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Save your tests for the real sob stories

PUBLISHED: 09:55 12 December 2008 | UPDATED: 22:00 05 July 2010

REALITY television hits a crescendo this weekend with the X-Factor final and the semi final of Strictly Come Dancing and perhaps it's time for us all to take a reality check.

REALITY television hits a crescendo this weekend with the X-Factor final and the semi final of Strictly Come Dancing and perhaps it's time for us all to take a reality check.

Tomorrow night and next week families will live the tension on the sofa, spending money better dropped into a charity box on voting and taking the TV bun fight so, so seriously.

If an alien had landed and watched last weekend's scenes, they'd be forgiven for believing the contestants were weeping over matters of life and death. Grave and serious issues, not light entertainment.

The weeping, the hysteria, the gnashing of teeth, the hugging and clutching. The sheer desperation, especially on the X-Factor. It's got so out of proportion, it's unhealthy.

Even the language used by contestants and judges - “heartbreaking”, “desperate”, “winning means everything to me” - is so over-inflated it's become meaningless.

It's a singing competition. Strictly Come Dancing is a dance competition. Fun. End of.

But both programmes are turning into parodies, taking themselves so seriously it's risible.

Last week's scenes of hysteria when one-trick pony Diana Vickers was booted out, came just after the end of the Shannon Matthews trial.

Shannon Matthew was reality. Her mother, Karen Matthews, who drugged her and arranged for her to be kidnapped and tethered in a grotty flat to claim a £50,000 newspaper reward, was reality. Hideous reality.

Shannon's miserable nine years on that Dewsbury council estate with unfortunate children just like her is reality. Generations of unemployed living on benefits, having more and more children as cash cows to claim multiple child benefit, barely leaving their homes, obsessed with the internet and TV, living parallel lives to the rest of us who get up and go out to work every night is reality.

Shannon's ordeal was real. An ordeal in the true meaning of the word - locked up and drugged by people supposed to care for her. This was a true ordeal - not waiting “in desperation” to hear if the public has voted you through to the next round.

Shannon's life was one where there was always money for booze, computers and TV but rarely for food. She used to scribble messages to her brother wondering if they would be fed that night.

Her mother had seven children by six fathers. That's reality.

But somehow the Matthews case feels unreal, like a film plot, removed from our reality. The pap we watch on a Saturday night has become reality.

Like soaps, viewers get involved in the contestants' lives; feel as if we know them because they're real, on TV.

The reality of Shannon's family had been known to be a problem for 12 years. Social workers knew but failed to protect Baby P.

But people say: “Oh, I don't watch the news anymore. It's too depressing.” They're uninformed about real reality but live through TV and soaps. How depressing and warped is that?

They know the names of every member of JLS - worthy winners as role models for youg boys everywhere - but couldn't name the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Only this week Patsy Palmer - Bianca in Eastenders - said in an interview that the culmination of the paedophile storyline this week was exposed in the right because young people didn't watch the news but always watched Eastenders.

And the X-Factor - and that's their reality.

AS impressive as Austin Healey's torso is, his partner Erin peeling his shirt off after the judges sent him packing from Strictly Come Dancing felt more than inappropriate.

Especially after he had gushed about his four young daughters and his love for his wife - methinks he protested too much. Daddy allowing himself to be undressed by his dancing partner in front of an audience sent some very mixed messages to those girls, let alone his poor wife.

OBSESSION with the “Christmas experience” has always been lost on me.

I've never seen the appeal of dragging small children on planes to sub-zero Lapland, get togged up like Michelin men in tired hired snow suits and queue for hours to see Santa when a department store grotto does the job just as well at a tiny fraction of the price.

People lose their marbles when it comes to Christmas, splashing out ridiculous amounts of money on anything “Christmassey” involving snow, mostly fake, twinkling lights and a man in a red suit and beard.

I've yet to see a Santa's grotto that is anything but tacky. Perhaps that's the point.

So if Lapland is beyond me, the appeal of jerrybuilt fake Laplands in the New Forest or the West Midlands feels like some sort of joke. But hundreds of families truly believed they would discover magic in a winter wonderland-cum-shambles in a muddy field.

Bless them. They meant well, which is probably more than the people who could practically taste the money being chucked at them as they were knocking up the plywood grotto.

