The beautiful relationship between blind entrepreneur Amar Latif and his sighted guide, comedian Sara Pascoe, elevates this frank and funny travelogue
Amar Latif, an entrepreneur who lost his sight 25 years ago at the age of 18, set out for Turkey with the standup comedian Sara Pascoe as his sighted guide. He is a seasoned, gregarious traveller and man of insatiable curiosity and optimism. She is a solitude-loving homebody who doesn’t even like spicy food and prefers to hide in her hotel whenever she goes abroad. We had the statutory opening shots emphasising their differences: him selecting and immaculately packing his holiday wardrobe and enthusing about the coming journey; her clambering over her unmade bed wondering what she should take. You know the drill.
And then, suddenly, as the pair touched down in Istanbul, the programme seemed to find a different and much better groove. It was still an odd-couple pairing, but one we hadn’t seen before and which soon began to make use of its potential to explore new emotional and psychological territory.
Detouring to the Grand Bazaar on the way to their hotel, Pascoe is eager to reach the latter. But she must slow down so her companion can experience everything around him. Pascoe watches anxiously as he picks up and sniffs fruit (“I’m so afraid of being told off … He’s hands and nose straight in”) and gradually learns, as a sighted person who “doesn’t have to build from ground to sky to know what’s going on”, how much detail she needs to provide for Latif to add the physical world to what he can smell, hear and taste.
Once she knows, she applies herself wholeheartedly to the job and – as you might expect from someone who depends on making her audience see the joke for a living – she is able to evoke the various weird and wonderful activities and landscapes they come across so that Latif can understand what surrounds him. Not that watching oil wrestlers – all in black rubber trousers, trying to reach the handles inside them and flip each other over – doesn’t present a challenge. “It’s like … frogs mating,” says Pascoe eventually. And it is.
Pascoe is intrigued – as I suspect are we all who share her introverted persuasion – by the endlessly, genuinely charming Latif’s attitude and his perennial enthusiasm for life. He founded the company Traveleyes which, as here, pairs sighted with non-sighted travellers for group holidays, when he realised there was nothing out there that could meet his needs. “I was shy,” he says. “But blindness changed me.” After going blind at an age when his peers’ lives were starting to expand, he fought off the depression that threatened to consume him by deciding he would start saying yes to everything. “Because if I don’t keep moving, I’m going to end up back in that dark place, and I don’t want to go there.” It is a tearful, honest, underplayed confession and deeply touching. As is the moment when they are present at a mountain sunset and he says: “These are the moments when it’s shit being blind.” He notes that it has been so long since he saw a sunset that, like the faces of his parents, it is beginning to slip from his memory.
Their relationship – frank, funny, fond – is strengthened as they go. Latif can feel the strength of a hand-built platform full of hives and persuades Pascoe, terrified by its rickety look, up there to hear the “motorway of bees” buzzing atop it. She can tell him that the bull he hears passing them on an alpine farm has “testicles the size of your head”. And sometime she can tell him that a place is so beautiful she doesn’t have words for it. “I wish you could see it.”
I feel almost the same about the programme. The two of them and their chemistry and compassion without sentiment made it beautiful and it’s hard to capture how without introducing a tweeness that simply wasn’t there. All the pitfalls were sidestepped. They learned from each other, but it didn’t feel like life lessons were constructed for the camera. It didn’t feel like a disability was being exploited or patronised (helped greatly by Latif being the kind of presence you just want to up and follow as an abject devotee wherever it leads), or used to say: “Hey, they’re not different from us!” Or that someone’s suffering was being pressed into the service of self-improvement for another. Or any of the other infuriating ills that such setups are generally heir to. So – I wish you could see it. Head to iPlayer, please, and you can.