Back from holiday mightily refreshed (well, sort of, but more about that later). The first film I have to review is something called American Pie. Sheer gross-out. This, please note, is a high-school comedy in which one boy accidentally drinks another boy's semen and later finds his mother having it off with one of his classmates, and another boy has non-consensual sex with an apple pie. Since I'm still reeling from the memory of my last pre-holiday film, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, wherein Mike Myers imbibes a glass of excrement, I leave the cinema in a state of deep depression.
Hollywood has been determinedly dumbing itself down for years and, on present evidence, has now gone beneath the gutter and begun to plumb the very depths of the sewers, having discovered an alchemy that turns shit into box-office gold. The discouraging fact is that these infantile films are extremely popular, especially among pimply 15 year olds with a testosterone count far higher than their IQs.
But, I ask myself, is reviewing such movies really a job for grown-ups? Obviously not. Which is why it will be increasingly rare to find grown-ups with a knowledge of, interest in and care for the cinema being asked to do it. In future, film criticism on television will be handed over to bouncing bimbos of both sexes whose qualification is that they once saw an animated Disney feature with their parents and, in newspapers and magazines, to people who have proved they can write nicely, have heard vaguely of David Lean, just about know the difference between Einstein and Eisenstein and will use the job as a stepping-stone to some other kind of column. Look around you - it's happening already.
I know of one reviewer on a serious national publication who took up his post convinced that the Cannes Film Festival was devoted exclusively to French movies. This is akin to a classical music critic believing that the Bayreuth festival takes place somewhere in Lebanon for the benefit of nomadic Arabs.
Film deserves better. It started out as potentially the art form of the century, but as the century ends it's descending more and more into just another form of cheap (in every sense) entertainment and is increasingly treated so by both Hollywood and the media.
But now for that holiday. We went, as we usually do, to a pretty village in Catalonia, to devour the books we didn't have time to read during the rest of the year. I took, for instance, Thomas Harris's Hannibal, an enjoyable thriller, though not in the same class as The Silence of the Lambs, and a frightful cop-out in that Harris has turned Hannibal Lecter from a great literary monster into a rather sympathetic hero.
However, during week two I suffered a very unpleasant bronchial affliction and was recommended to a medical clinic in the neighbouring town. I arrived there about 10.30am, wheezing and snorting and clutching my invaluable E-111 form and was told to come back in an hour. I did and by 11.40am I was being thoroughly examined by a tiny doctor, who had to stand on tiptoe to put her stethoscope on my chest. Never mind. This was a case where size really didn't matter; medical skill was what counted and she was terrific. Within minutes I'd been given a cortisone injection, put on a nebuliser, handed a prescription and told to come back for a check-up the next morning. Which I did, reflecting the while that if a Spaniard had similarly been taken ill in Britain he couldn't have expected anything like such rapid service. Indeed, if I'd been at home I seriously doubt whether I'd have got to see my own doctor so swiftly. And if I had, I reckon there's a fair chance I'd have been sent to the local hospital to hang around the emergency ward for a couple of hours while I waited for treatment. Why can't we have clinics like that? They're quick, efficient and relieve the burden on GPs and hospitals. The saving in man hours alone must make them worthwhile. But no, we stagger on with our creaking National Health System while Chucky Hague and his xenophobic mates tell us that Britain does things better and Europe is rubbish.
This is the start of my second season at Sky and, in case you're wondering, yes, I'm enjoying it very much, thank you, and, no - cross my heart - it's not because of the money, although I admit the money is better. When I left the BBC, I didn't fall, I wasn't pushed, I jumped - just as Des Lynam has done since. I can't speak for Des but I hope that he is rediscovering in his new berth, as I am in mine, the almost forgotten pleasure of working among people who are both enthusiastic and happy.
To those who nod sceptically and mutter about "taking the Murdoch shilling", I have to say it's a lot more than a shilling and I don't agree with everything Rupert Murdoch does. Besides, I'm not expected to. I certainly didn't agree with everything John Birt and the BBC did or, before that, everything Lord Rothermere did. Indeed, while I was working for the Daily Mail I was an ardent supporter of the Labour Party and so were most of my colleagues. But that's how it is in journalism. Michael Foot, who could hardly be described as a rabid Tory, used to write regularly for the Daily Express when it was still an important newspaper and did so, I'm sure, with a perfectly easy conscience.
What he'd sold, after all, were his services, not his soul.