Ebola outbreak: there is no hope for us if we cannot first overcome our striking arrogance

Seems to me, the favoured way of starting an article like this appears to be a harsh reality check presented by way of a difficult-to-fathom collection of numbers. In keeping with that, I could start with a series of shocking statistics about ebola related death rates. But I won’t. Aside from saying that the current death toll stands at something like 4,447, with as many as 10,000 people per-week likely to be infected in various places across the world very soon – whose figures do you trust? – I don’t really feel there is much point. The fact that the word outbreak is now openly being used in both the media and the medical community should tell us everything we need to know. Of course, the definition of outbreak varies depending on the thing that happens to be outbreaking, but in this case we’re talking about a disease that is more expansive in its reach than what medical experts believe to be normal or has historically been the case. Either way, over 8,000 people across our globe are believed to be harbouring this nasty, deadly virus, and there will be more deaths on the way very soon. We can play it cool and manipulate the figures as much as we like, but one aspect of the truth is difficult to argue with: if we were ever expecting ebola, we were looking the other way when it finally arrived. Now it’s here, it’s becoming obvious that if we do know what to do, we’re not in agreement about how to do it, or even if we should bother to at all. Lots of weighing-up is going on, yet some people’s scales are more wonky than others.

By today’s social media and Google-won’t-load-my-page-and-it’s-been-a-full-5-seconds-I’m-considering-going-to-another-network standards, ebola is, of course, nothing particularly new. The mysterious haemorrhagic fever first cropped up back in 1976, in what we now call the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ever since then, it’s more or less silently been wiping out unfortunate poor people who never stood even the remotest chance against ebola to begin with.

Then it came to the west, and people started to actually give a shit.

For me, the worst thing about something like this – aside from the obvious worst thing, which is that innocent people are losing their lives daily in a horrible virus atrocity that cannot be stopped – is just how much there is to think about. And it’s not like that information is forming an orderly queue, either. It seems each facet of it is vitally important for us to not only know right now, but act on, delegate and decide.

Do we start with worrying about closing borders? Or should we focus on a cure? Should we do both simultaneously? Equally, it would seem sensible to accept the fact that ebola is in full-flow and fight the symptoms, rather than just leaving people to rot in a room while we figure out how not to catch it – to accept that only by trying to help those who are sick can we truly understand the thing in its demolition-heavy active state. Keep looking, though, and you tend to see the same thing rearing its ugly head, time and time again: wherever your starting point is, not even the experts in ebola seem to really understand exactly how it can be transmitted. For me, while swiftly dodging the tricky subject of border closing, etc, this is a very good place to start.

Since the outbreak’s beginning, we’ve been told that ebola can do this or does do that. Not possibly, but more or less definitively. For example, it can’t be transmitted through the air – don’t be silly, it doesn’t have wings. It can be transmitted by direct contact, however…whatever that actually means. Aside from stating how ebola can be passed by infected bodily fluids, nobody is keen on specifics here. But in a world where every new day begins with a new contradiction – in the past few days those contradictions have become so striking and obvious and dominant that it is hard not to darkly laugh – it’s no longer possible to have an accurate idea of what we’re talking about. As I type these words, I wonder if ebola can be transmitted through layers of plastic, or if its next mutation will present in different, unexpected symptoms that are entirely invisible to all and utterly without any warning whatsoever.

One look on social media, and across the news, will tell you that steadfast limits have already been set for the ebola virus. In what can only be deemed an act of pure human arrogance and immense scientific indulgence, alleged experts who don’t even understand how precaution-taking-people are getting horribly ill are saying that deaths in the UK are possible but not likely (at the time of writing). Worse, it sounds a lot like these experts haven’t even seen the film Outbreak – if they had I think they’d be much more worried. This comes merely days after ebola claimed various people in other parts of the world where the exact same thing was also said to be true.

Then there’s the evolutionary standpoint, which is downright ugly. To say that viruses have the upper-hand on us would be something of a major understatement. And, in truth, it could – and very likely will, unless I’m being arrogant – genuinely be the thing that kills us all. Viruses don’t care much for limits, and they don’t really ever die, either. The best that can be hoped for a virus is that it will transfer to another less-fortunate species who will then have to deal with it for a few hundred – preferably thousand – years before passing it onto something we consider even less worth having around us. Who knows exactly how the hell ebola got here to the human population. The point is that our magnificent arrogance is standing like a massive brick wall between us and any kind of positive progress.

Nowadays, we are all ebola experts, and that saying could be taken a little more literally than I intended – thanks to the fact that, by the looks of it, the average non-expert person has about as much chance of recognising someone with ebola symptoms as a WHO professional. Not to devalue their (the experts in question) hard work and supreme understanding of what’s going on here, but only a few days ago people seemingly in-the-know were shouting adamant that someone with ebola could not get on a plane without being noticed as an obvious threat by those around them.

That was fine, and it sounded comforting for a while, but then we learned that a nurse had displayed signs of ebola just the day after getting off a flight to the United States. More alarmingly still, the authorities are now monitoring x amount of people who were on that flight for possible ebola symptoms. Thing is, with the influenza season now teetering upon us, it’s going to be tough to tell the difference without dragging each and every one into a booth and performing an awful lot of expensive blood-work.

One of the most irritating things about all this, for me, is that we have seen infections and viruses spread a million times before. Every year we all put as much distance as is possible between those who are sneezing all over the place, and many of us still fail miserably to not become targets. So, in theory, we should be well-practiced for this kind of outbreak, should we not? In a way, when you simplify things, ebola is like the common-cold but a million times worse. Look up the symptoms if you want. Or just watch the film Outbreak.

Finding the reality amongst all the carnage is proving to be more and more difficult as time goes on. Just how deadly is ebola? Just how much should we be worried? Locking down entire countries is a nice idea in theory, but are any of us actually prepared for the result of that? Surely a complete lockdown would be enormously damaging to our economy just as much as everyone else’s. A true, total lockdown might involve nobody coming in or out of an awful lot of countries for a very long period of time. It sounds over-dramatic to say it, but who would deliver the precious ebay goods that many of us constantly bid for, if it got to a stage where only health experts could go in and out? Stop trade and you don’t have much left aside from an awful lot of angry citizens and not much to do. Remember, the internet relies on international commerce. If we do have to stop the wheels turning, it may cripple us, and ebola will still be there to live another day when we re-open the borders. That’s the really aggravating thing about ebola, and the kind of miserable bastard illnesses it hangs around with: ebola, quite literally, has all the time in the world. In fact, it has much more. If the going gets tough and the world does finally explode into stardust, it’ll just transfer to the nearest piece of flying space rock and wait around for a billion years or so until it finds a suitable host. Perhaps one of the most freaky things about viruses is that they always find a host, yet care nothing for finding a host. Ebola, as far as I can see it, is just hanging around, waiting to drain the life out of anyone it comes into contact with and it doesn’t even know it. How do you combat an enemy who does not even know it’s the enemy…a brilliantly adaptable enemy that (probably) doesn’t have a brain and is infatuated with taking something whole and making it zero?

A partial lockdown may be preferable, but is that any better than no lockdown at all? In truth, is there such a thing as a partial lockdown? Or is that like having a partial wee? Try having a partial wee, I dare you. It’ll only end in tears when you walk away. Tears of more than one kind, I tell you that much.

Ebola is now a pop-culture phenomenon. The Jimmy Saville of infectious diseases, if you like. The way we perceive as humans means that we have no choice but to consider ebola a vast enemy that knows only too well what it is doing. Just like Cancer, and all the other horrible fuckers out there that routinely make the human race’s lives a collective misery, ebola is malevolent and knowing and lots of little angry people seen through a microscope and that’s the way we like it – yet if this is a fight, it’s like the hand of a God smacking-out a tiny, defenceless squirrel that was never the one to gather all the nuts. Thinking about ebola this way normalises it and makes it flawed (bringing a low IQ squirrel into it just ridicules the argument, but too late now…). Yet, so far, we haven’t detected too many flaws. That’s because ebola has been around for a very long time already, and it’s had about a million more years than us to evolve. So it doesn’t particularly do flaws, or so it strikes me. It’s a hard thing to remind ourselves of, but we will never catch it up, because by the time we catch up with where it is right now, or even where it was a hundred years ago, it’ll be so far ahead that we’ll be dead in the ground and turned into carbon.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s thinking it, but I personally don’t know what to do about all this ebola worry. And I feel like I should do something, seeing as we’re all in this together. One thing is for certain: I will not be volunteering to go and fight ebola. I make no apologises for that, either. I’m scared to death and I have plenty of first-world excuses, so don’t even try me.

So the real question is…what do any of us do? Should we riot and demand to know what the authorities know…if they do, in fact, know anything? Or is the fact that we are being protected actually good for us? Can any of us outside of a very few people actually handle the truth? What if this is the end? Is it good for us to really be aware of what we are fighting?

And about that – there’s a lot of talk about us getting over-excited. Over dramatic. It won’t be the end, it can’t be, we have this under control. That kind of thing.

Now, I hate to break it to these people, but it can be the end, and there probably isn’t a great deal we can do about it if it is. If it’s coming, it’s coming, and no amount of posting over-confident statements on The Guardian’s comments sections is going to change that fact. What’s probably better is to be grateful to and for all those people who have been – and are presently – volunteering to help keep this thing in-check. They are the ones bringing the wall down, even if only in mouse-sized pieces.

There is another side to all this that’s even more troubling, and so far I haven’t read much about it: ebola could just be the warm-up act. The half-decent-but-not-amazing support gig for something far more deadly and catchy and easily transmittable. If that’s the case, we can look forward to one hell of an encore. One we will not be here to see, think or feel about. There will be no refunds, so don’t even bother to ask.

Looking at the symptoms presented by ebola does not make for a very smiley picture, if that really needs to be said. The picture is, instead, extremely dark and very grim. People who get ebola usually die a horrible death which involves lots of blood leaving the body and lots of mess you can’t so much as go near without worrying about contracting the virus yourself. If there is something out there and it is more deadly than ebola, we had better wisen up, and quickly.

So, instead of speculating and turning the other way when we hear something we don’t like the sound of, I say we face up to it. I say we explore what’s being said and listen to every argument fully before we decide it’s invalid or misled – it may be just what saves us, or saves others. Maybe the authorities will listen if enough people question the status quo. Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, we are running fast out of time to be arrogant and headstrong and thinking we know everything. Let’s get our bloody heads together. This one could just be a biggie.

The Apprentice, episode 1, in 3 paragraphs

Potatoes which are actually experiences. Everyone forgetting everything always. Alan doesn’t have lines on his face, he has deep, impenetrable ridges of the variety that climbers look avidly for in cliff faces. Very-Shoreditch-yuppy-arty-farty-bollocks. Sword falling idiots. You are a total shambles. Slow-motion leaves and slow-motion pigeons. A woman with a very long necklace. Nick’s face, as if mere moments after a very painful operation. Potato appointment. Pure human desperation. Sarah not realising that you need actual money to buy things. No genuine people who actually live in London. Karen looking fed-up. Onlookers with smug faces. Need to sell the T-shirts! Insulting words about Gandhi. Arty farty Robert dressing up hotdogs. Obscene greed and undesirable personality traits presented as good ways to be a professionally minded human being. Alan wearing a funky purple and black tie.

Allegedly interesting tasks coming up. Endlessly frustrating hot dogs. Water on the boardroom table that rarely gets drunk and if it does, you don’t see it often. Felipe’s mole face. Multiple headscarf changes. A guy with white shoes, London hair and no socks. No shower curtain! Emotional abuse. Charles’s CV. The T-shirt fiasco and total transvestites (er, I meant travesties). Ridiculous hot dogs and Felipe’s sausage sellers. It all somehow working out. “I did manage Steven actually.” Lots of talk of instructing drivers. High heels and bags of potatoes. Incredibly transparent sales pitches. Edgy Shoreditch. Boys who can’t stop interrupting. A collection of people you very much hope aren’t the only ones left if Ebola kills everyone else. Viper! A free wheelbarrow. Karen Brady’s boardroom transformation. Fundamental business errors. Valuable sausages.

The losers’ café. Wrong reason boardroom bringing. Responsibility for hot dogs. Alan Sugar’s ever-growing ears. Boys forgetting T-shirts. Task passenger. Supposedly uplifting images of what are, in reality, imprisoned and helpless exotic zoo animals. Generic shots of London, lifeless and bleak and massive and depressing – in HD. Daft slogans. Peculiar ears. Running in high heels. Nasty remarks about northern people in general. More terrible team names. A social worker you would never want near any vulnerable person, ever. Felipe can’t high-five. Girls pushing a wheelbarrow about inelegantly. Generic sunset shot. Grown ladies turning into demented children. Horrified buyers. Shutup Steven. Big error.  Handy scapegoats. A guy saying he can make women do what he wants. Zero common sense…

Where the light isn’t: The Paedophile Hunter, Channel 4

As of Wednesday the 1st October, 2014:

I sat for a few minutes after Channel 4s new documentary The Paedophile Hunter finished, wanting to write but not knowing where to begin. This, of course, is hardly classifiable as unusual behaviour for me or anyone who chooses to spend large amounts of time trying to articulate those most weirdo and elusive of things: thoughts and all that surround them. But what made it different for me this time was just how indecisive I was about the film’s conclusion and its intended purpose. To educate? To incite? To unite? To inspire? Truth be told, I didn’t have a clue, and 24 hours on I’m still nowere near certain. I was angry, and disbelieving, and completely lacking in sympathy for men who deliberately engage in high risk, predatory behaviour towards vulnerable people, yet at the same time, I felt…sad. Not for the men, but for the world we live in, the world we appear to have failed to save. The world so many of us know so little of.

The reason why I was struggling so much with writing is probably fairly simple at its core: The Paedophile Hunter is one of those very rare, brutally honest documentaries that exists in a genre almost entirely of its own making. We’re used to hearing about vigilantes and people who will do whatever it takes to keep vulnerable people safe, but what we aren’t used to is seeing them stare right at us, through the screen, as if this is all fairly normal. That’s exactly what we were confronted with tonight, when Stinson Hunter, self-confessed professional paedophile revealer, showed up on Channel 4, all (metaphorical) guns blazing. With no distance between him and us and us more or less sitting in his front-room while he groomed the groomers, you couldn’t not look at the screen. And at times, the level of disgust that transcended the boundaries of the television was nothing less than stratospheric. You were right there with him and his no-holds-barred buddies, and a lot of the time, for me at least, it didn’t feel anything other than 100% captivating. Confronted by such alarming behaviour, the only thing you could do was say “wow, this is absolutely terrible.” The scope of this brutal urban theatre, combined with the quality of the filming and editing, meant that it was easy to get lost in thought and a miserable kind of somewhat thrilling contemplation. Sometimes, I even managed to forget that this was about real life. That’s pretty scary.

The most disturbing thing about the film – if it’s even possible or right to rate the level of disturbance when all these things are so blindingly messed up and downright wrong on so many obvious levels – was, for me, just how pathetic the moment was when Stinson finally cornered one of the men he and his posse had worked so hard to entrap. You hear about sexual predators being particularly devious and manipulative. A realm of human being who only exists to cause misery to the most vulnerable of people in our society. Yet never was a man more feeble than when on screen here, all wide eyes and absolutely no idea of the trouble he was in. No clever excuses and no threats made, and they were all like that, really, with very few exceptions: all proper victims, if we can use that word. Utterly bemused about what the hell was going on around them, at times you could actually see their lives being hollowed out from them, right before their eyes. Their careers gone, their marriages in ruin. You could actually see them going through a moment of spiritual understanding where they knew it had finally happened and caught up with them: they had lost everything, and it was always going to end this way.

And the worst, most horrible part was that some of these men looked like they’d known it was coming and they’d been preparing for it for a lifetime. This considered, it’s no wonder that Stinson lacked sympathy in every conceivable way.

The question of whether or not what Stinson does – has done, on numerous occasions – is wrong or right is one that will no doubt be pondered over intensely as the reviews come in, but I don’t think that’s where we should be focusing our efforts – it’s happened, we watched it, we wanted to watch it, those are the facts and I don’t hear anybody saying that he should stop. What concerns me is that for every man that Stinson goes after, another ten are working harder, and smarter, to evade capture. To minimise every trace of their abusive behaviour in a way that cannot be seen and outed so easily. That’s what really scares me.

You look at Twitter and the evidence is strong that people like (or should I say appreciate?) what Stinson is doing. Some think that this man and his gang should be knighted. And you can’t blame them at all, can you? Because if it takes vigilantes to do what the authorities should already be leading a welfare revolution in, then there is something seriously wrong with this picture. Without doubt, we are in big trouble.

Stinson argues that what he is doing is right on every level. It’s hard to argue with his reasoning, too: when he baits and invites these men into his home, he doesn’t use threats of physical violence, and he does not restrict them from leaving whenever they choose (although you could argue that the bullying level is so high and intense that it over-rides some individuals’ cognitive ability to leave). In fact, his biggest offence is playing these villains at their own despicable game. That said, such things hardly seem necessary. When you have enough intimidation on your side to sink a small island – not to mention a video camera capable of beaming those images into the public domain in a mere matter of seconds, and a very receptive, enthusiastic following – you don’t need to make a fist or own a weapon. Words and a barrage of insight about how much trouble one is in are clearly enough.

Much as I agreed with what Stinson said when he argued that these men were doing this of their own accord, and he was merely the catalyst for their demise, difficult questions couldn’t help but arise. Ones I didn’t really want to think about, but found myself musing deeply. Ask yourself: what happens if gangs of more ruthless vigilantes begin to appear? And what about the enormous potential for the public to harrass mistaken identities?

Another thing I worry about is the pact mentality of people who condone such behaviour, without – and this is just potentially, because everyone is different – thinking for themselves. There is the danger, here, of losing ourselves in mass hysteria that may build and build. Of not stopping and thinking and gauging every case on its own merit. I’m not saying any of the men shown in the documentary shouldn’t have been exposed – thinking about it now, I still feel that they all should. I mean…who would want to turn back the clock and give them back their anonymity? Then again, why do these things still nag at me? And what happens if a Stinson Hunter appears on every street corner out there in a matter of weeks? What happens then? Will paedophiles find a way of entirely bypassing the thugs completely? Will I ever stop repeating myself?

Then there are all the other troubling things that this documentary illuminates: if we’re all looking one way, what’s happening over there…or over there? There are so many aspects to abuse and grooming and internet safety that it is impossible to cover them all in one blog post, but here’s a taste: men aren’t the only people who abuse children and young people. People abuse people, and those people can be female, too.

And for all the people out there thinking Don’t be ridiculous, a woman would never do something that terrible to a child or young person, I urge you to keep an open mind and consider the lessons that history has taught us so very many times. From now on, we need to be even more careful and be vigilant about awareness in ways once unimaginable. After all, abuse happens where people aren’t looking. Worse, it happens where they wouldn’t even think to look.

Then there’s the controversial question or notion of paedophilia as a condition, or worse, an identity, which further complicates things. Massively, when you think about it. The stigma of the creepy old man does nothing but serve as a source of amusement for some, while missing the point at best and distracting us from the more complex arguments that some paedophiles keep putting out: that somehow, this is right and acceptable. Creepy old men are the cliché of yesteryear that nobody takes seriously anymore, aren’t they? They’re the caricatures that lack the depth of nastiness that are actually out there. Real, dangerous paedophiles, on the other hand, are increasingly showing themselves as organised, determined individuals who point-blank will not stop. Worse, the paedophile can be anyone, and they don’t have to subscribe to a certain image (contrary to popular belief on social media, they can’t all be recognised by their dress code and their ownership of specific types of glasses). Even more unsettling, to really get to the crux of why this issue is so horrendous can only be done by considering what to do about the problem…which at the moment is not much, if anything at all, bar act when information is available, very often too late. Some experts who have conducted years of research in the field suggest that paedophilia is an ingrained personality trait. Something as difficult to remove as sarcasm or someone who can’t help but laugh at pathetic jokes. Other experts, conversely, believe in the idea of treatment very seriously and are saying that we should treat all paedophiles medically, without exception. For them, paedophiles are just as much victims as the individuals they pursue. For these experts, their evil is not a horrifying choice or learned belief, it is an affliction which we all must pay, literally, to have healed. So that one day, they might be what society calls normal…

Chances are, it’s going to be a long time – if it ever happens – until the two divisions come to universal agreement. Which is why we can’t afford to be lazy any more. The question is, what to do next?

Silly Old Goat is now live!

SOG

It’s simple really. My new website, Silly Old Goat is now live. The site is the new home for my humour blogging, as well as my new restaurant and travel reviews. After a long haul with hosting companies, learning about plugins and lots of other things which I have never had to deal with on this free blog, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it!

Naturally, as a direct result of this, people have been asking me if that means this blog is finished. It isn’t. I’ll still be posting blogs here every so often, although in reality it won’t be as frequent. Hopefully people enjoy reading it. We shall see…

Katie Piper: new life, new baby

Katie PiperYou meet someone in a bar, you smile, you laugh, you fall in love. It is perfect and effortless, the way things ought to be. Then, one day, you’re walking down the street and, completely out of nowhere, your entire body feels like it’s on fire. You’re not sure what’s going on, exactly, but the feeling is so strange and terrible – so otherworldly, unfamiliar and desperate – that you know it’s bad. You realise you are in serious trouble. In fact, when you wake up, you realise you might die, and that’s just the beginning. There is so much more to overcome.

Many know Katie Piper as the ever-smiling TV presenter and former model. The face of numerous documentaries. Many more will know her as the acid-attack victim and subsequent creator of the Katie Piper Foundation. The woman who courted an over-zealous Facebook fan, without knowledge of his sinister past.

Back in February 2008, Katie was living a normal life with the same common concerns of many people her own age. She was doing well on her path to success in the world of digital media, and thrived on the new challenges she was being given.  In March, all that changed when Katie’s ex-boyfriend Daniel Lynch hired someone to carry out a vicious attack. The guy who threw the sulphuric acid at Katie went by the name of Stefan Sylvestre. Both men, unsurprisingly, are now serving life sentences in jail.

Acid attacks, horribly and surprisingly for some, are actually not that uncommon. The savaging effect of sulphuric acid – which has been used for metal cleaning, the production of explosives and fertilizers, amongst many other things – makes it the perfect weapon…if your goal is to destroy somebody’s facial features, confidence, self-believe and entire soul. And with acid attacks, burns are far from the only concern. Because acid corrodes skin so effectively, it leaves open the possibility of secondary problems: infection, cardiac arrest, multiple organ issues. The list goes on and on, and is compounded by the fact that skin is the largest organ of the human body.

Having followed Katie’s recovery with a reasonable degree of attention over the years – a recovery which has been all but dominated by a string of complex surgeries, including that which was needed to restore her eye-sight – I found myself smiling as I turned my computer on this morning and scanned the news. For today, Katie got the chance to do something she once would have thought impossible: to show her new baby off to the world, with a great big smile on her face. Belle is her name, and she was born on the 14th March, 2014.

Amongst spiralling concerns about the welfare of the Earth and as-yet unknown technological inventions which look set to make our current social media enterprises look weak by comparison, great things await Belle. Belle will get to grow up and see her mother truly happy, in a world where unthinkable medical progress can now make a real difference to not just physical wellbeing, but emotional wellbeing also. Thanks to the pioneering work of Mr Mohammed Jawad – the leading reconstructive plastic surgeon at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, who was instrumental in Katie’s successful recovery – there is now hope for burn victims which simply did not exist before. This is a tremendous thing for any of the approximate 1,500 people who are affected globally every year (statistic courtesy of Acid Survivors Trust International).

All this is something which is particularly poignant right now, just two days after 22-year-old Mary Konye was jailed for 12 years. Naomi Oni, once a friend of Ms Konye, suffered serious burns to her chest and face when Miss Konye decided to throw acid in her face. All because of an alleged comment she made about her friend being ugly.

What’s to come from Katie? I’m looking forward to seeing more. Katie Piper is an inspiration, so, if you have the inclination, feel free to click the above link and see what she’s doing at her foundation.

 

How to write without feeling intimidated by the blank page

Writing is and always will be an intimidating process – there are so many ways to go wrong and so few ways that instantly feel right to an inexperienced mind. Besides this, sitting down to write often requires the engagement of emotions which are not altogether comfortable, but are nothing less than essential in the deployment of all creative endeavours. Additionally, those who express an interest in learning to write face about a hundred enormous obstacles: will I be any good at it? Is there any fucking point? Will anybody actually read my bloody stuff? Is it possible to be a writer and not be poor and jaded forever? This is accompanied by a damaging cultural belief, in many societies, that in the age of the internet, absolutely anyone can be a writer. And if anyone can be a writer, writing must be easy. Writing, in the minds of many, is either a profession for mega-rich authors, journalists or students not yet at peace with their place in life, fumbling through until they no longer have to write any more. Yet the importance of written communication is a dominating force. Surrounded by such complexities and tarnished by the blight of a million terrible Amazon novels, it’s hardly surprising that putting words down can feel so difficult.

Reading this blog post probably won’t change any of that much – although it may illuminate a few things which help reveal ways to cope (a bit like this post from a long time ago on writer’s block).

Consider how incredible the concept of writing is

The controlled transfer of thoughts to paper or screen by way of fingers is a mesmerizing thing when you stop and really think about it. When we write in a way that can be accurately understood, we’re directly connecting our thoughts and feelings with those of everyone around us (or, at least, those who take the time to read them!). This is an incredible act of physical and psychological union – better than mind-reading, in a way, as the thoughts are pure and distilled and a reader doesn’t (usually) have to fight past an endless stream of consciousness to get to the good bits. So, if you’re feeling intimidated, consider that you are engaging in something fantastic and incredibly unique. Talking’s great and all, and painting a picture is a fine way to interact with others and share our thoughts, but writing is the honed and crafted direct observations of human beings. That’s quite something, don’t you think?

You can always write more

I don’t care if you’ve just finished writing your first novel and lost it – well, I do, I feel quite sorry for you, but you get what I mean – or if you’ve just wiped-out that blog post you’ve been working on for a week. You can always write more stuff. The preciousness of thought and time means that most of us get quite attached to our writing, often in an unhealthy way. We struggle to say goodbye to it, even when we know we can do better. Yet saying goodbye to it is exactly what builds stronger foundations. A better ability to cope with change and keep on going, past the constraints of rejection. The fact that you can just begin again a few minutes or hours later means that words are infinitely powerful.

Words are organic and unlimited. Aside from a few nightmarish notions fed to us by disenchanted people and critical self-esteem issues which beg you to do anything else instead, there is nothing stopping your words affecting people in the same way that the so-called great novelists of our time have – words are your chance to tell the world precisely what you think in any way that you desire. If that doesn’t act as an incentive to better one’s ability to communicate via the medium of words, I don’t know what does.

What you have written has been written before, but so what?

I often hear the argument – the bad argument, the terrible, meaningless argument – that writing has been done so well so many times before that there is no point pursuing it as an activity or occupation. It simply is not true. It doesn’t matter in the least. There will nearly always be someone out there who you know who is better than you, or more capable. It’s irrelevant. That a million people have attempted and failed to finish their novels does not mean that you will suffer the same fate. Even though the outcome for a new writer may be statistically likely to be similar, where writing is concerned, statistics are only worth the value we give them.

Know that the act of writing will bring about joy and self-growth, no matter what its end result

Contrary to popular misconception, the important thing about writing is not solely the act of committing words to paper or screen. The other very important thing is enjoying doing it. Out of all the times I have written blogs, articles or novels, I can only truly recall a couple of times where I in no way benefited from the process. Writing brings enormous entertainment, stimulation, inspiration and enjoyment. It’s a proven thing that those experiencing the flow state of writing are at one with themselves and, while being alone, are anything but lonely.

Unsure of what to write?

This is a subject I have covered extensively in a past blog. My best advice to those who are trying to write and feeling consistently daunted by it is…try and think about what you really want to say. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, it could be very small. It could be a seemingly inconsequential observation that leads to bigger, pivotal things. In writing, small things grow into big things with very little encouragement. The great thing is that it happens automatically, you just need to commit some time.

Failing that, consider what you don’t want to say. Writing does not always have to follow strict rules and regulations. If you’re completely unable to write anything at all, then why not ask yourself the question of why this is the case. Why not try to formulate this feeling of frustration into meaningful words?

Stop listening to others who say they find writing easy

Again, this truly is irrelevant to you. How does it matter how well someone else does something? Who cares if they’ve only been writing seriously for a year and have written their first novel draft, beginning to end, one-hundred-thousand words? It simply does not matter in any way to you and what you’re doing, and it never will. And again, be careful not to run away with yourself. Writing is a learned craft which cannot be rushed.

I remember when I first started to write about 10 years ago. Writing came very naturally to me, because I didn’t know what I was doing and it felt exciting to write without restriction. So accept that writers go through stages. Important stages that cannot be missed or circumnavigated. Those at the very beginning may find writing almost effortless, as they are naïve and lack the constraints presented by rules. Those who are well-practiced in the art may write in what appears to be a reasonably effortless way, owing to their growing knowledge-base and many hours of practice. If you’re somewhere in the middle, however, and a blank page is intimidating you, there is a possibility that this is all part of a very important process that must be endured and worked through. So try to relax and have fun when writing. If you can only do one thing, write stuff that makes you really smile.

Do you have any advice for fellow writers, or those who would like to begin writing but don’t know where to start? Feel free to leave a comment below, like it or share it on Facebook/Twitter. Let’s see what we can get together and learn.

 

 

How watching dogs interacting with sticks will substantially improve your life

Witness the wonder

Witness the wonder

Yesterday I saw a dog in a park carrying a stick – I think it was a Border Collie. Or attempting to carry a stick. The stick was as long as the dog was – assuming the mind-set of a dog for a moment, my guess is that this was probably the main attraction – and the dog was an old boy with a big shaggy coat. As soon as I saw him slowly approach the stick with his curious eyes and lovely colouring, I was confident that he was going to be enamoured by everything it had to offer. Another possible attraction of the stick may well have been its multi-faceted appearance. With an appealing smooth-yet-intriguing texture on the teeth and additional smaller sticks literally branching off from the main one, this particular nice stick, stranded in the greenery of the park and just begging to be picked-up, clearly had a lot to offer. Additionally, the stick was the only discernible object in the entire grassy field, which, surely, qualified as reason enough alone.

Here is how watching dogs interacting with sticks will substantially improve your life.

Mental wellbeing

As I believe I have just sufficiently demonstrated, watching dogs – young or old, age irrelevant – interact with sticks is a joyous activity for humans of all ages and dispositions. Some dogs simply carry sticks about, making humans smile almost by default (unless those humans are cold and dead inside like people who find no pleasure at all in films like Dirty Dancing, but we won’t bother ourselves with that here). Whatever a dog is doing with a stick, be it simply carrying it or trying to attack it, watching such activity makes for immense enjoyment and pleasure.

Physical wellbeing

Facial muscles require a regular workout. Don’t ask me why – let us simply assume that it’s better to smile than to not, and that all those freelance writers who have written copious web articles on the subject over the years had a real interest and were not just following the incredible trail of money which writing for a living so obviously brings.

Here comes the science part. Smiling induces movement in other parts of the body. Hence the fact that when you smile, you generally tend to be interacting in some way which also works other parts of the body, thus making you fitter in a subconscious, holy-shit-I’ve-just-lost-2-pounds-and-all-I-did-was-watch-a-dog-playing way. It is therefore possible to say that watching dogs messing about with sticks is physically good for you, even if you find absolutely no mental stimulation in such an activity and still resent me quite a bit for mentioning Dirty Dancing in the above paragraph.

Laughter is great

Scientists reckon that laughter can be used as an effective pain medicine. Wow. psychologists believe, and have strong evidence for, the notion that laughter helps people to bond and engage in meaningful relationships with one another. No way! Another direct consequence of laughter is the inevitable release of endorphins, which we all quite love. So watching dogs interacting with sticks is beneficial in a breathtaking number of ways. Not to mention the fact that watching dogs carrying and playing with sticks does other things besides…

It gets the brain working

Watch a dog obsessing over a stick and you can’t help but think. Try it out and see what I mean. Take this example, in the mind of a woman whose a bit fed-up with her husband: look at what she’s doing with that stick! That’s ingenious, dogs are clever, I wish Dave was more ingenious…which reminds me…he really needs to Google how to fix the cupboard door like he bloody told me he would…maybe I should consider divorce after all…

While it could well be said that dogs carrying sticks is, in evolutionary terms, creating a disenchanting culture of misery for couples – specifically those with DIY shortcomings which could have been avoided had one followed gut instinct when a light-bulb needed changing and the partner in question was seriously flummoxed in a way that should really have made one think long and hard about the future of that relationship – it could also be said that it makes you think and have ideas. And if you have ideas, that’s brilliant, isn’t it?

All because dogs just quite like carrying sticks around. There. Thank you, dogs, and thank you for being there, sticks.

Endless fascination: Foo Fighters’ Everlong

GrohlI didn’t begin to appreciate Foo Fighters music until well after I’d left secondary school. A shame, because had I got there earlier, I would probably have been better able to relate to my class-mates. A select group of my peers were raving about this Foo Fighters band, treating angry Dave and his muckers like the originators of some kind of actual religion. Needless to say, this was something which provoked the attention of a sadistic RE-studies-despising-boy who went by the name of Big Terry (or Infamous Big Terry, depending on which people you hung about with). As was the fashion back in the early 1990s, Big Terry quite liked getting weaker pupils in horrendous looking head-locks, and he didn’t much appreciate groundbreaking rock music, either.

There was a boy in my form who had big ears and wouldn’t stop going on about Foo Fighters. A boy who, luckily for him, could also run fairly fast. Possibly the owner of the largest surface-area ears in our entire year, this immensely obvious physical characteristic went largely unnoticed to his class-mates as long as he was talking about Foo Fighters and successfully appearing cool. No wonder, then, that he kept up his adoration of Dave’s gang with punishing force – providing Big Terry was busy terrorising another victim, that is.

Everlong was one of those songs which instantly arrested my senses. There was no transition, no needing to get acquainted or even interpret the lyrics – the connection resonated instantly. Just like PixiesBone Machine would do, and just as Jeff Buckley’s mesmerizing song Grace would so effortlessly achieve, listening to Everlong was an experience akin to what could only be described as setting foot on another planet. At the time, I had heard nothing like it, nothing that even came remotely close. While other songs would come and go over the years, losing their significance and some of their magic, for me, Everlong still to this day retains the same powerful intensity.

The key to Everlong‘s astounding, multi-layered feel is, I think, an ability to completely consume a person’s senses. Grohl’s lyrics are raw and rampaging, while the song’s construction is a sprawling mass of high-energy which will have you receiving a speeding-ticket in next to no time. Everlong is a song to go crazy to, one to sing at the top of your voice or quietly embrace through ear-phones, isolated from the outside world.

When I first heard Everlong, I listened to it repeatedly. I listened to it for months, every single day, until the CD wore out. Each time seemed to bring something new and as yet unnoticed – yet so massively engaging that I struggled to comprehend how I had not acknowledged its significance before. Yet over time, I realised that something was happening. Everlong wasn’t losing its appeal, as such, but I was beginning to realise that, like very few songs, it was a song to cherish.

Nowadays, I tend not to listen to Everlong very often. If I hear it more than three times in 6 months then for me, that could be considered an exception. If I hear it in a cafe, I will, almost subconsciously, do everything in my power to put space between me and it – while also feeling cheated that I am doing so. If it comes on while I am driving, or accidentally finds itself pouring out of my MP3 player, I will shut it off without a second thought…unless I am truly in the precise right mood. For me, Everlong is a very special song which I like to listen to only from time to time. To savour and enjoy when I need that extra-special something (so much so that I didn’t even listen to it while writing this blog post).

While it’s possible that I will one day get fed-up with this classic song, something tells me that if that is to happen, it won’t be for some time yet.

Channel 4: Live From Space, just for the hell of it

My girlfriend and I ended up watching the first of Channel 4s Live From Space series by total accident. Jen, fuelled by enthusiasm to see first dates flourish and fail miserably, was absolutely certain that everyone’s favourite new dating show First Dates was on Channel 4 at 9pm last night. It wasn’t of course. We were an hour too early. As it was then announced that, instead, the first episode from this new Space series was to begin, both of us sat there a bit pissed off and deflated and wondering what to do next. We had good reason to be annoyed, it’s true. I had my treats ready (one of which was a big fat bar of Dairy Milk) and Jen had her pack of blueberries at the ready (a real bargain at just 34 pence on special offer from our favourite supermarket, The Cooperative). In a very short period of time, we had to decide: do we watch this Live From Space thing or not bother? After a bit of debate, I decided to make an executive decision. We were going to give the show a chance. Probably it was going to be crap, we both thought, but whatever way you looked at it, it would at least be intriguing to see how people do poos safely in space.

But you know how it goes. No sooner had Dermot O’Leary appeared on screen than my phone went off in my pocket. I was tempted to not answer it, as Dermot had just started to speak – there he was, standing in front of Mission Control in Houston, looking happy to be doing something other than X-Factor – but it was our friend’s birthday and we had tried to call him a few minutes before (which, when he failed to pick up, saw Jen and I singing Happy Birthday onto voicemail like a right couple of silly goons). Selfishly, I had thought at the time that the amount of effort we had put into singing that famous song would somehow blow the mind of our friend enough that he would need at least an hour to take in the wonder of it all, thus giving us just enough time to first watch Live From Space episode 1. So as to concentrate fully on the chat with our friend, I turned the channel over. That was when I knew that I was more interested in learning about Space than I had first thought.

I tell you what, I loved learning about Space with Dermot. I really thought it was brilliant. Although it was at no point in time mentioned how astronauts safely do a poo in Space, we did learn plenty of other interesting things. For example, anyone who has often thought What the hell do people actually do in Space? would have been delighted to discover that, mainly, astronauts do bizarre experiments which are recorded in every way imaginable, apparently for the sake of it. Us viewing public witnessed this first-hand as ants were released inside a small container, live from Space. It sounds dull, I’ll admit, but watching the ants attempt to go about their business was strangely mesmerizing. It’s just a shame the ants can’t speak for themselves.

Another high point came when one of the astronauts shared with us a routine daily task that most of us with decent running non-diseased water take for granted: that loveable daily event of washing one’s own face. As Koichi Wakata explained how good it felt to put a warm towel upon his face, I turned to Jen, initially unimpressed and said, “I didn’t start watching this to see astronauts wash their faces!” My initial opinion soon proved to be hasty and wrong, however, as we learned that astronauts don’t have showers or use running water in Space. Knowing this, what we had just witnessed took on a whole new dimension of importance.

As the show went on, my imagination couldn’t help but go into over-drive. I just kept thinking: what experiments would I do if I was spending six months hanging about in Space? I decided these would take priority:

1: technically it’s not an experiment, but it is exciting. I’d go on a bit of a rogue Spacewalk. One day, when everyone else was asleep in their quarters, I’d wake up and go out into Space on my own, like a renegade! Probably I’d try and walk to a star or something daring like that. Forever, scientists and know-it-all people have said without question that stars are light years away from each other, but what if they’re not? What if there really is one just a couple of miles away and we’ve been lied to all along? You’d feel utterly foolish for not trying, wouldn’t you? It would be a great thing to say when you got back from Space, that’s for sure: “it’s not true that stars are light years away from each other. I came across one on a rogue Spacewalk. Beat that.”

I did have a load more ideas – doing falconry in Space, or maybe tricking the other astronauts into thinking that a secret astronaut existed on the Space Station who was hiding away somewhere and hell-bent on sabotaging the mission, etc – but I have decided to not go into detail about these here. On second thoughts, it seems very cruel on birds of prey and possibly a waste, quite literally, of Space.

There is more to be said, so I’ll get on with that.

Do you ever wonder about TV in the future? I do. As a result, I predict – and this is a very serious prediction with absolutely no humour – that the future will see millions of us tuning-in to an X-Factor style TV show where contestants are beamed-up to the ISS for incredible galactic singing competitions. It sounds crazy, but I’ve decided it’s extremely likely (the adverts would probably mention the phrase intergalactic fun at some point, but to me that seems a bit inaccurate, seeing as in Space terms the ISS is barely out of the Earth’s atmosphere. But maybe that’s just me being a bit anal, I don’t know).

There were so many things which amazed me as we watched the programme elapse. One thing which freaked us out all the way through was how the astronauts looked when floating about. They didn’t look normal at all! Instead of stomachs being where they ought to be, they appeared to have floated upwards by several feet. People’s shoulders, for example, were up by their ears, and I’m sure I saw an arse round where their shoulder blades used to be. Everything appeared to have floated upwards. This observation quickly grew into a rapid, escalating fear for the safety and location of the men’s genitals. I just kept imagining myself in Space, going to the toilet, and looking about for my genitals, only to discover them where my nipples used to be, swaying around upon my back.

Then there was the whole thing about what these so-called experiments were really for. Considering the United States’ love for experimenting in secret locations on Earth without telling anyone until caught absolutely red-handed, I struggle to believe that Mission Control are experimenting in purely innocent ways. And let’s face it, if there are places on Earth where rules can be completely ignored, Space is going to be a million times better. I’m not sure I want to know what other experiments they are doing in Space and not telling us about. Then again, I’ve banged on quite a bit about it here, so maybe I am lying. Perhaps I do.

The Spacewalk that Rick and Mike Hopkins had to do was fantastic viewing, though. Widely considered to be the most dangerous thing you can do, this one was to see Rick and Mike Hopkins (they’re not brothers, by the way, I just haven’t bothered to research Rick’s second name) go out to replace a valve on a coolant pump. For me, being asked to do something like this is my absolute worst nightmare, so it’s a good job that you can’t be called to go up into Space like you can be requested to partake in Jury Duty (as of yet, anyway). I bet I’d break something which would inadvertently cause the death of a fellow astronaut. I just know I would. I consider myself to be a good person, but still, I am in no doubt that this would probably result in me going back inside the ISS only to say “guys, Jason sort of fucked up the valve and died…the idiot. I did everything I could but it was too late. I told you you shouldn’t have trusted me too – I did make a very big point of saying that changing valves is not my forte, and you still bloody sent me out there.” I’d love to tell the truth in this situation, but what might happen then? It could be bad. Spending 6 months in Space with just a load of other men must do funny things to you. For mental wellbeing it cannot be great.

Which reminds me…how come we didn’t see any women on board the ISS? Could that be mere coincidence, or is that by design? The more I pondered this question, the more confused I got. In an age of (supposed relative) equality, surely women are just as capable as men when it comes to Space stuff? I concluded in the end that probably it was – is – by design and for safety. While I’m fairly confident that most men would be able to work with a woman in Space for months on end and not violate them in some way, I suppose there is no way of knowing how people will react once they get out there (a bit of research at this link has led to something of an explanation which is worth reading, and which also shows my naivety and lack of knowledge up in quite a dazzling way. It would appear that tradition plays a large part: astronauts were originally fighter-jet pilots, and since the military didn’t used to allow for the consideration of female fighter-jet pilots, the resulting lack of female astronauts – combined with a lack of wanting on the US Government’s part to adapt or change their selection criteria – was the inevitable tragic and downright hideously unfair result).

