The shame of Fat Thursday and the truth about Trump’s hair…

FAT Tuesday is the Mardi Gras version of the day before Ash Wednesday. Pancake Tuesday, in other, more interesting, words. Whereas as Fat Thursday just happens to fall today.

This I learn from skimming today’s headlines. In a moment Donald Trump’s hair and his hissy-spat with Steve Bannon will be discussed. But let’s stick with Fat Thursday for now.

The full name for this shameful spot on the calendar is Fat Cat Thursday. This is because by lunchtime today, bosses of leading British companies will have made more money than the average UK worker will earn in a year.

This finding is based on research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the High Pay Centre. It could also have been based on analysis by the Chartered Institute of Well You Don’t Say (CIWYDS).

That’s because it’s obvious to everyone who isn’t a top boss that top bosses are paid far too much. According to the analysis in the news this morning, chief executives of the FTSE 100 companies are paid an average of £898 per hour – that’s 265 times as much as an apprentice on the minimum wage, apparently.

And at least 200 times as much as they deserve, according to entirely unprejudiced research by the CIWYDS.

Bosses of leading companies should earn quite a bit more than the average worker. That’s fair enough. But they don’t have to be that well remunerated. The only people who think Fat Thursday bosses should be paid so much are other Fat Thursday bosses.

Now let’s move on to Trump’s hair. The US President/world’s least favourite weirdo is in the news this morning because; well, because he is in the news every morning, like a sort of giant, attention-grabbing human cheese-burger who drips grease over the rest of the world.

The main Trump story today concerns his falling out with his former chief strategist Steve Bannon. This spat arises from revelations in Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

Bannon told Wolff that the Trump Tower meeting between the president’s son and a group of Russians during the 2016 election campaign was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”.

Trump blew back with: “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating 17 candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.”

A typical bit of Trumpian over-statement and grandiose self-pleasuring, I’d say. His onetime ardent supporter and right-wing sidekick was now a nobody, even though Trump was still heaping Twitter praise on Bannon only the other week.

As for that “what is often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party” – often described by whom? Trump himself no doubt as he eyes himself in the morning mirror. Looking good, big boy. Hair in place, mouth loaded and ready.

Another revelation in Wolff’s book concerns the elaborate concoction that is Trump’s hair. Earlier leaks about the president’s hair have concerned the accidental application of too much hair dye to produce that nicotine-stain colour. And the use of a male-pattern baldness drug which is said to have the following side-effects: sexual, physical and psychological changes. Well, no one wants the low-down on the first; but the other two are there for the world to see.

According to Wolff, this is how Trump does it. He starts with “an absolutely clean pate – a contained island after scalp-reduction surgery – surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the centre and then swept back and secured by stiffening spray.”

Wow – that’s one hell of a ‘cure’ for baldness. As a man whose hair betrayed him long ago, I wish I’d thought of that one. Then again, being bald probably isn’t as bad as going around with a piece of elaborately coiffured roadkill perched on your head.

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Notes on a capitalist scandal…

Now don’t go thinking that headline suggests I am against capitalism full stop. You can’t  avoid capitalism, but it does come with a platform full of shoddy baggage.

Winston Churchill said that “democracy is the worst form of government, apart from all the others” – and it’s easy to adapt that famous quote as follows: capitalism is the worst form of ordering society, apart from all the others.

Here are two examples of something having gone very wrong, both linked to this fine city of York.

Shoddy capitalism example one: The boss of York-based builders Persimmon being paid a bonus of £110m.

Jeff Fairburn reportedly joined Persimmon as a trainee at 17, after leaving Fulford School in the city. Other than that, I know nothing about the man, except that he has done very well in life. Nothing wrong with people who do very well in life, as we need a few of them in society. But no one deserves such a gargantuan dollop of outrageous good fortune. How do you even go about spending £110m?

One suggestion, according to a report in Saturday’s Guardian, comes from people who work with the homeless in York. According to their calculations, Fairburn’s bonus could pay for 1,375 council homes. And a donation of £4.6m – small change to a man with bottomless pockets – could provide homes for all the 58 homeless families in York; dial that up to £60.8m and all the homeless people in Yorkshire and the Humber could be housed.

Well done to Rupert Neate, who has the odd-sounding job title of ‘wealth correspondent’, for linking all this together.

