Tuesday, 30 June 2009

"The Secret Caribbean " gets the thumbs up

I have become very selective about the TV programmes I watch, in fact I'm beginning to wonder whether it's worth having a TV at all. Having watched the first part of Trevor McDonald's "The Secret Caribbean" on ITV on Sunday evening I reckon it is, for the moment at least.

Sir Trevor of course hails from Trinidad and he proved an excellent choice as guide on this first episode of the series. Incidentally he has a Devon connection, having a home near Exeter - at least I assume he still has. One of the things I've always sensed about the Caribbean is that there is an incredibly large variation in the economic conditions of those who live there. That applies to many other parts of the world of course but Sunday's show really emphasised these differences.

First of all then we saw Sir Trevor talking to Richard Branson on the island that he, Branson, owns. As the money from Virgin records rolled in Sir Richard developed the island into the perfect paradise home. He can accommodate a small number of paying guests at his hideaway but that does cost. I really do mean cost because - brace yourself - you have to pay £30,000 a night to stay there! That's not a misprint by the way. I'm assuming that the price might include breakfast, I wouldn't go otherwise! Ever restless Sir Richard has now bought the neighbouring island.

Now for the deliberate contrast. Sir Trevor went north to Cuba. This was absolutely fascinating because that island is in a sense in a sort of time warp. It reminds me of when I was a child in the fifties. Why? Well there was the virtual absence of two of the really significant features of life in today's western society - consumerism and celebrity culture. And drawing my parallel even closer is the fact that food is pretty well rationed in Cuba, I can remember the ration books from the Second World War having their use extended into the nineteen fifties on some foods at least. As an example of the lack of celebrity culture Trevor talked to a lady newsreader who is paid virtually the same as anyone else on the island (it is a communist country after all) and later caught up with her working as an MC at a nightclub to extend her income. I can't quite see a British newscaster having to do that!

Then we saw life in a factory where they made those huge fat Cuban cigars. The first thing to say is that everything but everything is done by hand. Then there was the pause in work while everyone stood up for the country's national anthem. There is another break later where everyone listens to one of their number reading a book to them. At the time of the filming I think that it was a tome about ancient Egypt and read aloud at some 10 pages a day! Oh and the workers can smoke the product while working if they so wish.

On the subject of smoking it seems that purchase of cigarettes is subsidised. So are the authorities trying to get their people into an early grave? It would seem not because here came one of the most interesting of statistics: life expectancy is the same as the United States at 78 years. On the face of it extraordinary. One fact, not mentioned by Sir Trevor, is that economics has dictated that Cuba shouldn't be oil dependent in the way 'modern' countries are - I had gleaned this from a film shown locally some little while ago. From my observation of the programme there appeared to be a degree of contentment amongst the people, maybe they had never known a life very different and consequently there had never been a comparison to be made.

For the final section of the programme Sir Trevor went back to his roots to Trinidad where it was carnival time. I had always imagined that the biggest and best carnival would have been in Rio but Sir Trevor reckoned the one in his home country was the biggest of them all. No doubt about it - it was big in size and long in duration. We also saw a steel drum being made, an example of the traditional music of the state. I'm just so fascinated by the way that their players know just which part of the instrument plays which note. Plenty of steel bands to watch on YouTube of course.

Sir Trevor proved to be a genial and relaxing host in this super programme. Well done ITV!

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