IT’S DOWNTON ABBEY, BABY! Episode One

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Hurrah, it’s back, baby! The theme of the final series was that the times they are a changin’, and it was hammered home at every possible opportunity. We kicked off with a glorious hunting scene. It is Downton Abbey, winter, 1925. How to establish this firmly in the minds of the viewers? “Do you think it’s a bit much in 1925?”  If you like exposition, then this is the period drama for you. “You’re riding sidesaddle?” enquired Lord Grantham of his daughter Mary, inexplicably styled as Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp version).  “Is that entirely appropriate?”

But I carp.  I adore Downton and everyone in it, even bit players like the sassy Scouser who attempted to blackmail Lady Mary about her dirty weekend in the Grand Hotel with Viscount Gillingham, and who was sent packing with fifty quid rather than the grand she was after.  But not before she managed to snipe about toffs and workers and the Granthams should watch out because things were CHANGING.

This season’s Plot-That-Nobody-Cares-About was the Royal County hospital in York announcing plans to take over the village hospital.  Dame Maggie Smith, playing the Dowager Countess, was having none of it.“We would become the tools of a faceless committee!” Cousin Isobel, however, was all for it and having morphed into a platitude-spouting civil servant was thus more than capable of boring the opposition into submission. “Our patients would have access to more modern equipment… our fundraising would be more efficient.”  Changing times, innit. Everybody got that?

At dinner, both Edith and Mary went for jewelled headbands, Edith rather more successfully than Mary,

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who looked as though she was a Dr Who cyborg, circa 1982

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Mrs Hughes was due to marry Carson at some unspecified time in the future. “Have you set a date?” “Not yet, but it’s likely to be Christmas Day in order to bump up the ratings for the final episode.”  She confided in Mrs Patmore that she was worried about Carson wanting sex, referred to rather more delicately as a “full marriage”.  Mrs Patmore was sent to enquire as to whether or not Carson wanted to make the beast with two backs with Mrs Hughes. “Damn straight,” Carson said (I paraphrase). Mrs Hughes was thrilled. “Well then, Mr Carson, if you want me, you can have me – to quote Oliver Cromwell – warts and all.”  Hopefully she wasn’t being literal.

Meanwhile downstairs the Bates discussed the most drawn out plotline ever: the murder of Green the valet. How is this still going on? Bates did it! No he didn’t! Mrs Bates did it! No, somebody else did it!  Right up there with the final scene of every episode of Scooby Doo, it turned out that a random with a grudge was responsible. Whatever, Lord Grantham declared the news to be worthy of popping the Veuve Clicquot and master and servant partied the night away, ending with Lord and Lady Grantham snarfing leftovers from the newfangled refrigerator which featured prominently throughout in order to demonstrate that times were… you get the picture.

Next week, the Downton children receive Raleigh Choppers as presents and Daisy makes the staff breakfast with a George Foreman Lean, Mean Grilling Machine. Can’t wait.

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Celebrity Masterchef – episode one

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Playing fast and loose with the sobriquet “celebrity”, twenty new faces lined up to be shouted at by Gregg Wallace and John Torode, a duo known primarily for sitting in separate rooms and pretending to hold a conversation with each other.

Tonight’s contestants comprised Yvette Fielding (I genuinely have no idea who this woman is), Tish Potter (ditto), Sheree Murphy who used to be in Emmerdale a thousand years ago, Chesney Hawkes and Sarah Harding, who cannot possibly believe how rubbish her life has turned out compared with Cheryl’s.

Anyway, they all had to cook a main course and despite looking very handy sharpening knives and doing that strange see-saw cutting thing that chefs do, Sarah’s effort looked like roadkill surrounded by rabbit droppings.  She said it was some pork thing with mushrooms but the camera cut away when John Torode was supposedly shovelling a huge forkful into his mouth, so go figure.

The five slebs were then split into two teams and packed off to real restaurants. Sarah was put in charge of the starter, which comprised pigs trotters, toast and caper and raisin puree.  To my mind not so much a starter as a punishment, but hey, what would I know?  Sheree had to fry some tuna and prat about with something referred to as emulsion, but turned out not to be Dulux.  I forget what Chesney had to do – something with pigeon I think.

Meanwhile in nobody-knows-who-you-are-land, Tish had to do something fiendishly complicated with the world’s most expensive beef, and Yvette had to cook with fish and leaves.  Jesus did something very similar, but without Wallace and Torode yelling “FEEDING THE FIVE THOUSAND DOESN’T GET TOUGHER THAN THIS” in his face.  I could not take my eyes off Yvette’s fringe, which looked like she’d cut it herself with a pair of nail scissors on the way to the studio.  Has the woman no mirror? Or, you know, a hairdresser?

The camera cut back to Sarah with the immortal line “And now Sarah has to get to grips with her Pig on Toast.” We’ve all been there, Sarah. When I finally stopped laughing, Sheree was slicing tuna and making an arse of it.  I wonder what happens in these extortionately expensive restaurants when amateurs are cooking the food – do the punters get a discount? Are they told, or do the staff just, you know, pretend that the top chef has mangled their tuna on purpose?

Chesney spread some mashed potato on a plate and received praise so lavish you’d think he’d just made a pudding out of a Higgs boson. Yvette complained about the heat in the kitchen.  No really, she did. The jokes just make themselves, don’t they? “In all honesty, it was horrendous,” said Tish. “I loved it.”  Yeah, right love.

