The World’s Strictest Parents / Episode 2.1 / BBC Three

I don’t normally watch much on BBC Three. I’ll occasionally drop in to Family Guy (Who wouldn’t? It’s painfully funny. And Stewy’s adorable) but the rest of the schedule I normally give a wide berth. Three years out of the target audience age range (16-34 year olds), I always look at the pink neon three in the top left hand corner of the screen and think “Nope, it’s just not for me.”

The words “seventeen year old homosexual” were what commanded my attention when I was flicking channels last night however. That teenager was Chezden Dundee, openly gay with a view of his heart disease-suffering mother amounting to little more than a master/slave relationship. He seemed quite happy to give instructions about how to use the washing machine even though his mother had no doubt been using it for considerably more years than he’d been alive.

Chezden joined equally troublesome (and equally troubled) teenager Bex Keene (pictured above) in a trip to Atlanta for eight days to be parented by Baptists David and Wanda Kimbrough in the latest episode of BBC Three’s The World’s Strictest Parents. Would the teenagers go about a significant change in attitude during those eight days? Would they return to the UK vowing to treat their own parents with considerably more respect than they had been prior to departure?

A more pressing question for me was whether I’d get to the end of the broadcast. At first the pseudo-documentary style was irritating. If noddies in interviews are generally sneered upon now, then surely the more generic cutaway (where edited coversations need to be papered over so everything looks a little smooth) must be on the way out. At times the editing felt a little clumsy. Sometimes I just wanted to hear complete exchanges between characters.

Despite that stylistic criticism, the hour long programme didn’t feel like an hour at all – usually an indication of a story taking longer than is absolutely necessary. There were pockets of seemingly genuine exchange between David Kimbrugh and Chez over a box of matches (the Kimbrughs weren’t keen on the teenagers smoking, let’s put it like that) which was surprising, ticking the “you’re in my personal space”  and “which one of you is the more angry at this point and over what exactly?” boxes.

Similarly, the Sister at the school the Kimbrughs run (they own and run a Baptist church too) who did singularly have the most significant effect on errant Bex at the point where the teenager expressed considerable reluctance to dissect a dead baby pig in the classroom. Frankly, I probably would have reacted in the same way as the the teenager and wouldn’t have taken too kindly to being advised on the right way to behave as a teenager. Certainly watching the entire programme I did find myself often on the side of Chez and Bex when I was rather expecting to be totally in support of the Kimbrughs given they’re adults.

What surprised me the most was how I remained with the programme to the end. I cared about the central characters and appreciated the final scenes. Bex and Wanda reconciled their differences whilst Chez and David did the same. This was the conclusion. There were tears. There was hold handing. This was what we were expecting. And yet it seemed genuine. And it was a definite relief. There was less cutting, less papering over audio edits and in general things felt like they’d slowed down. What a relief.

I had no idea that World’s Strictest Parents was now in it’s second series on BBC Three. Nor had I realised the American style reality TV show produced by ShedMedia (the same people who produce the US version of Who Do You Think You Are? donchyanow) had originated on BBC Three last year either. There are versions in the US (with a surprisingly groovy if slightly gaudy looking application website) and one in Australia too. This is a successful format it seems. Everyone wants a bit of it. Little wonder the visual language is the way it is. Time prevents production companies from making something which fits the style demanded by a vocal if slightly self-obsessed member of the minority audience.

If I did question the sincerity of the edits in places, there was one picture which reset the balance at the end. If I’d thought there were staged elements (and there must have been – some of the editing in the earlier discussions when the Kimburghs walked into the teenagers bedroom after they’d been out on the balcony must have been reshot – it was all too convenient and looked it) then the shot of both kids with their locum parents for the stills camera communicated immense warmth. In those pictures it seemed as though there was a genuine bond, one which had seemingly formed over a short space of time. That was important to see. It confirmed the content was there even if the style sometimes wasn’t.

Surprising discoveries

Life Laundry

There is a running joke-come-accurate observation in our house that I find it terribly difficult to relax.

With two weeks ahead with no work worries, a weekend in Limoges and a further glorious week in Portugal to look forward to, you’d think I’d been kicking back and watching all those DVDs I know Simon doesn’t want to watch. I could go on a bike ride and get myself back in the swing of cycling. I could even go to an art gallery or a concert or .. anything. Why not an indulgent trip to the cinema. Now that really would be a treat.

Invariably I find myself distracted by something unexpected, something which will occupy both attention and my time. I like to be busy, I keep reminding myself. I like to think I’ve made good use of my time.

