Steph and Dom: Can Cannabis Save Our Son? Monday 28th January, 9pm, Channel 4
Life hasn’t taught me much, in the way of wisdom. I always thought, when I reached middle age, that I’d be a sort of human-owl hybrid, reading books by the fire in my silk dressing gown, smoking a pipe, and dispensing wisdom from my vast, all-knowing cranium. In fact, it turns out that in 46 years on this earth, I’ve learned to get dressed on my own and not discuss Brexit with strangers on trains, and that’s about it.
But one thing that I am increasingly sure of is that nobody’s life is perfect, Everyone has their travails, their difficulties, that rock in their shoe that never seems to get any smaller. You may envy the lives of others, but there’s every chance they’re envying yours right back again.
Take Dominic and Stephanie Parker. You might know the as Steph and Dom, erstwhile stars of Gogglebox, various reality TV shows, and hosts of their own show on Talk Radio. By any measurable metric, they seemed to have a charmed life. In all of their TV appearances they came across as a jolly, cheerfully posh couple who spent their evenings getting merrily sozzled on the sofa watching telly. They absolutely epitomise the joys of a carefree and comfortable existence.
Nothing, it turns out, could be further from the truth.
The Parker’s eldest child is Max, who is about to turn 18. Like a lot of boys his age, he’s a big, outdoorsy bundle of enthusiasm who lives for sport. Unlike most boys of his age, there’s a very real chance he could fail to reach his 19th birthday. Max has up to 100 seizures every day, and at any moment he could have a seizure and never wake up from it. As he grows older, the chances of this increase. As a result of a lifetime of chronic seizures, his brain has been damaged, and he has the mental age of a five-year-old.
Steph and Dom recount this to the camera with the sort of metronomic detachment of parents who have been living this nightmare for so long, they can’t remember anything else. He’s been on massive cocktails of ever-changing medication since the age of 4. None of them have ever made the slightest difference to his seizure activity.
But there is hope – of a kind – on the horizon. A bi-product of marijuana has been shown to have remarkable effects on a number of patients. In marijuana, THC is the stuff that makes you act like a goat, find profundity in even the most unutterably banal conversations, and laugh at buses. But CBD is the chemical that really matters here, the one with the medicinal benefits. It also doesn’t turn you into a boring simpleton who thinks Bob Marley was the reincarnation of Mozart and Gandhi.
I must admit, when I learned that there was a documentary about Steph and Dom investigating the health benefits of cannabis, my heart sank a little. I had visions of them nipping over to Amsterdam, saying that they’d better just try it for themselves and winking at the camera, before an excruciating section where they got the giggles and generally gurned and clowned about for the cameras. But, as we established at the outset, I’m an idiot who knows nothing. This, instead, is a serious sober and deeply moving documentary about a pair of loving parents who are fighting to keep their son alive.
Steph and Dom, it turns out, are sensitive, kind and loving parents who, like the rest of us, are doing the best they can. It turns out that watching people on TV doesn’t always give you the most rounded and nuanced portrait of people. Who knew?
Their investigation sees them meet some families in similar positions, whose situation has been markedly, sometimes miraculously, improved by CBD. Alongside Steph and Dom are two other hugely important figures in Max’s life – Nerys, his ever-patient, affectionate and twinkly carer; and Honor, Max’s younger sister, who is a remarkable young woman of poise and compassion and kindness. Max worships the ground she walks on, and it’s not hard to see why. Steph and Dom Parker have much to be proud of, in both of their children.
Britain’s Top 100 Dogs Live, Tuesday 29th January, 7:30pm, ITV
First off, an apology. I know this is a dangerous precedent – if I start apologising for mistakes made in this blog, it’ll probably become a full-time job. Not for nothing does it say, at the bottom of this page, “You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions.” They probably should have just stuck in the full stop after the word ‘information’.
Anyway, specifically, I would like to apologise for something I wrote almost exactly a year ago, when ITV were counting down the nation’s 100 Favourite Dogs. The programme featured something called a Chinese Crested, a peculiar, hairless little dog that looked like the by-product of an illicit relationship between a plucked chicken and a traffic cone. I went on to call the Chinese Crested ‘the ugliest creature on earth’. Not long afterwards, I received a tweet from a reader called Tony, who suggested I might have made a mistake, and sent me a picture of his own Chinese Crested. And right enough, it was absolutely gorgeous, a cute, fluffy, hairy, generously coiffured little bundle of loveliness. I don’t know why the programme makers picked a bald version of the dog. It would be much like if we selected Ian Duncan-Smith to be the British entrant for Miss World. Anyway, Tony, mea culpa, the Chinese Crested is indeed a thing of beauty.
