Plus: the latest variant on one of my favourite reality TV genres: unteachables go to brat camp.
I have decided to set up a cult, which you are all welcome to join, especially those of you who are young and very attractive or stupendously rich. The former will get exclusive membership of my JiggyJiggy Fun Club™, while the latter will be essential in financing all the cool shit I need on my 500-square-mile estate, viz: hunt stables and kennels, helipad, private games room with huge comfy chair, water slides, grouse moor, airstrip, barracks for my cuirassiers, volcano with battery of rockets inside, and so on.
What gave me the idea was this new Netflix documentary series everyone is talking about called Wild Wild Country. It tells the story of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the bearded guru who in the early 1980s decamped from India with his thousands of followers to set up a utopian colony on a remote and beautiful ranch in the wilds of Oregon.
If you didn’t know it was all going to go horribly wrong, you might find the early episodes ever so slightly dull.
Something extraordinary and largely unreported has just happened in a court in San Francisco. A federal judge has said that there is no Big Oil conspiracy to conceal the truth about climate change. In fact, Judge William Alsup — a Clinton appointment, so he can hardly be accused of right-wing bias — was really quite snarky with the plaintiffs who claimed there was such a conspiracy.
The case was brought by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, which have taken it upon themselves to sue the five big western oil majors — Chevron, ExxonMobil, Conoco-Phillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell — for allegedly engaging in a Big Tobacco-style cover-up to conceal the harm of their products. Apparently Big Oil knew about the dangers of man-made global warming but went on drilling anyway. So now the two Californian cities are trying to claim billions of dollars in damages to compensate them for all the walls and dykes and so on they’ll have to build to cope with rising sea levels.
Nice try. But so far Judge Alsup hasn’t been impressed. He said he had been expecting the plaintiffs to reveal ‘a conspiratorial document’ which proved that the defendants ‘knew good and well that global warming was right around the corner.
What make it are the tiny, beautifully observed details and its emotional heart.
Sometimes — really not often but sometimes — a programme that’s good and honest and true slips under the wire of the BBC’s jealously guarded PC agenda and makes a home run. The latest to do so is a deadpan comedy series called This Country (BBC3).
It’s so deadpan that it’s easy to see why an earlier pilot episode for ITV crashed and burned. If you were channel-hopping and lingered on it for five minutes, you might easily mistake it for an earnest, worthy, achingly tedious fly-on-the-wall documentary series about the poverty and despair of left-behind rural England. This impression is enhanced by screeds that occasionally appear on screen giving you, say, statistics illustrative of the funding crisis in healthcare outside the big cities.
But it is, in fact, a mockumentary. A rustic variant, if you will, on Ricky Gervais’s The Office. (Another of those rare BBC home runs. And, incidentally, do you know how long ago that was? 2001 it started. In fact, it predates 9/11.)
It’s so much easier to voice right-wing views if you’re a horny-handed son of toil.
‘No one wants to send their son to Eton any more,’ I learned from last week’s Spectator Schools supplement. It explained how parents who’d been privately educated themselves were increasingly reluctant to extend the privilege to their offspring; some because they can’t bear for their darling babies to board, others because the fees are way out of their reach, or because class prejudice is so entrenched these days it means their kids probably won’t get into Oxbridge.
Then again, if you don’t send your kids to public school, you’ll be denying them never-to-be-repeated opportunities like the ones that boys at Radley have had this week: the chance to see not one, but two of your favourite Spectator writers — me and Brendan O’Neill, both invited as part of the school’s admirable Provocateur in Residence programme — slugging it out in class after class on vexed political issues from Donald Trump to safe spaces, #MeToo to student snowflakes, Antifa to Islamism.
This TV masterpiece about Weimar Germany will eat up 16 hours of your life.
Babylon Berlin (Sky Atlantic), the epic German-made Euro noir detective drama set during Weimar, is so addictively brilliant that I’d almost advise you not to start watching it. After the two seasons to date you’ll be left feeling like the morphine-addicted hero Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) when deprived of his fix.
That’s because they haven’t even started making season three yet, so you’ll have an excruciatingly long wait to see what becomes of its cast of immensely captivating characters: Bruno Wolter (Peter Kurth), Rath’s corrupt, lying, whoring but affable sidekick; the treacherous White Russian Countess (Severija Janusauskaite), who dresses as a man for her floor-filling cabaret act; Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries), the gorgeous flapper and occasional tart from the slums whose hopeless ambition it is to join the murder squad of the Berlin police; the Armenian gangster; Benda, the elegant, principled Jewish police chief; the sweet, Tintin-like student with the deaf parents.
Some of these characters, I should warn you, may not survive that far. Volker Kutscher, who wrote the novels on which the series is based, has a similar disregard for the sanctity of his characters’ lives as Thrones’s George R.R. Martin.
