Why William is more of a man than Donald…

DID you see Trump’s flyaway hair? Barely sticking to his head, it was, a sort of weird hair meringue, flossy at the sides and not there at all at the back.

The clips of Trump’s uncrowned glory were shown and shared yesterday, as everyone enjoyed the blustery humiliation of a man old enough to know better than to lacquer together a head of hair.

The world’s most famous comb-over came undone in the wind as he boarded Air Force One, and we all had a good laugh. I showed the clip to my students yesterday morning, before moving onto to blogs and blogging, and they had a good laugh, too.

Later, I began to wonder. Even when the world is taking the piss out of Donald Trump, our gaze is still drawn towards him. Even while we laugh at that follicular folly, a sort of nicotine-tinged cloud of hair, he is still winning because we can’t look away. But, oh hairy heavens, laughing felt good.

Here’s what I began to wonder about next. I’m ten years younger than Trump and have been pretending not to be bald/putting up with being bald for the best part of 30 years now. There’s no escaping the shiny truth, however much I might mourn my lost curls.

Last summer, at an old lads’ night out, I met someone I’d not seen in perhaps 40 years – “That’s a dramatic change in hairstyle,” was his kind verdict.

Anyway, here’s what I thought next. Even a half-arsed Republican can admit that Prince William has more balls than Donald Trump. No pretender, this prince; instead he just went for a number-one head shave all over.

I take little interest in royal affairs, but William’s buzzed crown looked the business. Bold as well as bald, out there and unashamed – whereas Trump’s mocked-up head of hair speaks of shame and being unable to admit the truth.

The Sun newspaper was unkind to Prince William at the time of his radical haircut, beginning their story: “Balding Prince William has debuted a dramatic new buzz cut…”

You see, baldies don’t always like to be told the naked-headed truth. Would they have said of an overweight William: “Fatty Prince William has gone on a dramatic new diet…”?

Perhaps they would, and I don’t much care. But our fresh prince of buzzed hair and looks more of a man than their ageing president with his candyfloss hair.

Now that hair really is fake news.

Incidentally, the Sun reported that William’s new buzzcut cost him £180 – something the prince later laughed off. Mine costs £9 at the hairdresser around the corner.

“Any chance of a head-shave,” I’ll say, popping my balding head through the door.

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It’s no good… the news is stuck again…

THE man from BT has come to fix our temperamental TV box. It seems the problem is simple. He tips the box and viscous liquid drips out.

“Brexit sludge,” he says, tutting. “Happens all the time nowadays. It’s all that Brexit on the news. Every night it’s the same – Brexit and more Brexit. The news has gone stagnant and it’s rotting the boxes.”

The engineer tidies up the mess as best he can, then leaves.

I turn the radio on but find that news is broken: it’s all repeats nowadays.

“This is what the British people voted for,” Theresa May is saying again, her voice tired and squeaky.

And some of the British people, about half of them, can be heard to mumble that they didn’t. But there’s no time to heckle, as another Toxic Tory has come on the airwaves, ranting and raving about Europe and using words no one understands – “Vassal state,” he thunders, before the radio gives up, all connections now corroded.

Around the country people report the same thing: the news has got stuck. “It’s all the same as yesterday,” they say. “Bloody repeats.”

A man called Rip Van Winkle wakes up with a start. He is sitting in front of the television. “Only meant to have a nap,” he says. “Been out for a year and the news hasn’t changed at all. Something’s gone wrong with the news.”

“Same thing with the newspapers,” says Mrs Rip Van Winkle. “Look at my copy of the Daily Express.”

She holds up her morning newspaper. “EU STILL TRYING TO RULE BRITAIN,” says the headline. It’s a shouty headline but perhaps the readers are turning a little deaf. “We must ignore new laws dreamt up by Brussels,” says the small headline.

But as Mrs Rip Van Winkle holds the newspaper, it turns to ashes in her hands. “That happened yesterday too,” she says. “It’s all that Brexit stuff rotting the paper.”

“That and alarmist stories the weather,” says Mr Rip Van Winkle, yawning.

