Also, the trajectory of the story is never obvious, as in the latest new Scandi-noir on Channel 4’s Walter Presents, Valkyrien.
Valkyrien (C4, Sunday) is the hot new Scandi-noir series, which is being billed as Norway’s answer to Breaking Bad. In this case, the anti-hero having his mid-life crisis is a brilliant surgeon called Ravn (Sven Nordin). He has become disenchanted with The System because the fancy hospital where he works won’t let him use the potentially life-saving treatment he has devised on his dying wife. (It might kill her, they say — which Ravn, quite understandably, considers a ridiculous, faux-ethical excuse.) So off he goes to sulk in his Batcave — a disused nuclear bomb shelter, accessible via an underground station — for what will no doubt be a series of clandestine medical adventures, using equipment he has nicked from his old lab.
Ravn’s Jesse-style sidekick Leif (Pal Sverre Hagen) works for Norway’s civil defence unit — risk-assessing all the things that might bring the world to an end. It’s the perfect job because. . . .
Its documentary Daughters of Destiny, about a remarkable free school for India’s untouchables, doesn’t steer you to any conclusions but lets you think for yourself.
All this week I have been trying, with considerable success, to avoid being bludgeoned by TV programmes telling me in various sensitive and imaginative ways just how brilliant, heroic and historically maligned homosexual men are. I achieved this by sticking to Netflix.
One of the great things about Netflix (whose annual subscription costs just half the BBC licence fee, by the way) is that though it’s probably run by lefties it doesn’t try to ram its politics down your throat. Maybe this is one reason why its 100 million-plus subscribers are so much less resentful than BBC viewers: they’re being offered choice, variety, entertainment — not worthiness, race, gender quotas and compulsory indoctrination.
This week Netflix helped me catch up — under Girl’s instruction — with an addictively trashy series from 2012 about spoilt rich kids in New York called Gossip Girl; and also with a gripping documentary series — Captive — about how horrible it is being taken hostage. Best of all, though, was Daughters of Destiny — a four-part series telling the delightful true story of the Shanti Bhavan school in India’s Tamil Nadu province.
The Conservatives are now so ideologically enfeebled they are quite beyond the point of redemption.
I’ve had it with the Conservatives. For me, and I know I’m not the only one, the final straw was the announcement at the weekend that the Equalities Minister Justine Greening wants to change the law so that people are free to specify their gender on their birth certificate regardless of medical opinion. What were they thinking, Greening and the various senior party bods who supported this decision, including, apparently, the Prime Minister? Actually, I think we can guess. They were thinking: ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn. His young followers seem to like this LBGBLT — how do the initials go again? — malarkey so perhaps we’d better get with it too.’ And: ‘Nasty party detox. Just like gay marriage did, this will help rid us of all those ghastly reactionary grassroots supporters who are ruining our image.’ And: ‘Compassion. We need to show compassion to oppressed minorities because that’s the kind thing to do.’The Conservatives are now so ideologically enfeebled they are quite beyond the point of redemption.
The latest Sky Atlantic series has been invaded by something more terrifying and insidious even than the White Walkers: feminism.
I’m a bit worried about Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic). Not seriously worried: there’s too much money invested, too much narrative hinterland accrued, too much fan-loyalty not to frustrate, too engaging a cast, too brilliant an original conception for the makers to cock it up too badly.
Nevertheless, there were a couple of things that troubled me about the first episode of season seven. One: Ed Sheeran. He’s not the first pop star to make a cameo appearance in Thrones — that honour fell a while back to purveyors of epic, weirdy-warbly, Icelandic whale-music-rock, Sigur Ros — but he’s definitely the most obtrusive.
When Sigur Ros did it, no sooner had they started singing than they were driven offstage by a hail of coins from an unimpressed King Joffrey. With Ed Sheeran, on the other hand, we had to endure a full scene of him sitting there in the woods, being amiable Ed Sheeran with his ginger Ed Sheeran hair singing an Ed Sheeran-style song and being himself. And you just sat there thinking: ‘Here I am watching Ed Sheeran doing a cameo in Game of Thrones.’ Surely the very least they could have arranged is for him to have been stabbed, or something?
With his surprising appeal to teens and millennials, Jacob Rees-Mogg could be the perfect antidote to Corbynism.
‘We need to talk about why the internet is falling in love with Jacob Rees-Mogg, because it’s not OK,’ warns a recent post on the Corbynista website The Canary. Its anxiety is not misplaced. Polite, eloquent, witty, well-informed, coherent, principled — Jacob Rees-Mogg is the antithesis of almost every-thing the Labour party stands for under its current populist leadership. And far from putting off voters, it seems to be a winning formula. Even sections of the elusive and generally very left-wing youth vote appear to be warming to the idea that our next prime minister shouldn’t be (alleged) man-of-the-people Corbyn but yet another plummy, Old Etonian millionaire…
This ought to make no sense at all. If there’s one lesson the Conservative party’s strategists have learned from Jeremy Corbyn’s performance in the polls — at the time of writing he has an eight-point lead — it’s that Britain has had enough of conservatism. Actually, the word they use is ‘austerity’ but it amounts to the same thing. So widespread is the panic in the party that even its more fiscally responsible luminaries are coming round to the idea that, from university tuition to the NHS, the only way to beat Corbyn is to talk and spend like socialists.
The wild French hills where the church slaughtered 20,000 for heresy.
