Watch the news, listen to the radio or browse through a paper or magazine, and you’ll discover something is missing from society and has been for some time. However, it’s not ‘something’, but more ‘someone’. They’re even absent from our daily conversation. I'm talking about people that used to be classified as 'gutter snipes', 'corner boys' and 'bowsies'. You don't hear of any gutter snipes these days, never mind see them. I can only picture them as guys with ill-fitting Trilby hats and so-called leisure pants. The words ‘youth’, ‘man’ or ‘suspect’ seem to be the only three terms used nowadays. Where have all these weird and intriguing reprobates disappeared to?
God be with the days when you'd encounter a bowsie. Compared to an altercation with some of the guys you'd meet today, coming across a chap of this calibre was like having tea with your grandmother. A brush with a bowsie might typically have involved an aggressive game of jacks or a robust arm-wrestle. He might then have cast a slight on a member of your family, but using non-threatening ambiguous puns. A bowsie's reputation would have been built around his fondness for moments of unrestrained anarchy, such as lobbing a firecracker into a ladies changing room or balancing a water-filled pail at the top of a slightly open door so that the next person who walked through it would experience a sudden and unexpected shower. Yes indeed, those bowsies knew how to start a riot.
Not like the corner boys however. They were a different kind of proposition. They would hang around street corners, hands in their pockets, with nothing better to do than pass remarks and make snide comments about anyone walking by. (Back then, having one's hands in one's pockets would have been considered lazy and the hallmark of a neglected rearing. Indeed, it's a little known fact that when he was president, De Valera launched several campaigns to eradicate 'hands-in-pockets' from our cities and towns, although his efforts were undermined by cabinet photographs which showed nearly all his ministers engaging in the offensive practice). In fairness to the corner boy, his utterances to passers-by would never have risen above the offence level of something like: “I hope you obtained a receipt for that overcoat good sir”, or “Why madam, I do believe your petticoat is showing”. Even a corner boy would be ashamed by the tone of the verbal assaults people have to suffer these days.
One individual I haven't yet spoken of is the gurrier. He was definitely a more menacing kind of fellow, and if we were to suddenly return to the era of gutter snipes, bowsies, curs and rapscallions, then the gurrier would be the least desirable of the lot. Random acts of vandalism wouldn’t have been out of the gurrier's remit, nor challenges to a fist fight and being intoxicated in a public place. That said, a gurrier would always inquire first if you were a Queensberry rules or an older style of boxer so as to facilitate a fair bout. His acts of vandalism would merely have involved something like pencilling a moustache onto a female poster figure. And you'd have recognised a drunken gurrier on a busy street simply because he'd have been the only one with his shirt tail hanging out and his tie slightly askew.
I also wonder where all the blackguards have gone. Time was a blackguard would have been present at every public gathering, such as a football match or a town council meeting. The blackguard's modus operandi was to cause dissent and cast aspersions on someone's character, providing lively disruption in the process. So widespread were his kind that 'blackguarding' became an accepted verb.
All these characters have disappeared, forever immortalised in Flann O'Brien novels and songs by The Dubliners. When was the last time you read about a scallywag up before the judge for stealing a policeman's hat? Or a scamp who was caught stealing two bottles of milk from a doorstep? The bounders and cads are completely extinct, as are the rogues and scoundrels. How can we have these types reintroduced to society? I know I'd much rather meet a ne'er-do-well than a thug down a dark alley some night.
By implementing a shift in media language, with the cooperation of the criminal justice system, we could effectively reintroduce these categorisations. I daresay a ranking system could be devised too; wouldn’t that be useful in knowing who you’re dealing with and what they’re capable of? And who knows, it mightn't be long before we're being blackguarded again, or gently insulted by a corner boy, or having our milk bottles stolen by a scamp.