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This film is no bedtime story

THERE were times during Maya Derrington's documentary Pyjama Girls when you longed for a conventional voiceover and a few straightforward interviews.

But it wasn't that type of film.

Premiered on the festival circuit two years ago, but receiving its first television screening last night, Pyjama Girls was documentary-making of the strictly observational kind, wherein the people featured -- chiefly a Ballyfermot teenager called Lauren and her best friend Tara, who spend their waking as well as their sleeping hours dressed in their nightwear -- tell the story through their own, unprompted words.

It was almost like a wildlife film in a way. That's not meant to sound disrespectful to the people of Ballyfermot (I have good friends and relations there), merely to point out that the community shown in Pyjama Girls will have looked unthinkably alien, and not in a positive way, to many people watching.

The sight of young girls -- and increasingly, older women -- walking around the streets and shops of Dublin wearing loud, garish pyjamas at all hours of the day is a familiar one and the stuff of regular, invariably outraged radio debate.

We got a brief taste of this in a soundtrack clip of callers to a phone-in show describing the habit as "disgusting", "disgraceful" and "unhygienic".

But Derrington never tried to get to the bottom of whether the pyjama craze is a passing fashion fad, a social statement or a sign of rebellion.

It's possible there's not all that much to get to the bottom of, anyway, and that the whole phenomenon is shallower than it looks.

Certainly, Lauren's reasoning was less than persuasive.

"When you're in the flats, the whole lot of the flats is like your house," she said, which wouldn't explain why she and her pals also wear their pyjamas on the bus to the city centre.

"I don't think it's a big deal. There's no need for all those cheeky comments and remarks from all those ignorant people who don't know why I'm wearing my pyjamas."

A little later she said, "The fashion that we're into hasn't come in yet -- I think that's massive, like."

It also sounded slightly glib.

At it's heart, Pyjama Girls was really about the touching, seemingly unbreakable bond of friendship between the two girls.

"She looks out for me all the time and I look out for her," said Lauren.

In her first year at secondary school, Lauren's report card was littered with As and Bs. In second year, she "went mad" and was eventually expelled for being a disruptive influence.

Tara, the less vocal of the two, was also later kicked out of school, but Lauren credits her friend with pulling her out of danger. She'd fallen in with an older crowd and had started smoking hash.

That's not to say the girls are angels in 100pc cotton. They can be funny, witty and charming, but they can also be aggressive, hostile, foul-mouthed and offensive. Other Ballyfermot girls who wear what the rest of us might call normal clothes are dismissed as "Babe-os" or "Plastics", and routinely verbally abused in the street or on the bus (one of the girls' choice insults is an unpleasant and unprintable word that rhymes with "teabag").

Behind all the bullshit and boastfulness, though, a genuine sadness kept poking through. Lauren lives with her grandmother, Peggy, because her mother is a drug addict who started using at 16 and was dealing by 18.

"My ma, half her friends are dead now," she said. "Most people my ma's age went on drugs. All my cousins' mas went on drugs. One of them was locked up. My nanny is heartbroken over that, 'cause my ma was the baby at the end of the day."

Peggy also looks after Lauren's little sister, but Lauren thinks that she'll be taking over the job when her granny is no longer up to it. Lauren and Tara might be young girls, but they speak with the voice of the old.

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