Hot potato

Rageh Omaar. Channel 4

Hot on the heels of that last post comes a Channel 4 season of films, Race: Science’s Last Taboo and in particular last night’s documentary presented by Rageh Omaar on race and intelligence.

The film tackled the taboo question of whether there is a racial hierarchy in intelligence, with Asians, Europeans andĀ Africans in roughly that order.

Omaar and a few academics brave enough to go on camera established that if there is an intelligence gap between different races it is more a factor of class, environment, education and upbringing than of genetic racial difference. But to reach that conclusion, by way of lots of serious science (always difficult on television), Omaar had to face down a couple of serious (white) experts who insisted there was an intelligence gap and it was all down to inferior (black) racial genes or brain size. The eugenicists were no doubt sharpening their pencils in the background.

All of which reminds us – as with so much research whether it’s nutrition or the environment – that “seek and you will find”. As one academic pointed out, the whole question of which race is more or less intelligent than another is only relevant in an inherently racist society. Go back a step and ask why the question is even being asked.

Discounting a few clunky shots of screeching trains when the scientific arguments reached a crunch point, this was a brave and rigorous film. And how wonderful to end with Obama, hoping that the black children of America will aspire to be scientists, engineers, presidents of America. Omaar is great, but Obama is the orator du jour.

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Qvestion Times

Nick Griffin. BNP

Was the BBC right to invite BNP leader Nick Griffin onto Question Time on Thursday? Once there, was he a victim, barracked by the panel and audience alike as they reacted to his inability to explain his denial of the Holocaust?

Views differ. But one thing is for sure. The lid has ricocheted off a simmering debate about race and immigration in this country. Some people are now unafraid to be openly racist.

I, somewhat deliberately, live a quiet, small kind of life most of the time. In the two days since BBC 1’s Question Time aired on Thursday night I have come into contact with precisely six adults. One of them is my partner. Of those six people, five – all but my partner – have initiated conversations about that edition of Question Time and then voiced racist, deeply questionable views about immigration, the “state of the nation”, foreigners taking “our” jobs and abusing “our” NHS, about why we should be “policitically correct” about Muslims and a lot more besides.

All five, a group of three and a group of two, used the programme as a vehicle to rehearse tired old arguments about issues which do not in any way affect their own lives. All are white, British living in the largely mono-cultural environs of South West England.

I live in the sticks, so what do I or anyone I come across down here know about multiculturalism? Maybe that’s the point. What a can of worms. Worthy of 8m viewers on a Thursday night?

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Life and other misadventures

Komodo dragon. BBC 1's Life

Time to go on record and say that, however much I usually love natural history programmes – especially if they are narrated by David Attenborough, I do not really like watching reptiles very much. Or spiders.

Monday’s edition of Life, BBC 1’s ambitious 10-part series which took three years to film and is indeed narrated by Attenborough, contained a scene with both a spider and a toad (an amphibian, not a reptile – I know). There was a scene from a horror movie: the tarantula stalking the toad silently, creeping up one side of a sheer face of rock in one of the most inhospitable looking parts of the planet, with the toad guilelessly waddling up the other side. Then – miracle of miracles – the “pebble” toad (you’ll see why in a minute) went completely rigid and threw itself off the rock to tumble presumably hundreds of feet to a watery safe haven below. Thus escaping the spider. Like a pebble falling off a cliff, do you see?

So all very interesting. As were the Komodo dragons, the largest venmous animal on the planet and surely one of the most gruesome-looking. We’ve only just visited these pre-historic beasts courtesy of Stephen Fry and last chance to see. I really didn’t want another encounter, even though the tireless film crew managed to film the dragons slaying a buffalo several times their size by biting and poisoning it and then waiting several weeks (WEEKS!) for the venom to work.

No, even with Attenborough as my guide, I do not like to watch reptiles on TV. As for the morass of red garter snakes waking from a winter slumber to mate with scarce females, it was a Raiders of the Lost Ark nightmare.

Next week: fluffy bunnies (mammals).

Post-post: The irony of posting something about reptiles the day after Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP, appeared on Question Time is not lost on me.

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The Red Lion

A landlord. The Red Lion. Channel 4

Who saw The Red Lion on Channel 4 last night? I was intrigued. A Cutting Edge documentary, it was basically an hour-long advert for pubs and the joys of drinking.

