Educating the East End, episode six: Love bites
It is a truth universally acknowledged in schools that a posse of girls in possession of five minutes and oxygen must be in want of a bit of drama. This week, Channel 4's scholastic CCTV panopticon zoomed in and focused on Popular Paige in Year 11 ("she's like a Barbie doll – but not a white one") and her posse Yasmin (hereafter known as "that Yasmin") and Georgia. It's everyone's favourite time of the school calendar, if you're a fan of sitting in a deep sea bathysphere and opening the windows suddenly: exam season. It's like duck season, except the only people who get shot are the teachers.
Exam season has two main effects on students: it's either a Damascan conversion, summoning drive and focus that would make a sniper gasp, or it sends them into a tail spin, as they suddenly notice the Edge of Tomorrow, and it's not pretty. Or, if you're the in Frederick Bremer Easy Crew, you go boy-mad. Honestly, it's enough to make you advocate single sex schooling. The second biggest invisible enemy of education, after – of course – a wasp in the classroom, is love. Because who can refuse it? Teachers stand by helplessly as boys and girls throw themselves off cliffs in search of it, like they were the first to ever feel it. And of course, they are.
I'll need to summarise the next bit, because if you've ever sat in on the aftermath of a group of girls falling out over a boy, it's a bit like sitting inside a jamjar of angry wasps speaking Swahili. As far as I can see, Paige was going out with Jordan, louche lothario of Walthamstow. Except they weren't going out. But they were something. I don't know. Anyway. That Yasmin was definitely Paige's bezzy mate. Except she decided she wanted to go to the prom with Jordan, which to be honest isn't the first thing on the wing-woman job spec ("Date my boyfriend: tick"). But apparently Jordan wasn't going out with Paige. But.
*stops typing, goes for coffee. Comes back*
That Yasmin wasn't going out-out with Jordan – she was going with him to the prom "as a friend". Which is much better somehow. Anyway. Paige freaks out (sensibly enough, I thought). And she decided to simply have it out quietly and sensibly with her once friend, and it was all resolved quietly and privately.
Haha, I'm kidding of course. What was needed, everyone agreed, was more drama than the Old Vic. And so the whole damn cycle began. Teachers' staff rooms were flung open as great groups of Marys wept at the tombs of their former friendships. Stalwart Miss Winter managed to be sympathetic without pandering to their pangs: "Get rid," was her blunt, utilitarian advice. (I can only endorse this. Boys are rubbish). Corridors rang to the battle cries of martyred women, and sides were taken, as they must always be taken in such matters. To be neutral is to be, like Switzerland, an outcast or collaborator.
Note well: if this had happened in a group of boys, the reaction would have been a couple of sore mouths that break time and a bit of uncertain cussing. It wouldn't be impossible to imagine both parties playing football with each other that same afternoon. "Incredibly tight but incredibly brittle" was how Ms Smith, Frederick Bremer's Obi-Wan, described the friendships of some girls, correctly.
Over in another world, Georgia's sister in Year 7, Gabby, is running before she can walk. Even from the viewer's armchair, we can see the familiar scene of someone teetering on the tightrope of young adulthood. On one side of the drop, childish things; on the other, the seductive, exciting world of Baccarat, gin and jazz. Funny how kids, when they fantasise about being grown-ups, never picture mortgages and 'leccy bills, and yet here we are, fretting over the fat content of mascarpone and filing tax returns.
Gabby was an avatar of this point of intersection; desperate to hurry up and stop being a kid, but enough of a kid to practice giving hickeys on her best mate. Was there ever anything so emblematic of that battle? She flirted with classroom insurgency – even booing her teacher at one point, something which should by law earn you a fortnight in the cooler. It's not a good habit in someone so young – if you have the balls to heckle a teacher at 12, you're already on the wrong bus, going the wrong way. But for all that she came across as Gobby Gabby in the gladiator pit, in interview she was...well, just a kid. "I used to think you were pompous," she said to her neck-noshing bezzie Ida. "What does pompous mean?" said Ida. Gabby made a face as she skimmed through her urban dictionary Rolodex. "Stoosh," she said, and Ida went, "Oh", and a nation of post-teens went "Eh?"
Gabby's big sis Georgia also had hickeys in common with her, although I suspect it wasn't as much a research project. "Oh God, could you see that?" she asked the interviewer. And a nation nodded and said, yes, from the Moon we could see it. Georgia showed she was wise though, worrying about Gabby's precocity, especially in make-up. 'I started young, in Year 8,' she said. 'And now I don't feel nice without it.' Realising this was a bad thing, she made Gabby take hers off, showing that if she listens to her sister, I reckon she'll do just fine.
That Yasmin and Paige, of course, made up. Scholars of international diplomacy nota bene: Girls can go from hot war to detente to entente cordial to special relationship in the time it takes to warm up a Pop Tart. Which is good, if confusing, and a little awkward for the courtiers and lieutenants who jumped in boots-first with their 'yeah, she's a *****' endorsements. It's like when friends divorce: always sympathise, but never assassinate. You never know when you'll have to explain what you meant.
*Special mention has to go to the relentless "I want you to be my prom date" girl, as her preferred suitor carefully ate his Monster Munch in the playground and considered his options. "I'll let you know Friday," he said, which is of course what every girl dreams of hearing. Ah, l'amour.