Finally, they all had cook two courses, in one hour. “THAT’S TOUGH!” shrieked Gregg. Sheree told us she would just make something that she’d usually make at home, which turned out to be sea bass and  apple crumble cake. Not together, although it wouldn’t surprise me on Masterchef. Sarah was making fishcakes.  Yvette was baking salmon.  Tish was making spaghetti with clams. Chesney was frying sea bass. Had the BBC got a deal going with Birds Eye?

Sarah presented John with fish cakes that looked like hell.  “Your fishcakes are wet.”  Sarah threw her head back and fake laughed so much that when she stopped her eyes were pointing directly upwards through her skull.

Sheree’s apple crumble cake looked like Arthur Scargill’s head. “I’m really proud of what I served,” she said, modestly.  Yvette served up a pancake which was not well received. “You’ve left us questioning whether or not you can cook puddings.”  Chessers fried his sea bass and Torode and Wallace had a collective culinary orgasm. “I’m blown away, boys,” said Chesney.

The judging. “I’m blown away by Chesney,” said Torode, with a post-coital look on his face. Who would go home? It was between Yvette and Sarah. “I’m disappointed by Yvette’s pancake.”

Yvette and her Fringe of Doom were shown the door.  She looked relieved.

TFIF returns

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Cast your minds back to the mid-1990s; lad mags, Trainspotting, and Geri Halliwell. More importantly, TFIFriday was the best thing about Friday evenings.  Before that The Tube had been the best thing about Fridays and before that…. nope, there was nothing. Crackerjack?

So TFI was back, for a one-off special but, apparently, with the possibility of a full blown series (I hate to link to the Daily Mail, but needs must) should this programme be well received.  I work in PR and we say “well received” quite a lot.  The presentation of our new campaign was well received. Our idea for a video of a cat surfing from a holiday cottage in Wales to a hotel in Cork was well received. My suggestion that a press release about a man attending an exhibition wouldn’t garner any press coverage was well received.  Okay, maybe not that last one.

Anyhoo, Chris Evans, all grown up and mature etc. The same set. The intro music. The same pissed audience. MY GOD I’M YOUNG AGAIN.

Will came on, having not aged a day. What moisturiser is he using? We should be told. There was a lot of blather about what people were saying on Twitter.  Chris Evans apologised for his previous bad behaviour and attempted to cover people in feathers. He showed everyone a picture of his grandchild. His GRANDCHILD? The archbish of York, John Sentamu, made a mess of reading out a Irish blessing and splashed Chris with Holy Water.

Blur came on, wearing blazers for chrissake, sounding like a sixth form band.  For a mercy, Alex James managed not to mention cheese. “We could start over again.” Yes, do. If they’d had any brains, they’d have sung Girls and Boys and brought the house down, but they’re SERIOUS MUSICIANS now and no fun at all.

Time for “Freak, or Unique”.  We revisited people who had been guests years ago.  First up, a clip of a baby with a lot of dark hair… followed by THE SAME BABY in real life, now 16 and with roughly the same amount of hair. Whevs.  A know-all child appeared as a know-all adult. “I’m studying for a PhD.”  A man whose body fat years ago had to be less than five per cent and who could make his stomach look like an elephant, revealed he was now a sports journalist and could still make his stomach look like an elephant.  Pfft. He should ditch the journalism and write a diet book. A girl who could cry milk appeared via Skype and cried milk again. Tom Daley appeared, looking hot as balls, and did things with his eight-pack. Killing the buzz was an ad for the film Entourage, which looked like absolute shite.

Ricky Wilson, Steve Merchant, Rita Ora and Kirsty Allsopp came on for roughly 10 seconds each, smiling whilst simultaneously deciding to sack their agents. Nick Grimshaw was allowed 20 seconds and heroically fluffed his intro to a band that nobody had heard of. The future of broadcasting, people.  Holding everything together however was the brilliance of Chris Evans, who pretty much gave a masterclass in how to broadcast live, have fun and stay in control of the madness.

Amanda Siegfried came on and was interrogated, weirdly, by Ewan McGregor. “What have you been doing since you arrived in the UK?” asked Ewan. “Av bin eatin”, lied Amanda, a woman who probably last ingested a calorie in 2005. “Amanda Siegfried, everyone! Whoooo!” Amanda smiled graciously and applauded herself. 18 year olds (if they were watching, which I doubt) turned to each other in puzzlement. “Seriously. This is bantz?”  Kenneth Branagh did a very funny clip. More Branagh, please.

Whoop! Liam Gallagher and Roger Daltry! Suddenly the energy and downright pizzazz of TFIF was brought alive.  They sang “My Generation” and everyone kindly ignored the fact that most of Rog’s generation were care home residents.  Kirsty Allsopp was behind the bar, pulling pints. “Posh pints.”

Ooh, Tony Bennett singing “It’s Your Letters”.  A 15 year old wrote in wanting to know what Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice, looks like when she smiles. Chris played a clip from way back when of Posh smiling. Her make up made her look like Willy Wonka, but it was the 90s and we all looked like that then. Yes we did. No YOU shut up.

