You're twelve years old. Your mother's a junkie and your father might as well be dead. You can't read or write, and you don't go to school. An average day means sitting round a bonfire with your mates smoking drugs, or stealing cars.
Welcome to Urban's world
|Picture from the set of Urban and the Shed Crew|
Let’s start being direct and honest: this book is one I would never have read if it wasn’t for Richard Armitage. This admission is not a first, for me. I have already thanked his acting projects for introducing me to readings and worlds I’d never have approached otherwise. After this totally truthful introductive statement, I’m ready to tell you something about this story without, I hope, spoiling your pleasure to discover more reading the book yourself or watching the film adaptation, when it comes out.
Bernard Hare wrote “Urban Grishaw and the Shed Crew” several years ago now (it was published in 2005) mixing compelling reportage with deeply personal memoir. His alter ego in the book is Chop, aka Richard Armitage in the upcoming movie adaptation I mentioned before.
Leeds in the 1990s is the setting for this story. Chop is an ex social worker who dropped his job and retreated in a world of drinking and drugs, living at the margins of society. It is in that unfortunate situation that he meets Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew, a gang of feral kids who live stealing or as young prostitutes.
|Richard Armitage as Chop|
One day Chop saves young Urban’s life and since then they become almost inseparable, Chop becomes the only adult member of the Shed Crew. Urban is twelve, his mother a drug-addict whom Chop has had an affair with in the past - or more probably has shared some drug-taking occasions with. His sympathy for Urban, 12 years old, is immediate.
Chop’s house becomes a sort of emergency service for those lost kids: he helps them as he can in his own wrecked situation, listening to them, making them write or draw or play chess in his house or simply giving them refuge when they need one. All that makes Chop a role model to them and that forces him to be a real one, which involves drinking less and giving up drugs eventually.
All the characters in the book are real people. At the end of the story we are informed that some of the Crew are doing well now that they are grown-up but some others are still in trouble. After writing the book, Bernard Hare’s life changed and he decided to adopt Urban Grimshaw. All's well that ends well.
This book was a real punch in the stomach, eye-opening, informative, heartbreaking, thought - provoking but at the same time extremely funny, something like watching a serious damnation-of-British-society documentary, focusing on degraded urban areas in big cities, but with an ironical narrating voice and the insertion of comical anecdotes here and there. It’s not a book you can read without being disturbed or left puzzled, of course, but you will find yourself smiling more often than you expect.
|Bernard Hare on the set of the movie with Fraser Kelly|
It is a book through which you learn that a non-judgemental attitude, an open mind and an open heart can do miracles with young people, troubled or not troubled. This is what Bernard Hare understood and why he was accepted by the crew and could help those young people. Not all of them, but at least some. He didn’t know what he had let himself in when he decided to join the gang and did something for those kids but, certainly, something Bernard Hare did for himself too: his generosity saved also his own life giving it a completely different turn.
About the author: Bernar Hare
Bernard Hare was born in 1958 into a Leeds mining family. After gaining a BA in Applied Social Studies at Hatfield Polytechnic, he became a social worker, but after the miners' strike of 1984 he dropped out of the system and has since worked variously as a mechanic, community worker and removal man. He now writes, plays chess, and works in community arts: he has edited Reflections, a collection of pieces by the creative writing class at East Leeds Family Learning Centre, and Flatlands, an anthology of writing and a CD of music by local people put together by the Flatlands Community Arts Group, which he co-founded.
If you like me are looking forward to watching Richard Armitage as Crop or wish to know more about the movie