Monday, 5 September 2011

The Kid

Because the cricket was going so badly today I switched to watching Warrington win convincingly against Wigan and head the championship table by one point and with one away game to go at Hull victory will see them take the Shield for the first time in nearly forty years, I then decided on a catch up film and with five to chose selected The Kid, without knowing anything except for a brief note via the TV remote and then found it was another parallel life kind of experience, in the sense that led to me think, feel and face issues of my childhood and subsequently. It was also interesting because over the past two weeks I had been writing about many of the issues arising from the Rioting, including families with multiple problems and criminality.

The film is based on the two biographical works by Kevin Lewis who was brought up in Croydon, taken into care for his protection twice, became a bare knuckle fighter and bar night club manager, wrote two books about his life and then became a crime writer. The film ends with a clip from an interview with Kevin and his wife on a morning TV show in which he comes over in a more rounded way than the rest of the film led one to expect although by then he had become a family man with two children, published several successful crime thrillers and become financially self sufficient.

The film begins with Kevin living at home and the eldest of a growing family of four or five living in a small council property with his alcoholic unemployed father and shrill foul mouthed inadequate mother, typical products of the UK social care and mental health system that ahs developed over recent decades. Recently the government after the riots announced it was establishing a mentoring scheme for 120000 family with multiple problems whereas fifty years ago I worked with the same designation of family in Salford for the Manchester and Salford Family Service Unit and later for the Lee Crescent Residential Unit in Birmingham, In each instance the mother lacked basic housekeeping and parenting skills and was still a child for all intents and purpose in an adult body governed by emotions and without the usual inhibitions and restraints built up during childhood, and usually with a history of being in care, and correctional institutions, illiterate and without ever having held down paid work of any kind. It cannot recall one such family where there was a the kind of steady in work male figure which could have enabled the family to function and even where there as one male figure he would be out of work, in and out of prison and into petty crime which even when successful failed to provide relief for the family economy. Gas and electricity would be cut off and the only fuel for heat and cooking would be the open fire, I learned to drink tea from jam jars and the family survived on the chip butties. One of my jobs in the residential unit was to go round and check that the relatively new family planning pill was being taken each day. One worked in marginal improvements over a period of time and hoped that the children would through education and external influences find a way of breaking out the cycle of illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and dependency on social and financial care through the state and independent bodies. The odds were stacked against them and many went on to create they own families with multiple problems.

The film not only portrays Kevin’s family in such light but also the mother’s violence towards him, but surprisingly not against others. Usually the violence is spread throughout. It is also not unusual in such families for the male to use his daughters in succession. The film and I suspect paid no attention to the plight of the other children in the family and it is surprising that having removed Kevin not once but twice the other children were allowed to remain at home

In Kevin’s instance he was removed into care and placed in a children‘s home after a number of foster parent breakdowns unable to cope with his behaviour. He had no social skills and no knowledge of how to behave except within his family context and behaved like a corned animal.

The film paints a positive picture of the residential home in which he thrived until a change in family social worker led to a change in approach and the decision to place him back presumably on a trial basis rather than going back to court which would have required in the first instance. As he explains it was difficult to condense 14 hours of story telling into a 90 minute film.

Back home and moving on to the local comprehensive he could have developed in one of two classic ways. He could have become a terror and a leader, bullying younger or weaker children or become bullied, a loner, not fitting in which is to some extent what happened, constantly in detention but full of animalistic rage if provoked. He is portrayed as the victim and when a teacher takes an interest and finds evidence of physical assault the social worker is shown as someone anxious to preserve the status quo, taking the view of the parents. I am not surprised at this given the growth in the number of social workers which took place, the move to genericism and the lower in the standards in supervision and child care management that occurred during the 1970’s.

Fortunately the violence is so bad at one point that he needs to go to hospital and this jolted the authorities into taking him back to care where he is placed with a mature married couple with a grown up family living in a residential neighbourhood rather than the estate of New Addington according to one shot although in fact this part of the film was not filmed on site. I had assumed that he had been housed in the great London County Council overspill estate that had been created on land that was once Croydon airport and which caused no end of problems for the surrounding community for several decades but this does not appear to have been the situation

It is that this point that I felt the approach of the filmmakers and maybe the book became romanticised as Kevin appeared to have had a warm and understanding home situation and a good school which he felt part of and which opened several windows on possibilities. This included a visit to the stock exchange and a burning desire to make lots of money and conquer the world as well as himself. I know these feelings and desires only too well and because I know then I also know the complexity of the development whereas the film provides only a single track. I find it difficult to believe that he would have settled down so quickly into what would have appeared an alien lifestyle given his previous experience of care or moving into an unfamiliar environment such as the secondary school.

At some point he decides he wants to leave school at the earliest opportunity and the foster family appear to have enabled him to live at home and become independent providing on going financial support. The film is vague about how his foster father made his money mentioning being a barrow boy and taking book keeping through evening classes. There is a shot of Surrey Street which used to extend over two streets in my childhood and youth but is now restricted to one. There is also the involvement of Kevin in a local boxing club but there is a whole in the story of how became involved with criminals and the world of illegal bare knuckle prize fighting which remains hazy to me.

Kevin is promised a share in the surplus from the sale of the family home where the intention is for the foster father and mother to move into a smaller property but before this happens the foster father dies and then I am not clear what then occurred except that be becomes a successful prize fighter and this led his backers to offer him the opportunity to technically own and manage a bar night club.

Although living on his own he takes out a mortgage on a family size home and then fails to make any interest repayments so action is taken to repossess, With his share of the proceeds of the first prize fight is able to gain a stay of execution. The bar night club is a great success and he establishes an ongoing relationship with a young woman and then those financially backing him pull the plug saying he has to become bankrupt. The film suggests that while he immediately challenges he basis for their action it is only later after he has reach rock bottom that he is able to work out he has been significantly used and defrauded of a substantial amount in the tens of thousands. He was driven back to prize fighting but when he lost he was dumped and reached the lowest of the low as his home was repossessed and his possessions dumped in the garden.

The core of the story is his relationship with the woman who became his wife and mother of his children and who appears to have come from a stable, rational and sensible background. He was unable to communicate why he had become as he had and eventually when having reached the lowest of the low and contemplating suicide, (drinking and drugs is suggested), he decides on a plan which involves getting hold of a gun and demanding the money he is owed, taking only what he earned and no more and then writing down his story in order to explain to the young woman his need for her. The film suggests that she then takes the initiative in turning his notes into the first autobiographical story The Kid which finds a publisher and becomes a great success and the rest they say is history although the film does encompass parts of his subsequent account. I managed to find a news report of the couple having done up a million pounds home which was then at on the market for twice the amount.

There is almost nothing on Wikipedia about him and the site about his books and life is also short on information. I am resisting the temptation to buy and read the books at present although I have many questions. I wish him and his wife all the best on what from my experience will continue to be a challenging life for them all.

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