Ostensibly a look at the role of the pub in British culture, The Red Lion (apparently the most popular pub name in England) visited several pubs of that name and interviewed regulars and bar staff. Hence we had the story of the Welsh university netball team and their regular Wednesday night pub crawl, the sole aim of which was to get absolutely wasted. Then there was the rugger bugger crowd, similarly inebriated most nights of the week, particularly Saturdays. Then there were the golfers…. you get the gist. Lots of people had puffy faces and the men had beer bellies.

But there were surprises. The 80-year-old women, both of whom had been married to journalists called Bob. “The Bobs” died about 10 years ago and since then the women have become firm friends, having lunch twice a week at their local Red Lion, where they enjoy a bottle of wine before wobbling home to finish another couple. That’s on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays it’s wine at one of their homes and then rum and Coke.

Bejesus. Apart from the occasional off-camera question from the (dour-sounding) film-maker Sue Bourne about whether the interviewees thought they drank too much, the film didn’t attempt to judge. It was simply a road trip around some Red Lion pubs showing us just how much the British do love to drink.

I am fairly well acquainted with the world of drinkers and pubs, for various reasons. And on the evidence of last night’s programme we have nothing to fear but alcoholism itself. Viva Friday night.

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Faint heart

Maxine Peake in Criminal Justice. BBC

As yesterday was officially the start of a new era (at least in my mind because my youngest daughter started school full-time), I will let you into a little secret.

I’m going to write a novel.

Of course, this isn’t nearly as momentous as it sounds. There is, as just about everyone will tell you, a world of difference between saying you’re going to write a novel and actually writing one. I have been doing the former since I was about 10 and have never done the latter. Then there’s the tricky, even impossible, business of finding an agent and a publisher. Then there’s selling more than two copies and tyring to ensure your publisher doesn’t go bust immediately after condescending to print your jottings. Not to mention the difficulty of what to wear at the Booker prize-winner’s dinner.

Hey ho, as Shakespeare never wrote. Faint ‘eart ne’er fucked a pig, as they don’t say up north.

You can follow my progress or otherwise here or on Twitter.

And to the question, which I’ll obviously get asked a lot over the next couple of years, of what it’s all about, it’s about a woman who kills her baby. Or possibly doesn’t. But anyway the baby dies.

And, no, it’s not in any way autobiographical nor is it an expression of my darkest urges or fears. It’s fiction, as in completely made up. I may plough into the book some of the frustration I felt as a newbie mum and even a seasoned mother of two. But I’ll also throw in some of the sheer joy and wonder that only children can inspire.

The book isn’t about me. If anything it’s inspired by cases like this one. These stories interest me. Read the initial news stories and you think Sally Clark was a drunk, unfit to breed dogs let alone children. Then, when she was acquitted, she became a wronged woman to whom everyone had been nice, even in prison. After she died accidentally of acute alcohol intoxication she was again a drunk who had been reviled in prison and failed to recover from the trauma of losing two children and being jailed for doing so.

So I’d say there’s plenty of scope there for a nuanced look at the perils of being a woman, and a woman who’s had children, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Talking of wronged, or possibly wronged women, what did we think of Criminal Justice which aired every night last week on BBC 1? Personally, I’m not sure the BBC needed five hours to tell the story of a woman given a harsh sentence by a judge who knew her slaughtered husband. If the point was criminal justice we guessed at the beginning that Juliet was an abused woman, that she’d murdered her husband out of desperation and probably while out of her mind and that she wouldn’t get a particularly good ride from the police and judiciary. You tend not to if you’ve just buried a six-inch knife in someone’s chest.

It was beautifully shot as a piece of television and I love watching Maxine Peake in any role. But beyond that I saw it as the cynical ratings grab it probably was – a 90-minute drama spun out to occupy the 9pm slot every night of the week like its predecessor, now known as Criminal Justice 1 which the BBC kindly points out is now available on DVD.

Ultimately, in this latest Criminal Justice series, the writing wasn’t nearly dense enough to sustain five hours of TV drama. Now one or two episodes of The West Wing could easily be re-written to occupy five instead of one or two TV hours, but that’s a different matter. And all this new autumnal viewing on TV is playing havoc with my slavish addiction to the West Wing box set. More repeats, please, then I won’t feel so guilty watching an outdated US TV series every night.

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