Last Night's Television - The Delicious Miss Dahl, BBC2; Women, Weddings, War and Me, BBC3
Courage under fire
Wednesday 24 March 2010
BBC3 has been taking a lot of hostile fire in recent weeks, almost universally identified as a better candidate for blood sacrifice – should one be needed – than 6 Music or the Asian Network. But, in among the double bills of Snog, Marry, Avoid? and the reruns of Dr Who and Family Guy there have always been some interesting programmes on the channel. In fact, Snog, Marry, Avoid? is itself far more Reithian than you might expect from its title – aiming to liberate its subjects from a dependency on superficial bling and rediscover the sweet, unspoiled character within. Nobody has recently done better stuff on developing-world labour conditions than BBC3's Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts and Blood, Sweat and Takeaways series, which embedded British twentysomethings in overseas sweatshops to tickle up their (and our) social conscience. And last night's film, Women, Weddings, War and Me, offered a movingly personal account of life in Afghanistan, through the eyes of 21-year-old Londoner who fled the country with her parents when she was six.
Nel wasn't going as a reporter, but as someone who wanted to settle a pressing private question. Where did she really belong? She loves her life in London but doesn't quite know what Afghanistan should now mean to her. Is it a fate escaped or a destiny still awaiting? Her mum, understandably, wasn't very happy about her going – equally distressed by the possibility that she would detest the place of her birth and that she might like it so much that she'd want to go there permanently. She needn't have worried too much. On the road in from the airport, Nel was reassured by the bodyguard who was going to accompany her throughout the trip. The suicide bombers usually aim for Afghan military targets, he said – the tranquillising effect of this intelligence somewhat undercut by the fact that they were stuck in traffic alongside a pick-up full of Afghan soldiers.
If you read the papers regularly there were no huge revelations here. Nel learned about the Taliban, about the dos and don'ts of life as a woman in Kabul (99 per cent don't to one per cent do). She tried out the burka, and visited a women's prison, where the inmates had fallen foul of the done thing, rather than any formal law. What did have freshness, though, was the intensity of the collision between Nel's Camden-nurtured confidence and optimism and the pathological misogyny of Afghani life. When the self-esteem of half a population depends on the control and humiliation of the other half, you have a recipe for a monumentally screwed-up society. Nel found glimmers of hope, a loving father proud of his daughter's independence, schoolgirls brave enough to ignore the Taliban bombers who specifically target their schools, but also wept over the evidence of how far the country still has to travel, including a 15-year-old girl who'd set fire to herself after years of abuse from her in-laws. Tomorrow, BBC3 goes back to Afghanistan with two more young women – this time British born and wearing a uniform. Nel's film (directed by Ruhi Hamid) suggested they had urgently necessary work to do.
Nigella Lawson has tank tracks on her lawn, since The Delicious Miss Dahl has just trundled on to a bit of television real estate that the delicious Miss Lawson may have felt had been securely fenced off as private property. Did they just hand her the videos of Lawson's last series and tell her to practise until she got it right? Dahl does the seductive confusion of different carnal appetites. She does the fluttering, flirtatious looks from under the eyelashes. She even, cheeky mare, does the poetic ingredient descriptions and literary allusions. And, in this first episode at least, she was doing confessional greed as well, starting her new series with an episode dedicated to pure selfishness. She was cooking for one – and to hell with company.
She began by making an omelette Arnold Bennett – half a tub of crème frâiche, parmesan and haddock contributing to a breakfast that would send most people right back to bed, to sleep it off like a boa constrictor. Lunch was a bruschetta of fennel, courgette and "a lovely alabaster ball of buffalo mozzarella" and to fill that tricky gap between lunch and supper she whipped up a batch of peanut butter fudge. Just time for a dirty martini, a flash of those Manga cartoon eyes and few lines of Dorothy Parker, before she was tucking into roast halibut with a herb sauce and a chocolate pot with cherry compote – all this nudging the calorie count north of 5,000. "The joy of these days is that they are rare," she told us, with a voice like chocolate ganache. They'd bloody well have to be I would have thought – or they'd need to reinforce the catwalk.
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