We could all do with a Tardis right now…

PETER Capaldi is off and that reminds me we could all do with a Tardis right now. In a world where the fatted silhouette of Donald Trump casts such a long shadow, a spot of time-hopping might be a relief. Then again, nothing you are likely to find out there can match the horrors on display down here.

I have had a lengthy relationship with Doctor Who, having watched the first episode as a boy in 1963. Perhaps that is why I stuck with it. I have been there for the cardboard-set lows, been there for the dizzy modern highs – peaks that send your brain fuzzy for lack of sensible plot oxygen.

Doctor Who does like a complicated tale and the modern version has sometimes been slavish to the long-form plot. If you don’t keep your wits about you, well it probably makes as much sense as if you do keep hold of your wits.

Capaldi has announced that the new series will be his last, and that he will be leaving in the Christmas special – along with the show’s lead writer and executive producer Stephen Moffatt, the man with the deep plots.

The 58-year-old Glaswegian followed the younger Matt Smith, bringing a dark but puzzled energy to the role. You could almost see the speech bubble: “I’m Doctor Who – how the **** did that happen?’ The expletive was put there by Malcolm Tucker, the foul-mouthed spin doctor Capaldi made very much his own in The Thick Of It.

I have only met one Time Lord, although I did spot Capaldi once at the crime-writing festival in Harrogate. He appeared stylish and individual and, at a passing step, much less bonkers than his incarnation of the Doctor.

Capaldi has been a good Doctor, although why a man of my age should care is an embarrassment and a mystery. The Doctor I did meet was Tom Baker, but I think this story has been told before. He was appearing at Greenwich Theatre in a play called the Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.

We met at a café in central London, close to the rehearsal halls, and Baker was pop-eyed and full of alarming enthusiasms, and his voice rattled the cutlery, or so it seems in memory.

The original Doctor Who ran aground eventually, but was then re-born in 2005 and the tenth ‘new’ series will be Capaldi’s last.

Partly what has allowed Doctor Who to survive and mostly flourish is the idea that the main character has the ability to regenerate, “a quirk that has allowed a number of actors to have played the role over the years”, as the BBC website puts it. Thanks to this in-built renaissance, the series can reinvent itself each time a new actor comes along.

All the Doctors have been men, which you might think would go without saying, but there are probably thought pieces being written right now demanding that a woman has her turn in the Tardis. Would that work? Oh, I don’t see why not. My hot tip for the role would be Sandi Toksvig.


Tramp the Trump down…


I’LL shut up about Donald Trump one day. Or I will when he stops saying stupid things. So, that means I won’t. Shut up. For ever until time’s last fart, although both of us might be long gone by then.

Trump’s new girlfriend on the political block received rave reviews for her flying visit to Washington. The parts I saw while hiding behind the sofa were a burp short of nauseating. Gruesome backslapping from Theresa May and Trump. Cheesy grandstanding all round. And Mrs Maybe being just a bit too eager to pal up with Trump, as if all the Brexit bother could disappear in an orange puff.

What I don’t want to shut up about today is Trump’s closure of US borders. The USA is, you may recall, a country of immigrants. A country made great by immigration. Trump himself has immigrant roots and he has married a few, too. I believe his present wife is an immigrant.

Yet he wants to suspend the US Refugee Admissions Programme for 120 days. Ban refugees from Syria indefinitely. And suspend for 90 days anyone arriving from seven Muslim-majority countries. That’s Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

His presidential decree applied to people who already had visas. And it left refugees stranded at airports.

Thankfully, an American judge has put a stop to all this inhumane nonsense, at least for now. This bit of Trumpery was declared illegal. Federal Judge Ann Donnelly, in New York, prevented the removal from the US of people with approved refugee applications, valid visas and “other individuals… legally authorised to enter the United States”.

The judge also mentioned risk of “substantial and irreparable injury” to those affected.

Well done that judge. Perhaps Donald Trump will now realise that just because a thought jumps into his head like a pop-tart escaping a toaster doesn’t mean it’s sensible. Or even legal.

