Belfast Telegraph

How BBC sent a Krystal clear message to our lost young people

What a shame the BBC lost their bottle when adapting JK Rowling's novel The Casual Vacancy. Rowling's conclusion was highly political, an attempt to draw attention to the fundamental imbalances among the protected offspring of the middle-class and kids dragged down by dysfunctional families.

Krystal has grown up with a heroin-addicted single mother. She has long been the full-time carer not only of her younger brother, but also of her parent, whose brief attempts to get it together are punctuated with periods of dependency and incapability.

There are occasional hugs and guilty reflections from her mother, but, given that there are also regular sudden descents into cold indifference and abandonment, there is no trust, or expectation of support for anything her children might hope to do. Neither is there any money, any awareness of the finer things in life, or any kind of freedom.

Krystal, a smart kid with zest, does her best to keep things going, but inevitably she gets harder, more bitter, more tired. In the novel, her tragic early death of a drug overdose is entirely the result of her circumstances, a moment of hopeless, broken weakness.

The BBC's decision to have Krystal die in a random accident instead removed the political point from her story entirely. How ironic - the book is about a culpable society shutting its ears to the Krystals of the world and BBC One smoothed over its edges because they were afraid of upsetting their primetime audience.

Just as Rowling implies, the reality of terrible, ugly lives being lived below the surface is too much of a burden on the conscience, a black truth which would take huge effort and resources to combat. This isn't the life most of us lead and it's weary for us to have to think of it.

We found out this week that, in 2013/14, there were more than 12,000 presentations for self-harm in Northern Ireland. There is also a growing trend for young people to share images of self-harm - self-imposed cuts, burns, eyelash-pulling - online.

Part of this is a very worrying "comparison" urge, not unlike that encouraged by anorexia-inspiring "thinspiration" sites. But much of it is about seeking out people who might understand and sympathise.

Many unhappy young people feel entirely adrift from mainstream society and its "caring" institutions. And in yet another week of stories about quietened complaints and overlooked signs of danger, whether in regard to Jimmy Savile's campaign of abuse, or the grooming of young girls in Rotherham, it's not hard to see the consequences of ignoring - or, worse, shutting up - voiceless young people in hellish situations.

As I discovered when I was producing a BBC radio phone-in which invited young people to speak frankly, and anonymously, about what worried them, it is this feeling of isolation and helplessness which often leads to self-harm. It can be both a form of release and self-empowerment. Many of the kids who called that show to talk about self-harm were young carers and/or victims of abuse.

The facile, but oft-heard, cry when issues of crime, homelessness, drug-taking come up - "Why don't these people take some responsibility for their own lives?" - just doesn't wash in real life. It's simply a way to turn your head and forgive yourself for doing so.

But bearing in mind how authority works, and what kind of people usually end up governing, the lives of people like Krystal aren't likely to improve any time soon.

There just isn't the will for it. And there certainly aren't the votes. Shame on us all.

Always keep your blessings in sight

I was fascinated this week by an interview with Damon Rose, who was totally blinded after surgery 30 years ago.

Most of us assume total blindness equates with permanent darkness. Quite the opposite is true for Rose, who permanently "sees" "bright, colourful, ever-changing, often terribly distracting, light".

He mourns for darkness; walking at night under streetlights, driving at midnight in the glittering pathway created by cats' eyes, a shadowy room lit up by a real fire. He cannot escape the fluorescent yellows, green and oranges which scream at him every minute of his waking day. Incredible, the stories which make us appreciate anew our own, privileged world.

It's stormy times for radio classic

Listening to The Archers (the daily companion to my dish-washing) it strikes me that someone in Ambridge did not get the memo from BBC boss Tony Hall in which he warned against sensationalism and implied that the Radio 4 stalwart should keep it real, centred and understated.

We've now had days of a hideous overwhelming flood swallowing up houses and people, angry wives stomping off to dodge falling trees as they drive through crazed storms, while another near-death survivor wakes up from his coma.

Who'da thought there was so much going on among peaceful folk living in farms in the sleepy Cotswolds?

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