Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew has a lot going for it :
- It is a must for people working with difficult or disturbed children and young people who want an idea of their life in their feral state without having to go there.
- It has the ring of truth in the description of the main characters.
- It is a quick and easy read.
- It is also entertaining, so it should be of interest to most people, not just those in one of the social trades.
What’s it about? Urban Grimshaw was a lad (now a young man) who lived on a run-down on a Leeds estate, truanting, living by his wits, glue-sniffing, stealing, twocking, and general being the sort of anti-social type who gives teen-agers their threatening image. The book follows the happenings in Urban’s life, centring around a group of his friends, the Shed Crew, who have a well-equipped base in a shed in the back garden of one of their number, and his dog, Tyson.
The great strength of the book is the way that Bernard Hare describes their lives so vividly. There is the general chaotic lack of pattern to their way of living, their amorality in helping themselves to what they want, the immediate buzz they get from stealing cars and taking drugs, the battle with the authorities (and especially the police), the random sex from a very early age, and the lack of role models among the adults who brought them into the world or who impinge on their lives. The picture feels right, and is drawn powerfully.
From the point of view of the professionals whose services are meant to be helping children and young people such as the Shed Crew, such as teachers, social workers and youth workers, the book paints a picture which may be both an inspirational challenge and a cause for despair. No doubt Daily Mail readers would respond by wanting the Shed Crew all locked up for a very long time, and some of them have been. But for people concerned about the children’s needs, their desperate need to have better and more fulfilling lives stands out a mile, and makes one want to weep or get involved.
The Shed Crew are at the bottom of the heap. In every city there are numbers of children and young people who are in similar situations. They have usually had unsatisfactory schooling experiences. Many have limited skills and may be illiterate. Their prospects of earning reasonable money legally are poor. They feel that the establishment is against them. It is understandable that they go for the easy highs offered by sex, drugs and offending.
And when they realise that there may be more to life, the way to constructing a more positive and socially acceptable lifestyle entails overcoming addictions and coping with all their other social problems, such that it is a long and hard haul. Bernard Hare’s book indicates that human nature can shine through, and some make a fist of it and win. For others, their childhood problems presage adult lives in prison or mental hospital, or bearing children who risk following their parents in turn. It is hard to break out of the cycle of deprivation.
As for Bernard Hare, the narrator, he comes over as an odd kettle of fish, and while the descriptions of the Shed Crew come over as realistic, one feels that he is playing at several levels. He describes himself as a sort of social worker manqué, who, in the course of the book, offends frequently, takes drugs, colludes with the children and behaves pretty awfully. One has the impression that he is a bit of a poser, describing himself tongue in cheek. The dust-jacket describes him as “an unlikely saviour” of the children, but, while he undoubtedly helped some of them at times, he was scarcely a saviour. His role seems to have been more like that of an anthropologist who adopts the life-style of the tribe he is observing, and goes native in the process.
The good thing is that, by doing so, Bernard Hare has given an outstanding inside view that ordinary social work and child care texts cannot do, and I predict that this book will stand alongside other classics which give insight into the way that children and young people think and behave. Go buy it.
Hare, B. (2005) Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew Hodder and Stoughton, London