Meanwhile, not everyone on Twitter was viewing the programme with a similarly jaundiced eye:

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Shaun Ryder appeared, for no discernible reason other than to apologise for swearing on the television several decades ago. Oh Shaun. Why? My God we’re all so OLD. Chris got excited about Monaco UK-tax-avoider resident and champagne-sprayer-in-women’s-faces Lewis Hamilton coming on as a guest. Meanwhile Twitter reminded me of the more anarchic The Word and Oliver Reed’s “TV Gold appearance

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Lewis, vapidity made flesh, appeared wearing a New Look pleather jacket, a watch the size of Wales and Pat Butcher diamante earrings. “I’ve never seen the programme.” Thanks, Lewis. Twat.  Nicole Shirtswinger is well rid.  There was a sort of Top Gear film segment comprising Chris Evans’ mum racing around the Top Gear track in a mobility scooter.   it was reasonably funny (talk about damning with faint praise).  Should I switch channels to the Graham Norton Show?  Mark Walhberg was sure to be pissed again. Much more fun.

Ultimately, TFIF proved one thing. We need Chris Evans back on telly. He is the master of live television broadcasting, and was let down only by his poor selection of guests. Why was Lewis Snore Hamilton allowed so much airtime? “I actually don’t have that many houses.” Watching penicillin spores growing on an ancient piece of cheese would be more interesting. Bring back TFIFriday and bin Hamilton. Then Ch4 would be onto a winner.

Eurovision 2015

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The last time the UK entered a duo into the Eurovision Song Contest, they scored precisely nul points.  12 years ago Jemini [sic] began their performance out of tune and spent the next three minutes groping fruitlessly for the right key. On the upside however, this meant that our duo Electro Velvet could not do any worse.  Eurovision is all about the positives, people.

The always excellent Graham Norton was on hand to inform us that this year’s theme (there’s always a theme?) would be “building bridges”.  Considering the popularity of last year’s winner Conchita Wurst, more appropriate surely for it to have been “growing beards”, but perhaps some of the female contestants had protested.

After the usual pre-recorded shizz which inexplicably included some sort of tribute to Austria’s history of synchronized swimming (nope, me neither), Conchita duly appeared and the audience in the Vienna Stadhalle orgasmed loudly.

The tradition of deathless patter from the hosts was upheld. “Hello Australia.”  Yes, right out there on the edge of Europe, Australia would be fielding its own entrant in the form of X Factor Australia judge Guy Sebastian.

Anyway, first up was Maraaya from Slovenia, singing “Here For You”.  Dressed as a bride trapped in a language lab, it was the usual crap, enlivened somewhat by a gymnast playing an invisible violin.  Look I just report this stuff, okay? Don’t ask me for explanations.

A glum French woman, Lisa Angell, stood in front of a film of a ruined building and sang “N’oubliez pas” (translation: Don’t forget).  Sometimes, the jokes just present themselves, don’t they?  Israel’s entry was Nadav Guedj, singing “Golden Boy”. A passable song of the kind where clapping along and shouting “HOI!” are obligatory, it featured three men bouncing around in a routine reminiscent of a 1983 aerobics class. The audience loved it.

Next, Estonia: Elina Born and Stig Rästa, Goodbye to Yesterday. Stig resembled Harry Styles after an accident with a hedge trimmer. Their song had a pretty, sub-country music melody, and tetchy lyrics. “Woke up about 5am, my eyes were closed.  Why didn’t you wake me up? Goodbye to yesterday.”

Then it was the United Kingdom!  Whoopee! Electro Velvet gave it their fairly limited all, singing a sort of Downton Abbey meets The Pet Shop Boys ditty entitled “I’m Still In Love With You.”  It wasn’t appalling, and you can’t say fairer than that.  Oh alright, you can. No YOU shut up.

Armenia’s entry was sung by Genealogy. “Face the Shadow” was barely a song at all; dressed as extras from the Lord of the Rings, they bellowed “DON’T DENY” at each other and the audience prayed for it to end.  Lithuania’s entry was a duo from the Same Difference stable, but they were pretty good, although their lyrics were extraordinary. “My God. Why don’t we just go out for a drink? Woe, hoe. Woe, hoe, hoe. Arm feelink luff.”

Serbia fielded a ginormous woman dressed in a marquee made of glitter.  “BEAUDY NEVA LIES. FINALLY ARKANSAY. HERE I YAM.”   She sounded like a woman trapped in the bowels of a ship as it sank, but the audience applauded raucously. Who would be next? Ooh, Norway. Poor old Norway. What would they give us? The answer was a duo who looked uncannily like Jon Snow and Ygritte, but were actually called Mørland and Debrah Scarlett, They sang “A Monster Like Me” and the less said about it, the better.

Måns Zelmerlöw from Sweden (the bookies’ favourite) sang about being a hero to a chalk drawing of Nigel Molesworth whilst it rained milk. I thought it was rubbish, but then I have form in never picking the winner of anything, so don’t listen to me. Cyprus’s John Karayiannis sang “One Thing I Should Have Done” which, let’s face it, was write a better song, but the poor sod instead focused on not being there for someone. “Inya hower of need, I shoulda come.”  It’s okay John, we understand.

Australia’s set was bright yellow, presumably to represent the sunshine of his homeland.  “This is one tough act to foller,” yelped Guy Sebastian.  It’s not Guy, it’s really not. Dressed as Jimmy Cagney in Matalan chinos, it was banality incarnate. Belgium’s entry, “Rhythm Inside” was sung by Loïc Nottet, who looked less like a pop star and more like a teen worried that he hadn’t done his Physics revision. “Barapp Pap PARP!”  he shouted as he marched around the stage, before his mother arrived and told him to go to bed. Austria’s entry could not have been less like Conchita; it was Kings of Leon meets Showaddywaddy, and the crowd loved it.  Which was hardly surprising.

