HOW the other half lives is a constant human preoccupation, especially in the sense of “How would I live were I to be far richer than I actually am?” A few of us contemplate the opposite: “What if I were far poorer?”
Channel 5 lets us, vicariously, experience both extremes in Rich House, Poor House (Thursday of last week). We saw the wealthy Caddys (five children) swap with the hard-up Williamses (six) for a week, finding out, on the one hand, what it might be like to get by on £107 a week, and, on the other, what £1700 might enable you to enjoy.
The Caddys were keen that their children should know at first hand what life on the edge of poverty feels like, and their children were willing to discover the reality of having one instead of six WCs in the house. The Williamses were amazed at the luxury of their brief sojourn, but not consumed with envy. When Anthony Williams noticed that James Caddy’s school photo was from a comprehensive school, he said how much it inspired him: this wealth had been earned, not inherited.
The Caddys found an abandoned sofa in the Williamses’ front garden; but when James found out what the council charged to remove it, he appreciated why so many estate gardens are disfigured with cast-offs. Nothing deterred, he simply dismantled it, and got his whole family to carry it to the tip. The closing sequence was particularly telling: opening their respective post, James had to make a decision about some shares; Anthony was served with a possession order.
The greatest mystery in physics, Jim Al-Khalili says in Gravity and Me: The force that shapes our lives (BBC4, Tuesday of last week), is: What is time? It seemed to me that the whole 90 minutes explored mysteries so curious and profound as to make it invidious to give any one the accolade.
Gravity is the stuff that binds the universe together, and I was intrigued by its religious parallels. Al-Khalili spoke of why an apple falls: was he conscious, I wondered, of that cosmic Fall engendered by an apple? The latest radical thinking is that it is time that produces gravity; so God’s initial act of creation is to bring into being time, then gravity and space. There was much here for theologians to ponder.
Brian Pern: A tribute (BBC4, Wednesday of last week) was a documentary of a somewhat different stamp. The death of Brian Pern, the lead singer of the band Thotch, brought together his colleagues and friends to mourn his passing. The entire thing is, of course, a spoof — to skewer the pretensions and venal incompetence of the world of pop.
Interviewing his manager, the question went: What does Brian’s death mean to you? Pause for thought, then: “About £10 million: rereleasing the albums, tribute shows, new merchandise. . .” The extraordinary thing was the line-up of genuine stars eager to share in the joke: Jane Asher, Monty Don, Nigel Havers — all joined in the fun.