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The knives are out
Sam Wollaston
Tuesday July 5, 2005

Somebody apparently once said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, then we wouldn't eat meat. We wouldn't want it if we knew where it came from. Film-maker Brian Hill tests the theory out by taking his camera into an abattoir in Oldham. The result is Slaughterhouse - the Task of Blood (BBC2).

It's not pretty. A device like a huge pair of sugar tongs is clamped onto a pig's head. The pig scrunches its eyes closed, as if it knows what's about to come. The electric current is switched on, with a tiny squeal the pig keels over, stunned. It's then hoisted up by one leg, a knife plunged into its neck, and a cataract of blood gushes out in a perfect arc. The workers laugh.

Meanwhile, a machine rips the wool off a lamb's hindquarters in one piece, like a reluctant child being prepared for bed. Its feet are then severed with big pliers. In another part of the slaughterhouse, a line of calves passes by, upside down, each hanging by a single foot. They're dead, but one still kicks out with the leg it isn't hanging by, trying to claw its way back into the world it's just left. There's twitching everywhere. And blood of course, deep on the floor and splattered all over the walls, sprayed from severed jugulars. If slaughterhouses had glass walls, you still wouldn't be able to see much, because the glass would be smeared with blood.

And then there are huge tubs of horribleness - heads and feet and guts. These are testicles, says a worker, holding them up for the camera. And that's a penis, a spleen, a gall bladder.

It's in black and white mostly, with a piano sonata as accompaniment. And although it is unbelievably gruesome, there's also a strange kind of beauty to it. I don't know if Hill's aim was to turn us into vegetarians. If so, then he failed with me. It was a brilliant film though, and I'm very glad to have seen it. And I think meat-eaters should all be made to watch it, so they know what happens between the happy cow in the field and the nicely packaged sirloin steak on the meat aisle in Sainsbury's. I think I'll have that steak well done, to reduce the odds of it kicking out at me.

You'd think being a celebrity TV chef was a pretty nice job. But they all seem to want to do other things. Jamie is slowly taking over the reins from Tony Blair, Delia has become a football hooligan. And now Nigella is turning into Parky, with her new chat show, cunningly called Nigella (ITV1).

But Nigella is not just chat. This is Nigella after all, so we need to aspire to be like her, or want to be with her, depending on who we are. So we start off in the kitchen where Nigella knocks up a little something for her guest, in this first episode a chicken-and-mango salad for Val Kilmer. While she cooks, she tosses the odd question at Val. Nothing too taxing - do you cook, what's it like being famous, that kind of thing. Actually, she seems a little nervous in this first programme. And Val looks confused: why have I been invited on this show to watch this smart British lady make chicken salad? No, he says, he doesn't cook. He heats.

Then, after the salad, they adjourn to what looks like a cluttered library, for more tough questions - what's it like being really sexy, things like that. I don't think the clutter is real clutter, it looks like well-thought-out clutter. Clutter chic.

Then Nigella shows us her new cherry super stoner, before whipping up a passionfruit fool. And 10 lucky members of the audience win luxury Lavender Kitchen Aids, worth 300 a piece. Maybe they need to do this, to get people to come.

There are more hand-outs on Baby House (ITV1), this time offered to us the viewer. You can win 5,000 worth of Mothercare vouchers if you know what the pains associated with labour are known as. These competitions seem to be a feature of daytime TV. Don't bother with the content of the show, bribe the viewers to watch with free gifts.

I'm not convinced this programme is for me. Six expectant mothers (one's already had her baby, actually), plus their partners move into a hideous neoclassical mansion in Surrey. And that's it really. We get to watch as they wait to have their babies. Fascinating.