The Undateables: speed dating, wonky donkeys and Pippa Middleton’s curvaceous bottom

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Shaine, back when his hair was big

We’re reunited with poet Shaine, who has a mild learning disability, on a Bournemouth beach. At 33 years of age, he’s back playing that funny game of love. It’s a wonky donkey, says Shaine, but he is not deterred. I hate the phrase mild learning disability in Shaine’s case. He’s articulate, funny, able to love and highly optimistic. The man has a big heart. Somehow, disability doesn’t seem like a very fitting word.

Richard‘s screen arrival, surely, makes a million people think Muscles! A lover of stocking-up on copious amounts of the exact same food – something which has always seemed perfectly practical to me, which means that it’s everyone else who must be weird – Richard from Surrey always heats his plate up in the oven before eating, making my Mother a big fan (“Chris, you should never eat off a cold plate, it just isn’t right!”).

Over the coming minutes we see Richard’s failed date from years ago – don’t steal food from your date’s plate, particularly when they’re staring right at you with a plain look of horror – and watch Liz, Richard’s adoring Mother, give her son advice. With a new date just around the corner, things for Richard are looking up. All he has to do is venture outside his 5 mile radius. Harder than it seems when you find everyone else a confusing mess.

Seeing Sam again is, of course, a joy. Sam may have Down’s syndrome, but once again we’re reminded that he is a good-natured and mature person, with his head screwed-on right, and a Dad who is dedicated and an obviously lovely bloke. When Sam last appeared on our screens, he met Jolene. 1 year later, after that 9-month relationship ended, Sam has a few things to say of note. One is that his ideal woman is Barbara Windsor. The other is that being single is pants. The last one is about Pippa Middleton‘s infamous bottom. I suspect a combination of Barbara Windsor and Pippa Middleton would make Sam’s heart sing and trouser splendour happen. Then again, this fantasy hybrid would likely need to put on a few pounds at the rear to balance things up, otherwise things could get very ugly for her face.

Once Stars in the Sky‘s Lydia has sorted Sam out with a date – I cheered! – we’re back with Shaine, who has arrived at a creative writing workshop and immediately set his sights on a fellow poet named Marie. You cannot hold this man back. Shaking like a brick, those mischievous Undateables producers then leave us hanging again as we meet back up with Richard…

Now 24-hours away from his big date, Mum Liz is busy sorting out his clothes. All is fine. Until the agency call with terrible news which has Richard swearing more or less constantly. And who wouldn’t say “Fuck it!” once or twice very loudly? It’s always annoying when that happens on this show, and for those with Asperger’s, it’s hard enough to connect to begin with. Staying connected is another thing entirely.

Remember Justin? Thanks to his impressive ability to flirt, 41-year-old Justin was unforgettable from the out-set. Now something of a local celebrity, and a self-confessed expert of compliment-giving, Justin – born with Neurofibromatosis – has had dozens of operations on his tumours, yet still manages to remain positive. Bus drivers take note. I think that’s all I need to say.

Before we leave Justin, we’re treated to his ace selection of risqué T-shirts. Then we’re back with Sam and his Dad again, and I’m thinking both I really miss spaghetti hoops, I haven’t had them for years…why is that? And I wouldn’t swap my Dad with Sam’s for the world, but if I had to, if I really-really had to, I don’t think I’d mind too much. Obviously Sam would have to be consulted first and my Dad would be devastated, but oh well, shit happens.

Sam gets a call and it’s only bloody Lydia, isn’t it? Yes, it is. And she has news: 3 weeks after going back on the game – excuse the expression – Sam is in luck!

Like I said before, Justin knows how to give compliments. And at a local speed-dating event, the man is a force to be reckoned with. With his confidence growing at GM-food-like proportions, he leaves with 4 phone numbers. There. Up yours everyone being mean on Twitter.

Back in the land of Sam, he’s getting ready for a date. I haven’t got even the most remote idea of how to spell her name, but Jen-I seems like a good way around it. She’s black with a big smile, and they meet at Madam Tussauds in London, home of spectacularly awful wax models that appear anything but alive. Aside from Sam kissing Margaret Thatcher, the date goes well. Sam’s nerves get the better of him for a while, but then he asks her our, and it’s a success.

