Paxman talking about his generation…

OH, I do like a new word. And valetudinarianism is a good one. In case you don’t grate a dictionary into your porridge each morning, it means constantly and morbidly concerned with one’s health. And, yes, I had to look it up.

Paxman used this word in his column in the Financial Times, writing: “At the reception desk of a hotel to which I checked in this week was a pile of free copies of Mature Times, which calls itself ‘the voice of our generation’. Oh God, I thought, the cheeky bastards are including me. Back off.

“For this must be the most unfashionable publication in Britain. Who wants to be called ‘mature’, like an old cheese? We all know that ‘mature’ means on the verge of incontinence, idiocy and peevish valetudinarianism…”

As Paxo is 66, this was presumably intended as a joke at some level. Either that or he just felt like being annoying by upending a bucket of bile on the elderly.

Whatever the case, his outburst brought the publisher of the Mature Times out in a nasty rash (there’ll be a cream for it somewhere, sir; just ask your readers).

Andrew Silk said Paxman was clearly in denial about his age and likened him to Jeremy Clarkson without the charism. Jeremy Clarkson has charisma; who knew? I have never met Clarkson, but suspect his Top Gear persona is a bit of an act. A hugely profitable one, mind, for if half the world thinks you’re a twat and the other half likes you, that is a good enough return. I have met Jeremy Paxman, though, and he was perfectly charming.

In his age-intolerant rant, Paxo also said that the elderly should lose the vote, as it wasn’t fair to “allow people to vote for a future they won’t live to enjoy or endure”. And he added that politicians were too frightened to confront the “whiffy vested interest” of old people.

Popping another pill from the insult bottle, he added: “They have every reason to laugh at the way government after government has skewed things in their favour. Yet the most striking thing about rooms full of old people is how very little you see them laughing.”

Well, the older people I know are nothing like the caricatured pensioners he summons up. And they do laugh, too.

Yet Paxo is good at provocation and if he had set out to be reasonable, no one would have noticed his column. And the publisher of the Mature Times would not have had his 15 seconds of fame (you don’t get so long nowadays; blame low interest rates or something).

Mr Silk wrote a rebuttal in Mature Times, saying of Paxman: “He is 66, so he obviously does not see himself as one of the people he wants to poke fun at, which is irrational. This could be his Gerald Ratner moment…”

Well, not really a Ratner moment, as unlike the businessman who joked that his company’s jewellery was ‘crap’, Paxman has nothing to sell. Apart from himself, and he did a pretty good job there.

Jane Silk, the editor of Mature Times, had a lively riposte in an opinion piece on the Guardian online, accusing Paxman of being puerile (the columnist’s sin, perhaps). She added a mouthful from her dictionary, too: “Well, I have a couple of long words for you, Paxman: gerascophobia and gerontophobia. He seems to be suffering from both a fear of getting old and of older people.”

Is that so or was he just being colourfully offensive for the sake of it?  I am a few years younger than Paxo but do not wish to read Mature Times.

A few years ago, I hated finding that I was suddenly lumped into a greying mass called the “over-fifties”. This seemed to bring with it a supposed desire to take part in weedy keep-fit sessions and other dispiriting things. No thank you. I went off to play squash instead. And I still do.

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If Frankie Boyle thinks comedy is safe, he should watch Fleabag…

WE all need a laugh, but what should we be laughing at nowadays? According to the beard formerly known as Frankie Boyle, British comedy has hit a stale patch with broadcasters unwilling to take risks on edgier or alternative shows.

Delivering the Alternative MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Boyle said that safe shows such as Mrs Brown’s Boys were being commissioned above anything more alternative.

His lecture took the form of an interview with actor and writer Sharon Horgan, whose own series Pulling ran for two series before being cancelled by the BBC.

Boyle argues that “television has gone back past 1978. There’s a sort of air, it’s an air of you wouldn’t know there had been alternative comedy.”

I have never seen Pulling and a quick Google reveals that it is no longer available on the iPlayer. But I have seen Catastrophe, the Channel 4 sitcom about a splendidly dysfunctional couple, written by Horgan and Rob Delaney, and that is a sweet-and-sour belter of a show. Interestingly, Catastrophe was turned down by the BBC, which supports Boyle’s argument as far as the Corporation is concerned.

