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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just the one?”

“Naturally,” I said.

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

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

He had better go “Aha!”!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alpha Papa, come to mama!

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

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

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

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

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

And then…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shit.

You could say Skins has got you.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

As of 01:32 this morning…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said almost. I stopped myself just in time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAMIAN‘S STORY

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

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

So, Damian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLIVER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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