Goodness know who came up with the notion that secondary school offers the best days of your life. Whoever it was clearly hadn't spent much time in the classroom (bunking off down the park might, conceivably, count as the best days of your life, though that rather hinges on the prospect of adulthood being very dull indeed). At any rate, as anyone who has ever donned a uniform and picked up a pencil case will know, school – particularly when you are an angst-ridden, parentally constrained adolescent – is far more rubbish than we like to admit. How much infinitely worse it must be when the gloomy spectre of bullying – or "big black cloud" as schoolboy Billy called it last night – is added to the equation.
Billy's torment, recounted on BBC3's Can't Bully Me, began when a classmate told him he had body odour. Like anyone, Billy was suitably appalled and so, as he put it, "I took it into account and made sure I didn't." Unfortunately for him, the other children had registered his reaction. From that point on, telling Billy he smelt became a regular source of popular hilarity. "I was paranoid," he recalled, heartbreakingly. "I would spray deodorant every lesson. I agreed with them that I was a loser but I just wanted to be friends."
Thankfully, he doesn't have to go through that kind of torment anymore. Two weeks before the documentary started filming, he had enrolled in Cambridge's Red Balloon Learner Centre, one of six schools around the country that caters especially for children who have been subjected to similar treatment, helping them overcome their fear of social interaction before gradually reintroducing them into the mainstream.
When Billy arrived, he was so anxious that he couldn't be left alone with the other pupils. Lunchtimes – marked, in his old life, by hiding places and skipped meals – had to be carefully regulated. Thankfully, everyone around him understood – after all, they have all been there. On a sports outing to the local park, Billy spotted a gang of children from his old school. "Can we move a bit?" he asked the others, his voice rising in panic. They agreed, of course, reassuring Billy that they "know what it's like to see your old bullies".
One of the most worrying elements to emerge over the course of the programme was the correlation – entirely unremarked upon by the narrator – between young carers and bullying. Until she passed away, Billy's mother had a heart condition, leaving him to look after her. Likewise, Adam, whose schoolyard torment had become so relentlessly violent that he was forced to carry a knife with him, cared full-time for his mother, who had multiple sclerosis.
Thanks to the help of the Red Balloon staff, by the end of the programme Billy was considerably happier. Previously fearful of strangers, he had begun to take the bus into school. He had even made a new, non-Red Balloon friend, who seemed both genuinely enthused by Billy's sense of humour and totally unfazed by his aunt's escorting them to the local shopping mall. "What's it like being a teenager?" he was asked as the programme drew to a halt. "You care about your looks all the time," he observed. Still, it was nearly summer. "Girls in short skirts, girls in bikinis. There's lots to see." Sounds like things, for Billy, are looking up.
Episode two of Beeny's Restoration Nightmare and Sarah doesn't seem much closer to achieving her ambitions. OK, so she's got the hallway painted, but what's a hallway when you still have 96 other rooms left to do? Somehow, she has persuaded a bride to book her wedding there, meaning that at least some cash was rolling in. Not exactly helping the situation, "artist" husband Graham Swift was having difficulty choosing the right paint colour. In the end, he appeared to opt for a kind of yellowy-brown, a shade that one of the endless Beeny children termed, with unflinching accuracy, "poo."
Rather thrillingly, last night's Nigella's Kitchen featured our very own Dominic Lawson as a dinner guest. "Never knowingly undercatered for," he observed, wittily, when presented with a humungous pile of chorizo stew. Chorizo, it turns out, is one of Nigella's Store Cupboard Essentials, so she can whip up a chickpea and chorizo tagine in no time at all. It is, she explained, especially suited to the task because it "always makes it feel like a dinner party". Pondering that, I think she's probably right, though it certainly helps that her store cupboard is so large you can walk into it, whereas mine is so tiny that if I started stocking Spanish sausage, I would have to chuck out the salt. Or something. Whatever, it's more paltry than pantry.
Also on Nigella's list of must-haves were lemons (again, I'm afraid I'll need more than my shoebox flat for that) and – something we can all relate to – garlic. That, I have, though not quite the 40 cloves she uses for her chicken. Were I, it seems, to attempt an off-the-cuff, Nigella-style supper, it would be rather less impressive than the one presented here. The only conclusion, so far as I can tell, is to try and wangle an invite to hers. Dominic, any chance?Reuse content