TELEVISION / Overwrought, overdrawn, over there

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The Independent Culture
NICELY scheduled to coincide with the Monday blues, A French Affair (C 4) administered a sharp kick to rouse you from daydreams of escape to the Dordogne. The confessions of the rat-race refugees ranged from blunt candour to classic British understatement. 'It's been a financial nightmare,' said one couple. 'It was fairly horrendous really,' said another, the lip still a little stiff despite many months in France. 'We've been working with the bank for the last few months,' conceded a semi-retired solicitor, who, despite taking part in French amateur dramatics, clearly still thinks in English. 'Working with the bank' meant holding the manager at bay while they waited in desperation for their Somerset home to sell. They had expanded the mortgage to finance the French barn so things were a little tricky.

The thought that they might have been a teeny bit precipitate in their flight to the south was difficult to suppress here but they weren't the only ones. Nell and Paddy Hyland brought their crumbling chateau after looking for only six days. They saw it once, when the rooms were crammed with old furniture and the shutters were closed, then signed the contract to buy. They thought they would harvest English holidaymakers, renovating part of the chateau as holiday homes, but a frost seems to have wiped out that particular crop this year.

It would have been nice if Channel 4 could have flashed up a telephone number at the end to help them out with the bookings - because having vapourised your fantasies of stress-free rural bliss the film replaced them with the appealing thought of going to someone's assistance by indulging yourself with an early holiday. You even had some choice. Personally I would have plumped for the attractive little gte built by a retired record executive and his wife. No swimming-pool as far as I could see, but he promised that the games room would be complete by July and they need the money nearly as badly - indeed you watched as this elective peasant prepared to lead his cherished Harley-Davidson to the slaughterhouse.

Even those who weren't strapped for cash were finding it hard going. James and Patricia Atkinson had bought a vineyard - you know, as one does - but then James had been struck down by illness, leaving his wife to operate the cellars herself. Chateau Atkinson has had a couple of bad years due to Biblical inflictions of frost and hail but they have high hopes for this year. The wine, I imagine, will have an interesting bouquet - floral notes on top with a heavy aftertaste of perspiration. In common with everyone else they thought that, despite their hardships, it had all been worth it. I'm bound to say that some of it did look rather idyllic but you would have been startled if they had been as candid about their happiness as they were about their bank accounts. It would be a brave escapee indeed who confessed that their new neighbours were the essence of provincial petty-mindedness and the food was actually better in Marks & Spencer.

In Panorama (BBC 1) Bridget Kendall reported on Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Russian right-wing leader whose success in the recent elections suggested that it was a little early to stop worrying about the men with snow on their boots. Her film laid its cards on the table pretty early - after early images of Zhirinovsky doing a Henry VIII impression with a piece of roast lamb, he was shown in a night-club (very Weimar) 'drinking with his cronies'. So, a distinguished politician or a cross between Jabba the Hutt and Hitler?

I'm not complaining about this because you would have to be a very unsophisticated elector indeed not to see that Zhirinovsky is a dangerous man. The way he stabbed the map with his expandable pointer made you want to laugh out loud, as did his dream of 'Russian soldiers washing their boots in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean'. But the fact that about 70 per cent of the armed services had voted for him soon wiped the smile off your face again.

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