After an hour’s beach work I was just about done. I’d read some book, I’d skimmed the papers, I’d eaten some bits of cheese on some oat biscuits (the closest I’ll concede to picnics, which I hate), I’d drunk some water as per my instructions from the Fawn (‘Drink some water! You never drink enough water’), I’d dried off from the swim, I’d got a pair of very numb buttocks after sundry failed attempts to get comfy on the not very flat rock: surely I’d done enough now to earn my release.
The thing I most regret having failed ever to ask brave, haunted, wise Sean O’Callaghan when I last saw him at a friend’s book launch was ‘So tell me about Shergar.’
It has long been known, of course, that the legendary racehorse — one of the five greatest in the last century, according to Lester Piggott who rode him to victory in the Irish Derby — was kidnapped in 1983 by the IRA and never seen thereafter. What I didn’t realise, till after O’Callaghan died last year, was that the ex-IRA man is the only insider ever to have gone on the record as to his fate.
Turns out that poor Shergar was executed within hours. According to O’Callaghan’s version, the horse panicked, fracturing a leg, and his captors, incapable of dealing with a highly strung thoroughbred, shot him to put him out of his misery. Another, anonymous version once relayed in the Sunday Telegraph has it that the kidnappers realised they were never going to get their £2 million ransom but couldn’t release the horse because the property of the IRA man in charge of the operation was under heavy surveillance. So they machine-gunned him: ‘There was lots of cussin’ and swearin’ because the horse wouldn’t die. It was a very bloody death.’
On Searching for Shergar (BBC2, Sun), filmmaker Alison Millar offered us few new leads and no body. But her moving documentary was none the worse for being melancholy, meandering, unresolved.
God’s Wolf tells the story of Reynald de Châtillon, largely written out of history.
For your perfect summer read I’d recommend Zoé Oldenbourg’s 1949 classic medieval adventure The World Is Not Enough. It’ll comfortably occupy you for a good fortnight and while it’s thrilling, romantic and heartbreaking enough to keep you turning the pages, it’s also so beautifully written and historically illuminating that you won’t feel the emptiness and self-disgust you do when you’ve finally got to the end of a bog-standard airport thriller.
His satire is often a perfect example of what impeccable progressives like Baron Cohen are forever accusing conservatives of doing: punching down.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest series Who Is America? isn’t funny. But then, nor was his terrible 2016 movie The Brothers Grimsby. Nor was his rubbish 2012 film The Dictator. Nor, let’s be honest, were his classic original characters Borat, Brüno or even Ali G.
Obviously, they had their moments: the ‘mankini’ — that bizarre, electric green, giant-thong-like swim wear worn by Borat; the classic late-Nineties catchphrase ‘Is it because I is black?’ And sure it must have taken some nerve — even in character — to explain to a clearly impatient and unimpressed Donald Trump his business plan for some anti-drip ice-cream gloves.
The BBC isn’t any better – with one honourable exception: the Daily/Sunday Politics and This Week, which of course the BBC have decided to cancel.
When President Trump refused to take a question from a CNN reporter at the Chequers press conference last week, I imagine a lot of British viewers thought —as Theresa May clearly did — that he was being graceless, capricious and anti-freedom of speech.
But I think we’re in danger of underestimating the extent to which the media landscape has changed in the past few years. Gone are the days — if they ever existed — when political interviewers were dispassionate seekers-after-truth on a mission to get the best out of their subjects. Now, it’s mostly activism-driven, the aim being to advance your preferred narrative while showing up your ideological opponents in as unflattering a light as possible. When someone sincerely believes you are a shit and their only purpose is to persuade everyone else that you’re a shit, why would you choose to grant them that opportunity?
Paul Joseph Watson, Count Dankula and Sargon of Akkad have joined Ukip. Let that sink in. This is an in-joke which you’ll only appreciate if you’ve pretty much given up on the mainstream media and you prefer to fight all your culture wars battles online. Because, unusually, I happen to straddle both worlds — it’s an age and job thing — allow me to explain who these people are and why their support of Ukip suggests it might be on the verge of a major comeback.
Plus: what the hilarious documentary about the New York Times really shows is progressives in crisis.
Even though I don’t watch much football I love the World Cup because it’s my passport to total freedom. I can nip off to the pub, slob indoors on a sunny Sunday afternoon, leave supper before we’ve finished eating, let alone before the dishes are done. And where normally that kind of behaviour would at the very least get me a dirty look, during World Cup season it actually gets me brownie points.
Why? Because it’s a sign that I’m being a Good Dad. It worked in the old days with the Rat. And now it works with Boy. Mothers are absolutely potty for their sons and will look fondly on any activity that makes them content. So whenever I slink off to the TV, wearing an expression that says, ‘You know I’d really much rather be strimming the nettles/scouring the roasting tray/clearing up cat poo but the boy wants me to watch with him’, I don’t merely get away with it. I’m viewed almost as a saint.
There’s a Tracey Ullman comedy sketch about the extreme and ugly form of political correctness afflicting the youth. It’s set in a self-help group for ‘people who are so woke [i.e. attuned to left-wing grievance politics] they are finding it impossible to have any fun at all.’
A newcomer to the class tells his story: ‘It started with the little things — signing an online petition; going to a march. Well, before I knew it, I was writing to the Guardian about LBGT representation in the Harry Potter books…’ At this point, a prissy young woman interjects: ‘Which is shocking by the way.’ The therapist (played by Ullman) calls her to order: ‘Yes, all right, Libby. We’ve all read your blog.’
Last week, at Cambridge University, I had an encounter with a real-life Libby and the experience wasn’t funny one bit.
What kept you watching was the desperate hope that a whole group would get away unharmed. Too often they didn’t
There were 1,500 punters in the audience when Eagles of Death Metal played their fatal gig at the Bataclan theatre in Paris in November 2015. By midnight, every one of those fans would either be dead, bereaved, in hospital with gunshot wounds or so traumatised that the horror would haunt the rest of their lives.
But obviously none of them knew this when they woke up on that sunny autumn morning (though it was a Friday 13th). One remembers that his first thought that day was to make sure he wore some nice trousers. Another recalls being puzzled when his father — ‘a typical Chilean dad’ — embraced him, asked him anxiously where he was going that night (‘I’m 23!’) and then said what now sounds eerily prophetic: ‘No one can steal your soul.’ The son replied: ‘I’ll be careful.’
‘Dad, am I driving like a normal driver yet? Are you relaxing like a normal relaxed passenger or are you still worrying all the time we’re going to crash?’ I love going for driving practice with Girl. It takes me right back to that precious late adolescence I’d almost forgotten: the period where the thing that matters to you more than anything in the world is the imminent prospect of freedom behind the steering wheel of your very own car.
Think of it! Any time you like you can just get into the driver’s seat, start the engine and go anywhere you want. Scotland. Cornwall. Across the Channel on a ferry. To mates’ parties, beaches, the pub, to uni… I quite understand why Girl is so keen. But I also now realise why, subconsciously, I fought quite hard to put her off.