Friday's child

21st May 1999 at 01:00
Victoria Neumark on what it's like to be...a video nasty fiend

Frankie's dad came into school, hopping mad. "What d'you f***ing mean, keeping my bleedin' kid in? You got a f***ing nerve, you lot. 'Oo d'you fink you f***ing are?" The deputy head sat him down. After offering his assessments of the year head (a f***ing w***er), the class teacher (and she's a stuck-up c***) the rest of the class (bunch of f***ing morons) and his own son (a right little p***k, I'll give him a good leathering myself soon as I get home), Frankie's dad's real grievance emerged.

He takes other children home with his own two (a business arrangement), and keeping Frankie back in school meant he would have to either return later for his son or leave him to find his own way home.

When it was pointed out to him that the school had no option but to sanction those who break the rules, that he had had a letter the day before, and that no one was willing to turn a blind eye to Frankie breaking the window in the boys' toilet, he reluctantly conceded ground on all but the preferred punishment. "Just give him the cane, it never done me no harm."

Frankie greeted the news that he was to find his own way home with indifference. But then Frankie greets most things with indifference. Coming up to 14, he has found that "cool" and "hard" get you respect, and if blank insolence to teachers and naked aggression to your classmates don't work, you can always move on to vandalism. Schoolwork is a lost cause; for years he's been so far behind that his only hope is to be so disruptive that he is sent out of the class or ignored.

Frankie has not always lived at home. Sometimes the fights, the drinking, the brushes with the law get too much for everyone and the children are taken into care.

Just when they are settling down, Frankie's dad (his mum left long ago) discovers that "blood is thicker than water" and starts hanging round the new foster home, making life so unpleasant for everyone that in the end the foster parents refuse to keep Frankie and he is "placed" once more into the bosom of his family.

One of the few constants in Frankie's life has been the video recorder, and the library of films is fairly constant: Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Romper Stomper They're almost like friends; the violent scenes, run and re-run, speak to something deep in Frankie's experience, his memories, his understanding of how people settle differences, his models of behaviour.

Soon Frankie is due up before the beak. He's been kicking in people's front doors - something about the sound of smashing glass, almost like a release. Then he likes going in and taking things; it's not like he ever gets given very much, after all. And it's certainly made people notice him.

He's quite likely to get sent to a secure unit where, if he behaves well, he will be allowed to watch videos. The ones that keep the kids quiet. The same, familiar violent ones that really hold their attention.

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