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There’s a lot to like on Ignition’s The Bike Show. For this hack who long ago sold his crash helmet and disposed of his Yamaha XT500, there’s a pleasing update on the market with road tests full of information. Last week I learnt a great deal about the Chinese motorcycle manufacturers and their growing impact. Anchoring the show was the personable, articulate and professional presence of Matt Durrans. For those of us whose belief in transport related television has been destroyed by the boyish antics of Top Gear and its Blytonesque Famous Three, it is a great relief to experience the high level of television journalism supplied by The Bike Show. Matt Durrans not only tests the bikes he reviews, but we see him do it thanks to on-board cameras that give us a visceral sense of the ride. Want to see how a Chinese not-quite superbike handles the corners? What happens to the front forks when the rider hits the brakes? It’s a seamless mix of trade, consumer and rider experience, with red hot racing bikers giving their views on screen. What’s more, this professional show is a local product with the same verve, sass and vigour as Bike SA.
Meanwhile, back in Volgagrad the History Channel is revisiting the Stalingrad battle field. This would be a good time for all readers to stand up and thank their deity of choice for Soviet Russia’s massive contribution to the victory over Nazism. Stalingrad was a horror beyond description as was the Soviet’s chilling post-war revenge. The History Channel is a wobbly source of truth, what with its reliance on dramatic recreations and other tiresome bits of mockumentary stage craft. But with Stalingrad, it was all different. Here we heard the translated voices of survivors, telling us of their unimaginable experiences. Linked to this was the black and white documentary footage of those German soldiers taken prisoner after the surrender and the appalling suffering they experienced in the Gulag. How did they ever get home, considering that the Soviets used them as forced labour for the postwar reconstruction? The partial answer is that it took ten years, with those who lived returning to Germany in 1955. And what of the dead I hear you ask? It is an astonishing comment on the bitterness of the battle that unburied German skeletons still litter the woods that surround contemporary Volgagrad, as they do outside St Petersburg, the former Leningrad.
Finally, we come to reality television’s great love affair with old bits of junk, mostly American. There is no shortage of television shows featuring the antics of pawn shop owners, storage dump resellers and junk buying enthusiasts as they make their merry and profitable way through the middens and rubbish dumps of America. The History Channel is home to some of these, of which Cajun Pawn Stars grabbed my recent attention. As entertainment, there’s a lot to like in this show. What we get is the social dynamic – staged, but what the hell – that informs life in a very large Louisiana pawn shop. Locals arrive on the customer side of the counter bearing objects such as a seventeenth century smooth bore flintlock, or craving to own a coffee mug that once appeared on a sitcom. The gun proves to be a reproduction with machine made instead of hand made screws. Notwithstanding, the Cajun Pawn Stars take it to the shooting range and take aim at a pumpkin. BANG! Lots of smoke and one truly dead yellow pumpkin. Poor vegetable didn't feel a thing.