Hard to know why Greece bothered this year, as most of Europe hates them at the moment, but Maria Elena Kyriakou gave “One Last Breath” a pretty good go anyway.  The sub text of the song wasn’t particularly subtle. “Nothing left. Begging. Save me.”  She might as well have sung “One Last Cheque”.  Montenegro’s entry was, I’m pretty certain, sung by George Galloway.

Germany’s entrant didn’t win the selection, but the chap who did wisely decided he didn’t want to do it after all so Ann Sophie stepped up to the Eurovision plate. She shouldn’t have bothered.  “Ven ya know da flamingo’s running OUT! Ah tell masell just LEAVE IT NOW!”  Poland’s appalling dirge was sung by an admirer of Miss Haversham, if her costume was anything to go by.  “Come on and steal the rings. In the name of love.”   Latvia’s song was entitled “Love Injected”, a front runner for the worst song title in history.  Aminata was dressed as a toilet dolly by way of a goth Cleopatra, and just for good measure appeared to be 14ft tall.  It was everything that is glorious about Eurovision, ie completely, utterly, bonkers.

Romania’s entry was sung by Andre Agassi wearing a Claire’s Accessories brooch. Spain’s entry, sung by Edurne, was a miserable ballad entitled “Amanecer”,  It was vintage Eurovision. Standing in front of a wind machine so powerful her face resembled that of an astronaut re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, she screeched dramatically and air-grabbed like a woman on an invisible trolley dash.  The audience whooped its delight.

Hungary’s chanteuse, Boggie (yes, that’s her name, I checked) gave us “Wars For Nothing”. She maintained her expression of utter misery throughout, as indeed did I. “It’s okay to ignore the beige. I see children drawing sums. Can you just re-file the mice?”  Georgia’s entry, “Warrior” was sung by Nina. She was the angriest contestant ever, as indeed she should be given that her costume comprised little more than two crows and a pair of thrush-inducing leather shorts. “A bin a danger for too long. No dis wire ain’t gonna breed.  Oooooh. Hooooo. WARRIOR!”

Azerbaijan’s entry sang a forgettable ballad but on the plus side, featured a topless Billy Idol doing pilates in the background. Russia’s Polina Gagarina (another of the bookies’ favourites) sang “A Million Voices”.  I got roundly scolded on Twitter by an angry Russian woman this week when I suggested the song should be about a million voices asking Russia to get the hell out of Ukraine, so I shall limit myself to saying only that Polina had nice hair.  And keep an eye out for strangers pointing umbrellas at me.

I missed most of Albania’s entry because I couldn’t find the corkscrew to open the second bottle of wine (look, the only way to get through Eurovision is to drink heavily, alright? Don’t judge me) but I did hear a great deal of anguished wailing so you’ll just have to settle for that.  Finally, Italy presented us with a distressed Il Divo-esque trio called Il Volo, crooning “Grande Amore”. They sang in Italian, and there are no subtitles on Eurovision, but I think the lyrics were something along the lines of “Embrace my body with your hot legs.  You please me more than a Dolomitian goat in the Springtime. Have some carbonara,”  You’re welcome.

Try and stay awake to find out who the winners are, won’t you.

Okay so I’m back. I can reveal that the interval act was a sub Seaside Special 1974 orchestra load of twaddle. There was a terrible five minutes while the hosts (possibly the worst in Eurovision history) ran out of things to say, and were reduced to gazing at the Eurovision trophy.  “Here it is. So beaudifool.” <awkward pause> “Yes. Beaudifool.” <awkward pause> <All stand in silence> <audience prays for death>

Finally, the voting.  It was the usual political tosh.  Belarus’s votes came from a man standing next to a motorway. He handed 12 points to Russia. Shocker. The voting graphics bore a frightening resemblance to a nuclear missile launch.

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Halfway through, the UK had amassed the huge total of two points, one of them from Ireland.  Thanks, Ireland.  “Well, at least we’re not going home with nul points,” giggled Graham Norton. Let’s just face facts. Nobody in Europe likes us. I blame Nigel Farage. Amid rumours that Russia had edited out Conchita from its broadcast, Conchita went and sat with the Russian entry whilst wearing a “fuck you” expression. Meanwhile, the host country hadn’t received a single point, which seemed awfully rude.  Nigella Lawson, looking sensational, gave the UK votes. I was a bit disappointed she didn’t bring a cake with her, but you can’t have everything. The judge from Georgia appeared, didn’t award Russia 12 points, and immediately disappeared from our screens. Presumably Putin ordered the live feed to be unplugged. Twitter agreed.

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A quick check of the scoreboard revealed that the UK had climbed to five points, not that anyone cared. It was all about Sweden vs. Putin.  Astonishingly, Cyprus gave Greece eight points instead of the customary 12.  What the hell was happening? With only four countries’ votes to go, the hosts suddenly announced that it didn’t matter, because Sweden had won! There was a huge cheer in the auditorium.  Suck on that, Russia.

More #massdebating

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David Cameron and Nick Clegg being absent, it was left to Ed Miliband to adopt a superior, “look-everyone-I’m-the-most-important-person-here” air at this frankly B team debate.  The effect was that of a supply teacher who had been told, five minutes before the primary school assembly, that the head was on holiday and so he could read out the notices about one of the Year 1 pupils not flushing the toilet properly instead.

Nicola Sturgeon looked terrific in a slate grey silk suit; Ed wore a tie that matched it. Leanne Wood smiled radiantly in a sharply-tailored raspberry jacket over a pale pink dress, Farage wore a tie that matched her ensemble. The four of them looked unnervingly like the bride and groom’s parents.  Natalie Bennett, in dull beige, completed the wedding picture of doom by looking like the bridesmaid who didn’t give a shit and was just waiting for the speeches to finish so she could go outside for a fag. (Note to self: start fashion blog.)

