Nodded my way through Marina Hyde’s comment on the latest “Clarkson affair” in Guardian of 3.4.14.  Full piece, plus 1500-plus comments, at




“Maybe race rows are cheaper by the dozen, in which case the last month has represented incredible value for the great British public. However, if you are one of those oddbods who loathe racism but find yourself increasingly troubled and/or bored by the form such thrice-weekly things take, then these are not the most encouraging of times.

“It is hard not to be struck by the blunt and useless standard of debate that has characterised this latest flare-up on an issue of monumental sensitivity, just as it has characterised so many before it.

“Clearly there are plenty who think that Jeremy Clarkson should have been sacked for the mumbled Top Gear outtake he is documented as having been at pains to rescind – just as I’m sure there were plenty within US law enforcement who were perfectly satisfied with Al Capone’s conviction for tax evasion. It’s a question of ambition. It’s unfashionable to have too much of it, which is why all right-thinking people to the left of Ukip – from Tories to commies – are supposed to regard it as a triumph each time a news outlet’s exposé forces Nigel Farage to outlaw some nobody for a vile thing they said on social media three years ago. This, apparently, is a win, even though the evidence suggests it simply calcifies the sense of asymmetric warfare against Ukip out there in the unreachable spaces where all those rising numbers of people who are going to vote for the party are living their unknowable lives …

“It is hard not to be struck by the blunt and useless standard of debate that has characterised this latest flare-up on an issue of monumental sensitivity, just as it has characterised so many before it …

“Are these increasingly, troublingly identikit explosions what the idealists might hope: a sign of hand-over-fist progress, where what once might have been regarded as a minor offence is now come down upon like a ton of bricks by a righteously avenging force that swells in number by the day? Or are they becoming the elevator music of public life, an insidious reinforcement of a polarised status quo, a pseudo event in which the chief bigots are privately more than happy to get caught up because it galvanises their own troops?

“To listen to the airwaves or read the internet when these things are running is to watch little more than the rabid restating of previously held views. Behold the endless entrenching of positions, which appears not to result in a single defection from either side to the other – a sort of rolling wasted opportunity, which will be coming around again before the spittle’s dry on this round.”



When you read a headline that reports Investigation Into Deaths After Keyhole Surgery, do you think – Well I never, it seems that a tiny minority of surgeons are not quite as brilliant as they and politicians and journalists generally think they are?  Or do you think – Frankly, I’m not surprised, seeing as most surgeons choose their careers in order to appear glamorous and heroic while making a lot of money, rather than because they were born with the subtle skills required and were ordered by God not to waste them?

I react along the latter lines to an awful lot of news stories, which is why I was an irritation to news editors for so many years.  Time and again, I find myself reaching for the Rule of Shit, which I have just dug up again from a previous blog, in preparation for a sometime essay on its inspirational message.

It is listed in Wikipedia as Sturgeon’s Law, named after Theodore Sturgeon, an American science fiction writer, who was speaking to an audience back in the 1950s when somebody challenged him to deny that 90 percent of sci-fi was pretty awful.  Sturgeon, by all accounts, pushed his glasses up his nose and said he could not, but, then, so was 90 percent of ballet and opera.  Pleased with the perception, he later argued in one of his stories that the same rule applied to all human endeavour and Sturgeon’s Law is usually summed up as “90 percent of everything is crap”.

Most of us know this to be true and are bored by the endless outrage newspapers manage to work up at the daily proof of it.



The semi-retirement of Jeremy Paxman leaves a vacancy, of course, but it has already been filled, to some extent, by Gogglebox, the Channel 4 series which offers a Friday night commentary on current events and entertainments, edited down from a week’s worth of comments on tv by a panel of regular viewers – recorded by cameras which are permanently focused on their settees.

Some people regard it as just cheap telly, which it is.  But I love it for The People’s ruthlessness.

On Britain’s Got Talent, the panelists were all blown away by a 14-year-old mummy’s boy who sang a song about being betrayed by his best friend and told them the heartbreak had “made me what I am today”.  On the Gogglebox sofas, he was received with a well-deserved and more or less unanimous chorus of retching noises.

They all have their moments but the Siddiqui family, in Derby, are especially sharp and funny.  Last week, we saw the dad, Sid, watch a BNP broadcast and say drily to his boys, Umar and Baasit:  “Well, I’m sold.”

