The Iraq War; Wild Shepherdess with Kate Humble

The last episode of The Iraq War covered the time period from after immediately after power was handed over to an elected Iraqi government through to earlier this year. Unlike the previous two episodes there isn’t a familiar well worn storyline for the whole of this episode – partly because the later bits are too recent to have a narrative yet, and partly because once the US & UK etc troops had gone then Iraq stopped being headline news so often. The story this episode told was one of a country that had descended into all out sectarian violence, then looked to be pulling out of it only to start slipping back.

In the time immediately after the Iraqi government was elected the country was divided by fighting between Sunni & Shia Muslims – the Sunni fighters were dominated by Al Qaeda, the Shia fighters were various militias plus the Mahdi army. And the ordinary civilians on both sides were caught & killed in the middle. Some (all?) of the Shia militias were state sponsored – they got weapons, transport, ammo, logisitics from state officials & departments – which only served to make the Sunnis fighting against them more determined.

Given it didn’t seem like the elected Prime Minister was able to do anything about this violence the US & UK governments replaced him. While it was dressed up as “suggesting” that he step aside for someone else, it really was the replacement of an elected leader of a country with a hand-picked alternative who was more “suitable” to the US & UK. Nouri Maliki, the replacement, was then to be propped up, sorry “supported”, by the US. And for all my scare quotes in the last few sentences it was a stratagem that initially seemed effective. Due to the US succesfully managing to get non-al-Qaeda Sunnis to work with the government, and Maliki himself suppressing the worst of the Shia militias (and pacifying Basra) some degree of unity and stability returned to Iraq … and the US & UK managed to get their troops home & to leave Iraq to look after itself.

But it hasn’t been a long term success, and violence is getting worse again. Maliki’s regime are arresting people who were involved in the sectarian violence, but it seems that it’s Sunni leaders & opposition politicians in general who are being targeted while Shia politicians remain free. In the last election several of the opposition politicians were disqualified from standing for election – again for reasons that didn’t seem to be a problem for Maliki’s own party’s candidates. The opposition gained a lot of seats in the election, to an extent where to form a government Maliki had to negotiate with them & set up a power-sharing deal. That hasn’t been honoured, say the opposition politicians, it’s still the Prime Minister Maliki show. So the feeling is that Iraq is slipping into a dictatorship with a figleaf of elections, and violence is rising.

An interesting series, particularly because it was primarily told through interviews with the people who were making the decisions (or their aides). Although obviously they’ll’ve been edited to fit the story the series was telling (worth reminding myself of because the message plays to my pre-existing bias on the subject).

I think I was right about Wild Shepherdess with Kate Humble following the past, present, future theme for its episodes – this last episode was about sheep farming in Australia which is the future in two or three different ways. The first half of the programme focussed on what you could think of as the globalisation of sheep farming (I suppose this could count as “present” rather than “future” but for most of the world this sort of sheep farming is still the future). Humble visited a sheep station called Meka which is in Western Australia and is about the size of the county of Kent. There are several thousand sheep on this land, which mostly roam free, and five people. Handling this many sheep with this few people is pretty hard work & involves a lot of modern tech – to keep them watered there are windmills pumping up water to automatically fill troughs in each paddock (which might be 10km by 4km in size). And to muster the sheep in each paddock, which they only do a couple of times a year, requires planes & motorbikes.

Most of these sheep are bred to be sent to the Middle East, which has a growing & more affluent population but not the land to raise enough extra sheep to meet the growing demand for meat. For another market (like the UK) the sheep would be killed locally and then the meat exported, but the Middle Eastern market buys live sheep to slaughter themselves (i.e. the family who will eat the sheep kill it). This is a controversial practice, and the farmers Humble spoke to were open about the fact that in the past poor regulation of the shipping meant that losses of sheep on the voyage could be 3-10% of the cargo. However regulation has been tightened up, and Humble visited the holding pens for sheep before they were shipped and they were kept in good conditions & seemed relaxed. Losses these days are significantly lower (I can’t remember if they said 0.1% or 0.01%). But there is still the problem that the slaughtering once they reach their destination may not be humane (if nothing else because it may well be untrained people doing the slaughtering).