Some time after the man from BT leaves, I hear a rumbling, thumping noise and go outside to investigate. A man is mending holes in the road. He isn’t doing a very good job, just dropping a dollop of tar into the hole and tamping it down with his basher.

“That repair doesn’t look like it will last,” I say. “You should try cycling along this road with all its badly filled potholes.”

“Not my fault, mate – it’s those cuts,” he says, pausing in his important task of filling in a hole badly.

“And anyway, my boss says he was inspired by that Theresa May.”

“How come?” I ask, amazed that anyone could be inspired by the prime minister.

“Well,” says the hole whisper. “It’s like this, you see. He tells me that all Theresa May does is fill in holes in her Brexit policy. She pours in a bit of political tar, stamps it down with her kitten heels and hopes nobody notices the rough surface.

“And then he says he me, ‘If it’s good enough for the prime minister’s Brexit policy, then it’s good enough for our roads.’ So that’s all we’re doing – patching and mending and hoping no one notices the holes.”

“But I cycle over all those holes,” I say.

“Tough luck,” the man says. “Britain has got to drive along that road being badly filled by Theresa May.”

With that he goes back to filling holes badly and I return to the house and check that the TV is working. It is but the news is still broken. “Ministers are gathering for a key Brexit meeting,” says the newsreader. Then she repeats the words, stuttering. “M-m-ministers are g-g-gathering…”

It’s no good: the news is stuck again. More Brexit sludge.

Trump puts his tweeting finger on the wrong pulse…

YOU can always rely on Donald Trump to grab the wrong end of the stick when he lumbers into British life.

The American president told Piers Morgan in that crawly ITV interview – well, I say ‘interview’; it seemed to be more of a tongue colonoscopy – that he might be prepared to apologise for sharing tweets from the far-right Britain First group.

His latest foray into British life is so dumb that even Mrs Maybe felt moved to un-jam her bottom from the Downing Street fence and issue a sort-of rebuke. And she doesn’t do that lightly. Sucking up to the US (and China) seems to be her main, or possibly only, post-Brexit strategy.

What moved Theresa May in such an unlikely direction? Trump’s tweeting fingers, that’s what. Alerted to Saturday’s NHS march through London, Trump assumed the marchers were protesting about the NHS, rather than massing in support.

Part of his tweet read: “The Democrats are pushing for universal healthcare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U system is going broke and not working.”

Well, he put his Twitter finger right on the problem there, didn’t he? Except that the marchers were demanding that the NHS needs more money and support ­­– the exact opposite of what Trump thought.

This is tricky territory for May and her health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, as they’d rather pretend such protests never happen. Moved to respond, Hunt tweeted back at Trump, saying that while he disagreed with the marchers – well, they were marching against him – “not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover”.

After that reference to the US system, Hunt added: “NHS may have challenges but I’m proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage – where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance.”

Mrs Maybe’s spokesman – and there’s a job you wouldn’t wish on your rankest enemy – said Hunt spoke for the government on health, implying that the prime minister agreed with his foray on Trump. At that point, the spokesman filled his contractual obligations by adding one of those robotic riders about record high spending on the NHS, blah-de-blah-de-balderdash.

How did Donald Trump grasp the wrong end of that stick? The answer, sadly, is that it was given to him by Nigel Farage. For reasons incomprehensible to any sensible person, Trump listens to the former Ukip annoyance, who regularly pops up on Fox News to comment on British life.

Invited to discuss the pro-NHS marches, Farage claimed the pressure on the NHS was down to immigration. “Well, the big problem we’ve got is a population crisis caused by government policy on immigration.”

No, Nigel, the big problem we’ve got is you spouting cancerous nonsense on American TV. Never mind blaming immigrants, which you always do with the jerk of a pinstriped knee – how about praising all the immigrant doctors and nurses who help keep the beleaguered health service afloat?

Just stop chewing on that big lump of hate in your mouth, Nigel, and listen to yourself for a minute. While you are spouting nonsense about the NHS, you are doing so in a country with a much worse health system than ours. The US spends more than twice as much on health than the UK, but with a much poorer outcome (lower life expectancy, big bills, patients bankrupted by illness, etc).

