Last Night's TV: Monty Halls' Great Irish Escape/BBC2
Carrot or Stick – a Horizon Guide to Raising Kids/BBC4
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 12 August 2011
"It's like a drug," mused Monty Halls, surveying the Connemara coastline. "You just want to sleep and relax." He was talking about the views, of course. For the next six months, Halls will be living on an island just across the water from a place called Round Stone. And he's right: looking at the twinkling lights and sweeping coast, you do just want to nod right off. Unfortunately, it's an instruction Halls seemed to have taken to heart. For the next 50 minutes, to the soporific soundtrack of something that wasn't Titanic's but may as well been given the proliferation of pan pipes to be heard, we got observations on multi-coloured shop fronts, unsuccessful hunts for whale carcasses and anecdotes from Halls's childhood (his sister, apparently, would chase him round the house with a handful of sprouting potatoes, such was his fear of spuds).
The point, purportedly, of Monty Halls' Great Irish Escape is for Halls to "go back to his marine biology roots" and help Dr Simon Berrow from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group. Dolphins have been the dominant predator in the Shannon estuary for centuries. Ancient texts talk of monsters to be found in the sea; in fact, it was just Flipper and friends. By photographing any sightings, Berrow and his team are able to track the changing makeup of the pods – each dolphin can be identified, amazingly enough, from the unique markings on their fins.
In fact, Halls spent rather less time doing this and rather more time talking to his ever-present dog, Reuben (indeed, were Halls not stuck with the Great Escape tagline, "One Man and His Dog" would have served very nicely as a title). What do you think of your new home, Reuben? Look at all the hares, Reuben. A trip to the beach to scout stranded whales yielded nothing in the way of dramatic dissections, so we were forced to make do with some gardening tips. The soil in Connemara can be poor, said Halls; would-be gardeners should harvest sand from the coast instead. And so it continued, at this leisurely pace: a trip to the garden store was chronicled in minute detail, the breathtaking scenery remarked upon time and time again, and the local mussel-cooking competition became a focal event. Actually, I rather enjoyed that, the mussel-cooking competition. There were only eight entries, including Halls and an American, but at least we got some drama. Halls came third, with his mussels à la cider, though he was seen sweet-talking the judges earlier, so I'm not sure how much it counts.
In the end, we did get a bit of sea mammal spotting: Dr Berrow called, having found a beached whale to be getting on with. They cut the thing open, spending three hours locating its stomach (elusive, it seems, regardless of how many PhDs you have). They wanted to find what it had eaten, analyse the toxicity. At last, they found it. And what? Nothing. It had only gone and vomited beforehand. I've a feeling things aren't going to get much more eventful.
When the BBC schedulers decided to air Carrot or Stick – a Horizon Guide to Raising Kids, they could have had little idea how timely a decision they'd made. Should children be raised with hard discipline, all times tables and line formations and physical restraint? Or should they be embraced in a warm liberal fuzz of open-plan classrooms and behaviour-based rewards? This was the thrust last night, with Laverne Antrobus reviewing Horizon footage from the past six decades as society bounced from one generational fad to the next. There was the rigour of the 1950s, the attachment theory of the 1960s, the rise in research surrounding autism and shaken-baby syndrome. We saw smacking become taboo, and new methods of motivation take over, like the on-going pilot scheme in America to measure out academic achievement in financial "earnings". The idea behind that one is that children from middle-class backgrounds are exposed to the material rewards of hard work every day, when they look across the dinner table at their parents, but many from underprivileged families don't have that. So instead of working in pursuit of gold stars, commendation and personal fulfilment, pupils work for payment. Will it come to the UK? Given the screaming consumerism that has suffused the week's riots, I'm not sure that would be a good idea.
The answer, of course, to the question of carrot or stick is a bit of both. It's about finding a balance, said Antrobus. Sounds logical enough, and I say that with great authority, as someone who not only doesn't have any children but doesn't know any children either. Thank God.
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