Anyway it’s very good and Horgan is both lovely and horrible in it. I have a soft spot for Horgan and enjoy watching her whether she is being lovely or horrible.

I am not sure Boyle is right about Mrs Brown’s Boys though. That riotous racket of a slapstick comedy does have edge. And it takes risks. It’s not for everyone and I struggled to stay in love with Mrs Brown after a brief infatuation, but this comedy is not safe, just popular.

Boyle is certainly right to point a finger at the BBC remaking all those classic sitcoms from the 1970s. I haven’t yet summoned up the enthusiasm to watch any of those. A whole season devoted to classic sit-coms seems like a drearily BBC sort of idea to me – and that’s from a Beeb fan.

And reports this morning that the BBC is in talks with John Cleese about making a new sitcom do not exactly lift the heart: only a year ago the notoriously difficult Mr Cleese was going around telling anyone who would listen, and a few who would not, that he would never ever work for the BBC again. My advice is to leave well alone and re-run Fawlty Towers instead (yet again)

But there is one BBC show I have only just discovered that upsets Boyle’s new law: a tragic, hilarious howl of a comedy called Fleagbag. I have been catching up with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s series on iPlayer. It has been described as a “really, really, really, really bleak version of Miranda”

The link is that the heroine is tall and posh, that she makes snarky remarks directly to camera when she thinks no one is looking, and she can’t stop her life unravelling. The difference is that Fleabag lacks a sweet heart, is squalid and contains no likable characters, apart possibly from a dead friend. And Miranda, so far as I can recall, never lay in bed next to her boyfriend and masturbated while watching a Barack Obama speech on her laptop.

So, yes, Fleabag has a dark and anguished heart, but much good comedy is rooted in despair. I’ve not seen the whole series yet but doubt  it will end well. Like Horgan in Catastrophe, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (pictured) is lovely and horrible – more of the second than the first, in truth. She is a caricature of despair in a sense, and yet seems very real and believable too. You love Fleabag – the only name her character is ever given – because she is real and suffering and selfish and mean. And because she looks like she needs a hug. Probably from Barack Obama.

She is foul-mouthed, frank and funny, and kind of gorgeous too, despite the constant self-laceration and the meanness. I reckon Frankie Boyle and his beard should watch Fleabag.

Footnote dated September 9: Just finished watching the whole series of Fleabag and it is a thing of sad and occasionally hilarious wonder. Do give it a go…

Coffee pods brew up a whole lot of trouble…

THE coffee plant is said to have been discovered in Ethiopia in the 11th century. A nice legend has it has a goat herder called Kaldi noticed that after eating berries from a certain tree, his goats became so energetic they did not want to sleep at night.

So in that instant he discovered coffee and insomnia, setting in motion the pleasure and pain of many a life.

There is another story about this possibly legendary herder of goats. In this one he looked at the beans, scratched his head and pushed away an overactive goat. Then he stood from the rock he’d been sitting on, propelled upwards by a thought. “What I need to do is roast the beans, then grind them. After that the ground beans should be placed in virtually indestructible aluminium and plastic capsules that fit in expensive machines. And then I could find a famous person to advertise them. I wonder if that illustrious goat-herder George Clooney is available?”

Like all legends, the one I have just made up cannot be proved. What we do know is that when Clooney became the face of Nespresso coffee pods in 2006, this marked the beginning of a costly worldwide obsession with a product that allowed people to brew espresso at home at the touch of a button.

Now if you ask me, this is an unnecessary invention that litters the planet with used pods that are said to take between 150 and 500 years to break down in landfill sites. Although how anyone can know that is a mystery.

Both of my brothers use these pods. We drank coffee made that way on holiday in France at the start of the month, although the host brother did relent and buy some ground coffee too. Perhaps he picked up the vibe from his bad bean big brother.