But don’t bet on it. Trump took to Twitter this morning to say: “Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW.” Yesterday he told reporters that the executive order was “working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over”.

Now it’s not working out quite so very nicely. And let’s raise a cheer to that judge. And raise a boo for Mrs Maybe. Long before her dizzy Transatlantic dash to hold Trump’s tiny hand, she described would-be candidate Trump’s suggestion that Muslims should be banned from the US as: “Divisive, unhelpful and wrong.” Quite so. It was then and it still is now.

Sadly, Trump is a man who builds towers. And while those towers are tall, none is as vertiginous as his ego.

A bald man at the hairdresser’s…

I AM sprouting wings so it is time to walk around the corner. Six weeks it usually takes, and there they are. Leave it too long and I end up with mad-professor hair.

It is cold outside and cold on top of my head. Time for the usual: short back and sides, and don’t worry yourself too much about the top.

Two minutes or so and I am inside the small hairdressers, which is warm and my glasses steam up. As I await my turn, I remember a visit here not long ago when a boy was sitting with his father. The lad saw me walk in and turned to frown at his father. He didn’t say: “Why does a bald man need to come in here?” But the thought was written across his young forehead.

This reminded me of the time that our middle one when young stared at an obese man in Tesco’s and said: “Daddy, why is that man so…?” I managed to steer him away just before he said “fat”.

The boy and his father aren’t in here today and no one raises that ungentle topic. But the mental dregs stir and I recall wondering when young why my bald uncle was worrying about needing to wash his hair. And then time played its trick and here I am, a bald man at the hairdresser’s.

“Are you Adam?” one of the hairdressers asks. I am not but perhaps wish that I was. Adam turns out to have a thick quiff of black hair.

My turn comes and the young man who ‘cuts’ my hair sits me down in the chair. Next to me a woman is having one of those mysterious things done: a perm or a dye job or something else beyond the wit of man. Or this man. I opt for an all-over number two head-shave. I don’t suggest copying the hairdresser’s own quiff, which today has a blueish tinge.

I take off my glasses and put them on the shelf. And there it is: my hairdresser’s face. Not the face of my hairdresser, which is there also, but the face we wear in the hairdresser’s mirror. It occurs to me that it would have been good to photograph that face down the years, running from afro-teen head days, through thinning thirties – when for a while I kept my hair long and thick at the back, mullet-style – up to now. A whizz through time as captured by the hairdresser’s mirror.

That’s the thing about hair. You still think it’s there when it’s not. The other day a cruel security camera in the supermarket presented me with a perfect view of the top of my head. Or an imperfect view. I had so much hair when young and now I don’t. This hardly counts as a tragedy, or not to anyone else. But that hair is still there somewhere, like a lost limb or something.

The hairdresser chats pleasantly as he buzzes over the contours of my skull. He takes a surprising degree of care tending to my sparse pastures. In a few short minutes, I am neat and tidy again, and the wings have gone.

Those with a full patch do not realise just how often a bald man needs the attentions of a hairdresser. More often than in the past, as that mad professor doesn’t hang around. I could buy clippers but enjoy the experience for some reason.

It is still freezing outside as I dash for home. And now my whole head is cold, but never mind.

Mrs Maybe’s hasty trip to Washington…

THERESA May has flown to the US to address Republicans today, ahead of a meeting tomorrow with Donald Trump. A quick trip to America will be a happy distraction from all the Brexit chaos back home, where she increasingly looks small-minded, petty and horribly insular.

All that and not fully decisive either – hence her nickname in some quarters of “Mrs Maybe”.

Her haste to meet Trump is unseemly, and has echoes of smarming up to the playground bully in the hope of not being pinched. Or indeed worse in the company of a man whose notably small hands are said to enjoy a wander.

Will Mrs May tick him off about his sexism? Apparently not. Although she has previously expressed concerns about the video in which the President boasted about grabbing women “by the pussy”, she reportedly has no wish to raise his attitude towards women. To be fair, it’s hard to know exactly how you’d bring that up.

