It’s a rare event for me to watch television, but there is something about a serious social documentary focusing on the real lives of real people that has me hooked. Celebrity razzmatazz leaves me cold but social realism grips me. The same applies to books! Mum and daughter Kat and Kaitlyn have had a tough time over the past few years but are now looking forward to the school prom. Nineteen-year-old James is the oldest of seven children, has no job and no GCSEs – and having been identified as a high-risk potential offender, he is receiving guidance to help keep him on the straight and narrow. Dylan dreams of being a professional musician to raise enough money to bring his younger brother out of foster care to live with him in Redcar.

I’ve never been to Redcar. Most people haven’t. It’s a seaside resort in Teesside with ex-steelworks and wind turbines out to sea. The coast is not totally unappealing, as there are surfing waves. The Northern Echo writes:

Mum and daughter Kat and Kaitlyn have had a tough time over the past few years but are now looking forward to the school prom. Nineteen-year-old James is the oldest of seven children, has no job and no GCSEs – and having been identified as a high risk potential offender, he is receiving guidance to help keep him on the straight and narrow. Dylan dreams of being a professional musician to raise enough money to bring his younger brother out of foster care to live with him in Redcar.

Various ideas hit me while watching. First, that there are some really caring people out there trying their best for these youngsters. James’s mentors, and Dylan’s foster mum, for starters. That’s the hopeful part. We watch Kaitlyn (aspiring drama student) whose mum scrapes together £10 a week to buy her a prom dress, to see her as a princess for a day. Where the middle classes might be thrilled to get the whole outfit for a bargain £100 (or is that just me?) Kat is convinced that to look good on prom night costs £600 for a frock. At this point, I’m tempted to bin off prom nights, but the real issue is the crazy competitiveness in a town with few jobs.

To be honest, Kaitlyn would look great in a bin bag if only she knew and if only others were not caught up in the capitalist claptrap that makes people spend money they can ill afford. Kat is doing the guilt thing for giving Kaitlyn a hard time during her divorce drinking days. Kaitlyn appreciates her mother’s efforts and loves her to bits, so the familial links are strong. But what a waste of valuable money!

James also loves his Dad to bits despite him being in prison for GBH. James has it tough. No job, no GCSEs and constantly being arrested, not for anything major. He manages to keep out of prison but for how long? He’s a kid on the edge, struggling. We see the people who get to know him think he has potential and when given an opportunity to complete work experience/trials, he works hard but still isn’t offered a job. He’s known as trouble, which makes him a risk to an employer but as we all know, people are more of a risk if they are unemployed with time on their hands, and skint; it stands to reason. James talks about teaching himself stuff. He seems failed by the education system, employment prospects for young adults, and mainly his parents. Yet still there is that loyalty and love, and the guy keeps trying. Go, James!

Finally, Dylan is a humorous black guy who had a troubled childhood. His determination and talent get him places. As his foster mum says, he’s a strong lad. He’s also affable, funny, with presence. He’s bright, could go to university, but instead lands a recording contract, his prime motivation to bring his younger brother (who has Aspergers, and is in foster care in Stoke on Trent) to Redcar to live with him. Blood is thick, and these kids who have had really difficult lives react in different ways. I’m not sure whether Kaitlyn is talented or not but we see her discussing £9k fees for RADA with her mother as they ponder how they’d ever find that kind of money, unaware of student loans, and not making the connection between the cost of studying and the cost of a prom dress. These youngsters are not only poor financially but lack the cultural capital that many others have and the confidence that brings with it. Instant gratification somehow cannot defer.

I’m watching, willing Dylan well with his music contract, hoping Kaitlyn gets a bit real in this celebrity culture of ours and that James gets a job rather than a prison sentence. I’ll keep following them for like the best characters in fiction, they have captured my interest and I feel invested in them.

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Creative stuff!

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