As well as being rotten for the environment, these pods take away the pleasurable ritual of making a cup of coffee. I prefer to grind the beans, Taylor’s Italian for preference. The ground coffee goes into a cafetiere. This is filled with water gone just off the boil that is poured over the back of a tablespoon to take away direct heat. Mugs are half-filled with water from the kettle and the timer is set for four minutes. Works every time. The mug tip was picked up from a food magazine: it makes the coffee properly hot.

The global market for coffee pods is reported to have risen from $7 billion in 2010 to £17 billion in 2015. And that’s an unending stack of those sleek little capsules to put in the ground.

Even the man who used to run Nespresso, former chief executive Jean-Paul Gaillard, is reported to believe it is time for consumers to consider the price of convenience. “It will be a disaster and it’s time to move on that. People shouldn’t sacrifice the environment for convenience,” Gaillard has said. He now produces biodegradable coffee pods.

Earlier this year, the German city of Hamburg banned coffee pods from government-run buildings, citing pollution and waste. A smart move, Hamburg.

I will stick to the method mentioned above, backed up by an ancient stove-top espresso machine and a new Aeropress device (a vacuum plunger that instantly produces one excellent mug of fresh coffee).

Two more thoughts on coffee. According to researchers at Edinburgh University, a gene appears to influence the amount of coffee people can drink. Those who carry the PDSS2 gene consume about one less cup of coffee per day compared with non-carriers, according to a story in the Guardian last week, which reported: “The gene variant appears to affect people’s coffee intake by slowing the metabolism of caffeine in the body.” So those with the gene have a longer ‘high’ and drink less coffee.

A final thought arises from my short break in France. We listened to Dylan in that cottage as the ‘French’ brother is a big fan. One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below) is surely one of the best coffee songs, with its bean-rattling refrain… “One more cup of coffee ’fore I go/To the valley below.”

A truly great coffee song. But so too is Black Coffee In Bed by Squeeze. And then there is that old blues song Half a Coffee Smile as released by the supposedly environmentally minded George Clooney: “Woke up one morning and earned a fortune for flooding the world with indestructible little pods…”

Good and bad points about life in York…

HERE are some good and less good points about living in York, as compiled after being conveyed around the city on creaky knees for my Sunday morning run.

On the way back I saw that the Micklegate Run Soapbox Challenge was being set up. This fun challenge taking place today will feature 44 teams racing down the steepest hill in a generally flat city.

This is the same hill, incidentally, that the wagons went down at the start of the Mystery Plays in their original form in medieval times. The wagons were stored in Toft Green, near to where York Brewery now is and the scenery was erected early in the morning, then as the wagons began to roll around the city, care had to be taken that none of them ran away with themselves down that hill. The opposite wish will be in operation today in an event that will embrace rather than pull against gravity.

We will be going along to watch the soapbox challenge, on our way for a drink and something to eat in Fossgate, where the street is occasionally shut off and filled with stalls.

York is admirably adept at such events nowadays, and it is no coincidence that the independent councillor Johnny Hayes is one of those behind the soapbox challenge, having long championed the Bishopthorpe Road area.

There is often something on in York and for me that goes into the box marked ‘good’. So what is to be found in the box stamped ‘less good’? Oh, hordes of pissed-up people on a Saturday night and other evenings too; paralytic hen parties and staggering stag parties; day-long racegoers tipped into a night even more drunken than their day; many of them, whatever brought them here, loud and raucous and objectionable. Yes, that sort of thing.

Whenever a shop closes in York, or whenever a landlord turfs out a small local business because they wish to earn more money, you can bet that a bar or restaurant will move in, often part of a national chain. And if not that then a coffee shop

Now I like all of those establishments at times. There are great places to drink in York and no end of restaurants and cafés.

But each year it seems that more local and independent shops disappear to make room for these bars – and to accommodate the tippling masses.

This has not gone unnoticed by those who live in York, many of whom stay out of the city at night. This week members of the Guildhall planning panel, a voluntary group which scrutinises planning applications in the Guildhall ward, warned that too many properties were being converted from shops into cafés, bars or restaurants. In my old newspaper, the chairman of that panel, Chris Edghill, said: “We have been objecting to the quantity of restaurants, bars and cafés. You only have to walk around town to see how many bars and restaurants there are.”