So that was the future of sheep farming as a large scale enterprise with the consumers on a different continent to the producers. Humble next visited farms where the breeding of sheep is done using modern genetic technology. The technique used is embryo transfer – they induce a ewe to release several eggs, then artificially inseminate her. The embryos are then removed, and viable ones are transplanted into other ewes as surrogate mothers. This speeds up the process of selective breeding because it allows you to get several more offspring from your best breeding ewes than you otherwise would. J noted while we were watching that it would also narrow the gene pool & wouldn’t that be a problem – but the programme didn’t mention that. I’m not sure if the various breeds of sheep might already be fairly inbred (because many of the breeding ewes would have the same father already).

And a third sort of future was a farm where the farmers are what Humble called “very hippy-dippy”. The sheep lead very stress free lives, with a lot of interaction with people & many lambs hand-reared. So they’re happy sheep, and the farm wins awards for the quality of the meat. A future for the elite – where quality over quantity counts.

It was a fun series to watch, with lots of interesting stuff about how different people live as well as about the sheep (or alpacas).

Wild Shepherdess with Kate Humble; The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England

The second episode of Wild Shepherdess with Kate Humble was all about alpaca farming in Peru. In the first half of the programme she stayed with a family who herd alpacas in a traditional way. To feed themselves they grow potatoes and keep guinea pigs. The guinea pigs have free reign of the house & are fed on the potato greens so they’re combination pet, recycler & dinner. According to Humble they taste like dark chicken meat. The alpacas are kept for their fibre – it’s not wool apparently, but that’s a technical distinction of some sort because it’s the equivalent of wool in all ways. The family shear the alpacas by hand with a kitchen knife, and then keep some of the fibre for themselves to spin and then make the very brightly coloured cloth that the region is famous for. The rest of the fibre is sold to a middleman who sells it on to the cloth industry. Because their herd is not pure-bred alpaca they don’t get much money for the fibre. In general their lives are hard, but they prefer it to moving to a city where the standard of living would in some ways be lower.

The second half of the programme took us through the way that the alpaca cloth industry in Peru is moving from this traditional style herding into the modern world. Humble started with a cousin of the subsistence farmers she’d been staying with. He’s both a collector (one of the middlemen who buy the fibre) and a farmer. Having seen where the fibre is sold to & the requirements he realises that the sort of herds that he & his cousin have aren’t the best – so he’s bought himself a pure-bred male alpaca & is gradually breeding his flock to have better quality fibre. Next Humble visited a man who herds alpacas in a large scale way. His ranch has thousands of alpacas (instead of the 60 or so that the first family have), and they are a particular breed that has very high quality fibre. Instead of just letting the animals mate as & how they choose he selects his best males & best females & breeds those. And being a large scale ranch owner I guess he also sells direct to the cloth industry rather than through a collector.

She then visited a cloth making factory. The cloth they make is mostly exported with China being the biggest buyer. They are particularly interested in helping to improve the herd quality of all their suppliers (including small farmers like the first family) because places like China & the US are starting to herd their own alpacas, so Peru’s advantage in the market will be in having the best quality fibre. And so Humble then went to visit an alpaca breeding research centre which is part funded by this cloth manufacturer. They’re working on developing artificial insemination techniques for alpacas with the idea that small farmers might not be able to afford a pure-bred male, but might be able to afford the semen to produce better quality offspring for their female alpaca. So the alpaca industry is just at the point where it’s optimising for the modern world and a global market, but it’s not quite there yet.

