Attenborough shows The Hunt is on in BBC1’s newest nature programme

The Hunt, BBC Natural History Unit’s latest animal extravaganza began on BBC1 Sunday night.

Like the wildlife he discusses, David Attenborough proves again he is master of his own skill – narration, building tension as carefully and cleverly as his subjects stalk prey. Despite yourself you discover you are soon rooting for the leopard and feel her frustration as an impala hunt ends in failure.


Image courtesy: via Creative Commons

From larger mainland African predators to the island wildlife haven of Madagascar, focus shifts swiftly to chameleons as easily as these tiny reptiles’ eyes move in different directions but becomes no less absorbing. Attenborough is equally sympathetic to predator as he is to prey explaining the enormous odds they must overcome simply to sustain themselves and their young with food.

As wonderful as Attenborough is however, it’s the wildlife that are the real celebrities and so the skills of countless professionals behind the scenes who spend many months working to bring these stunning struggles into our front rooms. From a small spider in Madagascar spinning silk stronger than steel into a two-metre web, to a cheetah on the African plains: it all makes for riveting television.

Anyone who doubts the BBC’s relevance and importance as a public service terrestrial broadcaster in today’s turbulent digital landscape needs only watch this to be convinced otherwise. This is what the Corporation was designed to do and does better than its rivals.

Engaging, informative, entertaining, with unrivalled production values, it settles the license fee argument firmly in the BBC’s favour.

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Kids’ online safety – cracking the code

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

How to protect kids online? The Government is clueless!

The Department for Education plans to launch an online guide for parents and teachers, helping them decipher acronyms and other codes children use on social media.

The ParentInfo website is essentially a text-speak dictionary parents can access to decipher what kids are really saying online to protect them from pornography, paedophilia and “sexting”.  Abbreviations include: GNOC (get naked on camera); LMIRL (let’s meet in real life); DOC (drug of choice) plus warnings like PAW (parents are watching) and P999 (parent alert).

A marvellous idea in theory but I immediately recalled my own childhood that, despite being entirely Internet free nonetheless contained large amounts of pornography, albeit mostly in magazines, but also several videos. Some of this was largely purloined, interestingly, from a few of my parents’ more bohemian friends.

My friends and I also ran rings around adults in other ways with our own slang and teen-speak. Kids, as they say, will be kids.

I am not at all advocating giving children complete free-reign or access to pornography – boundaries must be set. I also agree parents and teachers need assistance. Technological developments now move so fast many must be left almost clueless. Once parents crack one code children, however, will almost certainly create another equally baffling. Again: kids will be kids.

Unless we therefore devote a branch of MI5 to this dilemma I fail to see how it can possibly succeed.

Another service ParentInfo offers is advice for parents on engaging with their children about the Internet and how to use it safely. Surely this is common sense and should now be as much a part of good parenting as explaining where babies come from.

I therefore fail to see the point of this whole endeavour.

Far more useful would be following the example of Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens, who recently featured in Channel 4’s fascinating documentary Sex in Class, predictably slammed by the right-wing media.

Trialled in one school, Ms Liekens offered a ground-breaking approach to how teenagers should be taught about sex. Sex Education became as important to the curriculum as Maths or English.

Homework was even set. Girls were encouraged to explore their own bodies with a mirror. After voting on which photograph of vaginas in different states of hairlessness they preferred, boys were given a taste of their preference for the hairless and asked to shave their own pubic hair. Taught in co-educational classes, with an exam at the end, among other benefits the difference in girls’ assertiveness once the course was completed regarding what was acceptable behaviour from boys was inspiring.

If the Government put as much time and money into this worthy and tested scheme as it did another quick-fix solution designed to generate headlines, they might finally start helping the children they claim to want to protect.

Rick Stein’s Down Under discoveries are deliciously different.


Photo: Creative Commons

Rick Stein (Photo: Thomas Ridley Foodservice via Creative Commons)

BBC2’s A Cook Abroad: Rick Stein’s Australia featured culinary curiosities surprising even this gourmet Aussie expat…

Visiting my Australian home for the first time in five years last Christmas, last night I returned, watching celebrity chef Rick Stein’s episode of BBC2’s: A Cook Abroad: Rick Stein’s Australia.