This is true but whether or not anyone has the power or inclination to do anything about it is another matter. Too often the official response is to shrug and then go with the motion – rattling downhill just like those soapbox cars will do today.

York needs to keep hold of its independent shops, and its independent pubs and cafés too. Otherwise the centre of what will always be a beautiful city risks turning, at second glance, into any-town anywhere, filled with all the same chain restaurants. To a large extent this has happened already, but efforts should be made to slow down the race to sameness.

Both of today’s events are designed to promote local businesses and communities in the city. And that can only be for the general good.

Now it is time to creak off to the shower.

Wrong sort of news on the line for Corbyn… and for Trumpdemort, too…

TWO stories bob about in the political pond today. Both are silly but only one in a good way.

First up is the Jeremy Corbyn train seat row, tediously also known as ‘traingate’. Last week, the Labour leader caught a train to Newcastle and, being unable to find a seat, squatted on the floor. He sat there in solidarity with other passengers and had a mumble-grumble about how this incident showed why the railways should be nationalised. His polite but brittle sit-down protest was recorded and a film clip released.

Until yesterday this was a small story, a ripple or two in the teacup. Then the whole storm rattled the china when Virgin released CTTV footage appearing to suggest that Mr Corbyn walked past empty seats before sitting on the floor.

Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Trains founder, backed the release of this footage, in which the company said it took issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn “wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case”. The Labour leader stood by his description of the train journey, saying that the empty seats displayed reservation tickets, adding that he was given a seat when another family was upgraded to first class.

Mr Corbyn reportedly declined a first-class upgrade for himself, perhaps in a Citizen Smith-style power to the people moment. And now he has ended up looking silly; or if you are Mr Corbyn and his loyal band of supporters, the newspapers have inflicted further inky calumny on their man.

So who is the winner in this much-amplified small squabble? Mr Corbyn looks shabby because his stunt was derailed by events; and Virgin looks shabby because it released this footage a week later in a bout of petulant foot-stamping. Mr Corbyn looks ridiculous because he indulged in a spot of incompetent spin; and Sir Richard Branson looks ridiculous because, well, he just is.

In Mr Corbyn’s favour, some of his observations about overcrowding and how our railways are run are fair enough, especially on a line which has seen two private companies fail to date. Is Virgin now going to struggle as well? It’s a reasonable question to print on your ticket.

Other factors work less well for Mr Corbyn. For a man who leads a political party, he seems naïve about train travel. Book ahead and it’s cheaper. You can often sit in ticketed seats, at least for a while. And being upgraded to first class is fairly normal when the train is overcrowded, and not a calculated insult to your socialist values or whatever.

Having said all that, it is difficult to stand up for Virgin Trains or for the bizarre way we run our railways: just how much public money do these private companies absorb? But Corbyn has certainly been put in a Branson pickle.

The veteran travel journalist Simon Calder, of the Independent, this morning accuses the Labour leader of boarding the Hogwash Express. How handy is that. For my second silly story concerns an American study which finds that people who have read the Harry Potter books are less likely to support Donald Trump – or Trumpdemort, as he is rather splendidly being dubbed.

The study published in PS: Political Science and Politics bears the playful title Harry Potter And The Deathly Donald.

Professor Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania polled a representative sample of 1,142 Americans in 2014 and again this year. By asking about their Harry Potter consumption, she found that each Potter book read lowered her respondents’ feelings about Trump by two or three points.

JK Rowling was naturally thrilled, tweeting that the news had made her day.

As far as I can tell, no study has yet been undertaken into whether or not having read Thomas the Tank Engine books makes readers more or less sympathetic towards Jeremy Corbyn.

Oh, I do like a good list of the best films…

WELL, that’s enough Olympics and politics for now. No more with the honest sweat and the sour sweat. Time to talk films instead. I do like a good film and the occasional bad one, too.

BBC Culture has just released one of those lists designed to get people talking or arguing. But before moving onto the best films of recent memory, here is a film of very recent memory. And not a good one, sadly.

On Saturday we had the sort of afternoon I like: a pint in the Brew York warehouse followed by a film at City Screen. Such outings are not often allowed during the gardening season, but I took advantage of a poor weather forecast.

