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.

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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).