Trump praised Farage and Fox News for “exposing the truth”. This is so wrong you almost want to give up and bang your head against a wall until the world wakes from this nightmare.

But don’t do that: you’ll only go and hurt yourself and provide more work for the over-pressed NHS.

You can always rely on someone to spoil the teabag party…

Today’s blog is brought to you by a mug of Darjeeling tea – yes, Darjeeling, and not that horrid Lapsang Souchong stuff served yesterday in China to Theresa and Philip May.

“We drink that,” Philip said gallantly, while his wife was boring the ear off President Xi Jinping about something or other.

My tea was made in the leaky old stainless-steel teapot given to me by my long-dead grandmother when I set off for university back in the deeply dim and distant.

Here’s how to make tea properly: warm the pot, add a generous spoonful of loose tea, pour on water that has boiled and cooled a little, then set the timer to four minutes. Oh, and do wipe up the spillage from the incontinent teapot.

I remain old-fashioned about tea: leaf tea for preference, sometimes Twinings English Breakfast, sometimes Darjeeling. That pot must be warmed, and a proper pause allowed before pouring through the strainer.

A little bit of ceremony and worth the trouble involved, although leaf Darjeeling isn’t easy to find, unless you wish to exchange an arm and possibly a leg too for a tin from one of those specialist shops.

This topic percolated into my brain thanks to a report in last Sunday’s Observer, headlined: “An eco-friendly cuppa? Now teabags are set to go plastic-free.”

I know what you’re thinking: plastic teabags, is this the beginning of the end? That was my reaction too, although I’d had a heads-up from my wife. She works in a health food shop, and people who hang around in those places are clued up about such matters.

Thanks to this, news had reached me on the sofa one night that teabags contain plastic: it’s used to seal them, in case you were wondering whether to swallow your breakfast cuppa. Only a trace of plastic, but as the woman from the Co-op said in the report: “Even though it’s a relatively small amount, when you consider the six billion cups of tea that are brewed up every year in the UK, we are looking at around 150 tonnes of polypropylene.”

We’re all worried about plastic nowadays – quite properly, too: the oceans are littered with indestructible debris – and eco-warrior types are saying that we should be drinking loose tea instead of using teabags. It’s always a comfort when you can feel smugly up-to-the-minute, simply by doing what you’ve always done.

Who knew that drinking tea the old-fashioned way was so ecologically sound? Green tea, if you wish. Some teabags are ahead of the curving spout. Those Japanese-style pyramids are made from 100% compostable corn starch, according to the Observer.

We do drink teabag tea in this house sometimes, and teabags are taken to work for easy drinking, along with a filter cone, filter bags and a small pot of ground beans (for non-easy coffee drinking).

The Co-op is making its own-brand Fairtrade 99 teabags free of that propylene seal, and good on them. The more ideas like that, the better, I’d say. Not so the man from the UK Tea and Infusions Association, who glowered over his half-empty mug: “The raw material cost and upgrades to machinery would increase the cost of a bag by about eight times.”

You can always rely on someone to spoil the teabag party.

Detecting a lost gem… and hunters accidentally fooled…

detectorists

This morning one tale twinkles in the inky undergrowth, catching the eye of this ledge-bound skimmer of headlines. May’s no quitter, Trump’s ‘new American moment’ and a ‘secret plot to derail Brexit’… thank you, but no.

Instead, here is a story about metal detectorists that sounds like the plot of the BBC4 comedy Detectorists – and turns out to be tied to that sweetest of series.

Paul Adams and Andy Sampson thought they had found a true treasure trove – a discovery celebrated ‘with a little jig of delight and a cry of “Roman gold! Roman gold!”,’ according to the Daily Telegraph.

They calculated that their discovery could be worth as much as £250,000. Sadly, the 54 coins they had uncovered were not gold, but props left behind by the makers of Detectorists.

“I think we are officially the world’s unluckiest metal detectorists,” Mr Sampson tells the Telegraph. “Our story would make a TV series of its own. After we found them I was paying off my mortgage and buying a sports car in my head.”

