Space vegetable purgatory.

Everyone’s got an opinion, but I think there’s one thing we can all agree on: in the developed parts of the world where cultural conditioning forces us to prioritize checking our very important emails before making sure we’re not about to be run over as we cross the road, things can be a bit messed up. Our so-called modern, sophisticated world, is one in which we live in a time of enormous political and social unrest, change and unnecessary, futuristic weirdness that we could all do without. It’s a simplification to say this, of course, but everywhere you look, things seem either overwhelmingly terrible, bizarrely horrific or needlessly progressive.

Watching the news, seeing the huge double-loaded boats full of migrants fleeing Libya, is truly awful to witness. There’s nothing I can do and the whole thing is such a shocking and depressing waste of life and it really does make you stop and think about how we came to such a crisis point. Then there are the bizarrely horrific things. For example, this morning I woke up and read a story about a young couple in which the female had shot and accidentally killed her partner, following a social media stunt which went more than a bit wrong. Then there was this: the other day, I tried to buy an apple at a supermarket using one of those self-service till things that usually don’t work, inevitably resulting in a disgruntled human member of staff needing to be called over, all blank face and could-not-give-a-shit. Just an apple, that’s all. All I wanted to purchase at that particular moment in time was a simple apple. But…I couldn’t find the apple anywhere in the fruit and veg section of the touch-screen menu, and the more I searched, the more I panicked, the more I began to think Is an apple fruit? Is an apple…fruit? Then followed a nightmarish day-dream scenario that must have only lasted the briefest time. In it, I was watching The One Show and Professor Brian Cox was sitting there all nonchalant as he does, smiling and lecturing in that endearing way of his, about how most people think that apples are a fruit but actually they’re neither fruit or vegetable, but actually a bizarre kind of space vegetable that isn’t really a vegetable at all. The presenters laughed heartily a—

“Scan it,” said a voice, snapping me back to the precariousness of modern life, and it wasn’t Professor Brian Cox, nor was it smiling. It definitely didn’t give a shit, however.

“What?” I paused. “…How…”

Just that familiar blank expression, like bloody always. I tried to engage with the face, doing anything I could, within my limited range of facial movements, to show that I didn’t understand. I really did not understand.

“…?”

“Scan it the apple,” said the cashier (what do you call them…the people who work the tills at supermarkets? Cashier feels too old-school, somehow.) “Apple scan it.”

I looked at the apple, turning it around in my hand, scared that I would find nothing and that, just maybe, I would always be standing there, just turning the apple, stuck in space vegetable purgatory.

And then I found it.

Turned out I didn’t need to find it in the menu, did I: the apple had its own personal bar-code, and it did not share it with anyone.

Fucking fruit.

Anyway, last night, my girlfriend and I discussed how we’d reached saturation point with watching the news on TV. We love watching the news and have a huge interest in current affairs, but recently it has felt like it’s all getting too much to take in. I’m not sure if things have genuinely changed as much as we decided they have done, but recently it seems like there’s been an enormous collision of old awful news reaching horrible conclusions and new sickening incidents occurring more rapidly than ever before, unravelling at frightening speed. For me, and many others, I suppose the really scary thing is seeing how the conclusions of the old awful news show a catalogue of problems, mistakes and human error which could surely have been avoided, and how the new news seems to be picking up exactly where the old awful news started, all those years ago. Time and time again, people speak about learning valuable lessons, and how this must never happen again. Then, as the next story about new news quickly develops, we’re treated to fresh mistakes and terrible speculation which suggests that nobody has learned anything at all whatsoever. In fact, of anything, it appears that the people in power have found even more new and innovative ways to fuck things up. And there it is, there you have it: the whole damn thing, tragic and horrible and damaging, starts all over again…

Aside from a love of observation and a hard-to-articulate desire to write successive sentences down, I think it is because of a need to emotionally deal with these things that I feel compelled to write creatively. I’m sure it’s a processing thing, like how some people have suggested that dreaming is our way of making sense of the stimuli we absorb in our waking lives. Or, maybe the answer is buried deep in our evolutionary code and consciousness: a need to record things in full, to keep ourselves immortal, to never be forgotten, to pass on our knowledge via the arrangement of data. Now I stop and think about that for a moment, it seems to compound an incredible sense of pointlessness and vanity. Thousands of news reports, literature, newspapers, books and video reports have already covered these subjects in immensely more detail. Why, then, do I feel the need to add to the mountain?