The only decent-looking film on at a convenient time was Wiener-Dog, directed by Todd Solondz, not a director whose work I know, even though I do love a good American indie film.

Wiener-Dog is a strange affair, a loose bag of episodes linked by the presence of a rather noble sausage dog. There are four stories…

One: a young boy recovering from cancer, but unlikely to recover from his awful parents or their cold, clean house, is given a Wiener-Dog as a pet, only for them to arrange to have it put down following an extreme episode of doggy diarrhoea.

Two: the condemned dog is spirited away by the vet’s assistant (Greta Gerwig), a bruised soul who gets herself into a sort of relationship with a drugged-out sort of friend.

Three: The dog (the same dog – who knows?) is now owned by a film lecturer and failed screenwriter called Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito), who hates his students almost as much as they despise him.

Four: Now rechristened Cancer, the dog is owned by an irascible old woman (Ellen Burstyn) who is visited by her negligent granddaughter, who stumbles through the small-talk, watched by the dusty trinkets and ornaments of a lifetime, before getting to the point: she wants to borrow money, $10,000 this time.

All the performances are good, especially Zosia Mamet as the grasping girl and DeVito as the bitter man who cannot see beyond his own sense of failure. But the film doesn’t hang together, feels dissatisfying and is almost relentlessly depressing.

The BBC’s list does away with the idea of nominating the greatest films of all time, but instead goes for that category of recent memory. Matthew Anderson, the editor of BBC Culture, wanted to honour the “films that most people feel strongly about”.

He asked 177 film critics from 36 countries to nominate their ten favourite films, and used this poll to compile a list of the 100 best films of recent memory.

The most popular directors in the list, who had three films apiece, were Wes Anderson, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Christopher Nolan, Michael Haneke, Paul Thomas Anderson and Joel and Ethan Coen.

I was pleased to see the Coen Brothers in there, having seen all their films since Blood Simple, and happy too that Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel – one of my recent favourites – made the list.

Topping the list is David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (pictured above), that creepy, dreamy puzzle of a movie: I lovingly worried over that film at the time, but haven’t seen it for years.

Other featured films that seem like good choices to me include Sophia Coppola’s Lost In Translation, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men, Christopher Nolan’s Memento, and Michael Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Oh, and I was pleased by the inclusion of Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish romantic horror film Let The Right One In, the chilliest vampire move ever –  touchingly sad, too, and visually striking, with blood among the snow of an anonymous housing estate.

Ah, you can’t beat a good list.

Perhaps I am just a mainstream sort of guy…

IN today’s terms, I am a mainstream sort of guy when it comes to the news. The BBC, the Guardian and Observer, and quick raids into hostile territory – the nettles in Daily Mail-land don’t half leave a rash – mostly do for me.

Once there was a time when identifying yourself as a Guardian reader was tantamount to coming out as a raging leftie, but nowadays life is more complicated than that. Should you wish you can now visit a website dedicated to ‘proving’ that everything you read in the Guardian is wrong, but there you go.

Earlier this week pictures of Omran Daqneesh, the tiny survivor of a suspected Russian airstrike on the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, went around the world, giving face to a tragedy which has remained mostly unseen. Stills from video footage showed this five-year-old boy with his face bloody and his eyes blank with shock.

You might have thought this was the media doing a global good deed, prodding the world’s conscience with reports of a boy who stands for all the children harmed or worse by wars everywhere.

But hardly had the blood been wiped away from that young face before the heckling began, with certain websites warning that we shouldn’t swallow this news at face value. The details are complicated but suggest the image was being used as a way of escalating further military action in Syria.

I don’t know the truth of such claims, but I do know that here was a tiny child caught up in a bloody shit-storm not of his making. And this morning reports suggest his brother died in the raid from which he was rescued.

Thanks to the internet, we can have instant news and opinions on everything nowadays, and we can skip from mainstream rivers to lively streams of dissent. The sceptical responses in this case strike me as being disrespectful to the child, to those who rescued him, and to the few remaining doctors who toil against impossible odds in Aleppo.

