Seeing the film Kidulthood brought back some very unpleasant memories and in truth made me feel deeply uncomfortable, my mind cast back to a time I have long tried to forget. This is not some attempt to portray my past as having been “in da hood” there were too many reasons why that was simply never going to be the case, not in the classic sense, but I was in a location and a social situation that was contradictory and ones where I could be comfortable in neither. In many respects I stood out sufficiently in both home life and school life to be more of a target than I might otherwise have been. you are not always able to choose your environment, nor for that matter the entirety of that for your children.

In 1980 we moved into a council flat off St. Anne’s Road, just around the corner from Latimer Road, a single parent family, 1 parent, 1 child. This was very different from the tranquil friendly atmosphere of East Chelsea where I was born and spent the first 6 or 7 years of my life in a childhood, not necessarily idyllic but sufficiently content for me to have no issues or angst regarding it either at the time or subsequently.  Where we moved to is an area still very much etched on my mind with all that is negative. The borough of the estate is Kensington, it is just off Holland Park Avenue, the postcode indeed the salubrious W11.  In most people’s minds this will conjure up pictures of multi-floored detached houses with large gardens and larger fences.  The preserve of diplomats, oligarchs and politicians, where we were this could not have been further from the truth.

Holland Park Avenue is a dividing line, I have no reason to suppose that has changed either, on the one side the great houses of the very wealthy, the comfortable, overlooking the park and with CCTV cameras, well before these were usual, adorning the imposing walls with their glass shards and barbed wire to keep the riff raff out. Whilst on the other side it is as close to bedlam as I ever wish to get, populated by the very riff-raff the other side wishes to keep at greater than arms length. Anyone aware of West London and the A40 westway will have seen the 3 large foreboding tower blocks that are the Edward Woods Estate, large brutalist carbuncles that wreck the otherwise comforting mundanity of the landscape. We lived in the shadow of these in a series of blocks a mere 9 storeys high.  For me home life was as unyielding as school life but at the other end of the spectrum, I was mocked at school for being from the wrong side of the tracks and beaten up at home for being at a posh school.  This is not unusual this just happened to be the areas in which I stood out, children find the differences and pick away at the seams until the underbelly is revealed, at which point the knives come out, they always do.

This is all a contextual preamble to the description of why Kidulthood was such disquieting viewing for me and I suspect others like me. Sometimes in spite of all your parents do, or how comfortable your home life may be behind the front door there is no getting away from the world in which you are forced to live with your peers. The plight of Katie in the film is testament to this, being a fish out of water is not just psychologically damaging but it frequently lends itself to the worst treatment at the hands of the children with whom one is forced tot share space, be it at school, area around home or both. When the world of the parents is so divorced from the daily life you are forced to lead the sense of alienation from all sides is inevitable and there are many ways in which this can manifest itself be it trying to fit in by joining gangs etc.  This is often the case for young boys who are seduced by the idea of being protected and principally belonging.  For young girls the ingratiation with the opposite sex in order to garner some friends and respect amongst the cooler and older of the peer groups is equally common. If a child remains disenfranchised the playground demonstrates that akin to the Serengety plains with the perceived weakest of the herds picked off by the bullying predators, the pain may be more metaphorical but it is no less damaging and all too often the final result is the same as the last and most extreme option for escape remains suicide.

In the case of such an occurrence all parties will be shocked. Parents will be astonished claiming they didn’t know things had got so bad, and hurting that this should not be just something that happens to children in the newspapers.  Fellow pupils will be astonished as the reality of life not being as it is when playing dead in the playground comes a little closer, but as Kidulthood shows it is more the ones who do not stand up to the bullies who suffer the perceived consequences of their actions, the bullies themselves have often long since abdicated responsibility and perhaps those left know that their buffer from the same treatment has been eroded.  Teachers will be astonished because they often don’t notice the quieter ones, the bullied ones, because those are the ones forced to avoid the teachers for fear of incurring more wrath from their persecutors if they are seen to be “grassing”.  As class sizes increase and do so more in the denser-packed ill-resourced inner cities so the simple logistics dictate that you cannot know everything about everyone and can only be largely reactive rather than proactive.  In the case of severe bullying this is inadequate and an explanation not an excuse but the teachers themselves cannot entirely, if at all, be blamed for it.   All parties will feel ashamed, all parties will lose a little of their humanity and in many cases their innocence, all parties will be forced to continue life with the thought nagging away at them as to what they might have done differently. It is all too late by then but tragically the lack of lessons learnt merely allows  the cycle to continue.

Righteous indignation on behalf of the establishment is very often a front for the covering up of the embarrassment of another failure but it should not be mistaken for a genuine desire to address the very fundamental problems of inner city depravation.  To characterise teenage suicide and wider troubles as something surprising is to mollify the lives of all of us, to make us believe that generally our children are safe, were we to know the reality we might start looking for reasons why and therein lie the roots for social change which cannot be allowed to happen.  We must also take responsibility for it since it helps us to believe the myth, helps us eat our breakfast whilst we send our children to school, helps us run our day without wanting to check in on our children’s welfare every hour.  As a parent deep knotted fear is an everyday thing, we anaesthetise ourselves just to get through from one day to the next.

As a film Kidulthood would I’m sure make interesting viewing for anyone, it is well-scripted and well-acted, the story illustrates well the very arbitrary nature of circumstance and the cyclical nature of bullying and violence. There is no glorification of that violence, though much is depicted, the nature of it and what it stems from are all too real for young people not just in West London but across Britain. The plughole like vortex that sucks more and more people in to its continuation is very well-handled. This should not be seen as an over-dramatisation, I only wish it were.  The riots last year should be a clear gauge for those who wish to believe that things have changed, the lid on the inferno will not stay on for ever and when it doesn’t we are all going to get burnt a little.

For many viewers the film may represent the sort of unhappy viewing and elicit pontifications of how things aren’t what they used to be after the war and kids these days run riot. These are the debates that can take place at distance from such affairs. There is some truth in that things were not the same back in the 80s, gun crime was not as rife in the area, though knife crime, violent assaults and muggings were certainly commonplace, I know this only too well from personal experience.  The perception of adults was also not quite as polarised as it seems to be now, back then being caught by an adult was something everyone sought to avoid whilst now it seems almost a necessary right of passage. The lack of respect is not new merely the way in which it is articulated. This is probably just as much to do with the removal of adults from children’s inner circle as it is anything else. Families are no longer as tight knit, nor necessarily so geographically close. Parents are often forced to work longer hours, teachers to deal with bigger classes and neither side is allowed to exercise the sort of discipline they once were, some of which is a good thing. I have heard the argument that children these days have more rights than ever before and this has led them to be a great deal more secure in the knowledge that not much can be done about their behaviour.  There may be some truth in this but to my mind only in conjunction with the other factors listed before. A more comprehensive and consistent approach to things from family and schooling prresents more of a united front and backs up either side.

The breakdown of social cohesion and inclusion by its very nature destroys social responsibility, you only have ownership of that which affects you and you affect, if society distances itself from you you will cease to engage with it.

Song Of The Day ~ Tracey Ullman – Breakaway