Grace Dent on TV: EastEnders, BBC 1

A window on the real world with Danny and his diamond geezers

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The Independent Culture

In Buddhism and other ancient meditative  pursuits there’s a tremendous respect for the breath. The typically ignored perpetual huffing and puffing of air, leaving and entering one’s lungs.

When life is tricky, overwhelming, a right old pain in the arse – the idea is – one should retreat into the comings and goings of breath. Mindfully becoming mindless until worldly crap slips away. But if that’s too knit-your-own-wind-chime, try the alternative religion of EastEnders. Or Corrie. Or Emmerdale if you’re pushed. Because soap is another eternal, often ignored but ever-present force in the human condition. Ignore EastEnders if you want, but it is there for you. It was there last Friday, next Monday and the Monday after that. Now and for ever, amen. .

Religion, citalopram and EastEnders are the opium of the masses, and January is cold and hard so I’m following EastEnders. Bianca in fractal leggings and a padded gilet, bickering with Terry about his trolley-dolly ex-wife. And here’s Kat painting her lips on glossy plum and here’s Dot with another prickly launderette sermon and her fondness for a daft youth called Fat Boy.

Join my club. In times of personal crisis – lost boyfriend, sick parent, tax demand, crap job, general life malaise – anchor yourself to a soap and I assure you, my child, you’ll feel less spiritually adrift.

The Carters, the Beales, the Mitchells, forever frothing and faffing and mooching around a grim, ungentrified square mile of east London, a deeply unfashionable crevice of the capital where the hip and precocious have yet to invade as, let’s be honest, it’s not the sort of place your mummy would buy you a reclaimed council house. Not a deli or a farm shop or a Cronut bakery in sight. Not a good school to sharp-elbow your stupidly named child into; no, Albert Square is a nothingness. A claustrophobic cage where education isn’t fetishised and job prospects stretch as far as a shift at Ian’s café and a trip up west, 10 minutes on the London Underground, is lofty ambition in extreme.

EastEnders is a little depressing and difficult but, you know, life is too. If you want to watch pretty people with a lot of spare income who believe the world owes them its riches then avail yourself of Made in Chelsea. I sometimes watch that too. My cult is a broad square-eyed church.

So into the E20 squalor walks Danny Dyer as Mick Carter with his asthmatic bulldog Lady Di. Dyer’s arrival in EastEnders on Christmas Day as the new landlord of the Queen Vic was a veritable coup. “Dyermas” I called it and it seemed to catch on. If I could pay my bills with stupid things I’ve shoved on Twitter which became popular, I could stop getting out of bed at all, which is my 2014 ambition.

I’ve adored Dyer since the 1999 film Human Traffic and am a fan of those fighty, blokey Nick Love movies – The Business, The Football Factory, Outlaw – which are the sort of well-loved, mass-DVD-shifting British movies typically loathed by middle-class socialists who spend all day tub-thumping about the working classes but feel bilious if they actually have to look at them.

When Outlaw was released on DVD, broadsheet slating of the commentary by Love and Dyer furiously hurt, bamboozled and saddened them. The YouTube clip of Love and Dyer was passed around Twitter by better-educated people so we could all have a laugh at the cockneys with their silly, common voices being honest, and hurt, and cross. I remember thinking then I didn’t find Dyer-bashing funny. And I’d rather be stuck in a lift with those two – effing and blinding – than with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and his ilk who believe the art of chuntering scripts outloud in funny hats and prop department wigs makes them a messianic presence.

And now Dyer as Mick Carter is at the centre of my televisual world. The land he’s arrived in, to the established EastEnders fan, looks comfortingly familiar. Phil Mitchell and Ian Beale are at war. They have been at war for so long not even village elders can remember the seedlings of their dispute, but now their kids of the rival clans have begun shagging. Phil Mitchell is back with Sharon Rickman, née Watts, nee Mitchell.

“Just like old times,” Sharon purred last week  appearing from under a duvet looking blissfully  orgasmic. Time moves on, age may wither Phil Mitchell, yet still he remains perilously attractive to any human being with a vagina within the M25. Janine Butcher has been arrested for the death of yet another husband. Carol Jackson has secret breast cancer. Bianca Jackson has dumped her boyfriend Terry and is still trying to remove turkey gravy from her curtains after throwing a full bird at his ex-wife’s head during Christmas dinner. Meanwhile, Kat and Alfie have lost their tenancy at the Queen Vic and have a new baby on the way. And there are more of the new Carter family en route, namely, a gran, a grandad and a brave soldier son in the forces who is yet to be told his little brother is gay.

See? I knew I could get you interested. And did I mention Danny Dyer? There is nothing culturally superior about not following a soap opera. If you relax your brain it becomes as natural and as mindless as breathing. And bearing in mind your Christmas credit card bill will be arriving any moment, you’ll need all the distractions you can get.