Instead she will talk about “pressing global issues” rather than flesh-pressing issues. My advice is not to stand to close to the man.

Mrs May wants to meet Trump so that she can seem important, being first in the queue, and so that she can issue some triumphalist blather about how Britain can cut a trade deal with the US in her brave new world. This is something she cannot in fact do until she has completed the Brexit folly and untied Britain from the other 27 EU countries. You know all those tangled up and overlapping wires at the back of your television? Multiply that by a million and you have a picture of the European knot that faces Britain now.

Mrs May’s short break in Washington is basically for show. A two-day charm offensive that is likely to be more offensive than charming.

As for Trump the Terrible, he has been firing off a volley of orders, and his latest at the time of writing is to proclaim that torture works. Trump told ABC News that waterboarding works, and that “we have to fight fire with fire”. It’s a distraction, I know, but that man does mix his metaphors – as well as use far too many – and here seems confused between fire and water.

Trump said in the interview: “I have spoken with people at the highest level of intelligence and I asked them the question: ‘Does it work? Does torture work?’ And the answer was: ‘Yes, absolutely’.”

Saying “torture works” sounds tough and yet is nonsensical, too. Inflicting pain on a person “works” in that they will break down and confess; but it doesn’t “work” if they don’t have anything to tell you or if you are torturing the wrong person.

On the BBC News website, you will find a film clip from a Panorama investigation into waterboarding. A reconstruction using a volunteer shows a man being strapped to a board, with his head held in place and his arms and legs secured. The ‘torturer’ then shouts at the man while pouring water into his mouth. As the clip explains, waterboarding is basically drowning.

That wall to keep out Mexicans will also be built, Trump insisted yesterday. This policy always raised a cheer at his rallies, especially when he said that the Mexicans would pay for it. American’s southern neighbour has an answer to the Trump Fence or whatever it is: “Mexico doesn’t believe in walls.”

That’s what the Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto said in a message to the nation and it is a good reply, creating a sense of openness to counter Trump’s aggressive bullying and isolationism. President Nieto also said he had no intention of paying for the wall; and who can blame him?

Why La La Land is trailing such a buzz…

THE headlines cast long shadows thanks to Brexit, Trump and other depressing things. Let’s talk instead about La La Land.

We went at the weekend and this modern take on the musical certainly is gorgeous, romantic and vibrant. The Oscar panel hadn’t nodded their heads when we sat down to watch at City Screen, so we saw the film before the latest big fuss, although Damien Chazelle’s film has been trailing an attention buzz for months now.

La La Land has a record-equalling 14 nominations at this year’s Oscars and seems likely to sweep all before it. To ask a simple but obvious question: is the film worth all the glittery palaver? In short, yes. Although some will be more persuaded than others.

To give a random sample, my wife came out in a swoon and wanted to go and see the film again straight away, and our daughter was similarly enraptured. I liked the film very much, but thought there should have been more music. And rather than a La La rerun, next on my to-see list is Manchester By The Sea, for which Cassey Affleck has a best actor nomination.

To tackle that big fuss question, it is impossible to say whether La La Land deserves quite so many nominations, as grading films by the gongs they receive is a fool’s game. How can two very different films/books/albums/TV programmes be measured alongside each other? In honesty, they can’t although they always are.

Awards often rush in one expected direction. At the Oscars, the momentum gathers behind one film, usually at the expense of other overlooked movies: Nocturnal Animals this time round, without even a mention for Amy Adams.

La La Land is a lovely piece of escapism and yet the film isn’t entirely buoyant, with downbeat moments that work to its credit. As you probably already know, Ryan Gosling plays a struggling jazz musician and Emma Stone a struggling actor.

Their relationship starts badly, with a few barriers to romance – not least Gosling’s character being a hardcore jazz bore. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing and it so happens that I like hardcore jazz bores. Stone’s character is easier to like and her performance matches fizzing energy with a haunted sense of inadequacy.

What works so well is that theirs is a relationship you can believe in. You want them to find love and to find each other, but whether they do or not is a secret that must be left on the screen.