Vince Cable, the Lib-Dem leader, was born in York and is taking an interest in this story, saying “the scale of this bonus is obscene”. And so it is: you’re bang on the unearned money there, Vince.

Reports suggest that this bonus has been largely fuelled by the government’s help-to-buy scheme. I don’t recall George Osborne, who introduced the scheme, describing it as the ‘help to pay housing bosses a fortune’ scheme.

Shoddy capitalism example two: Transport Secretary Chris Grayling allowing Stagecoach and Virgin to bail out of their contract on the East Coast mainline. According to Andrew Adonis, who has resigned as chair of the government-backed national infrastructure commission, this bail-out is a “nakedly political manoeuvre” that  “will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds, possibly billions”.

Here’s how capitalism works in this instance. Private companies brag that they can run the railways better than the state. They take over a line or service, pledging to improve everything, make untold billions and pay some of those untold billions back to the state. Then a few rattling miles down the line to York and Edinburgh, they discover that this is too difficult, and ask to be let off.

It seems that with the railways, privatisation only works with the generous support of taxpayers. And instead of taxpayers stumping up for the running of a national rail service, they stump up to fill the pockets of private companies.

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin and Stagecoach had jointly pledged to pay the government £3.3bn to run the service until 2023 – but now Grayling is letting them off the hook.

Incidentally – shoddy capitalism footnote – Virgin presumably wants out because the company is now intent on taking over more and more of the NHS, having last year won a record £1bn of NHS contracts as £3.1bn of health service contracts were privatised, even after the government pledged to reduce the proportion of care provided by private companies.

Instead, it seems to have raised the level of privatisation on the sly. Branson appears to see more money in health than railways, which at a guess is why he wants to hand back the train set.

Incidentally times two, Adonis resigned because of the government’s stance on Brexit. In his resignation letter, the former Labour minister called Mrs Maybe the “voice of Ukip” and described the way Brexit was shaping up as “a dangerous populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump”.

I am not about to disagree with him there.

A forgotten tragedy in the cruel and mountainous sea…

The Luckiest Thirteen summons up a forgotten tragedy at sea. It is also an incidental testament to the great days of regional journalism.

On Christmas Day 1966, a fireball explosion tore through the Hull super-trawler St Finbarr in the wild Atlantic off Newfoundland’s Grand Banks. Ten men from a crew of 25 died instantly and two more perished during the rescue bid. That left the 13 survivors of the title.

The trawlermen of Hull stand at the lurching heart of Brian W Lavery’s enthralling book, yet there is space too to recall the Hull Daily Mail at its peak.

In a day of dreadful suspense, 25 families in the fishing port had to wait to hear the fate of loved ones aboard the St Finbarr, then considered at the forefront of trawler technology.

As the awful news was confirmed, the staff of the Hull Daily Mail began working on the story, combining hard-nosed tenacity with a diligent care. Once in print, the newspaper’s 133,000 copies sold out.

Nowadays, according to the latest ABC figures, the Hull Daily Mail sells around 25,000 copies a day – still more impressive than many, but a long way from that peak (although some of that readership has gone online, as is the way nowadays).

Lavery is a journalist turned academic and writer. He used to work on the Hull Daily Mail and recreates those lost days of inky greatness with admirable skill.

Yet the newspapermen – and they were mostly men back then – who reported and edited that story, so well captured here, are not the focus of this tremendous book. That unhappy honour falls to the trawlermen of the stricken ship St Finbarr.

Lavery dramatises past events as if he was there at the time. This technique can be tricky: where is the line between what happened and how the writer thinks it may have happened? Lavery gets around this with long years of research, and in one important instance, the full cooperation of his subject: Jill Harrison, who was widowed by the tragedy at a young age.

This documentary account begins with Jill and Tony, young lovers from the Hessle Road fishing community. He portrays the stormy passage of their relationship, mostly due to her father’s opposition, and their early married life.

Lavery writes in a simple yet filmic manner, and summons up the lost past as if it were happening now. He does this by drawing on deep and diligent research, yet he carries this weight of facts lightly. The reader never feels burdened by detail: quite the opposite, you are swept along in the rush of events.