Blah, blah deficit, blah blah Cameron a disgrace for not turning up (applause), blah blah don’t quote the IFS at me, blah blah Cameron a disgrace again (no applause).  Nobody mentioned Nick Clegg.  How quickly we forget, eh?

There was a question about housing.  “As a single parent, I’d like to know about your plans for social housing, and to tackle the housing crisis?”  Nicola said the Tory plan to sell off housing association homes was one of the worst ideas she has heard. “Housing is one of the most important issues of this election.” Leanne said that council house sales aren’t allowed in Wales.  Ed equivocated somewhat, saying Labour supported the right to buy, but Tory plans didn’t add up.  Farage declared, jaw-droppingly, that “we should make sure that all new social housing is for UK nationals only” and added that he wanted to create a “brownfield sites register.”  The possibility that he’d like to create a brown builders register to go with it went unsaid.

Nige was on a roll, telling the audience it was biased and anyway, the “real” audience was at home. Dimbleby looked outraged, but Nige shrugged and declared that anyway, the audience didn’t understand markets and that immigration contributed to the housing crisis.  Everybody else on the panel looked at each other with “spot the loon” expressions.

Ed decided it was time he asserted his authority, inexplicably choosing to do this by adopting the world-weary tone and demeanour of a bored father home late from work, desperate to put his feet up and knock back a large gin and tonic but instead forced by his children to officiate at the burial of the family spaniel.   “I believe…. that….you…cannot…buck… the… market…zzzzzz.”

What would it take to liven things up?  A question about immigration, of course: “Are immigrants putting too much pressure on public services?” Nige looked like all his birthdays had come at once. The studio audience, however, looked like they were sat in the dock at the Old Bailey and had just been sentence to life imprisonment:

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Ed stopped talking slowly and decided instead to look like the cover of a 1960s’ knitting pattern by casually leaning one elbow on his lectern.  Back at Labour HQ, his advisors were shouting at the telly: “Ed! Don’t do that! It won’t end well!”

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Suddenly they all woke up and started shouting at each other about the NHS. “You’re lying!” yelled Nigel to Ed. “Be quiet all of you!” yelped Dimbers. “Natalie?” “Yes, I think it was probably my turn,” she replied, primly.

Finally, a question about a hung parliament. Nige banged on about Europe. “My view is we should be self-confident, and if UKIP is in a position of influence, we should have a referendum.” There was more in this vein, but I’m afraid I tuned out.  More shouting. “I will never, ever do a deal with the Tories,” declared Nicola, looking straight at Ed and practically asking him out on a date.  Ed looked underwhelmed.  “We’ve got very different views, Nicola.” It’s not you, it’s me. Let us unfollow one another on Twitter and never speak of this again.

Leanne couldn’t remember what her party wanted and read from her notes. “I will not prop up a Tory government.” Okay, got it. “But I won’t prop up a Labour government hell-bent on implemented Tory policies.”  Er? Who will you prop up then? Natalie, determined not to be left out, delivered her party line. “I will not prop up a Tory government.”   Back home in Downing Street, David choked on his whisky and soda and turned plaintively to Sam: “Why doesn’t anybody like me?”

Was that it? No, there was more. “I’ve fought Tories all my life,” shouted Ed, weirdly.  “This is 2015!” yelped Nicola, refusing to give up. “We’ve got a CHANCE!”

Finally, the end was in sight.  “I’ll fight for the little man,” declared Nige. “And, er, woman.” Ed stared straight into the camera and addressed Dave. “Debate me. One on one.”  This bold suggestion was undermined somewhat by Dimbers then telling everyone that in two weeks’ time there would be an edition of Question Time with Ed, Nick AND Dave.  Whoopee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Britain’s Got Talent – 2015 launch show

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The umpteenth series of Britain’s Got Talent began with a man wielding a paper and comb, the better to murder a Stevie Wonder classic, and went downhill from there.  The judges, of course, voted him through. Plus ça change, folks.

Amanda Holden, sporting startlingly thick eyebrows borrowed from the corpse of  Luciano Pavarotti, was as always next to Simon Cowell, a man so confident in his appearance he remains defiantly determined to cling onto his Gnasher’s minge hairstyle no matter what his stylist tells him.

The audience sat back and waited to be enthralled. What would this year bring – another SuBo?

The short (and indeed long) answer was an emphatic no. A female contortionist wrapped her ovaries round her ears.  Alesha Dixon looked shocked to see a couple on roller skates do some rollerskating. Perhaps she thought they’d come on to split the atom?  A Welsh (of course) choir came onto the stage. “There’s a huge sense of community,” confided the choir master, not surprising given that the choir numbered 162 members and thus could be said to be the size of a small, well, community.  They all held battery-powered candles and warbled loudly.  “That was so moving,” wept Alesha.  “We could be looking at this year’s winners,” added a dry-eyed Simon. The choir looked stunned at such a pronouncement, unsurprisingly as by my reckoning, if they win the competition each choir member could be looking at a massive £1543 each.  It’ll be goodbye Matalan fake candles and hello to the real thing from Marks and Spencer!

There was the usual gaggle of deluded pet owners, including a man with a Yorkshire terrier who ran off when his owner started playing a mouth organ and a woman trying to make her chicken perform an agility act (not a euphemism).  One dog spoke. Simon Cowell looked as thrilled as a pop mogul can when he realises he has just found a replacement for Zayn Malik.