Some have carped that Gosling and Stone don’t have the voices for a musical, but I thought they were just fine, and besides what they have by the brimming bucketful is charisma, and the spark of a real relationship.

La La Land acknowledges many great, musicals with more than a dip to An American In Paris, especially with the cartoonish fantasy sequences. The film is at its confident best in the musical sections, and the opening is fantastic, following the big musical tradition of starting with a bang. Where West Side Story has balletic aggression as the gangs warm up and Guys And Dolls has a swarm of street life – and a watch on a chain picked from pocket to pocket – La La Land starts with cars jammed on a flyover.

It’s a scene full of energy and charm and with an uplifting score, and balances the banality of a traffic jam with the human spirit of all those people stuck in their cars – until they leap out to sing and dance. Those first five minutes alone are reason enough to go and see La La Land, and the film has many other attractions.

I did enjoy the jazz side, too, and the ways Gosling’s character is so grumpy when the possible new love in his life says those dreaded words: “I don’t like jazz.”

Hadley Freeman said in her column in the Guardian Weekend mag last week that Gosling represented every jazz bore boyfriend she’d ever dated – and she expanded jazz bore to embrace various types of male obsession. Well, that’s her take but it wasn’t mine. And it certainly wasn’t that of the two women in our family.

My advice is to go and see La La Land before the backlash begins. For there is bound to be one of those.

When the headlines are casting such dark shadows, a bit of escapism is good, and La La Land offers such as escape route, while also keeping its feet on the ground. And, with a nod to the girls, Emma Stone does wear some very lovely dresses. Mind you, Ryan Gosling suits his suit, too. And his stubble.

And that’s an alternative fact…

BLESSED, that’s me. Six foot three and topped off by a flowing head of hair at my age. In the long drive outside our large house sits a shiny new BMW bought with the advance for my latest book, topped up by the fee for my weekly column in a Sunday newspaper. Every day I check the diary to see when I am next needed for a book tour or to interview someone or other famous. Oh, what a life.

Yes, such are the alternative facts of my life. You know, the ones not entirely supported by the evidence (five foot eight, scant hair, etc).

The post-truth age is so yesterday. Now alternative truth is all the rage. This sinister little phrase fell from the lips of the Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on an American TV programme at the weekend. Booked on to NBC’s Meet the Press, she claimed that the new White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, hadn’t lied to reporters about the size of the crowd at the inauguration, he had merely presented them with “alternative facts” – a nasty bit of Orwellian newspeak.

This row about the crowds is in a sense one of those silly media/politics spats, although the truth – you know, the truthy, fact-fearing, sensible-shoe-wearing actuality – suggests that Barack Obama drew larger inaugural crowds, especially on the first occasion.

What exactly is this yobbish new kid on the word block? Alternative facts are the facts we want to believe in, rather than those other inconvenient facts, and in a sense this has always been the case. Although a more robust interpretation of alternative facts is a plain four-letter word: lies. An alternative fact is a lie, whatever Kellyanne Conway might believe.

Politics and the media have long paddled in the shallows when it comes to facts. For the newspapers, the plain facts of the news can be approached from many angles – and given whatever dressing the editor’s beliefs dictate. And this has always been the world Donald Trump inhabits, a place where a word means what you want it to mean, and the truth is whatever you say it is. This is truly scary, but for now I have had enough of being terrified of Trump. Just watching him on the evening news gives me the shudders.

Alternative facts are related to our old friend “economical with the truth”, which is just more wordplay standing in for “lie”. The Phrase Finder website tells us that this phrase was first recorded in the 18th century, and then brought into contemporary usage at the ‘Spycatcher’ trial in 1986 when the Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong was being cross-examined…

Lawyer: “What is the difference between a misleading impression and a lie?”
Armstrong: “A lie is a straight untruth.”
Lawyer: “What is a misleading impression – a sort of bent untruth?”
Armstrong: “As one person said, it is perhaps being ‘economical with the truth’.”