Viewers were taken on a tasty tour through Aussie cuisine’s past and future, usefully utilising Stein’s 30-year association with the country. Visiting the Sydney digs where his cooking aspirations began, he showed how a nation formerly famous for burnt “snags on the barbie”, now served sophisticated mouth-watering meals, rivalling restaurants worldwide.

Even meat pies, my own school canteen childhood favourite, had grown up. Once soggy pastry cases holding little but gravy, these were now filled with exotic meats like kangaroo.

Considerable time was spent showcasing the country’s fish and seafood but considering this is Stein’s forté and Australia, the world’s largest island, this was understandable.

What lifted the programme, making it so fascinating, was contrast – the continent’s evolution from culinary backwater to producing foods for the future. Interesting ingredients from exotic meats to native herbs, fruit and vegetables, that Aboriginals cooked with for millennia and local chefs proudly proclaimed were the next big foodie fad.

Tasmania, formerly Australia’s Isle of Man, was the new gourmet-go-to. Although its cool climate has produced world-class wine for some time it was, until recently, seen as little more than a hippie-hideaway by mainlanders. On my last visit I’d heard surprising rumours through friends and family of the Island State’s new restaurant reputation.

Jumping from “Tassy” to nearby Bruny Island, Stein met a pig farmer turned wallaby hunter. This metre high mammal resembling a small kangaroo is now in high demand for its tasty flesh. Shy, nowhere near as common, the kangaroo’s cute compact cousin is protected on mainland Oz.

On Bruny Island, off Tasmania’s coast, an estimated 10 million wallabies thrive, decimating crops. Stein accompanied him on a night-hunt to shoot a fresh victim, then watched him prepare fresh “free-range native bush meat” and one killed earlier, left to hang. Due to its high muscle content wallaby meat is tough. It looked delicious and Stein stuffed it down. This was not a show to watch while hungry.

The foods’ diversity plus Stein’s hosting, although his cheeky-chappy routine can often grate, were excellent. Pigs wandered around the hunter’s farm, hinting at the past but this show focused firmly on Australia’s food future. Avoiding the clichés often seen on many Australian-themed programmes, even the music was understated – not a didgeridoo was heard. Featuring fascinating facts, it was tasty television in every sense.

Returning to mainland Tasmania, next stop was a distillery due to its superb single malt: the world’s best. Scottish viewers probably switched off at this point but, Tasmania’s Scottish cool climate, lakes and mountains, helpfully highlighted, it rang true. A single malt, lover myself I hungered to go but 70 per cent proof and, astonishingly, £20 thousand a bottle, this was sadly outside my budget.

Inland fish farms further highlighted Australian food’s ethical environmental emphasis. Who knew Japanese sushi chefs prized Tasmanian salmon more highly than any other?

Stein almost went too far during a corny dash delivering fresh salmon to the renowned Japanese sushi chef resident in a sleepy Tasmanian backwater. But the mouth-watering morsels the sushi chef prepared and his sublime knife wielding skill made up for it, demonstrating why people travel from everywhere to eat there. As Stein said: “Tasmania’s hidden secrets need advertising.”

Watching this I wanted to go and suspect I wasn’t alone.

25 per cent of global abalone, one shellfish I’ve never tasted, is Tasmanian, 75 per cent sent to China. Renowned in Melbourne and Sydney, it’s not familiar across most of the mainland. A slow-growing mushroom-like mollusc, if cooked incorrectly this delicacy tastes like “boot leather.”

A fisherman cooked his in ghee aboard his boat, serving it with one of Tasmania’s famous Chardonnays. Stein devoured it, dubbing it: “The best seafood Australia isn’t eating.”

Delicious TV – this was the BBC at its best. Stirring renewed patriotism within me, I loved the environmental emphasis, especially considering Australia’s current Government, refuses to acknowledge climate change. Timely, tasty, it captured Australian character, and potential, perfectly.