Majority favourites are “The Posh Couple”, b-and-b owners Stephanie and Dominic, who are generally both clutching a glass of something the size of a vase and showing signs of having had one or two already.

Then there are West Indian Londoners Sandy and Sandra, best friends in Brixton, usually sharing a monster carry-out; the Rev. Kate Bottley, her husband Graham and the lower half of their dog, which is always sleeping upside down beside them; gay hairdressers Chris and Stephen, in Brighton; the felicitously named Scarlett Moffatt and family, in County Durham; retired teachers Leon and June, in Liverpool … and more you can learn to love if you don’t already.

The Gogglebox Book of Wisdom will surely be out soon. If I was a features editor, I’d be getting in first.



It is a question which has entertained Britain many times over many years, of course, but Country Life kicked off a rerun of the debate in its May issue by announcing its Gentleman of the Year Awards, in association with Cordings,  a posh Piccadilly tailor.

Reporters Rupert Uloth and Emma Hughes offered 10 Commandments of Gentlemanliness …

1) A gentleman is at ease in any situation- and puts others at their ease.

2) A gentleman is always on time.

3) A gentleman dresses to suit the occasion.

4) A gentleman will eat anything that’s put in front of him.

5) A gentleman makes love on his elbows.

6) A gentleman will occasionally be drunk-but never disorderly.

7) A gentleman doesn’t flash his cash and is mindful of others’ financial circumstances when choosing a restaurant or booking group holidays.

8) A gentleman is more interested in finding out how you are than in telling you about himself.

9) A gentleman’s word is his bond.

10) A gentleman can talk to anyone.

More controversially, they added  that a gent never …

* Drinks Malibu

* Buys fuchsia trousers

* Tweets

* Puts products in his hair

* Wears Lycra

* Writes with a Biro

* Forgets his wristwatch

* Plants gladioli

* Walks out on a play

* Owns a cat

* Finishes his food before everyone else

* Has a speedboat

Philip Hensher gratefully picked up the offer of the angle in the Guardian on April 26 and started a run of readers’ letters including …

Leslie Kant of Norwich:

“In our family a gentleman was someone who always put the seat back after use.”

Geraldine Blake of Worthing:

“I read somewhere that a gentleman is someone who can play the bagpipes, but doesn’t.”

Bridget John of Oxford:

“I was always told that a gentleman was someone who got out of the bath to pee in the basin.”

John Cranston of Norwich:

“It’s been said that a gentleman uses a butter knife even when dining alone.” 



In Gdn 26.4.14, Henry Dimbleby and Jane Baxter offered some tips for getting good results quick by using tins.  I’ve got some more to add later – including a number from Katherine Whitehorn’s classic leaving-home manual, Cooking In A Bedsitter.  Meanwhile, best of the Dimbleby tips are . …


“Purists will tell you, rightly, that you should buy tinned whole tomatoes and drain off the juice they are sitting in. The juice is of a lower quality and has a noticeably metallic flavour.”

Salad dressing:

“Crushed garlic, tinned anchovies, tinned green peppercorns, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard and sunflower oil. “

Butter bean or flageolet gratin:

“Sweat onion, garlic and thyme, mix with the beans and put in an oven dish. Blitz garlic, olive oil and breadcrumbs in a blender. Scatter on top and bake in a high oven or grill.”


“Blitz chickpeas with garlic, olive oil, tahini and lemon juice. Butter beans also make a lovely dip, done in the same way.

Vitello tonnato:

“This classic Italian sauce is traditionally served on cold roast veal but it is also delicious on very finely sliced, cold, rare roast beef. Blitz mayonnaise, tinned tuna, some tinned anchovies and capers in a blender – add some of the roasting juices if you still have them. Season with lemon juice and pepper (you won’t need salt).”

Toffee pudding:

“Simmer a tin of condensed milk (with the lid still unopened) in a pan two-thirds full of water for 2-3 hours. Don’t let the pan dry out, or the can will explode.” 

Some more ideas in the readers’ comments at





Latest addition to the guides to Wild Swimming is Wild Swimming Italy by Michele Tamini.  She gave the Guardian a Top 10 selection on 26.04.14, at



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