Going to Extremes: The Silk Routes, Channel 4

by | Apr 25, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say if you liked it

Nick Middleton goes honey-stealing on cliffs in Nepal – a fascinating enterprise that was further enhanced by the incredible photography and the genuine drama provided by Nick’s debilitating vertigo.

What to say if you didn’t like it

Some writer/lecturer you’ve never heard of gets to go on a largely pointless jolly to try to gather honey from cliffs in Nepal at Channel 4’s expense while endlessly whinging about his fear of heights.

What was good about it?

•Our host and narrator Nick Middleton pointed out very early on that everything about him was ‘middling’, and that was spot on. It was so refreshing to have a programme like this where the main focus wasn’t some superhuman, fearless, modern day Sir Edmund Hillary. He communicated his vertigo so well that by the end of the programme, when he had actually failed in his task of stealing honey from large bees off giant cliffs in Nepal, it left us with respect and sympathy for his efforts while secretly, smugly, suspecting we could have done better ourselves.

• The information that the Swiss had set up a cheese factory in some Nepal mountains that still produces 7000 kilos of yak’s cheese per year. It’s a four day walk with enormous packs to actually begin the process of selling the stuff, too.

• Middleton did some training to help ease his vertigo by traversing a glacier. His guide, Ngongu, had an answer to every question he posed: “Not a problem.” The more he said it the more incredulous Nick became and the more we laughed.

• The dramatic moment when vertigo-stricken Nick was in a contraption that could only very loosely be termed a ‘cable car’, when he noticed the cable was not running properly and was instead fraying against a sharp piece of metal.

• The superb photography of Nepal’s stunning and diverse scenery.

• Nick dancing like a puppet on a string with Gurung villagers who had come out to welcome the foreigner who had pledged to become a honey-stealer.

• The giant swing the Gurung people had built that looked to be at least 15 metres high and incredible fun.

• The clusters of bees on the cliffs looked like giant brown patches and occasionally a wave would ripple through them as if they were being blown by the wind. In fact, we learnt, this was a defence mechanism against birds or other predators. The bees would all flip their abdomens in unison to create the impression that they are one huge organism (which, in effect, they are in some ways) and ward off potential attackers.

• The Gurung honey-stealers standing nonchalantly on the edge of a sheer 150ft drop as if it was a perfectly natural thing to do.

• The Gurungs sacrificing a sheep before they started the process of taking the honey. Fortunately, the liver was clean and a nice shape, so that meant it would be a successful operation.

• Two excellent exchanges between Nick and his Gurung guide, Hitman. First was Hitman saying: “You don’t like heights?… Oh.” This was a gallant effort to mask his thoughts, which seemed to be, “So why are you here, exactly? If I were you I’d stick to areas without big mountains.” And later, as they climbed the cliff and Nick was forced to rest through terror, Hitman asked: “Are we ready?” “No,” Nick replied, with complete blankness, as he stared into the abyss of his life.

What was bad about it?

• At times we felt that Nick was over-playing the expectations of the villagers – were they really that bothered whether he would succeed in his quest to collect honey? Or merely excited at the novelty of Nick and his film crew?

• Nick remembered he’d never been stung by a bee before. He commented that one in 100 people have an allergy to bee stings that means they could die if stung. He decided to check that he did not have this allergy the day before the event, so someone from the village took a bee from a local hive and stung him with it. What was Nick going to do if he was allergic? He was stuck in the middle of nowhere with apparently no medics present. Wasn’t this a bit late to check? Wasn’t that something Nick should have thought of before he even left the country? What if he had been allergic? What a waste of a journey. Fortunately, he just ended up with a sore arm and the documentary was saved.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

25/04/2005

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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