In theory a burst water pipe ought to be largely in the male domain.
‘It’s always me who gets the worst of it,’ said the Fawn, surveying the wreckage caused by the burst water pipe. I did not disagree a) because I would have had my head bitten off and b) because it’s true.
Though I wouldn’t say I was completely useless: who was the first to spot the water gushing through the ceiling of the guest bedroom, eh? And who was the first to find the stopcock using the time-honoured method of running up and down the stairs for ten minutes screaming: ‘Where the hell is the stopcock?’ But it’s probably fair to say that the Fawn bore — and continues to bear — the brunt of the crisis.
In theory a burst water pipe ought to be largely in the male domain. But once you’ve got the man stuff out of the way — move furniture, place strategic buckets, call a plumber and find he can’t come for three days — the aftermath is pretty much woman’s territory.
I’m thinking of the business of dealing with the mounds of accumulated sodden linen, plus a weekend’s worth of unwashed clothes; drying the mattresses; airing the rooms; running a household with a crap husband and two useless teenagers when there’s no mains water.
Let’s “solve” climate change by halting economic growth, argues a paper from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, published in Nature Climate Change.
Texas Tech professor Katharine Hayhoe tells a summit in Edmonton, Canada that climate change is “the greatest humanitarian crisis of our times”; confides how shocked she was on discovering, six months into her marriage, that her husband did not believe in global warming. “You have somebody you respect and you also love and you also want to stay married. I said well, ‘Let’s talk about it.’” Apparently it took two years to convince him.
Activists at Cambridge University warn of “large scale disruption” if the university’s £6.3 billion endowment fund ignores their demands that it should divest itself of its fossil fuel investment holdings.
An ex-White-House staffer from the Obama era tells Washingtonian about the time her date with a man came to a sudden end when he said he didn’t believe in global warming: “I started laughing, because I’m from Colorado and didn’t realize people actually didn’t believe in global warming. But he was serious.”
Climate industrial complex in UK has wasted £100 billion and shut down debate to no useful purpose, warns Peter Lilley – one of Margaret Thatcher’s former ministers.
‘Stop blaming both sides for America’s climate failures’, argues Guardiancolumnist. ‘The fault lies entirely with the GOP.’
I could go on but I wouldn’t want to bore you. Or myself. When you’ve been covering the climate/environment/energy beat for as long as I have, every day is Groundhog Day. Every day it’s the same bunch of troughers, spivs, second-raters, crooks, liars, half-wits, chancers, bottom-feeders and eco-fascists churning out the same old propaganda…
Politics aside, Simon Schama has the makings of a first-rate TV historian.
Most of the history I know and remember comes from my inspirational prep school teacher Mr Bradshaw. History was taught so much better in those days. It was all kings and queens, battles and dates, with no room for any of that nonsense like,‘Imagine you are a suffragette going to protest the oppressive male hegemony at the races. Describe how it feels to be crushed by the king’s horse.’
Nor was there any question that you were participating in some kind of collaborative learning experience. Your ‘master’ taught; you listened and learned — and occasionally made distracting jokes and got bits of chalk chucked at you. That was the deal and it worked very well. This was the tail end of the era defined by programmes like Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation: one still confident enough to imagine that there are such things as good and bad art, superior and inferior cultures, right and wrong judgments.
How warped do you have to be to ditch your mates for voting Leave?
When I mentioned on social media recently that I’d lost friends because of Brexit, I was quite surprised by the vehemence of the response. Lots of fellow Leavers had stories to tell about friends who now cut them dead or former clients who would no longer work with them. Many said they prefer to keep secret how they voted in the referendum for fear of the repercussions.
This intolerance is especially bad if you’re a student. One undergraduate described to me how his politics professor had opened a lecture with a slide reading ‘Brexit is shit’ — apparently ‘to the cheers and adulation of the entire lecture theatre’. Another student interviewed by the BBC a few months ago, described how she had overheard two students talking about her as they left a lecture: ‘I just want to punch that Brexit bitch.’
His only real talent is toeing the party line – which is probably why his feeble detective drama Collateral, with its right-on politics, attracted such a starry cast.
Shortly after my rave review of McMafia eight weeks ago, I got a long message from an old friend chastising me for being so horribly wrong. Could I not see that the series was boring, convoluted and badly acted? Was I aware of how many better series there had been on Amazon and Netflix recently because, if I wasn’t, she could give me a few recommendations…
Several other people wrote to me in a similar vein and I felt terrible. Life is short and TV production is so voluminous these days that now more than ever we need critics to sift the bullion from the dross. Sure, reviews are a snap judgment, usually based on just one episode and written under pressure. Even so, if you can’t be trusted to get it right, say, 90 per cent of the time, that makes you a critical fail.