Whose truth is the real truth here? That’s the impossible puzzle in a way. Sometimes there is a sort of dark alchemy to the news, in that certain events pass unnoticed while others suddenly capture the world’s attention. Why that should happen is sometimes easy to see, as in a child being rescued in a warzone. But why that child and why just then? It is not easy to answer that, but certain news stories just do that, often thanks to a striking image.

Only later can we gain some sort of perspective, and sometimes not even then. For what is history but a lively argument about how to interpret yesterday’s headlines?

There is a lot of talk about bias among those who dislike the mainstream media. I can understand that because sometimes certain sources of news, and certainly some of the old tabloids, display blatant bias. Almost any given front page of the Daily Express might support such a claim.

The dissenters who despise the mainstream media gather in corners of the internet to mutter darkly and exchange conspiracy theories. That’s no bad thing, so long as those who visit such websites admit they are seeking solace in like minds in the same way that a right-wing person might look for it in pages of the Daily Telegraph. For those usually left-wing websites are themselves biased in that they have a fixed view of the world.

The BBC is roundly accused of bias from all sides, especially from supporters of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (that’s the last mention of him today: it’s a Sunday and I could do without the hassle). But sometimes the problem lies in the BBC’s cumbersome attempts to be even-handed.

If a news programme wishes to discuss global warming, two guests will be brought into the studio. One will be a scientist who knows what they are talking about and has endless statistics at their fingertips. The other will be a climate-change denier who knows in his bones that it’s all a big conspiracy.

In being even-handed, the BBC presenter will give too much prominence to the climate-denying ignoramus, who is given equivalent status to the expert. In attempting to be balanced, the BBC risks unbalancing the argument.

In a telling irony, those ring-wingers who believe that climate-change is a myth got up by the establishment have much in common with those on the left who feel that the mainstream media is a conspiracy against all that they believe in.

I guess that in the end, all you can say is that we have an imperfect media for an imperfect world.

Sweet blandishments of the sugar industry… and a guest struck by lightning…

OUR latest Airbnb guest takes two sugars in his coffee and once was struck by lightning. One of these facts is perhaps more unusual than the other.

It is always a surprise when someone wants sugar in their tea or coffee. At breakfast yesterday he took a sip and winced. “I’ll have some sugar in that please, mate. Two teaspoons,” said the Australian, adding that he wished he could shake the habit.

We go without the sugar in this house, at least in drinks, but we still take the sweet stuff in other ways, the occasional cake perhaps or marmalade on buttered toast at the weekend (heaven on a breakfast plate for me after a five-day sentence of porridge).

The radio was on as I made breakfast and the sugar lobby was peddling a line stickier than their conscience in response to the Department of Health’s long-awaited childhood obesity strategy. This initiative contains some useful suggestions, but could perhaps be summed up as the blandishments of sweet nothings.

Prime Minister Theresa May put so much faith in her new policy that she let it be released while she was away walking in Switzerland, having allowed one uncomfortable-looking official prime ministerial holiday snap of her and her husband with their hiking sticks.

At least we no longer have to suffer David Cameron looking pinkly satisfied in Cornwall; and the good news for him is that he no longer has to pretend that he loves going to cloudy Cornwall, but can instead bugger off to wherever his sunny money will take him.

Anyway, sugar. Despite widespread shock and disappointment about the childhood obesity strategy, the human sugar cubes from the food industry were in place to speak the nonsense that pays their wages.

The policy was widely dismissed by leading retailers and even the boss of Sainsbury’s. Yet Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, insisted the soft drinks tax was a “disappointing diversion from effective measures to tackle obesity”. He added that the 20 per cent reduction in the sugar contained in yoghurts, desserts and pasta sauces “focuses too strongly on the role of this single nutrient, when obesity is caused by excess calories from any nutrient”.

I am not the first person to notice the striking similarities between such doublespeak and the way the tobacco apologists used to deny the links between smoking and cancer. The sugar lobby will no doubt keep saying these things until our children are too fat to stand and their teeth have all fallen out.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents grocers, said it would have been better if the government had imposed mandatory cuts to sugar levels in food, as leaving it to voluntary action by manufacturers would allow some producers to take advantage by keeping the sugar levels high in their products.

