Engineering calm

A TV programme about reconstructing a lawnmower should make good TV for insomniacs, but the first episode of James May’s The Reassembler (BBC4, last night) managed to be simultaneously fascinating and calming.

ReassemblerBetter known as part of the presenting triumvirate on Top Gear, James May’s other programmes have always interested me more, revealing his deep interest in how things work and a quiet reverence for the remarkable people who created them.

With precisely zero technical skills myself, I can completely understand this awe of technology and engineering; which is why it was so interesting to see someone with a modicum of these skills work their way through the reconstruction of something as prosaic as a 1959 Suffolk Colt lawnmower.

How does the internal combustion in a lawnmower (or anything!) work? I sort of know the theory, but seeing all the component neatly laid out like a work of art on a table, then gathered up and reassembled, revealed more in 30 minutes than any amount of books would.

But it’s May’s subtly rambling commentary on the reassembly process, interspersed with the lawnmower’s history and development, that transformed this 30 minutes of nerdistry into a  little piece of TV nirvana: I could feel my body relax – heart rate slowing, muscles relaxing, mind clearing – as, piece by piece, a lawnmower took shape once more.

It was TV as meditation!

This, I suspect, is because it brought back memories of being small and watching as my dad performed miracles in the garage: welding iron gates, fixing broken electrical appliances, making his own bricks for a wall, affixing a fold-down workbench to the wall. He would pick his way through endless drawers full of ancient and mysterious tools (passed down from his dad) to to fix or create anything.

Sadly, I haven’t inherited his practical skills, but my innate curiosity about how things work is all his doing (which is why I’m quite good at fixing computers). And that curiosity is a real gift: it taught me you’ll never ever be bored if you can recognise the artistry and complexity of the world all around you.

So, thank you, James May; but thanks more to my Dad. 🙂

Another triumph for the Beeb! :-)

Some cheering news from the world of entertainment, where the BBC has won NINE awards at the Royal Television Society 2009 programme awards!

And not only that, but some actual quality television (which is to say, television that has no celebrities or ice skating or even Simon Cowell involvement) won the award for best entertainment programme – Charlie Brooker‘s brilliant Newswipe from BBC4, a programme not only extremely funny, but also extremely educational, informative and entertaining.

Charlie Brooker

It’s my sincere opinion that Newswipe ought to be shown to schoolchildren (minus the swearing) to teach them “how” to view TV, to understand that everything on it is mediated, is somehow biased in one way or another.  Newswipe goes behind the screen and points out these limitations, both the accidental and deliberate.

And did I mention it’s funny, too?  Damn, but it’s funny – the funniest moments usually being presenter Charlie Brooker’s raising of an eyebrow or sidewards glance at the audience when a particularly insane piece of TV footage is replayed.

What’s even funnier (and not “funny-ha-ha”) is that the Daily Mail is so quiet about this triumph by the BBC.  They report it with the headline “Coronation Street girls swap the cobbles for high fashion at the Royal Television Society Awards“.

How strange that a newspaper so obsessed with “quality” TV viewing should be suddenly struck so dumb at this celebration of quality TV viewing…