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From scary svengali to sad crank: my unhappy hour with Steve Bannon | Tim Dowling

His first interview unmasked Trumps once powerful adviser as little more than a pub bore, writes the Guardian columnist Tim Dowling

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon used to be portrayed in the media as the great manipulator, a svengali or, on Saturday Night Live, as the grim reaper. The fact that he never spoke on television meant the caricature didnt have to bear any relation to reality, but it also worked to his advantage. It made him seem calculating and scary. It didnt hurt that in pictures he always looked as if hed spent the last three weeks living in his car.

At the weekend he gave his first TV interview to Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes, and I for one was disappointed. His voice, which Id never heard before, was nowhere near as sonorous as Id imagined more Sean Spicer than Darth Vader. It was widely noted that he was wearing two button-down shirts, which may be some trademark sartorial badge of rebellion, but it doesnt read that way on television. It just looks like he feels the cold, or has a massive storage problem at home. I once met a man at a lunch party who was wearing two ties, both neatly knotted, one on top of the other, and he had simply forgotten hed put the first one on. Maybe thats what happened to Steve.

Bannon certainly seems to want to come across as combative. He described himself as a street fighter, although Im not sure how far down his CV you go Breitbart News executive chairman, vice-president of Cambridge Analytica, very bad screenwriter, Goldman Sachs banker before you find his last actual street fight. Ultimately, he sounded a bit of a crank, more pub bore than pub brawler, someone who cant believe youre not more fascinated by his sideways look at political history, so he keeps repeating it.

At one point Bannon distressingly characterised himself as Donald Trumps wingman (not a pair youd want to run into during happy hour), and called Trumps firing of James Comey as FBI director the biggest mistake in modern political history. Hes not necessarily someone youd want in your corner. Anyway, I miss the mythical Steve Bannon. Im sorry to see him replaced by a guy who looked as if hed agreed to do the interview in exchange for some hot soup.

Smell of history

At pavement level Stink pipes follow the line of the old Victorian sewers. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Having recently moved from one London neighbourhood to another, Ive had to completely re-jig my mental map of the local stink pipes. After two months Ive yet to spot one close to home. What, some might ask, is a stink pipe? A lot of people arent familiar with them, and some dont even seem that interested once you start to explain. Stink pipes are also strangely invisible, at least until youve spotted one, after which you start seeing them on pavements everywhere.

They look like decapitated iron lamp-posts, only taller. Some are plain, others are highly decorative. A few are huge. A stink pipe is, in fact, a sort of chimney, designed to vent dangerous gases from Londons Victorian sewers, and they had to be tall enough to carry the noxious fumes over the heads of pedestrians. From street level their placement seems quite random, but they do closely follow the old sewer lines. You probably walked by at least one today, without noticing. Be glad you didnt walk straight into it.

Pop goes the diesel

My wife and I were browsing a huge car website the other day were possibly in the market for a second-hand estate when something about the selection seemed amiss. Theyre all diesel, my wife said.

They cant be, I said. Nobody wants diesel. But she was right: there were hundreds of estates on offer, none of them petrol or hybrid models. Just diesel.

Days later I read that second-hand diesel vehicles are crashing in value. With endless bad news about diesels effect on air quality, and emissions surcharging coming to London, old diesels may become virtually worthless. They werent exactly giving them away on the website, but they werent selling much else either. Where have all the petrol cars gone?

Tim Dowling is a Guardian columnist

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