Like every other British institution, The Shed is wary (for which read scared stiff) of saying anything in defence of those who turned a blind eye to the sexual exploitation of schoolgirls in Rotherham (and Rochdale and Dewsbury and Keighley and lots of other roughish little places, it turns out).
However, we cannot help feeling that the current furore is yet another example of the British being astonished by the lives its own lower classes have been living under their noses for a long time.
The Shed is in a nice corner of old England but even so its personnel are not greatly surprised to hear about young girls selling sex for sweeties, drugs and booze. After all, many adults make a sort of career out of it. And if police and social workers who see it all the time have sometimes shrugged and turned away in despair from problems that seemed beyond solution, that is partly because they never heard a peep of protest about their cynicism until now and assumed that their employers, the more-or-less straight taxpaying majority, didn’t really give a bugger.
Up until the shit hit the fan, they might have dared to point out that a lot of the girls who drift into that way of life are from families who have already cost a fortune in fruitless interventions and are not likely to be much help if they launch another one. And in the end, there has to be a point at which the state washes its hands of responsibility. How old does a girl have to be before she can decide for herself whether to be a gangster’s moll? Twelve is clearly not the right answer but what do we want to do about the 16-year-olds? And if we want to sweep them too into our loving arms for a bit longer, will we let them make up their own minds when they are 18? Or 21?
Trouble is, of course, once this sort of thinking takes hold, it becomes an excuse for lethargy – not least in the media, which conspicuously ignored the story even after the estimable Andrew Norfolk started exposing it in The Times.
Zoe Williams hinted at the reasons in her report in Guardian, 30.8.14 …
“Rotherham has the unmistakable look of a depressed English town: a Bright Box, a Gregg’s every 50ft, every second shop a charity shop. The last time the photographer was here, it was to do a story on the end of the high street. The last time I was here, it was to meet a man who’d had his life ruined by the Jeremy Kyle show.”
Good summary of the sort of constituency profile which makes the newsdesk decide it’s got somewhere better for its reporters to go – except The Shed has to ask, what’s a Bright Box?
Zoe Williams quoted a taxi driver, Asif …
“Everybody knows this stuff is happening. There are eastern Europeans having underage sex in Clifton Park every night, the social services know, everybody knows. But they do nothing, they just wait for a scandal, and then it’s Pakis doing this, Pakis doing that.”
Politicians love this sort of scandal because it gives them something they can be against without much effort and without any opposition. But in the long run, as they always forget, it’s all about the economics, Stupid, and they haven’t got a clue how to change that. Instead, they call for ritual sacrifices.
As for the Pakistani angle, it is worth making the point that a Yorkshire politician, David Hinchliffe of Holmfirth, made in a letter to the Guardian 29.8.14 …
“During the 1970s I worked in an inner-city social services team in West Yorkshire and over a period of time we came across evidence of the exploitation and attempted exploitation of children and young persons within the care system and known to the local authority. The perpetrators at the time were, almost entirely, white British males predominantly employed in the night-time economy – taxi companies, late-opening take-aways, and clubs and pubs that turned a blind eye to underage drinkers.
“In many instances it was the particular work situation of the perpetrators which gave them access to vulnerable youngsters. I suspect that, in Rotherham and elsewhere, this issue has direct relevance to understanding and addressing what has happened.”
In other words, taxi drivers and bouncers always know where the vice is, even if they do not partake. And the taxi trade, in particular, has been largely taken over by poor Asian immigrants in the towns everyone is now, briefly, interested in.
* Here in The Shed, policy on the Middle East is, generally, to hope to hell that our leaders have a better idea than we do of what is happening and what to do about it. But sometimes we hear something which at least makes us sure what we are against. The Shed recalls an interview with a former lorry driver in Mali, who had his hand sawn off with a kitchen knife by Islamists who suspected him of being on the wrong side there. When the French went in, he told a reporter: “I hope they dig a big hole and bury those bastards alive in it.” We understood that.
We also felt for the poor woman in Mosul Iraq, who reported for Guardian 30.8.14, under the name Laila Ahmed, on life under Islamic State rule …
“I went with my mother to buy an abaya and khimar (the face-cover for women). It was surreal to ask the shop owner, a man we had known for years, for khimars only to be told they had sold out – as if the face-cover had become the hottest fashion item. Like many things in Mosul these days, a farcical reminder of how absurd our reality has become. What the shop did have was the khimar for little girls; yes, girls as young as 11 now have to cover their faces. A woman was there to buy her daughters their new ‘uniform’ and both were crying hysterically, tugging at the ghastly black cloth to no avail. Their crying still rings in my ears.”
* There are many of us who were not at uni in the 1970s and 80s who are baffled by the uproar over the return of Kate Bush.
Among them was Bill Hawkes of Canterbury, who wrote to the Guardian to say …
“I played viola on Kate Bush’s last LP, and laughed myself silly at her nonsensical lyrics about snowmen. The obsequious, unquestioning critical acclaim heaped upon this manifestly overrated singer is rather depressing, and summed up by your reviewer when he describes an audience who ‘spend the first part of the show clapping everything; no gesture is too insignificant to warrant applause’. Enough said.”
Edward Collier of Cheltenham commented in a follow-up letter:
The internet is replete with suitable ripostes about viola players. Here’s my favourite. Q: Why do viola players stand for long periods outside people’s houses? A: They can’t find the key and don’t know when to come in.
* See more viola jokes elsewhere on this blog, at
* Turns out that this little summary of what has caught the eye of Shed personnel is all from the Guardian. Well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. We do read a bit more widely, although there are, in the end, fishing lures to be sorted.
Ivan Ruggeri of London made us laugh with his comment on an article about Oxbridge domination of The Establishment …
“Reminded me of a friend working at the BBC who once had someone storm out of a meeting she was leading with the words: ‘I won’t have someone with a 2.1 from Liverpool tell me what to do!’