Translating the Bible into English doesn’t seem like a big deal in the modern world – I think I own 3 different English translations (plus a New Testament in Scots) – but in Tudor England it was heretical and punishable by death. One of the programmes in the BBC’s recent Tudor Court Season was The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England, which was a biography of William Tynedale presented by Melvyn Bragg. Tynedale’s English Bible eventually formed the basis of the King James Bible, but Tynedale himself was regarded as the most dangerous man in England for producing it and executed for heresy.

Tynedale was born on a farm in Gloucestershire near the village of Slimbridge, which is still a working farm today. He was educated at Oxford – first in Magdalen College School, at the age of 8 in the early 1500s, then at Magdalen College. Bragg used this introductory bit to set the scene for Tynedale’s later translation. At the time the Bible was only available in Latin – the language of the Church and of scholars (the two groups overlapped to a high degree). The Catholic Church had built up over the centuries a collection of doctrines & traditions that weren’t actually in Bible (like Purgatory, the requirement for confession & penance to save one’s soul etc), and the hierarchy of the Church was positioned as necessary to save the souls of the congregation. Tynedale (and other Reformation thinkers) saw the way the Bible was only available in Latin as a power play on the part of the Church – keep the congregation from reading the actual text & you keep them reliant on the priests to explain it. And you keep anyone from noticing that the Church has these non-Biblical traditions.

Tynedale had always had the ambition to translate the Bible into English so that everyone could read it, and his education had only served to reinforce that. Bragg was telling us that when the students studied the Bible they only looked at verses in isolation, rather than reading the whole Bible & getting a feel for the overall text. During this time Tynedale learnt of the ideas of Erasmus who promoted the idea of reading a text in the original language to get the best handle on the text. For the Bible this would be Hebrew (for the Old Testament) and Greek (for the New) and Tynedale learnt these and other languages.

After Tynedale had graduated & been a priest for a little while he came into conflict with other clergy over his emphasis on the Word of God rather than the Church traditions. Bragg quoted from a description of an argument where another clergyman said that it was better to do without “God’s law than the canon law”, to which Tynedale reacted angrily – declaring that he would “cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”. This crystallised his desire to translate the Bible, and his first step was now to go to London to visit the Bishop of London & try and get backing for his project. This was the first of a few naive sounding things that Tynedale did in his life. The Bishop of London at the time was Cuthbert Tunstall, and Bragg described him as being a part of the Church orthodoxy & a close associate of people such as Thomas More. Unsurprisingly he didn’t back the heretical project that Tynedale proposed.

Realising that this would not end well, Tynedale eventually left not just London but also England and moves to Germany to work on his translation. Just to orient ourselves in the wider history I should point out that by this stage Martin Luther has started the Reformation in Germany, and it’s spreading through Europe. Henry VIII is on the throne of England, and had written his defence of the Catholic Church that earnt him the title of Defender of the Faith. So in moving to Germany Tynedale is aligning himself with the Protestant Reformation, and against the English Crown as well as the Catholic Church.

Tynedale completed his translation of the New Testament, and sought out a publisher in Cologne. Cologne was Catholic, but nonetheless he found someone who would produce the book and plans were made to print a few thousand copies & to smuggle them into England. Unfortunately for Tynedale his publisher was also contracted to work on a text for a member of the Catholic orthodoxy from England (Bragg told us who this was, but I’ve forgotten the name :/ ). The plans for the English New Testament were discovered & Tynedale had to flee with the project incomplete. He moved to Worms, and found himself another publisher so that he could restart the project. Tynedale’s life work wasn’t over with the printing of the New Testament, he continued to work on translating the Old Testament – going back to the Hebrew. Before his death he finished the first five books, which were also printed & subsequently distributed in England.

Bragg took the time at this point in the programme (and later on, near the end of it) to wax lyrical about Tynedale’s translation. He didn’t just translate it into English any old how, it was vivid & poetic language which sticks in the mind and has flavoured the whole of modern English – as much as Shakespeare did. Turns of phrase that Tynedale employed are still a part of our idioms today. But Tynedale didn’t just choose his words for maximum impact & memorability he also picked them to advance his Protestant ideas. So a word that was traditionally translated as “priest” became “elder”, and one that was traditionally translated as “Church” became “congregation”.

