Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bea in Your Bonnet

It's a sign of the times that being a single mother doesn't preclude you from taking part in a show called 'Wife Swap'. And hey, why should it? A lot of shows with the word 'celebrity' in the title feature people I've never heard of, so why not an episode of Wife Swap with only one wife? And so it was with last night's sixth series finale, featuring an unemployed mum of four who stated "I like my house buzzing". Which makes sense when your name's Bea.

Bea Livesey, it turns out, has been single for seven years and still likes an occasional night out with the girls, despite being 38. Which is clearly outrageous. Bea is mother to four children, including the beautifully named Chelsey - a variant on the more usual 'Chelsea', which makes it so much more classy.

Actually, I should stop right there, because I think you'll find they're not children. Oh no. As Bea herself said, "I don't like calling them children neither. I call them little tomorrows". Which is lovely. And completely ignores the fact that most of them are on ASBOs. Or probably will be by tomorrow.

Bea's family live on microwave meals, keep rabbits in the bedroom, and leave the ironing to 7-year-old Charlotte. All of which is in slight contrast to the Lloyds of Birmingham. Wife Sue believes firmly in John Major's 'Back to Basics' campaign (so she's used to backing lost causes), and when it comes to washing and ironing, "wouldn't dream of Simon ever doing anything like that". Simon, her husband, owns his own health club, and spent most of the programme shamelessly chasing free publicity by wandering around in a t-shirt advertising their address.

Sue's pet hate is "badly ironed clothes" (her views on child poverty and third world starvation aren't known), but she does like her kids to play golf, and states "If I were to bump into the Queen tomorrow, I would be more than comfortable". Unfortunately she was heading for Manchester at the time, so it didn't seem likely.

Having arrived at their respective homes, Bea got off to a good start by knocking a bowl out of Sue's fridge and smashing it on the floor, while Sue merely stood in the doorway of her new home and declared "there's poo everywhere". Fortunately Bea had left her a manual full of worldly wisdom like "I don't want a man, I've got a vibrator", and "It's bullshit to dictate to your children. If you put a load of restrictions on them, they'll tell you to fuck off. And they'd be right". I only hope that when I have kids (sorry, 'little tomorrows'), I'll be able to back them up like that when they tell people to fuck off.

In situations like this, first impressions count for everything, and Sue's 11-year-old daughter Rebecca was straight in with a critique of Bea, saying "I think Dad's a bit disappointed that she drinks tea". Which suggests he has high standards, when in reality he's just an alcoholic looking for a drinking partner. Bea, for her part, was busy making a salad, which Simon described as "dry", "bland", and "not very good". But hey, at least there was one less bowl to wash up afterwards.

The next morning, Simon received his usual breakfast in bed, and gave Bea instructions on how to use the vacuum cleaner, before complaining that the sound of the hoover was drowning out the TV. I don't think he'd quite thought that one through. Sue, meanwhile, was still coming to terms with her surroundings, stating "I've never seen such a repulsive sight, ever... I can't believe that in this day and age, I'm standing here looking at such a shit-hole". Which is the kind of thing you normally only hear on 'Changing Rooms'.

A quick water fight in the garden, and week two began with Sue finding dog shit in the bed, and Bea stocking up on ready meals. A dining room table was soon installed in the Livesey house, and after a quick fight over a rabbit, Sue took the kids to a golf club. Back in Birmingham, Simon was busy repeating the words "nobody tells me what to do", and getting uppity every time Bea asked him to stop drinking, before stating that his philosophy in life is that "you can have a point of view; we discuss it; and then you agree with me". He must be one of those new men I've been hearing about.

The week ended with Bea organising a sleepover for the kids, during which she helped them paint handprints onto the dining room wall, presumably as some kind of tribute to The Blair Witch Project, while Simon, ever one for the carefully considered statement, described the evening as "armageddon". Not that he's over-reacting at all.

The final night was a time for reflection. Sue asked Bea's little tomorrows what their favourite change had been. The answer was unanimous: "the new table". Though probably only because they knew they could flog it down Cash Converters the moment she left. Sue's children, meanwhile, were making enthusiastic noises about the handprinting sleepover, which had been a total success. The lessons of the exercise were clear.

Swapping done, the two women made their way home, stopping only to describe each other's lives as "crap", at which point Bea immediately got rid of the table and Sue called in the decorators to remove the handprints. Marvellous. That's what I call learning from your experience.