Last Night's TV: Kids with Guns – Stacey Dooley Investigates/BBC3
River Cottage Every Day/Channel 4
Stacey Dooley is a bounding, big-eyed, golden retriever of a correspondent. "Bless you and your big heart," said one interviewee as their chat drew to a close. This, really, is what Stacey Dooley Investigates is all about: Dooley's big heart. Previous years have seen her dispatched to India, Nepal and Ivory Coast to document the way children have been exploited and enslaved. Each visit has been similar: Stacey – all bubbling charm and A-level sass – wades in, bursts into tears, and attempts to set the world to rights.
This time, she was in the Democratic Republic of Congo, attempting to rescue child soldiers from the various militia who roam the country's wilderness. War in the region has been over, officially, since 2003, but the daily reality of violence and anxiety lives on. Even the official Congolese army continues to harbour child soldiers, despite the fact that it is – contrary to all appearances – illegal to do so. The interviewee in question was a woman whose son – aged 12, on his way to find something to eat – was snatched and taken, like countless other boys and girls, to join the conflict. He hadn't returned in the eight years since.
Dooley is 23, said our narrator, though she frequently appears younger. She uses the slang of a teenager and displays the chirpy enthusiasm of a child. "This is pretty full on," she babbled to the camera on entering a treacherous-looking military camp in the jungle. "This is pretty real, right?" The gun-toting, blank-stared men around her would appear to confirm that yes, indeed, it was pretty real. Occasionally, her dizzy presentation grated. But then this is BBC3: the audience is younger, their attention spans shorter. And anyway, Stacey's warmth, emotion and, yes, big-heartedness more than compensated. "I don't care if people say I'm optimistic and fairylike," she announced. "I've seen things change. I've seen reasons to hope." Indeed she had: working with a rescue centre to trace underage soldiers and remove them from the jungle. Watching one pair of boys as they entered a city for the first time in almost a decade was akin to watching someone come back to life. "Such beautiful clothes!" they chattered. "People and clothes!"
Along the way, Stacey formed a particular bond with Patrick, one of the centre's rescued boys. Early on, we saw a segment in which she asked him to describe the sound of the different guns he had used. He responded with an alarmingly detailed run down of the precise sound each bit of artillery can make. His commanders used to force him to drink the blood of the enemy, he said, telling him it would give him "magical powers". By the end of the programme, Patrick was on his way home. During the long journey to get to his village, Dooley bounced around in the car like an excited child. Patrick simply sat back and smiled. "He just seems really... content?" she said. "I think that's the right word."
Should you find yourself nodding off during Nigella Kitchen (and, honestly, why would you? It isn't like we've seen this before) here's one way to revive your consciousness: bingo. Not bosom bingo (Nigella Bites) or batted-lashes bingo (Nigella Christmas) or even pouting bingo, innuendo bingo or flirting bingo (Feast, Forever Summer, Express – heck, all of them). Try alliteration bingo. Once you notice it, it's impossible to ignore. Nigella speaks almost entirely in alliterative couplets. Golden globules, citrusly sodden, gorgeous and glossy and ready to hit the heat (this sounds rather like a compliment my Swiss aunt might've paid me, aged 18, when heading out for dinner. Nigella is, rather quaintly, discussing lunch). It is like she has been infected with some kind of poetry bug. She keeps spouting these lines, ready formed, endlessly.
When not coining phrases, she was wafting around her kitchen, popping bits of cake into her mouth and flicking switches (there was a whole opening sequence of this. I hope for her sake she has someone to turn off the various appliances she whimsically turned on). She told us she liked her trifle's 1930s colour scheme. She tried to convince us to display celery in a vase, and tomato on a cake stand. She turned lager into a cocktail, and served it to an Australian. In short, she did what she does best: make her life look more wonderful than you or I could possibly imagine.
Over on Channel 4, it was a quite different kettle of fish. Episode three of River Cottage Every Day, and Hugh was up to his rugged elbows in veg. We got raw veg and dressing (anchoïade or spiced yoghurt), root veg roasted in the oven, and pickled veg (in the form of piccalilli). The was a rummage around the vegetable garden and a visit to the local greengrocer. And there was a trip down to the fire station to get the firemen to go without meat. Hugh cooked them up an egg curry and some mushroom bhajis before leaving them with a selection of suitably hearty recipes (roast vegetables with cheese sauce and mashed potato, roast tomato pasta, root vegetable crumble) to get them through the week. There wasn't much in the way of alliteration, but there were a few puns. Who'd have thought a greengrocer knew his onions? Oof. Must try harder.
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