The authorities in England were obviously on the lookout for Tynedale’s Bible’s arrival in England, but several thousand copies still made their way into the hands of the more Protestant-minded members of the public. Bishop Tunstall preached against the English Bible, saying that it had errors and was heretical & blasphemous, and he presided over a bonfire outside St. Paul’s burning copies of Tynedale’s Bible. This didn’t quite go all the Bishop’s way – even those who might not’ve read the Tynedale text themselves weren’t entirely comfortable with burning the Word of God even if it was a potentially heretical version of it.

Thomas More led the hierarchy’s campaign against Tynedale’s work. There was a very amusing segment of the programme here where there were two Braggs on either side of a church aisle reading passages from More & Tynedale’s publications where they held forth on how dreadful and corrupt the other was. This had developed into a personal feud, not just an academic & political difference of opinion, and More at least started to resort to very vitriolic & foul-mouthed tirades against Tynedale. Including writing things like “You have kissed the ass of Luther and are now covered in shit”.

When Henry VIII was seeking to divorce Catherine of Aragon it looked like Tynedale would come into favour in court. This was because with the Pope refusing to grant the annulment Henry was searching for other ways to get what he wanted. Tynedale had published a treatise called The Obedience of a Christian Man, which was primarily arguing for everyone to read or hear the Word of God directly (so vernacular translations of the Bible are required so that the congregation as a whole can understand). But as part of it he said that Kings should not be subservient to the Church authorities – that God has anointed the King as the secular authority over a country and so the King should answer to God, not the Pope. Obviously Henry liked the sound of that, and used this as a plank in his splitting of the Church of England from Rome. But Henry still found the rest of Tynedale’s theology heretical (like the idea of an English Bible), and Tynedale went on to publish other treatises that didn’t sit as well with Henry including one opposing Henry’s divorce on the grounds that Henry’s use of scripture to justify it was an incomplete summary of the scriptural references to marrying one’s brother’s widow.

So Tynedale was still considered heretical, and Thomas More (amongst others) was still violently against Tynedale & all he stood for. Eventually Tynedale’s downfall was engineered by an agent of the English. This man, Henry Phillips, wormed his way into Tynedale’s good graces – he pretended to be a great admirer of Tynedale’s and to be interested in his theology. He then set up a trap – he came to Tynedale saying he had no money and got Tynedale to take him out for dinner. He then persuaded Tynedale to lead the way along a particular narrow secluded alleyway, and straight into the hands of soldiers of the Holy Roman Empire. Tynedale was imprisoned, and sentenced to death for heresy. Thomas Cromwell tried to intercede on Tynedale’s behalf, but was unsuccessful.

Tynedale was burnt to death, the typical punishment for a convicted heretic. As an act of mercy he was strangled before the fire was list, but this strangulation was incompetently carried out. Tynedale revived during his burning, but witnesses say he was stoic & silent as he died. (Which seems somewhat unbelievable.)

His Bible translation did not die with him, and Tynedale regarded that as more important than his own life. Cromwell eventually persuaded Henry VIII to endorse an English Bible, and the text of this was primarily that of Tynedale’s translation. Tynedale wasn’t credited, however, because he was still regarded as a heretic (and Henry still carried a grudge against him for not approving of the divorce). The Henry VIII Bible fed into the King James Bible translation, and so Tynedale’s words and work still lived on.

The Genius of Marie Curie: The Woman Who Lit Up the World; Wild Shepherdess with Kate Humble

The Genius of Marie Curie: The Woman Who Lit Up the World is part of a loosely linked series of programmes that each examine the life & work of a pivotal figure in Western history of the last couple of centuries or so with an emphasis on science or invention. We’ve watched the Newton one recently (post) and the Turner one last week (post) and on Monday we watched the one about Marie Curie. And it was interesting, a look at both her life and the work that made her famous. But my enjoyment of it was tainted by the way they chose to frame it.

