Friday, January 13, 2017

The slow revolution.

I would like to think there has been a very small but significant revolution in the culture of today, started by those Norwegian types.

Calming down.
 The obsession we have with celebrities, Kardashians, talent shows for the talentless and generally stupid people doing stupid things on the telly being watched by stupid masses might be coming to an end.  The sensible folk are voting with their eyeballs and the TV viewing public have been making some surprising choices.
Reality TV makes my brain bleed. Talent shows give me apoplexy. I can’t stand the noise of a screaming audience being whipped into a frenzy by a sign that says ‘laugh now.’  I am not fascinated by some celebrity being fired down a ski jump to land on a giant airbag breaking their collar bone/ spine/ ankle for my enjoyment. Athletes who have spent twenty years training to ski jump? I can watch that until the cows come home but when it’s attempted by an ex-grade celebrity who was fourth on Search for a Star six years ago and had her fourth boob job live on TV,  I would rather look out the window and watch the grass grow.
I have a lot of grass.
So in some point in time, a documentary maker Rune Moklebust, suggested it would be a shame to waste the extra footage they had just filmed about a train journey. Why not air the whole journey, free of editing?  They didn’t have high expectations of viewing figures, just a few railway enthusiasts with time on their hands. They got 1.6 million. From a population of 5 million. | It is recounted with pride that there was a comment on social media from a man saying that  when the train came into the station at the end of the line, this bloke stood up to collect his bag before realising he was still in his own living room.
They streamed all those unexciting bits of film together; No commentary, no plot, no dialogue. Just images. And Slow TV was born. It now has its own, successful Netflix channel.

                                           The graphics float up and then float away ago...

We are just catching on to it here. Our BBC4 (anybody who watches that is either into prog rock of the 70s or has a PhD and wears a bobbly jumper ) trebled their viewing figures with their first foray into slow TV. All aboard the canal barge. It was two hours of a serene journey by narrow boat. Filmed in real time, nothing more exciting than the odd dog walker on the tow path saying hello, the view from inside the tunnel etc etc. The camera was strapped to the front of the boat as it made its way, very slowly, along the Kennet and Avon Canal.
So far we have had Dawn Chorus which is exactly that; the uninterrupted birdsong of sunrise. Then we had a hour long film of glass blowing. Then the making of a steel blade by hand - all fiery furnaces and banging hammers. One portrays the very long and complicated process of making a Windsor chair by hand, lovingly. The one with the camera attached to the front of a country bus going through the small villages in the Yorkshire Dales can make you feel sick if you sit too close to the TV.
I became aware of the version called ‘All aboard the Sleigh Ride’.  The programme is two and a half hours long, two and a half hours of nothing, no plot, no dialogue just a sleigh ride.  It drives the sequinned fanatics of ‘strictly’ absolutely nuts.  Two and a half hours of looking at a reindeer’s fluffy bum.
                                                     I think this might be the wee cheeky chappie -
                                                        the  four legged one!
The concept came about by placing very small cameras on various places of the vehicle doing the journey so that as you sit and watch the telly, you see what they see and the camera views the landscape at the speed the vehicle is moving at.  So the sleigh ride stars two reindeer, a sleigh and two Sami women, Anne-Louise and Charlotta, walking a path that these people have used for three thousand years, two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. It starts off at daybreak – about 11.30 am -  and lasts the two and a half hours of their daylight taking them to their destination.
One woman, basically an outline of boots, skirts, huge coat and hat, trudges her way along at the head of the reindeer. The  other woman is sitting at the back. The soundtrack is  reindeer hooves crunching through the snow, the swish, swish of the rails of the sledge, the occasional snort from a reindeer. Sometimes you hear the women pass comment as they see a sledge of huskies going the opposite way.  They pass flaming braziers, obviously there to light the path on deepest dark nights. There’s a moment of excitement when they greet another member of the Sami people cross country skiing in the opposite direction and by that I mean a mode of transport not a sport.                                
 It is gently hypnotic to watch, although something compels you to put a jumper on when watching it.  People with no brains and no appreciation of reindeer buttocks complain that it is tediously boring when in fact it is utterly enchanting.  It’s a armchair travel that is a joy in the travel itself. I’m glad to say that it has won many awards and the producers were very wise to deploy a silent graphic in the form of an expanding snowflake with little snippets of wisdom, very often answering the question that just went through your head.  Are these reindeers domesticated? The snowflake bubble appears and says the reindeer are all semi wild.  Six months of the year they are out, up to their own devices and the other six months they are in work.
I was chatting about it at work and my colleague told me it was an old work colleague of hers Justine Evans, who filmed it. ( Sarah used to be BBC camera person). I found an interview with Justine telling of the strain of holding a camera, strapped to a wooden chair on top of a sledge for two and half hours at minus 20. The girls reassured this was a warm day. It could get a lot, lot colder.  Everything they filmed would be used, with only four hours of daylight if they were lucky.
                                                     Justine on her camera seat from the BBC website.
Here’s what she said about the reindeer, the stars of the show.  “They were a lot more characterful than I thought they’d be. Calm but very inquisitive. Their herds are only semi-tame because they roam free for a lot of the year, but the ones that are pulling the sleigh are very tame.
In fact, there was one little one who was very confident – he was raised inside one of the reindeer herder's houses because he was abandoned by his mother. He tried to eat all our equipment! The one pulling my sleigh kept looking around and staring, probably wondering what on earth I was doing.” 
Imagine going to work and being able to confuse reindeer, what a great job!
I then watched ‘All Aboard the Flying Scotsman’ that very hypnotic sound of a steam engine blowing it’s whistle when it went into a tunnel without telling anybody.  I did notice that the driver of the train had two tin mugs of coffee sitting on top of the boiler.
So next time you are tempted to a b ox set of something get the adrenaline going just think that there is enough of that in the world and watch a reindeer’s bum instead.
                                                         That's all folks!!!