So there you have it: Space is so much more than just the worst place to get lost (unless you want to get really lost, in which case you couldn’t have been more fortunate). It’s not a place for lazy people, however. Did you know that in Space it’s mandatory to do a couple of hours of intense exercise every single day? You could float about all day in awe of Zero-G and do absolutely nothing but smile, but when your wife asked you to go shopping or even stand up for several seconds when you got back home, you’d wish you hadn’t, because your bones would probably break. A smile wouldn’t be much good then, obviously.

Much as I enjoyed the show, I have decided that I have no ambitions to go to Space any time soon. None whatsoever. Once I’ve finally seen Gravity, I have a feeling that the inclination might be even less, but still, I am willing to remain open-minded.

Life is great when you finally “get” cats

catBeing a new cat lover is an interesting place to be in my life. A surreal place, for someone who grew up only with dogs. A place that, at one point – a point which has stretched on and on for most of my adult life, it has to be said – I didn’t think I would ever be. Being a new cat lover brings a wide range of challenges, but it also brings joy, inspiration and feelings of contentment (like the first time I picked a cat up and it didn’t appear noticeably threatened, for example). When I’m not clearing up cat sick, the contentment bit tends to be much higher, it’s true.

Bizarrely, my new found love – what started as a new found ability to tolerate cats in the same space as me – began one day when I almost tripped and fell down the stairs in my girlfriend’s house. Seeking sunshine, the younger of the two cats had cunningly decided to wedge herself against one of the steps at the top, hidden in such a way that I only noticed her in that terrible moment when forced to make a choice: either sacrifice the cat’s life for the sake of my own, or shift my bodyweight and miss the animal entirely. Surprised to find myself doing the latter, I stopped there, on the stairs, where the cats had made an obvious attempt on my life, and looked at them both. They looked back up at me, sprawled out and reckless and, it has to be said, not seeming  particularly bothered in any way at all. Sitting down on the stairs, I pondered what to do with these strange new feelings I was having. A cat had almost caused me to fall to my doom, and there I was, not hating this cat, more curious than irritated…not resenting its freedom and incredible ability to make a full afternoon out of doing absolutely nothing.

“I think I might be a new cat lover,” I said to the cats. “I’m not sure if I’m ready or not, but I promise you I’ll try.”

This initial foray into cat appreciation was to be short-lived, of course. After a second and more crude attempt on my life later that same afternoon – this time resulting in a near-fatal bum-slide that had me acknowledging half the stairs with my ancient relic of a tail-bone – I was in a decidedly foul mood. I was in a stinker. The kind like when you’ve just picked up a pack of biscuits in the supermarket, and you drop them, smashing about half of them, and then feel obliged to buy the pack, because an assistant was watching you at the time. But it was then that a second event occurred which would have me questioning, once again, the place in my consciousness where the feline ones reside.

The cats were following me, meandering around my legs, mewing – this wasn’t me-owing, this was mewing – making it clear that they wanted something from me. Exclusively from me! From me? Yes. It was unmistakable. Not being any kind of expert, and concerned that I was reading more into this than was realistic, I asked Jen for her expert advice. Watching this display as I attempted to get a glass and fill it up with water, Jen confirmed what I’d been thinking: the cats wanted food from me. Not her, but me. The cats had chosen me as their one and only leader (for the day).

Now this was a revelation. I had gone from genuinely disliking cats to being their leader of the day! And while there were other more enthusiastic leaders around in plentiful supply, too!

Upon feeding the cats, however, any kind of bond between us seemed to vanish. I was clearly no longer their leader. Only bothered about the new slop I’d so kindly bequeathed them, the cats went back to their usual business and sauntered off in search of their new leader. I didn’t see them again for the rest of that day. Once again, I pondered how I had been used and thrown-away. Just another gullible human, tricked into doing the only thing the cats considered him good for.

Damn it.

It was to be several full days until the final episode in this catalogue of cat escapades happened, changing forever my viewpoint of the furry sack-like shape-changing critters.

We wanted to go to bed, but we couldn’t. Well, I couldn’t. Because beneath the bed was the older of the two cats. Clever, devious and conniving – it might seem like overkill to use such a spread of similar words, but I tell you it isn’t – the cat villain had planted herself beneath the bed in an impossible-to-get-to place. Again. And once I had seen her, there was no way I could simply get into bed and drift off to sleep, pretend like this had never happened. Anyone who has slept in the same house as a cat for any amount of time will understand why: either that cat is going to end up with its bum in your face at 5am, or they’re going to be scratching at the door to get out at around 3am, and the only way that’s going to happen is if you get up and physically let them out (call me sick, but at that point, a cat’s anus in the face almost seems preferable). After a quick consultation with Jen about this, which saw Jen amused and me less amused (by far), it was decided that it was my task to evacuate the cat from her den. I searched about the room and soon discovered a broom which was, by chance, broken and could have its head easily detached, making for a prime poking tool. This was to be my weapon of choice for coercing the feline from out, under the bed.

Obviously I couldn’t get her out though. For ten minutes I tried my best, jabbing at her and trying to swipe beneath her furry, sack-like body. But every time I was foiled. Either she got the best of my good nature by mewing and crying out in mock pain and anguish, or she swiped the broom handle with considerable force, attaching her claws to it and engaging me in a battle of mini tug-of-war that I would be foolish to try and win.

I went to bed in a vile rage, concerned for my imminent sleep’s welfare. I don’t think Jen got much sleep that night either.

Then something truly inexplicable happened. I awoke the following morning, only to find myself…having slept all the way through the night! Confused and scared for my life, I ferreted about for a few awful minutes, attempting to uncover the truth of my reality: was I awake? Was this some cruel dream? I looked under the bed and saw that the cat was no longer there. She must have escaped the room on her own sometime during the night. Elated, I got up and went downstairs. I felt like a new me. It felt like the start of an incredible new chapter where I could co-exist peacefully with cats.

Downstairs. Where I found the cats had been sick at various times during the night. One of them, all the way down the long, thin fridge, in an impressive cascade of bright yellow and brown muck. Lovely.

Despite the horrible sight – presumably a catty protest about the limited choice of slop available to them, contrasted with the stupendous choice which us humans so enjoyed – I smiled as I walked into the living room and saw the cats sitting there. I realised, then, that I had been fighting a losing battle all along. The cats weren’t my enemies, we were just from different worlds, is all. It was time to start new. Providing the cats didn’t keep on sabotaging my new open-minded approach to their existence by throwing-up all the way down the fridge, things would be good.

Susanna’s OK, but what about Susie Fowler-Watt?

Unmistakeably SF-W

Unmistakably SF-W

It’s a good job I’m not the sort of demented determined person who’s good at organising protests, who paints signs and who will think absolutely nothing of dropping everything and marching through the streets and using those same signs to show the world who my favourite flipping newsreader is. That’s right: it’s East Anglia’s favourite presenting superstar, Susie Fowler-Watt. Owner of the finest, silky, multi-coloured satin shirts that the flattest part of our country has ever seen.

And today wasn’t good. Today, all us SF-W lovers suffered what can only be described as a crippling direct hit to everything we hold dear about newsreading. Why? Well, those of you who have been paying any attention to the news in any way whatsoever will have noticed that Susanna Reid has just been named newsreader of the year at the TV and Radio Industries Club awards. Newsreader of the year! Disgusting indeed. Especially when you consider the dynamite duo that is SF-W and SW (also known as Susie Fowler-Watt and much-loved anchorman, the one and only Stewart White).

If awards could be given for defectors, then, no doubt, Susanna Reid would be right up there with the best of them. But when it comes to quality newsreading, anyone who has witnessed Susie Fowler-Watt’s natural smiley banter with Stewart White over the years will surely agree that today’s latest shun to East Anglia is completely unacceptable. Just because our county is flat doesn’t mean that our newsreaders deserve to be more or less constantly walked all over. In this case trampled. Even if they do have haircuts that hark back to the 1980s (something that SF-W pulls off in a way which seems nothing less than impossible, I should add).

The worst part about it, for me, is that I bet Fowler-Watt, with her wonderful supercar like nickname SF-W, took it gracefully and didn’t complain once. I bet she never once looked in the mirror and said “you know what Susanna, I’ll take your bloody head off if you smile like that again!” While Susie’s grace under such pressure is of course noteworthy, it’d be wonderful to see the ever enchanting SF-W lose it just once for a short time (preferably with Stewart by her side, holding her back so as to prevent any GBH which might not be conducive to future newsreading). And why not, when you’re 50% of the greatest newsreading duo that the East Anglian counties has likely ever seen? Surely if anyone has the right, SF-W does?

Then again, it wasn’t just SF-W who painfully lost out in 2014. According to the BBC story which spawned my intense Eastern counties anger, both Lorraine Kelly (Lorraine for goodness sake!) and Fiona Bruce also missed any kind of acknowledgment. Bewildering is the only word.

Susanna may seemingly have hit the jackpot with her move to front ITVs new Daybreak replacement Good Morning Britain, but don’t count SF-W out just yet. I know some people, and they’re damn good at organising protests…they also adore the genre of East Anglian newsreading.

Do the Hawk Walk

Hawk 2

Several years ago, for my birthday, my brother Matthew — we’ve always called him Maff — bought me a truly incredible gift: yes, a voucher for me to go and hang about with a bird of prey for the afternoon, at The Owl Experience Bird Of Prey Centre in Risley, Derbyshire! I grew up absolutely obsessed with fossils, dinosaurs and birds of prey, so I was instantly thrilled by this thoughtful surprise (uncharacteristically thoughtful, if we’re being brutally honest, and hopefully Maff won’t take offense at that). I’m only going to hold a bloody Harris Hawk! I thought. It’ll be just like when I was a boy…

(Except with a beard.)

Anyway, I sort of messed it up to begin with. Really messed it up, actually. In fact, Maff frequently wondered why he’d even bothered getting me the stupid voucher to begin with. As the weeks wore on, I promised myself that I’d soon arrange going to meet this Harris Hawk (he was to be called Steve), but every time I wanted to sort it out, something happened and I failed to arrange the appointment. You know how it is when you’re really busy with life and stuff. This pathetic show of indecisiveness went on for over a year. As you will know if you have also failed to do something for over a year, it’s hard to come up with valid excuses after the year-and-a-half period is up. You just feel like a bit of a wally by then. So it was time to get my act together. To finally go and meet the hawk you see in these dramatic pictures…

Steve, elegant, predatory and clearly not a fan of stereotyping

Steve. Elegant, predatory and clearly not a fan of stereotyping. See below for an explanation of that

When I finally arranged it, the Hawk Walk was amazing, as predicted. Bob Morley was our host for the day. An experienced falconer (what you’d hope for, obviously) and a bit of a character (Bob didn’t mince his words), Bob knows his birds and, for the safety of us and Steve (more us), gave us some helpful advice before we set off. One of Bob’s best pieces of advice was, I thought: “whatever you do, don’t stroke him”. This came at precisely the right moment, just as I was imagining what it would be like to stroke Steve’s soft, feathery head. To rub my face upon his, like I had always wanted to. It’s a good job I didn’t do either of these things. At the end of the Hawk Walk, Bob would go on to tell us a truly grisly story of what had happened when Steve, in a fit of birdy rage, had lashed-out at him one fateful day. The attack had resulted in Steve’s talons going all the way into one of Bob’s thumbs. Right down to the bone. Tough as Bob clearly was, even he said he had been close to crying. And it’s not often you hear a falconer say that. These are folk who are used to being attacked by birds.

I couldn’t look at Steve in the same way again after that. But at least I could look at him, and look in general. I probably wouldn’t be able to look at all if Bob hadn’t given us that advice.

Steve was a reasonably sized male Harris Hawk, renowned for his mischievous attitude and uncanny knack for getting electrocuted by landing on pylons (Bob said this had happened twice over the years, and didn’t rule out it happening again). He was also a big fan of landing on people’s heads (the less hair, the better. He even landed on Bob’s! That was ace because Bob had confidently said a bit earlier that Steve knew not to do that).

For over an hour, Jen and I wandered about through fields, with each of our group getting a chance to have Steve elegantly glide across the countryside and land effortlessly on our special big fat glove (and me ask loads of questions, probably annoying the other people in our group with my child-like fascination that went on without end). My favourite part of the walk was when our falconer host said “Harris Hawks rarely kill other birds”. Hearing this, Steve immediately swooped on a pigeon sitting peacefully in a nearby tree. Within seconds, the rascal had murdered the unfortunate animal and was busy tearing it to pieces in front of a stunned audience (in Steve’s defense, Bob reckoned the pigeon, which hadn’t made any attempt to fly away, had been sick. Or maybe that’s just something they tell us so that us bird of prey beginners can go to sleep at night?).

Thanks for making it memorable, Steve.

The Owl Experience in Risley is thoroughly recommended by this blogger. Just make sure you wear a hat if you’re a bit thin on top, and be prepared for moderate violence. Rated 18 (depending on Steve’s mood, of course).

…Squigglers!

My goodness. The drama and the tragedy. Once you start realising that everyone has comic squiggly lines on their forehead – even those poor people who have spent many years doing their best not to frown or laugh, in an attempt to hold them off until the grave, the poor, stupid, silly, vain, yet admirably patient bastards – you can’t see anything else when you look at them. Nothing else. Once you’ve seen them, there really is no going back. Previously serious-looking people will now look utterly ridiculous, thanks to these devious, indiscriminate, credibility-knackering things. People who you once thought Wow, they look young for their age! I wish I was like them! will now put thoughts into your mind like That’s ridiculous! They look absolutely fucking ancient for anyone’s age! How did I not notice that before!? Not being them is something quite beautiful! Following this realisation, you will then be plagued by a feeling of awkward, uncomfortable concern for the smooth safety of your own special forehead – which is not so special any more. Unless of course you’re old enough to have your own set of well-defined squigglers, that is (squiggli?). In which case, all of this will be old news and frankly you’ll be sick of it. If so, you’re probably hating me right now, or at least resenting me a bit. Which is spectacularly unfair when you think about it, because for one thing it’s not my bloody fault that you didn’t realise you had squigglers until I pointed it out, and for another, how do you know that I, myself, don’t also have a set of insidious squigglers?

That’s right, I have my own gang of squigglers to worry and panic about. They gather and they mock…they congregate on my forehead whenever I dare question someone, or when I try and guess the answer on a game-show and I get it wrong yet again (perhaps the squigglers like to remind me that I am wasting my life?). Sometimes it feels like they come just for the hell of it. Who the hell knows. One moment I’m fine, I’m normal, but the next…Squigglers of massive proportions. Sounds like a playful name for some nasty disease, doesn’t it? Maybe a US created weapon designed to sound fun, but actually it’s lethal. Lethal as the evening TV vortex created by the rather questionable Take Me Out is to your brain.

Squigglers, those doom-mongers, those despicable little shits, appeared on my forehead shortly after my 28th birthday, and I don’t need to be a biologist to know that they are going to stick about. Not just stay…but evolve. This is just the beginning of a routine that’s been practised an infinite number of times before. I’m not an expert or anything, honest, but even I know that there’s about ten more incarnations to go through before they are even close to being finished, and even then they’ll probably do something weird and unexpected that both undermines and celebrates all those previous years of torment. The only question is…what form will they take in the end? Will I end up with lots of little ones, or some of those deep-ingrained whoppers? (I’d rather the latter to be honest. At least then it’ll give my face character). Will they be curved and even or curved and hilariously uneven, as if chucked at my face by someone with their head on wonky and their vision all skewed? What a way to live…what a way to live. Thinking all these bloody things.

Squigglers

The good thing for most people, of course, is that squigglers aren’t there constantly. Up until you’re about 40 or so, they seem to come and go when you laugh or frown, so there is something fair in the world at least. After you pass that point, shit gets real, however. Real and serious. Look at anyone over the age of 40 and see for yourself what a mess they can make. If the subject of your squigglers-inspection doesn’t have even the barest trace of squigglers and yet has managed to reach this grand-old-age, then that’s really something. In fact, why not congratulate them? Why not shake their hand and surprise them.

And watch the squigglers show!

OH NO I JUST HAD A HORRIBLE THOUGHT

Just realised something quite awful which could bring the police and the world’s prosecution services to its/their knees…think of all the people who have witnessed crimes over the years! Think of the effect of squigglers on crime! By now, many millions of people will have thought that they were mugged or burgled by a young person if they’d been mugged or burgled by someone whose squigglers didn’t happen to be on display (or had been carefully taped-down), and all kinds of madness just like that! Or the other possibility, which is equally as sinister…

“What did the suspect look like?” An officer might say. “How old would you say they were, roughly?”

The victim might then reply: “Well, based on their forehead, which seemed to really jump out at me at the time…I’d say about ninety…”

The officer replies: “ninety? Nine zero?”

And the victim says: “yes, ninety…I’m telling you…”

“Well other witnesses say thirty-five…”

“I know what I saw. They had serious squigglers…”

“I am not saying that they did not, madam. But thirty-five and ninety…I see…”

“Good.”

“That’s a contrast we weren’t anticipating. But so be it, we know some pretty dodgy elderly folk around here. We’ll have to arrange a line-up. It’s time the scum paid.”

Oh no.

No more manual toothbrush. It’s time to join the big people’s club

Readers of this blog will likely have come across the odd tooth-related post (such as this one here and this one here). And why not blog about this subject? When you consider the importance and significance of the tooth – or more accurately teeth – in our every day lives, it seems bizarre that everyone isn’t blogging about it/them.

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Sound advice from Dalai

I often wonder why human teeth exist at all. It is a conundrum. If Evolution is so progressive, then by now you’d have thought they’d be all joined-up together. I can’t stand the fact that so many other animals have undergone intense & impressive evolutionary transformations, losing arms and growing extra ears and getting rid of nobs, and yet, after many millions of years, we’re still stuck with loads of annoying teeth which require constant maintenance. Not the best when you have always favoured the manual toothbrush. It’s not because I’m a Luddite – although I probably am – and it’s not about being deliberately difficult as my dentist would surely insist (although I probably also am). It’s just me being me. I have never liked that weirdo-buzzing feeling of using an electric toothbrush. I don’t care that it’s meant to be easier and I couldn’t give a toss if everyone is doing it. I’ve just never liked the idea. I’ve always preferred my manual one.

In the past-past – by this I mean before the past, which is any time up until a few months ago – I have worried immensely about trips to the dentist’s and hygienist’s. Like anyone would if they never did what the dentist recommended. The days leading up to my appointment(s) comprised of me first pretending that I had done t least some of what I’d been asked to, then realising that lying about it wouldn’t work, again. The final stage was always one of resentment towards my rebellious inner-self. It was only me who had ever messed it up. If I’d have actually bothered, things would have been better. And I would not have got bollocked so much for having bad teeth.

In the most recent past, I wasn’t quite as concerned. I had made more of an effort leading-up to the appointment – I’d become obsessed with using mouthwash and those prohibitively expensive stick things you shove between your teeth, making your mouth bleed on purpose – and I had benefited. I was still a manual toothbrush Luddite, but at least I was changing, or willing to. I was definitely caring more, that much had to be true. So this time, when I arrived at my 6-monthly dentist’s appointment, I felt OK. Not brilliant, obviously, but I did feel like I had done half as much as I could have. This could only be interpreted as progress. It must have had something to do with reading all those Dalai Lama quotes on Facebook.

And the appointment went well. Very well. Alarmingly well, truth be told. At one point, she even said something about me having regularly used my electric toothbrush. My electric toothbrush! I had somehow managed to fool her! There she was, staring directly at my uselessly brushed teeth, and she couldn’t even tell I was a bloody Luddite! This was a shocking thing.

Then she said “Do you use your electric toothbrush once or twice a day?”

I said: “Er…”

It would have been very easy to lie. I should have lied, it would have saved me all kinds of hassle. But the poster on the wall to my right, the one depicting someone’s harrowing tooth-rot, someone like me, someone who’d done nothing to help their teeth for years, got to me. I ended up saying “I’ve actually only got a normal toothbrush. A manual one.”

“A manual one?”

This was a cry for help if ever there was one.

“Manual. No electricity.”

“Oh…I see.”

It could have got very awkward. Me pointing out how she really should have known. Her knowing she should have known and trying to hide it, badly. Yet it didn’t. Instead, almost as if she respected me for so capably pulling the wool over her clearly poor vision, we began a discourse on electric toothbrushes. Well, they began a discourse and I sort of just stood there and nodded. Why hadn’t I ever got into that whole scene? What was it about them that I didn’t like?

“How long have you got?” I said.

“No offense but about thirty seconds.”

“Oh.”

And it all came pouring out in those 30 seconds (once she’d finished calling her numbers out to the dental nurse, and I’d taken a swig of the nasty pink liquid and spat it out, streaming with blood). I decided to give it to her straight. There I stood, calmly explaining that I just had never liked the electric ones. So there, stick that up your bum, I thought but did not say.

Then began the pair of them talking in-depth about electric toothbrushes and all the different kinds there are. Sonic ones and oscillating ones (it is never a dull day when I get to use that word). Which ones they preferred. Ones which cost several hundred pounds (the wrong approach to take with me) and ones which don’t (the right). And all through it I found myself changing…thinking about what could be if I could just allow myself to entertain the idea.

I was to leave with a smile on my face. I’d done it. I wasn’t even out of the room yet and I had already moved beyond that horrible bit when you have to part with loads of money at the Reception desk, and I was now walking out of the surgery with my electric toothbrush. All in my mind. Thanks to my imagination.

Before I could change my mind, I thanked them, walked out of the room for real with the free little tubes of toothpaste which they’d kindly given me – nothing like it for making a person feel special – and picked up the first blue box on the display cabinet to my right. On it were the words Oral-B PROFESSIONAL CARE 1000. Beneath these words were several statements which made me feel instantly at ease. The first promised that it would remove up to twice as much plaque as a regular manual toothbrush. Good because plaque had always been my number 1 enemy. The second assured me that the 1000 was gentle on both teeth and gums. Good because both teeth and gums had been enemies for me at one time or another. Let’s just say they were all number 1.

At the bottom, with black writing on a yellow background, it said

PATIENT STARTER KIT

For dental professionals

And yes, I know what some of you will be thinking: why the hell didn’t you just buy it off ebay? Good question, but you needn’t be so modern about it. Not everything is about saving money, you know. Simple truth is that I wanted the Oral-B PC 1000 there and then. I didn’t want to wait and give my stupid logic a chance to derail what was happening. I wanted that money spent so that I had no choice but to join the new world. So there you have it. With that, so it was done.

An essay on Hope

This post comes with a warning. This post may make you feel uneasy, annoyed or frustrated if you currently hate the world and everything in it. Like if you were expecting a pay-rise from that meeting with the boss, for example, but actually the meeting was about you integrating your job role so that, in actuality, your work-load doubled. So you can’t say that you haven’t been warned now, can you?

Considering a few things that are happening right now in my life which I won’t go in to here, today would seem like a strange day – the word surreal comes to mind – to write about hope. Yet that, conversely, is precisely where hope blossoms (yes. This kind of irritating optimism is why I gave you that warning…). Theoretically, whatever is going on, however difficult things may be, there is always hope. It’s just not always so easy to practice that theory and make choices which allow it to manifest. Especially when life as we know it is more in flux and transient than it ever has been. The Neanderthals dealt with the flux that was basic every-day survival, at a time pre-communication where learned knowledge must, surely, have been something of a mystical affair – something largely unrecorded, maybe even un-thought of. Not surprising when you’ve got bigger fish to fry, like making sure a hungry tiger doesn’t kill every surviving member of your family. Now, we deal with flux while navigating a swarming world of information – that’s without even taking into account misinformation – technological breakthroughs and ever-changing theories. All of which are recorded, argued, challenged and eventually bettered (except for things like the re-imagining of the Lion bar, which transpired to be a toxic, ultimately pointless and humiliating affair for the chocolate bar’s makers). We may lack much in common with our stone-wielding, shit-scared of the unknown buddies of early civilisation, but our challenges never diminish. Crap roads, pot-holes and if we should bother to vote or not. And psychological survival can be as hazardous as anything – just because cave-people never had to deal with the obsessive addictions of 2014, that doesn’t mean that we have it any easier. In particular when all of us outside North Korea are susceptible to unlimited choices that consume our lives, making following – and staying on – any kind of path a momentous achievement in itself. Go this way, you’re in trouble. Don’t go this way and you can always post about it on Facebook, where, if you’re not very careful, you may just find yourself believing all the hype. That everything is shit, from boilers to relationships. That, in fact, all hope is lost, so the best any of us can do is carry on as we are and not really give a shit.

Yet today, I was once again made very aware that there is and continues to be tremendous hope and love in the world. Just last week I, along with thousands of other people, read a story on the guardian which cemented this perception. Six years ago at Waterloo Bridge, a man called Neil Laybourn noticed someone ominously perched on the bad side of the edge. Rather than doing the easy thing, the thing which many would hold characteristic of Londoners who have forgotten what the individual in society actually is, Neil stopped and took direct action, speaking to the man, making a choice which was just as brave as it was stupid – from a wholly selfish point-of-view. The article, if you haven’t seen it, makes for compelling reading, and charts their meeting up recently, enabling the then-victim to convey his heartfelt thanks in person. Until someone stopped to tell him that there was hope and things could change, the guy on the bridge had no idea.

Earlier today I decided to go for a walk in a local nature reserve. And by local I am fortunate enough to be able to say Just down the road – it being a 10 minute walk. It is a true escape, far and yet so close. Upon arriving there, a guy, probably about my age, approached me with his dog and began to ask me if I knew the area very well. We soon got talking about various connected things. The free parking – this he struggled to comprehend – and the impressive and unique geographical features which make the reserve something of an anomaly in our flat landscape. It’s still the barest trace of a hill by any proud northerner’s standards, but when land around you is flat forever, you have to take what you can get.

The way the man approached me made me smile: his lack of reticence about simply striking-up a conversation with a total stranger, and his blatant lack of guard – something I could liken to western tourists we had met in Vietnam last year, who were so happy to be surrounded by others of similar mind-set that the tragic and so-called normal social rules of many large cities went totally out the window.

Walking around the reserve on this cold, very windy day, I thought about a few sporadic, largely unconnected things, in that floaty and relaxed manner that is, much of the time, too interrupted by daily activities to be really sustainable for long. I recalled Russell Brand’s article from the guardian, which I had read and pondered earlier in the morning, in-between client emails and pretending not to have a look at Facebook. Candid as usual and disarmingly honest, Brand’s piece was, in my opinion, more serious and notably more poignant than many that have gone before it. Speaking openly and without seeking approval is, of course, a thing in which he excels. But what I was not prepared for, this time, was the thoughts that would come out of reading the piece. Love him or hate him, the article is a striking piece of writing that, uncomfortably and unapologetically, conveys the grim realities of being held in the hopeless grasp of substance addiction. For me, it displayed tremendous hope. That, even when something as dark and harrowing as substance addiction refuses to let go, there are people and organisations who want to make people feel much better. There is something other, something huge, something worth the fight. Even if it feels like hell. And it takes courage to write like that.

Despite all this, the obvious truth is that I, just like you – just like everyone who has ever lived, I argue – often need to take my own medicine. It’s fine for me to say “We should all be hopeful”, but I am all too aware that throw-away comments like this – or worse, mantras or lectures as some might consider them – can be insulting to those people who are in a desperate situation. A situation which would seem more or less impossible to anyone experiencing it. People who genuinely feel like there is no way out, no way to make a change. At times like this, hope is not easy to come by, and it may not be offered. Particularly when someone exhibits only normal character traits and appears to largely be OK. Not everyone is lucky enough to have good friends that watch out for them. Who email or text or call when life really does feel like total shit. So I am grateful for having that. I have to be. I have friends. I have family. This is a privilege. I am employable and, if I vanished tomorrow, I know that people would question where I had gone, if I was OK, if I was coming back. It does not give me satisfaction to know that this is the case, but it does make me realise how very fortunate I am and how much of life is up to me to affect. To have arrived at this point in time and to know, with conviction, that hope is attainable to me.

On the way back from the nature reserve today I saw two young lovers, somewhere between youth and adulthood, the male awkwardly handing over some kind of badly-wrapped present – I empathized with him. I simply cannot wrap things. All this, viewed in just a second or two and nothing to do with me – a fleeting show of perfection. In a way, it was like a kind of gift. Their whole lives ahead of them, I wondered who they were and what their stories might be. Where they’d go and what they might do and achieve. I wondered if life was actually, for them, as good as their faces and obvious happiness seemed to make out.

There is hope in the world, even if you can’t wrap gifts. Really. There is hope in the world if you are depressed and life, slowly but surely, is becoming too great an ordeal to survive through. But you’re allowed to moan about things, and you must. Moan about things on Facebook or to friends and work them through in your mind – I don’t know any other way, and that’s something I won’t be apologising for. Something I can’t change. Realise the imperfections, and, possibly, the greater advantages of your situation will flourish and become more distinct. So obvious that hope is the only rational by-product. That, with a smile, you can turn someone’s life around or make them think that, actually, life can be good sometimes and is worth living every single day.

 

 

 

 

The Undateables: speed dating, wonky donkeys and Pippa Middleton’s curvaceous bottom

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Shaine, back when his hair was big

We’re reunited with poet Shaine, who has a mild learning disability, on a Bournemouth beach. At 33 years of age, he’s back playing that funny game of love. It’s a wonky donkey, says Shaine, but he is not deterred. I hate the phrase mild learning disability in Shaine’s case. He’s articulate, funny, able to love and highly optimistic. The man has a big heart. Somehow, disability doesn’t seem like a very fitting word.

Richard‘s screen arrival, surely, makes a million people think Muscles! A lover of stocking-up on copious amounts of the exact same food – something which has always seemed perfectly practical to me, which means that it’s everyone else who must be weird – Richard from Surrey always heats his plate up in the oven before eating, making my Mother a big fan (“Chris, you should never eat off a cold plate, it just isn’t right!”).

Over the coming minutes we see Richard’s failed date from years ago – don’t steal food from your date’s plate, particularly when they’re staring right at you with a plain look of horror – and watch Liz, Richard’s adoring Mother, give her son advice. With a new date just around the corner, things for Richard are looking up. All he has to do is venture outside his 5 mile radius. Harder than it seems when you find everyone else a confusing mess.

Seeing Sam again is, of course, a joy. Sam may have Down’s syndrome, but once again we’re reminded that he is a good-natured and mature person, with his head screwed-on right, and a Dad who is dedicated and an obviously lovely bloke. When Sam last appeared on our screens, he met Jolene. 1 year later, after that 9-month relationship ended, Sam has a few things to say of note. One is that his ideal woman is Barbara Windsor. The other is that being single is pants. The last one is about Pippa Middleton‘s infamous bottom. I suspect a combination of Barbara Windsor and Pippa Middleton would make Sam’s heart sing and trouser splendour happen. Then again, this fantasy hybrid would likely need to put on a few pounds at the rear to balance things up, otherwise things could get very ugly for her face.

Once Stars in the Sky‘s Lydia has sorted Sam out with a date – I cheered! – we’re back with Shaine, who has arrived at a creative writing workshop and immediately set his sights on a fellow poet named Marie. You cannot hold this man back. Shaking like a brick, those mischievous Undateables producers then leave us hanging again as we meet back up with Richard…

Now 24-hours away from his big date, Mum Liz is busy sorting out his clothes. All is fine. Until the agency call with terrible news which has Richard swearing more or less constantly. And who wouldn’t say “Fuck it!” once or twice very loudly? It’s always annoying when that happens on this show, and for those with Asperger’s, it’s hard enough to connect to begin with. Staying connected is another thing entirely.

Remember Justin? Thanks to his impressive ability to flirt, 41-year-old Justin was unforgettable from the out-set. Now something of a local celebrity, and a self-confessed expert of compliment-giving, Justin – born with Neurofibromatosis – has had dozens of operations on his tumours, yet still manages to remain positive. Bus drivers take note. I think that’s all I need to say.

Before we leave Justin, we’re treated to his ace selection of risqué T-shirts. Then we’re back with Sam and his Dad again, and I’m thinking both I really miss spaghetti hoops, I haven’t had them for years…why is that? And I wouldn’t swap my Dad with Sam’s for the world, but if I had to, if I really-really had to, I don’t think I’d mind too much. Obviously Sam would have to be consulted first and my Dad would be devastated, but oh well, shit happens.

Sam gets a call and it’s only bloody Lydia, isn’t it? Yes, it is. And she has news: 3 weeks after going back on the game – excuse the expression – Sam is in luck!

Like I said before, Justin knows how to give compliments. And at a local speed-dating event, the man is a force to be reckoned with. With his confidence growing at GM-food-like proportions, he leaves with 4 phone numbers. There. Up yours everyone being mean on Twitter.

Back in the land of Sam, he’s getting ready for a date. I haven’t got even the most remote idea of how to spell her name, but Jen-I seems like a good way around it. She’s black with a big smile, and they meet at Madam Tussauds in London, home of spectacularly awful wax models that appear anything but alive. Aside from Sam kissing Margaret Thatcher, the date goes well. Sam’s nerves get the better of him for a while, but then he asks her our, and it’s a success.

In the car, Richard is driving and Mum Liz is nervously chatting beside him. Less to do with his driving, I think, and more to do with the fact that, in mere minutes, they’ll be scoping out where Richard will soon be having a date. That’s right, it’s on!Upon arriving near the venue, Richard runs into trouble and out of his mouth comes “Nowhere to park. Fucking ridiculous.” It is fucking ridiculous! It genuinely is! I thought at the time, and then my girlfriend started laughing and saying how I was exactly the same as him. I tried to pretend I wasn’t, but I failed. I am. I hate it when there’s nowhere to park. It really is fucking ridiculous. There, I’ve said my piece.

Anyway, after getting acquainted with the place and calming down about Great Britain’s crap parking epidemic, we move forward in time: Richard has bought a gift for his impending date, who goes by the name of Laurien (I think). This I was chuffed with. Over the years, we all feel like we’ve got to know the cast of The Undateables, and seeing them learn and lose and find love again has been something quite special. It has touched so many of us. Mum Liz was worried, of course. She needn’t have been, though, because when the 35-year-old from West London met the man with the muscles, things went very well. After Richard stopped complaining that she was late, that is. The strangest thing? Bar one occasion which Richard can’t really be blamed for inciting, there was very little talk of his muscles.

Personally, my favourite bit of the show was when Richard mildly harassed Laurien, in an effort to make her do more impressions of birds in the park. Fantastic.

Thanks to Marie’s “little flow-y eyebrows”, what happened next for Shaine was great: there was silence to begin with as the date got off to an awkward start, but then the magic began to happen. There was talk of inspiration, and then a wander in a graveyard where the body of legendary poet Shelly (Percy Bysshe Shelly, to be accurate) resides. With Shaine now infested with the sweet joys of the Love Bug, and all kinds of great quotes being flung about – “Love is like eating lots of soft sweets” – I thought once again of how I really can’t stand soft sweets apart from mints and how that must make me really quite bizarre. Sorry Shaine, it’s a personal thing.

A week after Sam’s date, there’s bad news: Jen-I only wants to be friends. Damn it! And I really thought there might be something there. As we reached the end of this last show of the series, Sam’s Dad reminded me how testing all this is for the parents, too. Richard with his adorable, dedicated Mum, and so many other parents in other series giving up their lives to ensure that their children find happiness. It made me smile and reminded me how important it is that we all take the time to learn about disabilities. Because it really can happen to anyone, anyhow, any time. Like Sarah Scott, for example, who had a stroke at 18 and acquired Aphasia – a condition which makes communicating with others very challenging. Come to think of it, Sarah is planning to go to the US to have a special kind of therapy which will help her overcome her condition. Sarah and her family – her determined Mum, Joanie Scott – are fundraising for it right now, in fact. And yes, I am giving you a hint, so if you have a few quid spare, you know what to do with it.

Has The Undateables achieved what it set out to do in the beginning? A good gauge of it is Twitter. I remember, back when the show first appeared, how many people came forward to vent their fury and frustration at the show‘s producers. Over the years, however, things have changed. Quite a bit, arguably. It is visible and recorded and impossible to ignore (actually, that means you can’t argue about it). Nowadays, more people know about different kinds of disability, and that can only be a wonderful thing. And let’s stop moaning about the name, please. This show has always been about so much more than that.

Looking for a review on any of the previous series? I’ve written about every one over the years, so just type The Undateables into the search bar at the top of this page to get the results.

Catching up with The Undateables: charm, guts and Ray’s amazing face

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The joy of Ray

Yesterday was a memorable day. It’s the first day – I think – that I didn’t sit down immediately after an episode of The Undateables and write and post my blog. Hopefully the day will come when Channel 4 will have a much-needed revelation and decide to give me special insider access to their shows so that I can review them on here and do them all an enormous favour – it’s fine Channel 4, don’t mention it, really – but until then, I’m grateful for 4OD.

People type all kinds of bizarre things into the search engines to get to my blog. I’d say You’d be surprised, but in fact you probably wouldn’t. If your friends are anything like mine and talk at length about Jonathan Ross’s infamous lama factory or ask the question Wuld you kiss someone who has just siked up? [sic] then you’ll already know exactly what I mean. And one of the other things that tends to get typed-in an awful lot is stuff about The Undateables, of course (hence that laborious and lengthy link right there). Namely about previous series and what the cast of those series’ are currently up to. This week, we were to find out just that. Which is brilliant, because I was beginning to get sick and tired of wondering about which 2 people from the show are going to get married…

(By the way, Brent of The Undateables fame, What dating site is brunt of undateables on? is also a search engine phrase that gets typed in a lot by people looking for my blog. Then again, I probably don’t need to tell you that Brent, now, do I? In last night’s show he proved himself to be a lovely bloke. But we’ll go back to that later…)

Having secured his position as one of the most loveable TV characters of our time, Leeds fan Ray burst onto the screen with his tremendous smile, swiftly followed by muscle-tensing obsessive Richard (who’ll appear in next week’s episode). 27-year-old Michael (he’s got Autism) was back up too, and 22-year-old Brent also appeared. It was the start of a great The Undateables catch-up episode, and with 21-year-old Steve from Sunderland on, as well as a lift from super-romantic Kate, it was going to be good.

I loved seeing what Ray has been up to. That bit when Ray decided to take Jeanette – the woman he’d been dating for a year – to see his beloved Leeds United and she started supporting Barnsley instead of Leeds…that look of horror on Ray’s face (up until that point I think you’ll agree with me that it was unclear if Ray was actually physically capable of not smiling). Ray is a stunning reminder that people – especially those with learning disabilities or perceived limitations – are so much more than just what’s on the outside.

When it was time for Michael, it was once again a time of unforgettable quotes, quality womanly advice and lots of upfront honesty – mainly concerning the possibility of intercourse with his new girlfriend Jennifer. Eloquent as ever, Michael did, I think, a wonderful job of bravely showing the rest of the world how living with Autism can affect day-to-day life. It wasn’t the most inspired of moves when he suggested that he’d still be up for a bit of sex with other women until Jennifer was keen, but it was undoubtedly an intriguing insight into how those on the Autism spectrum see and feel the world around them.

And now onto Brent. If Brent and I lived closer, and for some reason we happened to bump into one another and have something in common, I’d like to think that me and him’d be mates. I mean, who wouldn’t like to hang out with Brent, really? We saw him wandering about on the beach and talking openly to millions of us at home about life with Tourettes – a condition made worse by nerves and, likely, the presence of TV cameras. Once again, Brent’s optimism struck me. Not an easy thing to have, surely, when the Nigger Twitch is constantly on the horizon…

Seeing Michael buy a suit made me want to buy a suit, I’ll tell you that much. In my experience, people involved in the world of suit-making always seem to have a good bit of advice. Michael’s tailor was no different and very willing. The happy Italian showed Michael how to woo the babes by holding your jacket over one shoulder, and Michael obliged. He was going to murder this date with Jennifer (though not with a claw-hammer, as Michael plainly told us). Michael was to court Jennifer on a vintage steam train meandering slowly through the countryside. And it went pretty fucking fantastically well, didn’t it? With Jennifer’s arm around him and their lips meeting, Michael was loving every second of it. Like a true gentleman, he even saw fit to remove his hat. My favourite quote? The one about neutralising garlicy breath. Very well said.

What Steve told us broke my heart a bit. A lot actually, for a second or two: his last romance, which had flourished on Twitter, had died a death just 2 weeks after the couple’s engagement party. Not that he was going to let that stop him. Dating with Crouzon Syndrome has been a struggle for Steve at times, but when Steve met Sophie, all kinds of positive things happened. It took until Steve could stop talking for that to happen, but happen it did. Nice one Steve!

Back when Kate burst onto our screens, the nation found itself in the grip of a hopeless romantic who couldn’t stop smiling. On Twitter, hundreds, if not thousands, saluted Kate’s charming personality and her undying search for what was rightfully hers: big fat steaming sexy love. In this episode, we all got just what we’d been waiting for: witnessing Kate besieged by a glorious love which saw her converse about fish quite a lot on her first date, and then in a restaurant all loved-up the next, one year later. There was talk of The Question being popped and forever love and all the things which usually would make me want to push a Spice Girls enthusiast down a large flight of stairs. Then came that magic moment, when suspense arrested us, and Kate’s other half looked like he had something Massive to say. It may not have been about the ring that Kate had been hoping for, but a One Direction diary was almost as good. For now at least. Watch this space, if you believe what you hear?

Obviously, when Brent next appeared on our screens, he was slightly shitting himself. Actually quite a lot shitting himself. Most of us can probably get away with constantly saying “fuck you!” while doing the ironing, but Brent was soon to meet Chalice from the dating agency, and “fuck you!” in the face was hopefully not on the agenda. Brent told us how his ticks were very hard to control, and, much as I liked Brent, I did think that if you occasionally say the wrong thing quite wrongly – like shout “Bomb!” at Heathrow airport – you’re going to have to try hard to impress. “Gimme some of that please” happened as Chalice walked towards Brent’s table, and that was when I really started to worry. Not that it’d been warranted. Once they got out on a pedalo and Brent was charming Chalice by steering the thing directly into the path of a gang of potentially violent swans, I knew he’d be fine (thanks to Brent, we also discovered that swans kill their pray by strangling).

Steve brought us towards the end of the show nicely when he and Sophie got on very well. Once Steve had stopped talking so much. Sophie, rather delightfully, even said she quite liked his crack. Ah, to be born and bred in Sunderland…

Michael…ah, Michael. Lots of ah’s today. Now this is a man who knows what he wants. As this episode of The Undateables drew to a close, we learned, once again, of Michael’s rather fiendish sexual appetite – something that Jennifer was to be on the receiving end of at some point. Michael also showed-off his culinary skills with a half-decent bolognese that was heavy on the water, and very heavy on the parmesan.

5 weeks on from meeting Chalice, things had gone from good to Ace for Brent. There they were smitten, holding hands on the beach, pissing about and doing all that fun stuff that comes uniquely and only with Love – obviously only in a seaside town, of course. We were introduced to some new funny ticks of Brent’s such as penismunch and crunchytits. And then, sadly, it was over for this week.

By the way, it’s Flame Introductions, not Flame Dating as I’ve been calling them for the last few…years (that’s their Twitter name, @flamedating). Thanks for that, Christine.

Hero, Moron, Genius? Don’t Look Down, Channel 4

Channel 4 documentaries tend to fall in to a few distinct categories. First you have the standard ones which resemble films you might find on other channels, with a signature Channel 4 twist to remind you where you are. Then you have the ones which take an unsettling subject and try and make out it’s actually something fairly normal that we all might be doing in a few years time (Secrets of the Living Dolls definitely qualifies, as does the equally unique Dogging Tales). Following this, you have the films which are factual but fun and hosted by an enthusiastic someone who most people would struggle to dislike (Speed with Guy Martin, for example). And, finally, you have the random films (or random/unsettling films, as you get with the true one-off about extreme creative dog grooming, Doggy Styling). 4OD is littered with these, and with titles exploring everything from social media to the politics experienced by professional delivery truck drivers, you know what you’re getting: a look in to a strange new world of obsession, adoration or just plain nonsense. With the return of The Undateables and Dave: Loan Ranger, Channel 4 has been on a roll recently. Which brings us to Don’t Look Down

Don’t Look Down, which aired last night at 9pm and had me holding my breath for what felt like a full hour, was a difficult one to classify, and somehow managed to include itself in all of the aforementioned categories – and none of them at the exact same time. The similarities between Man on Wire might have seemed undeniable at the out-set, but as the minutes elapsed, a few things became clear to me: the footage we were seeing was just as fascinating as that of the iconic Twin Towers wire-walking film – if not more in places – and, in truth, there was little in common between the two. In fact, by the time we reached the end, I struggled with relating the two films to one another at all. Both featured young men pursuing something unimaginable to most of us, but that seemed to be about it. Man on Wire was all about a man obsessed with an idea – a man who planned things down to every last detail. A story about ego, leading and following. Don’t Look Down was very different. More familiar, more normal. It was about just going and doing something because you want to. In 2014, over-thinking danger isn’t cool any more.

This documentary crept up on me. Until I started seeing the adverts, I’d never heard of 23-year-old James Kingston, and although I was familiar with parkour and other urban street past-times – I feel really fucking old just writing that sentence and I plan not to write it again any time soon, I can tell you – I didn’t really have a clue about these people who were climbing the massive structures above our skylines. Which made me feel like a bit of a wally, really. The adverts showed terrifying glimpses of young men doing things which took boyhood pissing about to a whole new level of extreme irresponsibility. I was hooked instantly, and from the time I saw the first advert to the start of the documentary, I kept asking myself the question: how has all this managed to pass me by?

What didn’t pass me by – and what didn’t pass anyone else by, if what I saw on Twitter is anything to go by – is how great a part technology played in the making of this film. Maybe it was down to a lack of fearless cameramen, or it could have been something to do with Channel 4 not being too chuffed about having their employees get caught trespassing. Either way, thanks to GoPro cameras mounted on James and his mates, we got to see exactly how it looks to be one-hundred metres up a crane, dangling and looking straight down. All the way down…

And I was scared. Genuinely scared. As so many others have already said, it had my palms sweating, my body shivering and my mind firing out all kinds of questions, answers and statements – most of which were at odds with one another, and more and more began to feel like things which weren’t really very me. This response to fear is unsurprising, of course, seeing as the brain is quite capable of evoking the kind of fear in a viewer that someone else may actually be experiencing first-hand. Which is the really strange part, and where the disconnection between viewer and subject enters the frame: James and people like James don’t appear to process fear in the same way as people with more normalised psychological processes. It’s not their fault – you could say it’s a gift, even. Then again, that’s just a theory…it could be that these young men – I keep saying young men, but who knows, there could be a lone sixty-five-year-old hanging off a bridge somewhere, why not? – feel fear, but have simply conditioned themselves not to feel it. To ignore it. To push past it. Whatever the case, I doubt anyone could say it wasn’t thrilling, compelling, incredible TV entertainment. One of the most thrilling things about it, I thought, was the strange juxtaposition between how relaxed James was – or appeared to be – almost all the time, and just how worried his mother was about it. While it captivated me, it was also desperately sad on so many levels.

It’s been a while since I saw a documentary that made me think so much about what it means to be alive. In this case, Julie, James’s mother, was an enormous part of that equation. I personally feel that Julie agreeing to feature on the programme was a very brave thing to do. Here’s a mother who other adults have asked: why do you allow your son to do this? At first it seems like a reasonable question. Hanging off the edge of a very high structure is clearly a dangerous thing to do, so in a way, you’d expect that, sooner or later, James and his friends would wake up and realise that doing so is stupid – for obvious reasons. As such, Julie, being James’s mother, is the obvious target for criticism even more than James himself, in some ways. People can put James’s behaviour down to youthful stupidity or simply just an urge to rebel. They can explain his actions easily away, however they like. But for Julie, the judgements are harder: people will and have accused her of being a bad mother. Some will almost certainly draw conclusions from the fact that James hasn’t had a father around for a very long time, and hypothesize that this has a direct connection with what he’s doing now. None of which James himself seems particularly bothered about. If I could climb the things he climbs, I think I’d probably be the same.

But there is another possibility. One which sits far less comfortably for most. It is that James isn’t afraid in a conventional way, and that, due to this, his ability to function while climbing very tall structures isn’t impaired as it normally would be, meaning that he is just as capable and safe as someone walking in a straight line upon the ground. If this is true, and James’s fear responses are genuinely capable of over-riding fear, then that could mean something very interesting indeed: he isn’t in as much danger as we originally perceive him to be, and what he’s doing isn’t actually putting him at such great risk as we naturally assume. Blame the Amygdala.

That’s just a theory, though. I didn’t say I wasn’t worried. As we saw James hang off a crane with one hand and swing nonchalantly while not freaking out at all, I saw the obvious possibilities: a spasm in the hand causing him to become a smaller and smaller dot…a dislocated shoulder at exactly the wrong moment…a sneeze or a piece of metal failing. All things which could never have been predicted, and yet the result is precisely the same. The fact that James refused his mother’s request to stop climbing made me feel conflicted, as it should have done. It was obvious to me that James needed – needs – to continue what he is doing. That without it he wouldn’t be able to better himself in the way in which we should all be free to. Yet the consequences of his death were also impossible to ignore and remain with similar gravity. It does beg the question: is it someone’s fault for being born with the brain they have?

There are reasons why I sympathise with James. These same reasons probably also make me more biased to believe that he is safer than he looks. As a BMX rider of nineteen years, I’ve deliberately put myself in risky situations numerous times. I’ve trusted my own abilities and, like base jumpers or other people who live with risk on a daily basis, felt fear and deliberately ignored it, telling myself that I am capable of achieving my goal. Do this enough times and you can convince yourself that the dangers aren’t as real as they might be. With every success comes a maintained confidence. The problem is, this pursuit of achievement breeds over-confidence. While someone who is more confident is more likely to succeed, they are also at risk of not knowing when to stop, or being blinded to dangers which others may easily see.

I also believe that one of the reasons why people dislike what James is doing is more primitive: jealousy. One some basic level, it feels like James and people like him are taking the piss out of all of us. We’re all panicking about things in life which represent nowhere near that level of danger, while James and co are doing what they do with such simple nonchalance. Is it irresponsible for Channel 4 to cover such things? That depends on where you’re standing. You could argue that balanced people aren’t generally coerced into doing things that jeopardise their own safety – but then again, you could also easily disprove this: balanced people are capable of doing silly things and frequently do so.

The other obvious argument is that unbalanced or easily influenced people will be coerced into following in James’s footsteps. This is more tricky. But just take a look at YouTube. There are plenty of silly things for people to get involved with already, and all carry a large degree of risk. Blaming one 23-year-old man for everything seems a little premature and naïve to me, especially when he’s just one of a number of people involved in all this.

The only thing I didn’t like about Don’t Look Down was how Channel 4 billed urban free-climbing as a new kind of craze. To my mind, calling something a craze is the same as calling something a fad – a flurry of activity which gathers momentum and notoriety quickly because of its appeal to a certain group, then dissipates and vanishes (my own definition). Given that parkour wasn’t a fad, and many other so-called extreme sports have been proven to be viewed as legitimate pursuits, it’s very possible that this might just be the beginning of urban free-climbing. Which is even scarier, because if this is where it’s starting…where will it end? If you thought the end was people dying, then this documentary proved that we’re already past that point.

I also feel that James’s honesty should be considered and applauded. He could easily have appeared on-screen saying that he was a professional and entirely free of risk. He could have come across as arrogant, self-centred and incapable of feeling emotion. Yet we saw one scene where James assessed a risky situation while being asked to hold his new friend Mustang Wild from the top of a block of flats. This wasn’t the decision-making of a moron or a nut-case. First we witnessed James stand his ground, citing the situation as unsafe, and then we saw him keep to that reasoning when it would have been far easier to be pushed into doing something he didn’t want to do.

James also made no secret of the fact that he’d had a difficult childhood and time as a teenager – something which explained a lot about where he is now and what he is pursuing. For me, this represented a maturity and understanding of where he had come from. You may not agree with what James is doing, but you can’t say that his passion isn’t enviable.

When asked if he would feel responsible if someone died as a result of copying his actions, James struggled to answer the question – clearly unable to form the right words. Personally, I found the bit when he ate a raw parsnip more freaky. I mean…who actually does that?!

 

 

 

 

The Undateables, Series 3, Episode 2: Thundercats, Lucky Pants & JLS

This week's mouse-pad illustration comes courtesy of Ruth's face

This week’s crude mouse-pad illustration comes courtesy of Ruth’s delightful face. Sorry Ruth…

Missed Episode 1? Click here to read the review.

I was fourteen years old when I was fitted with the head-brace – a demonic-looking metal harness thing designed with just one specific purpose: make my shambolic fourteen-year-old teeth do exactly what the teeth people wanted (due to the device’s demented look, which seems like a direct precursor to a horrible torture-helmet contraption featured in the first installment of the Saw horror film franchise, I feel more comfortable calling these sadists people rather than experts). Naive and young as I was, when my orthodontist assured me that nobody at school would take the piss out of me for wearing the brace, I believed him. Seriously, I actually did believe him! When I arrived at school, things changed quickly. Soon, the malicious web of lies which my orthodontist had concocted began to unravel. Everyone did take the piss. All the time. And all the time was a lot. See, the head-brace had to stay on at least 12 hours a day

It was like the actual end of the world. Really it was. Until the head-brace came off two weeks later, and I rebelled against my parents’ wishes. Ha! Fuck the head-brace! No longer would I be called Helmethead (strictly speaking that’s a lie, of course. The calling of Helmethead actually increased in its ferocity in those fateful days – unsurprisingly, this is what you get when you take away the main source of amusement from deranged pubescents’ lives – and I often wondered if I’d have been better with the damn thing on).

I could take my head-brace off though. On a good day, it took about five minutes – there were a number of straps and a certain protocol to follow unless you wanted to carve your face with metal – but I could do it. Watching the second episode of The Undateables, I began to think about what my life might have been like if I’d have been forced by my evil orthodontist to wear that head-brace contraption for the rest of my life. Could I have coped with that disability? I highly doubt it. But then again, I’d have had no choice. I suppose I would have adapted. Eventually.

As I write this, it goes without saying that the jokes about Episode 2 of this year’s Undateables will be in full flight. There’ll be people commenting on Ruth’s elaborate and often hilarious ticks, while others mock John for his surprise insight into how the shape of the first champagne glass was arrived at (apparently it was modelled on a very famous French woman’s left breast. I did not know that). Cruel as it is, others will likely find great joy in Zoe’s innocence and how obsessed she is with the idea of living happily ever after (I would like to think not, but that’s probably being unrealistic).

What really struck me as I watched this episode of The Undateables was just how brave these people were being. It’s struck me many times before, of course, being a long-time fan of the show, but for some reason tonight it was especially poignant. Because whatever way you look at it, it’s bloody impressive. Here are 3 people going through their lives besieged by their own unique barriers – ones which the likes of most of us would never be able to even contemplate, let alone comprehend. To go out and have a first date with a total stranger takes guts in itself. But to do all that with cameras in your face, while the entire viewing public make assumptions about what’s wrong or right for disability? That has surely got to be tough.

In some ways, I think tonight’s episode featuring John, Zoe and Ruth was one of my favourites ever. Not because it was entertaining – and I dare you to argue that it wasn’t entertaining when Ruth said, repeatedly, “kick him in the nuts, send his nuts to space” – but due to how much ground it covered. With John, we saw a sweet, kind, honest young man. A man more mature than many his age, determined to break new ground, no matter how difficult and confusing (although, if you haven’t, I suggest you don’t try and break new ground by watching Breaking Bad, John. What happens in season 5, disc 2, might just tip you over the edge!). In Ruth we met an articulate, charismatic woman full of soul and love for life, willing to put aside her difficulties and take an enormous risk with her heart, right there on camera for us all to see. Zoe’s sections were particularly touching and insightful of someone with a rare kind of Down’s Syndrome (mosaicism), I think, and when her date, Nsimba – spoiler alert, so you’ve been warned! – asked her if she wanted to be an item, the look on her face was one of pure, blossoming hope. If you can’t admire Zoe’s basic ambitions and smile at the thought of her wearing a wedding dress, then maybe it’s time to look in the mirror before you write that tweet.

Some people are saying The Undateables is entertainment for able-bodied people, just so they can laugh at disabled people. I get their point, I really do, but I wholeheartedly disagree. The simple facts are that Channel 4 make television shows which are broadcast to the world, and to continue making the shows we love – and indeed have the leverage to commission new ones – they have to get viewing figures. Enough to make business viable. In a perfect world, The Undateables would be 3 hours long, delving into disability and dating at a forensic level, exploring the deepest of issues and explaining things in a way in which disability and those afflicted by it could not be misinterpreted. But The Undateables can’t be a million things to a million people. You can’t have a simplified show for people who have no idea about disabilities and a complex show for those who live with it and understand it expertly. Make a show too simple and some will say it’s missing the point, yet make it too complex and fewer people will watch it. The show will cease to exist. So what we get is something in-between. And I believe Channel 4 are doing almost as good as they can manage within the strict parameters that exist surrounding the show.

Of course, if you don’t like this particular show, that’s your prerogative entirely. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching The Undateables, it’s that a general conclusion about it being right or wrong cannot and arguably should not be met. If you’re offended by the show, maybe it’ll make you do something about it, something positive. Either way, thanks to The Undateables, we now live in a different world to the one we lived in before the show existed. It might be taking us a while to break down barriers, but taking a few steps has to be one hell of a lot better than taking none at all, through fear of what may come.

Another thing: why are so many people asking permission to laugh at the show’s undeniably funny moments, or expressing their guilt about doing so? Some of Ruth’s ticks were priceless and had me laughing (“Paedo in a Speedo” comes to mind! Not to mention “your penis is showing”). It’s not necessarily wrong to laugh – it’s all about what comes after that initial reaction. Does it make you feel good, really? Or, after the laughter has dissipated, does it make you feel sad, confused, or want to understand the condition more?

A big well done also has to be given to the dating agencies involved, it has to be said. Both Flame Dating and Stars in the Sky do a remarkable, unique and infinitely challenging job (I may be biased as, only today, Christine from Flame Dating sent me a tweet, but I’d like to think I’d think that anyway!).

Other things…I hadn’t thought about Thundercats for about fourteen years until today – certainly in my top 5 of all-time most loved TV shows growing up – and you have to hand it to John: he did damn well on his date with Alana! (Maybe I’m alone on this, but when Alana showed up to her date, I said, out-loud, “wow, she doesn’t look anything like her profile picture..she’s got a tan like David Dickinson!” Sorry about that Alana, I think it may just be my monitor, don’t take it personally, please.) Another big well done has to be given to Nsimba, Zoe’s date. He did a literally incredible job of masking his possible dislike of JLS, and managed, somehow, to maintain a good level of composure while Zoe once again mentioned that she quite fancied the idea of getting married. And this: thanks to John, hope now also exists for all men who are fans of the common deodorant Lynx. Which is great, because I’ve been sporadically using Africa since I was about 12. What’s the point in changing now?

TV Review: Dave: Loan Ranger

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I’m really sorry about this Dave. I honestly didn’t intend to add twenty years to your age and make you look dodgy, it just sort of, well, happened…

With the exception of being the managing director of Wonga, QuickQuid or Toothfairy – not to mention Russell Hamblin-Boone – you have to admire what Dave Fishwick is doing. It all began with Bank of Dave, of course, which appeared on our mass-drone-control-screens a couple of years ago. In that unique show, Dave went on a doggedly determined mission to start his very own miniature bank and fuck any of the consequences – a task which proved to be almost impossible at times, and saw Dave swearing more or less constantly about the state of banking and the people who control it (whilst being sporadically fucked by the consequences, it has to be said).

Haven”t seen Bank of Dave yet? Well, may I suggest you watch it.

Working on the assumption that most people who haven’t seen the show yet are quite lazy and will probably continue reading this blog post without bothering to do so (the void of white space between the last paragraph and this one — not to mention all the links — was supposed to be the catalyst to make you do that, but never mind, it’s done now), let the following things be known: Dave isn’t shy with his language, is a great believer in singing along at the top of his voice while driving in his car – a running theme throughout both shows, it seems – and believes that Pennsylvania is where Dracula is from. Yep, I mean it – unless I was hallucinating. Unsurprisingly, in Dave’s second TV show for Channel 4, Dave got lost more than a couple of times, and this time, I don’t think we can blame the sat-nav.

Anyway, with Bank of Dave it was all about bringing the world to rights by starting a bank which actually gave a shit about what it was doing. A highly novel concept which understandably came under fire from those who thought ethical banking was about as possible as dry fishing. Everyone said it couldn’t be done – by everyone I mean banking experts, about which I will leave you to draw your own conclusions – and yet Dave managed it. You could even say he’s done a pretty good job.

Dave: Loan Ranger, saw a continuation of Dave’s dangerous determination streak, along with him saying brilliant things like “I’ll stick this up their arse”. This time, we watched nicely edited Channel 4 footage of Mr Fishwick bringing mental anguish and torment to a brand new adversary who, by all accounts, thoroughly deserves it and should actually rot in hell for what they have done: the pay-day loan companies who can get you money in 15 minutes – a transaction which, for the people featured in the show, came complete with sleepless nights, threatening letters and a feeling that none of this would ever be over until they had lost everything. Having watched the show, I concluded that about the only thing a pay-day loan seems good for is rising your blood pressure very quickly. Wonderful if you’ve got hypotension, but pretty crap if you’re not one of the 30% of adults in the UK over 65 who has.

I was determined to not review this show while being utterly biased. Much as I’d loved Bank of Dave, I wanted to watch Dave: Loan Ranger as if I had never seen Bank of Dave before, and didn’t have a ruddy clue who this daring Fishwick character was. Yet without drilling into a very specific part of my brain with incredible accuracy, this couldn’t be achieved, of course. And let’s be honest. Even if it could have been done, I’d still have hated the people who offer these ludicrous and evil pay-day loans. Even a severe bang on the head wouldn’t change that.

Another thing I wanted to do was to remain as neutral as possible about the pay-day loans people, which I have already proved is impossible, but please bear with me anyway. Yes, I hated the idea of instant cash loans which led to an incredible spiral of debt, but then again, I didn’t really know very much about them, so who was I to judge? So, my solution was simple. Try and reset my brain as best as I could and only make judgements based on what Dave told me. After all, these loans were pretty nifty when you thought about it all: if a crazy person had turned up at your door before we had broadband, you’d have had both your legs broken before your dial-up had a chance to finish loading Google. Nowadays, however, you can get money in 15 minutes flat, regardless of your financial standing. Great news if the banks won’t lend you any more money and, like I said, that crazy person is arriving very soon.

The judgements weren’t good, is the thing. Not good in any way. I began watching the show thinking Maybe it is some people’s fault for being thick and just taking out loans when they know they shouldn’t. Of course, I didn’t really think that, but I wanted to be fair to everyone, and the only fair way to be fair was to assume that there was blame on both sides. It wasn’t long, however, before the evidence against the evil pay-day loans companies began to gather. We learned from a whistle-blower who has worked for several of these companies that it’s routine practice to target vulnerable people who can barely afford a Mars bar, and that the UK has been selected as a place of operation due to its shabby lack of laws and regulations which, in other countries, protect this sort of thing from happening. We also learned, quite importantly, that the people who are taking out loans from firms like Wonga and QuickQuid are normal, reasonable people. These aren’t – necessarily – people so gullible that they’ll hand over their entire life savings to someone knocking on their door who says they’re from Barclays and just so happened to be in the area. These are people like you and me. People who make mistakes every now and again. People who need help, but end up getting it from the last person they ought to.

Was/is Dave crazy for offering to bail some of these poor individuals out by paying their loan debts off for them? Quite probably, as Dave’s banking expert – proper banking expert, not included in the previous group I mentioned – inferred. I can’t be too sure about what else he said after that, to be honest. I was much too busy thinking You really do look like an old Wallace from those Wallace and Gromit films, don’t you man? I kept waiting for Gromit to appear, but sadly, he never showed up. Maybe next time.

The final part of the show – the part which Channel 4 probably insisted upon for the sake of drama, and you get the feeling Dave would have done even if cameras had been nowhere near him – saw our short Burnley hero take to the streets, to bring his in-debt posse face-to-face with the firms who were making their lives a real pain in the arse. Unfortunately, this part of the show didn’t conclude in explosive fashion, with Dave putting any bankers through any large floor-to-ceiling windows in slow-motion, but that hardly mattered. It was good enough to learn that, in most cases, the firms were writing these particular debts off and leaving these quite literally poor people alone.

So, Dave Fishwick, what’s next? I, for one, hope that Dave will team up with Guy Martin the speed-demon-motorbike-racer, for a dramatic twist on finance. Just picture the scene: Guy constructing a race track from the illegal profits earned by bankers and MPs over the last 20 years, before racing round it with all his northern buddies, as Dave cheers them all on, setting fire to the money. Now, that would be something to see on Channel 4 sometime soon.

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Because it’s better than Splash! and Take Me Out put together: The Undateables – Series 3, Episode 1

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This is supposed to be Mary from the show. Sorry Mary, it’s 00:47 am and I’m tired and I really need to go to bed. I’m not sure which part of your face/body I’ve done a crapper job of, but rest assured that you won’t be the last victim of my mouse-pad ventures. Best wishes, Chris. PS it’s now 00:50 am — I spent another couple of minutes on your chin. I hope it shows.

When I started seeing the TV adverts for Series 3 of The Undateables – the Channel 4 show which arguably can claim to be the first of its kind – it actually took me somewhat by surprise. Given the show’s popularity, which exploded all over Twitter and made everyone an instant expert on who should and should not be allowed to enter the perilous world of dating, I shouldn’t have been surprised, yet there it was. Concerned was another thing I was feeling. As the adverts grew less mysterious about the show’s new cast, and those classic moments-to-come began to reveal themselves, I wondered: can Series 3 give us anything we haven’t already seen? Anyone who has visited this blog before will know I’ve always been a big fan of the show, but irrelevant of this, 3 series is starting to push it. However good you are, you’re always going to have to bring something new. Not an easy thing to do – particularly when the format is one which works so well and doesn’t require changing.

Then again, perhaps that’s being unfair. The very reason why I rated the show so much to begin with was the fact that it went places that TV previously had never dared to before. Maybe 3 series isn’t actually that much for a show about dating and disabilities? I began to think. Not to mention the fact that there exists many different kinds of disabilities and really, we’ve barely even scratched the surface.

So, I was decided: in truth, The Undateables has infinite appeal. Especially when you consider that despite the previous series’ success, of these things, there is so much more to be said.

Predictably, as today’s first episode of the series grew near, I started to get excited about it all over again. I remembered how touching the first 2 series had been, and recalled the many conversations – both online and off (also known as real life, of course) – I’d had with people who’d watched the show. Smiling and wondering exactly what was in store, I careered down the M11 at speed earlier today, even once taking our Renault Clio 1.3 into the fast lane, where it has no right to be. Half-an-hour later there I was, sat in front of the TV eating the remains of the Thorntons white-chocolate snowman that my lovely girlfriend had bought me for Christmas. I had my hot chocolate and had, obviously, ensured that anyone in the house knew not to disturb me for the next hour or so. Then the show started, the introduction began to play, and…well, the first thing I noted was the updated music. This panicked me for a second – if they’ve messed with the music, what else have they messed with? – but I soon calmed down. I was more than ready.

Daniel was first up. All 6 foot 4 of Daniel, with some outgoing eyebrows and a love of song-writing. We heard that Daniel was from East Sussex – causing me to say out-loud “I bet anything he’s from Brighton” – and that he was one of those people who buys DVDs at every opportunity. Autism was Daniel’s issue, and mum Carol explained it as only a mother could do when she likened her son’s condition to someone inside his head, cutting up random words from a newspaper and splurging them forward randomly at every opportunity. I liked Carol immediately. Clearly she was going to do whatever it took to help her son. Romantic and sweet, Daniel signed up with a dating agency. The man was ready to hit the streets and had two great role models to inspire him: his parents. Sometimes it seems like every older couple I know have been married at least 33 years and it’s no big deal, but still, you have to admit, it’s a bloody long time.

44-year-old Mary, from London, appeared next on the screen. Single for 4-and-a-half years, Mary’s love life had been made difficult by her genetically acquired Achondroplasia – a kind of dwarfism that affects about 1 in 25,000 births across all races and genders. Much as that was true, I couldn’t help but struggle with seeing why she had never been able to find love. Really? Mary came across as sweet, funny, interesting and entertaining. Saying that, if you’re going to be brutally honest about disability then jokes will be inevitable also. I could already see Mary’s 4 gold medals at the World Dwarf Games being a source of much amusement that would surely go viral. Then again, I could also see a thousand people retaliating and saying Stick It Up Your Arse, so I wasn’t too bothered.

Before it was 29-year-old Hayley’s turn to appear on-screen, there was some fantastic news for Daniel: Stars in the Sky dating agency had found a match for him, and it was the by now recognisable Lydia who gave him the good news. Holly was the girl who was interested, and Daniel went ape-shit with excitement, which made for great TV. And who could blame him? If you know someone with autism, you’ll be aware of how difficult it can be for those with the condition to read other people’s emotions and feelings. Daniel’s parents were overjoyed too. The show was once again coming into its own. I mean, I’d nearly eaten my chocolate snowman and had barely even noticed.

Back to Hayley. A nursery nurse from rural Herefordshire, Hayley rode on to the screen a-top one of those big scary horse creatures (I can’t see me ever not feeling this way about these). Within just a handful of seconds we learned a couple of important things. The first was that Hayley has Apert Syndrome – a genetic condition which causes distinctive features attributed to bone-growth, and something which Wikipedia beats me hands-down in a game of how-much-do-you-know. The second was that she had, amazingly, managed to get through the entire Fifty Shades trilogy. Of which I have precisely no comment (other than Like I can say anything…I’ve just gone and read all The Hunger Games books and I am 33!).

Hearing that Hayley used to go out wearing headphones so she couldn’t hear the cruel comments being said about her made me die a little death inside, it’s true. I soon put that right though. In my head I walked down the street next to Hayley eating lots of raw garlic, breathing the horrendous fumes into the path of these cruel silly muppets. That showed ’em, I can tell you.

“Not all the male population are nasty, Hayley,” I said to the TV. Then I regained my focus.

You had to admire Hayley. Or, if you’re a silly billy who’s yet to watch The Undateables on 4OD – should you really be reading my blog?! – you have to admire her. I mean, imagine growing up with a younger sister who beats you to every single bloody milestone there is in life, including starting a family? As gracious and kind and thoughtful as Amanda was about her sister’s dating issues on-camera, that’s got to be difficult. Yet Hayley was only ever very positive. A wonderful character trait indeed. If there is any justice in the world, Hayley has to find some love.

Back with Mary, she was dreaming of the day when she’d be with her new man, who doesn’t give a toss about what people say. Mary had, by now, joined Flame Introductions, who’d come round to take her photo and get it up online. A keen footballer and lover of keeping fit, Mary was after a bloke with a bit of confidence about him, who also likes a bit of sport every now and again. Luckily for Mary, good things were about to happen.

Then we were back with Daniel, who was undergoing the borderline questionable activity of practising dating with his very own mother Carol (sorry, Carol). Not that there was anything questionable about Carol’s standards and knowledge of etiquette. Carol was determined to show her son how a woman ought to be treated, and considering how tough he was finding it, I thought Daniel was doing pretty damn well.

I could go on forever about the rest of the show, and if you scroll down the page you’ll see that I more or less do. But still, there’s so much to bang on about. That bit when Mary’s eyes lit-up as Jet appeared on the screen…the five-foot-eleven personal trainer who seemed to have been created directly from Mary’s imagination. Of course, from that moment on all I could think about was the hit TV show Gladiators, but I didn’t mind one bit (I really loved that show. Wolf was my idol!).

And what about when Daniel agreed to go on a date with Holly, without seeing her photo first? That was mighty impressive (at this point we were also told Daniel came from Brighton, and I said “I knew it all along!”).

What wasn’t good was when Daniel and Holly really really struggled to make conversation in the café. That wasn’t good at all – ah, it was cringe! Until it was good, of course, and conversation started to flow and things rapidly improved. Fortunately for Daniel, coming from Brighton very much saved the day. Daniel even blew Holly a kiss and Holly gladly accepted it. For the first time, I could see romance in the air.

One month on for Hayley, I had the feeling that, intentionally or otherwise, she was being a little bit left out of the show. Then the phone only went and rang, didn’t it! The agency had a match and his name was the best name ever – Chris. Coffee was soon to be on the horizon…seeing Hayley thrilled may me feel thrilled too. It was like the first time I saw Gladiators, only without me being told off for swearing when Wolf appeared. My God I wanted to be that man.

What can I say about Mary’s date that a million other people haven’t already thought? Having seen this Jet personal trainer character on the screen and everything he was supposed to be, I’d thought of him as the male equivalent of one of those Spam email Russian brides I see in my Inbox once a year (sorry Mary!). Yet in reality, the man was alright. Better than alright, actually. Oh, go on then, he was good! Crap at ice skating mind you, but otherwise a decent fella. Seeing Jet all nervous as he waited for Mary to arrive was a nice turn of events. It couldn’t compare to the moment when Mary made absolutely no secret of checking out Jet’s crotch live on TV, of course, but it was still good.

Anyway, you know and I know that if Jet entered an ice skating competition, bad things would be said. Unless it was in a parallel dimension where being on your arse is considered a good thing. If it exists, I hope to one day go there.

Who gives a shit, though? Fact was, Mary and Jet had serious chemistry together. Laughing and joking, Mary said she couldn’t have asked for a better date. Well done Jet.

One week on from When Daniel Met Holly, Holly was almost like a brand-new person. Holly talked about watching films in bed endlessly, and her love of eating breakfast in bed. She talked a lot about bed really, which can surely only be promising. Daniel was the gentleman the entire time, and although he was quite hurt when Holly refused to have any kind of physical contact at the end of their date – how exactly does a person reject a hug from the ever loveable Daniel? – things were to soon turn around.

It was the day of Hayley’s date, and Hayley, well, she had the big-time nerves.

Chris turns up, and within mere seconds the two are locked in intense competition…in a bowling alley,of all places. All I kept thinking about as I watched this was how I’d once seen a couple arguing like fuck in a bowling alley. I mean really going for it – people holding them both back like wild dogs, that kind of thing. If I remember rightly, it ended with the guy being ejected and some kind of scrap which made for really fun rumours at school the next day. Granted, there was a good chance that they’d carried their relationship difficulties into the alley, and that bowling wasn’t the sole catalyst for the girl’s awful screaming, but still, bowling could do bizarre and sinister things to people. I just hoped these Undateables people knew what on Earth they were doing…

Turned out they did. There was to be no violence or mud-slinging, as you know, and afterwards they sat down to have a good old-fashioned chat together. This chat included one of the World’s greatest awkward silences, but I needn’t have worried. It all turned around in the end, and soon Chris and Hayley were laughing. It even made me think a bit differently about English bowling alleys. Not to mention Chris said he’d had a cheeseburger with Eddie The Eagle Edwards, and Hayley said she’d met not only Princess Diana, but Tony Blair too (personally I thought Chris trumped it when he said he’d spoken to Boycie from Only Fools and Horses, but that’s just me).

Chris said they should see about doing it again, and my big soppy heart melted, it did.

A week after Mary and Jet’s first hot date, things were considerably hotter. Hot like when you burn yourself on the oven and you have to hold your hand under cold water for a full 2 minutes or else you get a nasty burn. Yes. That kind of hot. Not only did Jet confess to having texted Mary every day, but they’d been speaking too. Holy shit! I love this show.

It wasn’t all over with Holly and Daniel either. They might not have set the world on fire like Mary and Jet, but they were hanging out at least. Holly even had some big wellies on and was smiling loads. Great news for Daniel, who’d always seemed like a really nice bloke.

As we saw an exclusive preview of next week’s episode, I thought again, for what felt like the millionth time: If they’re OK with all this, why shouldn’t we be?

 

 

 

Boomerang!

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My sister and her partner, they bought me a boomerang for my birthday, several months ago. On the box, as above, was a to-scale illustration of the object inside, and in the centre of the illustration were the encouraging words Super Return. Backing up this claim were the smaller words beneath: Flight Standard No.8. With no grasp of how this standard matched up against all the other standards – presumably there were other standards – I couldn’t tell how great my standard was. In all situations like this, when only a best guess can be given, I think of 1 being crap and 10 being brilliant. Conclusion: my boomerang was probably quite good. Better than average, at least. I mean…it was a Super Return!

Walking towards the local playing field, my new wooden boomerang in hand, ready to throw, I was excited. Deeply excited. I had always wanted a boomerang, but for some reason had never got around to getting one. Now, close to my maiden voyage, I felt slightly ridiculous for leaving it to my sister and her partner to make my dreams come true. Then again, I was happy, and nothing could mess my spirits up. Within me was growing an enormous sense of anticipation and a feeling of being part of something majestic which very few people had ever known about. Having studied the instructions on the back of the box, I was confident of what was about to happen, and this was all I could focus on. I was going to chuck the thing in just the right way, and it was going to power out in a straight line in front of me before curving round anti-clockwise in some kind of semi-circle, before making its way back in my general direction (I set this at around 30 feet. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that). Of course, I wasn’t getting carried away. I knew that the first attempt probably wouldn’t be very good, and the second and third and fourth and fifth and likely sixth and seventh and eighth throws wouldn’t be good either, but that didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because, having studied a few YouTube videos, I felt confident that eventually, my Super Return Flight Standard No.8 would make its way back to me. It had to. That was what boomerangs were for.

Arriving on the playing field, I was chuffed to see that I had the place entirely to myself. A good thing, surely. I had read on a boomerang enthusiast’s website that an enthusiast – especially a beginner – should never throw their ‘rang with others present anywhere near. What constituted anywhere near varied enormously, depending on the boomerang enthusiast’s website. But for my first ‘rang experience, I was going to play it safe and keep a space clear of 150 feet square, and no less.

I’m going to stop saying ‘rang now, and just stick to boomerang. I feel somewhat ridiculous saying rang all the time. After all, at this time, I hadn’t earned the right to. That was yet to come.

It turned out that the right to was a very long, long way to come. The kind of long way where if someone gives you elaborate, endless directions in the street to get to somewhere and says you can walk, you don’t, you get a taxi, because you can tell that either they’re not good with directions and it’s fucking ages away, or they’re taking the piss and just a cruel person who gets deep satisfaction from sending strangers into a state of pure and utter despair. It was to be that far. The world can be so cruel.

The first ten throws went like this: I chucked the boomerang and it flew out in a straight line, just as I had imagined…before dive bombing into the ground, cutting into the wet ground like a dagger. I’d then run up to it, all enthusiastic and sure that the next throw would be loads better, and at no time would I give any thought to the fact that from behind their windows, residents living around the playing field might be judging me and making jokes at my expense. My optimism was dangerous, actually. I was sure that, by some miraculous event, the boomerang would curve properly on the wind on the next attempt, before landing not too far from me. But it didn’t happen. Ever. No matter what the hell I tried, it just refused to happen. Again and again the boomerang – sorry, the stick – landed thirty-feet away. Sinking into despair with every passing second, I refused to allow myself to stop. I had made a promise to myself when I walked onto that playing field and it was very simple and could not be broken: I was going nowhere until that bloody boomerang began to come back to me.

Suffice to say, it was pitch-black before I began the long but short walk home. I had almost lost my boomerang on the very last attempt, and although there’d been a small moment of ecstasy when I’d thought I’d lost it forever and might be spared the torment of future throwing sessions, there also existed an enormous rage that was building with frightening speed. Clutching my intricately curved stick, the walk was slow and surreal as the reality of who I was sunk in: I wasn’t a boomerang kind of a person. I never had been, and chances were I never would be.

Absolute fucking bollocks. That was basically what it was.

Then a few days later, a revelation struck me with some force. In one of those crazy moments I’d been consistently having – one where I imagined myself as a boomerang kind of a person, all smug on YouTube, saying it how it is and giving nonchalant instructions to all the boomerang thickos out there – I found myself Googling boomerangs. Like so many novices before me, I asked question after question. Why won’t my boomerang come back? What am I doing wrong with my boomerang? The questions led to a complex web of lies and sinister secrets which couldn’t help but remind me of the film Se7en, featuring Morgan Freeman. I began to wonder if, perhaps, the failure could have been more involved than I had initially given it credit for.

This one website was saying that not all boomerangs were true returning boomerangs. That some were labelled as returning, but actually never would. It was the design, said the website’s boomerang enthusiast author. And this was when things started to get really interesting. Spurred on by this shocker, I began to investigate the source from which my sister and her partner had acquired my boomerang. It wasn’t long before my searching yielded results. The news was not good, however. First of all, my boomerang was a cheap one, making it a strong contender for one of these boomerangs that might not return. But worse than that was what was yet to come: comparing the boomerang against other more expensive and specially crafted models, there were significant differences. Differences that could very well push a novice boomerang enthusiast well over the edge. The main problem was the boomerang’s thickness and shape – which, when you think about it, is more or less all a boomerang has got. Good boomerangs were supposedly thin weapon-like masterpieces which sliced effortlessly through the air. The bend and curve of the boomerang was the next big issue. Mine was only slightly bent, as if by accident like a not-bent-enough-banana, whereas the ones I was seeing where much more so, with each wing curved as much as 90 degrees to the other…

For a moment I felt a great weight lift off me. I was free! The world opened up and there was I at the centre of it, surrounded by new possibilities. I could be a boomerang kind of a person! It was at least possible! So now, the way I saw it, I had two distinct choices. Either I could put it all down to experience and keep myself from getting mixed-up in the grotesque web of deceit that boomerang enthusiasts certainly told their partners to get one more go with their boomerang – “I’m just nipping out down the shops again…” – or I could take a substantial risk. Buy a new and reputable boomerang from a trusted supplier and embrace what may be to come. No matter how dark.

Of course I chose the latter. I had come too far, and thrown too many failed boomerang attempts to just give up now. I told my girlfriend, Jen, and she said “great…here we go again.” I looked at her, smiled and said “I’m buying this boomerang from this Davro Boomerangs company based in Ireland, and it is going to come back!” Then she said what I said she said before, but with more force. I think she also may have sworn. That’s what boomerangs do to people, for good, for bad.

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Davro Boomerangs based in Ireland looked like a wicked company. In the good way that teenagers say wicked, and that I recently had once again started saying, because the boomeranging was doing that to me, making me giddy, making me anxious and excited and elated and hard to be around. Unless you too also were a fan of boomeranging.

Or, should I say, the thought of boomeranging! In my mind whirred these crazy spectacles. Me almost catching it then…me, catching it then dropping it, but…so nearly catching it! In these mind spasms of joy I could so easily have exhaustively pursued the fantasy of catching my boomerang cleanly, like a pro, but I chose not to every time. I didn’t want to ruin the eventual feeling. I also didn’t want to get my hopes up. I wasn’t sure I could take it if the Traditional boomerang I had ordered from Davro Boomerangs did not come back.

The day my boomerang arrived in the post, in a long cardboard box, I ripped the packaging open and marvelled at it for a good ten minutes. Lovingly crafted by the skilled hands of Richard Oglivy of Davro Boomerangs in Ireland, the thing was nothing less than a total masterpiece. A masterpiece, I tell you! All I kept thinking, as demented and childish as it was, was This looks like a weapon! This looks a lot like it could kill someone! Putting the boomerang down, the thought registered in a troublesome new light. This looks a lot like it could kill someone…this seriousness didn’t last long though, it has to be said. I had business to attend to. That Traditional boomerang had to be thrown!

And this time, I actually wasn’t leaving until it at least looked like it wanted to come back.

Nerves were making a mess of me as I approached the playing field with my new Traditional. On the other side of the field, I soon saw something else that concerned me. A man walking his dog, impinging on my turf with not a care in the world. This was precisely what I had read on boomerang websites: passerby had not the faintest idea of their plain stupidity and closeness to death at the hands of a novice. Instead of seeing a boomerang and thinking Better not go anywhere near, it was almost like they were drawn to the sheer danger of it. I stood there on the playing field allowing the grass clippings to fall from my hand for a good minute while I watched the dog walker’s dog’s erratic movements (this is what you do to test the direction of the wind for boomerang throwing, don’t you know). When the man didn’t get the obvious message, I had no choice but to back away from him, finding myself in the opposite corner of the field with my deadly weapon. Five minutes later, with his dog now happy, the man left unscathed. It was time for me to make Pink family history.

And it was then, in that fateful moment, when it struck me full-force: this was likely the first time in the history of the world that my village had ever seen a proper hand-crafted boomerang thrown. I was not going to waste this opportunity.

Figure of speech, of course. Being a novice, wasting the opportunity was precisely what I was going to do, for at least half-an-hour. But at least I wasted it wholeheartedly and with a smile upon my face. The first attempt sent the lethal weapon flying up into the air, before careering sideways with a freak gust of wind, landing about fifty-feet away. Aided by my lack of skill, the same thing happened for the next 50 attempts, where my Traditional landed in every part of the playing field, taking in the local shrubs and bushes. It even landed on the cordoned-off bit where they’re trying to grow near grass for the cricket (I think). Until I began to get the hang of it. Until, amazingly, I threw the boomerang and it began to curve in front of me and started to head back.

Standing in a field with a Traditional boomerang flying towards you may sound like an enviable position for a boomerang enthusiast in his third decade to be in, but I soon learned it wasn’t. Twice, the boomerang literally came straight at me, and the only way I avoided it was to hurl myself out of the way. “How do I catch you?” I cried out in despair, sort of toying with the idea of catching it now, but knowing in reality that there was no way. I knew what I had to do, I just couldn’t see how the hell I might apply that logic. I had read somewhere that catching a diving boomerang is a very stupid thing to do indeed, and I now had first-hand experience of why. My next breakthrough, which saw the boomerang begin to hover-in on landing, came on my next throwing session, and with it the realisation that I was, definitely, a boomerang person. I knew so because, that fateful day, I ran towards it, looked up and saw it float down towards me, before clapping my hands around it (after about 10 other times where the boomerang had hit me in the thigh at 30-miles-per-hour, narrowly missed my head and whacked into my hands about a dozen times…).

I was a boomerang kind of a person after all. I had known so all along (sort of).

Christmas. And stuff

del boyPersonally speaking, it’s been quite a strange and difficult couple of weeks – an intense couple of months, even. A very unique year – that’s certainly true. A dear relative was lost, various other important and pivotal once-in-a-life-time things have happened in not just my own life, but the lives of several of my family and friends, and, all in all, a time for celebration it has felt like not (that’s putting it mildly, actually. For a good few months, the idea of celebrating has made me feel sick, and I’ve even occasionally not felt like writing, which is very unusual indeed).

Yet I still find myself smiling, thinking about how utterly fortunate I am – for my lovely girlfriend and spectacular friends and family – knowing that it could easily be plenty worse. That when I was born, there was far more chance that I wouldn’t have the life I have than how it turned out in the end (I don’t mean to say that the family I was born into was a bit of a nightmare, because that’s not true. Not at all. I just mean it in a general, geographical sense). I prefer to say fortunate rather than lucky – when I think about luck I inevitably think of both good luck and bad luck, whereas when fortune comes to mind, I think only about the over-riding positive things which are there no matter what comes and goes through the years. The freedom to walk down the street, the choice to decide when I go out and who my friends are. Twix or Mars bar, that kind of thing (Twix. Definitely Twix. Two-for-one – how can you argue with that logic? Well, that’s if they haven’t got Wispa…). How I don’t get hassled going about my business, unlike many perfectly legal immigrants who are trying to make an honest living in this country and constantly find themselves coming up against enormous difficulties – police harassment, cultural and racial issues – which most of us simply wouldn’t be able to cope with. Using toilet paper which leaves me feeling content, even (if UK bought economy toilet paper is bad news for your bum-hole, then how bad is it in a city where supplies are seriously limited? Not good news for run-ragged anal fissures, acquired from diarrhoea triggered by poorly sanitized water, surely). Basic things which rarely seem like true privileges, yet can only be viewed in this manner when set against the contrasting realities of those living in numerous other countries out there.

Now stop imagining and wondering about anal fissures. I wish I’d never mentioned it. But do feel privileged.

My brother, sister and I have always had the option to ask for what we’d like as Christmas presents (that’s got to be a good way to get us off the subject of those pesky anal fissures, hasn’t it?). Something that’s certainly not unique and something that takes the piss, when you stop and think about it. That’s got to be another massive Western privilege, am I right? This year, I didn’t ask for anything in particular, and I have to say that it felt slightly strange. It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of anything I really wanted – I can always think of plenty of things I’d really like – and it wasn’t that this was the way I deliberately planned it, either. In truth, the events I mentioned at the start of this blog post distracted me from being a self-indulgent gift-seeking bastard, and selfishly imagining what I might like didn’t feel like much of a priority – but don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be back to my usual self next year. It was probably a good thing, I am now fairly sure, even if not asking for specific things eventually reveals itself to be one almighty downfall. Being able to select exactly what you want for Christmas every year seems pretty gruesome and wrong and monstrous when you write it down, I have just discovered. I think this year, I’ll be happy with surprises. Even though it feels like I’ve had far too many already. But still.

I also haven’t seen Home Alone once in the last week, which is more than a little unsettling. I mean, I’ve always loved watching Home Alone at Christmas time. A bit of Macauley Culkin? Go on then (what the fuck are the TV people playing at, really? Where has Home Alone been? Or did I just miss it? I hope not). The weather, too, has let both children and adults down. Stupid weather! Instead of a white Christmas, or even the vague threat of a white Christmas – almost as good, it has to be said, because half the fun is waiting for the snow to arrive, and adults who drive cars prefer the threat much more than the actual delivery – we’re presently enduring a storm which is making thousands of UK homes without power. One of those dull storms which doesn’t do a lot other than be miserable. No internet, no phone lines, no TV – at least in certain places. The only people who are winning are those with battery-powered Gameboys – they’re all powered by batteries, by the way, I just said that to emphasise my point – and, I hate to say it, those American freaks on US TV channels who are constantly preparing for the end of the world (I always knew they were on to something). There couldn’t be a worse time for this to happen, could there? (The only thing worse than missing Home Alone at Christmas time in the UK is having the ability to watch it at all entirely taken away from you). Then again, in our country, the phone lines get fixed reasonably quickly and internet is never down for long. Home Alone, too, is often repeated numerous times, even when you think you’ve missed it. And once it all gets fixed, we know we’ll be OK for a while. No rebels are going to come along any time soon with machine guns and wipe out any of our people, after all. So maybe we should just think ourselves very lucky.

And now this blog post is in danger of becoming one big preaching session. Bollocks. That’s frustrating. Frustrational – there, I invented that just then, and I like that better. I hate the idea of people out there thinking that, almost as much as I love the idea of Frustrational catching on as a new word attributed to me. Still, we are lucky to have choices and families and the option to be able to engineer how happy we are through the Christmas period. The option to Google anal fissures – don’t – and buy the kind of luxurious toilet paper that costs as much as a whole African village’s supply of monthly food. We’re lucky to have a Christmas period at all. Because some of us can be pretty fucking pathetic, starting with me. Just the other day, for example, I walked into the living room and started complaining about how it was cold. It wasn’t cold, not really. I was just being a stupid arsehole. With my Breaking Bad box-set less than fifteen-feet away and a week of freedom from work approaching, I felt like slapping myself, and would have done, if I’d have thought it might have any effect. But I just couldn’t help myself, could I? Less than ten Western minutes later I was moaning once again, if only inside my own consciousness where nobody else could witness its feebleness. This time it was about our internet connection, which was making life difficult by being really slow. The pages were taking as long as 3 seconds to appear in full right there on my screen. And now my consciousness no longer feels like the isolated void of freedom that it once did.

Another thing: I hate this whole Christmas is shit thing that some people have going on, I really do. Lighten-up. It’s not shit. It really isn’t. Even if you think it’s shit because you hate how commercial it’s all become, how trapped we all are in this one particular way, it’s good to have a few days off work and be able to ruthlessly self-indulge. It’s good, so enjoy it. Force yourself, if you have to. Even if you did leave it too late to order your Christmas presents. But then, there’s always the sales…

Turkey? Loads of booze? Sugary things, laughter, family and crap TV? Del Boy, falling through the bar, forever and ever, so we can’t forget it. I miss my Nan and I don’t really feel like celebrating and it doesn’t feel right to not have freezing-cold weather, but still, it’s Christmas, and I plan to bloody well enjoy myself, and force everybody else to, if it comes down to it. To notice and embrace the small things. My small moment on this planet. I’ll even wear my Christmas hat, even though my head is always too big for it.

Haircut Story December 2013

As of December 17th, 2013, 3:45pm

Just been to the hairdresser’s. Hated every moment of it, as ever. Just like I knew I would.

Every time I go to get my hair-cut at this one particular place, which I shall not name, I get told off – sometimes quite badly. It’s the same every single time, and over the years I have actually come to quite like the routine we have fallen into: I keep walking through their door with hair which is unacceptably long, and I just can’t get the fucking message. “You’ll need to go to a ladies salon next time,” I have been repeatedly warned by the owner, who is also the chief male stylist there and a somewhat stern individual (you may recognise that statement from an earlier blog post). But, like I said, the message – I can’t get it and I know I never will (I’m a busy man with a life to lead and frequent hairdressing appointments are hard to arrange and keep to, that’s just the way it is). And clearly I don’t much care, either. The nostalgia is more important to me. Every time I’ve had my hair cut, I do the same thing – nothing, letting my hair grow out of its style and into a mess – and the same scenario unfolds again the next time. The sad thing is that no matter how long my hair is when I turn up there, I am never, ever turned away.

Let that be a warning to you, hairdressers of the world: empty threats result in future horrors. Just say no. Otherwise, you’re asking for it.

(Shit. It’s just dawned on me that I must be that one customer who they absolutely despise. That one customer who every salon surely has. The one who they wish would get the message but never does. Still, it costs eleven-pounds…)

Anyway, this time, before I went to get my hair cut, I decided to have a go at it myself. A proper good go. Take some of the weight out of it – that phrase stuck in my head the last time I came for my twice-a-year bollocking – and make it more manageable for them, so there was nothing to complain about. Do them a big favour. Cutting my own hair was initially quite a daunting thing to do – I didn’t know where to start but all the places I started appeared to be wrong. It soon transpired, however, that cutting one’s own head of hair is actually quite simple. You just have to free yourself. Providing you don’t set your standards too high, and providing you accept that it’s something of a learning curve, it’s simple enough. If you see a long bit, hack it off. If you see a short bit, well, you’ve probably already done that bit. But it never hurts to make doubly sure. That’s the key thing.

It has to be a good thing that I didn’t decide to train as a hairdresser. Then again, maybe my cavalier approach would have been just what hairdressing needed. Either way, it’s too late to tell. Or is it…?

Yes, it is. Don’t worry, that was a joke.

Today, within just a second or two of coming through the door with my woolly hat on, I was disturbed to find myself sat in the hairdresser’s chair. For me, this has always been a bad omen. I like waiting in the leather chairs and pondering for a few minutes – waiting just feels like the right thing to do. Yet today, I was denied that basic human right. It should come as no surprise that things were to go downhill very fast…

So I sat there. Then, a craziness came over me, underscored by the feeling of impending fear. Now, what I’d seen as I entered the salon began to cross my mind: the lady hairdresser sat reading a paper at the desk, the fact that aside from me and her, the salon was entirely empty. The chief male stylist was nowhere to be seen and today, I was to have my hair styled and dressed by a woman who I had never seen before! As she appeared beside me, and I removed my hat, I sensed the atmosphere change (it was true, also, that I suddenly fancied some chips, but that had nothing to do with it. I don’t think. Although chips have been known to change atmosphere. Particularly when somebody suddenly decides to steal yours, but that’s another story).

Her: “can I ask you a question?”

Me: “yes.”

“Have you cut it yourself?” she said.

“Is it that obvious?” I said back.

“Yes,” she said, with no hesitation. “Were you trying to make it uneven?”

I smiled with purpose and looked right at her. Smiling, in this context, is my way of saying I’m joking, obviously. I tried again but it came out all wrong and she made a little sigh. For a moment, I wondered if she might put her hand on my shoulder and tap me gently, ask me when the mini-bus was coming to pick me up again.

“I was going for the recently mauled look,” I said, smiling again, when she didn’t look like she knew what to say. This time I was happy with the smile.

“…By?”

“Sorry?”

“Mauled by what, I mean.”

I paused. Whenever I’ve heard the word mauled, I’ve always thought of an animal doing the mauling. I can’t remember ever hearing about a human being mauling someone. Not on one occasion. Obviously human beings do, but that’s called GBH or assault, isn’t it?

So I said “non-specific. Nevermind.”

“Oh.”

For several seconds, the mirrored opposite versions of ourselves looked at one another, until she said “right. So what should I do with it? Obviously your options here are quite limited…”

This is why I hate going to the hairdresser’s. Surely, when a man turns up having cut his own head of hair and shows absolutely no sign of being concerned about having done so, the job is pretty simple: make it look less shit than it presently does, if at all possible.

“I’d like it to look better than this,” I said. “Please.”

“Well, I’m not a miracle worker but I’ll see what I can do.”

“Wicked.”

What followed was pretty humiliating, really. First she kept suppressing a laugh, and then whenever the laugh seemed about to break through, she’d make a very serious telling-off comment, while touching my hair to remind me what she was referring to. These comments ranged from the innocent – “it should grow out in about six weeks, so don’t worry too much” – to the downright rude – “next time you feel like cutting your hair yourself…don’t, please”.

Next came concerns about what I might say after leaving the salon. That I might tell everyone she had done a terrible job. We had a brief debate because she wanted to do a comb-back 1980s Cotton Trader catalogue style hair-cut, but I didn’t, because I was absolutely certain it would look like utter shit. It got pretty heated, actually – and it was made all the worse, at least for me, by the black cape which I felt trapped by at all times. At one point, she seemed to be on the verge of winning the argument. Until I reminded her that it was more important that I was happy with the hair-cut I was wearing. Surely, I thought, if you cut my hair how I want it, I am less likely to tell everyone you did a crap job?

The hair-cut dragged on. For as long as five minutes, I was instructed that if I ever wanted to have my hair cut in the future, I should not attempt to do it myself, and that if I absolutely had to cut it myself, I should first buy a special type of scissors designed to not remove large chunks, but fine pieces of hair, thus creating an even-uneven look. I had, by now, given up on telling her that me cutting my own head of hair again and coming to this salon was quite unlikely. There was hope and the hair-cut had reached its final phase. The less I said, the quicker this episode would be over and done with.

“Well, it doesn’t look good in any way,” she said, showing me the back of my head with one of those special small round mirrors, “but it’s cut. So there.”

So there.

It is,” I said, and it was then when she asked me what I did. Ha! I thought. Now it’s my turn!

“I’m a writer,” I said.

“Oh. What kind of stuff?”

“You know, for the internet. For websites and things.” And blogs where I detail the crap experience I have recently had at the hairdressers. Then I went back to making mental notes about the experience so that I could recreate it in all its horrible beauty.

“I see. Right.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I think it looks better, so you’ve fulfilled your brief. You’ve done a half-decent job of it. It’s not even a bowl.”

“…Thanks.”

“Pleasure. I always end up with a bowl, so to not end up with a bowl for once is different. Great.”

I looked at myself in the mirror again. At the first hair-cut I’d had since my one in Vietnam earlier in the year when it actually went amazingly well and was even less bowl-like. In the mirror, now, it looked alright to me (take that statement as you like – clearly my standards were pretty low to begin with). Then I paid twelve-pounds – yes, a £1 tip for Christmas’s sake! – and walked out the door, wondering how different my life might be if I was a mean person who named and shamed companies on the internet on his blog, in that vicious way that clearly must be fun, because everyone who writes in The Guardian online’s comments seems to do it.

I’d never do that, I thought. To be fair, I did make her life bloody difficult today. I’m so happy I am not a hairdresser…

Father and son do manual labour

I hear a tapping noise nearby, turn my head and see Dad standing outside, behind the window, hunched slightly as he tries to see in. Through the glass, he shouts and asks me to help him with something in the back garden, and it comes through as the faintest whisper. That’s exactly how he refers to it: something. He’s standing in the rain with his waterproof hat and coat on, and the request comes with a half-grunt, half-frown before he walks away with no more said. There is something laboured about Dad’s body language that promises ominous things to come. And it isn’t just because of the endless rain.

I think Oh no, and for good reason. This feeling has nothing to do with the weather and the rain and the tormented sky which has crept in over our part of England in the last few days – in fact, I am looking forward to leaving the safe haven of my self-employed life for a few welcome minutes. It will make a nice change to go outside at this time, and one that I probably wouldn’t have made for myself voluntarily.

The uneasy feeling growing within me originates more from the context of all this: like many Dads out there, my Dad never asks for help outside unless it’s something he really can’t manage on his own. Something which has caught him entirely off-guard. Something big. As I put my jacket and walking boots on, I consider what in the world might have driven Dad into such a situation that he had no choice but to swallow his pride and admit defeat so openly like this. I can’t think of much, really – more to the point, I don’t want to think of much – other than that he has decided to dig one of the old trees up, as people in later life so often needlessly do when they have got bored of their garden and fancy a change, even though this change involves the mindless destruction of crucial habitats that have stood for many decades and provide a welcome refuge for life such as birds, etc. Like I said, I didn’t want to think about it.

Outside, I soon discover that Dad has got himself into a bit of a mess. Meeting him in the garden, I see a large, square, 6-foot-high concrete post sticking out of the ground at the far end, in the dirt. Its base is surrounded by a large pit that is several feet deep and dug-out haphazardly. How long he has spent digging this pit is anyone’s guess. I look at the post and I think Has that really been there all the time? And I realise it must have been. But still, it’s hard to place it, probably because of the pit, and the odd diagonal angle with which it is stood out of the ground. The more I look at all this, the more the rain falls, the more it feels like the post fell out of the sky, embedding itself deep into the ground.

“So…why are you doing this?” I ask Dad. The intergalactic vision has now gone. I have now re-imagined the concrete post in days, months and years previous. I see it standing there innocently, doing literally nothing at all when I am 7. It surprises me how little I have considered its purpose before. I get that Dad wants it gone because it serves no discernible purpose, but, similarly, I see no reason for the sudden mysterious compulsion to have it gone.

“We need to move it out of the way,” Dad says abruptly, as if the post is becoming an increasingly dangerous threat and standing here doing nothing is directly adding to the misery it might potentially cause. His urgency is compounded by the rain, always the rain, and so this transfers to me as I try to help him wangle the massive post thing out of the ground. Despite the ground being dark and sodden with moisture and the post rotating round in a circle, it seems stuck dead. It does not want to move, even when we use all our might.

For several minutes, I stand back and watch Dad trying desperately to free the post – he uses his arms in every conceivable way, then his legs, then various combinations which obviously don’t work but apparently seem like a good idea. I don’t do nothing out of malice, or laziness, although it is comical in a fucking-hell-get-me-out-of-here kind of a way. I do it because I have realised something that Dad clearly has not: that without a plan of action and some sort of actual logic, that post isn’t going anywhere. We will never beat the post. Unfortunately, Dad is in the moment and entirely at the mercy of his own animal instincts. Get the post out, somehow, anyhow, right now. I put this down to him being drawn into this bizarre, pointless drama over a period of unknowable hours and minutes. Nothing to shake him out of it. He hasn’t realised yet that it might make sense to stop and think and waste a few minutes, rather than trying as hard as possible for a very long time indeed.

“Are you going to help me, then?” Dad says. “That’s what I called you out here for.”

I say “it might be best to stop and think about what we’re doing first. It’s only a suggestion.”

Dad’s face shows he isn’t impressed with this irrational forward-thinking attitude, and he is not looking for suggestions either. I am one of the old-school, it says. We don’t stop to think, we just bloody do.

After another few seconds, I still can’t think of a way to lever the post out any time soon. This is ridiculous. At least not without rounding a few neighbours up or using a complicated harness system which would take some time to devise, let alone implement. One idea had been to tie it to something and drag it out that way. Our dog, Jojo, crosses my mind briefly in an insane but surprisingly effective scenario involving rope tied to her back legs.

I get drawn into it too. The rain is lashing us now, and Dad is getting increasingly more frantic – we’re both talking and not really listening to anything the other is saying. I have no gloves so trying to shift this fucking annoying post – I am near the base, now knee-deep in the pit – is not only difficult, but promises great pain and some bloodshed if I don’t grip it hard enough to stop its abrasive surface suddenly grating my hands. In the pit, there’s a hell of a lot to think about: my back, my hands, my legs – at least one of my femurs is going to get crushed if Dad lets go of the post suddenly. I think about Mum and what she’s going to say if Dad gets injured because he’s gone and done something stupid and I should have stopped him, because I was the only one who could.

Then the post gives a little. Not much, but enough to show that at the base of the post is a huge lump of old, heavy concrete. I look at Dad’s face. I see that the sight of the half-buried concrete has crushed the tiny morsel of optimism that had existed for the smallest second before. No wonder it wouldn’t move. Dad and I look at one another, both of us not knowing what to say. I find myself stepping out of the pit as we try and drag it, like a pair of stupid animals. Like we have some sort of plan.

As it is physically impossible to hold onto the post and support it whilst also stepping out of the pit and steadying myself, Dad is now holding the post all on his own. He’s a modern-day hero. His face is pure stress, anxiety, fear and regret (that deeply hidden old-school regret that desperately doesn’t want to be caught out in the open, yet is).

“I’m holding the post on my own!” Dad says, with all the breath and power he is able to spare. He looks like he may speak again, but then he doesn’t. He just frowns.

I say “yeah, you are, what would you like me to do about it?” and go on to point-out that taking into account the minimal room (the post has now been dragged just out of the pit, and Dad is backing into a bush with not much space around it for me to manoeuvre), if I now try and help, there’s a good chance that the post might crush me beneath it, or at least break one of my feet. Dad looks at me with simple naked horror, as it now finally dawns on him that this job he has taken on is a much bigger undertaking than he had ever previously thought about before (but more likely not).

Somehow, we manage to get the post into a resting position next to the fence without it maiming either of us. We are beaten. He’s pissed-off. The rain is still coming down, with no sign of stopping. I go in and make Dad a cup of tea as he stubbornly clears his things up outside, staring into the pit, thinking…well, anyone’s guess.

Important cultural musings: the legend of Heinz Beans & Pork Sausages inside a tin

All my life I have felt a deep and compelling connection with HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce – one which obviously goes well beyond the rational reasoning of someone who knows, with certainty, that what he is eating is in fact absolute crap (I see little point in trying to hide my feelings here, as is clear. Even people who merely scan this blog post lightly will surely pick up on my unmistakeably pro-beans-and-sausages agenda, for which I can’t and won’t apologise).

What with so much going on in the world, and so many significant topics frequently needing addressing, it’s understandably not that often that writers have the vision and sense of pride to engage their readers with nostalgic musings concerning this much-loved tinned-thing. In this blog post which I hope at least some people do actually bother to read, I am going to attempt to put that right.

HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce – not to be confused with other lesser brands of beans & pork sausages which lack the prerequisite 55% or 65% pork content, depending on which mysterious nutrition information label you read – are a conundrum, both from a health perspective and a free will perspective (do we in fact have free will to eat beans & sausages in a tin, or is their consumption entirely beyond our control and an inevitability? I’m going with the latter). Much as I love HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce in a tin, even I will admit that on the surface – well, on any level, really – the idea seems at first freakish. Maybe even demented. The issue begins with the beans, of course. On one hand, it seems wrong to stick pork sausages in that tin beside them, around them, on top of them, beneath them – in the tin there is no escaping! – yet from another perspective, it also seems inspired and brave.

When citing how wrong HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce and other brand beans & pork sausages in a tin really are, mini-sausage-haters will stoop to almost any level imaginable to get their sordid point across, often clinging to desperate illogical facts and using opinion disguised as fact, laced with years of well-practised bitterness on top.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the (alleged) reasons, shock tactics and downright outrageous lies which people have used on me over the years:

The sausages ruin the beans (if you say so).

The sausages aren’t even proper sausages (the audacity…).

The strange smooth consistency of the sausages is disgusting and ominous (!).

You shouldn’t be able to eat miniature sausages cold out of a tin/can (!!).

The shape of the sausages is inappropriate (I am still considering the meaning of this one).

You don’t even know what the sausages are made out of (I have to admit you have a point here – or at least you did until today).

But then again, are there any universal rules on what you can put with beans inside a tin? And even if there are – there aren’t, so don’t bloody start – didn’t someone somewhere say that rules are meant to be broken [within reason]? Didn’t everyone agree to that being a brilliant and memorable saying at the time, even though half those people were the exact same people saying that everyone had to follow their silly rules?

As for the sausages allegedly being not even proper sausages, this – along with the other points – I simply find offensive (particularly if directed at me as I eat HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce). If you buy into the concept behind HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce, you must also buy into the fact that what we’re dealing with here, undeniably, is mass produced endearing crap, with a luxurious middle-class twist which not even middle-class people can deny.

It won’t kill you (probably), so really, what’s the harm?

To these things, I smile. Because if ever a day does come when the world as I know it is falling apart around me, and all that is left are a significant number of tins of HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce – hopefully I’ll be surrounded by people who have spent many years hating HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce, as this will both make me feel better and also give me the best chance at surviving the longest out of everyone within that confined space – I will be the one who is laughing. Albeit intermittently.

Fortunately, for all the negativity surrounding the legend of HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce in a tin – I know I keep mentioning the entire name, but I assure you Heinz are not sponsoring this blog post – there is also a great deal of hope. After all, for something to be produced in such quantity, there has to be demand. Demand from people whose lives can be mapped and made sense of merely by a quick glance at how many tins of HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce they have consumed (although you probably wouldn’t want to be the one actually doing the mapping…not unless the consumption was at such a high level that what came out was more or less what went in, in which case it might just about be bearable – probably best not to over-think this).

These people will sing the praises of HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce in a tin. When you meet someone who truly understands this phenomenon, a special bond is formed which cannot be broken, even when they suddenly turn when under the influence of a heavy health-binge (if you stay in the game long enough, you’re bound to meet one of them).

I’m sure that lovers of HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce will agree that this product is all of the following things.

Culturally important.

Progressive.

Wildly ambitious.

Exciting.

Unusual.

And that, really, is all there is to it. So shut up.

Breaking news: man, 45, sues various London authorities using UK Government’s controversial new legislation

The man, who cannot currently be named for legal reasons, is suing various London authorities for what he says are a spate of serious sexual assaults occurring daily between 1992 and the present day – mainly while travelling on the London Underground.

In a bizarre turn of events, the man, from Leeds, is suing the authorities on the grounds of brand-new Government legislation. The recently passed Sexual assault by a foreign body allowed to infiltrate a public/private space, under the responsibility of the authority in charge of that public/private space law was passed by Parliament in May 2013, and states that “any foreign body allowed to infiltrate a public/private space may be held responsible for sexual assault or any other kind of assault or harm, and that as a direct result, the organisation or person/people/authority in charge may be held fully accountable for any offences which have been allowed to take place as a result of incompetence or negligence also”.

At the heart of the case is the man’s allegation that, over many months and years, the wind has been at the centre of a slew of sexual assaults which could have been prevented by one certain authority.

The authority, which manage transport for London, have declined comment.

Experts fear that the case could open the flood-gates for countless copy-cat lawsuits which could bring authorities across the country – and indeed the world – to task over countless violations made on public transport and much more. According to Barrister Keith Jowman, most likely to use the law are men in shorts and women wearing short skirts, with the possibility of some offences being back-dated as many as 40 years, mirroring the recent historical sex abuse scandals which rocked the BBC.

The law, and future variations of it, could potentially affect authorities in charge of restaurants, museums and theatres, as well as hospital waiting rooms and anywhere else where windows are a common feature. Ironically, some experts suggest that the Government’s own employees and workplaces could be most at risk of involvement in some cases.

According to Doctor Ariashkah Rosenberg of Sweden’s Natural Sciences Committee, this is not the first time that the wind has been at the centre of such serious allegations – although it can be said that this land-mark case is the first time the wind as a sexual predator has been taken this seriously.

“For the last 25 years I’ve been studying the intense and often serious psychological effects of wind abuse on people in public and private places,” she said. “The wind may seem entirely harmless to most people, but to ignore the serious nature of a particularly violent under-door draught is to ignore a great many claims which are grounded very much in reality. Besides that, nobody wants to live in a world where passing wind could be considered sexual abuse.”

She went on to add: “just to put any worries to rest before they have a chance to flourish and spread on social networks, passing wind will never be considered sexual abuse – at least it’s highly unlikely in our life-time. Even if some of us wish that was not the case…”

This is not the first time that London authorities have come up against such opposition, either. Back in 2009, the aforementioned London authority were warned that they would need to be seen to be doing something about the windows in London Underground Tube carriages, which often allow an unsettling level of wind through the carriages, disturbing commuters and violating their basic human rights.

We spoke to several commuters about the wind and it’s effect on their health and general well-being. Many made it clear that the legislation is at odds with the wind in this scenario, which is often seen as a positive effect on the lives of commuters.

“I think I can speak for all the other poor b******* on my tube when I say that the wind is an essential thing on the London Underground, particularly in the summer,” said Paul Wilmington of Derby. “Seriously, I don’t actually know what the f*** I would do if I couldn’t open the f****** windows in August…

Fellow commuter, Paula Spank said “aside from the fact that the wind isn’t particularly kind to a man I often see on the tube, who wears an horrific wig, bloody hells, dunno what I’d do without it! [Sic]”.

Linda M from Hull said that “my skirt always blows up and it can be very embarrassing — I think the new law could help restore some of my dignity.”

Experts fear that similar lawsuits – which, according to Mr Jowman, could see authorities fined as much as £30,000 per case – could create a society where these kind of court-cases are allowed to proliferate in the same way that personal accident & injury cases have done in the last decade. A society in which draughts, gusts of wind and breezes could cost the UK economy in excess of £5 billion over the next five years, potentially bringing the UK to its knees.

But there is one man who thinks that this could all be a good thing.

Doctor Michael Partridge, of Michigan University, USA, has been studying the soothing effects of the wind for more than 38 years. When asked to comment on the case, which is currently being considered, he said “the wind is a fantastic thing, I think, and it would be horrendous to think we are moving towards a society where it is not allowed to permeate our every-day lives in some shape or form. I have wonderful memories of draughts as a youngster, for example, and although many older women – and indeed moany old men – seem to find draughts highly unpleasant, I see no reason to make a sexual predator out of the wind.”

The case continues.

Alan’s only ruddy back: Alpha Papa, come to mama!

AlanAlmost for as long as I can remember, I’ve been hearing rumours of an Alan Partridge film. Back when The Partridge was first majestically (dis)gracing our screens, the rumours were easy to dismiss. In fact they weren’t genuine rumours – they didn’t have enough gravity to be labelled that. Back when Alan met Jed, and other assorted mishaps, the Alan-Partridge-does-a-film idea was just that. Us Partridge lovers simply couldn’t get enough, and so it was that many a time the notion was discussed and bandied around, with no real thought to it ever actually happening.

Then something changed and something beautiful was born. Some time after Alan had left our screens and his charismatic face could more readily be seen on DVD box-sets scattered around now largely defunct high-street stores like HMV, proper rumours began to emerge. Week by week, we heard it: Alan Partridge was doing it. He was going to be in his own ruddy film. For a while, I refused to allow myself the pleasure of believing them. For a while, I pretended it couldn’t be possible. The reason, of course, is all too obvious. Had I started to believe the rumours and they’d fallen through, I’d have been emotionally damaged. So it was that I decided to wait until there was more truth in them…something tangible that I could really hold on to.

Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years. Years turned into…well, something like five of them, plus an additional half, if I remember rightly. When it eventually happened, and I finally found the grain of truth that I had been searching for, I’d just been out on the sit-down lawnmower at work and was feeling chuffed. I was 21, all big-balled and invincible and such. It was a situation Alan would have appreciated, I thought, as I stood there in the picture-framing studio listening to the radio presenter speak of an Alan Partridge film somewhere on the horizon. I was supposed to mow the grass in extremely straight lines but it always got really boring so, inevitably, after an hour or so of this mundane crap, I went a bit mental – as Alan might call it – and started carving mad circles and shapes in the grass. The owner was never best impressed, but it hardly matters when you’re 21.

Then more time passed. And more. Like I keep saying, a lot of time passed. The next time I heard about Alan’s film idea, I was online and living in an age where I didn’t despise the speed of the internet. I think I had just been reading a story on BBC News entitled something like Can eating too much cheese actually kill you? It seemed all too bizarre and perfect that the next story I would come across would be about our beloved Alan. The story didn’t promise that the film was coming any time soon – in the interview, Steve Coogan was saying that it would be coming eventually, he just couldn’t promise when – but it was enough for me. I went and ate a pork pie. I spent a considerable time thinking about North Norfolk.

More time passed. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that. And then it happened. I found myself reading another story containing the kind of tangible semi-proof that I had not allowed myself to even dream of before.

A year or so later and I’m reading something else: the first marketing stuff for Alpha Papa, Alan’s audacious new film. Such news is the reason why chairs have arms high enough to offer valuable support while enduring a state of emotional flux. I promptly metaphorically shat my pants, and I didn’t even care about it. Bloody hell, Alan was coming!

Like a long-awaited baby, Alan was to crown.

When the trailer for the film started appearing all over the internet, I didn’t watch it. Whenever I saw anything even remotely to do with Alpha Papa, I ignored it. In me was a growing and monstrous temptation to get as much of The Partridge as physically possible for someone outside of Alan’s mysterious inner-circle, but simultaneously, I had to hold myself back. I had waited too long, too many damn years, to just give in and watch the trailer now. I decided that if I was going to see Alpha Papa on the big-screen, it had to be without any sway from any material, online or off. I went so far with this scarily orthodox attitude that I even barred myself from any viewings of any of Alan’s previous work. It was a case of being extremely hardcore. It felt wrong, and it sickened me deeply to have to be like this, but it didn’t matter. The greater good was more important. I knew that although I felt sick with excitement and anticipation, holding on was the best idea. Something to tell the grand-kids, if only these hypothetical children of the future had half a ruddy clue just how important a cultural icon The Partridge was. Which they wouldn’t, the little shits.

Jesus, I hated those grand-kids for what they may become, if in fact they did actually become it.

Today it finally happened: the perfect opportunity came up for me to revel in Alan’s splendour. On my way to the cinema, my feet hurt like ruddyfuck because I had walked a full 6 miles the previous day. Under any normal circumstances, there would have been no way in north Norfolk that I’d have entertained the idea of walking extra distance from Cambridge train station to get to the required cinema (which was perfectly equidistant between the city and the hospital). Today I was eschewing all the rules though, and giving a big two-feet to blisters, even if they had already done their dirty work and, actually, making any kind of statement against their existence was pretty futile and ridiculous.

I walked into the lounge area, where the automatic machines are, and there were quite a few teenagers and young adults standing around, flagrantly flaunting their youth, looking like they hadn’t got a clue what all life’s woes were all about. Something of power swept over me, and as I glanced around, the Alanlovers showed themselves. Not in any visible, mystical way, of course. I just sort of sensed they were there (in reality, the catalyst for this was probably their contrasting age amid the young-folk, but I like to think there was more to it than that).

I smiled. I walked boldly up to the desk and I said “I’m here to see The Partridge”.

“Just the one?”

“Naturally,” I said.

The assistant smiled at me knowingly, tried to tempt me with ludicrously overpriced popcorn – the ruddybitch – and then saw that this was a pointless affair. She passed the ticket to me and I went and had a nice sit down, while I waited the twenty minutes for Alan’s monumental time to come.

In those minutes I thought about a lot of things. Endless Alan-related questions whirred through my mind, as if my brain were eggs and the thing whirring those eggs was a fork governed by the hand of someone who had really quite a vigorous technique. Will Alan meet Jed again? What’s happened to Michael? Will Alan attack a BBC executive with an enormous piece of stinking cheese? Will Alan go “Aha!”

He had better go “Aha!”!

Sadly for you, I am not going to reveal any of the answers to any of these questions here. To me, that’d be a lot like deliberately doing a dump on Alan’s face (which, incidentally, is alluded to in the film – there, don’t say I didn’t give you anything).

Other things panicked me. Like the posters for Alpha Papa. Nothing good has ever come out of someone wearing a wig I kept thinking. And Alan was ruddy well wearing a wig alright in that poster. It scared me, along with so many other things.

A lot excited me about the idea of an Alan Partridge film, and now, here, moments before its arrival, the thoughts seemed to crystallise. I kept thinking how rare and strange a concoction Alan’s identity was. Here was a fictional creation that transcended fiction. Here was a concept which literally couldn’t fuck up a movie. First there was the fact that whenever Alan is around, daft things can and do happen. Better still, Alanlovers expect and anticipate them proudly. As a result, the idea of Alan as a film star is compelling, even if you hate Alan. I quickly concluded that Alan couldn’t fail to be a success on-screen (I had deliberately not read any reviews whatsoever, so I genuinely didn’t know how the film was being received): if he came across as a moron and the movie was a massive flop, that would be Alan all over. If it came across amazingly, that would also be Alan in a very big nutshell.

Sitting there, with ten minutes to go, it came to me again just how miraculous a spectacle it was that the film had even been made at all. Here we were, in a time far removed from The Partridge, and yet they had still bothered to make the movie. The makers could have ditched the idea completely and gone for something much more reliable to please the enormous teen audience who make up cinema revenue, yet they had stayed true to their guns and were putting Norfolk back on the map. They were doing it for the old fuckers. In so many ways, putting The Partridge anywhere near real people again was a risk. As Alan’s legend had faded to the likes of a still very inadvertently amusing big-cheese-wielding ghost, so had many Alanlovers. With the majority of Alanlovers now in their 40s plus, there was a very good chance that they had moved on from Alandom and towards the bitter seas of being forced into going golfing. Or even bitterer death.

The time came. I marched towards the ticket collectors, someone tore my ticket – the memory is hazy…I was too elated – and I strolled and meandered towards my screen, as if pushed by an invisible and very desperate Alanghost of the likes I recently described.

In the cinema, I sat right at the front, in a place where no bastards could be stationery and infuriating in front of me. I glanced behind me as the trailers played. There were more people than I had expected, and from what I could see, all of them were above 40.

I felt amazing. I was 50-years-young (in an ode to Alandom I have subtracted my age [32] from the average age that most people expire [82], as Alan might do purely for his own amusement) and on my own. They were 40 or in excess of 40. Some were over 60. I felt fantastic. I was a young Alanlover with everything good about to be given to me.

All I was missing was a massive lump of cheese and some BBC executive type to shove it in the face of.

As the trailers turned into that screen which looks like a sort of weird contract saying the name of the film on and a signature, and the music stopped and the curtains edged a bit more away from the screen, heightening the drama, a man got up and walked in front of me on the way to the toilet. His figure cut a tragic silhouette. His shorts came right up over his waist so that his belly bulged out all hairy under his T-shirt, sort of like he had a big shaggy dog stuffed down his pants. He was wearing sandals and brown socks and his face looked like it bore a terrifying struggle between staying in the cinema to make sure he didn’t miss the start of the film and powerfully wetting his pants. In a move which showed where his loyalties lied, he decided that his dignity was more important. This member of Alan’s majority demographic lost his battle – just moments later, the movie began (by lost his battle I mean he missed the start of the film. Not that he soiled his pants by doing two-pints of acid yellow in them).

Alpha Papa, come to mama!

This is not a review which will really tell you much about what happens in the film, sorry. I knew as soon as I saw Alpha Papa that I would not dare to venture down this road. It just wouldn’t be right. What I can say is that as much as Alpha Papa is a film for serious Alanlovers and even Alanobsessives, it is also a film for anyone, even if they haven’t got a ruddy clue in Norfolk Digital who the hell he this man even is. This is because Alan’s filmic creation is one which goes beyond the boundaries of cinema and anything you will have seen before. It really is a struggle to liken it to anything else I have ever seen which wasn’t Alancreated. Quite simply, Alpha Papa works because it dares to allow Alan to exist in his own universe. Creating a film out of Alan’s series was always going to be difficult – mainly due to the fact that making even a 45-minute-show is hard when half of it contains mundane scenes of a man making a balls-up of everything he attempts to do. To make a film out of this was probably one of the hardest things imaginable, I would think. Action scenes work so well because they simply don’t allow the viewer an opportunity to disengage (unless it’s Domino, with Keira Knightley, in which the default case is disengaged). Yet in Alpha Papa, the makers have been brave enough to allow Alan to remain unchanged. And that is brave.

The Alan Partridge film is amazing because it’s Alan Partridge, exactly as you have seen him before. A film which knows its ridiculous and is mature enough not to give a toss about it. Beyond the nods to a slew of films that many people will recognise, the cinematography is slick, the production value has gone up 100%, but at the heart of it is a man who we all recognise as if barely a day has passed since him leaving the screen. And for that, Alanlovers should rejoice.

But then, I’m an Alanlover. I doubt I could see it any other way.

Ps as the credits rolled, I decided I would sit there until the entire credits had completely finished. I just knew that if I did that, I would be rewarded with a classic Alanquote or something equally brilliant. As people began to leave, some teenagers came down from the back row and stood to my right in the corridor. They were waiting like I was, along with a few hardcore Alanlovers who refused to get off their seats until they had got what they deserved. I loved that they were 17 or 18 and knew to do this. It gave me hope in the world. Long live Alandom.

The credits ended. The screen went blank. There was tension. I was sure it was going to happen.

And then…

A review I probably have no business doing. Skins, Episode 2: Pure

That's right, take something beautiful and destroy it. Blame it on too many Fight Club viewings

That’s right, take something beautiful and destroy it. Blame it on too many Fight Club viewings. Sorry, Hannah…

If admirers of the last series of Skins can stop longingly gazing at their fixed-gear bikes for long enough to check out the new one, they will discover that the revived version is a bit different to what they have seen before. In 2013, Skins has grown-up properly. It wears a suit or dress, but don’t worry, most of the time the dress still lacks the knickers. In other words, it’s evolved. All the rage and inner-turmoil of the previous series’ is there, of course – Skins wouldn’t be Skins without it! – but now there’s no time for basic immaturity and running around in slow-motion, smiling a lot. Ah, the giddy heights of self-awareness and being an adult. Instead, in this powerful new series which sees our cast chucked into London’s (half) theatrical grimness, everyone is constantly so mature that even the most basic action is under-pinned by a highly contemplated move. A symbol which suggests that, no matter how stupid their cursed actions are, the character understands this and is doing it anyway, because this is London. Fuck off, I’m in London, I can act exactly how I want now. You get it, that kind of thing.

In the first episode of the series, everyone’s favourite fuck-up Elizabeth “Effy” Stonem proved this on multiple occasions. Not only is Effy now more together than anyone else on-screen (stop laughing), but she’s capable of incredible feats of workplace magic which will have anyone who has ever appeared on The Apprentice very, very angry indeed. (Seriously, this is Skins, take it seriously. It’s time to stop laughing now.)

In Pure, we move away from Effy’s latest terrible life decisions, leave some of the depressing stuff behind, and head over to meet Cassie in episode 2.

Pure opens well. A bit too well, actually. In fact, the opening scene is so well-shot and photogenic that it sickens you to take it in. I almost had to look away (not that it mattered. A washing-line can only hold my attention so far). At the same time, this is one of its enormous attributes (but don’t worry, the sickening factor is kept somewhere between the self-centred toxic blurgh of Hollyoaks and the brutal cringeworthy shame of hideous C4 creation PhoneShop). The cast, writers and director of Skins know full-well that they can more or less vomit on-screen, make a complete pig’s ear of the story (as Nan used to say), dismantle your self-respect for human beings one-by-one and still force you to enjoy it.

Shit.

You could say Skins has got you.

Leading on from the irritatingly sumptuous first few seconds, we meet familiar Skins star Cassie, crouching down beside her like the ghost of quite a creepy uncle who has just bought a video camera and has very steady hands and knees. One of the most innocent-looking females to grace a screen in the last few years, as well as the kind of girl that the aforementioned Effy would either love (let’s hug!) or hate (push down a handily located Canary Wharf mineshaft, for example), Cassie is so pure, so bloody perfect, so immune to looking bad in the morning, that as light fills her room and the story begins, you find yourself thinking things like I hate myself for watching this, but I’m going to watch it anyway. Even if I am 32 and well out of the range of the intended target audience. (A joke in itself, of course. The producers may have made this look like it’s for teenagers only, but they clearly designed it to be just as tempting for people like me. They knew we’d be powerless to resist. Once again: shit).

Now here’s what you wanted to hear: the story behind Skins: Pure is actually surprising good. It resonates with people. It has faults and the characters are likeable and really quite realistic. Note that I did not say plausible, but that hardly matters, does it? You want plausible, you fail to fill in your tax return and receive a nasty fine. People don’t watch Skins for its supreme likeness to real-life, they watch it to escape the clutches of their tax return and jump into a world where you can be really reckless and still look proper cool (which reminds me: I really need to remember to fill in my own tax return!). They watch it, probably, because of all the sharp angles and contrast. Say what you want, but when it comes to contrast and gritty dialogue, the new series is almost like the visual embodiment of what happens when you have a lovely bath in a room where a strange new housemate has, just minutes before, done a big stinky horrendous poo. Probably best to not visualise that, then.

Back to Cassie. Cassie is mysterious in ways untold (figure of speech. They are soon told, don’t worry). Pretty but she doesn’t even know it (although actually she quite clearly does). Cassie is one of those annoying young girl’s you see who says on TV “I can’t believe I’ve got through to the finals of [insert name of TV modelling competition]!” when it’s really fucking obvious to the entire nation. Cassie is naïve yet not naïve yet…er, still quite naïve. It gets confusing. I’m baffled. Anyway, she’s well-acted by Hannah Murray, so that’s a good thing. Above all else, Cassie clearly has an inner-strength which is quite powerful. Beneath all the looking like she’s never even heard of Jim Davidson, she is a tough cookie. As the 2 episodes continue, Cassie follows the Effy book of doing things which you know you definitely should not do – one of these things is having perfectly-lit sex with a muscular Israeli called Yaniv who is arrogant yet sensitive, bone-headed yet capable of standing still long enough to look insightful (but always seriously arrogant). Basically, it’s a classic Skins style catalogue of errors, and if Cassie was your daughter then you’d be living in a state of perpetual terror.

Without wanting to ruin it all for you, someone starts taking photographs of Cassie and showing them to lots of people. Cassie is upset by this, goes on the hunt to find the taker of the photos – this is where the improbable bit comes in – and ends up regretting it bigtime. Along the way, Cassie visits the always beautiful Wales, visits her dad who you will certainly recognise as a man behaving badly, breaks into the international modelling world as a rising star (!), and stands in front of her bedroom window a lot gazing longingly into the night wearing very little (it has to be said – initially not the best idea if your intention is to maintain your privacy).

But Skins is still good anyway. It still has me. I bet it’ll still have you, even if you hate that fact.

Disco!

I love disco dancing – I just can’t shake the feeling. Or I just don’t want to. When I was 17, nights out disco dancing happened once or twice a month. All night, all dancing, every single time. My hair slick with gel — it was as if we weren’t ageing. Now, the chance doesn’t come up as often as I’d like and my disco dancing companions have dwindled down to single figures (also, I’ve discovered I was and am ageing…). Ironic considering. Babies have got in the way. Jobs have overtaken that dance-floor passion which once stampeded over everything. Procreation has dwarfed the very passion that makes it all possible. People get their kicks in other ways. When the babies aren’t crying, that is…

Disco dancing never asked anybody permission. Respect that fact.

When that chance does come, I’m out there, out on the floor. Try and fucking stop me and see what happens! My shapes may have changed, but none of that matters, and new 30-something-friendly moves have replaced them, fresh for this era. Walk into that room and you may as well be on another planet.

Lose your phone. Here, no internet is needed. Make your own dreams, make things happen your way.

If you’re disco dancing, you don’t give a shit about nothin’. Everyone around you is smiling and glowing, throwing arms, stealing shapes and touching bodies. Time is a forgotten concept. They’re not normal people anymore. In the disco hall, occupations refuse to exist. The entire world is shut out as if it never was in the first place. Everyone is smiling, throwing arms, loving the music. There are no enemies.

With disco, the sensation of endless possibility is infectious.

The default setting is always cool.

Nothing else has ever mattered. As long as that music is playing, you have no business thinking about the world outside.

Seriously, don’t bring phones here!

Saturday Night Fever is one of my all-time favourite films in the whole entire world. It’s a film born from disco’s one-time golden era – fiction dredged from the mucky guts of real life, playing out on a back-drop of New York grimness which is a total contrast to the dancing and the music. You just can’t hate the polyester. It’s about racism, coming to terms with how amazing and terrible the world is. It’s a film about finding yourself, friendship and doing what’s right. A film about the ugly thing lurking around every corner. Hormones and friendship and singing in very high voices.

Every time I hear that someone hates disco dancing, or despises Saturday Night Fever, I almost want to cry. Over the years I’ve got a lot of abuse for my love of disco dancing and lovin’ Saturday Night Fever in general. But then, disco teaches you not to care.

The default setting is cool, everyone is throwing arms, loving the music…

The new website IS live

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The new website, under construction…click the peacock to see the finished thing

For a long time I’ve been debating how to publicise my freelance writing work: on here or on a separate site entirely? At first, I was convinced that creating a button on this blog had to be the answer. With my site already well ranked by the various search engines, it seemed to make sense that I tell the world about it here.

Then I realised something (when I say realised, I mean I finally stopped being stubborn and started listening to what plenty of people, including my girlfriend Jen, had said to me over the last couple of years): that this blog had been getting big for a while — lots of buttons, as you can see — and it might be wiser to give the freelance copywriting side of what I do a separate location. Start fresh. Now I’ve finished the site, which you can see here, I’m glad I chose that option. Doing it that way keeps things simple: you want creative writing and novel-related stuff, you come to CPink. You want freelance writing stuff and a good idea of what I do, you head over to www.chrispinkwriter.weebly.com

Weebly has been a pleasure to build my site with. It’s free, there are plenty of theme options, and it’s quick to get something decent up and running. Best of all there are lots of handy options and making changes isn’t difficult. One of these options has enabled me to create an online portfolio of work where you can read about how my copywriting jobs have evolved over the years.

Here’s to finally getting it sorted!

Andy Murray, Wimbledon Champion 2013: he’s only gone and bloody done it!

One of those quick illustrations where you sort of wish you didn't own the Copyright

Sometimes you sort of wish you didn’t really own the Copyright…

As Wimbledon 2013 commenced and everyone started doubting *Andy Murray’s skills even when he played really well, such is (or was) the national past-time, various people said to me things like “you should go there and watch it in person, soak up the atmosphere and all that.” Except I am boring like that. The way I see it, balls to the atmosphere, and double balls (pair of balls?) to the sunshine and the sensations: more than anything I want to actually see the tennis without people’s big fat irritating heads getting in the way. For doing that, nothing beats watching it on the laptop screen, live as it happens, close to the essential amenities and food sources that I require at such a mentally punishing time. I know a lot of people would’ve set their own grandmother on fire and pushed her down a very large flight of stairs just to get a seat in Centre Court, but for me I simply cannot allow myself to be interrupted. Plus, the way life goes, it’s very possible that I’d need a wee just at a very crucial moment, potentially ruining everything. It’s a good thing I wasn’t there in person, then…else when Andy finally put Djokovic down, it might have all suddenly got a bit too much.

(Put Djokovic down. A very dramatic way of putting it! Almost as if Andy was the vet and Novak was a sick, tired dog who could no longer do the splits. Oh, what a thought. This analogy doesn’t really work, of course, seeing as due to their specific physiology, dogs can’t even attempt the splits, so I decided it was better off being in brackets. On second thoughts, it probably would’ve been better to liken Djokovic to a cat…on third thoughts, it was a crap analogy.)

I was a complete non-stop verbal nightmare, sitting there watching that relentless, amazing final. Firstly, I made my girlfriend Jen experience every moment of it with me, even though she isn’t the least bit interested in tennis (she had the optional choice of doing some sort of practical activity like Henna’ing her candles while we watched, but decided against it in the end – probably wise as I’d only have kept screaming “he’s winning, he’s still winning!” in Jen’s face, potentially leading to some very wonkily-designed candles), and secondly, I kept clapping like a toddler whenever anyone hit the ball. One thing nobody could say was that I wasn’t prepared. Twenty minutes before the historic final began, having forced us to return from the shops at a strict time to allow me ample minutes to get ready, I gathered the things I would need to not have to get up during the course of the thing. It would be bad enough that I’d have to go to the toilet every so often…I couldn’t have my desire for food and treats getting in the way of things even more.

It turned out I had planned things well. Meticulously, you could say. I was proud of myself. With two large glasses of water there within easy-reaching distance, I would easily stay hydrated, and with various snacks, I’d have things to comfort me when things got hard for Andy (and if need be, I could always send Jen off).

By the half-way point I was screaming and shouting and really getting on Jen’s nerves (even though she loves me, giving me plenty of leeway to act like a tennis dork as and when I wish to). When Djokovic started a) arguing with the umpire** then b) slipping all over the place***, you could see that Andy could be in with half a chance. I say half a chance because, let’s be honest, we all thought Novak would come back at him, creating a scenario almost as hideous as the one I described earlier, where a grandmother in dire circumstances was mentioned heading towards some stairs.

But he didn’t. He couldn’t. And with that Andy Murray actually went and won.

Andy Murray, the world’s least likely stand-up comedian, finally Wimbledon Champion in 2013. Brilliant! I just wish I’d had enough faith in his skills to put some money on him at the bookies…

* I was going to say “poor Andy Murray,” but learning about the £1.6 million prize money quickly changed my mind. Did you hear? He’s just donated it all to charity!

** The umpire was a bit thick, wasn’t he? Even though I wanted Andy to win, that umpire was definitely biased…

*** Up until that point, I had no idea that Djokovic was capable of losing his balance, so this was a shocking and lovely surprise!

The great yet terrible grass snake hunt

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A hastily-drawn artist’s impression of what I probably would have looked like if I had actually discovered the snake and then dared to actually pick it up (I’m supposed to look shocked and in awe. I don’t think I would have dared to pick the grass snake up so you can consider this a rare and dramatic insight into how it would have been)

Up until today, I had never seen a grass snake in real life before. Never ever, and that was hard to believe. I am not at all ashamed to say that this was something which had deeply frustrated me at various times in my life – and frustrated others who I’d gone on and on about this to – seeing as every nature-loving person I knew and know of seems to have seen at least two of them (I have one friend who once accidentally saw one sunbathing nonchalantly in a bush. In a bush! He didn’t even like grass snakes – for him they seemed to be merely a source of amusement! In fact he seemed to resent grass snakes somewhat and I still have no idea why. Until I found this out I didn’t even know that resenting grass snakes was possible. Oh, what I’d have done to resent just one mere grass snake…).

Far from my reach, the grass snake was only to be found on Countryfile, Springwatch, or sometimes, in dreams where I believed I had finally found one, only for it to actually prove itself to be a twig (and a twig partially covered in dog-muck at that. I hated those dreams, I really did…).

For the following reasons, me going my whole entire 32-years without having seen one single grass snake makes absolutely no sense:

1: I’m one of those irritating people who loves nature so much that he can get absurd pleasure from the simplest of things, such as gazing at an inconsequential sunset while the entire world drives on by. I have always needed to see a grass snake, you see. In fact, I know it sounds ridiculous but I’ve always believed that this much passion for nature means I’ve always deserved to see a grass snake! But perhaps I am deluded.

2: In my time, I’ve taken excessive measures and gone well out of my way multiple times to locate grass snakes. I have traipsed fields and I have wandered many a nature reserve. I’ve even climbed over fences at various nature reserves in an attempt to get to the bits that the nature reserve owners don’t want people like me to see, because it holds much too much excitement. I HAVE GONE WHERE GRASS SNAKES MUST BE. Yet still my expeditions have proved fruitless. What do you actually have to do to find a bloody grass snake of your own these days? (Note: it doesn’t count if you’re so desperate and tragic that you have to hire a guide.)

3: 32 years of searching is a very long time indeed, whichever way you look at it. Obviously I didn’t start looking for grass snakes until I was about 8 or so, but still, more than two decades should be quite enough time.

When the grass snake did finally appear, it happened at both the best and worst time possible. The best because, at the time, I was on the phone to my girlfriend, thus enabling her to share in the wonder of the occasion, and the worst because, also at the time, my girlfriend’s mobile phone was running fast out of battery and set to expire at any minute. This put me in a serious quandary…do I only mention the grass snake’s appearance in passing, which doesn’t feel right at all considering just how special the moment was, or do I risk going into great detail about how the grass snake is sliding out from under the neighbour’s fence and slowly working its way into the dense undergrowth of our garden?

Obviously, being a grass-snake-maniac, I chose the latter. I had to take that risk. Even if I had wanted to, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything else.

“I’m going outside! I’m finding that snake!” I told Jen, as the grass snake vanished into the bushes. Out the back door at speed I went, hoping that there was enough time for me to get outside and locate the snake’s whereabouts and share all this before Jen’s phone died its death. I was optimistic.

“Can you see it yet?” Jen was saying, and I was saying “not yet, I’m just hunting for it now, I’m in the bushes, I’m deep in the bushes!” and then it happened. Jen’s phone went and died.

I’ll be honest: knowing that Jen’s phone was now probably unreachable, and that it had likely cut-off not due to my chin on the screen but due to the lack of battery — the old chin-on-the-screen thing haunts us all, does it not? — the first thing I did was stash the phone in my pocket and continue my great-grass-snake-hunt. After all, this was highly time-sensitive: there just wasn’t time to muck about.

I searched and I searched, but five minutes later, after looking as intensively as I could – the bushes in our garden are formidable – the search was over. Given the grass snake’s unbeatable manoeuvres, there was no other conclusion. I considered for a moment the other possibilities for tracking the wondrous creature down (taking into account that it could so easily have slid back under the fence, and that all this might be for nothing). One of them involved sending our greyhound Jojo in to the small, dark, impenetrable places where an inflexible grown man could not easily reach, but this idea had to be quickly abandoned. On a number of counts it just wasn’t practical. For one, it would be hard to communicate to Jojo that I wanted to locate the whereabouts of a grass snake, and for another, even if I had been able to do so, chances are that Jojo’s animal instincts would have taken over and, had she found the creature, she’d have ripped it to pieces rather than bring it out delicately into the open.

So I went inside and tried to call Jen but I couldn’t, because her phone was well and truly expired. Sad as I was that Jen hadn’t been able to revel in the moment with me, at least I had seen a grass snake finally!

Islam and controversy: that’s right, Channel 4 are doing it all again

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Hi, I’m Jon!

I’ve always thought of Channel 4s Jon Snow as a solid TV presenter. Probably the best of the over 50s, long-limbed presenters out there, when you stop and think about it. With Jon Snow, I always know exactly where I am, and whenever I watch him sitting there nonchalantly with his just-too-short trousers on Channel 4 News, I get the feeling that, at any moment, he either might a) fart and not even try to hide it or b) just say “you know what? I’ve quite had enough of all these silly scripts and such like…” and stand up and very graciously invite the entire nation for a nice drink down the pub. Come to think of it, it occurs to me that televising such a thing would be a remarkable interactive spectacle that Channel 4 could greatly benefit from – I mean…put aside the immense logistical problems and just imagine the entire nation being invited for a drink and turning up at the same exact pub! With Jon Snow of Channel 4 fame! Imagine the landlady’s shocked facial expression as the camera-person does a funky close-up shot of her, just like Hollyoaks has become so well-known for! (Just don’t imagine the queues in the lady’s toilets…here, plenty of women and men alike would be jealous of Snow’s too-short trousers if the toilets became blocked…).

It’s this kind of quirky inventiveness, what with all their strange documentaries and ideas, that (arguably) put Channel 4 in a unique and somewhat enviable position – or at least it did, until today. In the last decade, while treading in merely only the occasional political dog muck, Channel 4 have become universally known as a middle-class-renegade-wannabe TV channel who will do whatever they feel like, whenever they feel like it.

With Channel 4, The fact that fellow anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy might at any moment break into an unexpected bout of manic disco dancing live on air always makes me smile. Of course, that’s likely never going to happen – my sources tell me that K Guru-Murthy much prefers the Tango – but it doesn’t mean that the nation wouldn’t love it nonetheless. As a fan of disco dancing, we can but hope.

Much as I admire Channel 4 for being bold enough to do more or less whatever they please over the years – not quite the same thing as me liking everything they’ve done, I should add – this latest announcement by way of the guardian leaves me thinking that someone has gone and fallen and banged their head very-very hard. The really scary thing, however, is that this is TV and big decisions such as Let’s go on the record and call our new airing of the upcoming daily Ramadan prayers an act of deliberate provocation are not made by one person, but in fact a team of people, and over a long period of time during a period of countless meetings, legal checks and endless chatting over various forms of Waitrose cheesecake (though Snow is believed to be a renowned Sainsbury’s lover, it has to be said). In this case, that would mean that dozens and dozens of people all fell and banged their head simultaneously, which is a very worrying thought indeed. Almost as worrying as the notion of cheesecake being dropped…I’d hate to be working at Channel 4 right now without a hard-hat.

Anyway, enough about cheesecake. It’s really starting to play on my mind…

Initially, to me at least, the guardian‘s headline seemed hard to pin down and more than a bit puzzling. At first thought, when I read the words Broadcaster says broadcast is an act of ‘deliberate provocation’… I found myself thinking Do they mean another broadcaster is saying that Channel 4 are out or order? This made much more sense, seeing as it didn’t make sense to me that Channel 4 would knowingly say they were provoking people who are not fans of Islam, and thus liable to smash things up and do other nasty things. A few moments later, I realised that a lack of sleep is just as disturbing a thing as the thought of Krishnan Guru-Murthy disco dancing, or dropping an entire cheesecake on the floor and being forced to make that horrible decision: should I try and rescue it or should I throw it all in the bin? It was now, reading further down the page, that I realised what was going on:

Ralph Lee, head of programming over at Channel 4 was the one who was causing all the uproar down in the comments below the article (Ralph wasn’t actually engaged in the comments of course — now that would have been interesting). Aside from having the look of a man who would fit in perfectly on BBC1s Eastenders – if I was casting I’d suggest he’d be a market trader and possibly a long-lost friend of the loveable Alfie Moon – Ralph was making some pretty direct comments about all this, many of which were perfectly good and well-thought-out, I think, while some of them…not so much. Among other things, Mr Lee was reportedly saying that the calls to prayer for Muslims at this time of year were very important and should be heard in order to both address the growing rise of an important demographic – most Muslims are apparently younger Muslims – and also to make other non-Muslim viewers take more notice. So far, so good. To Channel 4, I gave a quick mental high-five.

Lee then went on to say something along the lines of: by putting this on TV and broadcasting to the nation, this would act as a form of deliberate ‘provocation’ to all the viewers out there. Clearly, this is what I meant when I said not so much.

That’s right: provocation. All the viewers. All in this case mainly being the ones who will be up at 3am in the morning, being outraged by what they are hearing and seeing and thinking. But mainly just thinking. And thinking…

Thinking too much, basically. So mainly people who have made a point of staying up to be outraged, then.

Finally, Lee concluded by pre-empting the backslash that Channel 4 would so obviously face, believing this to be because the Channel was paying more attention to a so-called ‘minority’ religion. Yes…that’s one way to look at it.

This would all be fine, sort of, in a way – well… – were he not to suggest that Muslims are in fact invested in some kind of alternative. An alternative to what, exactly? An alternative to every other religion there has ever been? Surely, in that case, everything is an alternative from something? It just all seemed a bit silly.

As far as Muslims being under-represented, presumably on TV – this seems fair enough on the surface, but then more than a bit strange when you think about it. I can completely understand Channel 4 wanting to represent Muslims by way of more committed TV coverage, etc, but you have to ask: why now? Why’s it taken them so long? After all, Islam isn’t exactly a new religion. From what I’ve heard, the BBC didn’t exactly do a stunning job of their comedy series Citizen Khan – which follows the exploits of a Muslim community leader – and were also about 50 years too late to take the hint, but still, at least they bothered. You can’t say that for too many channels. I do not foresee a Mosque appearing in Home & Away any time soon.

In any case, calling Islam a minority religion simply because a relatively small number of people in the UK belong to it is probably wrong – even if it is technically correct – especially when so many Islamic UK families have loved ones in other countries, and these things significantly overlap. The scope of Islam is large and wide, and orthodox Muslims put so much effort into their religion that, on the whole, it makes me feel very lazy. Not because I am jealous of their ability to have faith, but because…all that praying has got to wear you out.

By half-way into the article, I thought I’d got the main idea here: Channel 4 had decided that Islam was a good thing to attach themselves too, with the aim being that they’d piss an awful lot of people off, make a lot of people think and generally be at the centre of attention – just as they adore. Alongside the live calls to prayer – which would be happening at 3am for the entire Ramadan period – they’d be putting out a number of other shows during the month of fasting, beginning the 9th of July, as well as a special series of broadcasts on the very first day, set to interrupt normal programming schedule.

What happened in Woolwich had a lot to do with it, of course.

Then again, it’s far from being all questionable, even if the motives at work here seem a little one-sided. If Channel 4 want to put out a broad range of programmes which genuinely do help the public in general to understand what Islam is all about, I think that’s a brilliant idea. I say make as many programmes as you can, because I’m sure they will be interesting. I don’t think anyone can doubt that Channel 4 are at least capable of doing good documentaries.

Another thing to consider, if we’re talking those who are going unrepresented: what about the atheists and agnostics out there? The UK is made up of a vast number of people who very deliberately don’t follow any particular religion, or intend to at any time in the future. Surely if Channel 4 want to represent the minorities properly they would consider an entire month of programmes, documentaries and broadcasts about what it means to affirmatively choose not to believe? And I’m not talking about atheism versus religion – a subject which has been covered countless times. I mean covering atheism on its own, from the perspective of throwing away that word altogether. I’ve never much liked atheism as a word – mainly because it has its roots in being ungodly…something which may suggest that atheists are actively against any form of religion. Which is just not always true. God doesn’t always have to have something to do with it.

It’ll be intriguing to see how Channel 4s new concept will reveal itself as time goes on. I’m just not sure that deliberately starting a fire on their own door-step — and ours — is the best idea they could have had.

Today’s Massive Rant: Our Automatic World

Thanks to the automatic world that many of us are fortunate to live in, it’s now got to the point that when the door of a commercial residence, shop or venue doesn’t open automatically for me and welcome me with its swoosh, I am deeply saddened. Sometimes even distraught. When hospital automatic doors do this, it goes several steps further still and I’m left feeling deeply insulted as well as distraught — if not here, then where? In that very short time between anticipating and expecting the door to open on its own accord, and standing there up against the door, helpless and lost and trapped, everything I know and knew about the world around me is thrown into utter disarray, and the panic begins to take over. Is this a joke? I sometimes think, if enough of my brain is free to allow that to happen. Surely, I also sometimes think, but much more rarely, I’m not actually expected to use my own physical force to open this door like it’s bloody 1991 or something, am I? And even rarer still, because usually I just don’t have the time, and thinking in commas is tiring: well, I’m not going to, and it’s not even about hygiene and the simple fact that most people’s hands harbour potentially deadly bacteria — even though that’d be a perfectly valid reason on its own — so there. There’s so much more to it than that, stupid bloody doors…

Depending on my mood, and how things are going with my life, what happens next can be one of a number of things. If I am feeling pro-active then I might open the door without even dwelling on it too much — hey, it happens, you get on with your day and it doesn’t hardly even bother you, except for the train ride home, when you fantasize about trapping the manufacturers of such doors in a room just like in the horrific Saw series. If I am feeling desperate and disillusioned and I have time on my hands, however, then take it from me: I won’t even consider it, not without a serious fight (all this happens in a way in which you wouldn’t even notice it if you were looking in from the outside as a naive passerby). I mean…why should I? I might need that precious energy for any one of a number of much more important things. What I will do, instead, is walk backwards away from this poor-excuse-for-a-door with my arms crossed, bitter and full of hatred for the man, woman or team that designed the door in the first place. Here I will wait with diligence, with my arms crossed firmly, until someone else approaches the other side and triggers the door to open (the more common result) or physically makes it open themselves (the less common one, which is usually accompanied by staring eyes). The most I have been known to wait for is six-whole-minutes-and-twenty-seconds, but this was a rare occasion when I had experienced three sets of doors not automatically opening and I strongly felt that I had to make a stand.

Surely anyone in their right mind and a good set of automatic-door-politics would do the same.

But it’s not laziness, so if that’s what you’ve been thinking, then put that right out of your mind. You’re just wrong. According to a dictionary definition I have just found to successfully back up my claim, Laziness is: …the lack of desire to expend energy, effort or perform work. So, as you can see, it’s not laziness, it’s nothing like it. Every time I approach a door at a residence, shop or venue, I have an enormous — unwavering, even — desire to expend energy, effort or perform work. I want to get through and past that door or set of doors. I have the desire. I am a busy man — I simply must. In fact, from a human rights and sheer practical perspective, I need to, because otherwise, it’s obvious that I shall remain trapped in said residence, shop or venue forever (or, at least, until the authorities are called and someone else opens the door and removes me from the premises. At this rate, one day soon, this may have to happen).

The point is this: my right to have the door open on its own accord overwhelms anything else. And don’t even think about blaming me. I am but a product of my highly expectant generation.

The buyers of doors don’t always take all these things into account, of course. They can be cruel like that. Sometimes, they make a terrible mistake and forget about the mental health and well-being of their present and future customers, clients and visitors. That’s just the way it seems to go. The result is an entire generation of pissed-off angry people who have a right to have doors automatically opened for them, as I think I am demonstrating. It’s not much to ask, I don’t think. All I and people like me want is for doors to open as we deserve them to, as we’ve been conditioned to expect. Life is already ABSOLUTELY BLOODY FULL of effort and energy expenditure. Please don’t make us suffer any more than we have to, world.

I blame all this on the toilet in our upstairs bathroom. One of those white, space-aged newfangled things where the lid closes slowly — consistently slowly, the same time slowly — on its own accord, it may be unpopular with lovers of toilet-seat-slamming, but for people who love automatic things in general, it’s a beautiful invention that makes every trip to the toilet an experience to behold. I could watch that lid close for hours. To look forward to, even. I can’t remember what life was like before the toilet and its automatically-closing lid was installed, but I do know this much with certainty: after it was installed, life was very different indeed. As beautiful as the toilet is, its arrival poisoned and contaminated the rest of my life with a desire to have everything automatically done for me.

Now, I’m in a trap.

I don’t know how to make it all better, either. I am open to suggestions. What I want, really, is to forget about the toilet’s automatically closing lid. To forget that it had ever been invented, and to forget that the doors of shops, residences and venues don’t always have to open for me. That there was a time when all people opened them on their own accord. But I can’t, can I? Not without seriously damaging my brain and compromising my ability to do basic or more complicated things. It’s there now, and that’s tough shit.

And this is without even taking into account the plight of the half-automatically-opening-door — a real demon in any community. A tragic spectre of oddness with an intimidating level of no rhyme or reason, these can be found at various places in the United Kingdom — most notably Boots pharmacies — and defy all the things you thought you knew about automatic doors. In fact, when you really think about it, they don’t even deserve to have the title of automatic doors. Automatically-assisted-doors would be a more accurate description. How these work is anything but simple, and it seems to change every time, and have a deep and filthy desire to latch onto your mood and exacerbate the worst of it. To really drag you down. What happens is this: you approach the door and, it looking like any normal manual-opening door, push on it. Then, just as you are embracing that familiar age-old activity of opening a standard manually-opening door, the door begins to move on its own away from you. Just like that. Now, you might think that this is a good thing. Energy saving, you might decide, and all that crap. But it isn’t. Because just as you are almost fully through the door, the door begins to show signs of resistance. Of being…something else. Then you have to push with your body weight again, because the thing wants to fight you and it will not take no for an answer. Other times, in particular when you are in a mighty rush — a rush, even, where if you see someone you know and quite like speaking to, you have to invent some dramatic excuse just to get on with whatever you are doing and get away — the door will accelerate away from you with frightening speed, mimicking the power and etiquette of a standard automatically-opening door. This results in exactly what nobody wants to experience: you, hurtling forwards, often into the arms of an unsuspecting elderly pensioner — or the tampon aisle.

Like I said, I’m trapped…

The Undateables: Series 1 Revisited – Carolyne, Luke, Shaine

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Feel like an intense staring competition with poet Shaine? Now’s the time, but I warn you, Shaine will win!

As of 01:32 this morning…

If you’re not a blogger, allow me to let you into a freaky little secret that more or less keeps the global blogging community alive: as good as it feels when you write something you’re at least mildly happy with other people seeing, it can often be boring as hell to actually produce these things. Sometimes, it seems like the happier you are with the finished result, the more bored, irritated and frustrated you had to be to get to that end point. You may not be able to tell, but this blog post, being written in the middle of the night while I really want to be asleep, is a prime example of that fact.

There are also great things about writing a blog, though.

One of the best things about clogging-up the world-wide-web with yet more content that hardly anyone on Earth cares about is seeing how people out there on the internet discovered your site. When it’s a hard week, and you log into your WordPress account and discover that someone genuinely found your writings by typing in funny looking ferret or did Margaret Thatcher eva have sex or is it all jus lies?[sic], it can’t help but make you smile. Sometimes it even makes you Google ferrets, or ponder what it must have been like to be the shocked and baffled endorphins rushing through Margaret Thatcher’s nether-regions on that fateful day (or, as some have alleged, days). It also reminds you that, as serious as life can be sometimes, there are plenty of information-seeking weirdos out there ready to balance things out with a bit of classic hard-to-decipher madness. Fortunately, most of the time there are enough funny, weird or just plain hilarious terms that they just about outweigh the disturbing ones that almost make you cry or want to call the police (for example: can a blogger see who I am on there search terms cos I no like it I wanna be anonymos [sic] and How 2 make explosives do I need a degree in chemostry top do this or is Fight Club human fat bomb thing actully for real? [sic]). For the other times, there is, luckily, the Terry’s Chocolate Orange. That usually calms me down. I haven’t called the police yet.

Speaking of which – the search terms, not Terry’s, sadly – one thing which people really seem to care about is what happened to the subjects of interest from Series 1 of The Undateables. Sam, Haydn, Luke and Caroline have all been extremely sought-after on my blog, and when I found out that Channel 4 were to end Series 2 with a big-old catch-up of what they’d all been up to over the past year, I knew I wasn’t the only one who’d be thrilled. Somewhere out there, people were ready to type strange stuff into search engines, and do so they would. Sometimes, I dread to think what tomorrow will bring (note: it hasn’t brought anything terrifying yet, but it probably will soon).

Anyway, if there’s one other thing that the world wants to know about – really really wants to know about, right here, right now – it’s what’s going on with Richard’s legendary muscles of desire that never cease to amaze, usually from across the table. Richard, who up until the first series had been on just a single date in a full twenty years, I should say. Well, in this first look at Sam, Carolyne and Mr Muscle himself, we found out on more than one occasion. In fact, if you had a quid for every time that Richard flexed his muscles, you’d have enough to smash a Terry’s Chocolate Orange to pieces with. Asperger afflicted Richard is still exhibiting them at every possible turn with considerable enthusiasm, it transpires, and he’s still out there looking for love in a big way, too…just as long as it’s within his highly specific 8-mile radius. An extra 3 miles might not seem like much to you and I – in Series 1 he doggedly protested that he wouldn’t go further than a five-mile radius to find true love – but for Richard, amusing as it first appears, it’s a serious and literal mile-stone that cannot be underestimated. Imagine putting on a thong when you’ve only ever been used to wearing entire-arse-covering boxer’s, because that’s the kind of debilitating exposed change that we’re talking about here. Even more so, for Richard and his muscles, it’s psychologically more serious than just getting a simple thong-based rash.

Watching Richard flex repeatedly as he went out of his comfort-zone to visit new Russian date Anna, I couldn’t help but think that a lot of controversy surrounding this show from the very beginning could have been alleviated – or at least somewhat avoided – had the programme makers considered the general perception of disabilities a bit more. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s solely a dating show about people with learning disabilities and individuals with physical disadvantages, that much is blatantly obvious, but one theme which has continually been left out – in both series – is any real education about the conditions themselves. Something which you can Google, but let’s be honest, most people are too busy looking for Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian and simply can’t be arsed with that. In this show, for example, we were told once again that Carolyne – blonde, pretty, bubbly, strikingly normal in her wants, needs and desires – became paralyzed following the freak bursting of a blood-vessel in her spine. From that day on, she was in a wheelchair, and without her childhood sweetheart. Yet once again that was where it stopped, on the explanation front, and, maybe it’s just me, but through the partially open window, I was sure I could hear faint cries on the wind of How did that happen? Could that happen to me? A little information about the conditions, on more than just a basic level, could have helped no end, I think, as is the enormous influence produced by TV. Instead of coming to the wrong conclusion that Luke was totally crazy, with his ticks and “Wow, nice tits!”, I can’t help but feel that people might have got more on board, had that been the case. That they might have begun to realise, much earlier, just how difficult dating is for these people. How brave they really are. All that stuff. Because it’s hard — really, really bloody hard.

Which is why it was good to go back to Series 1. Having been exposed to another set of episodes this year, I’m sure people were more comfortable with the format, and this allowed them to revisit the characters from Series 1 with a different perspective on things.

Leaving behind my issues with this episode – I’m going to only briefly mention now that I thought there was too much footage taken from the previous Series 1 shows, and not enough recent footage, which should really have taken prominence – I will say that there wasn’t enough about Carolyne. I needed to know much more than I got, and even though Richard gave us some interesting moments talking with his date about the Chernobyl disaster, more about Carolyne was sorely missing. For a brief few minutes, we learned that Carolyne had met Dean online and they had seriously hit it off. Then again, missing some things out is inevitable, surely, and balancing such things as this is a difficult task within the confines of a one-hour show that is fundamentally designed not to educate, but to entertain and rake in the viewers. Fortunately, there was plenty of hope to go around with the other stars of the show. For example, Luke went on a date with a nice student nurse who went by the name of “Lucy”. Yes, he was ticking like mad to begin with, but after a while things calmed down and Luke’s natural confidence began to run its natural course. And what a decent bloke Luke came across as. Decent, kind, loving, caring, and with enough bollocks to stand up in a room full of people and do his gags. Come to think of it, all those things that make you feel slightly nauseous when you see them written on a screen, yet we are all universally searching for. Once again the normality of people with afflictions came boldly through. Luke just wanted a wife and a kid and a home, and it was heartwarming. I damn well hope he gets it all.

As for Sam, things were a slightly different story, and, for him, this episode took us on a brutal ride through a range of emotions that I hadn’t been anticipating. First things were going amazingly well with Jolene from Series 1, then they were going so well that Sam was considering the idea of marriage, then things were turning to big shit, and fast, and you could feel his pain. In fact, it may have just been me, but I literally felt like I had trod in shit as I watched all this unfold. What a nightmare: Jolene turned around and texted him, saying she couldn’t give him what he was looking for, and superdad Malcolm was there to pick up the pieces. Ouch. Watching Sam sit there on his bed, trying to absorb this heavy information, was painful, uncomfortable viewing. I haven’t looked at Twitter yet, but I have a funny feeling that Jolene won’t be as popular as she was before.

Another thing: was I the only one who was surprised by how well Shaine the poet was doing? Somehow I doubt it. I can’t be, I just can’t be. He was doing well by anyone’s standards. There I sat, drinking my over-priced decaffeinated tea, in my writer’s hovel, taking in the facts, yet also somehow unable to take them in because they were so flippin’ outrageous: since Series 1 had aired, Shaine had achieved more than most 32-year-old could ever hope to accomplish. The loveable romantic bastard had only gone and got himself a book deal, a nationwide tour and a regular gig at his local Bournemouth pub where he recites poetry! Shaine might have learning disabilities, but don’t think for a second that people like this can’t do just as good as anyone else. And if it can be that good with life, then why not with relationships? As we watched Shaine slick his hair back with gel, just like an extra from Reservoir Dogs, the nation fell for his charm. Somewhere out there, I bet there’s a female poet just ready and waiting…

But let’s not leave Luke out from all the success, of course. Carolyne might’ve found herself a bloke and Sam might have shaken off his break-up with enviable finesse, but Luke had done well for himself, too. Not to be deterred, the Merseyside stand-up had also experienced his fair share of luck over the past year. Jonny Vegas had only gone and become a fan, inviting him up on stage at one of his gigs.

The Undateables may have become virtual pets to the nation, with thousands of people on Twitter labelling them cute and another few thousand not quite getting it, but if the statistics are anything to go by, people are really interested. And that’s what we need. The more interest, the better. When you think about it, Channel 4 took a great big risk and did pretty well with it, even if this latest episode fell short a bit by relying too much on the original footage. Not bad for a show that many people proclaimed hideous in the beginning, before rapidly changing their tunes.

Next week it’s the turn of Penny, Justin and Haydn. Bring it on. I want to know if Penny’s got herself a six-foot fireman!

Heather, Gareth, Matthew: Series 2 Of The Undateables Concludes With Episode Number 4

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Ladykiller Matthew — sorry about that out-of-place hair on the top of your head Matthew, it honestly wasn’t deliberate

Links:

Series 1: Introduction, Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3 discussion and Episode 3 review. Another discussion piece on disability here.

Series 2: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, and…

Yesterday, while sitting in the dentist’s chair all helpless and victimized and robbed of my money in sheer artificial daylight, I found myself once again pondering the brutal accidental humour that cruelly underscores all aspects of our everyday life. It was hard not to ponder such a thing – the humour was about as subtle as a forgetful Iranian space-scientist, still wearing his space gear, asking for a monkey in a pet shop. In so many ways it was a day lacking in subtlety. For example, MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This was on the radio in the background, mocking me, harassing me with dancy-ness, making me want to laugh at the irony of it all, and above me the dental nurse was telling me that the painful gum injection I had already just experienced “will hurt a bit when it goes in”, to which I attempted to say “yeah, I could have told you that,” but failed. Then there was the dentist herself. She wasn’t my usual dentist, and it was showing. It seemed that she was hearing U Can Touch This. U Can Touch This Very Much, Preferably Until It Really Hurts Your Patient. With the tools banging around in my mouth, I was going “Oh…Oh…” just like in the infamous song, but she wasn’t listening, and went on until the finish with the same crazed determination that Hammer put into his dance moves.

If only she’d been a rapper. She might have been really good.

I have no idea if Matthew from Episode 4 of The Undateables likes MC Hammer, but going by the fact that he was a bit of a dude, I’m going to say he does. 20 years of age and a massive music fan, when Matthew and his moustache noted the tragic lack of AC/DC fans around nowadays, he surely had a point. I found myself nodding and agreeing. Then I found the words flooding into my ears that have always terrified me and I am never, ever prepared for: the words Milton Keynes. Matthew lived there…that place of many roundabouts and a confusing grid system designed to mercilessly trap people for many hours on end, just for the fun of it. At the time, flummoxed by the words, I couldn’t work out whether or not Milton Keynes was a good place to live if you have Autism, but since then I have come to the conclusion that due to its supposed logic and such, probably, it is. As narrator Sally Phillips did her voice-over bit once again – telling us that Matthew was a big karate enthusiast, as Matthew did his kicks on-screen – I found myself wondering who in the world Milton Keynes was actually designed for. I still haven’t come up with a decent answer. Somehow, I doubt I ever will.

But let me not waste too much time banging on about the oddity that is Milton Keynes. This is the last episode in the series, so we want to do it justice.

And I’ll tell you what: Matthew’s mum was a mum of mums, a mum of justice. A true woman of mums. You could almost think of her as the Judge Dredd of the Mum World, I suppose. One of those mums who other mums likely stand around and talk about in car parks, even though their Iceland frozen goods have started to thaw. Every time Matthew fixated on something, Mrs Matthew was there to set him straight and tell it how it is. I liked these bits – most of us are aware that people with Autism are a bit different from the rest and struggle with change and empathy, but when Mrs Matthew told her son how it was, you could see that Matthew had the same needs as any 20-something bloke who thinks he looks a bit like Jonny Depp. With mum on his side, helping him with the dating thing for the first time in his life, I could see good things happening later in this programme. The only question was…would Matthew actually have time for a girlfriend even if he found one?

Then we met 38-year-old Heather, who hated being near people just as much as I hated my dental nurse for being 5 seconds late in telling me I was about to experience sharp daggery pain. I was going to say Imagine if you had 90 degree burns all over your body and that’s how Heather feels all the time when she thinks about someone, anyone, touching her, but in the end it seemed pointless. Not only might imagining such a thing put you in a foul mood for the rest of the day – something most of us don’t need additional encouragement to get into, what with slow-walking pedestrians always there just when you don’t need them, not to mention increasing rail fares, again – but it’s a bit of a silly thing to do, isn’t it? Heather had extreme OCD and no amount of imagining is going to really show you how that feels. All Heather wanted was a caring and understanding man by her side – a connection with someone she could really trust. Yet every moment of every day was dominated by stress in various forms. Forget about the being-filmed-dating part. Heather deserves our respect for even contemplating going on TV full stop.

Luckily, Heather was also in possession of a supermum. This supermum went by the name of Dawn, and Dawn had kindly allowed the filming of Episode 4 to happen at her house. At this point, we learned another amazing fact: Heather hadn’t allowed anyone in her house for 2 years. Not only that but she hadn’t been hugged – or had any physical contact with anyone – in over a year either. For Dawn, each and every time she went anywhere, she felt as if every element of life was out to get her in the most malevolent sense of the word. In the toilets at the train station, I’ve witnessed men hold one finger under the cold tap for approximately 3 seconds post urination, in a pathetic attempt to brainwash themselves into believing that this is better than doing nothing at all. Heather was different, and I don’t only mean that she wasn’t a man. I mean she washed her hands as much as 100 times each and every day. As much as Heather, I felt sorry for her supermum Dawn. When Heather got upset, all she wanted to do was give her precious daughter a big, warm hug. Yet she couldn’t at any point. How sad and difficult must that really be?

Heather was and is amazing. At no point did she complain, moan or say “I’ve bloody well had enough of all this shit,” which I’m certain I’d definitely have been doing. She just got on with it all, and that was great to see.

As the screen changed and we went back to Matthew once again, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised by the sneaky way that those Channel 4 producer people suddenly broke my concentration without warning. In fact, I almost wanted them to do it again so I could scream out loud, “Think I’m surprised, well, do you narrator Sally Phillips?” But they didn’t, and so it was that I stayed pensive and quiet, listening to narrator Sally Phillips.

So, Matthew. He was finding the rules of dating hard to understand. And, at this, you could almost feel the atmosphere and walls and floor bend and warp as millions of people across the United Kingdom willed Matthew to realise that there were no solid universal rules to dating and likely never would be. At least until all the supermums came together and sorted the world out. Yet there, once again, were the fixed ideas behind Autism making themselves so known again. Matthew didn’t like change and struggled with accepting it at even the most basic levels, so the fact that he was willing to have a go at dating – something which is never the same and we’re all constantly revising our ideas and opinions of – meant amazing things for what human beings were capable of. I liked Matthew more and more.

And if you’ve been sat there for a few minutes wondering So where do Stars In The Sky? fit into all this? then you’re just lucky I don’t have some kind of amazing technical gadgetry device on this blog which disables people who haven’t yet watched the show from continuing their reading! I won’t even make you wait, either: Stars In The Sky, the agency we’ve come to know and love for their helping disabled/disadvantaged people find one another, entered the picture right about now, and took down Matthew’s hobbies and details. Next job: find that man a match.

You fall over, you break your leg. In the hospital you swear. If you buy cheap coffee from the vending machine, you wish you hadn’t, but that’s not really the point. You are a teenager, you are an adult, you are angry – it’s hard not to be. Breaking bones is never fun, and 25-year-old man-perfume-loving Gareth, the next star of this eclectic Episode, knew all too well about all that. Gareth was a normal Essex boy in so many ways apart from just one: if Gareth sneezed too hard, he might break a rib. Most of us break a couple of bones in our entire lives, yet Gareth said he’d broken 205 of them. That’s Brittle Bone Disease for you.

Then Gareth came out and said it, and it was brilliant, because you could see he didn’t care in the slightest, and he felt no shame. No, I’m not talking about having Keira Knightley as his ideal woman alongside Cheryl Cole, even though Keira Knightley was responsible for the strangely watchable visual atrocity that was and is Domino. Instead, I’m talking about the fact that he was saying on TV he was a virgin. Where most people would have hidden it, Gareth came right out and said it, just like that. He also made it plain that he was a born-again Christian, and for that I had respect. Me, I’m an agnostic-atheist, but that’s irrelevant. Anyone who’s willing to stand up and speak like that is a man in my book.

Just as long as they don’t claim Domino to be a good film. It’s not. It’s crap. Sorry, Gareth.

Fortunately, Gareth soon had me thinking less about Keira Knightley’s questionable acting and much more about the good things in life. Family. Friends. What really matters. Gareth and I might be different when it comes to our knowledge of cars – Gareth has some, I don’t – but we seemed to be on the same page when it came to that. When Sandy, Gareth’s very own supermum, spoke of how she longed for her son to settle down, it was emotional. I almost felt like going out and getting a fashionable haircut and tight jeans, then buying the complete DVD box-set of Evanescence Live – if such a thing exists.

I said almost. I stopped myself just in time.

Clad in their biking gear which I bet they paid way too much money for, the two neon-yellow cyclists on the screen were waiting on the coastal path, sun beating down on a blue-sky day, and Heather, well, she didn’t know what the fuck to do, did she. All she wanted to do was get past them, but there in lied the problem. Her extreme OCD meant that she couldn’t just walk through the gap between them like anyone else might have done. So there she stood, right on the cliff edge, with someone from behind the camera saying, “if you find being near people so difficult, why do you want a partner?” It’s exactly these kind of questions which, I think, have been the foundation of why The Undateables so gets under peoples skin. And after I heard this question, I felt similar to many who have Tweeted their dislike of the show in the past. What right did this producer woman have to ask such a blunt, obvious question? I found myself thinking. For a few seconds, I felt defensive, like all of this was just one big trap. Note to Channel 4 producers: in the future, wait until someone backs away from the cliff edge before asking such a thing.

Then I realised it wasn’t. It never has been. Why? Because, like it or loathe it, there are hundreds-of-thousands of people out there asking far harsher questions about disability than this. My take on it is: for a show like The Undateables to really get the attention it deserves, we need to ask the bluntest of questions. After all, questions which might seem and sound blatantly obvious to many of us are things that some people will have no idea of.

Luckily, Heather didn’t seem offended in the slightest, and gave an articulate and insightful answer. She likened the need to find someone trustworthy to a ship searching for a lighthouse, and that sounded like a pretty good description to me.

Remember Christine? Christine from Flame Introductions should be a familiar person by now. Along with her team back at the office, Christine is one of the people who has made a number of The Undateables dating moments happen. Here, next, she visited Heather at home for a nice chat about the kind of bloke she was after.

Which was when we all got hit with a particularly poorly timed bombshell. Now, I’m well aware that the very nature of a bombshell is its poor timing – if you could see the bombshell coming, you’d get out of the way, after all – but in this case, it was just plain illegal. See, according to the show’s makers, Heather had Asperger Syndrome, as well as her excessive OCD. Fine you might say. Only this was the first thing we’d heard about it, as far as I’d been aware. Why does that matter? Well, because it would have been nice to know this information before, if you ask me. The fact we were only being told this right now meant I could only come to one conclusion about the show’s editing: that this information had been held back deliberately, and unleashed right now so as to increase the entertainment factor and make us all go “oh, I didn’t realise that!” My problem with this is two-fold. Not only did the show fail to then explain that not everyone with OCD also has Asperger Syndrome – the two things are strongly linked, but not nearly always present simultaneously – but not knowing about it earlier had allowed viewers to form the wrong impression of people with both OCD and Asperger, and now they were stuck with it. For a long time, I’ve been saying that I think Channel 4 have done fantastically well with The Undateables when it comes to highlighting positive things about disabled and disadvantaged people, yet this left the essence of something cheap behind that did not belong and had no place. Raising awareness of these issues is hard enough on its own. The last thing we need to do, surely, is mix things up even more so people don’t know what to think.

Now Channel 4 have had yet another slap on the bottom for being a little bit naughty, let us move on past Heather and her worrying about how she couldn’t even shake hands with people – something to worry about on a first date it has to be said – and onto…

Gareth, at his computer, anxiously awaiting the profile of someone very special. Yes, here, on the screen, thanks to the dating expert people, was the face of a girl who was well up for meeting him. She wanted to Give It Large, if you want to get all Essexy about it. Gareth thought she looked a lot like Keira Knightley, while I thought she looked precisely nothing like her. Still, that’s immaterial. The main thing was, Gareth liked the sound of her and he was bloody well ready to go for it. He reminded me of this boy I went to secondary school with who was absolutely obsessed with becoming a pest control officer. The difference was, I smiled at Gareth’s single-minded determination. It’s hard to get passionate about someone who really wants to catch rats.

I’ve never much liked people who made me go to Milton Keynes, as I’m sure you’re aware. Usually I’ll tell them straight to their face, swiftly followed by “well don’t fucking expect me to be on-time”. But then, you get used to Milton Keynes after a while. By this point in the show, I had been beaten over the head by Milton Keynes and Milton Keynes-esque thoughts enough that I was almost, in a weird sort of a way, beginning to sort of miss and long for the hellish nightmare that is Milton Keynes. That’s how bad it had got. It was like that Stockholm Syndrome thing. Luckily, though, Matthew made Milton Keynes fun again. He was saying about how he couldn’t dance to just any old music. About how he had to actually like it or he wouldn’t bother. As we learned that Matthew had made the 50-mile journey to London for a Christmas party that the dating agency were putting on, all in the hope of finding that special someone, I found myself feeling very much like Matthew. So much so that I began to feel that I was more Autistic than Matthew was. I mean, the number of times I haven’t danced to music because I didn’t like it. I won’t go into that here. When I think about it – all those bodies writhing to music I passionately despise on every level – I could cry. I won’t think about it, or else I might.

To begin with, it was bad news. Predictably, as with discos were so much depends, there was lots and lots of music that Matthew didn’t like. But on this night, it appeared that luck was on his side. One moment the track was changing to music he did like, and the next he was up and dancing with a pretty black girl…more than that, they were jiving and holding hands! Not an easy combination, I think you’ll agree.

And now I’m going to be brutally honest: watching Heather wash her hands for what might have been the 56th time made me feel a bit perplexed. The thing was…feeling perplexed about this caused another wave of confusion to rise up within me. Why am I confused I’m confused? I kept thinking, as we learned that Christine, now on the phone, had some great news – that she had a good match for Heather. It highlighted, once again, the considerable effect that strange phenomena has on me, and all of us. There I was knowing that OCD was like this, and there I still was finding myself wondering why people felt so compelled to do the things they do, such as repeatedly wash their hands. I pitied people who had absolutely no idea of what these conditions were, and hoped that Heather’s date had some idea. Even if you understand why people have these issues and problems, it can still be hard to get your head around.

Luckily, the more you read about these kind of things, the more sense it makes. If this second series of The Undateables has done anything at all, it’s shove in our face, once again, these important things. Which means one firm conclusion can be arrived at: after the second series ended, there’ll be more people than ever who are willing to want to learn more about this stuff. Great news indeed. The more people who learn what it means to be different, the more people they can pass that new knowledge onto.

Excited by Eye Tee, also known as IT or I.T.? Love the idea of spending hours on a Friday night not even doing HTML coding, but thinking about doing HTML coding? In that case, when Heather’s date arrived on her computer screen in the form of a profile, you’d have been all hot under the collar and thinking about doing HTML together, in a kind of sexy HTML embrace, or something. 46-years-old, Heather’s IT developer date went by the name of Peter. And if you thought that all IT developers love to do is sit about and obsess over what it might be like to become integrated into the internet as an actual computer file, then you’d be thoroughly wrong, or maybe just partially right. Peter liked walking and nature as well as science. Yep, he wasn’t playing games…

And neither was Heather. She was going on that date if it killed her. She hoped it wouldn’t, of course, and joked about how she might need a tranquilizer to do it. At least, I think she was joking.

One month after first getting in there with the dating agency, Matthew was back on the screen and Lydia – yes, the infamous Lydia from many a previous Undateables episode – was back on the phone. In the spirit of not playing games, Lydia had taken that concept to a whole new level. She’d scoured the books and found Nicola. Enter Matthew’s long-haired black-clothes-loving friend Charlie with some good across-the-table advice for Matthew about the etiquette of dating. Tactfully, Charlie did his best to educate his best friend about how to talk to a girl when on that all important first date. You could see it was an uphill struggle, but you had to commend Matthew for bothering to climb the hill anyway. If I was him, I think I might have just given up at the bottom.

Preparing for a date is never easy, but imagine you live in a world where it constantly feels like it does on the London Underground at rush hour. That sweaty arm pit right in your face. Those joggers standing there all sodden-groined in lycra when you’re stuck sitting down and eye-level with the source of all their stench. This – being stuck in close proximity to others and hating every single second of it – was how I imagined Heather had to be feeling pretty much every time she left the house and had to be near people. Add dating into the mix and you have purest hell, surely. No wonder supermum Dawn was busy helping her to work out how to move around and get through the date without wanting to kick a lycra-wearing commuter right in the balls. In those circumstances, it would have been insanity to not worry like hell about the impending date.

Goodbye Heather – hello Gareth. Today, right here, right now, was the day of reckoning. Gareth said he hadn’t been on a date since he’d been at school. It’d been ten years, but Gareth was doing a fine job of not appearing bothered. A man very much in love with his perfumes, we already knew that Gareth thought of himself as vain and Jesus-loving and didn’t care, and now we knew that he was a man of romance, too. Earlier in the show, Gareth had said how he hoped that one day he’d be able to propose. From the looks of how Gareth prepared for the date with Beth – buying flowers, being all Essex and snazzy – it was pretty clear that he’d likely get his chance if he kept on going like that.

I wanted this Beth character to be perfect for Gareth. A fellow born-again-Christian, Beth seemed like a good fit on paper. Unfortunately, Beth wasn’t a good fit in person when they met up at Southend-on-Sea – or Gareth wasn’t a good fit for her, if that’s the way you want to look at it. Not only did Beth say Gosh an awful lot, which I hadn’t heard Gareth say even once, but when he ordered fish and chips, a slight look of unreadable vagueness came over Beth’s face. Did it mean Fish and chips are terrible or Fish and chips, you blow my mind with your incredible taste for this humble British classic, I wish I’d thought of that and not ordered this poxy goat’s cheese salad thing? It was impossible to tell, but as the date wore on a bit like a cold shower just on the verge of being too cold but also just about warm enough to keep one underneath the shower for long enough for the shower to be just about worth enduring, it was clear that their love of God wasn’t going to get them into bed together any time soon. At least, not without Gareth being arrested. It was also clear that Beth saying things like “I go on dates all the time” wasn’t going to help much at all.

Gareth was kind about it all, though. He didn’t say “all she did was talk about herself,” when that’s how it came across to us viewers. What a gentleman. Not that Gareth was that fazed. Cut-up though he may have been, he wasn’t giving up the dating game just yet. The man wasn’t going down without a fight.

Had enough of Milton Keynes? Tough shit, we’re going back again. Don’t worry, you won’t need you GPS.

Matthew was preparing for his first ever date with Nicola. Hailing from St Albans and also autistic, Nicola and Matthew were to meet at a local restaurant. At first Matthew was worried about saying the wrong thing. As it turned out, Matthew didn’t have to worry about that, because his thoughts were consumed entirely with other more serious ones like: how the bloody hell am I going to eat this fantastically hot curry? Somehow, Matthew recovered, didn’t have a heat-fit, and found his body firing in the right and not wrong way so usually associated with extremely hot curries. Out he came with the questions. Before long, they were doing small-talk and not once had he offended her!

Every good story needs a pinnacle. A moment of truth. A moment where everything that has been building up until this point comes together as a tremendous force that must be overcome. For Matthew, that force was deeply intense – his greatest challenge yet, some might say – and it came in the way Nicola responded to “what’s your favourite kind of music?” with “Peter Andre.” Yes, those two words that no human being who adores real music wants to be confronted by. For a few seconds, I held my breath and pictured what I might say if I was Matthew. Then the vision got out of control, and I found myself running out of that restaurant as fast as my legs could carry me, into the safe arms of the music I loved that made the world alright once again.

When Matthew looked worried Nicola right in the eyes and said, reasonably convincingly, “Peter Andre is alright,” I thought I was imagining things. That my brain couldn’t handle any more hardship and had done its optimistic thing once again. Yet as the seconds wore on, I found it was real.

Well done Matthew, I thought. I don’t actually know anyone else who could’ve done that and kept a straight face.

Heather ended Series 2, Episode 4 in exactly the way I wanted it to happen. So many times on this show, the dates haven’t quite been what we expected. This time, Peter was the perfect gentleman. Anxious as Heather was, from what I saw, Peter was every bit the understanding, patient and supportive man that Heather had been looking for all along. Walking around some botanical gardens, Peter graciously kept his distance and respected Heather’s boundaries at all times. No hand-shakes, nothing too familiar, staying calm and kind all the while. And Heather did her bit, too, being totally upfront and honest about the depth of her problems. Being refined, but never holding anything fundamental back.

Then they talked about Star Trek. I have next to no idea what in the world Deep Space 9 is, but Peter has the entire series of it on DVD and according to Heather, that’s quite impressive. We even saw her blush and make eye-contact briefly – something she’d been struggling with all along. Thank goodness for Deep Space 9.

When Peter asked Heather if she wanted to exchange phone numbers right at the very end, and Heather said Yes – more than just Yes, she also said she wanted to talk with him again – it was the ideal moment to end the series on. Peter? He stole the show by blowing a kiss, Heather smiled, and maybe one day we’ll get to see what happened next.

Speaking of which, there’s one last show to come in this series. Next week we’ll get to venture back to the stars of Series 1 and see where they are now…

The Undateables – Series 2, Episode 3: Disability Is Never Dull

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Kate

Catch up with Series 2 Episode 1 here, and Series 2 Episode  2 here. Click here to start at the beginning with Series 1.

As I start writing this blog post it’s 00:31am in the morning and I could quite fancy a wee, but I’m not going to go for a wee, because I have promised myself – forced myself – that I will at least write a single full paragraph before allowing myself the privilege of what I like to call “a nice, luxury, sit-down wee”. One of those things that every man loves but only very few men seem to be able to admit to liking. Which means that if this doesn’t go to plan and I get struck with a debilitating case of writer’s block then there could quite literally be hell to pay and an embarrassing blog post to write. Luckily for me, I don’t believe in writer’s block and I also have very little willpower when it comes to things like just sitting there and committing to wetting myself. If I feel like that’s even a remote possibility, then I am safe – and so is this sofa – in the knowledge that I just won’t allow that to happen. I like to think it’s one of my good points.

Not that it ever came to that. I’ve just been and now I’m back. Go on, next time you go, treat yourself to a nice, luxury, sit-down wee! Things won’t be the same after you do, trust me.

But to get back on track, before this becomes a full blog post about going to the toilet.

Not so long ago it was Tuesday. Right now it’s Wednesday, and by the time I finish writing this it’ll probably feel more like Thursday. You’d think I’d feel at least mildly euphoric about that, it being so close to Friday, and Friday basically wanting to be Saturday, but in reality I am mainly jealous…jealous of all those lucky journalists and bloggers who receive a preview of the TV show/film/documentary they are reviewing and get to go to bed at a reasonable time, where they then actually manage to sleep. Me? If I want my review to be out while people still want to read it, I have to stay up late into the early morning. Not that the world’s going to stop turning if I don’t get it done, of course, it’s just that The Undateables is a popular thing on this blog and one of my favourite things to write about. Besides that, in some ways I’m a creature of habit, and I hate to let myself down. That’s probably why, between the ages of 12 and 16, I only ever ate cheese and ham sandwiches.

However, there are some things that make doing this voluntary task that nobody is forcing me to do that much easier. Well, not that much easier – I do really want my bed – but a bit easier, a bit like one of those hand-driers in the toilets which sort of works, but only in the most fractional and unnoticeable of ways. Seriously, when are they going to pass a law to get rid of those bloody hand-driers. With The Undateables, for example, I mind less than I might do if Tom Daley’s Splash! was unleashed upon us late in the evening and I felt compelled to write about that. Now there’s a scary thought. (Come to think of it…I have no idea why Splash! would be aired late and advise you not to ponder it either. Naked diving? I feel awful for the children of tomorrow, because instead of The Undateables, that’s probably what they’re going to be watching. Somehow, I think I’ll be both missing much and almost nothing at all.)

I’ll probably look back on this time in a fond way, though. If I ever get some kind of prestigious TV-reviewer position that makes everyone else jealous, I mean. For instance, one of the benefits of reviewing a show just hours after it came out is obvious to me, but it might not appear obvious to you at first glance. That’s to say that right now – at the time of writing – the internet is dead and I feel like some kind of ideas renegade. What I mean by that is this: right now, at 00:58 on Wednesday, you Google episode 3 of Series 2 of The Undateables and you won’t see much other than lots of links to watch clips from the show and other related content (I just tried it out and was relieved that no irritating, about-to-go-to-sleep, prestigious TV-reviewer had just released their review). This fact essentially means that, unlike some of the reviewers who are going to be releasing their opinions tomorrow morning after reading other reviews and chatting with colleagues, I have nothing to go by. Nothing at all whatsoever. I’m in dead space, with my own thoughts, and it’s 00:45am. With no influence and nothing out there to bias me, I can write my blog post knowing that these are my own, 100% unadulterated, uncontaminated thoughts. And I like that. I don’t want to write reviews that are swayed by public opinion or what some people think. The Undateables always has been a show that stirs up debate, and sometimes I think half of the reason for this is that people just don’t know what to make of it all. Quite simply, it’s easier just to think what someone else has on their mind than to bother to think yourself.

I should know. I’ve tried it. It’s a bit like washing my own washing which someone else has accidentally washed for me and feeling really content because I know that nobody could possibly say my washing wasn’t clean, however badly I washed it myself. Actually, that really did happen to me once in Germany. I went to the shop next door, came back, and someone else had got my washing confused with their washing and shoved it all in together. I sat there smugly, then took it out afterwards and realised it smelled a bit funny. So I had to wash it again. In the end it just made me more work, not less.

DAMIAN‘S STORY

Every now and again, as I was writing down my notes for this episode – my girlfriend sitting next to me acting as a sort of romantic backup memory, reciting to me the facts coming from the TV – I wrote Damian’s name as Damina. Which is pretty apt, actually, as Damian not Damina was and is a huge fantasy fan. I say apt because I think of Damina being the name of some fantasy character in some fantasy book, movie or game. By now enough alarm bells should have rung to tell you that I have absolutely no idea about anything fantasy-related. In fact, the more I think of it, Damina sounds like the name of a femme fatale from a James Bond film. That bit in Skyfall* when the digger spins round and half destroys that train was fantastical, though, so I reckon I just saved about myself there.

* major spoiler alert. Oh dear, it’s a bit late now, but still, better late than never. Serves you right for not going to see Skyfall when it came out. Consider this your punishment.

So, Damian.

Before I continue I should probably apologise to Damian if any of his friends have read this post and have started calling him Damina. Still, these things happen. I mean, look at me…my second name is Pink! (Not with the exclamation mark, of course, don’t be silly.)

First things first, we saw that Damian likes to spend a lot of time with wizards, demons and skeletons. As narrator Sally Phillips told us about Damian’s Albanism and the fact he’d been single for three years, we even saw two romantic skeletons hugging, which is a sight you don’t see every day. At least, you don’t if you’re not into fantasy like me. Who knows, maybe this is actually a rather common thing in the fantasy world. I have no idea.

To begin with, I was too taken with the hugging skeletons to notice much else, but as time wore on and the toll Damian’s condition has taken on his life became more obvious, it was hard not to admire how he’d dealt – and was dealing with – his disability. I mean, have you ever been stuck in the house for a couple of days, out of sunlight, away from friends, feeling isolated and lonely and generally fed-up? Thanks to a serious illness I once had, I have, for at least several years, and I know that it’s hard to deal with and doesn’t always get easier over time. So it was clear that Damian was a strong character – he’d been dealing with these issues ever since he was 4-months-old. Virtually blind and suffering from an intense reaction to even the mildest rays of sunlight, it was hardly surprising that he struggled with leaving the house and socializing. Imagine struggling with these things on a daily basis. Not only did I think Damian was fantastically brave for going on this show, but I thought his mum was terrific, too. It wasn’t easy viewing as, on camera, she conveyed her guilt for passing on Damian’s genetic, inherited condition. It was hard to hear that Damian had been verbally assaulted on numerous occasions. All for something completely beyond his and his family’s control. Sometimes, my mind boggles.

So at 25-years-old, it’s fair to say that Damina – agh, Damian! – had some catching up to do in the girlfriend stakes. Not that I could see Damian staying single for very long after this episode went out on-air. The man came across as clever and articulate, with a good sense of humour and a general awareness of his thoughts and feelings. In other words, precisely someone who shouldn’t ever be allowed to go into management, according to what I heard two bitter nine-to-five employees say on the train home the other day. Honest.

Tall, white and pasty he might’ve been – Damian’s words, not mine – but he did have a big dog, which we saw him hugging, and he also had best-mate Michael there, ready and willing to point him in the right direction and listen to his love woes. The more I watched Damian, the more I wanted the makers of The Undateables to interrupt and say, “sorry, Damian, you’re really not considered Undateable anymore, you’ll have to leave the show.” I mean…seriously? Does society really deem someone in his position as entirely Undateable? Maybe they do, maybe that’s the point, but still…the guy was genuine, and about as normal as any man could be who was forced to spend a large amount of time at home. I had high hopes. I had a feeling he was about to start meeting lots and lots of girls, even if he was extremely blonde in every aspect, apart from the popular Essex joke way.

When Damian said “You can’t very well pull someone in front of your mum,” I found myself saying, “you can’t and you shouldn’t Damian, not unless you’re one of those families of many generations who goes to Wetherspoons and all get blind drunk at the same time, like something out of Shameless, in which case it’d be perfectly normal.”

So, next up, Damian was meeting this matchmaker lady. Christine from Flame Introductions, to be specific – an agency in Sussex which is now becoming a regular on the show. Damian was shitting himself about this, of course. Mainly, he told Christine that he was only after the simple things. A girl to love him for who he was and all that stuff. The things any person would be looking for in someone else, providing they weren’t the real-life embodiment of Christian from erotic mega seller Fifty Shades of Grey. After Christine had left, we saw her driving away saying how she thought it’d be quite difficult to find Damian a date. At this, my heart sank. A guy with this much to give? I mean, I know he’s different and spends a lot of time in his room, but a lot of people spend that much time down the pub like the aforementioned characters of Channel 4 never-ending drama Shameless and they still manage it. “Come on Christine,” I was going. “It really can’t be that difficult, can it?”

Five weeks on, Damian had long passed the point of shitting himself. Now, as the phone rang on humiliation-mode – otherwise known as speakerphone – Damian looked like a man who had shat himself into submission and now just wanted, no, needed this over with. Luckily for him, that was about to happen in a big way. Christine had managed it alright. She’d only bloody gone and found him a nice 19-year-old lass who went by the name of Lizzie. One who loved fantasy nerds and everything. First Damian needed to sit down and stop shaking and process all this amazing. Then he confirmed the date and that was it: after 3 years of being single, Damian was going for it once again.

As with what was to come in the form of Oliver and Kate’s dating exploits, what happened next surely melted the coldest of cynical this-is-all-exploitation-I-hate-it-but-nevertheless-I’m-still-going-to-watch-it-and-complain-endlessly-on-The-Guardian-comments-section hearts – especially the bit where Damian made public his hatred of looking like Tintin. There was Damian, quietly crapping himself in the pub as his mum left him to it, and there was Lizzie, arriving and sitting down to, at first, a textbook awkward silence. The only thing more awkward than the silence was the visualising of that silence on TV screens across the United Kingdom, as Lizzie and Damian first struggled to find common ground and then struggled to get off it. By now, we knew that this was going somewhere – mainly because neither could stop talking. OK, there was no guarantee that they’d get together at the end, or ever see one another again, come to think of it, but Lizzie loved aliens and Harry Potter and dragons, for goodness sake. She even had bright red hair and alternative make-up, the likes of which I’d imagine Damina might wear if she was some kind of fantasy elf character born and bred in Newcastle.

Mainly, they both loved Fable. As Damian asked her if she’d like to meet up again, and Lizzie said Yes, I pondered, once again, what in the hell this Fable thing was. As they left the pub at closing, narrator Sally Phillips said that Damian was ready to take the next big step with this flourishing relationship. At this, my girlfriend and I looked at one another, both thinking that Channel 4 were about to enter the kind of sordid, sinister ground that the foundation of Shameless is purely built upon…that poor Sally Phillips had been coerced into doing a seedy voice-over for something she had never signed-up to do. We needn’t have panicked, though. What actually happened was we then saw Damian and Michael chatting, having a man-to-man talk. And with that there was…

KATE

I’ve got a relative who has Down’s Syndrome, so when I saw that Kate was on the show, I was intrigued, along with many other emotions. I was also quietly concerned. I’ve seen the abuse that people with Down’s Syndrome get by people who are ignorant to the condition – usually indirectly, but sometimes in their face. Much as I knew that this episode would, almost undoubtedly, turn around the opinions of many thousands of people with almost no idea about the specifics of the condition, I also wondered what the negative effects might be. A person with Down’s on a dating show? You’d be naïve and too hopeful to think that some people wouldn’t hellishly take the piss out of that.

Kate was fantastic and charming and everything we saw was good, though, so I was more or less instantly sure that we had nothing to worry about. Warm, smiley and thoroughly likeable, this episode of The Undateables made one thing very plain: disability does not have to define our personalities and kindness and lust for life. Good things do shine through. Seeing Kate on the show was a wonderful reminder of the fact that dating is dating, no matter who you are or what you’re like.

If Damian couldn’t do without his trolls and dragons, then Kate was equally smitten with her poetry. Living in Worcestershire, one of Kate’s main goals in life was to find a husband. Mainly, though, we found ourselves amazed. Kate worked in an office and worked more than some people I know. All this, and she was willing to put herself in front of the cameras, when even the merest mention of a man anywhere near gave her the giggles and made her shy. Quite simply, Kate’s dedication to dealing with her disability was breathtaking. No moaning, no crying, no complaining. At the risk of this blog post morphing into the pages of a chick-lit novel, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that you couldn’t help but smile whenever she did.

Two weeks after joining an introductions agency, things were looking up. If Kate got goose-pimples before at just the mere mention of a male in close proximity, then she was about to need several fleeces and maybe even a radiator strapped to her back: Rachel was on the phone and had amazing news – she’d found a match and his name was Simon. 32-years-old and the same height as her – this fact seemed to be particularly overpowering for reasons known only to Kate herself – Kate couldn’t help but tell the entire office about her impending date. It was just a shame that when she said “I really need a hug,” nobody got up to give her a hug. I mean, some people. But I’m sure she got lots afterwards.

When the day of the date came, Kate, thrilled with her pink phone and life in general, could barely contain her excitement. Actually, that’s a silly saying – in this case she couldn’t contain her excitement. This caused a worrying fear to grow inside me –a fear which was almost completely the opposite of Kate’s excitement. The reason? I’m terrible with directions and the date was to be at a maze in the grounds of some stately home. I had visions of some evil gardener from the past – maybe even a whole team of them – going about designing the maze with the purest intentions of trapping innocent human beings who were terrible at spacial awareness. Fortunately, the show’s producers managed to tug on enough of my heart-strings that my entire body was momentarily pinned to the spot and distracted away from all that direction terror. It was Simone’s first ever date, you see. So what if they spent the first few minutes of it wandering around hitting multiple dead-ends, causing a cruel tormenting panic to slowly then rapidly build within me? It was mighty compelling TV, they had a great time, and after having tea together, Kate and Simon hugged and had their photo taken. If that doesn’t make you have at least some faith in the world then really, I pity you.

Four days later, Simon had called and said he couldn’t do this any more and Kate was dealing with the fact that she was to be on her own once again. Not really! You should have been paying more attention and you’ll learn for next time, thanks to me. But don’t thank me. No, what really happened was this: Kate was set to go and meet Simon for their second date, and had a whole arsenal of poetry ready to read at him and woo him with. As I watched Mr Bean’s demented face stare back at me from a book or a DVD on a shelf in the background, Kate recited her special personalised poem. The next thing we heard, Simon was on humiliationphone and Kate was asking him if he liked surprises. Simon did, and that was good news for him, because he had a massive one coming his way.

Maybe it’s just because I’m a big soppy romantic git every so often, but, if you ask me, you wouldn’t have been human if, by this point in the show, you didn’t want things to go well for Kate and Simon. That probably means I’ve just called a few thousand people on Twitter sub-human, but oh well. The only worry was the incredible amount of hope that Kate had attached to this possible relationship. In just the space of one week, she was already thinking about marriage. Once again, you almost wanted someone to step in and explain that this might not happen…that this wasn’t always the way life went. That this was all way too early. But, at this point, let us remind ourselves what The Undateables actually is and always has been: it’s a documentary about people with disabilities on their quest for dating. What it is not is a documentary about disabled people dating with the show’s producers guiding them along the way, coaxing them to do what we might do. That may be what many people want to see, but that isn’t what it is.

When the food arrived, a big conversation about seafood ensued, langoustines in particular, which I should know about, as I write for a fish blog, but really don’t care too much about, as I much prefer a nice bit of salmon or crab or sea bass, or something. From there, the subject shifted to squid, and with this you could tell that Kate had something bigger on her mind. This was made blatantly obvious when the narrator actually pointed this out for us, just in case a few hundred-thousand people hadn’t been paying attention.

Then, not really from out of nowhere, it came: Kate says “…how do you feel about me?” and went on to clarify that by asking if he felt like she was a friend, a girlfriend, or something else. Kate’s not stupid, of course. Before Simon could give more than a cursory answer and dodge the question too much, out came the poem, and with it one of the most heartwarming and touching moments on either series so far. Gone was the doubt which had crept into our minds when Simon had, before, been slightly vague. Simon began to cry, stood up and asked to excuse himself so he could get his head round what had just happened on his first ever date.

Then Kate, she said “that poem worked,” and smiled, because it really genuinely did. Seconds later, they were walking hand-in-hand and Simon had his arm round her. Brilliant, priceless TV.

OLIVER

Autism: generally speaking, people just don’t get it. Is it when someone is simple? I have heard people say – and that’s not always their fault. There are many thousands of medical conditions in the world, and clearly we can’t all know about all of them. Perhaps it’s because looks can be so deceiving. If someone has Crouzon Syndrome or Achondroplasia, then people can generally get their head round what that is, even if they can’t always accept it. It’s the guy with the weird eyes, they might say, or it’s the girl who’s a midget, when they really mean a dwarf. With Autism, the line looks blurry, because people with Autism look almost like any so-called normal person. Oliver was the third and final subject of this third episode from the second series. A talented art student from North London, at times, it was hard to watch Oliver paint and fathom he was in any way different. Yet Oliver’s mum pointed out the stark reality of being Autistic and what that really means. Lacking a natural understanding of social interaction, and unable to build a cohesive understanding even after lots of time has passed, her son spent most of his time isolated in his own little world. Not that Oliver banged on about that. Clearly this was a man with a passion. And Oliver’s paintings were good. Not good for someone with a disability – simply good, full-stop.

Ever wandered around an art gallery on your own? I have, and I can think of fewer places where you can feel more isolated than this. I’ve felt less lonely in a graveyard. This has never been a problem for me and it probably hasn’t for you, but for someone with Autism, whose only carefree portal into the world is images and colours, this presents an issue: Oliver had been going to art galleries for three years with the hope of stumbling across someone special. It was easy to see where his mum was coming from when she voiced her concerns about him not looking in the right place.

Another huge problem which was much less obvious when you first looked at Oliver was his specific way of thinking. The way in which the need for familiarity all but consumed and dictated his life. Most of us hate traffic and queues and money and cinema and the weather and discos. Well, maybe not the cinema, unless you’ve got some really annoying sod kicking you right in the back, and maybe not money, if you’re absolutely loaded, but definitely the others (unless you live somewhere warm and sunny, in which case I despise you). Oliver’s problem was that any deviation from the things he was used to presented virtually catastrophic emotional barriers that could not be overcome. Most of us are particular in some way or ways, but for people with Autism, when change occurs, entire worlds come crashing down.

Aside from all that, next time you go out, try going out on a date without money, or queueing, or getting soaked, or getting stuck in traffic. Unless you want to go on a romantic date in an underground car-park on a bright Sunday morning, that’s not going to happen. Especially if you live in Scotland in a place where there aren’t even any cars.

Luckily, Oliver did have one huge thing on his side. Well, two actually. First there was his ever-loving mum, and second there was his simple need for someone of good company.

And so it was that Oliver found himself at a night for single people with disabilities. When Oliver’s mum said that it’d be her dearest wish to see her son happy, you could see what this and every positive experience can do for disabled people. What things that we take for granted really mean for them.

One thing I didn’t expect was for Oliver to be so bold. On the hunt comes to mind. I’d anticipated Oliver standing in alone in the corner, dancing and not really knowing what to do or how to speak to people, but speak to people he most definitely did. Over to the girl in the corner he went. Becky was her name, and this was just the beginning. Over the course of the next few minutes, Oliver made utter mincemeat of that dance floor, saying a great big Screw You! to an eternity of dating & disco ethics and generally asking out more or less every female on that dance-floor. Not only that but he managed to not get slapped hard in the face once, which was a serious feat in itself, I thought.

By the end of the night, Oliver had not one but 3 phone numbers. That man, he was euphoric!

Then there’s the funny factor. One of the things which people have been getting worked-up about with this show is the way in which the producers have a knack of catching funny moments. This presents an interesting question: is it unethical to film someone acting funny when they themselves aren’t aware they’ll be perceived that way? I’m not sure. But what I am sure about is that this has been happening forever, and it is an intrinsic part of being on TV. Take The Apprentice, for example. In that show, not an episode goes by without one or five of the contestants making an arse of themselves. Are they aware of this at the time? Mostly, not, even if they really ought to be. The editing plays an enormous part of how funny the moment is, of course. Depending on how it’s integrated into the running order of the clips – the timing, what came both before and after – it may be anything from insulting to hilarious to weird to freaky and so much more. What’s my point? My point is this: if you’re going on TV, expect to look daft or funny at some point. As far as I can see, as long as the subjects of this show are comfortable with being on the show and looking human, then that’s enough of a guarantee for me. Now series 1 is well into the past, doesn’t it strike you that if this show really was exploitative, someone from a past show would have spoken out about that? And if not them, one of their friends or family, speaking of the negative effect it has had on their life?

Going back to Oliver, the man had been busy. Not only had he been in touch with one of the girls from the singles night, but he already had a line planned with which to stun her with. “You’ve got really good lips,” he practiced, at home. “And I wonder if I can kiss you?”

Much as I knew Oliver understood that this was to be beamed into the homes of almost everyone in the entire country, I sincerely hoped he wouldn’t use those words.

I needn’t have been worried, though. Oliver met his date, 24-year-old Amy, at a local restaurant in North London. Amy had muscular dystrophy and Oliver quite liked her haircut and wasn’t afraid to say so. I was impressed he’d noticed to be honest, because I know plenty of blokes who wouldn’t have. It also took my mind of the glass tomato ketchup bottle that they had on the table. Ever since that time I sprayed ketchup everywhere, seeing that item has always triggered a minor stress situation inside my head. Just get the squeezable ones and be done with it.

But The Undateables never really stays stressful for long, does it? As Oliver asked Amy if she’d liked to be his girlfriend in his own charming way, and then immediately went home and changed his relationship status on Facebook – notice I said changed and not upgraded, because Oliver had seemed reasonably content before – and then started doing loads of paintings of him and Amy together, happy, laughing, hugging, I was reminded that each and every one of these shows has been vastly different in every way. As far as I can see, we’re almost done with this being a novelty, now. And that’s good news for Channel 4 and great news for planet Earth. Whatever their motives for creating a show about disability and dating, what they’ve done is contribute to destroying a taboo which needs much more awareness. Looks like we’re well on the way. About bloody time, I say.

Lance Armstrong Implosion: Lance May Have Lost His Head, But Where His Mental Health Is Concerned, We’ve Got To Keep Ours

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Half the man

Usually, I have a routine. I’ll sit down and begin writing a blog post with the first things that come into my mind, then go back and delete them and replace them with the finer observations – the things that only come to mind after sitting and thinking for some time. Those things that are guided by empathy and understanding, examining what it must be like to be in a certain person’s shoes. Much of the time, this process happens in reasonable time, and I eventually arrive at what I feel is a fairly solid conclusion — that’s not to say it won’t change and evolve over time, but usually I am at least happy with leaving things at that. Or as happy as any writer can be. The Lance Armstrong story presents a problem for this technique, and writers, on a number of levels. Now he’s finally come out and told the world what so many people suspected – that he really is a cheat, and nearly always has been – there’s too much information to sift through and assimilate right now. I could sit here all week and come-up with a thousand different starting points. It seems that every time I think about this story and how it’s progressed, how it is progressing, my opinion changes and things shift a few degrees: sometimes I remember the Lance Armstrong who beat cancer multiple times and I smile, while other times I feel just as cheated as everyone else. Stupid for being taken in. Sad about it all. Mainly, though, I’m astonished and bewildered. Partly at my own naive wanting to believe that none of this was true, but partly…so much more as well. Then, every once in a while, I find myself thinking about what state-of-mind this man must have been in for so many years. It’s with this thought that things start to come into focus, finally, if there ever is a solid conclusion, which seems debatable right now. It gets more comfortable. The fact, from the looks of it, is that Lance Armstrong struggles with comprehending and understanding what he’s done wrong — how ruining people’s lives is bad and unacceptable human behaviour that people will not tolerate. And if he’s unable to truly comprehend the scale of his mistakes now, then what must he have been like while it was all going on?

First, a few notes:

1: Forget for a moment that Lance Armstrong doped relentlessly during all 7 of his Tour de France wins – the man was still an incredible, unbelievable athlete. Yes he was boosted by the drugs, as were some of his team-mates, but his achievements were still monumental — the drive, the dedication, the single-minded commitment to winning at all costs. That’s stuff that will never go away, even if it is tainted. I’m no expert on EPO, the drug which manipulates red blood cells into carrying more oxygen, enhancing performance, but I’m certain that not just anybody can get on a racing bike and win races like Lance did. This throws us into a state of pure anger and confusion…we can’t take back how we felt when he won those races, the emotions his winning stirred up in us all, the hope he gave us, and that fuels intense fury. So we’re left with an athlete who was never really a true, fair athlete. Or a man who we just can’t understand and don’t want to. Believe what you want to believe.

2: On Oprah, Lance Armstrong made admissions. The word Sorry even crept in there once, and, who knows, there may be more to come in due course. I haven’t watched the full interview everyone’s talking about just yet, but from what I have seen from various clips, he recognises now, at least on some level, that he was in the wrong. Not that this helps any of us much. It would be hard to label Armstrong’s appearance on the show as anything other than an academic acknowledgment of the truth – a genuine apology to us all it was not.

Which puts us on ground we don’t really know how to navigate. Should we even begin to think about forgiving Lance’s wrongs, yet?

Personally, right now, I don’t think it’s the time to forgive. We’re way too close to it all to see the bigger picture. Everything I have read about Lance Armstrong over the years proves one solid thing: none of us know the real man here, we all just think we did. The man who, some say, has serious mental health problems. And of course, with all this coming to light, who can blame them for thinking that?

It comes down to empathy, really, and by the sound and looks of the interview he gave Oprah, Lance Armstrong has a serious lack of it. A dangerous lack of it, you might say. This statement will come of little surprise to those who have encountered split-opinion about the man over the years – many have called him a sociopath, and that’s hardly a surprise, either. Sociopaths are sometimes but not always known as people with Antisocial Personality Disorder, and, serious as it is, it’s hardly an uncommon thing. People with this disorder are often charming and highly driven, to name but two things, but the negative pay-off is enormous. In extreme cases, these people are completely unable to care about other people, giving them the edge when it comes to acting with ruthless intent. That’s to say they can probably go through the motions of caring, but this is a learned and testing thing, rather than basic human instinct that comes naturally. They know they should care but they simply cannot, and that is just the start of a huge range of interpersonal and philosophical problems which go on and on. Things which only trained psychologists and the very-well-read can truly get to grips with (note: I’m not suggesting I am very well read on the subject, but from what I have read, this is the case).

And so the picture changes once again. Viewing Lance Armstrong as an almost supernaturally driven entity, a man who just simply couldn’t quit, it’s almost impossible to think he could have acted in any other way (a statement that doesn’t feel right to make, seeing as up until recently there was so much conflicting information about the truth and what that may or may not be). Looking at all the evidence, it seems that the only way he could have avoided cheating is if he hadn’t ever have become a cyclist. Had Lance excelled in another area, then no doubt he’d likely still have cheated, but the exposure – the story – wouldn’t have been worldwide. How many quietly confident sociopaths must exist in office buildings all over the world?

Which brings us to another point: the Tour De France alone is a story of immense power and charm, and that’s before you even talk about Lance’s amazing story of overcoming all the odds. A story which everyone got behind for very good reason. Maybe the reason we’re all so pissed off about this is because it all comes together to form such an unusual story we don’t know what to do with. While cheating at the highest level is hardly a new thing, this specific level of disregard for the rules and will to evade — combined with the overcoming-cancer-victories — is something of a unique entity that doesn’t come along too often. With hardly anything else to compare it to, Lance Armstrong has, ironically, achieved one impressive thing that will last far longer than his previous legend: he’s become just as universally hated as he was once so thoroughly adored. Not an easy thing to do — one thing Lance clearly was was a fantastically gifted cheat.

Of course, the fact that Armstrong might have a severe, high-functioning mental illness, doesn’t mean he is absolved of all responsibility and that our understanding and empathy should be charged with resolving it all. It just means that we’re the ones who can’t win and are stuck with not knowing what the hell to think. For Lance, he can apologise and apologise and eventually, it’s going to sink in with some people. Some will forgive. For many, it’ll be a natural thing. The rest of us have to make do with the fact that we’ll never truly understand why he did these things. We’ll also have to build our trust for sports personalities and other high-ranking individuals back up once again.

Armstrong’s legacy is now properly an endless one, and the issue of trust isn’t going to be resolved any time soon, if ever. No matter how many interviews he gives, he’ll never be able to transform that fact.

Is Channel 4s Utopia any good? Right now, it’s too early to tell

 

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Everyone’s favourite nonchalant hitman — the aptly named Neil Maskill, who looks like he’s never ever been hugged

Utopia, Utopia, Utopia, where to begin with Utopia (the new six-part series that recently arrived on our screens and finally put about a million teenagers and mid-life-crisis sufferers out of their tight-jeaned misery, if you weren’t aware)? How about those by turns annoying, interesting, captivating ads. About as Channel 4 as Channel 4 drama gets – or as Channel 5 as Channel 5 gets, depending on the impression they gave you – the ads made an instant statement about what was coming, that’s for sure, even if they gave frustratingly little away and made those same teenagers I talked about above cry into their ridiculous garments and long for Cheryl Cole to pop round for a cup of tea. Mysterious and striking, the show’s characters fell, ran or stumbled in slow-motion across flat yellow backgrounds as an unsettling air-raid style sound rose, adding to the feeling of menace. Or confusion. Or For God’s sake, can’t Channel 4 do anything without being a bit weirder and more edgy than everyone else? One episode in and scores of people are already calling this the most stylish new drama in years.

Well, if you haven’t seen it yet then I hate to break it to you, but it’s a bit bloody early to be proclaiming Dennis Kelly’s production – he co-wrote Matilda the Musical – as the next best thing on British TV. Stylish, yes, but the best thriller drama in years? No. Not yet. Definitely nowhere close at this point in time. Forget it. Let’s watch the entire series first, or at least get half-way into it and learn what the hell it’s all about. You wouldn’t read one chapter of a book and then write a giant review of it. As such, reviewing this first episode in any depth should be done with a degree of caution. Or at least awareness. It could be shit, it could be amazing, but right now, we just can’t know.

What the hell is it all about, then? That’s a very good question. We’re not supposed to know that yet, of course. That’d sort of fuck things completely up.

But you can’t help yourself but ask the questions…what is it about…what is it about — and repeat those words about one hundred more times. It’s true that the premise of Utopia is strangely captivating in an alien sort of a way. From the start to the beginning, mystery and conspiracy is the aim of the game as six strangers do their Channel 4 thing, looking all young and youthful and calm and angry but justifiably angry, because the world is out to get them. That cool but not cool, hard but not hard, weird but not…actually, yes, it is bit weird, let’s be honest. I won’t bore you too much with the storyline, as it’s like televisual scabies all over the internet already — scabies is an apt description, too. The show may be tame so far on many levels, compared to movies of a similar ilk, but this opening episode still left you feeling dirty and grotty and weird; a case of all-over body thrush, if someone forced me to get really specific (lucky for you they didn’t, or it could have been a lot worse than that). Which is bizarre, come to think of it, seeing as everything about Utopia is clean and simple. The look and feel of it, I mean. The storyline is anything but simple and straightforward. Fragmented would be the best description. No, discombobulated – that’s better. No wonder the show makes you feel strange. It is a mass of contradictions. It looks simple and clean, the language is normal, verging on the mundane at times, yet around every scene exists an unending void filled with questions, and not all of them are about how cutting edge and clever Channel 4 can be, or what it must feel like to have all-over body thrush. Like being drunk and stuck on the train listening to someone sober trying to talk some sense into you when all you want to do is punch them hard and you cannot, the questions get annoying after a while, but hopefully it won’t all end in tears.

If you’re too lazy or drunk to perform a basic Google search, Utopia is this: six strangers come across the original manuscript of The Utopia Experiments — a famed for its incredible out-of-this-world intensely imaginative vision type thing of a legendary graphic novel which no-one can stop harping on about — and…well, shit hits the fan bigtime because some bad people want that same manuscript. Obviously, I probably don’t need to say that this is no normal manuscript. There are darker forces at work here, and they do not look like the kind of people who have ever seen a comic, or a graphic novel.

One thing’s for sure – all this business about the violence being too much is more than a bit bizarre. Read The Guardian‘s comments on their review and you’ll see a lot of I couldn’t watch the show I’ve never seen anything so horrific and This kind of thing should be banned from TV. Trust me, if you’ve ever witnessed an episode of Tom Daley’s craptastic Splash! or The Apprentice then you’ll have seen something equally as horrific, and if you think this should be banned from TV, then you should probably stay indoors for a very long time because much worse things are going on in the world. For exampke, once, when I was 12, I had a horrific haircut that was more disturbing than this. Yes the opening scene is one of mass murder and yes the end of the show contains a scene that is vicious and calculated and nasty, but…banned? I don’t think so. You don’t see much, and what you do see has been filmed cleverly, leaving much to the imagination…which must be the point. Utopia is all about tone and style and implication. It remains to be seen if it can all come together to form something truly remarkable.

Then again, there are no shortage of positive points, and that immediately elevates Utopia above plenty of other crap out there. Neil Maskill of Kill List is one of them. Playing the world’s most unfit assasin – a man who almost anyone’s granddad could surely stumble away from without too much of a hassle – he guns down people with the cool unhinged charm of one of those Countdown nerds who can solve a complex number puzzle in less than 30 seconds. Yes, he’s eerily down-to-earth, vacant and all together freaky.

So, we’ll see, won’t we? My money is on Utopia turning out to be a sound, decent thriller series. I just don’t want to get too excited yet. Call me a cynic, but it’s going to take more than just a few clever shots — I want to see this series earn it.

The Undateables, Series 2, Episode 2: If they can do it, so can you

hhshs

On Twitter the other day, I warned @Sam_Culpeck I might do a drawing of her and she sort of dared me to, which is always a dangerous move as I’m not scared to draw aything badly, ever. So here it is. Hopefully she doesn’t now want to kill me.

Warning: like last time, this contains major-major spoilers.

When I was 12, I underwent one of the greatest psychological traumas of my young life, and it wasn’t just my fault, it was also Derek from school’s fault, too. Derek was one of those nightmarish but essential to our heritage pre-teen characters who, for reasons not obvious then and still not obvious now, looked much older than everyone in our year and seemed to have a bizarre insight into what it was like to be a veteran teenager well before it was physically or chronologically possible (smoking, growing a mutilated beard, being freakishly powerful, that kind of thing). Taking this into account, it’d be reasonable to assume that Derek had stayed on a year as punishment from the natural scheme of things, or that Derek needed to stay on a year to catch up, because he struggled with his school-work. Or that Derek was some kind of evil time-traveller. Yet none of these things are true. Looking back, the only sound answer is that Derek was planted there by malevolent teachers, as a form of light-to-medium entertainment (I picture them scribbling instructions down for Derek and sending him out there to cause carnage with all the pre-pubescents). When the trauma happened inside my young mind, I cursed Derek something rotten, I can tell you.

See, Derek had given me the number of a random girl in our year and convinced me to call her family’s home phone and ask to speak to her. This was back in 1992, when the mobile phone was something of a myth. Anyway, I did as Derek said and it didn’t go anything like Derek had promised it would. Derek had said that the girl, who I (luckily for her) will not name here, would be overcome with joy. He made it sound like all this girl did all day was wait for such phone-calls from boys like me (but in a classy way).

What actually happened was the girl went very quiet and then burst into the kind of debilitating tears more often associated with surprise colonoscopies (I should know, I have had one). I would later discover, by way of constant verbal torture and rumourmongering at the hands of the entire school, that the girl’s family were extremely religious and boys were approximately as anyone sticking anything up anyone’s bum, ever.

Had Sam Culpeck – the first person we were introduced to on this second episode – answered my poor excuse for a call, I have a feeling that she wouldn’t have burst into tears like that poor girl did. In fact, having watched her chuck herself out of a plane with what appeared to be absolutely no fear whatsoever, I’d say that she’d have found the whole thing quite amusing (or have told me to piss off, which might have marked one of the first occasions of a girl saying rude words to me — quite the rite-of-passage for any boy, I think you’ll agree). Which is was, of course. It just took me about 20 years to find out.

See, unlike the girl who Derek groomed me into pestering — in a completely non-gay way — this Brighton girl wasn’t afraid. Born with Achondroplasia, the most common cause of dwarfism, pretty and funny Sam just wanted to date a cool guy who wasn’t a total pussy – not too much to ask, you would think.  Except “there’s pricks everywhere you go,” she said, talking about the numerous crude things men had said to her, and I had to agree. What other word is there for men who joke about spinning you around on their cock? I can’t think of any but I wouldn’t mind betting that Sam can think of a few. “When I see a couple together,” she said, “I think they’re incredibly lucky.” Now trying calling someone with dwarfism stupid. Actually don’t, especially if you’re aboard an aircraft…

So, here we were: 7 years since Sam had had a date, and now she was going for it big-time, complete with a PhD in psychology. Flame Introductions were back again to do the dating honours, and this time Christine and Jenny were on hand to meet Sam and discuss what she was looking for. I’d had some cool tweets from Sam on Twitter — along with Joanie Scott, the mum of Sarah from Episode 1 – and was excited about what was going to happen next. If you want to follow Sam it’s @Sam_Culpeck. You can follow Joanie Scott on @SymphonyUK and Sarah on @SarahBScotty.

Next up, we have the man with the best laugh out there, the ever-likeable Ray. If you’ve been reading The Undateables Twitter feed then you might think Ray was in the Stevie Wonder lookalike business. Actually he’s a 49-year-old Leeds United fanatic with one of the most infectious laughs ever. Living in London, Ray has a learning disability and would, throughout the rest of the show, get ridiculously excited, making the people of Twitter come alive with joyous praise, drowning out the nasty taunts of the many and numerous who think people with learning disabilities are somehow inferior. Mainly, Ray looked like a bloody good laugh and great fun to be around.

As well as the unique laugh, I think it’s fair to say that Ray had one of the most unique histories of anyone to appear on The Undateables ever. Whereas many people like to get as far away from their ex as is physically possible, Ray was, by the very nature of being on this show, in dangerously close proximity at just mere metres away. Most people wouldn’t want their ex in control of the person they might date next, but Ray’s approach was different to say the least. His ex ran the dating agency, was the thing. Not only was Ray at the mercy of his ex, Lolita, but their mutual friend Lydia was to mediate between the two.

With dynamics like that, it’s not hard to see why the show is effecting such polarized opinions. But here, now, I’ll repeat what I said in my blog for Episode 1: The Undateables is genuine people, filmed in real-time, by people making a TV show about real, genuine issues. If you’re uncomfortable with what you’re watching, it might have more to do with you than any of the people on the show.

Or it might be that you’re Derek my ex school nemesis, I suppose. But I really hope not.

It’s tricky, of course. When you hear that Lolita left Ray for another man, and you see how sweet Ray really is, it’s going to stir emotion. And so it damn well should. It’s 2013 for God’s sake. Time to get our bloody heads out of the sand once and for all. If not now…when?

And all this has got me thinking. Maybe all the negativity surrounding the show – I say all the negativity, but let’s put that in context: many people also love it – is a necessary thing in a weird kind of a way. Before there can be proper enlightenment, we need to break barriers. That’s never going to happen if we don’t have all kinds of reactions, with extremes at either end of the spectrum.

Back to what was going on with Sam: Flame introductions weren’t mucking about…they’d only gone and found her a match! It was only bloody James, wasn’t it! You’d be smiling too if this was the first date you were going on in 10-minus-3-years. Sam said it best herself with “actually shitting myself,” while smiling and generally looking like someone had just asked, “I’m about to throw myself out of a plane, I don’t suppose you want to come with me?” The guy also wasn’t overly tall, Sam also noted, which made me laugh. If a TV camera crew were in my living room watching my mum and me have a conversation about an impending date, I’m not sure I could crack a joke like that – whatever you think of the show, you can’t say appearing on it isn’t anything but stupendously brave.

Now the show’s producers had lured us into wanting to know what might happen next with Ray and Sam, it was time for their good old favourite trick – switching to someone completely new.

To begin with I was cursing those fiendish Channel 4 producer people, but then I was once again engrossed. Oh, they’re so cruel!

On the screen before me now was 30-year-old supermarket worker Steve. Hailing from Sunderland, Steve hadn’t been on a date in 7 years (it seemed like this was very much the 7-year-episode). According to Steve, whenever he met a girl he immediately fell into friendship territory. As with Haydn from Series 1 (find him on Twitter here) who favorited my tweet just the other day, Steve was born with the genetic condition Crouzon Syndrome that disfigures the face – so named after the French physician who initially described this disorder. Like Ray and Sam, Steve’s desire to find himself in a relationship was touching to watch. If you’re not touched by this and you think Ray’s laugh is anything but ace then it may just be because your recycling bin is full up with Daily Mail newspapers – if I were you, I’d pulp them rather than just empty it, but it’s up to you.

Maybe it’s because I’ve written a book on a boy with Cherubism – fictional young adult adventure story The Number 3 Mystery book, if you’re twisting my arm to find out – but watching Steve talk about how his condition had proved problematic for dating, and how he’d been called everything under the sun when it came to his eyes, I struggled with how anyone could not want to be around someone like this. I mean, seriously, we’re talking about a man who had already planned how he’d propose when he met that one – cynics, mouth shut now, please – special person.

If you can’t find that touching then, as I said in my previous The Undatebles blog, you’re most likely someone who thinks Dirty Dancing is a terrible movie. Still, there are perks to being clinically dead inside. One of them is not spontaneously bursting into “Nobody puts baby in the corner!” which is actually quite a good thing. People always look at me funny when I do that. Sometimes, my girlfriend thinks I’m really weird.

Another thing which made this episode stand out, for me, was the filming of the families, which gave the show a captivating edge. With Sam there was her mum, laughing and always there to give moral support, and with Ray there was Lydia (not strictly family, being white and from another mother, but you get what I mean). Steve’s family couldn’t have been more supportive, and if you ask me they’d done a bloody good job bringing up their son. Steve had inherited his Crouzon from his mother, but nothing about him appeared bitter or like the world owed him anything. All Steve wanted was to fall in love with someone like his dad had done and raise a family. Not someone just like his mum of course. Stop thinking that…you’re being creepy.

And so it was that Steve met Christine from the dating agency. Then those dirty Channel 4 dogs did their business, again, and changed things back to Ray.

Ray was anxiously waiting for Lydia from the agency to call, only it was hard to think of Ray as anxious, because he was more or less constantly laughing. Then the phone rang, and it was real: Lydia had good news. She had him a date!

By now, like a man or woman who has been forced to sit down and watch 10 episodes of once-trailblazing but now botox-infested soap drama Hollyoaks, you’ll be too beaten down to care that we’re changing things yet again. In fact, I feel a bit stupid for even mentioning it, so I’ll stop instead.

It was time for Sam’s big day, and also time for the population of the UK affected by vertigo to do big faeces in their pants. Yes, oh yes, Sam wasn’t meeting her date at a local pub for Sunday roast or any of that bollocks…Sam was going skydiving with 38-year-old sales adviser James from New Zealand! And if you thought sales advisers were dull as hell, and have recently made a bet with a friend that the next New Zealandish (?) sales adviser you see on TV is going to be outrageously exciting, then I hope you didn’t bet a lot of money, because you’re going to look pretty stupid. Almost as stupid as me for writing New Zealandish, I should think.

I could dress it up. I could lie and say that I think James was a really thrilling guy and his personality just didn’t come through. In reality I’m not going to do that. In reality, I’m going to say that James just wasn’t Sam’s type in any way, shape, or form, just as she said herself, and maybe the cameras made him feel just a little bit nervous. (And actually, I don’t feel too guilty about saying that, because somewhere in a parallel universe out there, Sam and James are married with 7 kids and 12 dogs. But don’t worry Sam. In that parallel dimension I wouldn’t have even been born, so that makes us even, I think you’ll agree!)

So…the date. If you could call it a date. It basically consisted of Sam trying to have a laugh and interact – you know, talking about being obsessed with good music like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, etc – and James putting his foot in it by admitting, live on British television, to actually liking Genesis in more than just a casual way, without anyone holding a gun to his head. Something which we all know shouldn’t legally be allowed to happen until a man has experienced at least 2 failed marriages and is on the brink of a quadruple mid-life-crisis. And maybe a heart-bypass, and only after having lost most of his hair.

Those few seconds, as Sam sipped whatever she was sipping, holding the cup to her mouth while James spoke of liking Genesis more than just casually, were something alright. I’m just not sure what. I think I may still be in shock. We’ll know if I ever stop crying inside.

Back to Ray again, who was having what I like to call An Extreme Date. I call it this because so few people do blind-date picnics in the park nowadays that the concept itself is dangerously daring. I mean…anything might happen…a pigeon might fly overhead and crap on your sandwiches…a gang of Evanescence-loving goth-hoody teenagers might wander past, wearing tight jeans, talking as if proper words quite literally went out-of-fashion long ago.

Ray’s first date in 3 years, don’t forget.

And the cringe factor, it has to be said, was seriously high. That may just be because Ray had chosen to hand-make cheese and marmite sandwiches, or it may just be what you couldn’t help but think. Watching Ray make cheese and marmite sandwiches, you almost wanted one of the show’s producers to step in and say “make cheese and ham, make cheese and ham! Or just cheese and tomato, just to be safe! Or just cheese, just to be safer still, because the tomato might make the bread soggy and that’d be a nightmare!” That’s another reason why people think this show is cruel, it seems to me. Viewers want the producers to keep things safe and keep the subjects from making mistakes and being at emotional harm. But surely that’s more offensive? What is more offensive than saying Disabled/disadvantaged people shouldn’t be allowed to make all their own decisions, as it upsets my sensibilities when things go wrong and I don’t like it, really?

So, the outrage of cheese and marmite it was. And that wasn’t all. Ray also bought a single red rose and had the man at the shop make up a delightful poem and write it on the label.

Following Ray’s sandwich debacle it was time to finally, once and for all, see Sam throw herself out of an aircraft while strapped to someone else. Here, us viewers were treated to an awkward televisual feast: first James sitting in the plane looking like a man possessed with the spirit of a ground-dwelling creature never designed to leave the comfort of the ground – this was his very first skydive, I should have said – and second Sam sitting there, smiling with excitement, expectantly awaiting her big dramatic free-fall. Next time James goes on a first date, I have a feeling he’ll have his feet well and truly on the ground.

The contrast of Sam and James as they fell through the atmosphere was less funny and more harrowing. As a man with a fear of heights, James’s face transported my worried soul to new despairing depths, while Sam balanced things up, and reminded me that doing new things is actually a big part of life that you sometimes – but by no means all the time – need to do. Upon landing, Sam looked exhilarated, while James looked a bit like I felt when my arch nemesis Derek had made me do that phone-call.

By now, it was blatantly obvious that Sam and James would never fall into the 40% of married couples who eventually get divorced, and definitely, certainly not the 60% who live happily ever after. Off went James, and actually, Sam didn’t seem too phased, which was great. If anything, the date had given her new hope – that someone was out there for her, and it was just a matter of time until she found them. A lesson to be learned there, too: if you fall to earth out of a plane and you don’t die then you have something to be thankful for, no matter who you are!

Time for Ray’s big date. Sandwiches at the ready, he was setting off, with Lydia acting as chaperone.

I’d love to say it went smoothly. I was sitting there, wanting the date to go amazingly well, wanting Pamela, 58, of South London, to have a secret thing for cheese and marmite sandwiches. Maybe not to want to rub them all over her body — that’s taking it too far — but to at least not be repulsed by them in every way. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Less a fan of cheese, and even less a fan of new dates who quickly start talking about their ex girlfriends while eating marmite, it wasn’t long until Pamela had decided that Ray wasn’t for her. At which point those Channel 4 rascals abandoned Ray, sitting there at the picnic table, and took us back to Steve – but only temporarily. There Steve stood in the kitchen with his dad, having a chat about the girl who the dating agency had lined him up with. “Treat the women with respect,” said Steve senior rather wisely. They really need to get Steve’s dad on This Morning as an Agony Uncle. Even things up a bit.

Switching unpredictably back to Ray once again, Ray was now a new person. Gone was the woe of the sandwich-ruined date: Ray had his mojo back, and it was perfect timing – Lydia was on the phone with good news about another date. Ray, you’re the man.

And now we come to one of the more heartbreaking moments of the show. In this case, it was Lolita, Ray’s ex, struggling to come to terms with the fact that Ray was dating once again. More than that, she still had feelings for Ray, and Ray didn’t know it…I could sense drama on the horizon. BBC1s Eastenders shaking in their big collective drama-soaked pants.

2 weeks after Sam’s dating anti-climax, mum Anna was round to lend her some moral support. And if ever there was a day for it, this was it: on the screen was the new guy the agency had found for her. His name was Colin and he was 24 and also lived in Brighton. First impressions? Sam was once again excited.

But let us not revel in Sam’s happiness too long, for there’ll be plenty of doing that in a minute.

Over in Ray’s world, shit was about to get real, as the kids say. On the one hand we had Ray, meeting another woman – Jeanette – and on the other we had the Lolita drama brewing in the background. Would Lolita and Ray get back together? I don’t know, I’m not Jeremy Kyle, am I?

Looking to make a good first impression, Ray went to the barber’s and got himself all clean shaven, save the tash — good, seeing as I couldn’t imagine Ray without a moustache. Then it was off to a central London pub, where Ray met Jeanette and got on like a house on fire and said she had really nice eyes. Jeanette followed it up with “you’ve got a really nice face,” and that, there, was what The Undateables are all about, I think. It doesn’t always have to be different. From where I was sitting, this was two people getting on well together, having a good time. Really, that doesn’t make them too different from anyone else.

If Steve had been really nervous before, now he was more or less a quivering wreck. Then again, if you hadn’t been on a date for 7 years – also known as two-thousand-five-hundred-and-fifty-five days – then you’d be panicking. I guarantee it.

Then the phone-call arrived and there I sat, patiently awaiting the news about the date. With what came next, I could have cried – as soon as he hung up the phone and stared at the floor you knew it wasn’t good. “Shit happens,” Steve said. She’d cancelled on him at the last minute and that was that. Shit happens, and it does. In the 3D future, people will be able to reach through the screen and give Steve a hug. Until then they’ll just have to hug their dog or cat or someone else (but not someone else’s dog…pet owners mean business. Never hug someone else’s dog).

Ray was having more luck, and I was glad, because once you’ve spent almost an hour thinking about what some people have to go through with things we all often take for granted, you need a bit of good news, right?

Except I was confused. What I saw before me was Lydia and Ray sitting in a cafe in what appeared to be a date scenario. Is Lydia about to confess her undying love to Ray? I thought and secretly hoped. Actually she wasn’t. Disappointingly, and much less dramatically but it has to be said a bit dramatically, Lydia was there to break some surprise news. No longer could Lydia stand by and watch Lolita pining for Ray in the office and do nothing. She was here to tell Ray that his ex missed him, that Lolita wanted him back, maybe, and ask him what he felt about it.

Jesus. I couldn’t think of anyone of any shape, colour, size or variety that would have opted to be in Ray’s shoes here. “We had 3 years…a really good time with each other,” Ray said, breaking down, with Lydia there opposite, asking him to make the choice.

Then Ray looked up at Lydia and said the words that I’m pretty sure about a billion people with a learning difficulty wouldn’t have been mature enough to arrive at. “I want to go on a date with Jeanette,” Ray said, “I want to move on.” Ray, seriously: you’re the flippin’ man.

Back in Sunderland, 4 weeks after his date fell through, things were changing for Steve in a big way. Another girl had been found and, once again, Steve was highly nervous. Not just 25 out-of-ten nervous, either, but a full 50-out-of-ten, a bit like any time I am ever forced to do anything with numbers, or asked to give directions against my will.

Ellie had been single for 6 months, and I’m not going to lie about my first impressions of her. Instead I’ll just come out with it: I thought she was bending the truth a bit when she said she didn’t care about how someone looked. There she was in front of her mirror, with all the hallmarks of someone who has spent a ludicrous amount of time making herself look good. So I’ll admit it – I was suspicious.

I needn’t have been, though, and I was wrong about Ellie. They got off to a promising start, talking about music and films and generally doing a much better job of being on a first date than 90% of us. Then just as you thought that was it, something within Steve got all bold and made him ask Ellie out for another date. And Ellie, she said Yes. It was amazing TV for everyone with a beating heart and a will to live – even people who hate Dirty Dancing and are clinically dead inside, as I mentioned before.

Best of all, Ellie really liked Steve. Are they still dating? I don’t know, I’m not a Channel 4 database-reader, am I? You’ll just have to Google it again. Or Bing it. You might even Yahoo it — up to you.

What do you do when your name’s daredevil Sam and you’ve got your second date in a month? Why, you dress up as a sailor, of course. “Everyone loves a uniform,” she said, preparing for her date on the Brighton seafront. Cue the screen changing to reveal Sam sitting there nervous, excited, apprehensive, and much, much more. Colin arrived wearing shorts and off they went to a bar called The Rock Ola, where the pair talked about how Sam had been a ski instructor, among other things (but not Colin’s shorts, from what I heard).

And there, more or less we have it. Colin thought Sam was cool and interesting, and Sam was cagey about fancying Colin, avoiding the question completely, but admitting that she’d certainly be up for another date.

What I love about The Undatebles is the normality of so much of it. The way that Sam struggled with sending that first text to Colin like we all would, and Ray and Lolita are finally friends, after all the heartbreak that any estranged couple might experience. There’s been a lot of moaning and complaining of the show exploiting these people, yet this second episode proved, once and for all, that the exploitation thing is a myth. If it’s there then it’s in our heads, not in theirs. These people are perfectly aware of what they are doing, and their families appear fully supportive, so it’s time to get over it and move the hell on.

In 10-years-time, I think we’ll look back on this show and finally all come to agree on what it really was. Even those people with recycle bins full of Dail Mails. Maybe.

Series 1 links: Introduction, Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3.

What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I complain properly?

Like any hard-working consumer with a grudge against the modern capitalism he so diligently feeds and profits directly from on a daily basis, I don’t like being hard done by. In fact I despise it. When I am wronged by society in even the smallest way, in particular when a popular supermarket chain has let me down by failing to re-stock the Pringles shelf, for example, I get moderately to highly frustrated, depending on the supermarket and depending on my mood and how much I need crisps (it seems even more insulting when they only re-stock with the salt & vinegar variety, as if goading me to burn the skin from the insides of my mouth, or what feels like mouths after an entire stinking tube of salt & vinegar Pringles which I am unable to resist). My problem is that I’m too polite for my own good. I can be dangerously polite, at times. I blame it on my parents – dad specifically. Growing up in a household where dad would politely listen to caller after caller attempting to sell him pointless stuff over the phone, time after time, and then say “wasting my bloody time!” to us but not to them, I didn’t have a single hope in hell. I didn’t even know that single hopes in hell existed, let alone that this would be a saying I would later use in a blog post many years later. Complaining about things? Genetically it just isn’t in my nature, and that hurts me very much, because now I am living through the most complaint-strewn period of my life. If ever there was a time for complaining, it is now. (Note: I’m talking about verbal complaints here, not written ones. I have demonstrated before, on this blog, that my written complaint skills are growing in power — such as this letter directed at Tesco’s Customer Service. It’s true that I did once almost get into a fight with a National Express coach driver, but I class that as a reasonable-furious-angry-outburst rather than a verbal complaint, seeing as he was acting like a prize buffoon.)

Fortunately, the modern evolving side of me doesn’t care much for nature, and every now and then I seem able to over-ride the nicer part of me (like the time when I asked the Customer Service bloke at the train station if I had a legal right to walk through the open barrier without a ticket and be fined at rush-hour rather than wait in the massive queue to buy a ticket and miss my train — one of my favourites. He was baffled). I haven’t quite got to the stage yet where I can work myself up into a furious rage in a matter of seconds, but I’ve definitely been close once or twice, which is very pleasing. Today’s complaint marked a serious evolution. Or at least one step in the right direction, as is probably more accurate. The end goal is to conjure up the spirit of (justifiable) complaining in mere seconds. I’m miles away right now but with every new day comes a kind of progress. I now know this. For example, just the other day I complained at the AMT coffee shop in the train station because they still didn’t have any White Hot Chocolate in stock after 2 months. Serious business.

Today’s complaint was a worthy one — it wasn’t just complaining for complainings sake, it was about my human rights and what I expect when I buy something online. It was about my Birds of Vietnam book, which I ordered on the 23rd of November 2012, and which still hasn’t arrived. Ignoring the fact that I can be a bit of a bird geek at times – no more accurately demonstrated than last Saturday, where I stood at the window for a full 30 minutes with my binoculars, watching a red woodpecker really go for it in the tree at the end of the garden – this book wasn’t just any old book. I need it for my travels. Our travels. Very soon, my girlfriend and I will be flying out to the other side of the world to basically get as far out of our prospective comfort zones as is physically possible without ending up as human sacrifices. It should be easy – we’re starting in Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Min City. They don’t do human sacrifices there — that was just an example of being really out of your comfort zone.

Anyway, last night I realised, very late at night, that the book hadn’t arrived. Quickly, I found myself looking through my 2012 diary, where I found an angry scribbled note that said CALL ABOUT MY BIRDS OF VIETNAM BOOK IF NOT HERE IN 2 WEEKS!!! Even more quickly, my rage was fuelled by the fact that I had left it much more than 2 weeks…I mean, just look at the calendar: it’s now mid January. Those bird book people were going to pay. Pay for their shocking nerve. Pay for their lack of sympathy and empathy for bird lovers all over the world. Lovers of all books, for that matter. Yes, I was being dramatic, and I felt I had a right.

Upon dialling the number of the online shop which I won’t name here, because my genes don’t allow me to do such a thing, I was pleased to discover a sense of urgency about my body: I couldn’t sit still, I could only pace up and down and around my small office room, and generally speaking I must’ve looked like a man who wasn’t going to take any shit. Sadly, that man, if he had ever truly existed, deserted me the moment the camp man answered the phone and I politely enquired and gave him my reference number, desperately calm all the while. Hideously calm. Luckily for me, after I had enquired, I could hear the typing of keys and then there was a long five-minute silence where the man attempted to find my order and discover its status. Plenty of time for anger and frustration to build to a manageable level. I felt lucky I had stumbled upon him when his computer was slow to load.

Unlike some people, for which consumer rage comes naturally and easily, I really had to work to sustain mine. At several points during the wait I found my heart beating slower and my mind veering off in the direction of what to have for lunch and other trivial things which had the potential to ruin my complaint spree. But I just about managed to hold onto it, thankfully, and so when the guy came back on the line and said that the book should be in soon and that they wouldn’t charge me to send it out, I still had enough left in me to do an impression of someone who was, at least, a little bit justifiably angry.

“I’m sorry but that’s no good!” I found myself saying, even managing to cut across the several last letters of one of his words. “I’d like a refund, please.”

OK, so the I’m sorry and the please bits ruined what would have been a good attempt, but still, you had to make exceptions. This kind of thing wasn’t learned over-night.

“Not to worry,” said the man, “you haven’t been charged yet. I’ll cancel the order, if you would like.”

“Yes,” I told him, firmly, no sorry or nothing. “I would like that very much.”

I was almost there, almost home. I could feel myself nicely angry, now. Angry enough that if a postperson had come to the door and asked me to sign for something right there and then, I may even have been able to make a moody face at him and mutter, “can’t you see I’m on the bloody phone?” Even if he or she was a postperson I had previously liked.

Then I went and ruined it, as was always going to happen. You knew it. I most certainly knew it. “Thanks for sorting it,” I said. “Cheers.” And put the phone down. Seems I still have a way to go.

The Undateables, Series 2, Episode 1: Disability Awareness Comes Home Again

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Sorry Brent, this time it’s you I’ve visually assaulted and mangled the chin of. Copyright Chris Pink

Warning: contains major major major spoilers.

It’s hard to write a review of the first episode of any real-life documentary TV show without some kind of introduction. It’s even harder when that new episode follows one of the most talked-about series of the previous year. Maybe not talked-about for all the right reasons, at times – one look on Twitter during the show’s airing and that’s plain to see – but in so many ways, that’s the point, isn’t it?

As the first series of The Undateables finished in April last year, leaving behind it a trail of controversy and polarized opinion – to say the very least – it felt to me like the show was only just coming into its own. Not in terms of production, but in so much that for many, this would have felt like their first real introduction to disability. The first episode of Series 2 proved that point by adding yet more layers of insight which we hadn’t seen before — not easy when some of the same disabilities are being covered. Ugly, hilarious and heartbreaking come to mind. Some people might still be of the opinion that the show is pure circus TV exploitation – and of this I can see their point, no doubt – but the more of these episodes I watch, the more one thing seems to become increasingly clear: The Undateables may be edited and put together with an exacting formula, but really it’s just digital video of people with disabilities going about their daily lives. If you know or have ever dealt with anyone with these disabilities then you know with certainty that it’s not made-up, it’s not directed – at least in the traditional sense – and it’s not made to piss people off or cause arguments down the pub. It may be made to evoke certain strong emotions, to get people thinking about how they really feel about disability, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as actively trying to cause outrage and shock. If watching The Undateables makes you feel like a bad person, or makes you feel a little bit sick inside because you’ve had a hard day and watching someone with autism struggle with things that you’ve always taken for granted isn’t easy, then so be it. Purely for its educational value alone, I think this series should be compulsory viewing at schools across the country. Maybe even some workplaces (for example, the people who decide the benefits of disabled people).

Even if there is tons of swearing. And the kind of nasty, crude statements that children love and parents have always hated.

Speaking of statements, the introduction in this first episode promised some stellar ones to come. In less than two minutes we’d heard quotes ranging from sensationally graphic and specific (“Guys want to have sex with me to see if they can spin me on their cock”) to downright heartwrenching (“I don’t wanna be a 40-year-old virgin”). When it came to quotes, Michael, the first person we were introduced to, was a star.

When Michael, 26 years-of-age and deeply autistic, confidently stated that “You have to be careful on dating websites, it could be some fat sixty-year-old Nigerian sex killer,” I found myself nodding in agreement. I’ve personally never come across a fat sixty-year-old Nigerian sex killer, but that’s not to say it isn’t entirely possible (you’ll be well aware of this if you’ve ever been a member of the legendary Plenty of Fish, where people of every nationality gradually make you certain that you can’t trust anyone in the entire world ever again). So clearly Michael had his head screwed-on.

With the help of dating agencies across the country, things were about to get serious.

You couldn’t help but love Michael’s brutal honesty. Clearly this was the autism talking, but the man’s personality shone through too. The self-proclaimed owner of “hawk’s eyesight” and “radar ears,” Michael saw himself – and probably sees himself, seeing as he didn’t seem a big fan of change – as a charming romantic type. Armed with his highly comprehensive list of past girlfriends – seventeen of them, in fact – he’d only recently started online dating. Watching Michael talk in his matter-of-fact way, what intrigued me the most was just how aware he was of his struggles and issues. He didn’t just know he was different — he knew how he was different, why he was different, and even what he had to do to not be different. The tragedy of this condition, of course, is that knowing and recognising your problems and failings doesn’t equate to being able to do anything much about them. Still, Michael was determined. Along with mum Nicky, shit was going to happen.

By now, one thing had become crystal clear: when Michael set his sights on something – or someone – he was determined to get it/them. Not in a deeply crazy stalkeresque way (like in that film Enduring Love which features Daniel Craig in his pre-Bond, less successful era, for example) but more in the way that he’d try really hard using his very formal tactics.

Just as we were getting to know Michael, the programme makers decided to make an attempt at keeping us wanting more. And it worked, at least for me. Next up, we were meeting Brent.

21-years-old, slim and with a boyish charm, graduate Brent came onto our screens rapping. I smiled. He’s good, I thought, as we were told that he lived with his friend Tom in Plymouth. Then, just as I was wondering how people rapped, because whenever I had I’d sounded like a supreme wally, Brent’s turrets kicked in and reminded me what I was watching. “Come on then you bitch,” he said, which was to be one of his most common unsettling outbursts. While it was the most aggressive of the things he would shout, it made me most sad when he said “I’m gonna spoon you!” While threatening to spoon someone is funny, whichever way you look at it, it can’t be very practical when you’re meeting a total stranger, even if they are aware of your turrets. And they really like spooning.

Less a stranger to love than Michael, Brent had been down Love Alley and got his head kicked in, as so many of us have at times (I don’t mean Love Alley as in a physical place, like a gay haunt, of course. I was trying to be creative). In fact, it was love, we would soon learn, that kept him grounded. The tragedy of it all was that when he’d had a girlfriend – his childhood sweetheart who he’d been in a long-term relationship with – he’d been more or less fine. The turrets seemingly vanished. But the turrets was brought on by stress, was the thing. The more stress, the more twitches…physical things, too, like blowing kisses at strangers and giving them an up-yours (not usually to the same stranger). The tragedy of Brent’s situation was that he believed, quite rightly, apparently, that love could cure all. Is it selfish to want to be with someone partly because you cannot sleep at night, even if it isn’t your fault?

Just as I was beginning to wonder if Brent’s house-mate Tom had gone to extravagant lengths to colour his beard – it was very ginger, of the likes I had only ever seen on real people twice in my life – we went back to Michael. Things were moving rapidly for Michael. He was only bloody well off to a speed-dating event! I felt like giving him a high-five – or maybe even a hug. “A girlfriend isn’t just for Christmas, she’s for life,” he said. Had Michael’s only issue been his comparing women to dogs, he might have had more luck. But that’s aspergers for you.

Still, Michael wasn’t going to let a little thing like that be a problem. Unveiling his secret weapon to us – his slew of business cards, with which to impress babes with – we were promised a good time. Which was about when the uncomfortable factor really started to kick in. Fortunately, Stars in the Sky appeared to diffuse that quickly.

Stars in the Sky were an introductions agency for people with learning difficulties, and were to play an instrumental role in Michael’s big upcoming date. Because, actually, this was to be many people’s big date. Speed-dating was the name of the game, and immediately I started to think negatively about what Michael was entering into: from what I hear, speed-dating is hard enough for people who are confident speakers and presenters, let alone people who struggle with social interactions. Coupled with this was the fact that many people with learning difficulties find understanding the world a tricky thing to do. That’s to say they find people without learning difficulties challenging enough to deal with, let alone people with learning difficulties that are very different from their own. Still, who was I to judge? I watched on and tried to keep an open mind.

Remember that thing about Michael rushing into things way too fast? Next up was a demonstration in precisely that, as Michael met Kirsty (number 16), liked Kirsty, and basically became besotted with Kirsty…all in the space of a couple of minutes. Luckily for Michael, the dance-floor was mere moments away, and onto it they went, throwing their all into it. Kirsty and Michael dancing very seriously, with the entire nation not knowing what to think, presumably.

Far away from Michael’s dance-floor-torture was Sarah, 22 and from Hertfordshire. Attractive, blonde and seemingly normal in the traditional sense of the word, it wasn’t immediately clear what Sarah’s affliction was. Until we learned very quickly that, just 4 years before, Sarah had been a regular, normal teenager. One day while studying her A Levels she’d been in her English class and things had changed in a matter of seconds. The illness had come out of nowhere, making Sarah a very rare statistic: 1 in 400 people 18-years-old or under who, every year, suffer a debilitating stroke. In just seconds, Sarah lost almost everything, speech included. The doctors said she was lucky to be alive, and clearly Sarah understood that. Unfortunately, though, the stroke had left her with something called aphasia – a chronic condition which affects the mental functions which enable a person to think and interpret their thoughts via the meaning of words. Sarah could talk and express herself OK – just not at the same speed and intensity as other people her age. Along with this, the stroke had taken away her ability to write words down and read them, too. Sat next to her mum in the kitchen, Mrs Sarah explained that her daughter was all-but isolated from the world of social media which many of her friends blissfully inhabited. As someone who has suffered a debilitating illness which almost cost me everything, I felt deeply sad to think that Sarah may never get much better than this. For Sarah, this could be it. Something to think about next time you log onto Facebook.

When all you want is a cuddle or a hug and you just can’t have it because some bloody words won’t come out of your mouth in the right bloody way, life has got to be pretty exhausting, surely.

When the screen changed this time, I was grateful. After hearing what Sarah had been through, I needed, quite selfishly, to think about something else for a minute or two. Unfortunately, what I had to think about was that annoying thing that the programme kept on doing: repeating who the person on-screen was for the benefit, I assume, of flat-mates who had just wandered into the room or people who hadn’t been paying attention. I’ve always thought Sally Phillips’ narration was good, but it gets pretty tiresome being introduced to people you know of over and over again.

So we were back to Brent, again – desperate to be happy so his turrets would go away. On Brent’s side were Flame Introductions in Surrey, otherwise known as a group of friendly enough women who pride themselves on bespoke matching couples. Nervous as hell, as you would be if you constantly shouted “Fuck off!” at strangers while walking down the street, Brent sat with one of these nice ladies and discussed what he was looking for, managing somehow to largely avoid swearing or shouting. After the interview, the lady in question wasn’t exactly backwards in coming forwards – as my granddad used to say – and made it plain to us viewers that she thought he was cute. Everyone go “Ahhh!” now.

By now I was ready for it when the screen changed and I was introduced to Michael, again, for what felt like the sixteenth time. Even more nervous than Brent had been, Michael had the appearance of a man strapped to a renegade emu. Why? Because he was waiting anxiously for the introductions agency to call him and say Kirsty had fallen deeply in love with him. Sadly, when the phone rang, that didn’t happen. What did happen was Michael was left enormously disappointed. Apparently Kirsty was after younger men. Bollocks. To be honest, I’m not sure what the point was of them telling him that.

Meanwhile, Sarah had found someone she quite liked on the dating agency website. His name was Gary, and Gary was nice-looking, said Mrs Sarah. I think it’s fair to say that most people would feel a little bit awkward about calling up a dating agency and requesting a date with a random stranger, but Sarah handled this fairly easily. Luckily, with this programme, you never have to wait very long for drama to happen, and this was provided by a mammoth shitload of it when one of the crew, behind camera, took it upon herself to ask Sarah, in front of her mum, “so, when was the last time you kissed a boy?” Cue an awkward silence which likely had nothing to do with Sarah’s stroke, and her mum pointing out that she was out of practice – thanks, mum. Poor Sarah. I didn’t say it out loud, but in my head I was going If you meet up with Sarah then you had better not let her down!

Wondering how Brent was getting on, or if Tom really had died his beard ginger? Well, I still can’t speak for Tom’s beard – let it go, please – but I can say that he was riddled with anxiety and worry upon the day of his date with Lizzie; a girl who he considered well out of his league. Yet apparently he had nothing to worry about, because according to the agency lady – who I bet was probably jealous – Lizzie knew about Brent’s turrets and wasn’t bothered. Understandably, you could see Brent thinking Bullshit…

Actually, I’ll be honest. I was thinking the same thing, too. Sorry, Lizzie, I’d have thought it about anyone.

But actually, it wasn’t bullshit. It was true. Not that we knew that at first. Cue the screen changing to Brent waiting at a cafe by the harbour, still nervous, likely considering jumping overboard in a bid to escape the TV cameras. Then Lizzie appeared, and the spectacle of Brent’s entire soul dying inside was impossible to miss. Then it somehow quickly recovered again, and things seemed a bit easier. They ordered coffee and started to talk. It went badly to start with – well, it didn’t really go – until Brent asked what Lizzie’s top 3 sci-fi films were…

At this point, I was excited for Brent. How could you not be? You’d have to be dead inside, like someone who doesn’t like Dirty Dancing, or something. The best news was that Lizzie seemed to have good taste. The first film on her list was Alien and the second was The Fifth Element. I was just about to start cheering and ranting at the stationary object nearest me – the table, as it happened – when Lizzie ruined it all by saying an out-of-context word which should never have been aired on TV: “Prometheus.” At this, Brent looked visibly shaken. Oh no, I thought, this isn’t actually happening! He’s only gone and found someone who can put up with turrets but loves Prometheus!

I’d attempted to watch the film at the cinema, in 3D, and had found myself furiously hating Ridley Scott with a passion for making such utter turgid tripe. It was a good job I wasn’t Brent or else things would surely have gone horribly downhill. Fortunately, Brent managed to tackle this in a way which I never would have been able to, and when Lizzie said, “Yeah, I fell in love with it,” he was even able to restrain himself from being violently sick all over the table. It must be love, seriously.

With that, we learned that she liked him and he quite liked her. A lot. You don’t need to go “Ahhh!” now. You’re probably sick of it.

All you Michael lovers out there would have been pleased to know that there was more dating action soon to happen. This time it was to come in the form of a blind-date, and as he read out his mum’s tips, which she had lovingly emailed over, I found myself thinking the creepiest thought (maybe he should just date his mum?) swiftly followed by a worry about the recent rabies jab I’d had (can rabies jabs cause you to think crazy thoughts?).