I admire ‘economical with the truth’ as a spot of linguistic wriggling, but ‘alternative facts’ is the language of thugs and dictators. And while Trump may not be a dictator, he does behave like one at times.

All the can hope is that the American media sticks up for itself and goes into truthful battle with the new president. A lie is a lie and needs pointing out as such.

As for my actual reality, perhaps I am blessed in different ways.

Maggie, May…

MAGGIE and me didn’t get along. It was just one of those things. Everything about that woman got under my skin. Disliking her was a sort of awakening, a reminder of what to believe in; and, more importantly, what not to believe in.

Theresa May is often compared to Margaret Thatcher. Usually this is down to lack of imagination on the part of whoever is making the comparison. In short, the theory goes: she’s a woman too, so she must be Maggie Mark Two.

Last week, Mrs May gave a speech in which she attempted to clear up the Brexit bumble. This boiled down to telling us there would be a clean break with Europe, and that we would be sailing the high seas and forging new relationships with other countries (New Zealand may or may not have come into it). There was a lot of salty optimism in that speech.

And it is easy to see Mrs May as a figurehead on an old sailing ship, resolute and firm, and never mind the waves and the rocks, or the risk of being wrecked.

Her speech also contained a bit of dog-whistle racism and semi-hidden blaming of immigrants – the sort of noxious button-pushing that helped propel Donald Trump to the White House (and pardon me for this, but over the next four years that venerable building will be rechristened the Full of Shite House).

But let’s leave Trump out of it for today. Instead let’s consider a speech Margaret Thatcher gave about Europe on April 18, 1988 – something drawn to my attention while I was at work yesterday.

Thatcher outlined at length the benefits of the single European market in a speech diametrically opposed to everything Mrs May trots out whenever someone springs a nasty surprise on her by asking: “What happens next, Theresa?”

The speech was delivered at Lancaster House, where the present prime minister also gave her speech last week. It is recorded on the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website – a place I entered with all the trepidation of a teenager in a horror film. What shocks would await me in such a mansion of haunted memory?

Blowing away the cobwebs, and hoping that skeleton wasn’t the Lady herself, here are parts of what I found in a big old book:

“The task of government is two-fold: to negotiate in Brussels so as to get the possible results for Britain; and then to make you the business community aware of the opportunities, so that you can make the most of them.

“It’s your job, the job of business, to gear yourselves up to take the opportunities which a single market of nearly 320 million people will offer.

“Just think for a moment what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people.

“Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the United States. On your doorstep. And with the Channel Tunnel to give you direct access to it. It’s not a dream. It’s not a vision. It’s not some bureaucrat’s plan. It’s for real. And it’s only five years away.”

Later in the speech, Thatcher said that “Britain has given the lead” over European trade.

Now I won’t ever fall in love with Maggie. Too much happened between us. It is too late for that relationship, and besides there is another awful woman in my life now. Theresa May might not be Margaret Thatcher, and may hate all the inevitable comparisons, but it is interesting that Thatcher, sainted heroine of the Tory right, should have made such a positive speech about the importance and benefits of the single market.

It’s just her shame that her disciples seem so blind to the obvious benefits of what Europe offers. Mrs May airily promises the benefits of a shackle-free life, while offering few concrete examples of how this brave new world will work.

And, I know it’s an obvious point, but Europe is a lot closer than all those distant places that may or may not come up trumps. Or even Trump’s.

Donald Trump, the fossil president…

SO much has been said and written about Donald Trump’s bombastic odyssey to the US Presidency that it is hard to know what to add. But let’s have a go.

Oddly, for a man riding an anti-politics wave, his rude rise illustrates the limitations of politics.

The radio this morning has a running headline about how Trump intends to knock down much of what Barack Obama built. And there you have it: the new regime destroys the old; the new guy obliterates the monuments built by his predecessor; the new guy destroys so that he can create – or maybe this one will be happy stop at the destruction.

It is an odd way to run a country. The belligerently binary nature of politics means that there is only right and wrong, and whoever is in power pursues their ‘right’ by demolishing what has been achieved by their predecessor.