Now the programme is back again, and broadly speaking the format is similar to last time. Ben Fogle and Sara Cox will front a two-and-a-half-hour festival of caninery (yes, I’m aware that’s not a word). The programme will be filled with fascinating facts, a guide to the different characteristics of various breeds, and a celebration of the uniquely wonderful relationship between humans and dogs. There will also be short filmed inserts about some of the most astonishing, heart-warming and hilarious doggie tales out there, and interviews with a host of famous faces as they celebrate their dogs.
As proceedings are live, and I have yet to put the finishing touches to my time machine (I’m almost there, I just have to work out how to make it travel through time) I haven’t been able to watch the whole programme. Indeed, let’s be honest, its two-and-a-half hours long, and I’ve seen 12 minutes of it. But I can unequivocally say that it was a very pleasant 12 minutes.
There was a short film about Gordon Setters, which are adorable, large, hairy creatures that look a bit like Chewbacca pretending to be a horse. These particular Gordon Setters belong to a lovely woman called Sue, who takes them to donate blood so that other dogs might live. So far, her heroic hounds have saved 140 dogs’ lives, and the cameras go to meet one of them, a sausage dog called (naturally) Sizzle.
Next up was a genuinely moving story about a man called Kerry, who suffered long-term injuries and pain after a car accident. He was sent spiralling into crippling depression, and was on 23 tablets a day just to cope with the pain of his injuries. Normally an outdoorsy type, his world had shrunk to just a few steps from his front door. But one day, on a short walk, he saw Max in a garden. He began to go and see him in the garden , and eventually asked if he might be allowed to walk Max occasionally. So began a bond that Kerry believes saved his life. He has since been able to adopt Max, and his love for his dog is palpable. It is a genuinely beautiful film.
Okay, the last one is a bit of a daft item about a Jack Russell riding a grumpy little pony, but you can’t have everything. The point is, this is an absolute must for dog fans – which is all of us, right? I mean, what kind of monster doesn’t like a dog??? Anyway, last time round, the Labrador was named the nation’s favourite. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it stole the prize again. And ran off with it in its mouth, big ears swinging, gums flapping, tail wagging furiously. Seriously, how is it possible to not love these ridiculous creatures?
The best… and the rest
Sunday 27th January
The Last Survivors, 9pm, BBC Two: The unspeakable atrocities of the Holocaust took place over 70 years ago. Today, those children who survived the death camps are now old. Soon they will be gone. This remarkable feature-length documentary meets some of the last survivors living in this country, and learns how the horrors of yesteryear continue to affect their lives. Remarkable, compelling, important and shattering.
Monday 28th January
Inside Europe: 10 Years Of Turmoil 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: The first episode of this new three-part documentary series looks at how and why David Cameron ended up calling a referendum, and what happened next. This is either an incredibly timely look at how we ended up where we are today, or another 60-minutes of interminable European chicanery, depending on your viewpoint.
Wednesday 30th January
Britain’s Brightest Family, 8pm, ITV: Erstwhile I’m a Celebrity star and occasional Governess from The Chase Anne Hegerty hosts a second series of the quiz show that aims to find the nation’s smartest family. Or, at least, the smartest family out of those prepared to go on a prime time quiz show on ITV.
When Demolitions Go Wrong, 8:30pm, Channel 5: Expect lots of amateur footage of buildings not falling down, or falling the wrong way, and a lot of bleeped out words.
Pure, 10pm, Channel 4: This new six-part comedy-drama tells the story of a young girl whose intrusive sexual thoughts are a form of ‘pure OCD’. It’s funny, warm, rude and risqué.
Thursday 31st January
All Inclusive Holiday: Is It Worth It? 9pm, Channel 5: An investigation into whether you really get value for money on these ostensibly cheap hols. If your kids eat as much ice cream as mine, the answer is a definitive ‘yes’.
Friday 1st February
Posh Hotels with Sally and Nigel, 9pm, Channel 5: Do you ever wonder how certain programmes come into being? For some reason, we have a new series featuring actors Sally Lindsay and Nigel Havers visiting above and below stairs in various posh hotels. Tonight, they discover what £20,000-a-night will get you at The Berkeley. Give me an all-inclusive any day…