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?

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.

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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