If ever an image perfectly encapsulated the spirit of modern teenage angst, it was the sorry tale of fifteen-year-old Martin Hinchcliffe, who jumped off a clifftop after a disagreement with his girlfriend, Michelle Daignault. Here was the perfect real-life version of what the books, the movies and the CDs and have been telling us all along: teenagers, poor loves, take themselves ludicrously seriously.
But only, it seems, in matters romantic."Martin was certainly not worried about his GCSEs," his mother said yesterday, unwittingly echoing the words of Carol Daignault, mother of Michelle. No, young Martin was moved to throw himself off the Sugar Lump, near Beachy Head, not by revision nerves but because he and Michelle had argued - possibly, it now seems, because she wanted to dump him. "I don't want to go into it," says her mother, "but when he refused to go into the cinema, lost his bottle and stomped off, she did not expect to see him again."
Nor did Martin's mother, who by Monday had received her son's suicide note. Perhaps having had a first brush with Keats at school, Martin decided to offer himself as a sacrifice to his love. Fortunately for his parents, his grand exit didn't quite come off. Instead of decorating the cliff face with a poetic smattering of dismembered limbs, he landed in a crevice, where he survived for three days - before his discovery on Tuesday - by sucking pebbles.Those pebbles changed everything. What would have been commemorated as a tragic act of despair (as he intended) turned instead into a tale of fortitude, albeit imbued with an element of farce. Sucking porous stones to quench his thirst was a trick he had learnt from his father while collecting fossils on the beach. Wedged into his gulley he sucked on chalk for all he was worth, in the process elevating the pebble to the status of outdoor survival aid on a par with the Mars bar and Kendal mint cake.
Not surprisingly, nobody has pointed out what doctors appear to agree upon: that Martin need not have bothered with the pebbles. "At his age he could have easily survived three days without water," says one. But we need those stones, because without them young Martin's heroic aura vanishes. And what of his future? When his broken leg mends, will he be just another overweight adolescent locked in his bedroom? He has now officially been dumped by Michelle. She, in turn, has taken to her bedroom after the ordeal and is suffering from chronic hayfever. "We hope she can put this behind her," says her mother.
But a flicker of Martin's romantic intentions may yet survive. Surely one who is prepared to throw himself off a cliff will not give up easily. We have here the makings of a truly grand tragedy on the scale of Aida. The nation waits for the next instalment.
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