Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Kerry McLean: Even though it was always dark and raining, life in smalltown NI bore one striking resemblance to events in sunny Neighbours

Soap escapism: Kylie Minogue and and Jason Donovan were familiar faces in Neighbours
Soap escapism: Kylie Minogue and and Jason Donovan were familiar faces in Neighbours

By Kerry McLean

I'm not a massive fan of the soaps on television. As the storylines have grown rapidly more outlandish and downright ridiculous over the last decade or so, my interest in them has shrunk at the same rate.

In the days before we had a hundred and one channels to choose from, I would have regularly paid a virtual visit to the farms in Emmerdale or Coronation Street's cobbles for something to watch. It was a means of relaxing and passing a bit of time in the era before I had my kids, after which the notion of time to kill went out the window.

The first story that I can remember getting me well and truly hooked was back in the late 1980s, when EastEnders was in the midst of the fantastic storyline between dastardly Dirty Den and his lying wife Angie. It culminated on Christmas Day in 1986, with Den surprising Angie with the unexpected and decidedly unfestive gift of divorce papers. Suddenly the boring pair of socks or slippers that most of us had discovered under our trees that morning didn't seem like such a bad option.

I, along with 30 million others, more than half of the UK population at the time, tuned in on that particular December 25 to watch Angie get her comeuppance for lying about having only months to live and Den get his revenge, a dish which, as we all witnessed, was best served cold. Unlike the dry, leftover turkey sandwiches we all had to eat the next day.

I think it was after those dizzying dramatic heights that my interest in the TV soaps waned. I mean, how could you top that as a storyline? Producers attempted to throw in serial killers, airplane disasters, amnesia victims and Hollyoaks even introduced Kevin the alien to keep audiences interested but they just left me cold.

There was one exception to that rule for many years. The one show that I enjoyed dipping a toe into rather regularly was Neighbours.

It wasn't just for the hilarity to be had, laughing at the dodgy mullets that everyone, male and female sported in the series or the less than exciting storylines, with acting so hammy it could have come straight from the meat counter at the supermarket.

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Perhaps the attraction, subconsciously, came from living in a part of the world where we're lucky to get a few hours of daylight in winter, and my vitamin D deprived body made me want to watch a world where every day seemed to be filled with sunshine and trips to the beach, no matter what the season.

But I think, more importantly, there was something quite soothing about watching the chilled out life they led in the early series.

You knew if an unhappy, stressful storyline began in Monday's episode, chances were, it would be sorted and life would be back to its shiny best by the time Friday's half hour had concluded. Mostly they argued and made up over small things, with the lines between "neighbour" and "friend" becoming blurred. In that way, it was a reflection of life as I knew it, growing up in a cul-de-sac in a small, friendly town.

I was thinking about that soap this week as the latest, equally dramatic but far less friendly instalment between real-life neighbours, singer Robbie Williams and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page played out in the papers.

They've been at loggerheads since the former Take That member first submitted plans over five years ago to build a mammoth, underground extension to his home.

Jimmy, who clearly exorcised his wild ways while touring with his rock band in his younger years, has protested about the noise that might disturb his peaceful existence and the possible damage to his home that such building work might cause.

It's all got very nasty, with lawyers on both sides no doubt making millions from all the court cases and appeals the two have lodged over the years. Both gentlemen seem like lovely people and, as I read about their most recent stalemate, I couldn't help but think it a shame that they've been unable to use their common ground of music as a way to connect and build a friendship.

After all, Jimmy and Robbie, "…everybody needs good neighbours".

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