Five Days

I was gripped by this drama – but then it all started to go wrong.

Why was Five Days called Five Days? I guessed it was going to be like ITV1's hit Collision, each of its five episodes (1 to 5 March, 9pm) turning on a different but consecutive day during a police investigation. But no. Like the first series in 2007, the first two parts concerned the events of 48 hours or so: this time the leaving of a baby boy in a disabled loo and the apparent suicide of a man wearing a burqa (he threw himself in front of a TransPennine train and caused a terrible mess; Leeds just had to wait).

Yet part three began with the words "one week later"; part four covered "day 37", though not that much had happened since the previous night; and part five was "day 102". I can only conclude that the title was a reminder to viewers to tune in every weekday evening. A bit feeble, this. Get your audience hooked, and they won't need any reminder.

But this isn't the only reason I'm bewildered. I loved the first two episodes and boasted to anyone who would listen that I'd discovered the new State of Play. The plot was involving and every character connected to our crime - it became apparent that Burqa Boy might have been pushed - in ever more intriguing and silky ways, cobweb-style.

Also, it had a great cast. Among the cops were Suranne Jones, late of Coronation Street, as PC Laurie Franklin, and David Morrissey as her boss, DI Mal Craig. Morrissey is the greatest fun a girl can have in front of the telly on a weekday evening. He is such a dish, especially compared to most conflicted TV policemen (no one longs to be alone with a cold limoncello and, say, Ken Stott).

Franklin's mother was played by the wonderful Anne Reid, and her mother's fancy man by Bernard Hill. Kevin Doyle (The Lakes, At Home With the Braithwaites) was a twitchy forensic expert with a special interest in shoes ("That's a bunion to you, darling"). Doyle is always superbly weird, and frankly more could have been made of his character. Call me kinky, but I would have liked the DI to have caught him surreptitiously sniffing the victim's insoles.

Then it all started to go wrong. Questions, questions. Why was one lady copper left to prowl an estate full of feral children on her own? Coppers work in pairs. Why was a man asked to foster the abandoned baby by a social worker who was also the sister of his dead wife? There are rules about these things. This being West Yorkshire, there were lots of Muslim characters: nice ones, who drove taxis and didn't take it to heart when old ladies asked them where they were from, and naughty ones, who went to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan (though they regretted this afterwards - Five Days was nothing if not politically correct, and strove hard to suggest that these boys were not bad, but "lost").

Danny (Matthew McNulty), who worked on the TransPennine Express and had witnessed the burqa suicide/murder, was a convert who had married his childhood sweetheart, Nus (Shivani Ghai), one of the nice Muslims. They were trying to adopt a baby, preferably the disabled loo baby, whose picture they'd seen in the evening paper. I believed in their relationship about as much as I believe in fairies, elves and England's ability to win the World Cup.

When I wrote about Collision, a furious producer tried to ban me from seeing an ITV drama preview ever again, on the grounds that I'd given away the twist. I will try not to commit the same heinous crime here. If you have not yet seen the final episode, suffice to say that the various plot threads do somewhat fall away, leaving only a sad old prostitute and her favourite client for one to chew on.

I suppose Gwyneth Hughes, as the writer of Five Days, was trying to make some neat point about our present state of paranoia: apparently, when it comes to crime, we should worry about needy hookers, not young men with extravagant beards. But it didn't work for me. I was all dressed up, ready with my cushions, behind which I hoped to hide when the thrills really started, and then she went and left with me with no place to go but Huw Edwards, the ten o'clock news, and a feeling of having wasted five hours of precious viewing time.

Five Days is shown on BBC1.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 08 March 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Game on

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The Bloody Mary is dead: all hail the Bloody Caesar

This Canadian version of an old standard is a good substitute for dinner.

It is not anti-Catholic bias that makes me dislike the Bloody Mary, that lumpish combination of tomato juice and vodka named after a 16th-century English queen who, despite the immense reach of her royal powers, found burning Protestants alive the most effective display of majesty.

My prejudice is against its contents: the pulverised tomatoes that look like run-off from a Tudor torture chamber. A whole tomato is a source of joy and, occasionally, wonder (I remember learning that the Farsi for tomato is gojeh farangi, which translates literally as “foreign plum”) – and I am as fond of pizza as anyone. Most accessories to the Bloody Mary are fine with me: Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery, black pepper, even sherry or oysters. But generally I share the curmudgeon Bernard DeVoto’s mistrust of fruit juice in my spirits: “all pestilential, all gangrenous, all vile” was the great man’s verdict. His main objection was sweetness but I will include the admittedly savoury tomato in my ban. At the cocktail hour, I have been known to crave all kinds of odd concoctions but none has included pulp.

To many, the whole point of a Bloody Mary is that you don’t wait until the cocktail hour. This seems to entail a certain shying away from unpleasant realities. I know perfectly well the reaction I would get if I were to ask for a grilled tomato and a chilled Martini at brunch: my friends would start likening me to F Scott Fitzgerald and they wouldn’t be referring to my writing talent. Despite its remarkably similar contents, a Bloody Mary is a perfectly acceptable midday, middle-class beverage. If the original Mary were here to witness such hypocrisy, she would surely tut and reach for her firelighters.

Yet, like the good Catholic I certainly am not, I must confess, for I have seen the error of my ways. In July, on Vancouver Island, I tried a Bloody Caesar – Canada’s spirited response to England’s favourite breakfast tipple (“I’ll see your Tudor queen, you bunch of retrograde royalists, and raise you a Roman emperor”). The main difference is a weird yet oddly palatable concoction called Clamato: tomato juice thinned and refined by clam juice. Replace your standard slop with this stuff, which has all the tang of tomato yet flows like a veritable Niagara, and you will have a drink far stranger yet more delicious than the traditional version.

Apparently, the Caesar was invented by an Italian restaurateur in Calgary, Alberta, who wanted a liquid version of his favourite dish from the old country: spaghetti alle vongole in rosso (clam and tomato spaghetti). He got it – and, more importantly, the rest of us got something we can drink not at breakfast but instead of dinner. Find a really interesting garnish – pickled bull kelp or spicy pickled celery, say – and you can even claim to have eaten your greens.

I’m sure that dedicated fans of the Bloody Mary will consider this entire column heretical, which seems appropriate: that’s the side I was born on, being Jewish, and I like to hope I wouldn’t switch even under extreme forms of persuasion. But this cocktail is in any case a broad church: few cocktails come in so many different incarnations.

The original was invented, according to him, by Fernand Petiot, who was a French barman in New York during Prohibition (and so must have known a thing or two about hypocrisy). It includes lemon juice and a “layer” of Worcestershire sauce and the tomato juice is strained; it may also actually have been named after a barmaid.

All of which proves only that dogma has no place at the bar. Variety is the spice of life, which makes it ironic that the world’s spiciest cocktail bestows a frivolous immortality on a woman who believed all choice to be the work of the devil.

Next week John Burnside on nature

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis