Imagine, if you can, waking up one morning with excruciating chest pain and finding out, not long after, that you’re almost certainly going to be paralysed from the waist down for the rest of your life; caused by a burst blood-vessel in the spine, it’s a horror situation which nobody wants to think about, yet this happened to Carolyne, and contributed to the end of her 10-year relationship. Or, consider for a moment that you were born with a rare genetic condition that causes tumors to grow all over your face and body (type 1 neurofibromatosis, if you were wondering). Or, if you’d rather, think about what it’s like to see the world through a different pair of eyes; you write poetry for women and they look at you funny, and when you detect the slightest sign of affection you fall truly, madly, deeply in love (although you don’t start listening to Savage Garden all the time, so it could be worse you suppose).
Episode 2 of The Undateables was just as fascinating as the first installment, and what I really liked about this show in particular was the honesty and determination of all 3 individuals. Confronted with a hell of a lot to deal with, Carolyne, Justin and Shaine gave real insight into their particular issues, with Carolyne admitting that she thought a lot of men might only be interested in her as a “fascination fuck”. Personally, I think Channel 4 should be commended — the editing was sensitive, the narration wasn’t condescending in the least and, overall, I felt everything that needed to be addressed was. It began with Shaine: a 31-year-old man from B0urnemouth…
Shaine looks like he should be a magician, like he was born to be a magician. That was my first impression of this sweet, innocent man who was looking for love. And I don’t mean looking for love in a vague, non-specific if-there’s-nothing-else-on-telly-I-might-sign-up-to-plenty-of-fish kind of a way, oh no. Because here was a man who would stop at nothing to find his soul mate. Honestly, throughout the film, Shaine’s belief in love astounded me. Not only that but I was jealous of just how well he was able to iron (next to him it’s debatable I can iron anything at all. If anyone asks me from now on, I’m just going to say I have an Ironing Difficulty and hope they don’t Google it).
Then we moved onto Justin. 39-years-old and a stock assitant from Rugby, my first impression of Justin was I wonder if his body aches all the time? I say this because his condition has, over the years, caused his body to grow larger on one side, making his head sit more to the right than in the middle. I thought about people I know who moan about a bit of back-ache, and I thought about how I had moaned just the other day because I banged my head on the stupid bloody panel that you have to pull out above our hot-plates to allow the fan to kick in. It’s poorly designed with horrible sharp edges just perfect for making a 6-foot-man’s head bleed, yes, but it’s just a snap-shot in time that barely counts (past the initial “fuck me that really hurt!” bit which usually lasts a good ten minutes). Forget ten minutes: Justin had been putting up with his condition ever since he’d been born. More to the point, Justin had never had a date, or had any kind of relationship. Listening to him talk about wanting to find someone, I couldn’t help but feel rather pathetic and really very lucky. And that’s not something I usually say in conjunction with that stupid fan-door things, I can tell you.
Lastly, enter Carolyne, a pretty 29-year-old woman from Manchester. And it was this part of the show which got to me for several reasons: 1) I could empathise with what had happened to her (as many people who have read this blog will know, between 2006 and 2009 I was very ill with a rare virus which wasn’t detected until the damage had been done; I too woke up one day, and within several hours had completely lost the use of my legs — something which, unlike Carolyne, I fortunately later got back and recovered from). And 2) Carolyne spoke about men asking, very callously, “Can you still have sex?” As if that matters more than anything else in the world. I could also understand where Carolyne was coming from in terms of losing everything she’d had; when I became ill, it all started to fade quickly once the house of cards came tumbling down, and, like me, the illness was also the kiss of death for her relationship (although I don’t blame my girlfriend at the time; I’m certain I was a massive pain in the arse).
It will come as no surprise to know, then, that the over-riding feeling I got from this week’s episode was one of major unfairness. I mean, let’s face it, if everything is going right for you the world is pretty much filled with unfairness anyway, isn’t it? You only have to read the paper or find yourself scared into a corner by a spider that, you swear, is “easily this big!” (Make your hands far apart enough that you can hold a decent-sized fish). Yet for these 3, the word unfairness just didn’t seem to cut it. Like last week’s 3, in the end it all came down to society and how we perceive people with disabilities. How closed we all are to things which aren’t completely ideal or perfect.
Of course, when you get realistic about it, the fact that it took Justin much longer to find a date than it might most other people isn’t really surprising: all of us wander around and decide there and then — whether we’re really aware we’re doing it or not — that we don’t like a certain person because their hair looks a bit shit, or there’s just something odd about the way they walk or talk. Most of us proclaim to be open-minded, yet up until tonight we largely won’t have seen anyone like Justin, let alone considered going out with them.
Then there are the more fundamental questions which most of us would never admit to even thinking, less it make us look bad: can the girl in the wheelchair have children? What will people think? Will my friends call me a twat if I decide to date someone who isn’t quite the norm?
And I am not immune to these things, of course (although I do know a bit about disability and facial disfigurement, as featured in my comedy adventure novel, The Number 3 Mystery Book on Kindle and paperback (see a review here). Nobody is. And that includes Justin, Carolyne and Shaine, all of whom had requirements which they were specifically looking for. Things that had to be right for them, otherwise they wouldn’t be happy.
Top 10 good and less good moments from this week’s episode:
1) Good: when Shaine said that a man should “Always be a gentleman.” Fair point Shaine, I’m sure a lot of blokes would do well to learn from you. Now all we need is a time-machine to take you and all the other gentleman back to the 1920s!
2) Less good: when Shaine asked his date Jackie if they were girlfriend and boyfriend now and she said “just friends.” Actually it wasn’t less good, it was horrific. Poor Shaine.
3) Good: Justin not giving a shit what people think.
4) Less good: when Justin said that he’d had in excess of 100 operations on his body to remove the tumors. Made my heart sink…
5) Good: Carolyne’s remarkable, inspiring recovery from what must have been a very dark place indeed — yes that girl has just had to cope with it, and I’m sure many people would have managed similarly, but it’s still very impressive, I think. Getting dumped is hard enough, but when it happens because of a serious life-disaster, you can multiply that by about…who knows. A number doesn’t seem to cut it, somehow.
6) Less good: the fact that a lovely girl like Carolyne needs to resort to a dating agency for men to notice her. Wake up, people, she’s in a wheelchair, but she’s still lovely.
7) Good: Shaine doing a serious Alan-Partridge and bouncing back from his date with Jackie to find someone else to ask out on a date!
8) Less good: Shaine being born 90 years too late.
9) Good: Justin’s ability to keep optimistic when faced with the kind of gut-wrenching obstacles which I couldn’t even begin to fathom, let alone imagine.
10) Less good: the way that Justin seemed to me to be a sweet, caring kind of a bloke, yet so many people will never know this, as they just can’t get past the face.
Did you enjoy this post? Well, if you did that pleases me! My disability-related comedy novel, The Number 3 Mystery Book is available in paperback here and from Amazon UK. If you live in the US, you can get it from Amazon US here. Thanks for reading and goodbye.