Michelangelo's Derek

PLUS: Algorithms, haircuts, Jack Reacher... and Prince Philip!

Extraordinary as it may seem, when I stand naked before the full-length mirror each morning it’s clear to me that I am getting better looking each day.

From the delicately drooping jowls and eyebags to the finely-sculpted spare tyre and knock-knees I am reminded not so much of Michelangelo’s David (1501-4), but his lesser-known earlier work, Michelangelo’s Derek, modelled on a Florentine plumber who came to fix his taps in 1498.

Yet hard as it is to believe sometimes, I am only human.

In Roman times, triumphant Caesars would have a slave stand behind them to whisper “Memento Mori” (Remember you are mortal) in their ear as they rode through the forum in their chariot.

These days, the Facebook Algorithm serves much the same purpose.

For the uninitiated, this is the inbuilt program which ensures you receive suggestions for products tailored to your age, gender, demographic and every other piece of personal data Facebook has collected about you over the years.

Not so long ago, these products would typically include designer clothes, flying lessons, expensive bicycles and adventure holidays in the Himalayas and the Amazon basin.

Since I turned 50, however, they appear to be exclusively ads for Tena Men incontinence underpants, male corsets, Chinese powders to combat erectile dysfunction, unguents for male pattern baldness and any number of kooky weight loss regimes. The most recent is a device which enables you to shave your own back.

I’m not complaining. The Algorithm keeps me grounded, and the back shaver means I no longer risk injury trying to reach those tricky bits between my shoulder blades.


Then again, what Facebook taketh away it also giveth.

As well as ads aimed at decrepit old men, I’ve also been bombarded with friend requests from attractive single women craving my company.

“Hi baby,” writes Svetlana Borochenko, “I think you very hot and would like to hook up for fun times.” Meanwhile Alicia Sanchez Martinez thinks I’m “kind of man I look for” and urges me to respond.

I doubt I will, but it’s nice of these young ladies to think of me. And to think some people say they’re just bots!


Physical perfection such as mine does not come cheap, of course. While I am blessed with the genetic make-up of a Spartan (Greek, not Blyth), I am also 53. I have to work hard to maintain my physique, my skin tone, my teeth.

And what with hairdressers being shut during lockdown, keeping my hair in check has been particularly challenging. After all, there’s no point having a bod like Brad Pitt when you’ve got the barnet of Worzel Gummidge.

Brampton Barbers reopens on Monday, but I have been unable to get an appointment till the 19th – which means an extra week of growth. By then I will risk getting my hair tangled up in my back shaver, and all the inconvenience that will entail.

This week I let the Ayatollah loose with the clippers – a risky business in itself, but one which was necessary. Despite my reservations she did a bang-on job, expertly ensuring the bald patches were offset by irregular tufts.

What makes it all worthwhile is the pleasure my good looks give to other people. Indeed only this morning, as I stared at my reflection in the bedroom, my wife told me I look like Adonis. (Or did she say “Lord Adonis”? She was busy drying her hair at the time).


The cover of my forthcoming book has arrived, in proof form.

Whaddya think? Like it? You’d better, because my 16-year-old nephew Bruce drew the pig and he’s very touchy about criticism, as Northumbria Police will confirm.

If nothing else it’s an encouraging sign that the bloody thing might soon be published. I wrote it about two years ago, and submitted it last January – but Covid blah, blah, blah…

Speaking of which, there is much debate in the book world about how authors, particularly those who specialise in fiction, should deal with the pandemic in their future writing. Should Jack Reacher wear a mask and remain socially distanced in his next adventure, or do we just pretend it never happened?

And what if, like me, your next crime thriller is set in Amsterdam’s red light district? The “Hands, Face, Space” rule is going to play havoc with my steamy plot.

Then again it looks like Amsterdam council are planning to shut down the existing red light district and relocate it from the centre of town to a custom-built sex park on the ring road. In which case I’m really screwed.


I was about to press send on this edition of the newsletter when the news flashed up that Prince Philip has died.

Like BBC newsreaders, I always keep a black tie in my drawer for just such an occasion and rest assured I am wearing it as I type these words. That said, Philip was 99 and had been in ill health for a while, so let’s hope people keep the outpouring of national grief in proportion.

Unfortunately I can already hear the obsequious tones of Nicholas Witchell on the telly in the kitchen downstairs. I suspect it is a portent of what we’re in for.

Have a nice weekend.