Public Health England had advised that two measures would have had the greatest impact on childhood obesity: stopping price-cutting promotions of junk food in supermarkets; and limiting advertising of unhealthy food to children through television and social media.

Both are sensible suggestions. Cut-price promotions of junk food in particular can trap parents, especially the low-paid, leaving it more likely that poorer children will end up the most overweight. In a sugar-coated nutshell: poor quality food costs much less than decent food.

Neither of these two ideas appears in the strategy announced yesterday, suggesting that Mrs May has briskly swatted away any attempts to control the way the food industry operates.

Let them eat cake and crisps too, then show them on the television news running around and getting red in the face. Children were shown doing just that last night on the BBC news, and while exercise is undoubtedly beneficial, a bit of running around at a summer holiday club won’t be enough to undo the damage done by too much food shot through with sugar.

Our guest hasn’t come downstairs yet, but I have the sugar bowl at the ready. And that lightning? Oh, he was working at a mine in Queensland when a sudden electrostatic discharge hit the ground as he touched his car in the car park. The shock was so great he thought he’d broken his arm. He survived but eventually had to give up work. But not sugar.

The evangelical followers of Corbyn… and bullshitting along with Trump

TALKING in tongues is what happens to some evangelical worshippers during a service, yet you could say that it occurs in politics, too.

A long-read feature in last Sunday’s Observer looked at the division in the Church of England between the dwindling band of traditional worshippers and the rise of the evangelicals, with their practices such as speaking in tongues, or shaking and collapsing as the Holy Spirit takes over their body.

As a man without religion, such extravagant spirituality makes me uncomfortable. This is for perhaps two reasons: one, I don’t understand it; two, somewhere in the agnostic corridors of my mind I sniff some sort of a scam. Isn’t faith meant to be just that: an act of faith in what cannot be seen? Also it seems rather show-offy, but there you go.

Harriet Sherwood’s report in the Observer charted the orchestrated rise of the evangelicals, thanks to Holy Trinity Brompton church, which started the ripples that have now spread around the country, with the hefty financial backing of the Church of England, and the explicit support of Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury.

The report argued that the traditionalists in the church fear the focus on evangelism risks giving the church over to the zealots. This was ringing political bells for me when, just as Sherwood had made a parallel with the way Tony Blair dragged the Labour party into the modern age, the following quote from an anonymous critic popped up: “Actually, the more apt comparison is with Corbyn and Momentum. The diehards become more frenzied, while everyone else looks on in total incomprehension – and in many cases are repulsed.”

And yes, the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn are the evangelicals of the Labour party, so wrapped up in their enthusiasm, so entirely contained in the vacuum of their beliefs, that they cannot see any other shades of truth. Often they refer to their leader by his first name only, with earnest and heartfelt mantras of ‘Jeremy this’ and ‘Jeremy that’.

There is nothing wrong with their enthusiasm as such; nothing necessarily wrong with much of what Mr Corbyn believes. It’s just that evangelicals tend only to turn their bright eyes in one direction. Those who gather in the cloistered cell of Corbynism are so taken with their man’s message that they cannot see any other truth at all. They are so convinced that Jeremy will deliver on his bold platform of change that they cannot see the unlikelihood of such a happy eventuality ever occurring. You have to win elections for that to happen, and Mr Corbyn has trouble convincing his own MPs, never mind the sceptical electorate.

I am not sure where all this will end, although it’s a fair bet that Jeremy Corbyn will see off the challenge from Owen Smith. And then the evangelism will continue, as no doubt will the speaking in political tongues.

Another feature in the Observer – other Sunday titles are available but I don’t usually read them – boasted the rather splendid headline: “How we let bullshitters take control and debase the language of politics.”

The English example given was Vote Leave’s much-trumpeted slogan: “Let’s give our NHS the £350m the EU takes every week”. Everyone knew this was bullshit, but it put the message across. And when the Leave lobby won, the promise was dropped with cynical alacrity.

Much of the article by Steven Poole, author of Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas, dwelt naturally enough on Donald Trump, whose outrageous statements are legendary – and legendarily awful.

