Monday, 7 May 2012

How I learned to stop worrying and love being ill (with nothing to do but watch TV)

You know those days when all you can do is sleep?

So, I've been a bit poorly this week. What I thought was an allergy to fake fur (making caveman costumes, of course!) morphed seamlessly into a stinker of a cold. Symptoms aside, I realised that being ill isn’t all bad. You spend most of the time asleep, occasionally summoning the strength to read a few pages of a trashy novel. People bring you drinks and snacks on little trays. All in all, it's not unlike a tropical beach holiday, but without the inconvenience of sunburn or sand in your unmentionables. (I realise that the parents among you will be gnashing your teeth at this, as you don't have the option of long, languorous illnesses. Never mind; when your kids are big enough you can train them in the ways of the helper-monkey. Feel better?)

I did spend about a year of my young life being plagued with a glandular fever type virus, which seemed a pain at the time (what with all the being ill, the snooty letters from the school, and the teachers' manic assertions that I'd "never catch up") but I see now it was a massive blessing in disguise. It's the reason I spent hours and hours of my childhood watching Fawlty Towers, and The Good Life, and Some Like it Hot (still my all-time favourite film) and other classics featuring  Margaret Rutherford and and John Le Mesieur. It's the reason why I'm the only person my age who has ever admitted to recognising Richard Wattis or Will Hay. 

It has also proved invaluable in honing my telephone manner

I also take particular satisfaction in the fact that I got out of loads of really pointless work. That's right, Mrs Bing, I never did get around to making that model of a medieval village. The one that you insisted was crucial to my development, my school career and my very soul. Ha ha. 

When you're 8, who cares if you miss lots of school? Everything is repeated a million times anyway I visited Mountfitchet bloody castle three times in roughly as many years.  As long as you can read and write, you'll still be ahead of most of your classmates. Actually, you'll be ahead of some of the university graduates I've met. (I actually know a teacher who writes with freewheeling disregard for spelling and grammar. He is teaching your children. Makes you want to retch, doesn't it?)

I don't mean any disrespect to teachers I know several, and they do an amazing job is there anything more important than educating the next generation? Not that I can think of. They are somewhat held back by a ridiculous amount of red tape, and the necessity of lesson plans for all the hypothetical geniuses or simpletons who aren't in the class, but could be. According to this story, teachers are now discouraged from alerting children to their spelling mistakes. I actually thought this had been par for the course for years now, judging by the inability of most young adults to spell really simple words. If you were deliberately trying to sabotage kids’ chances of ever getting a decent job, you couldn't come up with a better plan.

The one advantage of being confined to your sick bed is that you can catch up on the TV you missed while you were doing all the activities that left your immune system a weak shadow of its former self. I recalled the trailers for The Undateables as looking potentially mean and exploitative, but had read several reviews of how sweet and touching it was. If you missed it, please check it out three episodes following the romantic escapades of people looking for love, hampered by special needs, disfigurements, and disabilities. I'm not saying there weren't hilarious moments Shaine telling  his shy and silent date "You’re very bubbly, I like that" with absolute sincerity was comic genius. The characters in the documentary were memorable, fascinating and... magical. If you only watch one episode, make it the second one if you can watch Justin's search for love without your heart breaking just a little, you might actually be dead inside. I wish this film could be shown in schools to remind kids that the people with Asberger’s or a lopsided face have the same thoughts, wishes and dreams as everybody else, and a little empathy goes a long way. 

I wanted to see if there were any updates on The Undateables, so I started reading the website no news so far but what I found even more refreshing was the number of heartfelt, warm messages of encouragement from the public. It seems that trolls had no place in the comments section here, and my faith in humanity was restored.

Watching Louis Theroux's latest offering, Extreme Love, was a similarly moving experience. Like the parents of those with Asberger’s and Down's syndrome shown in The Undateables, those carers of kids with autism are gracious paragons of patience, kindness and unconditional love. Likewise the families affected by dementia the wives who had to see husbands cavorting with other women in the care home (because they had no idea they were already married), the husband and child of a woman in her forties who was visibly embarrassed that she had forgotten how to draw a simple clock face. Apart from making me feel vaguely guilty that I don't work in some kind of worthy avenue such as this, the whole programme was a testament to the love that defies circumstances, and it reminded me why Louis is such a great interviewer he will happily roll up his sleeves and get involved. It’s much easier when you get to go home after a day.

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