In the car, Richard is driving and Mum Liz is nervously chatting beside him. Less to do with his driving, I think, and more to do with the fact that, in mere minutes, they’ll be scoping out where Richard will soon be having a date. That’s right, it’s on!Upon arriving near the venue, Richard runs into trouble and out of his mouth comes “Nowhere to park. Fucking ridiculous.” It is fucking ridiculous! It genuinely is! I thought at the time, and then my girlfriend started laughing and saying how I was exactly the same as him. I tried to pretend I wasn’t, but I failed. I am. I hate it when there’s nowhere to park. It really is fucking ridiculous. There, I’ve said my piece.

Anyway, after getting acquainted with the place and calming down about Great Britain’s crap parking epidemic, we move forward in time: Richard has bought a gift for his impending date, who goes by the name of Laurien (I think). This I was chuffed with. Over the years, we all feel like we’ve got to know the cast of The Undateables, and seeing them learn and lose and find love again has been something quite special. It has touched so many of us. Mum Liz was worried, of course. She needn’t have been, though, because when the 35-year-old from West London met the man with the muscles, things went very well. After Richard stopped complaining that she was late, that is. The strangest thing? Bar one occasion which Richard can’t really be blamed for inciting, there was very little talk of his muscles.

Personally, my favourite bit of the show was when Richard mildly harassed Laurien, in an effort to make her do more impressions of birds in the park. Fantastic.

Thanks to Marie’s “little flow-y eyebrows”, what happened next for Shaine was great: there was silence to begin with as the date got off to an awkward start, but then the magic began to happen. There was talk of inspiration, and then a wander in a graveyard where the body of legendary poet Shelly (Percy Bysshe Shelly, to be accurate) resides. With Shaine now infested with the sweet joys of the Love Bug, and all kinds of great quotes being flung about – “Love is like eating lots of soft sweets” – I thought once again of how I really can’t stand soft sweets apart from mints and how that must make me really quite bizarre. Sorry Shaine, it’s a personal thing.

A week after Sam’s date, there’s bad news: Jen-I only wants to be friends. Damn it! And I really thought there might be something there. As we reached the end of this last show of the series, Sam’s Dad reminded me how testing all this is for the parents, too. Richard with his adorable, dedicated Mum, and so many other parents in other series giving up their lives to ensure that their children find happiness. It made me smile and reminded me how important it is that we all take the time to learn about disabilities. Because it really can happen to anyone, anyhow, any time. Like Sarah Scott, for example, who had a stroke at 18 and acquired Aphasia – a condition which makes communicating with others very challenging. Come to think of it, Sarah is planning to go to the US to have a special kind of therapy which will help her overcome her condition. Sarah and her family – her determined Mum, Joanie Scott – are fundraising for it right now, in fact. And yes, I am giving you a hint, so if you have a few quid spare, you know what to do with it.

Has The Undateables achieved what it set out to do in the beginning? A good gauge of it is Twitter. I remember, back when the show first appeared, how many people came forward to vent their fury and frustration at the show‘s producers. Over the years, however, things have changed. Quite a bit, arguably. It is visible and recorded and impossible to ignore (actually, that means you can’t argue about it). Nowadays, more people know about different kinds of disability, and that can only be a wonderful thing. And let’s stop moaning about the name, please. This show has always been about so much more than that.

Looking for a review on any of the previous series? I’ve written about every one over the years, so just type The Undateables into the search bar at the top of this page to get the results.

Is it really so surprising that disabled/disadvantaged people are human beings just like everyone else?