They were good tips though. Things like 1: make sure you’ve got enough money with you and 2: consider buying a rose. Great advice for all men, actually. There’s nothing worse than forgetting your wallet and forgetting to even think about buying a rose.

If you were fooled into thinking that Michael’s date was about to play-out without interruption by Sally Phillips the narrator changing things yet again, then you must have been dangerously engrossed. Instead of that, we now moved back to Sarah, who was about to have her first date in over a year with this Gary character who we all wanted to treat Sarah properly.

Older man Gary was 23-years-old and a banking analyst. But don’t worry yourself with wondering what in the world a banking analyst does – do they analyse the mistakes that bankers make, or do they make even bigger mistakes which an analyst-analyst analyses? – instead, just know that Gary and Sarah went out on a boating lake and it was very low-key. Gary was rowing. Sarah was sitting opposite him, feeling more than a little bit out-of-her-depth (sorry).

Watching the empty silence grow between Gary and Sarah with every splosh of the oars, you’d be a cold-hearted Dirty Dancing hater to not feel a bit sad by this point. Who wanted to see Sarah’s date go wrong? If you’re putting your hand up, you need to check for a pulse. Watching Dirty Dancing isn’t mandatory, so don’t panic about that.

God I love the makers of The Undateables sometimes. Just when you’re thinking that everything’s gone to shit, they come along and say “actually, it hasn’t!” Such was what happened next, as Gary and Sarah went out to lunch. Anyone wishing for a rollicking romance couldn’t have been more disappointed, but there was a tenderness there that was plain to see. See, Gary was a gentleman. Sarah did have a good date. The world may have the Inland Revenue, traffic wardens and newsagents with poor fridges that contain ice-cream that when you get outside it falls off its stick, but at least it has good dates that happen every now and again, so don’t lose all hope.

We’re nearly there now, almost at the end of this first episode. The climax? What happened with Michael and his blind date, swiftly followed by Brent and his date, Lizzie.

Let’s be honest, I was expecting Michael to bomb very hard. Extremely hard, you might say. For the date to be a bit of a shambles, punctuated by occasional bursts of concentrated confusion. Yet expect the unexpected (maybe it should be called The Unexpectables instead?) It didn’t start well but Michael doesn’t give up easily, as you should by now know. Just at the moment that I was thinking Hmm, Michael’s last date Kirsty also loved Eastenders…is this a bad omen? things took a turn for the better. One moment he’s struggling with what to say to his date, Helen – who has learning difficulties – and the next he’s saying all kinds of funny things and handing over his business card. Followed by a rose and “Can I kiss you on the cheek?” to which Helen replied “Yes.” Not only was it Helen’s first rose ever, but they both had a great time. Brilliant.

Last of all, we learn the fate of Brent and Lizzie, whose date sadly ended with Brent telling Lizzie to fuck right off. Not really! I just put that in there to wake you up and amuse myself, as I’m well aware that this has been one long blog post. What really happened was this: Brent and Lizzie enjoyed their date at the harbour cafe so much that they continued it. They only went dry-slope-skiing together! Lizzie was a bit better than Brent, I thought, but Brent didn’t care, and didn’t bring up the Prometheus thing again, which was a wise move, seeing as things were going so well.

And with that, Brent asked Lizzie if she’d like to meet up again soon. Lizzie? She said yes. Bring on Episode 2.

Hello 2013: Things I Will And Won’t Be Doing As The New Year Rolls In

LAMA

I will

…be celebrating the arrival of the New Year properly, like it really matters. As if it genuinely does mean something. None of this highly cynical It’s just another day like any other malarkey that nobody wants to hear and just drags everyone down. I’ve often taken this dragging-down approach and, let me tell you, it’s done me absolutely no favours. Not one person has ever said, “thanks Chris, really wanted to hear it!” while on their way to a state of clinical depression caused by me. So this year, things are changing. People will either love or hate my newfound teenage enthusiasm. In any case, it should seem highly authentic. I studied the behaviour of some textbook newfound teenagers on the train home this morning — not one of them could sit still — and now I feel ready to convey that precious New Year’s excitement to lots of adults who have forgotten what love is like and are cold and dead inside (a bit like people who hate the hit Patrick Swayze film Dirty Dancing. They are also cold and dead inside. No offense, but we all know it’s true). I’ll either love it or hate it. I hope I’ll love it.

I won’t

…be making any New Year’s resolutions. Not even one. I’ve always found them completely and utterly pointless. Instead, I’ll do my best to be enthusiastic about my friends resolutions instead. And Yes, that means unequivocally — even if the resolutions in question are deeply unrealistic and a little bit unsettling (for example: “I’m going to have colonic irrigation while listening to the soothing sound of dolphins mating!”).

I will

…be hugging that person at the party who looks a bit Woe is me! about things. Maybe. I should have said I may be, not I will, but there it is. Just because somebody has to, otherwise what’s the point in life…what’s the point in anything, really? Having been one of these hard-to-approach Woe is me! corner-loving people, I know what it’s like (you know the kind, I’m sure. Not making any effort to be enthusiastic about anything, and standing as far away from everyone else at the party as is physically possible without actually creating that I-hate-you!-Get-any-closer-and-I-will-do-a-Lama-and-spit-in-your-face! vibe). So if it comes to it, I am ready to make this unlucky yet actually quite lucky person’s life wonderful again by way of a hug. Hopefully they won’t think I’m strange (I would introduce myself first, but it’s probably better to just go straight in for the kill without warning. It sounds harsh, but I know they’ll thank me for it later, when they reminisce about the hug and how it made them think life was great again. At least, that’s the effect I hope the hug will give).

I won’t

…be sending any text messages just before or after the New Year arrives. Do this and you’ll only curse yourself. Depending on what pathetic and extortionate network you’re on, you just stand there for minutes, grimacing at your phone, hating your phone, while around you everyone embraces this rare occasion, somehow managing to ignore their phone for an incredible few seconds. By the time your phone actually manages to send the text(s), all the Happy New Year’s! are over. And being that person who wanders around searching for the last remaining remnants of them is just plain sad.

I will

…be hugging my girlfriend and my friends — separately, then together, so as to not mess up the order of ancient girlfriend/boyfriend hugging protocol — and reminding myself that I am a fortunate and lucky person to have them. Everyone go Ahhh! now.

Get people interested: 8 steps to writing a successful Gumtree ad

Thanks to its global accessibility and appealing ease of use — aside from those fucking annoying Captcha word puzzle things that seem solely designed to destroy human patience, optimism and spirit — Gumtree has become arguably the number 1 place to advertise your services for free, or find a new job or apartment. Find anything, for that matter (often precisely what you don’t want and would never ever need, but still). Unfortunately, also thanks to its ease of use and global accessibility, it’s also a magnet for people who can’t spell, will never be able to spell, and apparently have never heard of spell-check, but have heard of words that I’ve never come across, let alone understand. That may sound more than a little harsh, but read more than a few ads like I have, and you’ll find it’s 100% true. If I see the phrase i hav diplomat in Enlish litrature one more time I may well think about screaming, then not bother, then go and smash something up instead. Only after all that might I actually have a good long scream. It’d depend on my mood and how many awful ads I’d seen that day.

If you’re new to this blog, you may now be wondering who the hell I am to be making such a bold claim. That all my ads have been successful. Well, to hell with it, I am actually making that claim. How very bold of me. I’m not saying that each and every one of my Gumtree ads over the years has been exceptional, but what I can say is that each one has been at least moderately successful (using the reasoning that success equates to receiving more than a couple of good replies which have, on the whole, led to the whole thing being worthwhile).

Now, let us begin…

Number 0: submit your ad to the right category

In many instances, Gumtree makes it simple and easy to select the right category for your ad. If you’re a self-employed computer technician, then you’ll find doing this simple, just as you will if you have a flat to rent and you live in London. But it’s not always this straightforward — eg I’m a self-employed cross-dressing consultant for Russian businessmen — and inevitably this means that some people end up putting their ad in the wrong category. This is a slightly different scenario from people who mis-post deliberately, spamming the system just to try and attract attention — which they do, for all the wrong reasons — but it has a similar effect: people don’t click on the ad, and all that time spent creating it proves to be for nothing.

Number 1: write a good title which isn’t identical to every other advert in your category

This one is universal, no matter what you’re trying to sell, or what kind of attention you’re attempting to get. Writing a good title is crucial, obviously, as it’s the very first thing that a would-be interested reader is going to see. So include all the relevant information and don’t make it overly long. Additionally, don’t go over-board with those capital letters. Humour, when used properly, can also be good. Just don’t use the title to crack jokes, and if you’re going to do a play-on-words, make sure it doesn’t sound like total shit.

Lastly, check and double-check your title for spelling mistakes and grammar issues, as well as problems with flow and overall cohesiveness. When I’m scanning ads, I often find the contrast between terrible ads and good ads very telling. Also bear in mind that even if you do write a good ad, the category you’re posting in may be saturated with similarly-sounding ads. In other words, be different and use the title to stand out, because doing so is the best chance you have.

Number 2: writing your ad — the first draft

It seems to me that the reason why so many Gumtree ads are horrendous is really quite simple: for the most part, people who post on Gumtree — as with those who reply on Gumtree — are not, with the exception of just a handful of people, writers. That’s to say they may consider themselves writers, but they may only write creatively now and again, or write emails at work. There’s nothing wrong with either of these people, of course — many people who write lots of work emails write very well indeed — but the fact of the matter is that people who only write once every so often probably don’t show their work to too many people. This means that they likely receive — and have received — limited feedback on their work. The result of this is a few hundred-thousand people who write an ad, think it’s good, then submit it without a second-thought. They then wonder why they get limited replies, or why the replies they do get are a waste of time.

How to avoid this? Write a first draft and give it to someone — ask for their opinion. They don’t have to read a lot, they just have to be human and be able to communicate what they do and do not like about the ad. If they do read a lot, however, then all the better. And don’t be afraid: if someone hates your ad, or has l0ts of constructive criticism for you, it doesn’t mean you’re hopeless (usually). Even people who write all day and all night need feedback every once in a while.

Number 3: make sure you include all the relevant information

I won’t — and more to the point I can’t, because the list is endless and my memory is limited — tell you about all the terrible ads I’ve seen and specifically why they were terrible. But what I can say is that aside from horrific spelling — actually, borderline offensive is more accurate — a lack of relevant information is one of the major things I’ve noticed. From a job hunter’s perspective, when I search through the dozens of Gumtree ads out there, I’m looking for an ad that looks like it’s actually been considered by a real human being. It doesn’t have to be beautiful poetry, or even amusing, but it does have to tell me more or less everything I need to know in a relatively short period of time. If the ad is for a full-time worker, your readers are going to want to know how much the wage is per annum, or the specific skill-sets which you’re looking for, aside from the obvious things (like personality traits which you’d find appealing). If you’re advertising a new creative writing group, don’t forget to include what kind of writing you’ll be focussing on. If you’re advertising a graphic designer position in the heart of London, what about the kind of expectations you have? Is the role freelance or full-time? Will the job be a mainly solo one, or will it involve working as part of a team with a copywriter? If you’re asking for job seekers to apply with a CV, take the time to ask for references as well.

These are just a few things which you might need to include. If you’re not sure what needs including, organise a meeting with your co-workers or ask your friends what they think before you even think about writing the ad.

Number 4: the curse of you will…

I know that human resources departments, since the dawn of the fax machine, have favoured the You will be an astute, diligent worker with 5 grades A to C… approach, but let’s be honest: it sounds dull, vaguely regimental and, at worst, aggressive. The second I see an ad like this, I (often, but not always) feel talked-down-to, and as if the winning candidate would need to have been genetically engineered under strict scientific circumstances to even stand a chance. While we can’t rid the world of these ads, you can avoid creating yet another ad that seems a little too overpowering. There may be hundreds of people out there who could be suitable, so don’t rule 90% of them out by suggesting that they be perfect people with absolutely no flaws — that’s probably being more than  little unrealistic. Mainly because lots of not-perfect people make terrific employees.

Number 5: there’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance

Let’s say you’re an electrician, setting up on your own, and let’s, for a moment, forget what I just said about the You will thing.

So: you feel that you’re a skilled individual with a lot to offer. You’ve spent years working for an employer, and now you’re ready to go it alone. Gumtree is the ideal place to start advertising your services, what with it being either free or relatively inexpensive and with a large captive audience. How do you ensure you come across as an authority but don’t sound arrogant or full of yourself? State your skills with confidence, but don’t bend the truth — that’s always a good start. If you’re not sure what constitutes bending the truth, consider what you’re confident talking about with someone face-to-face. If you find yourself squirming in your seat, thinking No, that’s an outragous lie, that probably means you’re pushing it too far.

Number 6: nobody can see inside your head but you

Remember, as you write, or re-write your ad, that only you know how capable you are. With few exceptions, when a reader views your ad, he or she doesn’t know who you are, or why they should go with you and not someone else. Often, I find myself writing something, thinking that everything I need to include is already there. Then — and this is a familiar pattern I have come to both expect and predict — I read the ad a day or two later and discover that there are gaps. Facts missing, tiny question-marks everywhere, creating a general feeling of incompleteness. This is what you really don’t want. If a reader views your ad and is confused or wants to ask a question, they’re not going to email you and do so. Instead, thanks to this heaving and highly competitive job-market we’re all strangulated by, they’re going to be thinking I need to get that ad sent off as soon as possible! That’s not the frame-of-mind you want your job seeker to be in.

It’s frustrating when people reply to ads and they’re either the wrong people or not specifically skilled enough. Cut down on this by making sure that they have a good idea of who you are and what makes you different as a company/service.

Number 7: do upload images, but make sure they’re worthy of your viewer’s eyes

When you stop to think about it, Gumtree offer an impressive amount of creative freedom to everyone who wants to advertise on their platform. Despite this, and the fact that photographs can be uploaded with the minimum of hassle, a large percentage of people still don’t take advantage. You should. Ads with photos are intriguing, especially if they’re good photos, balancing nice composition with good lighting. The photo-thing can be a trap, of course: while the mysterious Gumtree staff do apparently vet images to ensure they’re not breaking the rules, they won’t suggest that you upload a better quality image, or tell you that a photo of you standing in front of that shelf — the one that your flat-mate vomited on a few weeks ago after a stag-do… — looks awfully off-putting. When in doubt, don’t add a mug-shot — they so often look frightening, as if you genuinely are a serial killer. Otherwise, always, always upload good photographs which have something to do with the context of your ad. Try to avoid photos that look childish, too, unless that is your intention.

Number 8: check and re-check your ad

For some people, spelling and grammar are everything. Conversely, spelling and grammar may not matter much to you. Either way, an ad that’s littered with typos is a bad ad. Not only does it make you look deeply illiterate, but it also makes you look untrustworthy. If you can’t spell, use spell-check. If you don’t know how words should be spelt, and spell-check confuses you, get someone else to help you out. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.

Finally, submit your ad, but check it when it goes live to ensure that Gumtree hasn’t mangled the title and added unnecessary code. Check the ad, too, and if there are any obvious problems, go back into your account and edit it again.

The Mayans were right all along! 6 things that make me think the world really is about to end

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An artist’s impression of the end of the world. I really wouldn’t bother trying to decipher those symbols. It’s the end of the world. Even I don’t know. Even it doesn’t

Tonight, after much hard thinking and weighing things up — seeing my friends for potentially the last time in the world ever, I finally concluded, was slightly more important than staying at home and moaning to myself about buying Christmas presents — I decided to go all the way to the pub. Even though I didn’t really feel like it and getting to the pub meant traipsing through the rain and the wind to the other side of town. Even though many men with colds — not mancolds, but real, actual, proper genuine colds that women also get — wouldn’t have dreamed of even considering doing so while in such a state. Just in case. Because you never know, do you? At least I never know. Sadly, I am not a Mayan. (And if I was I’d keep it quiet, to be honest. During my last few hours on Earth, the very last thing I’d want is hundreds of thousands of people turning up at my door and asking me annoying questions about Mankind’s imminent destruction.)

So it’s like this: the moment I prepared to leave the house, ominous things started to happen. Really ominous, obviously weird/bad things that were clear warnings of the biggest and baddest apocalyptic thing on the horizon. I wouldn’t normally think of the following things as ominous — my friend Jonathan, who believes in almost nothing other than The Hobbit and bizarre theories, has attempted to drill into me that we may not actually exist, and more or less everything is pointless, etc — but I thought I’d get into the spirit of things. I wasn’t even trying to look for obviously ominous things, as I bet you thought I was. If you’d have been me then I’m sure you’d agree that they presented themselves to me. All I did was take a great deal of notice of them and attach value where 99% of people wouldn’t have bothered, because they were too stressed about the world not ending, and having to keep on paying the mortgage. I feel sorry for those people.

So yes, very worrying.

Here are those things…

1: my dog, Jojo, growled at me moments before I was set to leave the house. I was stroking her soft head and we were saying goodbye in that ancient of ways. She’s a dog, so it goes without saying that she’s growled at me a few times before — there was the time I made her wait slightly longer than usual for her treat, and that other time when she told me in no uncertain terms that she was feeling grumpy and existential — but this time it was different. There was that look of woe in her eyes, for example. This was no lovegrowl, as I have called these vocal showings of affection and loyalty which we have shared many-a-time, over the years. This was a sign which meant I may never see you again because I’ll probably be asleep when you get home. That’s a bit sad, isn’t it? Don’t stroke me when I’m sleeping, though. End of the world of not, I will bite you if you wake me up.

The signs had already started and I hadn’t even left the house yet!

2: upon leaving the house, things were to grow increasingly disturbing in a matter of minutes. I’m not just saying that in a Mayan-foreshadowing kind of a way — I really do mean it. There I was, just walking down the street, away from the train station, and what should I see but some carol singers engaged in a dispute with a woman. I couldn’t hear what either party was saying, but I knew then that Jojo’s growl held significant meaning, and I feared the worst for what was to come.

When do you ever see carol singers engaged in disputes with anyone?

3: a few steps down the road towards the pub, I was feeling emancipated. In the days before, I’d been panicking a bit, worrying about whether or not the world really would end on December 21st. Now, knowing with certainty that it indeed would end, once and for all — that there would be no more of those bloody property programmes where irritating young couples buy first homes worth half-a-million pounds while discussing technical-over-my-head-housing-things in a nonchalant, vilifying way, and that I’d never again have to endure anyone asking me why I hated Marmite, when it was obvious why I hated Marmite — I felt like anything was possible in those few limited hours.

This was when the third sign of doom came with brutal force: to my right, to my purest horror, I saw and heard two things simultaneously. Thing 1 was the familiar sound of music I despised — Maroon 5‘s annoyingly catchy Happy Ever After song — booming from a vehicle, and thing 2 was the driver of the vehicle being excruciatingly annoying…there he sat, also emancipated, but this time in a way which was surely causing offense to countless people aside from myself. He was dancing to Maroon 5 with his hands, mainly. Not just a bit, either. The guy was really going for it. He just didn’t care. Upon registering this fully, and coming to terms with it, I realised thing number 4: the man was also singing loudly to the music.

My God! I had never felt such pure, blatant doom. Apart from in the instances which I have described before this.

4: Hobbit-loving atheist Jonathan told me that all this meant nothing, of course. That I was doing that thing that all human beings do when word starts going around that the end of the world is just moments away: looking for signs, seeking out confirmation of my basically ridiculous notions which were based in no way upon any firm foundation. Yet Jonathan hadn”t been there, was he? He had not witnessed the Maroon 5 incident! Similarly, he hadn’t witnessed Jojo’s lovegrowl strangeness, or felt the general sense of foreboding in my body. Not that he’d of taken any notice of it if he had have felt it, by some miracle (which he also doesn’t believe, but actually that’s quite endearing, because most of the time, neither do I).

And this was when thing number 5 reared its ugly head. On this one fateful day, Jonathan was in a spectacularly good mood and smiling lots and not trying hard to convince anyone that it wasn’t really the end of the world. This was the final nail in the coffin. With that, and the freakish lack of discussion about the end of the world from other bar-goers nearby (number 6, which I really hadn’t been expecting) I knew that was it.

Goodbye, then. Thankyou for visiting my blog. It’s been fun on Earth. I hope you liked it.

The Daubney story: would you lock your child in their room?

Once upon a time, the Daubney’s three-year-old child, Sonny, was a total pain. And I do mean PAIN. He just wouldn’t sleep. In fact, he wouldn’t stay in his room unless physically restrained by one of his parents. Refusing to spend more than a couple of minutes in bed at night – or any other time for that matter – on the surface, this enthusiastic little boy who couldn’t sit still doesn’t sound particularly unique or different. Most of us have, at one time or another, been told that we were unbearable as children, or teenagers, or maybe even adults. Yet at night, when most little boys and girls were tucked-up safely in bed without as much as a murmur, Sonny was out on the rampage, making sleep for his parents impossible and defying the baby-gate at the top of the stairs like some kind of crazed miniature escape-artist. If day-time was difficult for Diana, Martin’s wife, then night-time was, at times, almost impossible for the couple to deal with. At night Sonny would wander the house doing the kind of things that inhabit every parent’s worst nightmares: turning the cooker on and off, knocking over the knife stand, running around and generally being a little bloody mischief – what sounds a lot like the living embodiment of Chucky from the horrific yet amusing Child’s Play series, to be honest (but not this thing also named Child’s Play). Understandably, concerning all this, some people can’t help but think: it’s their child, so whatever he’s doing then it must be their fault for bringing him up that way. Yet the real world isn’t always so easy to unravel and analyse, is it? (Or maybe it is, perhaps I’m just a bit thick.) Plenty of people who were brought up with model parents turn to a life of crime for absolutely no explanation. The mass murderers who had kind, loving, loyal parents, are only half as interesting as the more grisly stories which make better TV.

The point is this: after six-months of patiently following the experts advice, Martin Daubney was pissed off, tired and he’d had just about enough. According to him, both he Diana had tried everything reasonably within their power to keep their three-year-old boy, Sonny, in his bed, and nothing worked. Nothing made a tangible difference. They loved the boy with all their heart, but nothing made things easier. And listening to Martin talk openly about this controversial subject on This Morning today, it was clear that he wasn’t exactly expecting everyone to applaud him and say what a nice guy he was. The Daily Mail online — as with other papers and online sources — had simultaneously published a story which had seen scores of nasty comments, and by the looks of it, public opinion was anything but on the couple’s side…

The Daubney’s problem was a common one which, up until now — thanks to it having nothing to do with Gangnam style, iPads or the end of the world as predicted by the Mayans, presumably — hasn’t exactly been front-line news for the nation. Now, thanks to lots of welcome and unwelcome media attention, the country — or the world — seems to be utterly divided. It’s even got to the point where bloggers without children, like me, have become interested enough to start getting on their high horses (or just giving their take on it, as I’d much prefer people saw it).

Either way, some understand the Daubney’s plight and sympathise greatly, having been there and witnessed this predicament first-hand, while others think it was foolhardy and downright dangerous — at worst, serious child abuse worthy of criminal prosecution. Could locking a child in his or her room cause long-term psychological problems? Is it possible that the Daubney’s decision to make this issue public — if it indeed was their decision — might trigger a landslide of irresponsible parenting, the likes of which we’ve never seen before? Maybe. I suppose it could. I’m not sure. It’s very hard to say.

Personally, after both listening to what Martin had to say, and reading about what the couple have been through, I doubt it. The following are some key conclusions I have come to, which you may or may not agree with.

1: Parent or no parent, one thing I realised as I started writing this is very simple and has almost nothing to do with having children: not everyone — and this is obviously not their fault — really understands what it means to not be able to sleep for a prolonged period of time, and not understanding this means that it’s incredibly difficult to put yourself in the same headspace that the couple were in when they were forced into a corner. Most of us have had colds or insomnia at one or more point in time, but not everyone knows what it’s like to actually go without sleep for days or months on end — something which can cause hallucinations, a dangerous build-up of depression and a severe decline in decision-making ability, among many other things (I know this because, when I was seriously ill between 2006 and 2009, I went a full 9 days with only a few minutes sleep). The fact is this: the Daubney’s were in a very difficult position when they – or Martin – decided to lock their child in his room at night, and they weren’t thinking straight. Unable to operate normally and falling asleep at work, among other things, Martin didn’t have lots of different choices open to him, and internet research proved to be polarised at either end of the spectrum, further adding confusion. What would you do, really, if you were in his/their shoes? He’s admitted numerous times that he’s not proud of what they felt they had to do, and at no time has he said that it’s a solution which every parent should seek to follow.

2: There’s been an awful lot of talk about the damage this might do, or might already have done, to the child in question. Yet, much as this is worth considering and should be researched, what keeps coming to my mind is: what might have happened if the Daubney’s hadn’t taken this decision when they did? (A decision that many parents may have taken but not made public, for fear of what might be said.) Would the stress have become so bad, so difficult to manage, that something terrible might have happened either to them or to Sonny? And if it had, let’s be honest: plenty of people would have been asking why the couple didn’t just lock the child in his room, which, it has to be said, does sound like the simplest solution. Maybe not the right one, but the simplest and obvious, under the circumstances. I suppose it’s a case of you really had to be there.

3: Really, what is this a debate about? Is it about how best to keep a child safe at night – a family safe – or a debate about unlawfully imprisoning a child? Both? I wonder what the public reaction might have been if the boy, Sonny, had taken a knife from the kitchen, marched back upstairs and stuck it in his sleeping father. Extreme, yes, but not impossible, surely. Would it have been the parents fault for not having put the knives out of the way, or the parents fault for not somehow predicting that this might one day happen, even though there were no real clues that such violence could take place? Or would it have been the local GPs fault for not having seen the danger signs from way off, months in advance? At what point does it become responsible parenting to lock your child in his or her room? Clearly parents need more help with this kind of thing. If this story highlights anything, it’s that parents have long been left to their own devices when it comes to this kind of thing.

Apart from all this, why is it good or preferable to have a child’s bedroom door unlocked when there are so many dangers in a house environment? Co-sleeping is a fine idea, but what if the child refuses to stay in bed?

Ask yourself this. Could you call the authorities and say “We’ve got a problem…we need help,” and not fear that they’d take your baby away?

4: I suppose all this has made me think what I might do if the same thing happened to me. If I’d been in their position and now had the world watching me, judging me. To that, it’s easy for me to say I’d call my doctor and demand to get some help for my son or daughter. I’d fight for someone to help us, so that I wouldn’t have to lock my child in their room for a single minute – something which might increase their fear or anxiety and do genuine harm to them. I’d like to think I would say that, at least. I just can’t be sure I would, had I not read about the Daubney story.

5: Obviously, though, let’s make one thing crystal clear: there are many flaws with locking your child in his or her room at night. Look closer and there are lots of other smaller – but no less important – arguments that rapidly spring to mind. For example, what if something was to happen to the parents and the child, locked in, couldn’t escape his room in order to both help them and raise the alarm? What about fires? Valid as these points are, perspective and context are equally crucial: the Daubney’s aren’t and never have been advocating that all parents blindly do this, and it would have been far easier for them to keep quiet and avoid the hassle. When Martin Daubney spoke on This Morning, you could see he wasn’t proud of any of this. That appearing on TV wasn’t fun or comfortable (Diana argued against the decision to lock the door, to begin with, until Martin made it plain that it was either that or he move out). After five-months the bolt on the door was gone and now, the family are better than they’ve ever been – Sonny included.

So as they say, hindsight is a wonderful thing. It’s easy to see someone’s mistakes when they’ve made them and they are not you. I for one think that whatever your opinion, the Daubney’s have done an important thing by making their mistakes and story public. As some have said, it’s hardly groundbreaking news – and I do agree with them on this – but at the same time, we all need reminding every once in a while. I do think we — all of us, not just the parents — should be asking these questions. After all, if the future parents of tomorrow can benefit from past mistakes, that has to be a good thing, surely.

Maybe it’s all the stories that have appeared on the back of this which are swaying the argument, making the couple out to be the poster-adults of awful parenting. Maybe it’s just that the Daubney’s are actually talking about it and that feels…weird, or wrong. Maybe that’s why this story has attracted such rage and concern. On TV, on radio, in the papers. Hardly the done thing, in a time where it’s much easier to go online and keep complete control of what you write in the comments sections. I wonder, above all else, if locking a child in his or her room in very exceptional circumstances is any worse than shouting loudly at them in the supermarket (which I have seen countless times) or threatening to smack their bums if they dare to scream again (which I’ve also witnessed) or smoking around children (I’d be shocked if someone said they hadn’t seen this)?

I may not have children of my own just yet, but show me one parent who hasn’t shouted at their child or children and then regretted doing so. I’m not looking forward to making lots of hideous parental mistakes if I ever have a family, but maybe, just maybe, that’s the way things need to be.

Naughty naughty Instagram: that thing I’ve never used because I just never understood what the hell it was supposed to be for (and don’t tell me. I don’t want to know)

I once had a boss who was confusing and odd and was, it now occurs to me, a bit like Instagram. This was back when I was a lowly cooked-chicken-counter servant at Waitrose. Ah, the good-old days of woe!

In many ways, I liked my job. I mainly liked my job because I only worked 2 hours Monday to Friday, and I worked in the middle of the day, which meant that although I had to put up with the often-horrendous lunch-time rush – never had you seen more people who couldn’t clear up after themselves – I could get up late and go home with plenty of time left before Neighbours started and Paul Robinson attempted to kill someone, or just deeply upset them. At the time, being an artist and trying to navigate my way through the mysterious world of selling paintings at galleries, this enabled me to both keep my dignity and my sanity (everyone who knew me saw that I was making a proper traditional artist effort to not get a real job so as to allow my art to prosper as much as it could in the face of evil modern adversity, but also recognised that I understood the world and that I had to at least work a bit so I wasn’t freakish and alarming to be acquainted with). Working on the cooked chicken-counter was exceedingly hard going, what with so many different characters trying to fight their way to the top and avoid going out the front to serve the dreaded hate-filled customers, in particular that bloody annoying one who always asked for a variety of cooked chicken that we hadn’t and would never ever have in stock. It was all about politics, you see. Providing you kept that in mind then you’d make it through OK. It wasn’t quite as bad as over at the Freshly Baked Goods counter – this was where the dog-eat-dog world of supermarket politics often spiralled completely out of control, with the effects rippling through the Confectionery Department and even sometimes Customer Services – but things could get pretty heated at times. Christmas time was by far the worst. All of us, in our Santa hats, annoyed, hot and bothered.

But like I was saying, I once had a boss who was a bit like Instagram.

Take November, for example. When it got to November – which I only made the mistake of allowing to happen once – rumour started to circulate about a big meeting coming up. One of those meetings where all kinds of staff members who never normally mix would surely be allowed to stand near one another for the very first time, fuelling the social side of the politics further and giving yet more weight to the popular argument that men in suits aren’t capable of empathy or humour (I have since had to revise this statement, as sometimes I have myself been a man in a suit). And, sure enough, within days of the rumour starting, official-looking notes were put up in all the departments by invisible strangers who came and went almost as bizarrely as crop circles. Many of us suspected it was the usually innocent-looking Janet — an early morning cleaner, sent to do the management’s dirty work for them. We never did find out, although once, years later, Janet was a bit off with me when I bumped into her in the street. Hmm…

Then the meeting came and we all assembled out the back, in that hallowed place beyond the dirty plastic hanging strips in the door-way where customers always looked in but weren’t allowed in because it was for staff only. It was even worse than I’d thought: men wearing suits which cost more than all of the teenage shelf-stackers collectively earned in one year were standing perversely on one side, and there was a general feeling of someone having just badly farted or taken a covert dump on the floor. David from General Household Products was a pain all throughout the meeting – that I do remember. He was leaning up against an abandoned trolley and it kept creaking menacingly, and everyone knew it was David from General Household Products except our boss, Mr Herbert, who you could tell was getting more and more pissed-off.

“I may or may not be asking more members of staff from various departments to work during our extended Christmas opening hours period,” was one of the memorable unthinkable things that Mr Herbert came out with, and instantly all of us part-time and semi-part-time workers were struck with fear and resentment and revulsion and too much more to write here, but that’s plainly obvious. We weren’t prepared for this horror, and I hated David from General Household Products for playing his part in making Mr Herbert more angry in his typically unnecessary overweight way (David was overweight, Mr Herbert wasn’t). Unlike the hardcore full-time workers and tragic people who actually volunteered to do over-time, we had never been conditioned to perform this oh-so-specific supermarket role, and we felt our human rights were being trampled upon. That Christmas was nightmarish on a number of levels: firstly, I was teamed-up with Jordan from Dairy, who everyone knew was a bit thick and attracted trouble at every possible turn – you couldn’t leave him with a crate of semi-skimmed for fear of what might happen – and secondly I was told I would have to work an unfathomable extra hour a day during the upcoming Christmas period. An hour-a-day might not sound like much to all you hardcore full-time workers – and indeed it sounds like almost nothing to me now – but back then, with my reputation as a rebellious young artist to uphold, it spelt the kiss of death that I knew I sort of needed to become a real artist, so as to overcome it heroically, but at the same time would do anything to avoid (apart from working for the man). And so it was that I left the cooked-chicken-counter for good that following January, making my own personal protest with it. Into the big-wide-world I went, expectant, hopeful and looking forward to many years to come where I wouldn’t be forced to interact with customers or a till (a combination that nobody with a problem with numbers should ever be exposed to, I think you’ll agree). Or Jordan from Dairy. Man he was so fucking annoying.

So we’ve established that my boss was a bit like Instagram: he would say things that sounded not just incredibly vague, but were also worded in such a way that they could be extremely specific – if you read between the lines and spent a ridiculous amount of time actually analysing what the words meant or could mean. Since Instagram revised their terms and conditions to say that they could basically do more or less as they pleased with all their users’ photos and data, you and I know there’s been a massive public outcry. And for good reason: we all see our photos and data as our own private property.

Yet the more philosophical people out there aren’t banging their heads against walls or reverting to drilling holes in their heads just yet (it’s an ancient technique I suggest you never try at home, called Treppaning. Please do head on over to Trepan.com for some interesting reading on the subject…if you dare). Because whatever the reason for Instagram‘s latest-latest announcement – they’re allegedly not planning to sell anyone’s photos to advertising agencies, and apparently respect all our basic human rights to own our own property and not have it used without our permission, more or less – the fact of what it means is still the same. Instagram may or may not be planning to use our photographs and sell them on, but other people out there most certainly are. Ever since the arrival of Google, people have being stealing things that don’t belong to them and making money off the back of others: images, text, illustrations, novels. I’ve even had my own novel stolen and made available for download, so I know how bloody irritating that can be. For me, all the news about Instagram really highlights is how clueless the majority of the population are to copyright infringement and similar things. Which isn’t their or your fault of course. Like Jordan from Dairy or David from General Household Products, most people never have to deal with copyright or worry about these things, so it’s bound to be a shock.

Without wanting to defend Instagram – I’m thinking they have enough money and people to do this on their own, so I’ll not feel too guilty about it – just remember this: naughty as Instagram were for making out that they could do whatever they wanted with our images – the phrase massive U-turn after a crazy amount of people closed down their accounts does come to mind – they did at least tell their users that this was what they were planning to do in January of next year. People who steal images, novels, text and data don’t generally have a habit of doing that, especially when it’s on a grand scale, so it’s not just Instagram and Facebook and the FBI who we need to watch out for.

So, as pointed out by numerous people in the comments section of every major online news source which has published this story, it comes down to one thing: if you don’t want Instagram using your photos without your permission, get off Instagram and stay off it for good. Doing so doesn’t mean you’re completely safe, of course, it just means that the likelihood of your images becoming someone else’s property via Instagram is somewhat reduced. As for watermarking your images and that being a bullet-proof solution, as some have suggested, you might want to rethink that before you start gloating that you’ve tricked the system. Software is easily available that can take a rubbish looking image and boost its quality, not to mention remove the watermark and make it extremely saleable. Instagram might have promised that they don’t intend to sell your photographs, but what’s to stop them licensing them? Yes, it’s time to read those terms and conditions again, and that goes for anything you sign up to online. Because privacy is dead. Privacy online doesn’t really exist anymore, save for online banking and password protected services — or so we all hope. It died the moment the internet started, and it’s not coming back any time soon, so it’s time to start planning for the future.

Keeping Perspective: Things To Remember Following The Tragic Death Of Jacintha Saldanha

Yesterday, while drinking tea and pointlessly wishing my desk was big enough that I didn’t have a scattered mess of papers everywhere almost all of the time, I was contacted on Twitter by one Stephanie Hegarty. Who is this Stephanie Hegarty character? I thought (sorry Stephanie, it only lasted a couple of seconds, and you can be sure that everyone gets the exact same tweetment…oh dear), while secretly hoping that she might have a solution to my desk-is-too-small problem (if you didn’t know, thinking pointless thoughts is a fantastic way of wasting work time). Well, she was a journalist for the BBCs World Service channel, as it happens, and today she was contacting me – like she had many other bloggers, writers and other people ending in ers, but not all people ending in ers, obviously – to see if I wanted to get involved on tonight’s installment of World Have Your Say, the popular current affairs programme where real people from all over the world get to…well, have their say about lots of newsworthy things. And I did want to get involved, so I said, “that sounds good.” It was nice to say a whole sentence on Twitter without having to resort to abbreviations, for once, that’s for sure.

In the end I sat there waiting for a phone call which never transpired, and never got my chance to go on the radio and do my best radio posh voice (yes, I’m doing a sad face right now). Nevermind. I dealt with it by thinking about consuming far too many Wagonwheels. So instead of letting all my thoughts go to waste, like so many of them do, I thought I’d write this blog. Being totally serious now, for a change, here are a few things I think we need to stay aware of following the tragic death of 46-year-old London nurse and mother and wife Jacintha Saldanha (previous blog here).

1

Following the onslaught of newspaper articles, tweets and blogs concerning the strange series of events which have led to the unfolding of this horrendous news story, it’s extremely tempting to draw a number of simplified conclusions. The obvious ones are as follows: A) the prank phone call which the two Australian DJs made caused the death of the nurse in question, or was pivotal in influencing it. B) the two presenters should have known better and should have known that the prank could have dire consequences. C) The two DJs — as well as the radio team behind them, who were all responsible for creating the prank-call hoax — wanted to humiliate the person they were calling, and, thus, they are evil and deserve to suffer. And suffer some more.

Except there are a few very large and complex problems with this argument. Hence them being simplified, as I said before. The first is that right now, as it stands, we still know very little about why Jacintha Saldanha actually killed herself. What we do know is an edited version of the truth presented to us by the papers and online news (that Jacintha felt devastating shame as a result of the call, etc, as has been widely reported). Was the prank call the sole reason for the nurse and mother killing herself? I highly doubt it, although of course it’s entirely possible and impossible to discount. The chances are, we may well never know for sure. Was it pivotal in inducing this tragedy? Another difficult question. Sadly, that does seem to be the case. But, again, right now it only seems to be the case…until we know more – make that much more – we don’t really know anything for sure. Lastly, as for the DJs wanting to deliberately humiliate anyone, this seems somewhat unlikely. 2 Day FM may have a worrying track-record of similarly foolhardy on-air stunts, but the video which appeared today — the presenters talking more openly than must have been easy — shows this story in a new and yet more unsettling light. According to the video, the DJs never intended for anything like this to happen and are quite clearly broken. It’s your choice to believe their plight or not.

2

We live in a culture of blame. We can all jump on Twitter, shove a hash-tag in there and blame people and be heard, and many of us do so with ruthless certainty to tens-of-thousands of followers. Nowadays, we’re all armchair journalists, even grandparents and people who are barely literate enough to spell their own name (which is handy or even helpful on Twitter where every character counts and correct spelling is a burden). And it’s tremendously empowering to be heard and believed, isn’t it? Yet, not everything is a simple matter of one person – or two people – doing one thing and there being one single catastrophic result. Many things can and do happen in-between to divert and spread the blame, and in this case we know very little about what did or did not occur. One thing that’s always been true is that it feels awful to not have somebody or something to blame. Nearly always, this triggers hostility and rage.

3

Now look at probability. Probability is one of those amazing things, and probability, as far as I am concerned, says that if this same situation were to play out 1,000 times, it would play out in 1,000 different ways, all of them unpredictable and surprisingly unique. How many of those 1,000 people might take their own life as a result of the exact same prank call? It’s impossible to say without staging a mass unethical experiment. It might be 12 or it might be zero. But let’s do some massive assuming, shall we? Chances are that of those 1,000 people, many of them would think positively about the joke and none would take their own life. Maybe at least several-hundred people would think the joke was at least mildly amusing. Be honest: a lot of people, one hell of a lot of people, would surely find the prank amusing, and many of those might go on to try and make money off of it. They would likely succeed, too.

With no death to worry about, a joke feels infinitely more amusing, does it not?

4

Think what you like about the DJs, but don’t forget that the hospital have been exceedingly vague in the wake of this disaster, in particular about their role and what happened in-between the prank and the nurse’s death. Here’s a good question: why wasn’t protocol in place to prevent just anyone from ringing through to the nurse’s station? It seems crazy to believe that there wouldn’t have been at least some obstacles or rules there as a matter of logical prevention. After all, this is the Royal Family we’re talking about. It’s not like this couldn’t have been predicted.

5

Pranks are funny. Not all pranks, but some — even Prince Charles thought this one was funny at the time. No matter how nice you think you are, when something unfortunate happens to someone else — you drive through a puddle, for example, soaking an overweight pedestrian, making your day 10 times better — and they don’t end up killing themselves, you might laugh or say “brilliant!” yet it’s only when someone goes and kills themselves that we learn about the deep dark things inside. That it hurt them so horribly. With all the other pranks we never usually find out. So what do we do? Ban all pranks? I don’t want to live in that world and I am willing to bet that you don’t either.

Yet clearly something tangible needs to be done to protect at-risk people. Some kind of psychological/cultural profiling, perhaps, or some sort of legislation that everyone follows. Yes it’ll ruin the spontaneous nature of pranks forever, but people staying alive is clearly infinitely more important. In the future, more care will surely be taken in hospitals and institutions, as a result of this nightmare — that much is almost sure. I just hope we haven’t got too short a memory to learn from the mistakes and keep them in mind in the future.

6

All this madness about the DJs having blood on their hands needs to stop now. It’s not on. When the nightmare image is reflected on ourselves, it’s not a pretty thing. You may not wish to try out the following example, and if that’s the case you’ll want to skip this next bit after the colon and go straight to the next paragraph:

you may have heard about a school friend who recently killed themselves. Let’s say you don’t know why this happened. In that case, it’s easy to speculate and forget about them. Especially if you never really knew them and were not ever close. Yet, how can you be absolutely certain that you or a friend of yours didn’t play some small part in their later death? What if, many years ago, you were one of the bullies and that thought — the thought of what you had done to them — went round and round and eventually led to their demise? It’s a horrifying thought. It’s nasty to even consider or visualize that something we’ve done may have caused someone else to physically hurt themselves, let alone end their own life. I’m having that thought even as I write this. What if somebody read this blog post and hurt themselves…or worse? I’d be absolutely devastated. Yet I’d like to think that if that did happen, I wouldn’t be hauled off to prison for making someone think about something they’d rather not have.

7

The DJs and the team involved in all this aren’t going to be forgetting about Jacintha any time soon, that’s for sure. Chances are, they’ll always feel like they have blood on their hands, even if it ends up turning out otherwise when more information eventually comes to light.