Wouldn’t it be more efficient and sensible to acknowledge that your opponent got some things right, to collaborate across the regimes rather than blow everything up and start again?

Trump is without question a ‘blow everything up’ sort of a guy, although the process of politics will hold him back to a degree. The rancid rhetoric will not all come to pass. Or if it does we are up to our shaking knees in shit.

Today the US begins a mad experiment that belongs in a Batman movie: evil genius billionaire knucklehead becomes president. Many things should alarm us about Trump, from the hatred and the misogyny to the sheer belligerence of the man, the veiled white supremacy and the nastiness of his right-wing cohorts.

Most alarming of all is his belief that climate change is all a con – a hoax got up by the Chinese to increase its trade surplus with the US, a theory passed on in one of his many insane and semi-literate tweets.

All this at a time when 2016 has been shown to be the hottest year on record, as for the third year in a row the world exceeded the previous record.

This place we call home is heating up and while there may be competing reasons, the biggest cause of all remains us. Yet Trump thinks global warming is a con, and he has packed his administration with fellow billionaires and climate-change deniers, and has promised to renege on the Paris international accord to limit greenhouse gases.

In environmental terms, and probably many others, the man is a fossil – fittingly enough as he seems intent on ignoring the scientific evidence and allowing the energy industry to plunder every burnable scrap of coal and oil, rather than putting money in green energy.

The world needs many things from the new president, not least continued investment and involvement in the fight against global warming. And if Trump doesn’t believe what science is telling him, preferring the dark whispered mutterings of oilmen, then we have just taken a big backwards step.

The best that can be said of the next four years is that the Trump presidency is going to be one hell of a ride. Let’s just hope it isn’t a ride to hell.

Distraction devils and silent witnesses…

‘Look at you two with your mobiles…’

We are watching television, Silent Witness on BBC1. Our daughter is looking at a small screen instead of the larger one and so am I. My wife isn’t and hence her smug comment, which frankly is a cheek as she often has a phone in front of her face. Or some knitting.

Having a smartphone does change the way we all watch television, or it does in this house and we aren’t unique about many things. Old-fashioned me watches the television while reading the newspaper, or while failing to read the newspaper or watch television properly. Modern-me watches television while glancing at my mobile and failing to watch television properly.

There is a reason for needing my phone, apart from the one about being a dreadful fiddler with the bloody thing. I am trying to work out what a cast member was in before.

A few years back she was in something I watched and my need to know this is greater than my need to understand the convoluted and ridiculous plot. Well, it wouldn’t be Silent Witness without a convoluted and ridiculous plot. And forensic scientists who run about like action-hero cops.

Her name has gone missing and it takes a bit of Google detective work to track her down. I raise my eyes to watch something gruesome and relevant, then drop them to make a discovery. Sarah Smart is her name and the drama nibbling at the margins of my mind was Funland. It was set in Blackpool and was on about the same time as another BBC drama set in Blackpool. That one was called Blackpool, just to avoid confusion.

I return to Silent Witness and Dr Nikki Alexander is running about again. Or over-emoting. Or doing a bit of both, which is her speciality. The witness might be silent but no one else is. There is a lot of shouting and the one we wondered about, although only in the past five minutes or so, turns out to be the guilty party.

A few days earlier and we are watching Tom Hardy mumble his way through Taboo. It’s a good show from the writer of Peaky Blinders, but I want to know what an actor was in before. Without bothering Google, I declare that he was in Luther. Our daughter uses Google to tell me I am wrong.

On Sunday, we are trying to make sense of Sherlock on the BBC. Again, I spot someone familiar. “He used to the in the League of Gentlemen,” I say. Google and our daughter prove me wrong on that count, too.

I wonder if I should give up chasing actors who aren’t who they should be and just watch the programmes instead. But where would the fun be in that?

After Silent Witness, it is too early for bed, so I finish watching something weird and sort of good on Netflix. It’s called The OA. The other episodes were watched on the main TV, but our rubbish BT-TV box no longer cooperates with Netflix: it just cuts out all the time.

