Television Review

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The Independent Culture
TELEVISION LIKES things that move; stay still for too long, television thinks, and the viewer will get bored and switch over. This makes rocks a problem for television since, aside from the odd natural disaster, rocks tend to move very, very slowly. The first part of The Essential Guide to Rocks (BBC2) made heroic efforts to overcome this basic difficulty. Aubrey Manning, the genial uncle you never had, did geology for grown- ups in Earth Story (BBC2) on Sunday night; now the kids were let out to play. Ray Mears, more usually seen sucking on a piece of moss or making a pair of trousers out of some sticks, turned up with what amounted to a posse to persuade us that geology is cool and funky - geology rocks, in fact, which I'll bet is already a popular bumper-sticker in geological circles.

Naturally, this involved quite a lot of arm-waving and shouting, while the cameramen strained to make up for the rocks' comparative immobility by skipping around like mountain goats. And there were also some faintly annoying gimmicks - a Stars and Stripes hoisted above some Scottish hills to illustrate the point that Scotland is geologically a missing fragment of North America; a visit to a sweetshop to make a bad joke about rock.

This was all rather unnecessary since, as Uncle Aubrey had already shown, every rock tells a story, through the animals and plants embedded in it (if there are no animals embedded in it, that can be even more interesting: it may be a piece of primeval rock from the days before life existed on earth). The nice thing about The Essential Guide..., though, was that while it dressed the stories up, it didn't hide them altogether. Anna Grayson, who without discipline may yet shape up as the Jilly Goolden of geology, may have been a little excitable about Scotland's American connection, but her account of how it came to collide with England and how the evidence for this was put together was still utterly lucid. Even the sweetshop episode had a useful point to make: sweets are made the same way as rocks - the inside of a Crunchie looks like spongy volcanic scoria because both are formed by rapid heating and cooling, with gas being blown through.

Geology also played a role in Floyd Uncorked (C5), in which Keith Floyd has been invited to drink his way across France, a concept that has all the devastatingly simple appeal of sending Salman Rushdie to check out Iranian tourist resorts, or Peter Finch blowing his brains out on screen in Network. Floyd among the alcohol is less scary than Floyd among the cholesterol, though. The French have invented many thousands of ways of making solidified fat digestible: here, we saw Floyd drooling over bread studded with pork scratchings, and not a cardiologist in sight.

What they do have is Jonathan Pedley, a wine-master who is supposed to be teaching Floyd how to taste wine (the inference seems to be that it doesn't usually touch the sides on the way down), and to instruct him in the differences between grape varieties and - most importantly - the soil of the various vineyards they visit: Kimmeridge and clay for Chablis, something a bit crumblier for Beaune. Having your face ground into the dirt can be fun; you just have to know what you're looking for.

At least The Baby Business (BBC2) doesn't have a geologist's problems about making its subject visually appealing: any time the producers feel the viewer getting restless, they can stick in a couple of babies and let the goo take its course. But the baby-shots were the only sentimental moments in Catherine Bennett's tough swipe at the fertility industry. Bennett's case was that in-vitro fertilisation, which has so far created 30,000 children in this country alone, is a far from unmixed blessing. The availability of IVF makes it harder for couples to accept life without children; but four out of five treatments fail (the gamble visualised, rather crassly, by a roulette wheel). Success rates vary tremendously between clinics, and the figures can be confusingly presented. Meanwhile, there are high risks of multiple births, increasing the danger of death or disability for one or more children, and a possible link with ovarian cancer. All this is sobering and sometimes tragic, but Bennett overstated her case. As one doctor pointed out, even with triplets, every child is a small miracle; and to ignore the miracles that IVF has pulled off you'd have to have a heart like, say, a rock.