As it happens, a sports car has a role in Detectorists, old and not exactly a classic, but somehow perfect for this series – a 1977 Triumph TR7. The car is noisy and doesn’t run very well, unlike the series: a lovely thing written by the actor Mackenzie Crook, and starring him and Toby Jones as hapless friends dedicated to the search for buried treasure.

Detectorists ran quietly on BBC4 and ended its third and last series just before Christmas, with Crook insisting he wouldn’t write another.

Sometimes it is good to know when to stop, and Crook is probably right, but I will miss his series, a study in friendship and footsore hope and, more than that, a sweet sketch of ordinariness in the best possible sense.

Detectorists is set in Suffolk, mostly in and around Framlingham; a bashful English sun always shines, the fields stretch into more fields; and two serious friends tramp the crusted earth, hoping to unearth buried treasure, but often finding only the discarded detritus of modern life.

They belong to a gang of detectorists and are at war with a rival group (what might the collective noun be: a murmuration – if the starlings hadn’t got there first?). It’s wistful rather than hilarious, but true and touching and low-key funny, and sure of its identity, even though it’s hard to say exactly what that might be.

You have a sense that Mackenzie Crook managed to write exactly what he wanted to, without interference or being buggered around by BBC committees.

Crook was mortified to hear of the treasure-hunters who’d been foiled by props for his series, telling the Telegraph: “As a detectorist myself, I’d like to assure these gentlemen that I was gutted that I might have contributed to their disappointment. I hope they continue searching and I hope they find their real gold soon.”

And in that quote, you can hear the voice of his character Andy, and that adds to the honesty of it all: he truly does sound upset at a trick accidentally played on fellow detectorists.

Incidentally, Crook was inspired to write Detectorists by the haunting song Magpie by The Unthanks. Folk music has a gentle role in his series, with a lovely tune by Johnny Flynn acting as its theme.

Anyway, I can’t recommend Detectorists highly enough. This is not an especially helpful recommendation as the last series has almost petered out on iPlayer, but you’d need to watch all three to appreciate the series fully. Do seek it out.

If only that Brexit bookcase came in an Ikea flatpack…

ikeaman

THE death, at the grand old age of 91, of Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad should say something about Brexit. Oh, if only the endlessly complicated falling away from the EU could be assembled like one of those ubiquitous Billy bookcases.

Sadly, the Brexit bookcase seems to be the antithesis of the flatpack Swedish affair – so commonplace that there are said to be 60m in the world.

In contrast, there is only one Brexit bookcase: a big elephant-sized affair, lumbering and cumbersome, and the cause of endless bickering among the relatives about where it should be put.

The ardent Brexiteers are often to be heard complaining bitterly that they still aren’t getting their way. Heavens, if they make this much fuss about winning, just imagine the noise if they’d lost that bloody referendum.

Chief among the complainers is the Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, often to be found stamping his brogues while gnawing on the silver spoons in his mouth. It escapes me why the media fawns after this gruesome fogey, an Edwardian throwback seemingly smuggled into the 21st century through a gnarled loop in time.

Only yesterday, Rees-Mogg was heard to boast that he had never been to Ikea. Well, bully for him; if not billy for him, as it were.

It’s no surprise that Rees-Mogg has never visited one of the giant Swedish warehouses. One: he’s far too rich to need cheap furniture; two: Ikea is far too European for his tastes. And three: oh, go away, that’s enough about Jacob. Like rival Tory attention seeker Boris Johnson, he needs no encouragement.

Incidentally, a BBC Radio 4 trailer the other day said: “Why Boris Johnson…” I forget the rest but felt those words were more than sufficient. Why indeed?

At least we have David Davis looking out for us – just imagine if the Brexit Secretary looked like the sort of bluff chancer you wouldn’t trust to run the raffle at your local golf club. Where would we be then? Oh, hang on a minute…

As for the Edwardian throwback, I don’t wish to admit to sharing anything with the man whose name I am tired of typing, but Ikea doesn’t exactly lift my spirits. A visit usually starts well enough, as I trail along, nodding at this and that with a remarkable simulacrum of enthusiasm – only to feel, two pr three hours later, as if I am stuck in the very flat-packed bowels of hell.