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According to my blog stats, there’s an awful lot of interest in Channel 4s new eye-opening series, The Undateables. Episode 1 aired last week, and the second installment appeared on our screens last night, provoking massive debate on Facebook, Twitter and across the web. As I wrote late yesterday, shortly after the show finished, this most recent Episode was just as TV worthy and interesting. But that’s not what’s been surprising me. What’s been interesting, for me, is the amount of media coverage out there which has suddenly changed its tune. Before the series started to air, nearly every journalist, blogger and writer across the world was either saying A) they didn’t want to judge the show yet because they felt that wouldn’t be fair (they were scared of upsetting people, which made a refreshing change for the media, I thought) or B) saying that the show, however it turned out, would come across as insulting to disabled/disadvantaged people. Thereby covering their arses nicely, seeing as no matter how the series turned out, someone, out there, would deem it as unnaceptable and morally wrong.

How very neat and tidy.

Well, guess what, if you haven’t seen The Undateables yet, it really doesn’t insult anyone; if you find it funny in a way which makes people around you stare and look concerned about what might be running through your head, then that only means the issue lies with you (although I have to admit that on any level the show is entertaining on a basic level — purely because it is so different to what we’re used to seeing on TV). What’s 100% more insulting is the way so many hundreds of thousands of people appear to be suddenly waking up and noticing that these people have desires, plans for the future and needs which they long to be met. I mean…I know that these people are somewhat unusual, and those in wheelchairs are hard to relate to if you’ve never been immobile — the same goes for all the other conditions covered — but surely it’s possible to understand that another human being thinks, feels and wants? or maybe it’s just me.

It’s a real shame that it’s taken a TV series to turn so many people onto this subject, but, now they are, I’m hoping that the trend for having a slightly more open mind will continue well into the future. There are plenty more issues which need to be raised — they’re not always pleasant and as fun as the latest hilarious Youtube video, no, but that’s irrelevant (and yeah, I know I’m going on a bit now and that we all have the right to choose what we inform ourselves about).

So what’s next for the future of TV and its new-found love of those who are different?

Here are my predictions. And don’t moan at me and say I’m taking the piss. I’m not, I’m just saying what might be on the way soon…

1) A TV show similar to Britain’s Got Talent/The Voice for disabled/disadvantaged people (who knows, maybe Shaine, Carolyne and Luke from The Undateables can be the judges? Luke shouting “filthy whore!” repeatedly would be bound to bring in a few million more viewers, I’m sure). I’m actually starting to find myself condescending after having written those terms so many times (disabled/disadvantaged people). Someone really needs to come up with a new way of referring to those in this position. I have no doubt that when they do it’ll immeditely trend on Twitter.

2) A US crime drama about someone with a disability who…wait…turns out to be the killer! Pat on the back for being daring, US.

3) Some kind of debatable MTV show which uses the classic Pimp My Ride formula on wheelchairs, making them super-powered cool-machines which are much more pleasing to the General Public and thus infinitely more wasy on the eye.

4) A rock super-group put together by Simon Cowell and his cronies; one which has a varied range of D/D people wowing the audience. Or a Westlife-style group of similar ilk. Or,yes, a One Direction-style group. And on, and on, and on…

5) A new Channel 5 show coming soon: Gays In Wheelchairs — and that’s not me thinking that would make a good name, that’s me thinking in the mind-set of a ratings-hungry on-his-or-her-last-legs TV executive (or maybe even Big Gays In Small Wheelchairs?). That’s definitely a subject that hasn’t been tackled yet. And, no, I’m not talking about Glee — I’ve seen it and the wheelchair lad is just a normal teen who loves music — I’m talking about a series devoted to clashing disability and homosexuality together culminating in the most explosive drama result possible. Let’s just hope no TV exec reads this post and steals my ideas. It’d put me in a really tricky moral position as to whether I ought to accept royalties or not.

6) New-style wheelchair celebrities. It’s a matter of time until the media swoops on this exciting trend.

7) A wheelchair stuntman for the mainstream. Simon Cowell will probably be behind this too, no doubt.

8) An advertising campaign coming to a billboard/bus-shelter near you which features, wait for it, D/D people, thus challenging and daring the General Public to imagine that different can be beautiful as well!

Want to read a novel about these issues? My novel — which I may as well say has been receiving great reviews, since I’m here — The Number 3 Mystery Book is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US. To get your paperback copy — new non-limited edition on the way — you can visit the website here.