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I've fallen for The Undateables

Shaine is 31, has a learning difficulty and is looking for love. He hasn't been on a date in three years. "You do get lonely a lot," he says. "You sometimes think there's something missing."

It might have something to do with his technique: bombarding women he fancies with some of the 3,000-plus love poems he's written.

Carolyne is in her 20s and was in perfect physical health until five years ago. She woke up one morning paralysed from the waist down.

A weak blood vessel in her spine had burst. Her 10-year relationship with her childhood sweetheart also burst a year later.

"I just want to find someone normal," she says. "It would be pretty sad having the rest of your life and not falling in love again."

Justin is 39, lives alone with his cat, Leo, and has never had a girlfriend. He suffers from Neurofibromatosis 1, which has disfigured his face and body with tumours and will only get worse. "You never see a disfigured person getting the girl," he says, "but if you don't try, you don't know."

These were this week's crop of The Undateables. This three-part series caused controversy before it began, chiefly among people who mistook the deliberately provocative title for a label, rather than a signifier of a societal fact: it's more difficult for people with physical or intellectual disabilities to find love and companionship.

Last week's opening instalment, which I didn't have space to review but watched online later, was warm, touching and managed to locate unexpected human comedy in many situations. This week's, though, tended to tug at the heart rather than tap the funny bone.

All three signed up with dating agencies. Carolyne was pleasantly surprised by Wayne, able-bodied and a strapping 6ft 2 ins. Unlike other men she'd dated, whose first question was invariably "Can you have sex?" (she can), he was neither fazed nor morbidly fascinated by her condition. The date went well, with the promise of more to come.

A week after meeting Jackie, who also has a learning difficulty, at a speed dating event, Shaine -- an open book whose pages are full of flowery declarations of love -- was smitten. "She seems a perfect match," he declared.

For their first, chaperoned date, he brought along a book of new love poems he'd hastily written for her. The scent of overkill was in the air. At their second meeting, Shaine went for broke. "Are we boyfriend, girlfriend, just friends?" he asked Jackie.

"Just friends."

"Oh, right. Oh, crumbs. But that's cool!"

"Gutted" but resilient, Shaine bounced back and was last seen entering a DIY shop, freshly written poem in hand, to approach a woman he fancied who worked on the checkout. The camera discreetly retreated as the automatic doors slid shut behind him.

From the outset, the dating agency admitted finding someone for Justin would be difficult in a world that values appearance over everything else. After a month, there hadn't been a single response to his online profile. "I'm going to be a single bachelor boy for the rest of my days," he said, mordantly adding: "Wish I knew why -- I'd change."

Then along came Tracey, a 35-year-old veterinary nurse with a shared love of cats, who responded more to Justin's witty profile than his picture. After a smooth first date, she declared Justin was definite boyfriend material. "There's still a person in there," she reminded us.

The third series of The Consumer Show sees a much improved product. The habit of putting it out live seems to have been dropped, allowing for a measured package.

The main item, a report by financial journalist Bill Tyson -- a new addition to regulars Keelin Shanley and Eddie Hobbs -- on banks' mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI), was thorough and persuasive. A small reminder that RTE, for all its well-documented troubles, is still our only one-stop shop for public service broadcasting.



THE UNDATEABLES HHHII THE CONSUMER SHOW HHHII


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