Television review

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The Independent Culture
According to The Paranormal World of Paul McKenna (ITV), a dismal celebration of human gullibility, 80 per cent of us believe in some sort of after-life. I'm afraid I fall into the minority here (if we set aside the modest resurrection of DNA and fond memory), which may suggest that I'm too sceptical to form part of the programme's natural audience. Indeed, I'm not sure that I would believe in Paul McKenna himself unless I'd seen him with my own eyes - a sleek little man, with scholarly spectacles and a cheerful detachment from anything that might be mistaken for rigour of mind.

Last night he concentrated on ghosts, introducing a series of unconvincing experts and spiritualists. Petrene Soames came on to spot ghosts in the studio and announced that there was "a dog going backward and forward". She had presumably picked up the troubled spirit of the programme itself, restlessly haunting the site of its shame. Another man "investigated" a ghost in a pub, huffing and puffing some nonsense about a woman who had committed suicide. "I can feel the distress building up," he said, which was certainly a spookily accurate account of my own feelings.

The most entertaining section was about a sulky looking Brazilian called Gasparetto, who claims to act as an earthly amanuensis for several famous dead painters. They presumably all queue up on the astral plane, waiting to get their hands on this human Etch-A-Sketch. Tissot was first up, with an atrocious pastel portrait of a woman, before Modigliani took up the chalks. "According to Gasparetto, Vincent Van Gogh is now firmly in possession of his body," said McKenna. It looked like Vincent had been at the absinthe, because his medium flailed and twitched at the canvas, producing an unappealing still life of three footballs on top of a piece of liver, an artistic decomposition which confirmed the general rule that artists do their best work while alive.

Parents who watched this week's edition of Trade Secrets (BBC2), in which nannies passed on nuggets of professional expertise, may have been disappointed. What you hoped for was the child-care equivalent of Spock's Vulcan death-grip, some infallible trick of mastery over the infant aggressors. What you got was a little underpowered, to put it charitably. "Find a routine that works for you and your child and try to stick to it," said one matronly figure, beaming with the joy of revelation. If that's a "secret", I'm pregnant. What next, you wondered? "Don't be surprised if your child is much smaller than you at first - it will expand over time as long as it is fed regularly"?

The problem, of course, as with all the programmes in this series, is that those involved have a vested interest in keeping any true secrets to themselves. You may be offered anodyne stuff, like a recipe for home- made Playdoh or suggestions for dog-shaped sandwiches, because nannies can be fairly confident that the chances of you wanting to do such things yourself are vanishingly small. That's why you hire a nanny, after all. Indeed most of last night's film had the feel of an extended job application - smiling accounts of nurture and stimulation which underlined how indispensable nannies were to the happiness of their tiny charges and how thrifty they could be with your money.

Real nanny secrets, the sort of things that nannies exchange at their nanny covens, were missing. You didn't learn how to make calls to Australia without them being itemised on the phone bill, or how to wheedle your employer into surrendering the master bedroom so that your boyfriend can move in. Nor were you given any clues as to what happens when the parental presence disappears out of the front door and nannycraft really comes into its own. For those who employ nannies, the dark, suppressed suspicion is that the secrets are rather different; that they don't sit the baby in front of the spin-dryer when they want a few minutes peace, but inside the spin-dryer, with the door firmly shut.

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