Some medical experts claim that Lyme disease is worse than cancer. It’s not a competition, but I do know one thing: at least if you’ve got the Big C you get sympathy, understanding and prompt treatment. With Lyme you’re pretty much on your own.
This isn’t a plea for public sympathy. I’ve had Lyme for God knows how long — decades possibly — and though it has disrupted my health and my life in myriad weird, torturous and sometimes hideous ways, I still consider myself one of the fortunate ones. First, it hasn’t killed me; second, I’ve had some state-of-the-art stem cell treatment which with luck will eventually cure me. But it’s definitely not a condition I’d recommend.
Plus: I really hope Netflix’s Sex Education is not the future of TV.
Boy often likes to rebuke me for having impossibly high standards when it comes to TV. ‘Why can’t you just enjoy it?’ he says. This is disappointing. One reason I ruined myself to give him an expensive education is so I wouldn’t have to share my viewing couch with a drooling moron happy to gawp at any old crap. Worse, whenever I try to draw his attention to stuff I consider to be extra specially worth watching — Fauda, Babylon Berlin, etc. — he rejects it because it has been tainted by my recommendation.
So the next brilliant thing he won’t get to see is Gomorrah (Sky). This relentlessly dour and violent series about the Camorra mob in Naples is now filming its fourth season, but because I’ve come to it late I’m still only on the first. What I so love about it — essentially my criterion for all great art — is the ruthless, uncompromising integrity of its vision.
When I first heard rumours that Michael Gove was planning to go round the country with his environmental Gestapo, ripping out our wood-burning stoves in order to heal the planet, greenwash conservatism and reduce an imaginary 36,000 deaths a year, I must admit that a small part of me felt ever so slightly relieved. Of all the desirable accessories that I’ve coveted in my life, I don’t think any has quite disappointed me as much as the wood-burning stove now staring at me accusingly as I sit at my desk.
It looks very handsome and room-furnishing, as cast-iron stoves do. And when it gets going, it really does pump out lots of heat. But there’s a reason, you eventually realise, why western civilisation graduated from such 18th-century technology to central heating. One is easy and convenient; the other, a massive pain in the arse.
Plus: Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins shows you what equality between the sexes really looks like
As the Allies advanced towards Germany in September 1944, their supplies were brought all the way from western Normandy in a constant shuttle convoy known as the Red Ball Express. If you were making a realistic movie about this, three quarters of the truck drivers would be played by black actors, because that’s how it was in real life.
Similar rules would have to apply to any remake of Zulu or Zulu Dawn. It is an awkward but inescapable historical fact that there was no diversity whatsoever among Cetewayo’s Impis: they were all, resolutely, from the same African tribe. At the Battle of Crécy, on the other hand, every single participant was white European — even the misleadingly named Black Prince — so any movie version probably wouldn’t involve a call to Samuel L. Jackson’s casting agent.
In the days when I was less happy in my skin than I am now, I used to feel stabs of envy whenever I visited the large country homes of much grander friends. I’d notice their array of class signifiers — the boot room with battered hunt coats and riding crops; the massive Victorian baths with enormous taps, weird cylinder devices instead of plastic plugs, and funny little dog foot stands; the framed pictures in the loo of Oxbridge matriculations and born-to-rule offspring posing with the beagle pack at ‘School’ — and think: if only this could one day be me.
Well now it is me, more or less. Finally, in my early fifties, I’ve got round to joining, near as damn it, the country squirearchy. And let me tell you, it’s every bit as enjoyable as I’d hoped. I get to be rude, eccentric, antisocial, reckless, prejudiced, reactionary, unkempt, unapologetically conservative and free to a degree that just wouldn’t have been possible in my benighted townie years.
Best friends: Michael and Sarah Gove. Many harsh words have been said about Michael and Sarah — many of them, at least in Michael’s case, by me. But the point about good friends — even when they betray every-thing you hold dear and sell your country down the river like some back-stabbing traitor — is that you love them, warts and all, and stick by them. Sarah is the most brilliant and generous host in Christendom. The Gove, despite having a quite important day job, is always there for me at a moment’s notice when, say, I’ve got a speech to give at the Durham Union and I need it dictated to me on the train up, pronto. Gove is a mensch.
Don’t watch The Sinner (originally on Netflix; now on BBC4) because, despite your better judgment, you’ll only get addicted after its irresistibly grabby opening. A pretty if slightly distraite mother called Cora Tannetti — Jessica Biel — is on a lakeside beach with her bearded beta cuck husband and their little boy, surrounded by other relaxed groups of weekend picnickers. Suddenly, she takes huge exception to a hunky male sitting nearby and derangedly stabs him to death with a fruit knife. Why?
That’s why it’s being sold as a new genre — the ‘whydunit’ — because obviously we know whodunit already. With seven more episodes to go, it’s probably safe to assume that the answer is much more complicated — but not nearly as plausible — as the one I gave to the Fawn at the end of episode one. ‘I know exactly why she did it,’ I said. ‘Why?’ said the Fawn. ‘Because she’s a woman…’ I said.
Gosh it hurts when your little corner of paradise is destroyed by a few idiots’ ignorance and greed. This is what has just happened to one of Britain’s best-kept secrets, the magically beautiful and remarkably untouristed stretch of the Wye Valley round and about Builth Wells.
Every summer we used to take a holiday let there, jumping into our favourite swim-hole in the Wye, playing Cocky-Olly in the bracken, exploring Llewellyn’s Cave, watching the last of the sun bathe the uplands from the shade of the boules terrain outside the house where we’d enjoy our well-earned fags and evening gin and tonic. But I don’t think I could bear go back there. The sight of what they’re doing to it is just too painful.
Plus: congratulations to Peter Jackson for one of the most superb pieces of trolling I’ve ever witnessed on TV in They Shall Not Grow Old.
Narcos is back on Netflix, set in Mexico this time, with a cool, world-weary, manly voiceover swearily lecturing us at the beginning that if we smoked sensemilla in the 1970s, then we were partly responsible for the bloody, endless drug wars that went on to kill more than half a million people.
Oh really? Sensemilla (derived from the Spanish for ‘without seeds’) is the kind of product of human ingenuity and free markets we should be celebrating, not decrying. It’s more compact than bog-standard weed, making it easier for entrepreneurs to ship, thereby increasing their profit margins. It affords a sweeter-tasting hit and a more euphoric high, thereby giving greater pleasure to the consumer.
Of course I empathise with the victims of the drug wars, such as the 43 students kidnapped and massacred in Iguala, Mexico, in 2014.
I didn’t get an audience with the Pope when I visited Rome last weekend. But given that he’s a borderline commie, an open borders advocate and an increasingly fervent evangelist for the climate-change religion, we probably wouldn’t have found much to say to one another. Nice art collection, though.
Well, it would be if you had it to yourself which of course you don’t. Even in the autumn off-season, the Vatican museums feel like shuffling in the midst of a zombie horde from The Walking Dead. I’m surprised the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel haven’t peeled off by now, what with the collected acid exhalations of the 25,000 tourists who pass through every day.