I don’t normally write about television on this blog, but seeing as this year seems to have involved a lot of breaking of tradition here on the blog I’ll make an exception. I’m not a big television watcher but with holiday knitting looming large some escapist television is deemed necessary. Of course one person’s escapist television is not the next person’s. Not for me the period dramas, rom-coms or ‘holiday movies’. No, while I attempt to get everything I should have done over the previous six weeks done in the space of six days, my televisual distraction of choice takes the form of gentle BBC Four factual shows. Two particular series have caught my imagination lately, being Indian Hill Railways and Julia Bradbury’s German Wanderlust.
The first series is not yet finished but so far has been excellent so I highly recommend having a wee search through the schedules for it (there are three episodes up on the iPlayer at the moment too). The series focuses on various narrow-gauge railways in the mountains across India, built by the British Raj to service their hill-stations at the end of the 19th Century. The first two programmes focus on Darjeeling and Nilgiri which both still run steam trains and there was something decidedly surreal about watching workers making the spare parts for the engines when I’ve previously only seen that in scratchy old archive footage. (Having spent a lot of time at my day job in recent months communing with a lot of archive about Glasgow Built locomotives, I feel the need to note that Loco 788 had just been restored and was still puttering about Darjeeling in active service when this documentary was made.) With each episode focusing on a different line and its community over the course, the viewer is introduced not only to the characters and subculture that surrounds the railway, but also to that of their diverse communities. At some stations the trains are a source of commerce at others the big water tanks for the steam engines are a vital resource for local communities that are otherwise always short of water. There’s something oddly intriguing about seeing the way in which the regulations and rituals that the British left behind have been maintained in some ways and subverted in others to suit the needs of the communities the trains serve.
And no doubt railway enthusiasts the length of the British Isles are watching this series, shaking their fists at the screen and cursing Beeching.
Not being a regular TV watcher, my knowledge of Julia Bradbury can be summed up as ‘that lassie who walks around the Lake District reading bits out of a book’ – a technique I approve of in principal but suspect I would fall over if I tried it myself – but these days she appears to be enough of a name to get a series named after her. Actually I nearly didn’t watch this series as I tend to avoid programmes of the ‘so and so’s such and such’ format, which is probably an unfair generalisation but I’ve seen too many boring star vehicles and life’s too short to watch bad television. However, my abiding love for Germany is up there with my love of railway journeys, so I focused instead on the words ‘wanderlust’ and ‘Bavaria’ and I’m very glad that I did. Julia Bradbury turns out to be a rather personable presenter, with a genuine enthusiasm for the walking and puts the background factual information across to the viewer in a knowledgeable manner. Which is pretty much what I look for in a tour guide, to be honest.
I enjoyed the format of picking a subject related to the walk and learning about it along the way as a counterpoint to the frankly stunning views. A little bit of history, a little bit of geology, a little of bit of art, a few local experts and eccentrics enthusing about their specialist subject, it might be decidedly gentle television but it was engaging and oddly compulsive viewing. I was quite sad when I reached the end of the fourth episode and found that there was no more to watch.
I don’t actually feel like I know a great deal more about the Romanticism movement in Germany during the 1800s but I now have some nice anecdotes about very beautiful bits of Germany and have spent a very pleasant couple of hours in good company. Also, I really want to go on holiday to Germany now.