WHO owns a river? It is a good question, and it lay at the heart
of Sacred Rivers With Simon Reeve (BBC2, Sunday). The
Sunday evening scheduling may suggest that the series is thought of
as religious - a categorisation that cannot be sustained, for all
Reeve's respectful embrace of the ritual practice of whichever
group he encounters on his journey from source to sea.
The first river he travels down is the Nile, and it is good to
be reminded of the immemorial Christian faith of Ethiopia - long
before Islam took over as the predominant religion. Good, too, is
his focus on Sudan, which has a longer stretch of the Nile than has
Egypt, and, as ancient Nubia, was home to a civilisation that has
been overshadowed by its neighbour to the north.
But Reeve's grasp of religious doctrine and practice seems
superficial. Where he is more interesting is in the political and
economic sphere. The annual inundation of the Nile was the reason
why civilisation developed along its banks, and the river is still
central to the life of its surrounding nations. But to whom do its
Egypt takes it for granted that its ancient irrigation systems
and barrages to exploit the flood confer on it primordial rights.
But now Ethiopia is building an enormous dam to generate
electricity to alleviate the grinding poverty of its citizens; and
Sudan is creating huge new irrigation systems. How much water will
this draw off the river? Who will determine what is right, and who
will resort to force? It was far more hard-headed than expected,
and all the better for it.
It is good to report on a new Channel 5 series, but I would have
liked a bit more grit in No Foreigners Here: 100% British
(Thursday of last week). Cheetham Hill, Manchester, is apparently
the most multi-racial community in the UK, and this documentary's
admirable purpose is to show how well the different religions and
cultures rub along together.
We saw the synagogue's splendid kosher-food competition, where
both Jewish restaurateurs employ Muslim chefs. The Muslim
wedding-planner was used to organising nuptials, such as those we
witnessed, between indigenous English and Hindus. The Sikh
solicitors have, for three generations, worked with clients of
every faith and background, and are fountains of charity and
Despite the over-earnest commentary, teetering on the cliff-edge
of self-parody, this is hope-filled and heart-warming. There is
only one ingredient missing in this gallimaufry: there are no
practising Christians nor the ministrations of the Established
Church. I hope that that is being saved up for future episodes.
Detectorists (BBC4, Thursday of last week) is a gentle
new comedy based on those national staples: eccentricity,
awkwardness, and failure. Andy and Lance are unlikely friends,
their relationship based as much on irritation and minor antagonism
as warmth. They are bound together by their hobby of
metal-detecting, of walking the local fields dreaming of Roman-coin
hoards or Saxon gold - but unearthing merely the odd ring-pull.
Somehow, the determinedly low-key plot, dialogue, and
characterisation make it even more effectively a reflection of life