It's so easy to drift through life accepting the status quo (not the kind appearing in Coronation Street and beating up Les Battersby, silly, the other things-as-they-are-now kind) and never bothering to think about who takes care of the little details. Who picks up the discarded copies of Metro after the morning rush hour? Who cuts the grass in the communal garden? When you arrive at your desk at 9am - give or take the odd quarter of an hour - on a Monday morning after a weekend spent in the countryside, or on the lash, or in Paris, who carried out the unenviable task of clearing away the detritus of office life that had inevitably collected around your workstation? A BBC2 documentary, The Secret Life Of An Office Cleaner, aims to shed light on the shadowy world of the people who clean London's squillions of square feet of office space, and the liminal life they lead, central to the functioning of the city (everyone knows that bins unemptied for three days is the hallmark of a civilisation in crisis), yet oddly invisible. Unsurprisingly, most of this army of cleaners dragging around Henry the friendly hoover are marginalised, badly-paid immigrants. Quelle surprise. You owe it to the nameless, faceless workers who wipe away the crumbs of your morning bagel to watch this exposé of their working conditions.
A serious note to begin this column on, to be sure - but then, TV this week seems to be rather less frivolous than usual. Even Lost (Wed 10pm C4) is in a dark mood, as we see some 'heroes' do decidedly questionable things in the cause of a 'good' goal. It's very topical, and all the more uncomfortable to watch as a result.
Continuing the theme of the darkness at the centre of the human soul, and the essential awfulness of existence, Wife Swap (Mon 9pm C4) is back. People seriously live like that? This week, there's a town/country swap, as 'party girl' Carrie swaps with farmer Bridget. Then, immediately afterwards on E4 you can watch Wife Swap: The Aftermath, in a vain attempt to find some sort of closure, or confirmation that lessons have been learnt and marriages saved. You can always hope. There's been a bit of a rash of articles about declining birthrates in the West recently - hardly surprising, when the cathode ray tube spurts out poison like Supernanny (Wed 9pm C4), the televisual equivalent of Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day in the contraception stakes. Why risk pregnancy at all, when you might end up with one of the ghastly crotch monsters depicted in the show? Forget Jo Frost - these 'tiny tearaways' require their parents to have a SWAT team on speed dial.
Everyone knows that goldfish have a three-second memory. What would happen to a man who, through freak brain damage, lost his capacity to remember anything further back in time than a few seconds? The answer: emotional devastation, unbearable pain for his family and friends, and an ITV programme about his plight (Real Life: The Man With The Seven Second Memory, Mon 11pm ITV1). Depressing stuff.
Speaking of such matters, would it be too facetious to call eBay the collective material memory of our nation? Billions of pounds are spent on it every year, as people get rid of their flotsam and jetsam, in the process raising more cash to buy
tons of junk new possessions to light up their hearts. eBay: Money For Old Rope (Mon 10pm BBC2) examines the phenomenon of eBay. Let's hope it also explains why those rarer-than-rare standing tickets for the secret System Of A Down gig you had your eye on rocket up in price from £affordable, just about to £you must be having a laugh, mate in the final seconds of an auction. (Although there could be an easy explanation.) Regardless, watching TV 'do' internet is often amusing, as we über-leet nerds get a chance to sit and sneer. Reporting that some bloke is selling his fiancée's wedding dress after she left him at the altar? That's so over, it's practically an All Your Base image macro.
ITV continues its, ah somewhat masturbatory 50th birthday celebrations with two more dubious offerings, as if Ant'n'Dec reviving dead-and-buried gameshows wasn't unappealing enough: ITV 50: What Did ITV Ever Do For Me (Tue 9pm ITV1) promises to be Private Eye's Luvvies column in audiovisual form, whereas ITV 50: 50 Years Of Rock'N'Roll just sounds bizarre, as ITV is about as rock'n'roll as Norman Lamont. Unless you count a poodle-haired soap star deluding herself into believing she can do justice to Dancing Queen on one of those interminable tribute programmes ITV churns out with hideous regularity as embodying the spirit of rock, that is. Which we don't.
The week needs an injection of fun; what better than an episode of Spooks (Thur 9pm BBC1) all about infiltrating a racist group with delusions of political relevancy? Well, that certainly sounds like a laugh-a-minute scenario. To be fair to Spooks, last week's bombing episodes were bloody good - even if it was rather difficult to believe in the googly-eyed fanaticism of the 'kill all humans' terror group. You can't help feeling they'd get closer to their goal of eradicating the human virus by encouraging people to watch Supernanny, but still, the footage of sooty people wandering around dazed after a backpack bomb went off was evocative, to say the least. There are more uncomfortable reminders of disaster in the Beeb's big drama-doc, Derailed (Tue 9pm BBC1), about the horrific Paddington crash of 1999. TV Troll advises giving this one a miss, if you are at risk of high blood pressure; in terms of rail safety, it seems nothing ever changes. Oh yes, and as the recent acquittal of Railtrack managers who oversaw the "cavalier approach to safety" that led to the Hatfield crash shows, no-one is ever responsible for these terrible tragedies. It's enough to make you spit blood - or move somewhere with a decent rail network, like France.
After a week of such grim viewing, it's a relief to be able to settle down in front of X-Factor (Sat 7.10pm ITV1), where the most
amusing disturbing aspect of the show is the idea that some of the 'singers' featured had ever managed to convince themselves that they had some modicum of talent. Let's be honest: it's why everyone watches. Goodness knows there's nothing the British like better than a good dose of Schadenfreude and a chance to watch someone else get cut down to size, while we swig on pints of vinegar, bile and fermented mandrake root. Happy watching, viewers! It's been a pleasure!