Deborah Orr: This goes beyond catfights

Click to follow
The Independent Online

No one seems fond of Danielle Lloyd. The glamour model was considered the really nasty one in the 2007 Celebrity Big Brother that saw Jade Goody branded a racist bully. She let slip in an interview that she'd been dating Teddy Sheringham before he'd appeared on the panel that judged her Miss Great Britain, and was stripped of her title.

After her affair with Sheringham broke up, Lloyd dated two more footballers, Marcus Bent and her current beau Jamie O'Hara, even though she recently told a newspaper that she did not admire the sort of women who only wanted to go out and find a footballer.

Now her "friends" are telling the press that they've advised her to get out of London, because she keeps on being beaten up by other women in nightclubs. Last week, two women were arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm, and bailed. Someone certainly harmed the 25-year-old and grievously. She had 20 stitches in her back, a laceration in her leg that needed emergency surgery, and emerged from hospital on crutches and with bandaged hands. But the consensus appears to be that it's all her own fault because Lloyd attracts trouble.

A 41-year-old woman who "attracted trouble" in Hyde Park recently was quite blameless, no doubt. Minding her own business, she was confronted by four girls, one of whom allegedly held a gun to her head and demanded her purse. The aggressor is said to have pulled the trigger too, though the ball-bearing weapon was empty. A 16-year-old was later arrested for robbery and possession of an imitation firearm, along with three other girls, aged up to 21.

Worry over increasing violence among young women is sporadically expressed, and often dismissed as hysteria. Yet figures from the Youth Justice Board confirmed last year that crimes committed by teenage girls had increased by 25 per cent from 2004 to 2007 and that half of their crimes were violent. The Metropolitan Police say that of the 174 gangs they know are operating in the city, three are female gangs. Girls are known to associate with other gangs, and assist when they are helpful, which is often.

Psychologists who have worked with those girls who have ended up in jail tell a familiar story of early abuse, educational failure and parental neglect. Even those who are not involved in perpetrating violence themselves are casual about the sex amounting to physical abuse that they have felt compelled to take part in. Indeed, they appear to consider their ability to attract men sexually to be their only value or currency.

This escalation in female involvement in disruptive street activity seems to be all but ignored except by the communities that have to live with it. It has crept up, hardly noticed by anyone else. But the repeated altercations involving Lloyd may suggest that the trend is moving further afield, to older females who like to think of themselves as fashionable or soignée.

Several attacks on Lloyd, unconnected, have taken place in venues that are supposed to be aspirational and fancy, like this latest one in Mayfair's Crystal Nightclub. It is easy to sneer about delusions of sophistication or young women who are no better than they should be. And yes, there have always been "catfights".

But it sometimes seems that the culture is all too ready to absorb disquieting changes in social patterns, shrugging and treating them as the norm too quickly. Last year there was huge controversy over the number of teenagers killed violently in our major cities. The figures so far are no better this year, but much less attention has been paid.

Over many years the ages of men embroiled in violence fell, until they reached a ghastly mid-teens plateau. There is some reason now to consider whether a parabolic development is emerging, with girls becoming more drawn into violence, and maintaining the habit as they get older.

It doesn't make sense, this desire to label a woman a troublemaker because she is so often the victim of violence. It certainly won't help those who are perpetrating the violence to foster regret or sorrow. Pictures of a pretty young woman in her finery, bleeding and weeping outside a glamorous club, assuredly draw the eye. But they suggest that the hedonistic celebrity culture that is already so disturbing and shallow could manage to get a lot nastier quite easily.

In pursuit of a cheap laugh rather than real understanding

It's been seven years since the public was last invited into the world and the psyche of John Davidson. The Galashiels-born 38-year-old made his television debut in 1988, when no less a neurologist than Oliver Sacks punctuated shocking footage of an isolated and touching 16-year-old's life with explanations of the unheard-of condition, Tourette's syndrome.

The child suffered from "tics", not only physical twitches but also angry-sounding obscene outbursts, which tore out of him at the most inappropriate times. School had been "like a prison", and Davidson had left, at 15, with no qualifications. His parents seemed bitter and even sceptical about their son's illness, largely because there was little in the way of psychological support.

But viewers were fascinated, and the film, titled John's Not Mad, was later voted in a public poll as one of the 50 greatest documentaries. A follow-up, in 2002, and called The Boy Can't Help It, introduced another young sufferer, Greg Storey, who was just eight years old. He felt as marked out and cursed by his condition as John did, but he and his family had been able to secure much more knowledgeable and sensitive attention much earlier on.

The contrast between Davidson's life and Storey's could not be more stark. Now 15, Storey has close friends who don't give a hoot about his condition, and is relaxed, happy and engaged at school. He says that when another student told him "You're normal underneath", it was one of the nicest things he'd ever had said to him.

Davidson, however, looks forward to the occasions when he meets up with other Tourette's sufferers, so that he can feel normal for a change. Davidson wept as he talked about his loneliness, his disappointment that he had never found a partner, had children, or fulfilled "dreams I had as a youngster", even though in the main he is brave and positive about his life.

The message is that acceptance is greater and things have improved. One thing has not changed for the better, though. Previous films have been carefully titled, in order to signal their serious intent and plea for understanding. This one, indeed, was initially subtitled No Laughing Matter. But some bright spark saw fit to amend this to I Swear I Can't Help It. Boom! Boom!

The films are not designed to entertain, but to educate. Still, the first of them is a "cult classic" available on DVD and sometimes purchased, it is alleged, by people who like their laughs a little dark. The new title seems to invite that sensibility. Maybe in a more sophisticated society, it's considered less dangerous to pander to the ignorant. Or maybe it's a cheap and crass incitement to a greater division between social insiders and those who are "excluded".

Is there no end to this woman's talents?

A well-tended front garden is a lovely thing, because it gives great pleasure to its owner and also to passers-by. For about 10 years now, I've had a particular fondness for one small, mostly terraced garden, full of huge pots with interesting and unusual plants in them – fantastic tree peonies, a glorious perennial angelica, uncommon and carefully chosen bulbs throughout the growing season. I'd never seen anyone in it, but in my imagination it was the masterwork of an elderly plantsperson who pondered catalogues through the winter, then pruned and fed judiciously through the summer, in a labour of love.

But now I've been told me that the garden belongs to Vivienne Westwood, and I feel put out. It's the work of a professional tastemaker, not an amateur, one further creative outlet for a woman who is celebrated for her creativity. It's not the one true passion of someone who has been otherwise obliged to toe the humdrum line of life.

Quite irrationally, I feel as if I've been led up the primrose path. Westwood-has-interesting-garden shock. Mug-displays-Pavlovian-response-to-artistic-sensibility-she's-had-rammed-down-her-throat-since- the-1970s disappointment.

* Suddenly, the media are feeling a little queasy about the expenses saga, as the spotlight roves somewhat randomly, catching falling stars where it can. The phrase "witch-hunt" is often mentioned, even though the greatest horror of real witch-hunts was that there was no such thing.

Even more sinister is the increasing use of the word "mob rule" to describe the views of an angry electorate, and the coalescing opinion that an election couldn't be safely had while people are passionately engaged. It's been instructive to note how wary of unruly democracy the Government and much of the parliamentary commentariat actually are.