Educating Yorkshire 4: Faithful are the wounds of a friend
Friendships are equations that often don't balance, but sometimes still add up. Some say that we choose our friends but not our families. I would say that we don't choose them either, they choose us. Tonight's Educating Yorkshire focused on the alchemy that brings two people together into a new compound, and the lab conditions that catalyses- or not- that reaction.
Friendship is the Platonic fifth element. Along with gravity, electricity and magnetism, it's one of the fundamental fields that binds us to one another. But it's often closer to sorcery than science, something demonstrated rudely by Thornhill Community school's own double act, Hadiqa and Sadiyah.
Friendships in youth, especially in girls it seems, often approach the emotional proximity of a romance. There's an intensity, an almost desperate need that could scorch stone. As children, we define ourselves as caravans, remote pods of our parents' values; as adults we wrench away from the trunk and form our own roots, define ourselves by what we love, and what we hate. In between, there is the agonising dislocation of adolescence, where the body trades up in great chemical gulps, but more importantly, invisibly, the software of our souls upgrades without permission. Our friends are often stepping stones in this process; we run away together from our parents psychically. For a time, I becomes we.
Problem is, we have even less control over that we than we do of ourselves. And on the surface at least, Hadiqa and Safiyah are deeply unlikely cellmates, their personalities, aspirations and powers running in parallel lines, never to converge. One aspires to be Benazir Bhutto; the other an air hostess. Academic and character differences seemed insurmountable. But perhaps an explanation can be found in the benevolence Safiyah showed for the new girl Hadiqa, who patiently, heart breakingly explained that in every new school she had attended (eight in her life) the most important thing was working out where to sit in the dining hall. Friends can also be life belts.
The pair were easy to like; Safiya was energetic, ditzy and generous; Hadiqa had ambition that could cut rock. Both are girls had potential, but don’t we all? Safiya was the Good Samaraitan to Hadiqa’s stranger in a strange land, and both were so in each other’s pockets they could read the washing instructions. But the serpent in this Eden was Safiyah’s peer group, who didn’t appreciate Safiyah’s policy on strays. It's hard to know what the coven could have found disagreeable about the pretty, intelligent, confident, well spoken girl from another city who had enchanted their friend. Oh, wait
Now. I have to constantly contextualise any of my comments about the characters featured with the phrase 'I know this is telly'. The editor is the artist, the wizard, the author of this show's truth, and contents may vary from the description. With that proviso, I have to say that the almost anonymous clique that cut Hadiqa off didn't come across as particularly admirable specimens. They acted with all the elegance of a wardrobe on a jet ski, exuding hostility like the saloon patrons in Tombstone when a stranger walks in. 'We don't serve your type round here,' they seemed to say. Or, as one of them put it, 'Her face pisses me off bare.'
Possibly jealous of the Alpha teen that had descended from above upon them, they cut her off as girls have done since girls were invented: with malice, and with a perfect lack of empathy or insight. Teenage girls can smile, and murder while they smile, as well as draw on their eyebrows.
Hadiqa impressed me more and more as the program progressed, culminating at the point where she addresses the world and said, 'Everyone knows not to mess with my anger,' and suddenly we were in a Manga comic, and she's strutting down the corridor full of fury and righteous anger to smite down her enemies, and I thought My God, we're in Kill Bill.
Just as Sheriff Mitchell was deciding to speak to her before got out of hand, Hadiqu had decided for herself that it was time for things to get out of hand. Eric Cantona couldn't have matched her sheer chutzpah as she confronted all of her tormentors in a flying tackle, throwing herself into the crowd like the last Spartan in Thermopylae. At this point I'm hooting at the scream. 'Destroy them,' I was shouting. 'Make the wretches suffer through eternity for their temerity.' I had to sit down afterwards when I remembered it wasn't an opera.
Alas, or fortunately, no one was strangled. But she made her point. All they could do was fight with the only weapon the mob has in spades: ignorance. Unfortunately it's a great weapon. But still, it was all they had. If looks could have killed, the cleaners would be mopping them up with the Turkey Twizzlers.
A word about Micthell, because we've seen enough about him now to start getting a picture. In this kind of edit it's impossible to criticise his operation, his strategies, his leadership and management. But in terms of his interpersonal skills with students, he's clearly a ninja. Funny, stern enough, wise, he's an Everyman confidante with big heart and an appreciation of what needs to be done, a black belt of of hard knocks and tough calls, and second chances. Even if the cuts are kind, what we do see shows a man with a strong moral purpose, conscious of his role and comfortable with exercising the power attached to it- tempered with altruism and the real, not perceived interest of the child. It is gratifying to see a man who appears to have achieved position while still retaining competence proportionate to that position. In teaching, as in every field, we often see promotion to the point of incompetence and beyond. But not here.
(I Loved Mitchell's assembly, which contained a fine example of weapons-grade surrealism as he attempted to compare the number of days left until exams to the nuclear weight of iodine, the number of clubs in premier league football, and so on. You could see the kids: 'Ah, NOW I understand.' Assemblies bring out this kind of absurdity, and long may it be so.)
Catty turned to cruel, as the Borg collective closed ranks on the new girl. Finally even Safiyah appeared to succumb to peer pressure, the most powerful weapon known to humanity, and Hadiqa was cast from the tribe. It seemed to me that Hadiqa was treated disgracefully, more so given that these were the faithless wounds of a friend. But what do we know, perched on our sofa eyries, watching through a telescope? The truth, like the 100th name of Allah, is known only to the Camel.
Hadiqa bore it with elegance that belied her age, but there is nothing that stings so soundly as betrayal, and all the armour in the world can’t stop the pain of an unkind word from someone you love. ‘I’m not bothered about having nobody,’ she said, lying and not lying simultaneously, and you could hear her heart harden a little as life calloused her, in preparation for a lifetime of such things. The tears of the world fall at such moments.
And of course by the end, like a sitcom, nothing had changed, and they were best of friends again. Sadiyah got into Hostess Academy or some damn thing. And Hadiqa? I think she's just playing the long game. Revenge is a range of hot snacks best served cold, and if I were Sadiyah, I'd check the air brakes on the first 747 she trains on. That’s all I’m saying.
I ain’t even lyin’ blud.
PS What the Hell does moangey mean?