A recent example was the bizarre claim: “Obama’s the founder of Isis. He was the most valuable player.” Unabashed by having Tweeted such screaming nonsense, Trump followed up with “THEY DON’T GET SARCASM?”

Poole makes the interesting point that Trump “is not a perversion of the tradition of political campaigning; he is the logical outcome of it. It doesn’t matter what you say, if it helps you get elected.”

His final point is key: “Trump is not a liar, exactly, but a bullshitter.” And in the post-truth world of American politics, that can be enough to win over voters wearied by the smooth operators of the political establishment.

With luck, Trump will loop one too many ludicrous statements around his neck and make a noose for himself before November.

As for Corbyn as prime minister, stranger things have happened. But not many.

How those who came last were true Olympic winners…

AMID all the excitement about Britain’s best medal haul at an away Games, another sporting milestone should not be overlooked. On Monday I won a game of squash.

Not all sport is elite sport. Some sport falls more into the category of two middle-aged men getting red in the face as they tear around a squash court for 40 minutes. And one of them losing. Usually this one.

My success is only a spot of sweat on a pair of old sports shoes in comparison with all the Olympic glory being notched up by Britain.

This morning the attention is on the golden cycling couple of Laura Trott and Jason Kenny: she has become the most successful female British Olympian and he won a sixth gold in a dramatic keirin final (that’s the one where the man on the shopping bike sets the pace in the velodrome, before peeling quietly away and leaving the cyclists to their race).

My relationship with the Olympics begins in a grumpy way at the prospect of there being nothing but sport on the television. It doesn’t help when the coverage is of sports where the athletes have their turn, then the next one has a go, such as diving. Nothing against those boys and girls in their trunks and their remarkable abilities; it’s just that the gladiatorial games work better for me, a proper race or a match in tennis or badminton.

And as someone who bashes about a shuttlecock with friends once a week, I do love the badminton doubles. All that leaping four feet in the air before a smash; all those swift returns of impossible shots; all that wrist-flicking athleticism and those gravity defying lunges – yes, that’s badminton but not as we know it.

I don’t play tennis but always enjoy watching a match. I saw the start of the Andy Murray final against Juan Martin del Potro, but didn’t hang around long enough to see him win his second gold medal. It was gone 11pm already, one set all, and Murray was having his crisis moment. From the highlights, it seems both players were monumentally knackered by the end. But don’t even mention golf; how did that end up in the Olympics?

The sporting politics are all part of the Games, too of course, with the different countries standing off against each other. Back in 1996, Britain had its worst summer Olympics, with a single gold medal won by rowers Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave. After that the Lottery funding tap was switched on thanks to the overlooked efforts of credulous fools everywhere. Two quid every week in this house and nothing to show for it apart from a free go one week.

Now properly funded, Britain is up there in second place, behind the Americans and above the Chinese, with the Chinese media expressing their disbelief as such a turnaround, while bemoaning their own disappointing medal tally.

The Olympics is a sometimes queasy mixture of high ambition and low politics, astonishing skill and dedication, and obscene amounts of cash, often spent by countries without the proper means to do so. The spectacle is undeniable, the thrills when they come are great, but somewhere behind it all there is a sense of political chicanery and deals being done.

But none of this should detract from the achievements of the athletes. Britain is certainly having a great Games and we could all do with being cheered up.

Sometimes the stories from the Olympics can surprise in uplifting ways. No incident better summons up the spirt of the Olympics that that of the two women athletes who stopped to help each other up after falling together midway through their race.

With four laps to go in the 5000m in Rio, New Zealand distance runner Nikki Hamblin and US runner Abbey D’Agostino collided. The American injured her right leg as a result of the fall. She got up, fell to the ground again, crouching on all fours, her face distorted with pain. Hamblin stopped running, turned to D’Agostino and reached for her with open arms. All thoughts of winning gone.

The two women finished the race last and embraced closely before the American was led off in a wheelchair for treatment.

So the Olympics can have stories of nobility and humanity too. Sometimes the winners are those who lost. And that’s what I will be telling myself tonight in the week’s second game of squash. Because I almost never win on a Wednesday.