Just before Christmas our cat Runty died and I wasn’t in any rush to find a replacement. I like cats well enough but I wouldn’t consider them one of life’s essentials. You can’t ride them; they won’t come with you on walks or bark at burglars or gaze at you like you’re the most wonderful, special, adorable person in the entire universe; plus, of course, they are the most evil, deadly and inappropriate predator.
Domestic cats kill an estimated 55 million birds each year in the UK alone — and an estimated total (when you add in all the mice, voles, slow-worms, newts and so on) of 275 million wild animals. When you live close to nature, as we do in the country, you see what a terrible struggle it is for animals just to stay alive under normal conditions. Introducing a moggy to your local ecosystem seems an act of wanton vandalism: like letting a hungry lion into a school playground.
The university’s reef claims are found to be incorrect.
Do you remember the shocking scientific study about how baby fish in our polluted oceans now actually prefer eating plastic microbeads to their natural diet? It was reported everywhere from the Times and the Washington Post to the BBC and, very likely, the ABC too. Our media, as we know, just loves a nice, juicy, ‘it’s all our fault and we are not worthy to live on this fragile earth’ environmental disaster story.
What you’re much less likely to have come across, though, is the subsequent correction. That original 2016 story wasn’t just bunk, it was positively fraudulent.
Environmental do-gooders, not ‘climate change’, are responsible for the latest inferno.
‘You are literally evil. Dante has a level for you… Now I know that you’re the type who would laugh at a train off to Auschwitz.’ Just one example of the typically caring, nurturing messages I’ve been getting from Australian greenies over the last couple of days. My crime? Telling it like it is about the bushfires.
Another year over and it wasn’t all bad, you know. Here are some of my personal highlights.
Best birthday parties: my dear old friend Liz Hogg’s 90th and my dear older friend’s Jim Lovelock’s 100th. The latter, in the Orangerie at Blenheim Palace, was possibly the most unboring semi-formal social occasion I’ve ever attended. My table included the philosopher John Gray, a dapper Japanese gentleman who had been blown out of his bed by the Hiroshima bomb, and an economist from northern Uganda who’d narrowly escaped the Lord’s Resistance Army massacres.
If this blackly comic BBC drama doesn’t get every award going then there’s no justice.
The key to surviving the next couple of weeks of TV is to avoid like the plague anything that smacks of seasonal viewing. So, no Christmas specials (such as the semi-celebrity, elderly grown-ups version of University Challenge where the questions are even more laboriously PC than on the student edition), no Harry Potter, no adverts featuring tinsel, dragons and patronisingly diverse families making merry. Basically, you want to steer clear of terrestrial TV altogether — but with one exception. You may use BBC iPlayer to download the only decent drama series that slipped through the net: Giri/Haji.
It has been a while since I’ve considered the vexed question of Byrhtnoth’s ‘ofermod’. More than 30 years, in fact. I remember, as if it were yesterday, my Anglo-Saxon tutorials with dear, lovely, gentle Richard Hamer. And now he is the author of the standard translation being used by my children on their own university English Literature courses. (I suppose the Latin equivalent would be having been taught by the author of Kennedy’s ‘Eating’ Primer.)
Byrhtnoth’s ‘ofermod’ is the pivotal word in ‘The Battle of Maldon’, a 325-line fragment of Old English poetry about an otherwise obscure skirmish between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, and much studied on English courses because it’s one of very few surviving examples of our island’s nascent literature.
Plus: Olivia Colman is a woeful disappointment as Her Maj
True to the Andrew Roberts rule that the only bearable series on TV these days are ones with subtitles, I’ve started watching Der Pass (Sky Atlantic). Not unlike The Bridge and The Tunnel, it starts with a dead body exactly straddling a border, thus requiring the intervention of detectives from two national jurisdictions. This time, it’s a shambolic male Austrian and a perky blonde German.
It’s fascinating to see what quirks foreign authors choose to give their detective characters.
The great Clive James died on the same day as the great Jonathan Miller but I know which one I admire more. Anyone can be born a poly-math genius. But it takes special moral courage to stray outside your celebrity comfort zone and stand up for a noble cause so unfashionable that it earns you little but opprobrium and the contempt of your peers.
One such cause is climate change scepticism and you can count on the fingers of a saw miller’s hand the number of celebrities who’ve ever dared speak up for it. I can only think of about three: former BBC Children’s TV presenter Johnny Ball; former BBC TV botanist David Bellamy; and the heroic late Aussie poet, broadcaster and man-of-letters Clive James.
Plus: the BBC’s adaptation of War of the Worlds is deeply sad. Will we ever again see a faithful, honest, politics-free adaptation on the BBC?
George (Rafe Spall), Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson) in War of the Worlds
Edwardian England deserved everything it got from those killer Martian invaders. Or so I learned from the BBC’s latest adaptation of The War of the Worlds (Sundays). Everything about that era, apparently, was hateful, backward and ripe for destruction: regressive attitudes to women and homosexuality; exultant white supremacy (cue, a speech from a government minister on the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race); a general prevailing bone-headedness and stuck-upness; stiff, stuffy, relentlessly brown clothing with superfluous belts; and as for those ridiculous bristling moustaches…
Still, I don’t think H.G. Wells would have been totally appalled by this travesty of his 1898 potboiler. Wells was, after all, a man of the left who would later write of Stalin: ‘I have never met a man more fair, candid and honest’, and who flirted with most of the politically correct causes of his day, from Fabianism to anti-imperalism. Early in the book, he rails against the ‘extermination’ of Tasmanian Aborigines by ‘European immigrants’, asking: ‘Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?’
Speed is in my blood. My father, grandfather and great-grandfather all used to race cars in their youth. We even have a hill-climb specialist car part-named after us, the Dellow. Just after I’d passed my test, my dad let me share the driving in his V12 Jag en route to our holiday home in Devon. I vividly remember him rebuking me whenever I let the speedometer dial creep below 100mph.
So I suppose it was inevitable that naughty habits would catch up with me in the end and that I’d find myself doing one of those compulsory speed awareness courses.