Last Night's Television: Wonderland, BBC2
Confessions of a Traffic Warden, Channel 4
Sad case of bride and prejudice
Alice Jolly is an author, playwrite and teaches creative writing at Oxford University. She is crowd-funding her own memoir of infertility and surrogacy with the publisher Unbound. 50 per cent of the proceeds of the book will be donated to SANDS (The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Foundation).
Friday 20 November 2009
Emma and Ben are shopping. She finds a shirt she likes and heads to the changing room to try it on. "Ben," she calls out, "do you like it?" "Yeah," he muses with all the certainty of a man who doesn't want to say the wrong thing. "It's colourful." "But," Emma counters, "you can see my tummy." "It doesn't matter," says Ben. "Who cares? I think you look beautiful." "No offence, Ben, but I don't feel comfy in it. Sorry."
They don't buy the shirt. Emma and Ben are both 28. They live in a small community in Devon. They have been together for six years, and want to get married: they are clearly very much in love. The only problem is their parents. Emma's mum worries about the finance involved, and she is concerned about the couple putting all their savings into a joint account. There are other complications, too. Both have Down's syndrome and there are all kinds of institutional obstacles in the way: their parents' concern, yes, but also the benefits system. Although they currently live together, were Ben and Emma (both of whom work for a living) to marry, their system of receiving benefits would change dramatically. "The thing with having Down's syndrome is that sometimes you're not treated like an adult," explained Emma. "And people don't listen to what you say."
Can We Get Married? was a moving, striking and insightful film in the Wonderland series, not to mention one, which, hopefully will work towards changing the attitudes Emma mentioned. It followed the couple as they attend to their daily business: work, trips to the pub, dance classes. In the event, they decided not to marry. "It's just a bit of paper, getting married," sighed Emma. It's true, though it's a shame she won't get the wedding she so clearly dreams of.
I missed Misfits last week, and not entirely by accident. The premise – a group of teens gets struck by lightning in a freak storm, only to develop sudden superpowers – sounded decidedly dubious, as did the cast of characters. There's every cliché in the teen-drama book: Nathan, the cheeky Irish one; Simon, the quiet, weird one; Curtis, the good boy; Alisha the party girl; and Kelly, the Vicky Pollardesque chav.
One week in, though, I decided to give it a go. And what do you know? It wasn't that bad. Good, even. Smart, and funny, and odd. The acting's a little hammy in places and the script retains an element of adults-writing-for-teens naffness, but on the whole... not bad. This week's episode was all about Nathan, who discovered that his step-dad was affected in the storm, too. Instead of developing superpowers, though, he had developed werewolf tendencies. Oh well. Nathan's mum didn't seem to care, much to Nathan's annoyance. He has been kicked out of his home for lying, while his step-dad runs around London alone, naked, doing God knows what to God knows whom. A second discovery came in the form of Ruth, a volunteer at the old people's home where the teens are doing their community service. Or at least that's what Nathan thought until after they had slept together, when he realised that she's actually one of the home's residents, he just happened to have seen her as she used to appear (blame the storm). Oh, and someone kept leaving creepy "I know what you did" messages in their lockers. Because they killed their probation officer. But that was last week. So, yes: action-packed.
Can you imagine being a traffic warden? Worse, can you imagine coming to this country from Nepal, adjusting to the new culture, and then becoming a traffic warden, with no idea of the flak you're going to put up with. That's what Durga – a double-masters graduate, who speaks four languages and has read all the works of Shakespeare – has done. We followed him around last night in Confessions of a Traffic Warden. "English is my passion," he explained. "The English are courteous." One day, he hopes to bring his daughter here. He joined the Westminster team after a six-day training course, in which they re-enacted the sort of aggression they are likely to encounter. It all seemed very amusing at the time. "Don't you fucking walk away from me," one trainee ad-libbed, to guffaws from the rest of the class. Once they get out on the street, it wasn't nearly as funny. Some of the wardens are jobsworths it's true: they try and rack up as many tickets as possible. Westminster City Council claim they don't set targets, though there's no doubting the pressure on attendants to make themselves value for money. By the end of the programme, Durga was at breaking point. "You should be functional, you should be mechanic but I want to empathise," he said. "So it is to be or not to be." He decides not to bring his daughter here after all. Personally, I don't blame him.
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