big kids are aged between 25 and 45. Some have lost their hair and their bald pates reflect the wintry sunshine coming through the domed atrium of the shopping centre on the outskirts of town.

They have parked their own nondescript vehicles in the kilometre-wide car park that stretches across what used to be downland at the back of the centre. And now, while their wives and partners buy things in the three floors of shops that surround the atrium, the men have been left to entertain themselves in this central point, which is, in effect, a playpen.

But then their lives at large are, in effect, a playpen. They have big kids' television programmes to watch, and big kids' magazines, computer games and websites: a whole industry dedicated to assuring the big kids that being a big kid is important. Later this evening, they will cheer on other big kids in England shirts as they play a ball game with some foreign big kids. They will drink big kids' drinks and have big kids' tantrums if they don't win. But they don't want to think about that. Not winning isn't fun and being a big kid is supposed to be fun. Besides, if they fill in the form, they might win the shiny red sports car. What if they can drive it away today? And what if, rather than the women who are wielding the family credit cards in the boutiques above, the blonde girl from the dais were to sit next to them as they slip through the gears and speed through the suburban streets that come out from the city to meet the shopping centre?

The big kids dream of the needle nudging 90, of the blonde girl's fingers resting lightly on her thighs, of the rev counter touching red. But not, perhaps, of the little kid ready, as little kids always are, to dash suddenly from mummy's grip and run out past the parked cars for no other reason than the sheer and unadulterated joy of being a kid.


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Michael Hodges writes the Class Monitor column for the New Statesman. He was named columnist of the year at the 2008 Magazine Design and Journalism Awards for his contributions to Time Out.

This article first appeared in the 23 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Green Heroes and Villains