‘An attempted improvement which actually makes things worse.’ The Germans have a name for this — Verschlimmbesserung — and I ran into a perfect example the other day when my power suddenly failed in the fast lane of one of those so-called ‘smart’ motorways.
These are the new breed of motorways so clever and advanced that they don’t have hard shoulders on to which you can retreat in emergencies. No: instead, if you can’t make one of the safe haven pull-ins supposedly spaced every mile and a half, then you get the thrilling (and, you pray, never-to-be-repeated experience) of grinding to a halt in the live lane of a motorway, with lorries thundering towards your rear at 50mph.
The latest from David E. Kelley, who also wrote Ally McBeal, shows he has a rare knack for getting inside women’s heads
Six hundred and thirty years ago, Chaucer revealed in ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’ that what women really want is to be totally in charge of everything. With Girl now back home permanently having done her A levels, I can confirm that this is true: no longer am I in control of what we watch on TV, not even when I plead that it’s my job and how else am I going to be able to afford the extensive tour of Magaluf and Bali etc. that she’s got planned this summer?
But I don’t mind really because it means I’m forced to watch stuff there’s no way I would have seen otherwise. And in doing so I become a better and wiser person because of all the fascinating things it teaches me about the female psychopathology.
Cocaine is an abominable drug, by far the most hateful of all the various uppers and downers and psychoactives because it turns you into such a complete moron.
The problem with coke, as my friend, the drug historian Mike Jay, once explained to me, is that nature never intended us to use it the way we do. In its raw, coca leaf form, it’s a handy and pleasant stimulant, just what you need to keep you going on a long trek over the Andes. But in its refined form it’s just nasty, not least because it plays a cruel, built-in trick on you. You take cocaine to get high — and sure it helps, up to a point. What it really stimulates, though, aren’t the pleasure receptors but the impulsive part of your brain that makes you want more and more of something.
How many people do you think died at Chernobyl? 10,000? 50,000? 300,000? The correct answer, according to the never knowingly understated World Health Organisation — in a thorough report released nearly 20 years after the 1986 explosion — was ‘fewer than 50’.
Ah, but what about all the mutant babies who ended up with two heads and webbed feet? What about the inevitable epidemic of cancers? Well, yes, it’s true that 4,000 more cases of thyroid cancer were loosely attributable to Chernobyl, mainly in children and adolescents. But the survival rate was 99 per cent.
If I’ve been incredibly rude to you or snappy or tearful lately, if I’ve taken offence where none was intended, or I’ve wildly overreacted to something you said on social media, I do apologise. It wasn’t the real me you experienced in those moments: it was the mad brain that sometimes seizes control of me.
The reason I have these episodes — as I keep having to explain to my bemused victims, after the event — is that I’m currently undergoing intensive medical treatment which gives me these weird and powerful mood swings. Known as the Perrin Technique, the treatment — which involves regular massage of the limbic system — has been very successful at dealing with conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome and even, I hope, Lyme disease. Because the limbic system controls your emotions the side effects, as in my case, can be bizarre beyond belief.
Plus: why a cultish New Zealand horror-comedy fly-on-the-wall mockumentary about vampire housemates is worth your time.
After its new costume drama You Go, Girl! (Sundays) about how amazing, empowered and better-than-men women are, especially if they are lesbians, the BBC ran its first ever Nike ad. At least that’s what I thought initially: rap music, moody shots of athletes, very high production values. Then I saw they were all grim-faced women and the word ‘RISE’ in flames and I thought: ‘Big new drama series? About girls who’ve been sucked into this very strict Christian cult, a bit like the Handmaid’s Tale, maybe?’ Then I noticed they were all wearing football kit and kicking balls around, and went back to my original Nike idea. Finally came the big reveal. It said: ‘#CHANGE THE GAME. FIFA WOMEN’S WORLD CUP 2019.’
My least favourite part of Peter Jackson’s magisterial Lord of the Rings trilogy is the half hour of toecurling mawkishness at the end where you have to endure all the surviving characters getting married and living happily ever after. Game of Thrones was inevitably going to have a similar problem. After 70 episodes of intrigue, rape, incest, massacres, betrayal, quests, duels, epic battles, existential struggles with the forces of the undead, the healing – and sometimes clunky and twee – resolutions in the 71st were always going to be a bit of an anticlimax.
But how could it be otherwise?
That’s why I’m going to disagree quite strongly with all those critics who are dissing the series finale as the most embarrassingly lame thing ever.
‘Repeat after me, gentlemen: “Thank you for not letting me into your Oxbridge college because I belong to the wrong social class and I have been too well taught.’’’
I do hope they include this catechism in the new ‘gratitude’ lessons that they’re about to introduce at Eton. They should do because it’s true. Across the country, private school parents who have scrimped and saved about £40,000 a year for fees are increasingly finding that their sacrifice is being rewarded by near-automatic Oxbridge rejection for their blameless offspring.
And who is speaking out against this class war-driven injustice? Almost no one.
‘Unfunny, boring and utterly unrelenting,’ says the Guardian’s one-star review of Chris Lilley’s new sketch series Lunatics (Netflix). And if that’s not incentive enough, our woke critical chum goes on to declare the series ‘problematic’. That’s a weaselly way of saying ‘this triggered all my snowflake sensitivities’ but in such a way as to make it sound like a loftily objective judgment.
In truth, Lunatics is only problematic if a) you have no sense of humour and b) you’d prefer all comedy to be politically correct, inoffensive and utterly devoid of satirical edge.
This is the time of year when the English countryside reaches peak incredible: when we rural folk mentally pinch ourselves in disbelief at our extraordinary good fortune in inhabiting the most beautiful landscape on earth.On every walk you see something to delight the eye and lift the spirits. First the blackthorn exploding in the hedgerows like cascading white fireworks; then the ramsons pushing their lance-shaped leaves through the floor of the dingle, pleading with you to turn them into wild garlic pesto; then the lambs — so wobbly, white and cute when newborn — which turn surprisingly quickly into boisterous adolescents gambolling and head-butting and racing one another in circles; then the bluebells, a strange and precious wonder because where else anywhere in nature do you encounter that amazing anomalous blue in such profligate quantities?