Now I'm not religious but if people are looking for a real Christmas experience, surely church the first place to look?

On Sunday we started our Christmas celebrations with nine lessons and carols at my older son's school which got us all feeling nicely Christmassey, thank you, without a husky dog or an elf in sight.

Every year my children enjoy church and carol services to reinforce the Christmas message.

There might not be Santa but there are candles, crowds - apparently the pews are fuller now the recession is biting - and a wintry atmosphere because churches are usually freezing.

It is, after all, what Christmas is all about and unlike Lapland, real or fake, there are no queues and it's free.

AMY Smith is 16, her boyfriend Marley Testo is 17 and they are the proud new parents of triplets Lexi, Leah and Alfie.

Marley said facing triple babyhood as “a bit scary” - understatement of the year - but both had big supportive families.

I suppose he meant lots of other people to help and take over the parenting bit when life gets tough.

It's a pity those big families weren't around when these children needed good parenting and advice about sex, contraception and relationships.

IT'S not as if the police were on best terms with the Home Secretary and Prime Minister.

Now they won't be on any force's Christmas card list for a long, long time.

What was Gordon Brown thinking when he said people should be able to ring the police late at night and ask for the safest way home?

Phones in police control rooms ring off the hook with loonies, nutters and timewasters ringing 999 every time their pizza is late or have stubbed their toe.

The PM might have a vision of a “personal police force” where jolly neighbourhood police officers would give phone advice on safe routes home after a night at the pub, theatre or wherever.

But to be so unguarded in his interview with Glamour magazine was irresponsible when police are governed by targets and call-put times as it is.

Every emergency service is plagued by timewasters who, nationwide, waste millions of pounds of public money. Services have to respond, whatever the call, because of Government targets and service obligation.

It's staggering how many waste of time calls emergency services make.

A paramedic was telling me about a woman who called the service out 68 times since September. No wonder morale is low - and a way to start reversing that is the support of the man at the top.

LIKE most mothers, I despair at the discarded toys, mostly presents from Christmases and birthdays past, lying unused and, some shamefully, unopened in my boys' cupboards.

More than £1 billion-worth of children's presents will not last beyond January, according to a survey of 3,000 parents by Children's Mutual that might make us stop and think this year.

The fact that three Barbie dolls are sold every second should make us think even harder before we spend this Christmas.

IT was the meat that “helped win the second world war” and inspired Monty Python's famous sketch.

Now Spam is back. It's hot stuff again in the US with the recession sending sales up by more than 10pc in the past three months because it's cheap, meat and keeps forever.

Give it a few months and Jamie Oliver will be conjuring miracles out of the pink stuff on a Sainsbury's ad. Organic Spam?

But will good old Spam fritters find their way back on to the new world school menu? I'd love to see the faces of picky, fussy and finicky 21st century children faced with a sludge-colour fritter on their plate.

IF my son asked for a party at home for his 16th birthday - just a few friends, promise - I know what I'd say. And it wouldn't start with a “y”.

But parents - interesting indulgent well-off middle-class parent - give in to their children, and are then surprised to be called home to a trashed house.

Sylvia Hobday, a successful advertising executive and her university lecturer husband, allowed their 15-year-old daughter to hold her 16th birthday party in their £1.5m Brighton home with four adult family members as bouncers.

Unsurprisingly, it was published on Facebook, attracted gatecrashers and the house was wrecked.

Birthday girl Georgie had refused point blank to hold it at a village hall, stroppily announcing that she wasn't three.

According to her mother, since the party she has shown no remorse for the damage. The spoilt little madam obviously hasn't grown up much since she was three.

TODAY I'm nursing a raw sore throat, a raging temperature and aching limbs.

Should I go to work tomorrow, risking infecting numerous others, and soldier on in the name of helping the economy or should I crawl under the duvet?

Rarely are people so divided as over illness. Sick days are mounting, small companies risk going to the wall but people struggling in with the lurgy are not always welcome.

But calling in sick also can put people's jobs under threat when tough decisions have to be made and sick records are analysed. People coughing and spluttering at work should be cut a bit of slack. They've struggled in because they're worried about their own jobs and don't want to let their workmates down.

What are a few germs among friends anyway?

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