Perhaps if my wife reads this, she won’t suggest another visit for a while – you know, a century or two. Mind you, the famous meat balls might still act as a bribe

As the Tories argue about whether to put Theresa May into one of those handy blue Frakta bags and fly-tip her somewhere out of the way, it strikes me that the role of Ikea in our attitude to Europe has not been explored enough. Why does a country that fell big time for Ikea find it so hard to love Europe?

That’s a mystery worthy of Wallander – another Swedish import we took to our hearts.

Nutella riots and the chef who died in the room where he was born…

LYONS is famous for food and murals, huge paintings on the end of buildings, depicting scenes or characters from the city.

The gable end of the food market is given over to the chef Paul Bocuse, who died last week, captured in his tall white chef’s hat and with one hand up to his chin.

Two aspects of his long life, he was 91 when he died, leapt out from the report in last Sunday’s first tabloid edition of The Observer. Oh, make that three, if you include his suitably calorific nickname, the “pope of gastronomy”.

Bocuse was a hero to Lyons – and to the rest of France, too. He was a Michelin-starred chef and celebrated master of haute cuisine, remembered by Le Point newspaper as follows: “Bocuse’s style? In a word: constant. An eternal mariage-a-tois between cream, butter and wine.”

That was the first aspect of his life to leap out, and it was oddly comforting, because here was a man who made and ate rich but simple food – and he lived to the age of 91. And that dietary triptych of cream, butter and wine is the sort of food the health police frown at nowadays; or, to be fair, sometimes frown at, as it can be hard to keep up with the advice about what one should and shouldn’t eat.

Anyway, how heartening that a man famed for such ingredients, and for simple dishes such as pot-au-feu or boeuf bourguignon, should have lived such a long and seemingly healthy life.

Not only did he live to an age riper than the ripest camembert, he died – and this really did surprise me – in his sleep in the same room in which he was born, in his family restaurant north of Lyons.

Bocuse was a man of continuity, a chef in a long life of chefs stretching back to the 17th century. It must be unusual to complete the circle in such a satisfying manner nowadays. Most are denied such a circular exit, having been born in the maternity ward; it seems unlikely that the doctors and midwives would welcome elderly men and women, chefs or otherwise, turning up to depart from where they began.

Bocuse was firmly tied to place, telling Le Point magazine in 2013 that he had trouble sleeping in another bed – he had to find his bearings until he had the Saone river to his left.

If the life and death of Paul Bocuse speaks of old France, the Nutella riots seem to tell a different story. And, yes, you did just read the words ‘Nutella riots’ – a riot no one had been predicting.

A 70% discount on the over-sweet spread led to violent scenes in Intermarché supermarkets, as shoppers jostled to grab a bargain. Police had to be called when people began fighting and shoving each other. According to the BBC website, one woman told French media: “They are like animals. A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, another had a bloody hand.”

A member of staff at one branch in central France told reporters: “We were trying to get in between the customers but they were pushing us.”

Countries can, to an extent, pick and choose the images by which they like to be represented. Old France, with its rules on how properly to make baguettes and so forth, will probably cling to Paul Bocuse; new France couldn’t care less as its people are too busy fighting each other for jars of cheap Nutella.

And then perhaps they will spread over-sweet stuff on the horrible baguettes to be found in French supermarkets. For here is another example of two Frances: the traditional bakers produce from their ovens some of the world’s greatest bread, while the supermarkets sell commercial pap that pretends to be the real thing.

If you ever visit Lyons, and it’s well worth the trip, do hunt out those giant murals, especially the one of Paul Bocuse. Give him a nod and say hello to the man who died in the room where he was born.

A year of living classically… and a month that isn’t dry

clem

WHAT’S with January and giving stuff up? It’s a dreary month at the best of times, without stopping drinking and pretending you are a vegan.

Dry January doesn’t appeal and neither does Veganuary – “Going Vegan is easy…”, according to the slogan. No, it isn’t because you can’t eat cheese or butter.