This dramatic technique continues as Lavery summons up life on board; a tough life, as deep sea-fishing was the most dangerous job around. He introduces the different crew members, sketching a story, shading in a character. Then he begins to describe what happens when the ship catches fire.

At this point, The Luckiest Thirteen turns into a thriller, one in which you know the ending, but still hang on every racing word. The writing again tells the story as it happens, again in a filmic manner, as icy mountainous seas bedevil attempts to save the St Finbarr.

The book’s third movement concentrates on the Board of Trade Inquiry at the Guildhall, Hull, in September 1967. Here, Lavery offers a factual report of the inquiry into the disaster, an account which ties up the loose ends of this tragedy.

In a coda, an ‘Afterwords’ chapter tells of the further tragedy and misfortune that struck some of those who survived, and paints too a moving picture of the players in this forgotten tale. In the ‘Acknowledgements’, Lavery makes clear his “immeasurable debt” to Jill Long, “the then young wife of deckhand Tony Harrison who was left widowed, with a baby, also pregnant and not yet nineteen”. He thanks Jill for allowing him to dramatise the most tragic parts of her life.

Lavery’s earlier book, The Headscarf Revolutionaries, recalled the triple trawler disaster of 1968 and the uprising for greater safety at sea led by Mrs Lillian ‘Big Lill’ Bilocca. In a sense, that story eclipsed this earlier tragedy, but now Lavery has told both tales; and told this one very well indeed (I haven’t yet read the earlier book).

The Luckiest Thirteen is published by Barbican Press.

Slowing phones and past pandas…

Thoughts bumble around, bumping into each other. Headlines tap against the frosted window. Margaret Thatcher refused to pander to a panda. No way was she sharing Concorde with a panda being flown to the US for some panda romance.

Old news given fresh currency after files at the National Archive in Kew were dusted off. To the official who wrote in 1982: “Prime Minister. A bit passé, but no doubt you would not look a gift horse, or even a panda in the mouth?”, Thatcher’s response was: “Yes, I would. The history of pandas… is unlucky.”

That sounds like the title of an obscure thriller – “The History of Pandas is Unlucky.” An odd sort of prejudice to have, but she was an odd woman, and we are long shot of her now, history being a big bin and all that.

Anyway, old headlines. New ones too, but the Christmas bubble hasn’t popped yet. It’s nice to sit in here and forget about the outside world for a bit longer, turn away from those headlines. A cosy bubble but soon enough I will have to go outside and drive to work in the snow.

The headline at the top of this blog caught my eye for its satirical potential rather than anything practical. No iPhone attaches itself to me, although I am sometimes followed around by an iPod Touch; this looks like a phone but isn’t. Only for music and no emails or no fiddling with your phone while the world burns. That’s an improvement in a way.

The newsy bit to this is that Apple has admitted it deliberately slowed the performance of older models without their users’ consent. The company do this, apparently, when the batters are “old, cold or have a low charge”. It is said to prevent abrupt shutdowns.

Apple is playing God with people’s phones, I suppose. Much in the way that God – if such a deity exists – plays with people when they are old, cold or have a low charge. Ageing batteries have something in common with older brains. Apple slows down the batteries and God, or the corporeal clanks of our being, slows down the brain.

For batteries read brains and bodies. Apple says that the problem is that older batteries deliver power unevenly and can cause phones to shut down unexpectedly. Same with brains, I guess, although best not to think about that.

Here we all are, carrying on like mobile phones with unreliable batteries. Unlike litigious owners of iPhones, we have no one to complain to.

A new royal yacht? Oh, let’s sink that idea…

SOMETIMES it is possible to tire of the partisan nature of politics, the tit-for-tat-ness of it all. Can’t we all just work together, you think.

Then you hear that 50 Tory MPs are campaigning for a national lottery to support a new royal yacht. And you remember why as a dusty old rule you dislike most members of that tribe.

Nothing wrong with the Royal Yacht Britannia that we already have. Decommissioned by Tony Blair’s government in 1997, Britannia is now a popular tourist attraction in Edinburgh, moored at Leith.

Wouldn’t mind a visit to see the old girl myself. But that’s where the royal yacht belongs: prettified and tied to a jetty, a curious exhibit from the past. We don’t need another bit of expensive royal flotsam.

