CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: What causes a tsunami? Try to imagine Britain ripped in half…
Have a guess at how much a cubic metre of water weighs. You might imagine that if it was in a plastic container, you could heft it over your shoulders.
Not a chance. That much water literally weighs a tonne — 1,000 kilos. Now try to picture 30 billion tonnes of water, which was the amount displaced by an earthquake off the coast of Indonesia on Boxing Day 2004.
It’s beyond comprehension. This was the challenge facing Dr Xand van Tulleken in Tsunami: Impact (C5), the first of a three-part series that continues tonight.
Popular science shows are in constant danger of being washed away in a flood of statistics. There was no shortage of shocking numbers here: more than 230,000 lives were lost after the underwater earthquake of magnitude 9.1 created the worst tsunami to hit the region in more than a century.
Dr Xand van Tulleken presents Tsunami: Impact, the first of a three-part series
Xand’s technique was to use stats only when he had a comparison that helped us make sense of the numbers. Explaining how the Earth’s overlapping tectonic plates move at about two inches a year, he pointed out that our fingernails grow at around the same speed.
And when the seabed ruptured, with one plate lifting by 40ft along a faultline 750 miles long, he asked us to imagine Great Britain ripped in half, all the way from Scotland to the South Coast.
It was all going well until he went bodyboarding to show us what waves look like. Middle-aged chaps should never wear wetsuits on camera. Just ask David Cameron.
Co-presenter Raksha Dave tried sitting in an earthquake simulator, with books and ornaments flying off shelves around her. That was more dramatic than the miniature tsunami generator — scientifically precise, no doubt, but you’ll see bigger waves in your bathtub.
What really brought the story alive were the eyewitness accounts. Journalist and filmmaker Dendy Montgomery was in the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh when the first shockwaves hit the coastline.
Strong cuppa of the night:
In Secrets Of The London Underground (Yesterday channel), Tim Dunn learnt 1940s-style tea-making. The brew was left to stew in a jug for precisely ten minutes, then strained into a teapot on a gas hob. That’ll perk you up.
He filmed people in the street, trying to cling on to the ground. ‘The land was kind of like porridge,’ he said. ‘Every time I tried to stand, I fell.’
In Phuket, Thailand, minutes before the tsunami struck land, the tide was sucked out so fast that the beach was littered with stranded fish.
Beccy Chroston told how her father John, a biology teacher from Falkirk, recognised the phenomenon as an early warning. Urging everyone around him to run, he gathered his family and commandeered a minibus full of tourists, saving at least 50 lives.
Anita Rani promised to show a young couple how to hold back a tidal wave of debt on Secret Spenders (C4). Rohini and Alex in Cambridge had two small children and about £23,000 on tick. Anita sent in a financial adviser and a professional housewife to spot potential savings and help the couple live within their means.
For half an hour we watched them save a few pounds here and there, cutting back on takeaways and selling unwanted gadgets online. Then came the shocker. In fact the pair had more than enough in a savings account to pay off their whole debt — saving themselves 900 quid a month in interest.
I’m sure we weren’t getting the full story. Rohini was recovering from breast cancer, and a crisis like that will play havoc with anyone’s finances.
But there is little value in telling us how to beat extortionate credit card rates when you can wipe out the debt in one go with a handy nest-egg.
If the show’s researchers couldn’t find any families with nothing at all in the bank, then frankly they can’t have been looking very hard.