I remember very little from A-Level sociology, despite it being my strongest subject. One of the few things I do remember is being shown 7 Up – The New Generation as a means of explaining the concept of socialisation, the process of learning the social rule of society. Since then I have kept  with the instalments, the most recent of which, 21 Up, was shown last week.

I find documentaries like this, where issues of class, race, gender and religion come through in real time, to be very addictive. What surprised me most is that all of the remaining participants (several seem to have disappeared since 2000) seem to happy, capable young people. No prison time, tales of horror or sense of a life going to waste. Maybe those absent souls have fallen prey to such problems, but without hearing it from themselves I prefer to think their absence is down to purely not fancying having a camera shoved in their face whilst they shop at Lidl’s or sit in a boring meeting.

Different stories held varying levels of interest for me. It is impossible to not be patronising about seeing Ryan and Gemma, two handicapped participants, live their lives as independently as possible. All I can say is that my inner voice was going “good for you, kiddo, good for you”. I was less bothered about Orala’s battle to maintain her Christianity in a deeply secular world. I cared even less for Alexandra or Oliver, two people who were born very much at the top of the social tree and seem to have found the knack of staying there, although I did find Oliver’s sudden metamorphosis into a hospital radio DJ sound-alike when coxing more amusing than I perhaps should.

I could list everyone’s journey (and yes that is the appropriate word) but there are three stories that I found particularly striking. First, was Jamie. It is hard to say why I was so interested in him, I don’t even have a firm grasp of what his dreams are, but I just found myself wanting him to succeed in his own quiet way.

Next, Talun. Struggling with behavioural difficulties, he seems to have levelled out remarkably. He was honest and open about his social struggles, and his uncertainty over what path he wants to take – military?, university?, farming? – makes me insatiably curious as to where he goes next. Out of all the participants I fear his life will be tinged with more challenges than most, but I want him to win at life, even with just a small victory like contentment.

The story that most gripped me was Stacey’s. This could be because she is a fellow Derbysherian, or perhaps due to the fact that, like me, she has spent her teenage years battling low self-esteem. Seeing her now the transformation is amazing. From a teenager scared of Manchester, she is now living by herself in China, teaching English as a foreign language. It felt more amazing seeing her take those few steps than it would have to seen everybody else magically become multi-millionaires. Alexandra and Oliver may still being sitting higher up the tree, unscathed, whilst Stacey settles for a branch lower down, covered in cuts and bruises trying to reach it, but she has so much to be proud of. So, so much.

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