Television has had it's equivalents of the lone traveller's tale for years now, but they've usually been fakes. When an intrepid voyager set out to circumnavigate the globe they were pursued by a caravan of producers, researchers and cameraman, dragging a small mountain of aluminium equipment boxes behind them. These days, though, you can hold a high-def camera in the palm of your hand, and that fact has given the new breed of travel films their own distinctive visual fingerprint. It's an oddly canted piece to camera, in which the presenter squints over one shoulder into the lens, as if sharing a conspiratorial aside, a framing that betrays the fact that he's holding the camera at arm's-length himself. Sean Langan's odd, endearing film African Railway was full of shots like this, proof that his excursion up and down the Tazara railroad, between Tanzania and Zambia really was a one-man affair. The credits at the end claimed that it was Filmed, Produced and Directed by Sean Langan, but it looked as if he was doing Catering, Transport, Costume, Sound and Local Research as well.
The oddness came from the fact that quite a bit of that research ended up on screen, instead of being snipped out in an editing suite. Langan would wander into the eerily depopulated headquarters of Tazara in Dar es Salaam, hallooing up the stairs and along the corridors to introduce himself to anybody he encountered. He didn't have much luck tracking down the people he really wanted to talk to, who were the resident Chinese advisers. Chinese Expert Number One was glimpsed having a fag by the front door on one occasion, but cannily referred the interview request back to Beijing. Langan also got some brief face time with the managing director at the time, a man whose assurance that Tazara would one day be the finest railroad in Africa was undermined by the fact that he lost his job two weeks later. In another office, Langan pushed open the door to discover the traffic managers tracking their wayward trains with pencil and paper. Having no direct contact with the drivers themselves the only way to find out where the trains were was to ring a station and ask them whether anything had gone past in the last few hours.
It is no way to run a railway – but millions of dollars of foreign investment having somehow evaporated into the blue African sky – it is the only way they have. And out on the line, Langan discovered a route that cut to the heart of African problems and African resilience. If you moaned this morning because of a 10- minute delay, spare a thought for travellers who routinely find that they're arriving 20 hours after the timetable said that they would. The old colonial model – railways running from the interior to the sea like surgical drains, sucking the commodities out of the country – has been replaced by a new colonial model, in which the same thing happens but the Chinese pay the bills. This creates some unexpected new global connections. On the train, Langan encountered two game old ladies who regularly travelled to Beijing to buy Chinese goods at cost and bring them back to Zambia to sell. He also met a cheery station master who invited Langan to come and inspect his pension provision, a couple of blithe pink pigs whose commitment to future growth and capital enhancement seemed a safer bet than Tazara's finance department. To be honest, there were quite long stretches in the film when you weren't quite sure where you were going or why it was taking quite so long to get there, but that in itself seemed to round out the portrait of Tanzanian rail travel, rather than get in the way.
"What I find amazing about the Swedish people," said Jamie Oliver in Jamie Does – Stockholm, "is that their English is better than mine." Not all of us will find this as amazing as he does, but his interviewees' fluency was impressive. Not for them the lairy blokeishness with which Jamie introduced a recipe he called his sexy buns. "The idea," he explained, sprinkling butter and sugar on to a baking tray, "is that that caramelises on the bottom so you get a really nice arse and a really nice face." On the face of it, his buns looked as if they'd just gone through a windscreen at speed and we're bleeding to death in the verge, so I hope that their arses turned out better. Sweden, incidentally, looks absolutely fantastic from either end, particularly the offshore island to which Jamie repaired to cook chanterelles and share a traditional crayfish supper, an event that suggested that command of English is not assisted by too many shots of schnapps. Jamie tottered outside into the Scandinavian gloaming to do a wrap-up piece to camera: "This is my first crayshit... crayshif party," he slurred. A professional was holding the camera this time, but the presenter was still tilting strangely.
White Collar – an odd-couple crime series that has just started on Bravo – partners up an ant (by-the-book workaholic FBI agent) with a grasshopper (convicted white-collar fraudster, released into FBI guy's custody to help track down a big fish). The first episode was promising but the second didn't keep it up. Here's a rule of thumb – if the trail leads to a guarded warehouse at "the docks" it's just Starsky and Hutch in a new jacket.Reuse content