review Thomas Sutcliffe

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The Independent Culture
"I like to live life in the fast lane," said Pete, a remark that almost invariably comes from those who are trundling along life's hard shoulder with a flat tyre. To listen to him, though, there is nothing Pete can't handle: "Restaurants, clubs, pubs, cinemas, you name it, I'm doing it. And if I'm not doing any of that we're having sex - mad passionate sex - but it's not boring stuff, it's highly physically demanding sex." It sounded more like a recruitment drive for an SAS Fornication Squad than a chat-up and it didn't seem to be working very well because Pete, along with the two other men in Susanna White's film for Modern Times, "Man Seeks Woman" (BBC2) had turned to the lonely hearts columns in the search for romance. Presumably this was less hazardous than his conventional technique; he doesn't like to talk too much, he confided, instead "I'll dance behind them and give their bum a little squeeze or a slap and get a reaction." Less hazardous for Pete, anyway; for the women unfortunate enough to draw Pete's short straw in the legover lottery, a night of leaden innuendo stretched ahead - "Huur, those sausages aren't very big, are they? I prefer mine with a bit more meat. How about you?" The Royal Naval nurse who had to endure a detailed explanation of how her uniform would stiffen Pete's resolve observed diplomatically that "He's much younger than I thought he would be." This was a euphemism for "infantile creep".

Prospects did not look much better for Simon Emery, living in a caravan beside his parents' home. Not so much because he was, as he put it himself, "no oil painting", nor because he drives a three-wheeler and is a model railway enthusiast. But Simon lacked a certain ease of manner with women and, besides, the omens weren't good for his first date: "I'm a little bit worried about the cats angle," he said anxiously, "because I'm allergic to cats." He needn't have worried - he didn't even get a sniff of Avril's front parlour. He was a bit crestfallen about this but it was a lucky escape, frankly, given that she started nagging him within minutes of their first meeting. You wondered whether he was allergic to shrews, too.

By now, Simon was wearing Desperation by Faberge, the least aphrodisiac scent known to man. He started talking marriage to his next contact, a Liverpudlian clairvoyant, before they had even met. She expressed surprise at this, which wasn't much of an advert for her powers, but unfortunately her vision of the future, such as it was, did not include warming Simon's narrow bed.

Most likeable of all was Robert Nelson, a single father sweetly anxious to find a mother for his two daughters. His date was at London Zoo, accompanied by a swarm of six tiny match-makers, all proposing marriage on their parents' behalf, with the innocent tactlessness of childhood. Robert himself seemed stunned by his good fortune - gabbling nervously about Gina's good looks as if he'd expected to meet someone with her head in a sack. His only problem was finding the right moment to confess to a past that included a couple of check-ins at Her Majesty's motels - a past which didn't match the decent, devoted man you saw on screen.

Susanna White observed all this with the same humane curiosity that she brought to her film about readers' wives (she even provided Pete with a kind of historical mitigation, lest you judged him too harshly). Her only real lapse was a slightly mischievous hand with the accompanying music. Simon's soundtrack for his own life was Status Quo played very loud and accompanied by air guitar, which looked comically incongruous when viewed through a caravan window but was at least an expression of his own taste. When you first saw him, though, you heard "Kissing and Cuddling with Fred" as he pottered along in his Robin Reliant, which was uncharacteristically condescending - a directorial nudge to the viewer which would have given some viewers permission to take his unhappiness less seriously than that of better favoured men.

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