Why do any of us, in fact?

I can only speak for myself, but I suppose that the bad things also act as a trigger for me to write about the good things and the things that amuse me. Writing about silly things, and writing things in a silly way, is equally important. It brings a sense of lightness and allows one to escape. Aside from that, of course, it’s also a lot of fun to do. Wherever I am in the world and whatever I am doing, and no matter what is happening, I’m observing and documenting things in my mind, whether consciously or not. Making up stories, making mental notes, writing…in a strange sort of way. Most of the time these musings are fragments of full thoughts, fitted in and tucked neatly between the varying tasks that I do day-to-day. Some are echoes of memories, manipulated into stories that feel like I have written them. Some get skewered by a question at work, or toppled and erased by something more important. However the thoughts occur, there’s something really quite emancipating about just writing within the confines of one’s own mind, without a need or option to go back and edit what you’ve thought, knowing that it won’t and can’t be judged, that the thoughts remain free to roam, grow and evolve. I find that if I do this enough, I retain the thought patterns and can build on past writings, recalling or adapting them when necessary — or deleting them altogether, resurrecting them later or reusing them as I please. This, probably, is why I feel like I’ve been writing lots even when I haven’t actually been committing words to screen or paper. The fact that nobody else can experience those writings is not important — at least not to me. I think writing is about more than just the physical act of recording words. To me, it’s about documenting thoughts for a second or forever, not necessarily being able to pass those words on to anyone else.

I can remember a conversation with a good friend, had some time after writing and publishing my novel, The Number 3 Mystery Book, a few years ago. He was a good friend and someone I hadn’t seen in years, and he was chuffed for me about the realisation of my book. One thing he said to me has stayed with me ever since, and every now and again I go over what he said, coming to a slightly different conclusion each time. And what he said was this: “I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I always felt like it was too self-absorbing and vain. I just couldn’t justify it”. I can remember at the time thinking Self absorbing and vain? Spending hundreds of hours with one’s own thoughts? What the hell is self absorbing and vain about that? Looking back at the odd collision of those mini-thoughts that made up the main thought, I still find myself perplexed and amused. It’s worth noting that my friend and I had that kind of special say-anything-it’s-fine relationship, and that bar a small moment of total disgust on my part which was over before I even registered it being there, in the moments immediately following the comment, there was no awkwardness, and no change in the tone of our conversation. No noticeable change in the atmosphere. I remember being confused, but beguiled by the confusion and wanting to understand more. It was all positive, and sent us headlong into one of those deep conversations which you find yourself getting lost in, losing track of time, exchanging words, clarifying things, laughing, finding out as much about the other as your own thoughts that spring up out of nowhere. I just wanted to understand and appreciate why he felt like that and why the contrast between our two world views was so staggeringly different. I also recall that I didn’t come to any kind of confusion about this, either while we were chatting or in the time well after. Because the writing of the novel was so fresh in my mind, I suppose the impact of his words was greater than it would have been if we’d met just a few weeks or months later. I took it very personally, but in the best possible way.

Analysing what he said, as I write this, forces the invitation of a range of new mental findings: I wonder if he realised, as he said those words, that everything we do in life is, to a degree, very self-absorbed. It’s the nature of being human, isn’t it? I wonder if the thought he’d had was one he’d been pondering for years, or if it was something that had just cropped up without much prior consideration. I suppose the answer to that would potentially change my perspective. But either way, I guess what he was saying was that writing a book often doesn’t involve anyone else — at least, at the initial creation stage — and means thinking a lot on one’s own, without anyone else’s opinion. That the fact that it doesn’t is somehow bad and too lonely, somehow. And I can see his point there, obviously, because writing and isolation go hand in hand. From that perspective, if I’m representing it correctly, writing is incredibly vain: you’re in your own little world, not seeking approval, forging your own opinions and not asking for any kind of validation for those opinions, and you’re expecting other people — assuming you want the work to be read — to enjoy reading this and give you compliments. What if your opinions are misguided, formed in the wake or flow of a bad mood, or just plain wrong altogether? What if you can’t write well? What if your thoughts are attacking someone else, are biased, or loaded with a violence which is the reaction to something that was, at the time, unfair? However you justify it, writing, at the creation stage, is always one person and one person’s opinions, against the world. Or at least aiming towards it, squarely, taking aim, not apologising. Writing is a mental war.

