Magazine article The Spectator

Tough Love

Magazine article The Spectator

Tough Love

Article excerpt

The closest I ever came to splitting up with my wife was before my stepson the Rat went to boarding school and we had to go through the daily hell of persuading him to do his homework. Had the Rat settled down and done it straight away, of course, he would have had it finished in 20 minutes. Instead, he chose to drag the whole process out into a Chinese water torture of evasion, excuses, refusals, wilful incompetence, glacial slowness and tantrums, which drove Tiffany and me to despair. If child murder had been legal in those days, it's a near certainty I would have reached for my Uzi. My only reservation would have been that death was possibly too slow for him, and not nearly sufficient compensation for the immense damage he had done to my fragile psyche.

I love him now, though, but that's not the point. The point is to try to give you an idea of the peaks of near-orgasmic - in fact, possibly even, better-than-orgasmic - ecstasy my wife and I achieved as we writhed helpless on the sofa before the wondrous parental-fantasy-come-true that is Brat Camp (Channel 4, Tuesday).

This is the programme that takes a group of problem English teenagers - a thug, a foul-mouthed, cocky spliffhead, a moronic waster, an angry bitch, a sullen alkie - transports them to the middle of nowhere in Utah (allegedly 'America's most boring state', though I don't think anyone who'd seen the magnificent Sion National Park would agree) and forces them to fend virtually for themselves in the depths of winter until such time as their hippie-fascist adult supervisors have decided that they are fit to rejoin the human race.

Quite how interesting this is for nonparents, I'm not sure. But for anyone with kids, Brat Camp affords a vicarious, quasi-pornographic thrill not dissimilar, I imagine, to that experienced by bored US marines when they treat themselves on the eve of combat to back-to-back sessions of Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Hamburger Hill and The Deerhunter. 'Wow that is so cool!' you keep going. 'I must rewind.'

Among the scenes well worth rewinding for this week was the one where stroppy bitch-girl had her matted dreadlocks roughly sheared off by a moustacheoed ranch-hand type, ostensibly because they posed a louse risk, but really, I'm sure, because she was being so damned annoying that she needed to be squashed.

What seems to have surprised the teenagers is the willingness of the Brat Camp staff to get tough, physical even, when necessary. It surprised me too, actually, first because the staff are all so mild-looking, with wussy, peacenik names like Stone Bear, Rhythm Otter and White Winds, second because in these post-Esther times we've been culturally conditioned into imagining that pretty much any form of discipline is the equivalent of child abuse. …

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