Deborah Orr: Forget the knives - it's the alienation of these young men we need to tackle

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The Independent Online

The recent spate of knife crimes has been deeply upsetting, But the recent spate of ideas about how to tackle it has been equally so. Amnesties, outrage against shops selling blades, even idle threats about five-year terms for possession - all these imply that they problem resides in the objects themselves rather than in the desire of certain citizens to wound others. A war on sharp edges is being declared. It is no more likely to succeed than the war on terror, the war on drugs or the war on want.

Terrorists, addicts, the criminal, the poor: whether justified or not, all of these groups tend to have in common that they feel - or actually are - alienated from the world in which they live. Sometimes these feelings are delusional, but that unfortunately can make them more rather than less intensely deep-rooted.

There has been much talk, in the wake of the exposure of the Haditha massacre, about how the young men serving in Iraq do not have adequate mental healthcare. But their government has already decided to make its investment instead in "ethical training".

It is worth remembering for a moment that these people out in Iraq have been told by their leaders to "help". I think it is not surprising that they become confused about their "ethics" at war, when those they believe they are helping seem so reluctant to accept their kind consideration. They really need treatment for their mental health instead, because they are in a situation so grossly delusional that only a loss of connection with reality can help them to cope with it.

A group that has to be told that shooting children is unethical is the very definition of a dysfunctional group. So is a group that despairs of telling recalcitrant members that it is wrong to stab people who get between you and your petty wants, and instead decides that it is easier to attempt to control the supply of a basic tool of human civilisation found in every home in the country.

The way things are in Britain now, with street culture determinedly mimicking the attempts at survival that a more desperate and primitive culture would baulk at, has an odd echo in the position the coalition soldiers have been put into in Iraq. Their terrible aggression comes not from their training or their conviction, but from their frustration there is no place for them.

Here, young people with unparalleled access to education, technology, open spaces, free museums, libraries and community centres see themselves as excluded from all that, and with no choice instead but to survive on the street in a dangerous little world that thrives on its hatred of all beyond its self-imposed exile. It is this intractable alienation that persuades young men that they have to arm themselves and do battle against each tiny slight life has to offer. It's the alienation that needs to be tackled, not the weapon they use to express it.

* Am I the only person in the country who feels that Tesco had taken an admirably consistent and honest stand by banning its drivers from displaying the cross of St George? The company does not after all support English farmers, English suppliers or English shopkeepers. Why on earth should it start making an exception now, and begin supporting English footballers?

A botany lesson for Geri

Former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell claims to have named her daughter Bluebell because her own mother told her that bluebells were becoming very rare. Halliwell senior is talking nonsense. The English bluebell is being consigned to history, it's true, but only because it is cross-pollinating with the Spanish bluebell, which has been introduced by gardeners keen to grow the flowers outside their woodland habitat.

The English bluebell is more slender, droopier, richer in colour and more generally elegant than its Spanish cousin. But the continental plant is tougher and more voracious, so it dominates with ease. There are more bluebells around than ever. They are just, as British Rail so memorably put it, the wrong sort of bluebell.

All this means that Geri's baby has been named more meaningfully than her mother intended. Ms Halliwell is at present seemingly determined to make no efforts at forming a friendly working relationship with the father of her child, rather in the way her mum seems determined to ignore the existence of the Spanish bluebell. Both women would do well to note, first, that breeding doesn't work that way, and, second, that mother doesn't always know best.

Proof of the power of advertising

We may marvel at the money a pretty girl can make from standing before the camera. But the transformation in the fortunes of M&S that has been wrought by Twiggy (pictured) surely proves that some human creatures mysteriously possess the weird gift of alchemy. Lured by pictures of the peachy 50-something beauty, I plunged back into the aisles of the nation's erstwhile favourite, only to find that the crimes against fashion there were if anything more savage and more psychotic than ever.

Is the store attempting to lead a sustained campaign against appliqué, for example? A little bit of decorative patchwork can be fetching in the extreme, as Miu-Miu reminds us most seasons. But in Marks the appliqué is big, bold, utterly inexcusable and wouldn't look out of place in the sewing room from The Silence of the Lambs. Other "pieces" would be considered too outrageously awful for consideration by pantomime dames, while yet more are so lacking in any sort of individuality that one finds oneself thinking wistfully about the clever things they could do with a coal sack and a bit of parachute silk during the Second World War.

The most astounding thing is that the actual clothes Twiggy herself is sporting so charmingly are exposed on the rails as really not nice. "Sequin trim tunic with cami, £25", for example, which looks lovely on Twiggy turns out to be the sort of thing that is wearable only if you too are entirely synthetic and therefore untroubled by such human foibles as perspiration.

Further desperate surveys confirm that while M&S must indeed have some very nice stuff - after all, it has pictures of it in the fashion magazines - only the sort of women who phone 100 stores at top rate on their mobile to see when the desired items are being delivered, then take a day off work so that they can spend £40 on a taxi to secure their bargain, ever, ever own one. Certainly there's no sign of any of the wretched stuff in the big store on Oxford Street anyway. Who'd have thought there'd be so much profit for the merchandiser as well as all the others in that?