MUM'S THE WORD MAIRE NICSUIBHNE WHENEVER my teenage daughter and her friends are conspiring to sneak off for some illicit entertainment, the signs are obvious. Chief is the appearance of their communal wardrobe. When it is undergoing a hectic revamp you can be sure something is up.
The communal wardrobe is on the move again, carried across town in a variety of bags from black dustbin to designer-labelled holdalls. Borrowed from and added to at every stop, it contains everything a teenager might need for any occasion, mini -skirts of every variety (only £25 in the Benetton sale. What a bargain!) tops large or microscopic, trousers casual or smart, enough make-up to stock a shop and a shoe collection to rival that of brielda Marcos.
Complainants about the waste and material greediness of today's youngsters take note. It is all well used, even if worn only a few times by your child. And the opportunities for recycling your own wardrobe are endless. The item you paid too much for and proved such a bad fit but never took to the charity shop can now earn its keep. "Mummy, was brown the in colour once before?" asked my daughter with delight as I dug out some of my old clothes for her to try.
Last week I let my daughter go the Hallowe'en Ball because I decided she was too apprehensive to get up to anything at this stage. This proved to be the case, but now she and her friends think they can go anywhere they like. A new front line has been established on the battlefield. "There is this nice little club in Covent Garden for people of our age. There is a disco there every Saturday. Can we go?" I was asked with a look of beguiling innocence.
"I need to know more about it," I replied, stalling. "It's under a church, a church hall." "Which church hall?" I asked, naming the few I know in that area. "I'll find out."
"Oh, it's under a synagogue and run by good tough Jewish mothers," I was informed the next day. Unable to think of a synagogue in Covent Garden, I contacted my Jewish friends, tough mothers and others, and drew a blank.
By the third day, the club had changed location to west London and by the fourth it had transplanted itself magically to north London. By then I had decided no such place existed until I had a chance encounter with a neighbour who used to work in child protection. "Oh that place! It certainly exists in west London and has a bad reputation for drugs."
THE GIRLS HAD Not been idle either. My daughter brought home a ticket from the disco (the same club in west London) describing it as a church event with proceeds to go to a good cause. Same place. Same time. Some very good work had been done in the art department. Confronted with the truth, there was no remorse but a torrent of anger: "You spy on us. You ruin my life. You are the thought police. Nobody else's parents want to know everything. They let them go place."
"And who is being allowed to go to this place?" "Everyone except me." "Everyone except me" turned out to be somebody's older sister. "You think everyone at these clubs takes Ecstasy. Do you think the place would be able to go on if they allowed drugs in? Everyone is searched at the door. The bouncers turn people away if they find drugs."
Not exactly. The system works like this: in most cases, the only undesirables the bouncers are employed to keep out are the drug dealers from rival gangs. Some clubs and discos that need bouncers employ them under the oldstyle protection racket run by the likes of the Krays. It's controlled by the local drug baron whose main concern is not protecting the innocence of naive teenagers but to ensure entrance to his, and only his, drug pushers. The only people likely to be ejected by these bouncers are not the drunk or the undesirable but rival drug pushers. There's just too much money at stake.
Everything had been got ready for the first venture out into the big wide world of clubs. The greater the effort invested in the plot, the greater the frustration. Telephones are buzzing with collective anger and anguish. Refusing to hear reason they scream and shout. It's like the "terrible twos" again and that seemed to last much longer than the likes of Penelope Leach predicted.
I remember once when my daughter refused to cross the road because the crossing had been resurfaced and she was demanding it he dug up and the old crossing put back. My method with the "terrible twos" was to let her get on with it until she stopped. This often elicited looks of "What are you doing to that poor child" from passersby.
I'm taking the same approach this time, but the voices have got much more powerful, and I am that much older. But if they won't see reason, let them scream.