I watch on the laptop instead, having worked out how to do that without daughterly intervention. I use Bluetooth to put the sound through the wireless speaker I was given as a birthday present. And it works. I can hear what’s going on now. But I still can’t understand the plot in the final episode.

Netflix is the distraction devil. All sorts of things on there you don’t need to watch. At heart, I remain a BBC sort who prefers to watch a drama one episode a week. It’s more of a treat that way. Spotting Sherlock in the listings is always a treat, or it used to be. Like Doctor Who, Sherlock seems to have fallen in love with itself, and wandered far from anything like a graspable plot.

As for Tom Hardy visiting The Mumbles, I think that drama has something going for it. So long as you turn the volume up.

Who left that tower in a car park?

When William the Conqueror marched north in 1068, he decided to establish a castle in York. And the first thought in his head was: that car park has got to go. And people have been grumbling about this corner of the city ever since.

The Norman motte-and-bailey castle was built largely of earth and timber and, after suffering violent indignities early in its life, “probably survived largely unaltered through most of the 12th century”.

This is what it says on the English Heritage website, where you will find an interesting history of the castle written by Jeremy Ashbee. The original tower burnt down in 1190, when 150 Jews from York were given protected custody in the royal castle, thought to be where Clifford’s Tower now stands, but ended up committing suicide together rather than face the hostile mob outside.

The medieval castle was built not long afterwards. The history is there to read on the website should you wish to. Something I didn’t know was that in 1596-7, a public scandal arose when the aldermen of York accused the gaoler, Robert Redhead, of trying to demolish the tower, which had become derelict, so that he could sell the stone for lime-burning. It was at that time, Ashbee’s account reveals, that the first recorded use of the name ‘Clifford’s Tower’ was seen.

The genesis of the name is uncertain, with competing theories pointing to the Clifford family claiming the post of constable to be hereditary; or to the hanging in 1322 of the rebel Roger de Clifford who body was displayed on a gibbet at the castle following his execution after the Battle of Boroughbridge.

In the 18th century, the tower was seen as a garden folly and may also have been used a shed for cattle, while the former bailey was turned into a prison. The tower was taken into state guardianship in 1915 and the surviving prison buildings were demolished in 1935. A story I have always liked is that stones from the prison ended up being used for garden walls on some of the grander house along Stockton Lane.

What this slightest of skims reminds us is that there is always a lot of history in York. The modern history of Clifford’s Tower is not particularly happy. From some angles, this medieval tower perched on its steep mound is as striking a sight as you could wish to see. From others, it seems neglected and almost abandoned to an ignoble fate. This is especially so where that car park is concerned. The poor tower sometimes looks as if it has been left in a used-car lot.

Two schemes to redevelop the area have been proposed and the latest was launched in 2001 but later collapsed amid much acrimony.

There are two new twists to this very long tale.

The first is that English Heritage has been granted permission to build a new visitor centre at the foot of the mound; this has not gone down well with many in York and a crowd-funding campaign led by the independent councillor Johnny Hayes is trying to block this development (often described as looking like a branch of McDonald’s).

The second twist is that now City of York Council has announced further plans for the castle area. These are much needed in that visitors to York can quickly wander from the lovely streets to grotty areas. A few steps in the wrong direction and they will wonder what happened to that lovely city they were in a moment ago.

At a glance, the plans look grand and encouraging. This is especially so with the proposal to move the car park. This won’t be popular with some drivers and I do park there myself sometimes. But the wishes of drivers shouldn’t be allowed to dictate how a city is designed for the greater good.

Whether any of this will ever come off is another matter, as progress tends to be sclerotic in York with such big plans.

A final point is this: if the whole area is being redeveloped, perhaps English Heritage should wait and tie its redevelopment into the greater plan. Incidentally, the plans for inside the tower, with a new viewing deck and so on, are welcomed by many. It’s just that visitor centre that has got people’s backs up.

I guess the argument against holding back is that English Heritage could be waiting a long time. But then Clifford’s Tower has been there for centuries.