The next group I encountered were little more than children. They were sitting on a wall near an off-license, watching the passers by with sharp, bored eyes. I came up to them, my hand running automatically down the inside of my lapel to make sure the microphone was in place.
“What’s your problem mate?” said one.
“You’re looking for something, huh?” said another.
“Well, no,” I said, conscious of the need to avoid any misunderstanding at this stage. “Just information…”
This did not seem to make the situation any easier.
“What are you, a copper?”
“Some kind of a pervert?”
“Yeah, he’s a fucking nonce!”
They all started to laugh at this.
“No, no, no” I interjected. I’m doing a survey. Any information that I receive will be treated with the utmost confidentiality. Your confidentiality is guaranteed.”
Would this do the trick? Already I could feel the aggression and suspicion turning into contempt. Contempt and indifference. “What sort of fucking information do you want?” asked one kid, who obviously thought that this ought to be explored further.
I phrased my words carefully. “All sorts of information. Where you like to hang out. What you think of the traditional authority figures within society. The qualities that you admire and respect in your fellows. The sort of behaviour amongst your mates that you find unacceptable. The terms in which you measure success and failure. Your ambitions. Do you think education is important? Do you think God is important? How do you regard the role of women?
I seemed to be loosing their attention.
“Do we get anything for telling you these things?” the kid asked. I admitted that they wouldn’t. Upon hearing this his interest seemed finally to be at an end. A few of the others signalled their irritation by sucking their teeth.
As I walked away I heard someone mutter the word “bloodclart” behind my back. I was clearly meant to hear it. An interesting term that, I mused, the symbology was very rich. A bloodclot – I reasoned – serves no function; it obstructs the life-giving circulation, the circulation that serves the whole organism, without favouring one cell more than the other. The bloodclot might therefore be said to signify the ego, which obstructs the greater good for its own benefit. The bloodclot threatens – possibly even fatally – the integrity of the organism for no good reason.
On the other hand, the urban dictionary – as I knew very well – relates the Rastafarian insult ‘bloodclot’ to a woman’s menstrual fluids, and ‘the frustration one feels at not being able to pursue sexual activities’. Were these two levels of symbology incompatible, I wondered, or was there a higher synthesis? Was I missing something here? Or was I perhaps over-analysing the situation?
It occurred to me that there might be something fundamentally wrong with my approach. I needed to change my model if I was to collect the data I wanted. I could see now that I was being insufficiently reflexive – I obviously needed to immerse myself more deeply in the culture I was attempting to study…