So it is today. After a quick scoot around the attic late yesterday afternoon, I quickly settled myself down in the lounge with a large box of photographs the remnants of which you can see pictured.

Today has seen me buy a scanner from PC World and set about scanning numerous photographs from my past, a large proportion of which feature people from school.

What I find, 24 hours after I started going through a box of unexpected memories is that there’s a lot about my childhood I’d forgotten about, still more about my school days I had filtered out of my mind. Spending what remains of the afternoon using my spangly new scanner I’ve discovered faces I’d forgotten, school trips I’d blotted out of my mind and a strange compulsion to locate people who I now recall I did actually rather enjoy the company of.

All that from an unexpected desire to retrieve a massive box of old photographs from the attic which had been hanging around for years.

There’s more of this to come (oh yes, there is!), but in the meantime take a look over the handbook (click on the “all sizes” link if you can’t read the text) I received from the headmaster at the school I went to. Twenty years on I find some of the aspirations and instructions in this particular rule book a little hard to swallow.

The fear of school

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about school. The previous attempt, read by a handful and commented on by some people did, sadly, get deleted in a fit of panic.

School isn’t, you see, something I look back with any particular fond memories.

Over the past few weeks there have been more and more people appear from school year on Facebook. Up until that point I had kept school and my contemporaries at arms length (it was never difficult – we never really kept in touch).

I never really felt like I fitted in particularly. I was interested in music. All the other boys in my class were into sport, or at least were able to determine exactly which half of the hockey pitch they were meant to be in. PE lessons were nothing but a cause of severe anxiety, so much so that one year I actually managed to convince the PE teacher that the reason my mother wouldn’t let me do any kind of sporting activity was because of my hayfever. When I returned home with an unused sports kit, I subsequently told my mother that the rotten PE teacher wouldn’t let me play any games because of my hayfever. The rouse lasted an entire term.

Extricating myself from games lessons probably wasn’t going to do me much good in the popularity stakes. There must have been plenty of others who liked sport as much as I did but I don’t recall hearing them complain about it. So maybe, the crux was that I had to participate. If I was a team player I would, quite possibly be accepted as part of the group. I could have put more effort in.

There are many other recollections which would make for an incredibly dull blog to read. Choosing which one to regail you with is challenging. (There is some video evidence but I suspect you’ll have to wait a long time before you get the chance to see that.)

But I’ve been reminded of one school trip I foolishly signed up for at the end of my middle school years, months before I entered the sixth form.

This trip – a water sports holiday in the Aardeche region of France – was billed by a casual acquaintance as exactly the kind of experience I needed to go on to make new friends ahead of the more grown-up sixth form.

It went against every bone in my body. Twenty teenagers, most if not all of them happily responding to the hormones which charged around their bodies, would set off from school in late July, arrive in the Aardeche valley and begin canoeing their way to the end of the trail. During this four day mini-trip, we’d all camp out in tents along the way, munching on water-melon and downing as much cheap wine as we could lay our hands on. At the end we’d stay in another campsite and partake in a full variety of watersports on the south coast of France.

There was nothing on the menu which made me think “Oh yes, I think I might like that.” Instead I saw a steady stream of anxiety-inducing activities which would almost certainly humiliate me in front of my peers.

Why did I go? Because in the back of my mind I had a naiive thought that this particular trip might be the one where I’d finally lay all those demons to rest. My peers would finally understand me as the bumbling but lovable geek I had always been. Jacob’s alright really, they’d shout, he was a real laugh in fact.

It wasn’t to be. I remember sitting on the coach, staring out the window at my parents waving me goodbye and knowing then this had all been a huge mistake. From that moment on things got steadily worse. It was like someone had picked up on the fact that I wasn’t feeling particularly comfortable. Every word I uttered had “boredom” soldered on as a footnote. I cried to myself all the way there, on the phone to my parents when I got there and all the way back again.

They all knew it, I’m sure of it. They must have known it. As much as I wanted to be a part of the activities and as much as I tried to make myself better at each one, it quickly became clear that this particular ship had already sailed. Water sports was not something I was necessarily going to take to. At least not with a group from Culford School.

For the past few weeks I’ve been replaying all sorts of events from my schooldays, trying desperately to arrive at an understanding of where exactly I went wrong. It’s hardly surprising given the number of people who have suddenly made an appearance via Facebook. I just hope that confronting one of my biggest fears head on will prove a little more successful at the age of 35 than it was when I was 15.