Daytime TV: Food for thought

Gary Day contemplates poverty, teenage pregnancy, the lives of elephants and unusual butchery

January 22, 2009

Meet Vernon. He has a couple of hats and wherever he lays them, that's his home. Or at least it used to be. Since his last appearance in Skint (BBC One, Tuesday 10.35pm), Vernon has acquired a flat and some furniture. "For once I've got something to sit on," he chirps.

And it's all down to the kindness of strangers. One such pays for his weekly shopping. It arrives when Vernon is contemplating his debt problem and it cheers him up immediately. A woman potters around Vernon's kitchen. Who is she? As he discovers that a friend has emptied his bank account, she flops on to the sofa and dips a spoon into what looks like a bowl of lentils. Is she part of the crew filming Vernon's vicissitudes? From behind the camera, a female voice continually ticks Vernon off about his attitude to money. He needs to be more careful. Absolutely. He should keep his kitchen locked for a start.

But the voice has a point. No sooner does Vernon sort out a repayment plan than he decides to buy a guitar so that he can go busking. "It makes more money than selling The Big Issue," he observes. Vernon is also going into the bathroom business. He's been taken on by Ross, who can't afford to pay him, but who will train him.

And then, disaster. Ross hasn't kept up the payments on his van. The lender has removed its battery and its wheels. Probably as a warning for what lies in store for Ross if he doesn't come up with the spondulicks - and quick. "Never mind," says Vernon. "If anyone can sort it, Ross can."

Vernon's life is like his blinds. Neither is fixed properly. The blinds fall down as soon as a pink-haired friend tries to open them. But Vernon remains unbowed under fortune's blows. Broken relationships, bankruptcy and even a nervous breakdown.

What has the man got to smile at? Ross borrowing the readies from his father, that's what. The business is back on track and our last sight of Vernon is of him polishing a mirror in a sparkling bathroom.

A few notches up the British class system we encounter Kizzy (Sex, Prams and Exams, BBC Three, Thursday 9pm). Falling pregnant at 13, she experienced the unkindness of strangers. She was spat at in the street, knocked down and kicked. Her family, whose Christian names all begin with K, bizarrely laid the blame for her pregnancy on the school for giving advice about contraception.

But mum Kerry and dad Kevin must have thought they could do better because they made a video of Kizzy's pregnancy as a warning to other girls. "This is what happens if you don't use condoms," said dad as daughter alternately bit a cushion and bellowed during a labour that was to last 18 hours.

At the end of it Kaylib appeared. No one was more relieved than his mum. After a shaky start in her role Kizzy blossomed, eventually returning to college and getting her GCSEs. She also acquired a boyfriend. "You are not sleeping with him," said her mother. "Sociologists stereotype single mums," complained Kizzy. "But look at me. I study and have a job." Universities will soon be rushing to sign her up.

Elephants are just like us (The Secret Life of Elephants, BBC One, Wednesday 9pm). They have a memory and a sense of mortality. They play and are intensely social. They also feel anger. Who wouldn't if they were compelled to live in a compound, wear an electronic tag and give a DNA sample? "It's to protect the elephants," explained zoologist Ian Douglas Hamilton.

Unfortunately, the tags don't work very well. A family of elephants had gone missing. Ian's daughter, Saba, was filmed standing up in a Jeep scanning the horizon with binoculars. One of the group was later found to have been shot, apparently for fun. Elephants wouldn't do that, so they can't be that much like us.

Chefs Fergus Henderson and Jeremy Lee decided they probably wouldn't eat an elephant (Could You Eat an Elephant?, Channel 4, Wednesday 10pm); not out of any concern for the creature but because it was a taboo too far, even for men who can swallow the still-beating heart of a snake. Their attitude to the animal kingdom was summed up by baby-faced Fergus, who said that it was all destined for a plate.

The narrator, Alan Ford, all but called us "pussies" because we want our meat "sanitised, industrially farmed and faceless". And so he rubbed our faces in blood and filled our nostrils with the stink of intestines. But the plan may have backfired. Seeing how dogs were slaughtered in Hanoi made even Fergus and Jeremy, whose faces at first were just ghostly, turn a whiter shade of pale.

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