Caro Ramsay 13 01 2017


  1. I wasn't sure where you were going with this, but as always, you led me to the right place. Well, almost always. This is precisely the kind of TV I need, where you witness an actual event applying your own mind as commentary. No more color commentators, no more celebrity hucksters, and as for the reindeer butts, they're so much more appealing (and attractive) than you-know-who's kisser clogging the airwaves.


    1. I do watch American politics and apply my own mind as commentary. It's the only way it makes any sense....sort of. Actually that's a lie - it still doesn't make sense....sorry.

    2. No reason for you to be sorry, that's a mantra soon to be resonating from this part of the globe.

  2. I used to travel the world by looking at maps for hours on end. I have watched some Slow TV and it fills the gaps in my imaginative travels.

    1. Do you have a favourite Jono? I find it very therapeutic to watch while plotting dastardly deeds...

  3. For years I've been getting a bum rap for watching bums. Thanks for backing me up, Caro, instead of bumming me out.

  4. Evka, better to back you up than get your back up. Though, as an osteopath, it would cost you some dosh either way!

  5. Slow TV sounds very appealing to this fan of slow food. I haven't gotten sick of regular TV because I never watch. Slow TV for me is rewatching something I've seen a dozen times while I do other things.

  6. I have been enjoying slow TV in Minneapolis for several years now. Like you, Caro, I became appalled at the paucity of material on US TV, despite over 100 channels. So I started tuning into the channel connected to the CCTV network in my building. I could watch for hours as the screen switched from the CCTV at the front door, to the one at the back door, to the ones in the stairwells. I was hooked! The suspense was palpable. Who was going to be the next person fumbling for their keys? Why did Mr. Wild Hair always use the stairs? Often with different women? Who owned the foot that disappeared off the screen just as the camera changed. Fascinating. Addictive. This was reality TV at its best.

  7. You can link to the traffic cameras in the UK, which is great to watch when the snow's falling and roads like the trans-Pennine A66 gradually gets covered completely with snow.

    I love the idea of the occasional bit of info, as with the snowflakes. I thought the Country Bus programme would have benefitted from the occasional bit of silent info about the places being passed, just as I would have followed the journey on a map, had I been making it.

  8. Love the reindeer. Would rather look at the reindeer all day than be subjected to the TV news shows over here. It's harder and harder to watch and will become worse after Friday.

    And if you think one can make sense of all of this, we all try. I watch people who voted for he who shall not be named and hear what they say and wonder what planet they're on. They didn't hear and see he said and did at his rallies, on TV, etc.

    It's like the Twilight Zone.