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Misery of .... TV commuting

The economic crisis has proved a fertile breeding ground for documentaries about the misery and woe of living at the sharp end of the recession. The Commute (RTE1) Baz's Extreme Worlds (RTE2)

The latest arrival in the station was The Commute, a rather curious offering. Put simply, this was a film about people who have to make punishingly long journeys between their home and their workplace.

It's not a pleasant way to earn a crust, for sure, but The Commute oversold itself by dramatically claiming that such people form a new "transient community" known as "extreme commuters".

Known by who, exactly? The media? The people who made this documentary? As the voiceover reminded us, more than 300,000 people are on the dole and emigration is currently running at a rate of 3,000 people a week. But since there are no hard figures available (and how could there be?) for the number of people in the country making long-distance commutes to work, the claims seem fatuous.

There was nothing fatuous, mind you, about any of the people featured in the film, who are working and travelling hard to keep body and soul together, as well as a roof over their heads. Inevitably, though, some commutes are more extreme than others.

John Maguire travels from Limerick to Dublin and back again every weekday, which entails getting up at 5.45am to make it to his job at 9.15. "There are jobs in Limerick but they're hard to come by and the pay isn't great," he said.

When Margaret Sexton-Fitzpatrick (pictured), from Cork, qualified as a midwife last year and found there were no jobs with the HSE, she was given a choice: join an agency or emigrate. Margaret spends her working week in London, away from her haulage contractor husband and their seven children, ranging in age from 23 to 11.

Saying a tearful goodbye to her family at the end of every weekend "is not getting any easier," she said, "but once I get there I'm fine."

Engineer Brian Smyth, captain of the Westmeath senior hurling team, is in a similar situation. He teaches at a London school and dashes home every weekend to play for his county.

The most extreme case here was Matt Scanlon, whose Sligo building firm went bust, as did his dream of turning an old house into his family home after the bottom fell out of the property market. He's currently labouring on a building site in London.

Matt can only afford to return home once a month, a trip that entails a 17-hour boat and train journey in order to spend just 24 hours with his family and daughter.

Sad as some of the stories here were, the repetition eventually became numbing and The Commute glossed over a couple of inconvenient truths. First, many people were happy to commute long distances during the boom times, especially when houses outside Dublin were considerably cheaper than those in it. Second, whatever hardships the "extreme commuters" face, they're still nothing compared to those of previous generations of economic migrants, who'd never heard of commuting and for whom finding work away from home often meant a one-way ticket.

I feel a bit sorry for Baz Ashmaway. In How Long Can You Go, he functioned as a kind of low-rent Johnny Knoxville. In Baz's Extreme Worlds, he's progressed a notch to being a bargain-basement Bruce Parry.

He was hanging out this week with Ethiopia's fearsome Suri tribe, who usually settle disputes with a bit of stick-fighting. Not unlike county hurling, so. There were a few genuinely interesting moments here, such as when Baz drank some freshly decanted cow's blood ("It tasted like your own blood, with a bit of gristle in it") and joined in the Suri ritual of supping from a stream and then repeatedly making himself vomit.But the tiresome puerility still keeps raising its sneering head: "There's a bit more to owning a stick than just swinging it." Mmm . . . time for Baz to commute to more grown-up material.

The Commute 2/5 Baz's Extreme Worlds 2/5