It’s no wonder, then, that when someone reads your work and you receive criticism or feedback for the first time, it really fucking hurts. Wow, does it sting. It’s hard to explain how painful it can be to receive harsh criticism for the first time or even within the first few years of writing. Within it there is so much…else. You attack yourself for being crap and you berate your attacker, judging them for the opinions they have formed, asking them what right they have to criticise you, but trying to be polite and not be irrational. But that’s the thing that all new writers — and a lot of people who have been writing a long time, too — have to learn in order to move forward. We write and we put stuff out there, and it is the reader’s duty to form their own opinion and give you brutal, honest feedback, however it may come. Look at it from a reader’s perspective: why should they be nice about it? They’ve just read something which they potentially disagree with, and they feel like they have been in some way attacked. When they’re writing their criticism, they’re not thinking about all the time that you laboured over your masterpiece, and why should they do so? Within them, if they strongly disagree, is the weight of a life lived in, perhaps, direct proximity to the weight of your comments. If people don’t like your writing then, sadly, it is just tough shit and nothing else. It hurts me as much as the next person when I hear back from someone and they didn’t like what I wrote, but it is something that we, as writers, simply must learn to deal with. Because, in truth, negative reactions to your writing can only serve you for the better in the long run. And besides all these things, we did decide to send them out into the world now, didn’t we?

I’m not suggesting, by the way, that you should listen to all negative criticism and immediately initiate an attack on yourself. I don’t think that is how it should work (I am also not suggesting that it’s OK for someone to tear someone else’s work apart for fun, just because a writer has decided to push their work into the pubic domain). If you spend some time processing the comments and find yourself in agreement of any kind, then that is something different. But very often, it is just a case of you cannot please everyone all the time. I’ve sent writing to multiple people — like when people read drafts of my novel to test read it as I was making changes — and occasionally received completely polarizing responses. This is probably one of the most confusing situations that can occur, as the horrible truth dawns on you that you will make some people happy and others very angry, often for what feels like no particular reason. In some writing personalities — and I’m sure in almost all, to some degree — it can create a perfect fusion of alarm, confusion and immense insecurity that goes far beyond just a small dilemma of conscience and self-esteem. You sit there, broken, wondering how the fuck you can please everyone, sure that the most popular and successful of writers have mysteriously found a way. The reality, of course, is that they have not, and have always struggled with the same identical problems as the rest of us. The only thing successful writers have done differently — other than the success, obviously — is learn to process the feedback and continue in the face of all of it. And, when you pause and really confront what they must have faced, it’s really quite impressive, isn’t it? They’ve literally received dozens or hundreds of personal insults, intended, it would seem, to stop them from committing any more words to paper or screen. Some people, like Stephen King, have received many thousands of very personal attacks, been vilified by the press, have been harassed in the street and have even received death threats. Death threats. All because of words. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, how they managed to continue? Can you imagine going to your full-time job and then, on the walk home, being subjected to horrendous insults and death threats, just because you mis-spelt someone’s name incorrectly, or forgot to fill out a piece of fairly inconsequential admin? I admit that I’m being slightly facetious there, but you get my point, hopefully. It takes guts and sheer dogged determination to keep writing when people say that your writing is terrible, offensive, pointless or just a massive waste of time. It can feel like the attack is not just an attack on your ability to configure sentences and paragraphs: it can also feel like a direct attack on your perception and how you see the world…an attack on your identity and personality and in every way personal. In some ways, it seems to be saying “you don’t see the world in a worthy way”, and that can be horribly damaging to an individual.

I like to think that now, after a decade as a professional writer — I began working as a freelance copywriter in 2007 and have written in excess of over 3,000 blog posts in that time, only slowing down in the last few years — I know what I’m doing. Well, enough to get by. I can process and I can handle. That’s what I tell myself. But the truth is that I am still learning, and will likely always be.

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Katie Piper: new life, new baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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.

Like what you see and want to hire me to write a column or a blog? The Contact page is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case continues.

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

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Hi, I’m Jon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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