Television: Getting it all off their chests

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I HAVE breasts - therefore I am. It's a relief to know that there is at least one avenue open to women wishing to appear on Chris Evans's TFI Friday (C4). In general, women are not allowed to say much there, but last week it turned out that if you were willing to talk about your breasts, or show them off, air time would be allocated accordingly. First there was a debate between two young women about the value of underwired bras, then a much-heralded appearance by Eva Herzogova, star of the Wonderbra ads, wearing a dress that had been sprayed on. She clearly feels that she is her breasts - Chris at any rate showed no interest in any other aspect of her being. In contrast, Pete Townshend, who has no breasts, was allowed to waffle on endlessly about his music and anything else he could think of. Men speak, women just bulge.

This, combined with lousy bands, apparently constitutes today's yoof culture. This Life (BBC2) offered a more sympathetic view of what it's like to be a young but depressed upwardly mobile professional (a Dumpy, perhaps?). It all began in what seemed to be a group therapy session but unravelled into a bunch of separate job interviews at a law firm. "Did you have a happy childhood?" was one of the questions considered relevant; the candidate with the happiest childhood of course got the job. He'd actually rather be writing about football, but says: "I think they've got enough football writers already." Too true. All the characters are very conscious of being yuppies in a shrinking job market. None the less, by the end of the first episode, five of these budding lawyers are sharing a pretty fabulous (if dilapidated) residence. Methinks they protest too much. Their worries, from unsuccessful job interviews to unrequited love, are nothing new.

Yet their youthfulness is at times poignant - for instance when the half- naked boss gives the new recruits a pep-talk while he gets massaged, his complacent flesh competing with the brand-new pig-skin briefcase in one newcomer's shaky hand. Meanwhile, the most intriguing character, Anna (Daniela Nardini), is still looking for work, and stuck, sighing, in a nasty bedsit. She says she's willing to offer what she calls "sexual favours" to anyone in a position to offer her a job. And when she starts hanging around the railings outside a law firm in her fake leopard-skin jacket, it begins to look like she's got "soliciting" and "solicitor" mixed up. Vulnerable as the endangered species on her back, she has also been in love for years with the difficult Miles (Jack Davenport), who interviews her for the job she doesn't get. Everyone else seems staid and set in their ways: "terminally monogamous" and amusingly appalled by the lustiness of their elders. There is certainly hope of some difficult moments for them all in the coming (11) episodes.

And the Beat Goes On (C4) at first appeared to be a wholly ironic reconstruction of Sixties life, an amalgamation of the corniest cliches, with superb vignettes in which people sit down to frugal breakfasts while overgrown sons masturbate upstairs, and where premarital pregnancy leads, not to a prime spot in the housing queue, but to the purchase of gin and knitting needles. Sexual pleasure seems to belong entirely to men in this version of the Sixties - even the racy student with her beatnik boyfriend prefers reading poetry. It'll take a bit longer to identify exactly what ails Connie Spencer (Jenny Agutter); her troubles - panic attacks, no doubt caused by her obnoxious husband who constantly scolds her - are tended by hubby's friend, the patronising doctor. Her brother meanwhile is deep in trouble with blackmailers for cottaging. All of this would be hilarious if it were a focused take-off of Sixties nostalgia. My fear is that gritty realism is the ultimate mistaken aim. Haven't we just been through all that with Our Friends in the North? They're even starting pop groups and building tower blocks; the only difference is it's set in Liverpool. So many people long to recreate the Sixties, and no one quite manages it. The whole decade should have been massively videotaped, so that we could all now rest easy in our beds.

His dress sense involves yellow ties and a huge crucifix hanging from one ear. He has the tiny ferret-like eyes of someone who's looked through a few too many binoculars. And he describes the origins of his passion thus: "I used to do a lot of push-biking, and used to find dead birds at the side of the road, and used to take them home and leave them in the garage, and they'd start going off. Used to have to throw them away and through that I started taxidermy. After a while I started to marvel at the birds' bright colours ... " No, it's not Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer and cannibal, though his early interests were very similar. Instead, it's Lee Evans, a champion "twitcher" or bird-chaser (Encounters: Twitchers, C4). We must all be grateful he has such an absorbing hobby.

Not that he's totally harmless. A couple of divorces and at least 11 car accidents have resulted from this man's hell-bent quest to beat his own record of 359 birds spotted in one year. As he drives, he's constantly reading his little pager, which tells him where the latest rare bird has been spotted. He swerves to avoid oncoming cars, each of which honks as it passes. Yet he considers himself almost as good a driver as he is a twitcher, and has covered millions of miles at breakneck speed merely for the glimpse of a bird. So next time you're in a head-on collision, keep an eye out for ornithological equipment. You may have been totalled by a twitcher.

It is surely one of the oddest ways of wasting time men have so far invented (though cultivating giant vegetables comes a close second). Is it a form of nationalism - they are continually exercised about the fact that particular birds have landed in Britain - or would they be just as excited watching those purposeful turkeys and bower birds in Australia (The Natural World, BBC2)? Is it perhaps a sign of manly financial nonchalance, that they can contemplate chartering a plane at a moment's notice in order to go take a look at some far-away feathered thing? Whatever the root of the compulsion, you'd be well-advised to avoid the Scilly Isles during a particular week in October when all twitchers converge, tripods erect, ready to step on each other's toes and even knock telescopes in their frantic efforts to see more mi- grating birds than the next man. "I don't like to be beaten by birds," explains Lee, who when not actually twitching can be found fingering dead bird specimens in the British Museum, or keeping tabs on who's seen what in the higher echelons of birding, by computer. Pretty creepy.

There's also a guy who watches birds by looking for them at home on TV programmes - his efforts too are catalogued and computerised. At some stage these people must all have felt some tender admiration for birds, but they've collectively drowned that since with labels and lists. Their marriages, pub crawls, even football games all end in bird-sighting stampedes, in which they probably trample as many birds as they identify. The sanest person among them was "Dipper", nicknamed for his tendency to "dip" (miss sightings). He is slow, he is late, he sometimes sleeps. He hitches lifts, or goes by rowboat, and hardly ever sees a bird. This is sane.

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