That’s not what the Daily Telegraph thinks, however. I hope it won’t knock you from your feet to discover that the Telegraph thinks a new royal yacht is just the ticket. The newspaper is getting behind those 50 Tory MPs and campaigning for a new £120million royal floaty thing to “showcase post-Brexit Britain and bring trade to our shores”.

The MPs have written to three of Theresa May’s most senior Cabinet ministers, according to the newspaper, urging them to “right the wrong” of the Labour government’s decision to decommission Britannia.

The MPs believe that funds from a new national lottery game could pay for the royal yacht. This would allow ‘ordinary Britons’ – whoever they might happen to be – “the pride of having a stake” in helping to fund the new yacht. What’s more, the Tory MPs believe a new yacht would “showcase the best of British business and project our humanitarian role across the globe”.

Oh, and it would be a perfect excuse to flash those blue passports. Incidentally, a comment piece in the Mail yesterday by Peter Oborne was headlined: “Sneering. Unpatriotic. Gloomy. Remainers who mock the return of the blue British passport are showing their true colours.”

Oh, come off it. Blue passports are a silly symbol, a bit of pointless nostalgia streaked with stale pride. It doesn’t matter what colour your passport is, so long as it gets you in and out of the country.

But that is to digress into a different grumble.

Those ‘ordinary people’ the Telegraph thinks should pay for a new royal boat might have other concerns. Some might be struggling to get by on jobs that pay a pittance; some might have had an operation cancelled over Christmas so that the NHS can balance the books; some might send their children to struggling schools. And so on down the tatty queue of modern life.

But here’s a more telling parallel. While 50 Tory MPs can think of nothing to get excited about other than a new royal yacht, four out of five families made homeless by the Grenfell fire are still waiting to be found a new home, fully six months after the tragedy.

Perhaps our humanitarian role across the globe doesn’t reach as far as a burned-out tower a few miles from Westminster. Isn’t that the sort of shameful topic that should animate MPs rather than a new yacht to be funded by the credulous masses?

Should that seem dismissive of lottery punters, I am one myself: two quid every Saturday for years (it hasn’t change my life), plus a workplace syndicate (hasn’t changed my life either). Yes, I am a credulous fool, too. But I won’t be buying any tickets to fund a new yacht for the royals.

As for the idea that such a vessel would plough the seas for Britain post-Brexit, oh, that’s just riding the waves of foolish hope; while waving a blue passport at an indifferent world.

Just a time-hopping review of Doctor Who…

SHE barely gets to say a thing – just “Aw, brilliant” in a Yorkshire accent carried through time and space from down Skelmanthorpe way.

Jodi Whittaker arrived as the thirteenth Doctor Who on Christmas Day. She owns the episode in a way, even though she isn’t over-burdened with activity. All she has is that snatch of chuffed dialogue and a short walk in her Doc Martens boots.

That comes at the end. Everything before is a farewell for the twelfth Doctor complicated by the presence of the first. This time-travelling lark can be confusing.

Peter Capaldi doesn’t want to die and is clinging on to the furniture to avoid regeneration. David Bradley is in the William Hartnell role as the first Doctor. And he doesn’t want to die either.

Two versions of the same man raging against the dying of the light. Two old men who don’t want to get a move on. Two old men waiting for a young woman to take over. Not wishing to pollute the fantasy, this seemed fitting for a year in which the relationship between older men and younger women has hardly been seen in a healthy light.

Move over, the girls are in charge now.

The two reluctant leavers meet at the South Pole as hundreds of episodes of Doctor Who swirl past in a storm. Two versions of the same character, neither wanting to die. It’s all a bit confusing.

“You know, I really don’t know I’m following,” says the Captain (Mark Gatiss). You can see where he is coming from. One moment he is in the Trenches in 1914, sharing a bomb crater with a German soldier pointing a gun at him. Then he is plucked from the point of his death and sent to the South Pole where two versions of the same man are having a banter-off.

The episode is called Twice Upon A Time and takes place during one that went out in 1966, called the Tenth Planet.

The Enchanted Glass People are the ones causing the chaos, plucking people from the moment of their death. Don’t go thinking of them as villains, though. They wait for you at the end of life to lift you from your slot in time and lay you gently down into the afterlife (or something like that).