For the Newton programme the opening segment talked about how he wasn’t just interested in things we’d think of as scientific today, he also worked for several years on alchemical experiments and developed his own theological understanding of Christianity. For the Turner programme the opening segment talked about how he’d lived through the Industrial Revolution and painted works that were of that time – they talked about his painting of the Temeraire being towed by a steam tug to be broken up and how that symbolised so much about the age. So the focus in both is on the achievements of the man in question – intellectual or artistic.

For the Marie Curie programme it started off well enough – the opening segment runs through her achievements (2 Nobel Prizes, a woman who succeeded in a man’s world, someone who refused to conform to societal expectations etc). But then the voiceover said something akin* to “In every great life there’s a pivotal moment and the reaction to that is what comes to define their life”. And this moment that they chose to present as “defining” was the discovery of her relationship with a married man by the press & the resulting scandal. Rather than, say, her Nobel Prizes. Or if you’re after a human interest angle what about her work driving a mobile X-ray unit during the First World War, which they suggested later in the programme was what lead to her death. But no, they’d rather frame it as a woman who had a scandalous love affair (while doing science on the side). Gah.

*We’ve deleted the programme already so I can’t check the exact wording.

I hadn’t even heard of that before, I know of her as “Polish woman who discovered radium, married Pierre Curie, eventually died from radiation related disease” – so I don’t see that relationship as something that’s permeated into the zeitgeist as defining. Gah.

To be completely fair, they did later in the programme make the point themselves that the press & public interest was because she was a woman, and that this was sexist. Einstein had affairs & no-one talked about them instead of his physics, why should it be different for Curie. But that doesn’t let the programme off the hook for centring this scandal, and presenting it as at least as important as her work (if not more so).

Two other irritations before I talk about the interesting bits. Firstly, every time they showed us a photograph they did this jerky pan across & around it which was intensely distracting. And secondly, the soundtrack was very obtrusive and the choice of songs not nearly as funny as they thought it was.

So. Despite my irritation with the programme on a philosophical level and on a technical level it was still interesting. What I knew about Marie Curie before was fairly bare bones & it was nice to get that fleshed out a bit (even despite the above). She was born Maria Skłodowska in Poland and grew up in Warsaw during a period where it was ruled by the Russians. At that time there were supposed to be no schools or universities in Polish, no Polish music or dancing – basically the Russians were trying to wipe out Polish culture. Her mother died when Maria was 12, from tuberculosis. Her father was a teacher of physics & maths, and he taught his children these subjects. Maria and her elder sister Bronisława made plans to move to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. They had to move because the Russian run universities in Warsaw at the time would not admit women, whereas the Sorbonne did. The scheme was that Maria would work as a governess in Poland to earn money to support her sister at university, then once her sister was established Maria would move to France & her sister would support her at the Sorbonne. While working as a governess Maria fell in love with the eldest son of the family (not one of her charges) but his parents wouldn’t agree to the match because she wasn’t a suitable class of person – he was unwilling to go against his parents’ wishes and this rejection sent Maria into a depression.

She had at first given up the dream of studying at the Sorbonne, but she enrolled at the illicit “floating university” in Warsaw and studied chemistry (and other subjects?) there. This was a Polish run, Polish language, university and was forbidden by the Russian rulers – and they would teach any Pole who wanted to learn whether male or female. This rekindled her interest and she went on to join her sister in Paris. She excelled in her studies, graduating first in her class. And then she went to work in the lab of a man named Pierre Curie. Her first studies were on magnets – this was relatively lucrative work, because there were commercial interests that would pay for the development of new alloys to make better magnets for better electrical generators. Over time she & Pierre fell in love, and when the homesick Maria talked about returning to Poland he talked about following her there. However in the end they married & remained in Paris (I can’t remember if the programme said why – wikipedia suggests that Warsaw University wouldn’t have her as a PhD student because she was a woman, whereas she could do research in France).

