Television Review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
CHARLES Fort, from whom the Fortean Times takes its name, believed that everything was connected to everything else (in honour of this insight, he always used dashes rather than full stops, believing that a full stop was either a lie, or a dash coming straight at you). Why 5 (BBC1), a science series aimed at children, rests on the same principle: every week a genial chap called Ortis (pronounced "Otis") has to make connections between five incongruous objects - this week it was a frying-pan, a nutcracker, a lump of concrete, a washing-machine and a sugar-cube.

What Ortis came up with, to paraphrase, was: you can use a frying-pan to prospect for gold. Gold is very heavy, so if you want to move a lot of it, you need a lever, and a nutcracker is a kind of lever. A wheel-barrow is also a sort of lever, and you can use it to carry concrete. Concrete is put in a washing machine to stop it jumping about. What would make it jump about is centrifugal force. And centrifugal force is used to turn sugar into candy-floss.

All this was very jolly fun, helped along by some funky camera work and lots of amusing costume changes. But the point seemed to get buried. If you're not worried about being trivial or contrived, connections are easy - a washing-machine and a sugar-cube are both white and more-or-less cubes; a frying-pan, a washing- machine and a lump of concrete will all crack a nut if you dropped any of them from high enough onto one; a sugar-cube is sweet, and the nutcracker "suite". The hard part is making connections that are meaningful and important, and Why 5 shied away from that. If anything, the silliness gave you the feeling that these objects weren't very connected at all.

We could leap easily from Why 5 to a particularly good episode of Secrets of the Ancients (BBC2), which recreated a ship-wrecking device, known as "the claw", invented by Archimedes and used against the Roman forces during the siege of his hometown of Syracuse in Sicily, in the third century BC. Archimedes also discovered the laws of leverage and, in his bath, worked out a method for determining the density of gold. (As is the way with this kind of thing, the modern take on it didn't come out exactly as it was supposed to, but everybody decided it was near enough to count.)

On the other hand, the only link I can think of from a cube of sugar to Cutting Edge (C4) is that Love Is Blind had its saccharine moments. But mostly, Laura Granditer's film about blind people and their partners showed a rather restrained and touching sense of romance.

One thing all the blind people featured here had in common was a sense of the technical difficulty of initiating a relationship when you can't see. Simon, a lawyer, said: "I have found it virtually impossible to know whether somebody is attracted to me... purely and simply because of the inability to make eye contact with people." Clare, who lost her sight after she had married Andy, was certain that their relationship could never have started if she had been blind when they'd met: "There was so much of our relationship in those very, very early days that was visual - the looks, the glances, the mouthing conversations to each other across a room."

The saddest part of the film concerned Jill. She had been contacted by an old boyfriend after she lost her sight: he said he was devastated, that he still had feelings for her. They moved in together, and because she couldn't see the bank statements coming through the door, she didn't realise he was spending all of her money. Bert, her new boyfriend, seemed trustworthy ("Extremely kind eyes," Jill's mother had reassured her), but the parts of the film about the couple had an unattractive edge of voyeurism - they had only been going out a couple of months, and having cameras follow them on their first holiday together couldn't have helped. A postscript to the programme announced that Jill and Bert had split up.

Jill talked about the loneliness of being blind, and of the consequent need to touch another person for reassurance. Perhaps this contributed to the sense of urgency that others mentioned. Geoff, blind since birth, recalled falling in love with a woman's voice and knowing that if he didn't ask her out on the spot, he would never get another chance - she could walk past him on the street and he wouldn't be able to recognise her. His nerve failed him. But Simon, sensing a similar urgency in his relationship with Jenny, seized the chance: another postscript said that since filming Simon and Jenny had married.

This was a clever, objective film that fully earned its happy endings.