A girl from Hull sang and wasn’t very good. Her brother came on and wasn’t much better, but the judges, and to be fair, the audience, reacted as though they’d just heard the love child of Will Young and George Michael expertly tackle Pie Jesu. It was all very dull.  Where were the loons carving a grape into the face of Giles Coren? Why was there no aged Goth taking an axe to a pineapple balanced on the toe of his pensioner girlfriend?  Maybe they would be on next week.

Finally, we were building to the big finish of the first show of the series. Which act would be worthy of the uplifting chords of a Diana Ross and the Supremes song swelling emotionally in the background?  It turned out to be the Ruby Red Performers, from Withernsea in East Yorkshire. The judges looked blank.  “It’s near ‘Ull,” explained Ruby.

Dressed as 1950s cleaners, the women pretended to, er, clean, whilst removing their Marigolds and overalls in order to reveal ill-fitting underwear.  “I actually feel really emotional,” cried Amanda. “There you are, standing in your pants.  It’s great.” Ruby and co were dreadful and have no chance of winning, but good on them anyway.

What’s up next week – a chihuahua in suspenders singing I Will Always Love You? Here’s hoping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#massdebate

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The unaware viewer might have been forgiven for thinking they had tuned into the gloomiest ever episode of Take Me Out.  No likey? No votey. If only.  Settling down with a cracking bottle of Louvel Fontaine champagne (£10 from Asda, don’t bother looking for any tomorrow, I’ve bought it all) I was prepared to be wowed by seven people all determined to run the country.

It began with a brief party political broadcast from each leader. Zzzzzzzzz. Ed daringly chose to wear a grey tie.  Nick stuck to egg yolk yellow.  Perhaps he was celebrating Easter? A more likely option was that he was looking past his party being wiped out at the coming election and was hoping for a job as a Cadbury’s Creme Eggs rep.  Dave plumped for deep navy, probably hand-made for him by Johnnie Boden.  Nige went for navy with white polka dots, the better to set off his sweating Mr Toad face.  Natalie (Green Party, do keep up at the back) wore a grey suit made of wool generously donated by sheep who agreed with her party’s manifesto.  Nicola (SNP, ditto) looked good in a natty red suit.  Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), sporting a glorious beehive hair-do, had obviously popped into Next on her way to the studio and chosen something from its “Workwear” range.  Julie Etchingham, dressed as a surgeon on her day off, stood in for Jeremy Kyle. The studio audience dozed off.  It was all very, very boring.

It livened up slightly when they got onto austerity.  Mr Toad said half the panel said they were prudent, the other half were saying the cuts went too far.  With seven people on the panel, he clearly saw himself as the singular voice of reason.  How wrong can a man be? Scotland, he added, got too much money, and he would stop this.  Was he going to suggest creating jobs by re-building Hadrian’s Wall?  Alas, Dave’s botox interrupted him.

34 minutes in, and Mr Toad was sweating like a pig who’d just found out the truck he was in wasn’t actually taking him to a farm in the country. Nick, meanwhile, remained gloriously matte.  What kind of face powder was he using? Leanne said everything slowly and carefully, as though reading aloud to a particularly slow-witted toddler.    Mr Toad suggested that thousands of foreign HIV/AIDS sufferers were flocking to Britain for free NHS treatment. Leanne, horrified at this outrageous statement, put him in his place.  The audience woke up and applauded her heartily.

There was more grandstanding from everybody about the NHS, and then ITV cut to the commercial break.  Frankly it’s a bloody good job we have a free at the point of entry health service, because by this point 95 per cent of the studio audience had slipped into a coma.

Back in the studio, the stand-by defibrillation team having done their work, a question on immigration was put to the panel.  Dave and Ed bored on about caps and control.  Guys, we’re talking about Johnny Foreigner here, not contraception.  “I want Britain open for business, but not open to abuse,” said Nick, looking smug at managing to get in the soundbite written by his PR team.  “Mrs Merkel is the real boss in Europe!” declared Mr Toad, his sweat now leaking into his shirt collar.    Meanwhile, Twitter was going bonkers; the great intellect that is Gary Lineker weighed in with the kind of razor-sharp insight so sadly lacking in political commentary today:

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Nick pointed out to Mr Toad that they both had foreign wives.  “I’m married to a foreigner, you’re married to a foreigner – be open hearted.” Toady looked unmoved by this fact, and concentrated on not revealing that he was now sweating into his socks.

We moved onto education and jobs.  “We should make sure there are good jobs for people to do,” declared Dave. Who’da thunk? “Nick, you let young people down with university fees,” shouted Ed. “Say sorry for the banks,” retorted Nick. “Yeah well, they were under-regulated,” replied Ed. “Young people suffer the most,” added Dave.  Seriously – is this the best Britain can do?

Meanwhile, there was fun to be had guessing which audience member supported which party. Spot the UKIPper.

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It ended with another party political message from each of the leaders. “You can vote for the same old parties,” preached Nicola. “To people in Scotland, I say vote SNP.” No shit. “Thank you for sitting through this two hour political marathon,” said Nick, who had clearly given up and was looking forward to the day when he didn’t have to wear a vomit yellow tie.  “There’s one fundamental choice,” intoned Ed. “I’ll make sure everyone plays by the same rules.”  “I hope what you’ve heard tonight doesn’t fill you with too much despair,” smiled Leanne, knowing exactly what her audience was feeling, but losing points for reading from her notes.  “If you want change, you have to vote for it,” announced Natalie, not even bothering to pretend she’d learned her speech by heart, looking down at her notes every two seconds.  “If you want things to be shaken up, you’ve got to put more UKip MPs in Westminster,” said Mr Toad.  “Let’s create a job for everyone who wants and needs one!” yelped Dave, his smooth buttock face reddening like it had just received a good spanking from nanny.

