Tuesday 25 October 2016

Television: Human beings in dire peril are just like you and me

John Boland

Published 17/07/2016 | 02:30

Perilous trek: Sadiq, who travelled to Lesbos from Afghanistan, featured in the brilliant Exodus: Our Journey to Europe.
Perilous trek: Sadiq, who travelled to Lesbos from Afghanistan, featured in the brilliant Exodus: Our Journey to Europe.

There's racism in Ireland, some of it very nasty, but not on the scale that foreign immigrants have experienced in Britain, with a 400pc increase in reported hate crimes since the recent Brexit vote. We're a much smaller country, of course, and I think generally more outward-looking, with a more instinctive openness towards other cultures and influences, especially those of Europe and America.

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So the vile abuse to be encountered in Racist Britain, made by Channel 4's Dispatches strand, seemed both quite alien and profoundly depressing, even if most of it was coming from the kind of thugs you'll also find venting their twisted sense of disenfranchised grievance on our own streets or spewing bile in slogans or tweets.

But having outlined the scale of the abuse, the Channel 4 report never came up with anything we didn't already know. For that, we had to watch BBC2's extraordinary three-hour film, Exodus: Our Journey to Europe, shown over three successive nights and with most of its footage coming from camera phones given to selected Syrian refugees as they made their perilous trek across Turkey and into Europe.

Among them was radiantly hopeful 11-year-old Isra'a from Aleppo. "I'm not scared", she said as she contemplated the dinghy trip arranged by smugglers from the Turkish port of Izmir to a Greek island. Her father, whose restaurant had been razed to the ground by shelling, had paid the traffickers €12,000 to take eight adults and eight children on a journey that would have cost them €22 each if they'd been permitted to travel by ferry.

They barely made it across the choppy waters, though the main concern of Isra'a was for her mobile phone. "If, God forbid, the dinghy sinks", she said while holding up a waterproof bag, "the phone will be safe". And her young cousin remarked: "Nothing is scary. In Syria the shells were dropping on us and we got used to it. How could we be scared by some waves?"

The film followed Isra'a and her family as they made their tortuous trip up through Europe, the determinedly upbeat Isra'a cheerfully announcing "I like rain" as they slogged though Macedonia.

And as we got to know other individuals and families along the way, we were reminded that these were not the faceless refugees of Nigel Farage's poisonous propaganda but people like you and me - and many of them not poor, either, but forced by the likely prospect of imminent death to abandon all that they owned and cherished and trust in the humanity of strangers.

This film should be seen by everyone - not, of course, that it would mean anything to Farage and his ilk, who have their own hateful agenda.

Middle eastern conflict was also at the heart of Peacekeepers: The Irish in South Lebanon (RTÉ1), an absorbing documentary co-produced and directed by John Higgins and Shane Brennan and providing a satisfyingly clear account of our UN involvement in the region since 1978.

The film introduced us to members of the 47th Infantry Group as they embarked on their six-month stint, and very personable and articulate they were, too. But it also interwove a history of our four decades there, with vivid recollections from former Irish peacekeepers and arresting reminders of those who had been killed while carrying out their dangerous duties.

I had vowed a few weeks back not to waste any more of my time on the half-hour travel selfies that go by the name of Follow Donal (RTÉ1), but this week he was in Lisbon, from which I've recently returned and a city that I've come to love.

So what would be the relentlessly chirpy food blogger's take on it? Having used up all his "Wow!" exclamations in Budapest, Amsterdam and other European capitals, he fell back here on "cool". Lisbon was "a pretty cool-looking place", he excitedly revealed, while a bridge across the Tagus merited an ecstatic "How cool is that!"

He had hired local food blogger Didi to help him in his culinary quests. Didi looked cool, too, but didn't get much of a look-in, this being Donal's show and the camera hardly ever leaving his grinning face. Which is probably why I got no sense at all of the Lisbon that I find so unique and entrancing.

Channel 4 could be on to a winner with The Job Interview, which is like First Dates, only with no romance and added humiliation. Still, this week's first episode began rather sweetly, with boss Rod and assistant Lorraine of south Wales company Low Cost Vans interviewing candidates for the job of customer sales adviser - which basically involved sitting at the end of a phone line and having to cope with complaining clients.

The job finally went to single-mum Jody, who couldn't stop chattering, rather than middle-aged unemployed Ian, who seemed really nice and was favoured by the similarly middle-aged Rod. And though Lorraine got her way, Rod later rang Ian to offer him another job.

A mother-and-daughter team running a luxury leisure centre were less endearing as they sought an assistant manager and treated the candidates with smirking condescension, but you watched all the same.

Daftest viewing of the week was Trainspotting Live (BBC4), which ran interminably over three nights. Hosted by the ever-gesticulating Peter Snow and by Dr Hannah ("I'm a mathematician") Fry, it comprised three hours of locomotives being spotted and identified and discussed throughout the length and breadth of Britain. I'm going mad, Ted.

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