There can be few more compelling reasons for the continual use of contraception than Channel 4’s latest snapshot of the youth of today, Boys and Girls Alone.
A bleak, black-hearted representation of Britain’s under-11s, it should immediately become a compulsory part of sex education lessons, offering teenagers a grimy window on a life spent single-handedly raising a limb of Satan who’d rather gnaw off their own arm – or their mother’s – than raise their obese arse from the sofa to make a sandwich.
The programme charts the progress of 20 children aged eight to 11 who are left to their own devices for a fortnight in two separate houses, one for boys and one for girls. Several of the children are fairly pleasant, harmless creatures who carry themselves with a degree of pride and self-belief. The other 18 bully these children relentlessly.
It’s like Lord of the Flies made flesh, every worst-case scenario that topped the bill at the multiplex cinema inside your brain on school nights, a chilling reminder of what being young was really all about: trying to avoid being the one with fleas and shitty shoes that everyone picked on.
Though it’s fashionable to remember our childhood as a lemon-sherbert flavoured rainbow of joyousness where we danced in sunbeams and played tiddlywinks in the street, the truth is that being a child was relentless rounds of fear, loathing and desperately trying to fit in.
For a start, children are the harshest critics on the planet and nothing whatsoever gets past their cruel scrutiny – they’re like Exocet missiles with their sights firmly trained on any perceived deviation from the path of total and utter normality and conformity.
In adult life, you’re unlikely to give a monkey’s chuff what anyone thinks about your trainers, your bag or your hair colour. When you’re at school, these aren’t mere trifling matters, they’re the very currency of social acceptability.
One shopping trip with a penny-pinching parent of the ‘it’s not a fashion show, you know’ variety can lead to a long, slow term of abject misery spent dodging verbal and possibly physical assaults from herds of burly halfwits wearing designer coats.
In addition to the ruling fringe of insane despots intent on emotionally scarring you for life (school bullies, teachers, career advisers) you also had to contend with the fact that at any one time, half your friends hated you or were talking about you behind your back.
And at the end of the day, where did you go? Back home where the iron fist of parental dogma ruled the day, preventing you from doing 99 per cent of the things you enjoyed on the unreasonable basis that they cost too much money/were perilously dangerous/could result in an extended stay in a young offender’s unit.
Lord, it was wearing.
Having spent two-thirds of your youth desperately wishing you were considerably older, you landed in a disgusting shared house with a group of people you wouldn’t spit on if they were on fire, arguing the toss about who used the last of the milk or left the gigantic floater in the toilet.
Then the terrible realization hit you: that adult life is dreadful for a whole set of new reasons, all of which you have to pay for by direct debit from your account, not your parent’s.
The children in Boys and Girls Alone are swiftly realizing that while it may be fun to spend all day engaged in arm-to-arm water pistol battles, wet clothes and muddy knees don’t get the tea on or stop a chunky girl from a terrifying London estate belittling you in the kitchen. Despite being followed by huge, lumbering cameras (and huge, lumbering social workers) the children appear completely oblivious to the fact that their every move is being watched by Big Brother and, more to the point, Big Mother in the viewing suite.
It took about 20 minutes for things to get really feral, and about two hours for all-out turf warfare to break out. What started out as an interesting social experiment quickly became a form of sadist’s bingo, in which we all wondered whose personality would completely unravel first, leaving only a child-shaped, rocking shell where once a small human had been.
After two hours programming, viewers could be forgiven for thinking they were watching footage from Camp Delta and Camp Echo at Guantanamo Bay but for the fact that the Boys and Girls Alone weren’t wearing orange hoods and were doling out their own ‘coercive management techniques’ rather than waiting for a prison guard to do it for them.
Watching hateful juveniles dissolve into weeping snot factories is, of course, horribly compelling, although nothing you won’t have seen on countless occasions if you’ve ever hosted children’s birthday parties or visited a shoe shop on the last day of the summer holidays.
As far as I can see, the moral of Girls and Boys Alone is that children are absolutely bloody vile. So, no change there, then.
* The Woman in Black apologises for her unscheduled absence. Too much work and no play makes the WIB a dull girl, although my dull is still a gajillion times more awesome than most people’s.