Anyway, I don’t wish to get in that scrap, or the abstemious tussle about relinquishing the one (sometimes shared) bottle of wine a week, the Friday night whisky or two pints or so of beer

Instead of dallying in denial, I have started something new for January: listening to a piece of classical music every day. This is thanks to a Christmas present.

On the day before this new habit began, we were walking with our muddy boots group. One friend is a professional classical musician and I told him Clemency Burton-Hill, above.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “What’s she going on about now?”

Alan doesn’t need a book to guide him through a year of classical music, you see. And he seemed sceptical about the BBC Radio 3 presenter. I knew nothing much about her, aside from that impressively posh name, but her book Year of Wonder – Classical Music for Every Day is making January more tolerable.

Late last year, she was on the BBC Today programme to promote her book and played some choral music by Rachmaninov. The bass notes were so low they even silenced John Humphrys for a while.

My wife sings in a choir (and around the house, in every room), so I bought the CD. And in turn, she bought me the book for Christmas.

The first piece of music, for New Year’s Day, was the Sanctus from JS Bach’s Mass in B minor. We read the page of text then found the music on YouTube, and you couldn’t wish for a better beginning.

That has been the pattern all month now, with something new to listen to every day. My music tastes are more jumbled than a second-hand record shops, with rock, folk, jazz and world music filling the mental shelves. There has always been some classical music, thanks to my father, who plays the violin. As a student I listened to a curious mix of Elvis Costello, Ry Cooder, Joan Armatrading and Bach or Haydn.

The month so far has included Chopin, Hildergarde of Bingen, a Beethoven string quartet (fantastic – how did I reach such an age without hearing that?), alongside Bruch, Poulenc, Verdi, Puccini, Mendelssohn and Messiaen.

There has even been an electric guitar in there, courtesy of a composition by Steve Reich. And then there was that choral piece, the one my wife sings, Dirait-on by Morten Lauridsen. That is a lovely piece of music. If I could pass on one tip for a wet January morning, it is to Google that and have a listen.

It’s on my laptop now as I think of how to end today’s blog. Listening to a different piece of classical music every day is much more uplifting than keeping the cork in the bottle for a month or following a diet of leafy virtuosity.

Now at least I’m looking forward to the rest of the year: Thanks, Clemency.

Is all male sexuality toxic?

IS IT appropriate for a man to offer an opinion on the fall-out from the Harvey Weinstein affair? This has for a while been troubling this average guy in the stalls, so here goes.

As we now know, the plug on the Hollywood swamp was pulled by actress Rose McGowan, and the draining of the scuzzy waters revealed the unappealing contours of film producer Harvey Weinstein, a man accused of sexual assaults in all shades of seriousness.

McGowan alleges that Weinstein raped her, and her accusation began an outpouring from other women in Hollywood, with more than 80 such victims eventually coming forward to accuse Weinstein.

That astonishing tidal wave of accusers put new buoyancy in the #MeToo movement that aims to encourage women who had been sexually abused to speak up through social media.

The positive side to this campaign is that abuse is talked about; and raising the matter so prominently on social media might change attitudes enough to stop men playing power games by sexually abusing women.

It is possible to worry, though, that a movement can become all-encompassing. And what lies behind this revelation of abuse by one man, and the raising of abuses by other men, is the assumption that all men are abusive.

Maybe too many men are abusive; maybe so many men have abused women in the past that there is no longer any ‘free pass’ for the ordinary, non-abusing male; or maybe the ordinary non-abusing male offends in other ways with inappropriate glances or thoughts and is therefore a culprit without exactly understanding the nature of his offence.

But here’s what troubles me: the sweeping assumption that all male sexuality is toxic – as if male sexuality is by its nature toxic, as if it cannot exist without that toxicity. Is this a healthy way to regard men and their sexuality?

Abuse is about power, and the problem is not only that some successful men use and abuse their power – it is also to do with the sort of men who rise to the top.

The most famous/infamous man in the world right now is a self-proclaimed sexual braggart, a vainglorious and perpetually ranting egotist who has boasted of “grabbing women by the pussy” and is alleged to have had his lawyers buy the silence of a porn star he reportedly had an affair with (Stormy Daniels is the unlikely name of the woman in question).