It was a ground-breaking study in tedium. A snorefest of gargantuan proportions.  A coma of crap.  We need new leaders, with new ideas. Anybody?

 

 

The Great British Bake Off for Comic Relief – episode three

Photograph: BBC/Love Productions/Tom Dymond

Photograph: BBC/Love Productions/Tom Dymond

After last week’s dull episode, we were back with a bang (and Jo Brand) to the tent in the unspecified field that hosts the one and only Great British Bake Off.

This week we had comedian David Mitchell, actor Michael “I am the most competitive person IN. THE. WORLD.” Sheen, Radio 1 DJ Jameela Jamil (I had to google her. Yes, I know. Shut up), and education campaigner but let’s face it, better known as the wife-of-Gordon, Sarah Brown.

It kicked off with the signature challenge – 24 identical shortbread fingers with, apparently, “a touch of je ne sais quoi.” So not shortbread fingers, then.  Why can’t they just say that? Jameela chose to make orange shortbread, which within seconds was welded to the worktop like Posh was to Becks when news of his alleged dalliance with Rebecca Loos broke. Mary, already looking disappointed, silently handed her a palette knife. Sarah looked serious. David put too much icing sugar in his sieve and then couldn’t get it into his bowl because it was too small.  “I always thought difficult baking involved things like flambéing.  I never thought trying to sieve something would make you feel like you wanted to die,” he groaned dispiritedly, more icing sugar on his face than his biscuits.

Next up was the technical challenge: mini pork pies, which are fiendishly difficult to make at the best of times.  Nobody except Sarah had any idea how to rub butter into sifted flour, so they simply waited a few minutes and then copied her. David made the mistake of asking her for help. “It says in the rules that contestants must not confer,” she retorted as she brushed him away smugly.  Life in the Brown household must be a HOOT.  Meanwhile, Jameela was struggling. “What even IS lard?” she fretted, unsurprisingly for a woman who has clearly never eaten anything with more than 200 calories in it in her life.  Lard is great, Jameela.  Britain was built on it.   Michael got a fit of the giggles.  “I’ve no idea what I’m doing,” he told everyone somewhat unnecessarily, since he was trying to peel an onion with a potato peeler.  Once his pies were in the oven, he peered at them worriedly.  “Mine are looking pallid,” he said sadly. “If it was a horse, you’d shoot it.”  Sarah took hers out of the oven and pronounced them a success.  “They’re golden brown, and they smell rather nice.”  We’ve all been at school with someone like that, haven’t we children?

Anyway, most of the pies looked more or less like pies, which was a triumph given their unpromising start. Sarah looked furious to be told by Mary her pies had “got a bit of leakage”  but there was “plenty of meat in there, which I like.”  Double shots drunk at this point by anyone playing the GBBO innuendo game. David beat Sarah to first place, who pretended not to mind, and secretly rang her husband to ask if they still had access to the S.A.S.*

Finally, the show-stopper.  The bakers had to make a fruit and cream triple-layered pavlova.  “I’m looking for a bit of artistry,” said Paul, hopefully.  David said his pavlova would be designed to look like a rocket, and the meringue would therefore be dyed grey. Grey being the least appetising food colour ever, Mary looked doubtful.  Michael said he’d be baking a kind of lemon curd pavlova.  Sarah was baking something tropical. Jameela did something with red food dye and peaches.  I didn’t hear the precise details because I was mixing a gin and tonic at the time, alright? Bite me.

Jameela squealed with despair as she took her efforts out of the oven. “They’re burnt, and they’re under-cooked! How can that even BE?” Your oven was too hot, love, that’s how.  David’s grey meringues were the size and shape of three pantechnicons and were also heavily cracked. “Definitely more moon rocks than rocket,” he said, happily smothering them in whipped cream.  At the other end of the spectrum, Jameela’s were so small a mouse would have left the table hungry.  “What should I do?” she wailed.  Michael’s looked delicious. Sarah’s had so much fruit piled on it, it resembled a market stall, but Mary said she loved it, so what would I know?

Unsurprisingly, Jameela’s was a disaster, as she’d mashed the whole lot up and declared it a sort of Eton Mess.  “It’s not got the three layers,” said Mary, gazing a bowl full of bright pink germolene. David’s was pronounced beautifully marshmallow-y.  Michael’s was sensational.  “Sheer perfection,” said Mary.  “This is going into the National Museum of Wales,” whooped a delighted Michael.  He won.

Next week, three celebrities and Chris Moyles will be competing.   If you want to make a donation to Comic Relief, all you have to do is text Bake to 70005.

(*Oh alright, she didn’t.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Comic Relief Bake Off

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Over the next four weeks, 15 celebrities and Chris Moyles will enter the hallowed portals of the marquee in an unspecified field that is the venue for  The Great British Bake Off.  Tonight’s programme featured Dame Edna Everage, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Saunders and Lulu.

