CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Lockdown lessons and dreams that have been crushed by Covid
Sixteen: Class Of 2021
Homework was hard enough in the 1970s, when my generation’s chief distractions were three TV channels and Kid Jensen playing edgy pop on Radio 1.
For teens today, it looks dizzyingly difficult. The online temptations to neglect studies are endless. And for much of the past 18 months, homework has been the only kind of lesson on offer.
In the first episode of the school documentary Sixteen: Class Of 2021 (C4), 15-year-old Callum in Dudley was struggling with his maths.
He was easily bright enough to do the sums, but the calculator was on his phone . . . where a window the size of a postage stamp kept popping up, with his friends’ faces. How can anyone get to grips with long division, when there’s so much else happening right there on the screen?
Sixteen: Class Of 2021 highlights how difficult it was for young people to study during the Covid pandemic
To make it trickier still, most of Callum’s friends were girls. He was both good-looking and an intelligent listener, and was beginning to discover how popular this can make him with the opposite sex.
Aware parents would be watching, Callum was at pains to point out he wouldn’t dream of hanky-panky before he is 16. His ambition is to play football for Aston Villa. That might not work out, but I predict he will never be lonely.
Studying during a pandemic was proving almost impossible for Kara, 16, who wanted to be a mechanic — though she wasn’t getting her hopes up. ‘I feel like I’m waiting for something that ain’t gonna happen,’ she said.
‘Some people do wish for more, but I’d rather stick to the minimum than get my dreams crushed.’
If that was bleak, sadder still was the response of Kara’s mum Katie, when the film crew asked what she was like herself at 16. ‘Pregnant,’ she replied.
Shiny suit of the night:
Stephen Mulhern’s gameshow on Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back (C4) was slightly scuppered by social distancing. The audience all wore masks, and the players appeared via Zoom. No expense was spared on his purple lamé jacket though.
Any chance Kara had of beating her low expectations was being wrecked by Covid. After a birthday party for her best friend, she came into class with all the symptoms of a hangover — headache, nausea, red-eyed denial.
Instead of giving her a paracetamol and saying it served her right, the school sent her home to self-isolate. It was days before she could prove she wasn’t suffering from coronavirus. When the class sat their mock GCSEs a few weeks later, most of the questions meant nothing to Kara.
There must be tens of thousands like her around the country, who could suffer the consequences of Covid for the rest of their lives.
For the paramedics in Liverpool on Ambulance (BBC1), the price of the pandemic is exhaustion. ‘My God, has it been difficult,’ said Naomi, a senior medic with the Hazardous Area Response Team [HART].
‘All we can do is one job at a time but suddenly those jobs are high acuity, emotional, stressful jobs every single time. There’s no break.’ Both these documentaries rely on handheld footage, often shot on phone cameras, and too much of that can be wearing.
But whether in the classroom or the emergency call handling centre, the demands of Covid were relentless. Ambulance crews rushed from one crisis to the next, constantly dealing with people who could barely breathe — and constantly at risk of catching the disease themselves.
One heavily pregnant woman with Covid was terrified that she couldn’t feel her baby moving. At the hospital, a midwife examined her in the ambulance, rather than risk taking an infectious patient onto the maternity wards.
‘This world’s going mad,’ muttered an ambulance driver. ‘I think the aliens are coming, you know.’ But they kept their spirits up. I love paramedic Jazz’s favourite joke: ‘How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh?’