Dorothy Parker, that most quotable of writers, has a great slant on wealth, quipping: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”

That wry barb works almost as well with ‘power’ instead of ‘money’. God or someone (or his tycoon father) gave Donald Trump great wealth and power, and he has spent a lifetime abusing those gifts.

Men such as Trump and Weinstein are abhorrent to many women (although millions of women voted for the misogynistic Trump); but they are abhorrent to plenty of men, too. Part of me wants to shout out that these vile men don’t represent me, but another part of me worries that saying anything will be problematic and wrong, just another man going on about things when he should have kept his mouth shut.

Women often say that their path to the top is blocked by men; and while this is no doubt true, many men would say that their path to success had been blocked by the wrong sort of men, the macho types who bully their way to the top.

Trump and Weinstein and other male barbarians are the worst of men but dumping us all in that swamp along with them isn’t reasonable; is it?

Anyway, those are the thoughts of this average guy in the stalls.

Isn’t McMafia is bit of a McMuddle?

McMafiaIS it just me, or is McMafia (BBC1, Sunday) a bit of a McMuddle?

At first that title caused a misunderstanding: was this going to be a Scottish crime drama of some sort? Ah, no. The ‘Mc’ is from McDonald’s and is intended to suggest the way in which Russian gangsters franchise out their operations.

The drama series is based on Misha Glenny’s factual account of how the break-up of the Soviet bloc led to global pillage (capitalism’s brutal cousin). I haven’t read the book, so cannot comment on where this drama began; but where it’s ended up is a different manner.

Now I have tried to be thrilled by McMafia, but the trouble is that it’s just not very thrilling. Whisper it quietly, but it’s oddly dull. It’s taken all those episodes to admit as much. At first, I was swept up in the hype that this was going to be The Night Manager all over again. But it isn’t at all.

The Night Manager was based on a John le Carré novel and so came supplied with a dramatic structure and a plot that sort of made sense. McMafia does attempt a similar global sweep, and even as late as last Sunday, I found myself saying out loud: “I quite like the way this moves all over the place.”

But an inner heckler – front row on the sofa, Sunday night glass of wine needing a refill – was grumbling away…

“But it’s so boring, nothing seems to make sense, and James Norton looks like he’s just back from the dentist with a frozen mouth. In fact, they all look like they’re just back from the dentist with a frozen mouth. The whole drama seems to be immobile. It does try with the action, but mostly everything passes in a sterile blur

“Oh, look are we in Mumbai again? What are we doing here? Oh, look, it’s back to James Norton’s fund manager staring at figures on the screen. Dodgy figures, dodgy money and, ahem, dodgy drama, as figures on a screen don’t exactly excite.

“You know, Norton was good as that sexually compromised crime-solving vicar Sidney in Granchester, and he was amazing as the Tommy Lee Royce, the unsavoury baddie in Happy Valley. And he was top-notch in War And Peace, too.

“But this, dear me. He doesn’t look very happy in this toothache role. And that girlfriend of his (Juliet Rylance). Well, she’s spent five episodes smiling and simpering while being an ethical sort of high-flying banker – I know, hard to believe, but this is a drama, so we’ll grant them that one – without clocking until episode five that her man is behaving oddly.

“Isn’t that just, well, unbelievably dim of her?

“The Russians are OK, and the dad has something about him, although he does seem to have recovered quickly from throwing himself out of the window and into his girlfriend’s bed; or did that happen the other way around?

“Oh, look, we’re in the desert again and bearded men who may be bad Israelis or bad Arabs or bad Indians are passing drug sausages through a wire fence again. Oh, and now it’s back to the guy with the menacing goatee, the politest baddie in the world. Goatee man is played by David Strathairn who is, for my hijacked licence fee, the best thing about McMafia.

“Oh, what’s going on now; and is it too late for another glass?”

As this is Saturday morning, rather than Sunday evening, that’s a metaphorical glass, and I’m guessing it’ll be half-full, and anyway I am off to McWork.

Whatever that inner heckler says, I’ll probably watch to the end now, but McMafia is proving a disappointment.