The Capaldi Doctor gets to meet Bill Potts again, though he isn’t having any of that. Bill was dead and turned into a Cyberman, which is pretty much the same. Yet here she is, bright as a button; bright as Pearl Mackie, such a great companion. In the end Bill is dead but then again if you remember someone are they dead at all?

It may all be about death but there are plenty of laughs along the way. David Bradley is wonderful as the Hartnell-era Doctor, grumpy and un-PC – “Aren’t all ladies made of glass, in a way?” The Capaldi Doc has a great nickname for the older Doc – “Over to you, Mary Berry.” Made me laugh anyway.

The puzzled Captain, a decent sort, is brought up short by a throwaway line from Capaldi about the second world war. The look said it all: you mean there’s another one?

It all ends in the Trenches with that famous Christmas truce, then it all ends again as Capaldi is given a fantastic valedictory speech by writer Steven Moffat (who is regenerating into Chris Chibnall, who brought Jodi with him from down Broadchurch way)

Capaldi ends by saying: “Laugh hard, run fast, be kind. Doctor, I let you go.”
Then he is gone and Jodi steps up in those boots.

Aw brilliant indeed.

Engaging with that royal snap and passport to a niggle…

Two front-page items that bother them more than they do me…

“Yes, they’re joyfully in love. So why do I have a niggling worry about this engagement picture?” Sarah Vine, front page of the Daily Mail.

Well, here’s the thing, Sarah. I’ve skimmed your piece about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle online and, to be honest, I’m not sure. I guess it’s because niggling worry is what gets you out of bed in the morning. If you didn’t have niggling worry, you wouldn’t have anything to write about.

For all I know, you are probably contractually obliged to be beset by niggles every single day. Also, if you’d said, “they’re joyfully in love and I’m so happy for them”, it would have fallen a bit flat with the editor and he wouldn’t have put you on the front page. He doesn’t want happiness; he wants niggles and nastiness. Niggles are nastiness are what get him up early in the morning or keep him up late at night or whatever. To be honest, I have little interest in the motivations of the Daily Mail’s editor.

But my niggling worry this morning was what to write about. Then up you pop with your crawly yet still sufficiently sniping column. Well done, by the way, for managing to combine those two moods: a few gushing paragraphs, leading to the “and yet” niggle at the centre of your word maze.

What worries Sarah, in so far as I can discern, is that those photos splashed all over the papers this morning are a bit too artful; too much knowing Sparkle, as it were.

Also, they were taken by “a brilliant celebrity photographer” which risks, “turning a monarchy that has endured for centuries into a soap opera. And soap operas, as we know, are alarmingly subject to whim and fashion”.

To this half-arsed republican, what these photographs show is the royals cleverly adapting again and snagging with brilliant ease the affections of the credulous British public. These photographs, rather charming if you like that sort of thing, are just the latest efforts of the royals to ensure their soap opera continues its long run.

Over at the Sun, the headline “BACK AND BLUE” runs above a smaller headline saying: “Return of Great British passport.”

The government says it is going to replace the burgundy European passport with the old-style blue one to restore sovereignty after Brexit, or some such pompous nonsense.

I only got my new burgundy passport two or three months ago, so I’m good for ten years, and perfectly happy to carry a European passport.

The blue passports will be introduced gradually as the burgundy ones run out. It’s pointless really, isn’t it, a bit of emblematic tinkering, silly chest-beating in front of a liver-spotted old mirror. If the best thing about Brexit is going to be carrying an old-fashioned blue passport, I can restrain my excitement for a while yet.

But some people are happy. Former Ukip leader, and all-round irritant, Nigel Farage greeted the news with the words: “Happy Brexmas!” Dear me, that man even talks in Sun headlines.

Sorry, Nigel, but I’m with Labour MP Mary Creagh who tweeted: “No one under 45 will have owned a blue passport, and most will think they’re not worth £50 billion and crashing the economy.”

Incidentally, I met Mary once when she was campaigning outside Wakefield station, and she seemed as sensible as she was pleasant.

But that won’t do. How can I inject a niggling worry into that memory?

A Christmas tree, Dame Judi’s love of trees and the barbarians and vandals of Sheffield…

Yesterday was all about trees. First up was the Christmas tree in my mother’s back garden. It needed to be in the house or replaced by a smaller one.

