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'Comforting' telly isn't comforting

Blog | By Helen Brown | May 18, 2020

Victoria Wood (Credit: MAG)

My social media feed is full of people asking for suggestions of comforting reading, comforting viewing, comforting listening at this worrying time.

The least comforting thing in anxious times is comfortable things. The real problem comes from the misappropriation of the word e.g. ‘These are comfy leggings, this is my favourite comfortable sweater, this steamed pudding is comforting on a cold night.’

The word comes from the Latin com with + fortis strong, so I assume that it means to strengthen and - without wishing to come across too hearty - the best thing you could do to give yourself strength on a cold morning, is not ‘comfort eating’ but pulling yourself together and taking the dog for a walk.

Similarly, the worst thing you can do after a breakup is to watch rom coms. I’ve long held the option that the best breakup film is ‘Double Jeopardy’- nothing like your husband faking his own death, framing you for murder - which leads to your incarceration (where you ‘natch’ get into buff with the help of your new prison bffs, incidentally fulfilling the ‘rom com’ requirement of a transformational montage scene) before ultimately tracking your husband down, whilst being followed by the police and then being imprisoned in a coffin by foresaid husband, before your ultimate triumph over the forces that would seek to destroy you. Following such a story is naturally going to ‘summon up the blood’ and make you want to get over your breakup wallowing and face the world again.

When my dear dad died suddenly, I found myself, my brother and my mum on the Isle of Man where he’d passed away on holiday. All the usual comfort reading and TV watching that we’d normally do on a family holiday seemed inappropriate, jarring. I didn’t want to read Dick Francis or watch Poirot or Morse. Instead I read Alexander McCall Smith’s Edinburgh novels and as the Chelsea Flower Show was on, we watched the coverage of this every evening on TV. Our world temporarily shrunk to the 3 of us and our temporary world. I kicked my brother on the shins when he tried to take control of the phone from my mum so he could speak mano a mano with the coroner and developed a weird crush on Chris Beardshaw.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to decide what is the perfect TV viewing for lockdown and I’ve decided it’s probably BBC’s ‘Race Across the World.’ These are the reasons why it's perfect lockdown viewing. First, you get to travel the world whilst complying with UK lockdown rules. Second, you get to travel into some situations that are genuinely tense - ‘They’re running short of money and they can’t speak the language and Tony’s bunions are playing up- what will they do?’ and then you remember that they have a camera crew with them and - yes, they still need to navigate the situation- which is genuinely tense, but nothing really bad will happen to them.

Series like this make me wish Victoria Wood was still alive as you know she’d make a brilliant spoof of it, ‘Andrea is 34, has never left home and enjoys nothing more than riding the circuit of the Asda shuttle bus.’ In fairness to Andrea, my mum and I holiday every year in a popular Suffolk destination (I’m not allowed to say where for fear of competition in the holiday lettings arena) and often have conversations about how interesting it would be to go to Vienna or Bruges or even the Norfolk Broads and whether to take a second holiday.

This discussion is then resolved when one of us says, ‘I think though if we were to take a second holiday, I’d rather go a second time to…the popular, anonymous, Suffolk destination.’ Of course,discussions about holiday destinations are rather on hold right now, but in the meantime the perfect travel escape – the perfect comfort viewing - is ‘Race Across the World.’

Race Across the World is available on BBC iPlayer for 9 months