An Phoblacht 2 - 2022 small

20 March 1997 Edition

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Television: Shergar returns - in a can!

Jonathan Meades is a delight. His last series for the BBC, loosely based around architectural styles in Europe, was inventive, hilarious, even, dare I say it, inspired. The man brings to television what most programmes lack, namely style and imagination. His latest series, Even Further Abroad With Jonathan Meades (10pm, BBC2, Wednesday, 12 March) has been a visual and aural treat.

Last week, for example, he brought his satisfyingly scathing tongue to bear on the hallowed turf of Newmarket, the upmarket home to some 4,000 thoroughbred race horses. Meade's stylish descriptions are his trademark. Thoroughbreds are a mix of ``tampered-with nature and high-class nurture'' who are ``waited on hand and hock by athletes' footmen''. The horses are, indeed, pampered something fierce. ``Before they become professional inseminators and career mothers,'' revealed Meades, ``thoroughbreds are the most expensive athletes on earth, the most expensive racing machines, twenty times as expensive as a Formula One car''.

Jockeys he found reminiscent of Gulliver's Lilliput, ``a race of tinies fit only to ride''. They are mainly young people from the industrial heartland seeking their fortune in their size, most of whom will fail and end up slopping out stalls and riding the gallops at 4.30 every morning. He was utterly dismissive of the all-powerful Jockey Club (no actual jockeys need apply), the old boys' club which administers flat racing in England, granting licences and running racecourses. The bias towards former military men in its membership was reflected in their architectural and artistic tastes, ``all chappish mistrust of imagination, easy comprehensibility, confirmation of prejudice''.

But Meades concluded, as all things end, with death. A horse carcass sold to Belgium for human consumption, whether thoroughbred or not, can fetch up to £800. Otherwise it's mere dog food. The programme ended with a shot of two poodles racing across the hallowed turf of Newmarket to the upbeat strains of the Black Beauty theme tune, just after a close-up of an empty tin can, bearing the label, ``Shergar, It's meaty''. The plot thickens.

It was a week for dead animals. Countryside Undercover (9pm, Channel 4, Wednesday, 12 March) was the most gruesome, even stomach-churning programme to be aired in a while. A reporter posing as a pig farm worker investigated conditions for factory farmed pigs in England, armed with a hidden camera. What was revealed was maltreatment on a massive scale, from birth to abbatoir. Now I have no qualms about my meat. I love a nice juicy chop and there are few culinary pleasures to compare to a joint of roast pork dripping with meaty gravy. I do, however, have problems with raising pigs as if they can be grown like turnips or cabbage, crammed into constricted unhygienic spaces, denied any exercise or social contact or any relief from the numbing boredom of an indoor stockyard. Sows were stuffed into corrals barely the width and length of their bodies, allegedly to stop them from crushing their young but really to increase the pig per square foot ratio. At one farm in the morning dead piglets were found floating in the slurry pit below, where they had been pushed by their distressed mother. At another pig faeces and food were allowed to mix freely in the one trough. The programme ended with an equally unsavoury eye-opener from a massive abbatoir, where, again, time was money. The pigs were supposed to be effectively stunned by electric shock before having their throats cut but many had come around by the time they reached the man with the knife.

Maybe our own agricultural industry is better controlled, without the barbarism uncovered by Channel 4 but given the obvious threats posed by bad farming practice (BSE) and recent scares over antibiotics and illegal growth promoters, wouldn't it be nice to be reassured by someone with no direct stake in the Irish agricultural industry, a reporter perhaps? Maybe RTÉ could take the hint.

Film Previews

The Matt Dillon season currently running on Channel 4 continues with The Saint of Fort Washington (10pm, Sunday, 23 March), co-starring Danny Glover. Dillon plays a homeless and mildly handicapped young man in New York who is befriended and protected by Glover on the streets.

One of the picks of the coming week has to be White Dog (12.25am, Channel 4, Wednesday, 25 March), a 1982 drama directed by Samuel Fuller, hailed by critics as a masterpiece of cinema coverage of racism in the States. The plot centres around the adoption by Kristy McNichol of a stray white dog, which, she soon discovers, has been trained to attack only black people.

Elsewhere, and on a much lighter note, Friday evening, 21 March, features a mouth-watering horror/sci-fi double bill. Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (BBC2, 9pm), starring Darryl Hannah as the aforementioned cloud gazer is a fun 1990s remake of the 1950s classic, while Poltergeist (BBC1, 11.35pm), the story of a nasty spirit who invades a family home via their television set, is one of the better horror offerings of the 1980s.

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