Marie Curie started to work on radioactive materials not long after the initial serendipitous discovery of the phenomenon by Becquerel. She developed (and with Pierre’s help built) apparatus to measure the radioactive rays coming off a sample, and analysed a large number of different substances which was painstaking & tedious work. One sample, pitchblende (a uranium containing mineral), was more radioactive than anything she’d previous analysed including uranium itself. So she theorised that there must be some new element present – and set out to isolate it. This was a mammoth task, as the element was only present in trace amounts. They had some footage of her stirring a great vat of what I think was pitchblende & nitric acid. Eventually she and Pierre isolated and purified their new element – Radium. So called because it glows.

During this time period the Curies had two children. Marie Curie was more interested in her work than her children and they were mostly brought up by her father-in-law. This caused a rift in the family, although Curie and her eldest daughter reconciled by the time she grew up. Curie & her younger daughter didn’t reconcile until Curie was dying many years later. Both Marie & Pierre Curie suffered increasingly from ill health during this time – the effect of their work with radioactivity. Pierre tragically died – not as a direct result of his ill health, which I hadn’t realised. He was actually run over by a horse & carriage, the implication was that if he’d been in better health he might’ve got out of the way.

Curie’s first Nobel Prize was in 1903 for Physics – originally this had only been intended for Becquerel & Pierre Curie but Pierre complained and insisted that Marie’s name should be on the award too otherwise he wouldn’t accept it (good man!). The second one came in 1911, 5 years after Pierre’s death, in Chemistry. This came at the same sort of time as the scandal of her relationship with a married man broke – and the Nobel committee made noises about how if they’d known she was that sort of woman then they wouldn’t’ve given her the prize. Her displeasure with this broke her out of the depression she’d fallen into after the scandal and the end of the relationship*. (The man in question kind of didn’t quite fight a duel to restore his honour, and came away reputation intact, somehow *eye roll*)

*The programme spent more time on this, but I’m irritated by that so I’ve skipped the details here.

In the First World War Curie read that shortage of X-ray machines meant that the French army was losing soldiers who might’ve been saved – and she designed a mobile X-ray unit and drove one (of several?) herself. She and her elder daughter operated this unit for most of the war. There was still no idea at the time that X-rays or radioactivity were dangerous, so Curie didn’t have any protection from the X-ray machine. The programme later said that this is now thought to’ve lead to the aplastic anaemia that killed her (her body wasn’t radioactive enough for it to’ve been the radium).

After the war Curie continued with her work on radium, founding an institute for investigating the element. She was a respected scientist, attending invite-only conferences with other prominent physicists (like Einstein). And was the only one of them to have two Nobel Prizes in two different disciplines – an achievement that is still unique. Despite all this she still had difficulty securing funds for her research & at one point didn’t even have enough radium for her work to continue. This came to the notice of an American journalist (Marie Mattingly Meloney) who had written articles about her, and who organised a fundraising drive throughout the USA to buy Curie’s Institute a gram of radium. When the money was raised Curie visited the US and toured the country giving many lectures before being presented with the radium by the President in a White House ceremony.

Curie eventually died of aplastic anaemia, caused by exposure to radiation or X-rays, and was buried with her husband. In 1995 their bodies were exhumed (hence knowing how radioactive she was) and re-buried with a full state funeral in the Panthéon in Paris – she’s the first (and only) woman to be buried there because of her own achievements.

So, an interesting but flawed programme. But I did at least learn more about Marie Curie and her work.

Wild Shepherdess with Kate Humble is a new series about sheep farming. The hook for it is that Humble owns and lives on a sheep farm in Wales, and for this series she’s visiting sheep farmers in other countries. I think the three episodes will also roughly speaking cover past, present & future (the intro segment hinted at that) but I won’t know that for sure till I’ve seen them all!

This first episode was set in a very remote village in Afghanistan where they still farm in traditional ways dating back thousands of years. The people Humble visited live in the Wakhan Corridor which is part of Afghanistan due to European colonialism. To the north of this narrow strip of land is Tajikistan, once part of the Russian Empire, to the south Pakistan, once part of the British Empire. The Russians and British didn’t want their Empires to meet, so the borders are drawn so that a finger projects from the east of Afghanistan to separate the two countries. The programme opened with Humble travelling through Kabul (the most dangerous part of the whole trip) because this was the only place they could fly to the Wakhan Corridor from. After flying for 250 miles across the mountains they landed in the valley where the Wakhi people live in winter. During the summer months (Humble arrived towards the end of summer) half the population live here, and grow wheat & barley. The other half travel over the nearby mountains to a plateau called the Great Pamir where they graze their flocks of sheep.

After walking to the plateau, with the help of some locals & their yaks to transport their gear, Humble & her camera crew stayed in a couple of different villages to see how these shepherds live. In the first one they were made welcome immediately & encouraged to film whatever they wanted. Here Humble saw the everyday life of the shepherds – a routine of driving the sheep out to graze, bringing them back to be milked in the middle of the day and then at night to protect them from predators. The grazing here is better than in the home valley, and there’s not the space to both grow crops and graze sheep, so the increased risk of predators is worth it. Humble pointed out how the sheep didn’t look like her sheep in Wales – they have much bigger bottoms where they store fat for the winter ahead. They’re also tamer as they’re milked every day, unlike Humble’s sheep which are grown for meat and so not handled by people often. She also seemed envious of their good health, despite the harsh conditions – there are diseases sheep get in the damp climate of Britain that they don’t get in places like Afghanistan which are drier & more like where sheep evolved.

After a bit of time in this first village Humble moved on to another village, because she wanted to film the migrations that these people do as winter starts drawing in – they move progressively down the valley away from the winter. The first village was already quite low (relatively, a mere 4000 feet above sea level …), so they had to go elsewhere to film. This second village weren’t so keen to have foreigners come in & film, and negotiations were protracted. At first a faction among the men were refusing any access, but the women encouraged Humble to sneak a camera in & film them cooking food. The next day the overall chief turned up from the other half of their village (the wheat growing half) to supervise the impending move & he was happy for them to film & quashed the refusals.

Through the whole of the programme Humble showed us how these people lived, and how hard their life is. She talked in particular to one woman who listed the people in her family who had died – two brothers, two sister, her husband, and of her seven children only one was still alive. An appalling list of grief. Their diet is very basic, and mostly the stuff they produce themselves – bread and (buttery) tea for everyday. A sort of flour & butter porridge for more special occasions. And every once in a while they’ll eat meat – one sheep will be spread around the whole village (50 people or so in the second village). A lot of babies die – 1 in 5 before they’re one year old. Half of all the under-twos are malnourished. For the little that they don’t produce themselves they need to buy – and the only way they have of earning money is to sell off a yak. Humble filmed some traders who’d walked up the the Great Pamir to buy yaks, they said they came to the area because they would get good animals and a cheaper price than anywhere else. But while they were talking about how hard this subsistence farming is they were also talking about how they’re glad they’re not closer civilisation and to the war.

I like Kate Humble’s programmes – we saw the ones she did about the Frankincense Trail and the Spice Trail a few years ago. She’s got a knack of not ever making it seem like “look at these funny foreign people”. In fact in this one the sympathies of the narrative (so’s to speak) were clearly with the Wakhi people as they were vastly entertained by how this grown woman didn’t know how to do any of the basic necessities of life. One woman was consumed with laughter as Humble tried to milk a sheep – “what’s she doing? she’s just tickling it!”. Another got Humble to help her churn butter and then could barely believe how she wasn’t strong enough to really help out.