Last Night's TV: At Home with the Georgians/ BBC2 My Boyfriend the War Hero / BBC3 Rick Stein's Cornish Christmas / BBC2
Friday 03 December 2010
Ladies, meet John Courtney. Unmarried, cripplingly lacking in self-awareness, all he wants in life is a nice wife to make him happy. Is that so much to ask? He's talented (an accomplished musician, he sends compositions to the young women who take his fancy), he's kind – constantly distributing sweetmeats to young ladies – and he's got the perfect marital home.
Still, he gets rejected, time after time. And what of poor old Dudley Ryder? Look at him and his insecurities. He wakes up at night panic-stricken that he might not be able to impregnate his wife – the wife that he doesn't even have yet. The fear consumes him to the extent that he begins to question whether or not he should marry at all. Perhaps, he wonders, he should spend his life as one of the many Georgian bachelors? These chaps were the Bridget Joneses of their day, the singletons chafing at the smug marrieds' complacency. And all of them were blokes.
Home, as far as the Georgians were concerned, "reflected your taste, your character, your moral values – even the state of your marriage." So says Professor Amanda Vickery, Radio 4 regular and, last night, presenter of At Home with the Georgians. She was taking issue with the notion of the domestic realm as a female-dominated sphere, arguing that men were just as likely to yearn for wedded bliss and a successful home life as women. To make her point she was sifting through the Georgians' letters and diaries – including those of our very own John and Dudley – poring over their innermost thoughts and self-analysis.
Goodness knows what happened to Courtney – one in three contemporary men never married – though we know that Ryder, at least, got what he wanted, marrying at the (relatively) gristled age of 43. Vickery went to see a picture of him in the grand home he left behind. "Look how dignified he is!" she chuckled. "I think he's come into his own." Quite unlike these hopeless boys was Miss Mary Martin. "A sexy battle-axe," Vickery called her. Martin was engaged to be married and had set about the process of preparing her future home with worker-bee-like intensity. The importance of the home in Georgian times gave women a new sense of empowerment, thus Martin writes to her fiancé joking that she is wearing the "breeches". It was, in its way, the foundation of what historians have come to call domestic feminism; the beginning of the idea that women held special claim to domestic expertise, a claim that later enabled them to take up positions of importance within civil society. As such, the Georgians' obsession with the home opened a door to female equality. It also gave us Changing Rooms and Kirstie Allsopp.
Just as sassy as Mary Martin, though with rather more pressing concerns on her mind, was Vicky Swales. Aged 16, her fiancé, Craig, returned from Afghanistan minus three of his limbs and a chunk of his nose. His big fear, he said on My Boyfriend the War Hero, was that Vicky wouldn't want him any more. Her big fear, on the other hand, was that he wouldn't want her anymore.
Neither situation arose. Instead, they moved in together, buying a house with some of Craig's compensation money. They've been getting donations from the public, too, all of it crucial since Vicky, as Craig's full-time carer, is unable to work. Heartbreakingly, she also appeared unable to continue her social life as before. Not all of her friends have been supportive of her decision to stick with Craig. When she threw their engagement party, none of them turned up. There were other setbacks, too. Vicky failed her driving test so won't be able to ferry Craig around as planned. And, during an operation on his leg, Craig contracted MRSA and septicaemia, leaving him seriously ill.
But at least they seemed happy. Their situation has opened up new possibilities: a trip to London was Vicky's first time outside York. They visited television studios, met celebrities (or at least Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden) and went on the London Eye. Sadly, the whirlwind couldn't last forever. Despite their obvious maturity, despite the fairy-tale romanticism of their story, they split, just weeks after the documentary finished filming. Casualties of war, or of scrutiny or, most likely, both, their relationship wasn't meant to last. Judging by the strength of character both displayed last night, their futures, at least, look promising.
Rick Stein's Cornish Christmas doesn't look very much like my London Christmas. In Cornwall, it's all about "a togetherness that's not just family". They gather on the street, dress up as characters from Dickens novels and sing Christmas carols. The shops give out free mulled wine and mince pies. And the pub landlords cook up savoury treats to be enjoyed with pints of cider and hearty toasts. In London, it's all about togetherness with total strangers on the Central Line as we cram into Tube carriages to do our shopping. We gather at Oxford Circus and Westfield, dressed up as faux-furred street fighters and elbow each other out the way. The shops sell exorbitantly priced slices of panettone and churn out Cliff Richard. And the pubs offer something called Rocking Rudolph ale, which no one really likes the taste of but feels like they should, given the time of year, probably try. Anyone for a swap?
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