CHARLIE has the choice of no fewer than 12 questions for geography homework: building a model, devising a PowerPoint presentation, interviewing 20 people for a survey, or making a short film, to name just four. They carry between 3 and 6 points, depending – presumably – on the amount of effort required. Oh yes – and the subject? Crime.What, I ask tetchily, has any of this got to do with geography?
It’s beyond me. It’s certainly not geography as I knew it: flags of the world, millstone grit moorlands, the Aire and the Calder, the symbols of the Ordnance Survey – these are what spring to mind as I recall Mr Eadington pacing the room in his flowing black gown, his great store of knowledge being poured into our eager, receptive brains. He looked then a bit like Jarvis Cocker – whose dad was a couple of classes above me, as it happens – does now, and I had a huge crush on him (Mr Eadington, not Jarvis’s dad).
“I can get six points for this one,” says Charlie. She’s 14 (just). It requires her to visit a high crime area, photographing aspects of the locality that might illustrate the problems. Great. I suggest she trawl the inner city at midnight, snapping brawling drunks as they spill out of the bars, or dealers on street corners, or perhaps a few kerb crawlers touting for business in the alleys and back streets off the quayside.
Instead the three of us – Beth, Charlie and I – head for an inner-city suburb on a bright and sunny afternoon in search of graffiti: low-level vandalism signifying major social deprivation which, of course, leads to high-level crime. At least, that’s the theory of the criminologists and politicians. She can’t go on her own, of course, being only 14, but hey-ho what are mothers and grannies for if not accompanying vulnerable teenagers engaged on a geography homework project.
“You stay in the car – and keep the doors locked” I warn Beth. “This is a high-crime area. You can tell that by . . . ” By what, exactly? We find a rather tasteful Banksy-type figure sprayed on one of the imposing brick railway arches, and several spray-paint jobs high above the reaches of the cleaning squads who have obviously descended on the area since last time I was there. Some crocheted red roses adorning a footbridge, and then – at last! – more figures, this time in combat gear, sprayed on the wall of a rather chic design studio. Closer inspection reveals them to be the work of the design studio, advertising their skills in metalwork.
We pass the nicely landscaped city farm and Charlie runs ahead, camera in hand, in search of more spray paint horrors. She runs along a winding path, past the goats and the sheep, and suddenly she’s out of sight. I spot a suspicious looking youth in a hoody and scruffy trainers slouching towards us with a menacing air, hands in pockets. Charlie’s just ahead of him and I panic, realising there’s a fair distance between us and the public highway. As we go in one direction he cuts ahead of us, stops on the path, and waits with his back turned towards us. I watch in terror as he draws his hand from his pocket and, making little clucking noises, starts feeding the hens through the wire netting.
“Sounds like you had a nice afternoon,” says Ian as I recount the experience. We did, I reply. But it’s not geography, is it? Not real geography like we did.
“No it’s not,” says Ian. “It’s a travesty. Fancy having to go out into your local community and learn about stuff that affects your life instead of sitting at a desk learning about rocks. Or flags of the world. Appalling! By the way – what colour’s the Bulgarian flag?”
He clearly doesn’t understand what a huge distraction Mr Eadington was.