I once spent three months living in the Languedoc, writing my first novel. The highlight was the few days I allowed myself away from my monastic schedule to visit Cathar country. I’d been dying to see it because the castles and the landscape are so stark and dramatic, the history is so dark, bloody and weird, and because I wanted to try cassoulet in its proper location.
I can’t remember much about the various cassoulets I tried except that, though it’s impossible to go wrong with goose, sausage and beans, none of them was quite as good as the one I laboriously recreated at home from a recipe in my Larousse Gastronomique. But you never forget the castles, such as Peyre-pertuse, jutting, as so many of them do, from a vertiginous, craggy, razor-back ridge. I clambered over it at dusk, after it had closed, and had it all to myself. The wind whistled (it was December) and it was so easy to imagine the ghosts of those who had lived and died there, many of them horribly.
In BBC2’s The Box That Changed the World, Melvyn Bragg presented a Whiggish view of TV history so full of bien-pensant drivel that I had to switch over to ITV2
Melvyn Bragg on TV: The Box That Changed the World (BBC2, Saturday) was just what you would have expected of a critical appreciation of 75 years of TV, filmed at Bafta and presented by one of the BBC’s pre-eminent house luvvies. As an antidote I had to switch over to ITV2 to watch Love Island.
Yes, I hate Love Island too — every episode leaves me feeling soiled. It’s a mating game show, in which couples compete to shag one another in Majorca for a £50,000 prize, and, with ratings of around 1.7 million, it’s probably the most talked about programme on TV, which fashionable people are pretending to enjoy to show how down they are with popular culture. But I only watch it to keep Girl company and to reinforce my prejudice that we are fast approaching the end of western civilisation. Had reality TV existed in Rome in the late 4th century, I’m sure they would have made programmes exactly like this.
All the boy contestants are heavily worked-out lummocks who wouldn’t have a clue what to do with an aubergine unless it was something quite disgusting; all the girls wear revealing costumes, often with skimpy briefs that ride up their bottom cracks. But though there’s lots of talk of sex — rude charade games, naughty banter, plus some actual bonking (twice so far, though by previous series’ standards this is apparently quite abstemious) — it’s all weirdly unerotic.
What happens to its projections when the taxpayers of the world tire of being milked to subsidise renewables?
I do find it odd that I’m so often having to write about the science of global warming, species extinction and ocean acidification because, though I’ve certainly acquired a pretty useful base knowledge over the years — superior, I’m guessing, to 97 per cent of scientists — it’s really not my main interest. What fascinates me far more is the way the faddish preoccupations of a few green cultists have somehow come to dominate our entire culture, corrupting the intellectual current, suborning institutions, crushing dissent — much as Marxist, fascist and Nazi ideologies did in the 20th century, only with rather more widespread success.
Let me give you a recent example of this: an article from the June Quarterly Bulletin of the Bank of England, titled ‘The Bank’s response to climate change’. Nothing wrong with the premise: it is indeed part of the Bank’s statutory duty to ‘identify, monitor and take action to remove or reduce risks that threaten the resilience of the UK financial system’. The problem, argues energy editor John Constable in a critique for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, is the inexcusably one-sided way in which the bank has handled it. The report’s focus is directed almost entirely towards the risks posed by fossil fuels. So we learn lots about the droughts, floods and storms that may be caused by ‘man-made climate change’.
‘You don’t look like Radiohead fans, lads,’ said the old fashioned Northern lady as she served Boy and me our post gig donuts and plastic cups of proper Tetley tea. I suspect that like us, but unlike most of Glastonbury, she had this time last year voted Brexit.
‘What do Radiohead fans look like?’ I asked.
She nodded towards a thirty-something walking past in chinos and one of those trendy woollen tops with the zip on the top.
Ah. She meant ‘wankers’.
And I did see her point. I felt it particularly strongly during that moment in one of the gaps in Radiohead’s Pyramid Stage set when their audience broke into a spontaneous chant of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’. And also when the initially friendly students who’d let me puff on some of their very strong hash stopped being quite so nice when I told them that socialism sucked, that Boy and I were both conservatives and that I wrote for the Spectator. Back in the day, these wouldn’t have been divisive issues. But people are becoming much more sectarian, unfortunately.
Anyway, I totally get people’s problem with Radiohead, as perfectly captured in an amusing spoof BBC story about how fans at Glastonbury mistook three minutes of guitar tuning for their latest avant-garde track.
‘Riviera is the new Night Manager,’ I read somewhere. No, it’s not. Riviera (Sky Atlantic, Thursday) is the new Eldorado — except, unlike the doomed early 1990s soap opera in which Tony Holland attempted to recreate the success of EastEnders on the Costa del Sol, it has at least been glamorously relocated to Nice, Monaco, New York etc.
The settings are the best thing about it. Those Mediterranean palaces with sun-bleached brick-red plaster and bougainvillea and shimmery blue pools and the sun-loungers arranged just so by invisible but discreetly attentive staff: we’ve most of us had the experience at some time or another, either because we’ve lucked out and been invited by an uber-plutocrat friend or, more likely, because we’ve paid through the nose for a weekend at one of the myriad hotels that now specialise in recreating that Onassis in the 1970s experience.
And when we’ve had it we’ve all thought to ourselves, ‘Yes. This is it. This is exactly how my life is going to be when I win the lottery/write my bestseller/cash in my small hedge fund.’ Then we’ve gone home and realised, ‘Actually, no, my life is shite and always will be.’ So watching a series about tanned women with sunglasses who’ve never had to work and men with linen suits, Ferraris and Vertu mobile phones becomes our next best thing.