Lulu, who referred to herself in the third person (“well done, Lulu!”) was easily the most competitive. Dame Edna, on the other hand, was supremely unbothered. “How long are you going to cook it for?”enquired Mary Berry of the Dame’s unappetising biscuit mixture. “I’m going to cook it until it’s cooked,” she replied.  Afterwards, when said biscuit had cleaved so strongly to its aluminium casing that I suspect not even an acetylene torch could have separated the two, she declared: “Mary and Paul aren’t the only people in the world, you know.  If they don’t like it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t the best.”

Next up was the technical challenge: 12 individual fruit tarts, with short, crisp pastry topped with billowing whipped cream and glazed raspberries.  Naturally nobody produced anything like it. Dame Edna’s efforts looked like the result of a child mixing wallpaper paste with the inside of a cream egg. “Do we have to taste them?” asked Paul Hollywood, eyeing them warily.  Mary charmingly pronounced them “rather informal”.  Only Jennifer knew how to make pastry so naturally she won the challenge.

Finally, it was the Showstopper challenge – a tiered chocolate cake inspired by a memorable occasion.  “Are we asking too much?” worried Paul.  Yes, was the short but direct answer to this, but the slebs gamely got their cake tins greased and their egg shells cracked in readiness.

Ever the maverick, Dame Edna said her chocolate cake wouldn’t feature any chocolate. “Does it have to?” she asked Mary.  “Well, yes,” she replied.  Unperturbed, Dame Edna explained that she would make the Sydney Opera House out of meringue and sponge and would be called “Last Performance”.  Paul looked nervous.

Jennifer’s creation was, she said, inspired by her Ab Fab character, and would be a soggy bottomed bed cake, featuring a drunk Edina and containing vodka-laced buttercream.  What’s not to like about that? I’d eat it.

Joanna’s cake was, she said, inspired by her visit to see the Northern Lights.  Paul looked intrigued as to how one would represent this in cake form, as well he might.  “I’ve got snowflakes and edible balls if it all goes wrong,” Joanna reassured him.  Paul and Mary, stunned into silence at this, moved on to ask Lulu what she would be baking.  A cake shaped like a record player, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her hit single “Shout” came the answer.  Lulu also casually threw in a few lines from a song or two whilst baking.  If she’d made a cake iced with the words “Give me a record deal, somebody” she couldn’t have made it more obvious.

Late into the proceedings, Joanna discovered she had made a coffee, not chocolate cake.  And when baked it was still raw in the middle.  She also dumped the multi-coloured spun sugar representation of the Aurora Borealis and announced she would call the cake  “a walk in a winter wonderland” instead.  Dame Edna’s confection did indeed look like the Sydney Opera House, but only after an earth shattering explosion.   Lulu’s record cake was flat and sad, mainly because she’d chosen grey icing.

Jennifer won, and the others congratulated her with genuine warmth.  The Great British Bake Off is the loveliest of lovely television programmes, this Comic Relief version especially so.  If you want to make a donation, all you have to do is text Bake to 70005.

 

 

The BAFTAS 2015

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Judging by the Daily Mail’s tweets, this year’s BAFTAs was notable only because 1. Keira Knightley was pregnant (“Keira hides her bump in a gown made by blah blah”) and 2. Rosamund Pike gave birth recently (“Rosamund Pike showed off her amazing post-pregnancy figure in a gown made by blah blah.”)  Yep, as far as the Mail is concerned, it’s still 1953 and a woman’s only purpose is to push out babies and look good before and after.  And probably during.

Anyway, Stephen Fry (“newly married Stephen flaunted his curves in a bespoke tux”*) tripped over his own feet as he made his entrance, no doubt due to the shock of seeing Cuba Gooding Jnr wearing RayBans indoors at 8pm at night. Fry then delivered a monologue of such astonishing banality his audience was stunned into embarrassed silence. Perhaps he was weighed down by the 15 layers of Peter Andre Orange make up smeared on his face.  One longed for the wit and talent of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Or even Philomena Cunk. But Fry, a very nice man who really should take a sabbatical from presenting awards ceremonies, has this gig all sewn up.

Patricia Arquette, accepting her award for Best Supporting Actress, bored on breathlessly for what seemed like several days, thanking everyone from her fellow actors to the woman who does her bikini wax.*  There was a lovely tribute to Lord Attenborough, spoiled only by a wooden Prince William who read the words on the autocue as though he’d never seen them before in his life.  Which he probably hadn’t, thinking about it.  Ralph Fiennes gave out a truly funny acceptance speech on behalf of, and written by, Wes Anderson, who had won Best Original Screenplay (The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film I adored, scooped a total of five BAFTAs, including costume design, production design, make-up and original music).

Eddie Redmayne won the Best Actor prize for his role as Professor Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and said it was “one of the best nights of my life”. The film was also named outstanding British film and won a third award for its adapted screenplay.  It’s a wonderful film, one of the best I’ve ever seen, and if you haven’t seen it, what the hell is wrong with you? Do so immediately.

Julianne Moore won the Leading Actress award for Still Alice, a film in which she gives a performance of such complexity, depth and beauty that I urge you all to see it when it opens in the UK on March 6 2015.  Kristen Stewart is also wonderful in Still Alice and I’d have nominated her for Best Supporting Actress, frankly, but for some bizarre reason I’m not a member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Pfft.

Finally, it was Best Film, and Stephen Fry redeemed himself by introducing the presenter of the award with the words “It’s only TOM FUCKING CRUISE!” See, just when you think Stephen has cashed all his chips, he comes out with the words anyone normal would say in such a situation. Props, Stephen.

It was won by Boyhood.  A film which bored me, as did Birdman, but whevs.  Well done everyone, anyway.

(* I may have made this up)