I love the smell of burning rubber in the morning! I thought I was going to hate this, but alas, no. Five minutes in and I am finding it slightly entertaining.
As someone whose car collection has included the now forgotten Citroen Visa, not to mention a 1962 Australian-built Ford Falcon, I was in for a bumpy back-seat ride from the start. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this first episode of Gears, Grease and Glory (Discovery Channel, April 28 at 9pm) is the brief glimpse into an apparently integral part of South African township life. With this new series, British petrolhead Marc Priestley takes us on a journey into car-racing sub-cultures, and for the first instalment, he's in Soweto, the sprawling township on the edge of Johannesburg probably better known for its part in the overthrow of apartheid, subsequent tensions between drug gangs and middle-class speculation than the art of spinning.
"What-ing," I hear you ask? Spinning - and not the gym kind - means doing endless doughnuts in 1980s BMWs until the tyres blow. As Priestley shows, it takes considerable skill to do this without killing yourself and the people watching. Women don't seem to feature much in this activity. If this episode is anything to go by, their role is to appear fleetingly as cheering onlookers lining the side of suburban roads as convoys of Beemers screech by. Perhaps not the best gender role-modelling, but that's not what this series is looking to explore, and the makers know their audience well, I suspect. A little more technical detail would have been appreciated; this show begins with the assumption that many viewers will have no idea that there's an engine at the front of most cars.
"He keeps going to the mountain." With these words, spoken again and again by the family of Phurba Tashi, we enter the grief, pain and anger caused by the death of 16 Nepalese sherpas on the freezing, lonely slopes of Mount Everest in 2014. Jennifer Peedom's beautifully shot documentary Sherpa (Discovery Channel, April 24 at 9pm) deals with the familial, community and economic aspects of an industry driven purely by wealthy foreigners' need to conquer the world's highest peak. And sometimes we don't come out of it cleanly, as the lack of respect for cultural differences illustrates only too well.
For someone who's so scared of heights that I find it hard getting down off a chair, the desire to "conquer" these peaks eludes me. Yet the mountain itself is not what's at the heart of this harrowing documentary. It's not about Everest's height, but the clash of expectations, the economic needs, the exploitation and the unbalanced relationships that evolve when two worlds are rubbed up against each other. One is made up of super-achievers at the top of their game, with time and money to spend. The other is a community that must judge whether the dangers they face in pursuit of a livelihood justify not only the ecological destruction of their world but also, frequently, death. To say this is a complex relationship is an understatement, and the programme explores the moment, brought on by tragedy, when the sherpas and their families must reappraise the mountaineering industry.
I'll stick to climbing no higher than into a comfortable bed.