Last Night's Television:
Simon King's Shetland Diaries, BBC2
Nicola Roberts: The Truth About Tanning, BBC3
Fun where the wild things are
Alice Jolly is an author, playwrite and teaches creative writing at Oxford University. She is crowd-funding her own memoir of infertility and surrogacy with the publisher Unbound. 50 per cent of the proceeds of the book will be donated to SANDS (The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Foundation).
Friday 05 February 2010
If you could choose one place to go and live for a year, all expenses (presumably) paid, where would it be? Shetland? Er, no thanks. Somewhere exotic for me. The Bahamas? Still, I'm not Simon King. He – along with wife and small child - has decided to spend a year there for the sake of his new documentary series, Simon King's Shetland Diaries, the first instalment of which was broadcast last night.
And, after watching it, perhaps I'll reconsider. Maybe Shetland wouldn't be such a bad idea. The thing is, it is sort of exotic – it's on a latitude with Alaska for one thing. And it's spectacularly, sweepingly, gorgeously beautiful. Anyway, as Simon pointed out, he was there for the sake of the wildlife. And there's one animal that Shetland is especially famous for. No, silly, not the pony: the otter! Simon loves otters. A lot. He loves them so much that at one point he camped out on a cliffside in the battering rain trying to spot one. "I can smell otter all around me!" he cried. "I just can't see them!" Hm. Eau d'Otter. Wonder what that smells like?
But first, house hunting. Before Simon & Co could set about the otter spotting in earnest, they needed to find a place to live. This was actually jolly fun, much better than watching Kirstie and Phil peruse out-of-town semis in Relocation Relocation. For starters, where else would you find someone choosing their home on the basis of proximity to otters? Also, the houses are... well, let's just say they're no Grand Designs. The first one had no beds. Just a hammock made out of fishing net. Plus, the toilets were outdoors, and who wants an outdoor toilet when they've got a toddler to look after? The second was full of spiders and virtually hanging off a cliff, another small-child no-no. They ended up opting for the third, which was very sweet indeed, even if Simon did have to crouch to make it though the corridors. You do wonder, though, what it's going to be like in winter. Last night it was midsummer and they were already having to layer up like bobsledders.
Once they found a place to stay, the idea was to find a family of otters for Simon to follow over the year. I'm not sure I get quite so excited about them as Simon seems to, but even my coldened heart has to admit that they are cute, munching away on their crabs (though the crabs might beg to differ on this one.) It's not just otters they had for company either: there were whales, and sea urchins and gannets and terns, one of which Simon found with a broken wing. "I'm going to put it out of its misery," he declared solemnly. What happened? Did the BBC airlift it to bird hospital... or is Little Tern now in the Place Where All the Good Terns Go? Oh dear. The former, I hope.
At times, it's little bit My Family Album – Look! Baby King found her first sea urchin! – but, on the whole, I think I might rather enjoy this series. It's hardly ground-breaking, but it is interesting in its own sweet way. Quite how the family will fare for a whole year remains to be seen (things will look considerably less charmed once the sun has gone), but whatever happens it looks likely to prove entertaining enough. As we left them, the Kings were celebrating their new home with the locals. It was the annual Up Helly Aa festival (largest fire festival in Europe, apparently), where a replica ship is burned to commemorate the Shetlanders' Viking heritage. Simon had donned a blonde wig and gone as Kate Humble. You know, from Springwatch. Just the thing to wear to a Viking party.
Over on BBC3, in Nicola Roberts: the Truth about Tanning, the titular host was exploring an exotic terrain of her own: Leccy Beach, home of that ultraviolet-loving creature, the tanorexic. Here's one, look, it's 26-year-old Tom, usually to be found on a sun bed. If Nicola gets her way these tanorexics will soon be endangered. She used to be one, see, but now she's not.
She is, in case you live on Mars, famous for being in Girls Aloud. When she first joined, she told Tom, all the attention made her want to fit in, so she copied the other girls' bronzed looks. Now she is the darling of the fashion pack, she prefers to go pale. Tom didn't seem too convinced by Nicola's tale. "I know tanning's bad," he mumbled. "But I don't care." Though really, Nicola didn't need to convince him; she was determined to confiscate his tanning products – oils, lotions, creams, injections (!) et al – no matter what he said. "Do you just want to say shuturp and get out of my house?" she asked him. Judging from his face, the answer was yes.
Oddly comic though Nicola's scolding may have been, there was, of course, a serious message to it: 11 per cent of teenagers in the North of England have used a sunbed, with catastrophic effects on the incidence of skin cancer among under-40s. It's the reason the MP Siâ*James came up with the Sunbeds (Regulation) Bill, which has just been launched after four years of lobbying. Nicola was invited to the House of Commons to address the bill's supporters and virtually collared poor Andy Burnham. "So do you think this is going to work?" she asked the startled Health Secretary. Judging from his cop-out answer, I wouldn't hold my breath. But either way, Nicola's now my favourite Girl Aloud. No question.
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