Review

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The Independent Culture
Ray Mears is an engagingly comical figure whose chief delight seems to be to put himself in to circumstances of extreme discomfort, and then salve the misery with some ingenious device made from natural materials. He will, for example, squat in a freezing drizzle in the Lake District, sipping hot birch sap from a bark cup and releasing utterly sincere sighs of gratification, as if earth could offer no beverage finer.

He has now graduated from hilarious cameo spots in BBC 2's outdoor magazine programme, Tracks, to a series of his own, Ray Mears's World of Survival (BBC2) (it's odd how imperial television presenters get - Whicker long ago claimed the globe for himself, as has Jeremy Clarkson since, though the latter at least limited his claim to the bits with tarmac on it). I had hoped the first episode might be about London N4, the unforgiving landscape in which I make my own daily struggle for existence. But Ray is decidedly not a town mouse and so we had to make do with Baffin Island instead, a land of sub-zero temperatures and very few supermarkets.

Not none at all, I would have thought, given that Mears was initially seen traversing the screen on a motorised snowmobile; that suggested that the first piece of Inuit lore he passed on would be how to cold-start a skidoo. He doesn't really approve of such devices, though, which go against the grain of his passion for authentic adversity - it was notable, for instance, that while several of his Inuit guides were taking advantage of Goretex, Mears himself stuck zealously to fur. The programme itself is jolly interesting, in a boy-scoutish sort of way, instructing you on how to get a drink in the frozen wastes (the methods include using the stomach pouch of a freshly killed caribou to thaw fresh snow - which doesn't quench your thirst, but gives you a very powerful incentive to ignore it), as well as how to use mashed up seal-blubber for low-cost lighting. Not a great deal of use in my neck of the woods, but oddly engrossing all the same - a demonstration of the adaptive ingenuity of the human species, which only seems to falter at the idea of getting up and going to live somewhere a damn sight more comfortable.

Conspiracy theorists will no doubt offer dark reasons why Channel 4 has scheduled For the Love of..., Jon Ronson's new weirdo chat-show, at midnight while repeating The Seven Wonders of the World (C4), John Romer's archaeology series, in a prime-time slot. The mystery disappears when you look at the former - a production so shoddy that the budget doesn't even appear to extend to an autocue or a rostrum camera. Ronson mumbles out his introduction from a clutch of index cards and if we need to see a photograph, he simply holds it towards the nearest lens. It also sounds as if it has been recorded in the producer's garage, but frankly the content deserves nothing better.

The guests last night were a group of people who have convinced themselves that the Apollo moon-landings never took place and the best you could say about the dismal conversation he witnessed was that it offered you an instructive biopsy of modern paranoia - in particular, the way in which it offers status paupers a chance to win the lottery, to transform themselves from ordinary joes like the rest of us into the possessors of a great and arcane secret. From pseudo-scientific arguments about cosmic radiation and photographic shadows, it wasn't long before they were on to coded messages in James Bond films and the covert existence of a One World Government. The lowest point was when they began quarrelling about the exact documentary status of Dark Skies - calculated government misinformation or standard media inaccuracy? Ronson hung his head throughout all this, as well he might, having fronted witty and thoughtful documentaries in his time. Perhaps the original has been abducted by aliens and this is some kind of duff clone, but there must be more to this than meets the eye.

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