Sunday 19 November 2017

Food for thought - only if you can't squeeze a lemon

Television

Seeking resolution: Tomi Reichental returns to Bergen-Belsen in Close To Evil on RTÉ1
Seeking resolution: Tomi Reichental returns to Bergen-Belsen in Close To Evil on RTÉ1

John Boland

Cat Lawlor, the voiceover informed us, was not just a "cupcake queen" and "wedding cake designer of the year" but also a "creative whizz". Meanwhile, co-presenter Aisli Madden's talents were so multi-faceted as to make her an "all-round domestic goddess".

Armed with such accomplishments, the two women should have bowled us over with their brilliance, though in the end Domestic Divas (RTÉ1) turned out to be another lame-brained lifestyle show.

Promising to demonstrate "life skills we once took for granted" and to reveal "the lost art of living well", Cat and Aisli approached their task with commendable gusto, though the advice they offered was rudimentary.

This was possibly because the person they chose to assist in this opening programme was social worker and mother-of-two Michelle, who confessed at one point that almost all her food-buying was in the processed aisles of supermarkets and that she'd never before visited "an actual grocer's".

Two guys who ran one such shop showed her some carrots and onions and told her how to tell a ripe avocado from one that was unripe. "So much information", a bemused Michelle responded, "it's just overwhelming."

This blissful ignorance about fruit, vegetables and culinary matters in general left Cat and Aisli having to resort to what Basil Fawlty would deem the bleeding obvious - exhorting Michelle to keep her fridge stocked with "appetising" foodstuffs and showing her how best to get the juice out of a lemon.

Shove it in the microwave for a few seconds and then you'll find it easier to squeeze. Honestly. They also offered her some other "diva tips" such as taking a phone picture of what's in your larder so that when you get to the supermarket you'll immediately see what you need to buy.

My own tip would be to avoid watching silly half-hour programmes about nothing.

Perhaps the new Jamie Oliver series, Jamie's Comfort Food (Channel 4), would be more practical and informative. After all, everyone loves comfort food and down-to-earth Jamie's just the guy to make the cooking of it seem sensible and easy. But no, because apparently making your ideal burger has to be achieved in a sunny garden as idyllic as Jamie's and you have to josh and banter with a long-haired American buddy who keeps calling you "man" and is so laid-back that you want to punch him.

Oh, and the recipe for the burger has to be so complicated that you'd require a doctorate in physics just to understand it and a crash-course in organisational skills to execute it. Comfort food? Yeah, right, man.

Happily, there were finer programmes to be watched, notably Gerry Gregg's outstanding Close to Evil (RTÉ1), which accompanied Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental as he sought to meet a female SS guard who had been one of his captors in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He hoped to elicit some acknowledgment of remorse or even simple regret.

The RTÉ publicity had suggested that the two finally met, but this didn't happen, as 92-year-old, Hamburg-based Hilde Liesewicz claimed the one-year prison sentence she received after war's end was a mistake and wished no reminders of her nefarious past.

But Reichental himself, who has lived in Dublin for most of his adult life, proved to be a fine companion. He was engagingly engrossed in seeking to bring some kind of resolution to the ghastly experience that had claimed the lives of 35 members of his Slovakian family.

Footage of a 2004 German interview with Liesewicz, by then a doting grandmother, offered a chilling exercise in lies and denial ("I just liked the uniform, that's all" and "No, no, I didn't smell anything" and "It's weird the things I don't remember"), but Reichental finally found his resolution from an unlikely source - the granddaughter of Nazi officer Hanns Ludin, who as a high-ranking official had been responsible for the deportation and murder of 65,000 Slovaks, including Reichental's family.

In a moving coda to a superbly edited film, Reichental accompanied Ludin's granddaughter Alexandra to the Bratislava grave of her monstrous ancestor and she embraced him in the fields where he had played as a boy. This could have been unduly sentimental, but the film had earned such a moment.

There was no resolution to be found in either Panorama: Stolen Childhoods (BBC1), which summarised the child abuse scandal in Rotherham, or in Pakistan's Streets of Shame (Channel 4), which concerned "a country in denial, turning a blind eye to the sexual exploitation of many thousands of poor and vulnerable children".

Unlike Rotherham, though, the victims here were young boys, Imram Khan deeming the abuse to be one of the "shameful aspects of our society".

"I get bothered a lot", said Akib (9), "the bus driver, the van guy. Sometimes they offer me a soft drink in return. Everyone does bad things with me."

He's just one of 5,000 street children in Peshawar. "Everyone had sex with him", a bus conductor said of one boy. "Everyone was horny. I did it, too. What else could I do? They invited me".

Drug addiction is rife among the victims, with many of them selling their bodies in order to get another fix. This was a despairing film, bringing further attention to the situation, but offering little indication that anything meaningful is being done about it.

There were despairing stories, too, in Ceasefire (BBC1), which was screened to mark the 20 years since the IRA and loyalists consented to end their murderous hostilities.

The film spoke to relatives of some of the unfortunate people who were killed in the few months before those declarations, and the viewer was left feeling bewilderment and anger at the meaninglessness of these atrocious acts.

The trouble with Harry

"From mischievous toddler to front-line soldier, from troubled teen to eligible bachelor". Why, it could only be Prince Harry, left, not just "a veteran of the war in Afghanistan" but also "a thoroughly modern prince."

The gushing continued as Harry at 30 (UTV) progressed, most of it from sycophantic media hacks whose salaries depend on recording every royal inanity and, if ­­ hard-pressed by deadline concerns, concocting a few of their own.

Then there were bizarre asides. "A complete gun nut since about the age of three," was the verdict of former royal protection officer Ken Wharfe, who seemed to think this was a good thing.

"This is about as normal as I'm ever going to get," the pampered prince said somewhat sheepishly from the cockpit of a fighter plane somewhere near the Afghan border, though normality has never come into the equation.

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