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Water feature

10 October 2014


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 waters belong?

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 goodwill.

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 itself.

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