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Mark Peters


I'm typing this week's column with bruised knuckles and grubby fingernails, leaving a faint trail of grease and dirt as I somewhat randomly clickety clack my way across the keyboard. My soft, delicate hands, quite unused to an honest day's work, have just completed the first ever oil change on my motorcycle: a monumental feat of masculinity akin, for this mechanically inept writer, to Ranulph Fiennes scaling Everest in his oldest, most knackered slippers.

My own may be only a minor accomplishment in the grand scheme of manly doings but such tool-box mastery would surely impress James May. Captain Slow, as he's known, returns to his gadget-filled man cave for a third series documenting his quest to save modern man from his over-moisturised metrosexual bind and "rid him of his own burgeoning incompetence" ( James May's Man Lab; BBC Knowledge, Wednesday at 10:40pm).

May has always been the least unlikeable of the three Toff Gear presenters but, unfortunately, everything he does now is tainted by the stench of casual racist Jeremy Clarkson and he's almost become a parody of his buffoonish self. Like a cheap knock-off T-shirt, May's blokey schtick is wearing a bit thin and in his bid to rediscover these lost male skills, most of which aren't hugely relevant (building a pizza oven? Commentating on a horse race?), he's just taking stereotypical macho behaviour to boorish pub extremes.

Why the middle-class May, an ex-choir boy who studied the piano and the flute, feels he's an expert on these skills is never made clear. His pub crawls and wine travel adventures with drinking buddy Oz Clarke (who joins May and hapless sidekick Rory in the Man Lab tonight) were entertaining simply because watching grown-ups get drunk can be pretty amusing, whoever the drunkard is, but more so because it felt like we were seeing the real May, an intelligent and genuinely affable man, and not this exaggerated comic character pandering to the crowd. Top Gear fans will love it. I don't, despite what my greasy fingers might suggest. Now, please excuse me while I uncork the chardonnay and knock up a delightful quinoa salad.

Technically, you can't get much more manly than pumping yourself full of the primary male sex hormone testosterone on a daily basis, but that's just dipping a toe in the dope-cean when it comes to professional cycling. Cycling's Greatest Fraud (above; National Geographic, tonight at 10pm) is the story behind Lance Armstrong's epic fall from grace as one of the world's greatest athletes. This one-hour documentary, guided by the United States Anti-Doping Agency report, investigates one of the most sophisticated doping schemes in sports history (for now …). It details the elaborate system Armstrong and his teammates used to avoid detection and includes interviews with members of his former inner circle, most notably rider Tyler Hamilton and team masseuse Emma O'Reilly.

In the end, Armstrong couldn't keep his blood as clean as his public image and the empire he had built crumbled. We've all heard the apologies and seen the tears on Oprah but I doubt the fallen hero will ever be forgiven, nor his crimes forgotten. The sport of cycling had spent years mired in suspicion and scandal before Armstrong left it punctured and deflated, and the recent doping confessions of three-time Tour de France runner-up Jan Ullrich have only deepened the scars. They would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those peddling kids!

Now, we've all got that frugal friend who somehow manages to disappear when the dinner bill arrives, or who makes a song and dance of scraping together pocketfuls of shrapnel when it's their time to buy a round, but none (I hope) is as outrageously thrifty as the penny-pinching misers on Extreme Cheapskates (TLC, Tuesday at 10pm). This new reality series focuses on tight-fisted folk who take scrimping to a whole new level and are constantly searching for ways to cut costs by any means necessary. From dumpster diving to drying out and reusing paper towels, they are unashamedly proud to be cheap, even asking strangers at the next table for their leftover food.

I have a certain admiration for "waste not want not" types, people who are debt free and refuse to be slaves to mass consumption, but like all things extreme, this "eccentricity" is just plain irritating.

Does using one bar of soap to wipe both your behind and your hands really make you that much happier?



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