They’d got the tree home and it was sitting at the end of the garden. Too big to come inside, my mother’s partner reckoned. It seemed a shame though to leave it out there. So, with much huffing and a few scratches, I dragged the inconvenient tree into the front room and went up into the loft to find the Christmas decorations.

Mum has just had a hip replacement at the age of 85 and isn’t her usual mobile self. She directed the positioning of the tree, we strung up the lights, then I was left to do the decorating.

That tree didn’t look half bad if you closed one eye.

My mother likes Christmas and was cheered by the tree. Years ago, in the late 1960s, we moved just before Christmas and the tree came with us in the removal van. Even an otherwise chaotic new house had to have a tree in it.

Later we watched a TV programme that sounded odd but was in the event lovely. Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees (BBC1) was a love song to trees. Or perhaps a sonnet to trees, as Dame Judi’s other love is Shakespeare. She quotes Shakespeare a lot. You suspect she slings a sonnet into the conversation without much provocation.

Judi’s other, other love was Michael, who died 16 years ago. He is remembered by a tree in the secret woodland at their Surrey home. Judi has a new companion now, and a few other men who have come along to talk to her about trees. Or to talk to trees. No, Charles isn’t there, but he’d have enjoyed himself all right.

Judi talks to trees too. Or, more interestingly, listens to the trees. One of the tree men takes Judi to a bluebell wood, along with headphones and some equipment he’s designed, a sort of tree stethoscope. This allows Judi to listen to the tree. Apparently one of the sounds she can hear is the tree having a drink. The water is sucked through xylem tubes to the leaves.

“Ah, it’s riveting. It’s wonderful,” says Judi. Or gasps perhaps. She does that a lot: gasps with delight and wonder at the strange and beautiful things trees can do. Making their leaves taste unpleasant when deer or insects drop by for a nibble. Communicating with each other through a network of underground tiny fungus tentacles – yep, trees can to that too, calling on chemical help from other trees.

All of this and much more is amazing. As is the 1,500-year-old yew tree in a graveyard. That tree was shot in the Civil War and carries the cannonball deep inside its woody intestines.

So, yes, a very theatrical actress gushing about trees sounds odd but was in fact delightful. That Dame’s a dear.

They should have sent Judi to Sheffield, too. That one Christmas tree I dragged into my Mum’s house might have been inconvenient, but in Sheffield hundreds of trees are in the way. Thanks to an appalling PFI deal struck between the Labour-controlled council and the firm Amey, trees are being chopped down all over that fine Yorkshire city.

If you visit the Sheffield Trees Action Groups’ website, you will discover many indignities inflicted on trees in the name of urban tidiness. A before-and-after photograph shows Withens Avenue in Hillsborough. Before: a lovely avenue in a suburban street; after: a row of sad stumps.

You will also discover on that website a new word. Thanks to the tree mourners for introducing me to “solastalgia”, a neologism that summons up the “pain arising from seeing a loved landscape changed irrevocably around you”.

Dame Judi Dench should count herself lucky that she didn’t hand over the maintenance of her wood to Amey. Tree vandals and barbarians, the lot of them.

Oh, hark, the BBC isn’t losing its religion, but finding even more…

ARE there any more disturbing words in the English language than: “And now Anne Atkins with Thought for the Day”?

The broadcaster, novelist and all-round annoying person always sets me muttering; but, then, perhaps Anne would chunter if I presented an atheist slot on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

It takes all sorts, and some will be religious sorts with thoughts.

To analyse my Anne-phobia, what irks, I think, is her middle-England condescension wrapped around a sermon. Then again, perhaps I’m a middle-England person too,only without the religion.

These thoughts arise because the BBC has announced this morning that it is to increase its religious coverage to better represent all faiths. Thought for the Day is safe and Anne Aktins can continue to be an ecclesiastical irritant for as long as she wishes. This won’t please John Humphrys. The veteran Today presenter and general grouch said in October that the slot was “deeply, deeply boring often” and should be dropped.

He added that it was odd to broadcast “three minutes of uninterrupted religion” when “more than half our population have no religion at all”.

Well, yes, John, this man who ticks no religious boxes often feel irritated by Thought for the Day, especially when Anne mounts the radio pulpit. Yet in a sense my intolerance worries me, as if you try to be a tolerant person, you should tolerate religion, too.

Just now on the radio, the BBC was reporting on itself, as it does, explaining that the BBC newsroom’s global religious affairs team will be expanded, and Thought for the Day will be more closely linked to news items

These proposals follow a new set or rules from Ofcom which told the broadcaster to have more religious programmes on BBC One and BBC Two. And the Corporation has now said it will, according to the Guardian, use “popular programmes such The One Show to celebrate Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish holy days”.

I do have a problem here – with the idea that The One Show is a popular programme. The signature tune for that show sends me to the off button more quickly than the words: “And now Anne Atkins with Thought for the Day.”

So, if there is to be more religion on The One Show, it won’t disturb this not-watching one.

The Today programme reporter tasked with reporting on his employer used the throwaway line: “One in four people believe in angels.” This does, of course, suggest that three in four don’t, but never mind. Angels are a wonder of religion iconography and I don’t mind believing in them myself, but only as an idea or a character from a story, an image too enduring to shake off.

But do I believe they exist? Ahem, no. That would be silly. Yet according to an AP/GFK poll in 2011, more than three out of four Americans believes angels literally exist – while only 40 per cent believe climate change is happening and that it is caused by man (and not, say, angels). More Americans believe in angels than in climate change – oh, great. Then again, a surprising number of Americans believe in Donald Trump.

To return to my starting point, do we need more religion on the BBC? No for this listener/viewer, although programmes and items that explore religion in a critical context may be welcome. Let’s just keep the preaching to a minimum, please. And acknowledge the harm as well as the good that religion can do and has done.

And that is my Thought for the Day done with.

Off to see that film with my little boys (aged 29 and 26)…

WE are all in a row at City Screen, York waiting for Star Wars: The Last Jedi to begin. I won’t give any plot spoilers here, although you need to understand a plot to spoil it. And the stories in these reborn sci-fi classics fly over my head like bits of spinning space debris.

Not spoiling things is important, though. I know this because my little boy (aged 29) told me so, and no doubt his little brother (aged 26) would agree, once he gets back from dashing out to find his missing grandparents. As well might their sister (24), but she is in Australia and so is missing out on the traditional trans-generational visit to the latest Star Wars film.

Also present is my wife (58) and – now located – her parents (81 apiece) and this ledge-inhabiting man who finds himself leading a this-and-that life at the age of 61 (or so rumour and the calendar maintain).

The film starts and is the usual Star Wars mixture of hope and anxiety, vague spiritualism, goodies and baddies and villains who might not be as bad as they seem – or then again, might; explosions and thrills, and spacecraft that move so fast, there are clearly no speed cameras in distant galaxies. Or if there are, they are only for show.

The new film – episode eight in the classic franchise – has a fantastic central role for Daisy Ridley as Rey, who is shaping up to be a kickass feminist icon here. As the film starts, Rey is handing over a lightsabre to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, given more to do than last time round). They are on the Irish island of Skellig Michael, which is off the Kerry coast, or it is in real non-Star Wars life.

Hamill told Graham Norton that he hated all the steps on the island, as he needed to rest every 15 minutes. Looking at him, you can well believe it. But never underestimate a Jedi, even one who looks like he’s just slept on an interplanetary park bench after a heavy night.

Anyway, as I don’t want to spoil that plot, I will just say that the film looks utterly fantastic, it races along and is a genuine thrill ride, although one that lasts a little too long, at around two-and-a-half hours.

The fluid villain is Kylo Ren, as superbly played by Adam Driver, his face a study of indecision, sometimes steadfastly evil, sometimes painfully humane. The unresolved tension between him and Rey is likely to drive the next film. John Boyega is given less to do as Finn, but he does it well, and has great support from Kellie Marie Tran as Rose.

The late Carrie Fisher has a parting turn as Princess Leia, and her presence is commanding in more ways than one – poignant, too, in suggesting that while dynasties continue, those who pilot them die out soon enough. Her character, though, lives on for now, even if she does not.

Less engaging are the winsome cutie critters, some apparently a cross-species experiment between penguins and guinea pigs, and quite possibly inserted at the behest of Disney to sell big-eyed toys.

It’s well worth going to see though and very enjoyable. Even if I do have to say that or else my little boys won’t talk to me.