Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas TV - humbug!

I shall be starting to sound like Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells if I dare to query the TV licence fee, but Christmas - well! How much more lacklustre could TV get?

To be honest we don't watch much TV. There's so little that appeals, we tend to watch films (excellent service from MovieBank or Sky Box Office).

But we do enjoy a big budget costume drama, wildlife documentaries and, of course, Strictly Come Dancing.

I've written endlessly about the latter. The final was disappointing, the Christmas Day special was enjoyable, and the Story of Strictly was very entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the Natasha Kemplinsky footage because I missed series one.

Oliver Twist on BBC1 was a delight, except for the last episode which was baffingly bad. Why was Bill Sikes seen running through a forest with Oliver, only to return to London to get nabbed? Bill Sikes was so appalling the last couple of episodes, where his brooding malevolence is supposed to dominate, became a bit laughable.

I had sore misgivings about "Ballet Shoes" and these were borne out. Victoria Wood seemed grossly miscast; Emma Watson wooden and the other two orphans lacking in charisma or talent. Even poor Marc Warren, who's normally memorable in everything, struggled to make much of his role.

Marc Warren

Extras was an unexpected highlight: it can be very hit-or-miss, but I enjoyed the Christmas episode. There was a great blend of humour and pathos, and the scenes with George Michael and Clive Owen really utilised their talent and star quality.

I've also been enjoying Bleak House. Not new I know, but I missed it the first time round, so I've been recording it on UKTV Drama. It's great to come down in the morning and find another couple of episodes ready to watch.

I missed The Old Curiosity Shop thanks to the DH recording two football shows (thanks Spurs / Reading for the 10 goal bonanza - how about imnproving your defence?).

Disappointingly, two of my festive faves weren't new this year, Celebrity Masterchef and Come Dine with Me. Both repeats. And I had to get my Nigella Christmas fix from UK TV Food. The Christmas show is I think only a year old, but it highlighted the huge difference between Nigella then and the recent Express programme. It's been written quite widely how she seems to have become a parody of herself. Too much finger wagging at the camera and double entendres. I blame the director. Nigella, make it a NY resolution to go back to being semi serious about the cooking?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Go Alesha!

After a long drawn out final which frankly became a bit tedious, the right finalist won and Alesha claimed the glitterball in the Strictly Come Dancing final.

In fact the most dramatic event of the evening was the announcement, because her head was drooping as if she was already defeated whereas Matt was beaming broadly as if he had already won.

The promised fare of five dances including a show dance was a little disappointing because in reality it was only two new dances - one to the judge's choice of music and the other the show dance. What with that, and the endless reminders of their "journeys," and the whole thing was in danger of being rescued only by Bruce's singing and the Spice Girls (and didn't Geri used to get a turn at singing too? Is that her punishment?).

I am so tired of hearing about the celebrities' journeys. It's not as if they're St Paul on the Damascus road. For Matt, Kelly and others, it was simply putting into practice what they were taught at Sylvia Young's. No matter how much they protest otherwise, dancing is part of the curriculum. But still they squirm around and pretend it's all new to them.

Alesha was good right from the start and hardly had a wobble throughout the competition. It was difficult to see how she had any sort of "journey" because she didn't need to improve, except for the judges' nit picking about foot positions. Matt did show massive improvement, but it was more a case of applying himself and concentrating because he always did have the talent but probably couldn't be arsed most of the time. I was very relieved when Alesha won because I feared the gurning kid would score votes big-time from all the EastEnders fans and teenage girls.

I don't know when they record the Christmas Day special, when Alesha and Matt take on previous winners. I doubt if it's being recorded after last night, so it can't be seen as Matt's opportunity for retribution. I didn't think I would hear myself say this, but I'll be glad that SCD has finished. Too drawn out and over hyped!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Oliver Twist hits the mark

As far as Oliver Twist is concerned, I am a hard nut to crack. As a child I was bowled over by the Lionel Bart musical, film version, and bought the book and the record. I still love that film, and when I saw Roman Polanski's version a couple of years ago, it just didn't compare.

So it was with sore misgivings that I started watching the BBC's new adaptation, being broadcast for four days this week. But what a treat! I am even starting to think my perceptions of the film are very overrated as the character development was minimal.

In the BBC version, the characters are all richly drawn. Even Oliver, who has always appeared too wimpy and submissive for my liking. He behaves like you would expect a child incacerated in a workhouse, beaten and starved, to behave. He is feisty but, confronted with the love that he desperately craves, trusting and open.

I'm looking at Mr Brownlow in a new way too. In the film he comes over as a nice enough old cove, happy to take in a rugamuffin. In this version, he is anguished and sad, and we learn why.

I'm also seeing Fagin in a new light thanks to Timothy Spall's sensitive portrayal. In the film he's all avarice and picking pockets (or two). In this version, we wonder about his background, his heritage.

All in all, it's a magnificant version and I'm really enjoying it. The only character to me who seems weak is Bill Sikes, but I probably am a bit biased in that to me, the Oliver Reed version will be hard to beat. He had much more menace and charisma.

Another treat, The Old Curiosity Shop, awaits us next week; and there's also a re-run of David Copperfield, starring Daniel Radcliffe before he was Harry Potter, on one of the satellite channels. This is all good news for those of us who like Dickens and loathe Jane Austen! Let us hope the fashion for Pride and Prejudice and all those other twee, arch dramas has now passed, and maybe we will see more from Dickens, George Eliot and, heaven forbid, Thomas Hardy.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Thoughts on the Strictly final

After a thriller of a semi-final, Alesha and surprisingly Matt go through to the final next Saturday. Presumably the public will decide who wins. I can't see how the judges could overrule when The Public is already being urged to phone. On that basis, I am sad to say that Matt di Angelo will probably win. As I've said before, the voting demographic (teenage girls, middle-aged women) is more likely to vote for a 20 year old male than Alesha, who hasn't had so much of a "journey" on the show because she danced well from the start.

I'm disappointed that Gethin didn't get through to the final, mainly for Camilla's sake. She looked stricken even before the dance off, because unless Matt forgot his steps in a repeat of last week's performance, his 40 out of 40 score was going to be impossible to beat.

But credit to the kid, as we call him, in that he showed enough strength of character to bounce back after last week's hideous performance.

I'm actually more excited about the other SCD show that's on during the Christmas period - the one where past winners Mark Ramprakash and Darren Gough take on this year's finalists. The actual final, to me, is too much of a foregone conclusion now.

Meanwhile, I spotted an ad in the Radio Times for an SCD tour in Jan and Feb where past contestants including Zoe Ball, Darren Gough, James Martin and Letitita Dean compete in front of the judges and the audience decides who wins. Fab!! I will be assembling a small posse to attend!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A wonderful time of year

I was just putting the finishing touches to a scrapbook layout on Christmas Past, listening to my favourite Christmas songs, and I was musing on Christmas and the time of year.

Sometimes I get a bit like Scrooge and his "humbugs" when I think how commercialised it has got; how children expect (and get) lavish presents; how the PC-ness of today means nativity plays are about anything other than the birth of Christ, and the lack of religious teaching in schools mean most people have no idea where Jesus was born (according to a recent survey).

But, despite all that, it's still a very exciting time of year. The turning on of the Christmas lights; the delightful secrecy in buying presents for loved ones and then wrapping them; buying tree decorations; buying a party frock for the office party, and Christmas carol services. People become warmer to each other and it is a season for goodwill.

Scrapbooking has actually magnified that for me because it lends itself to such wonderful layouts: trimming the tree, the Christmas table, opening the presents, snow fights (assuming we have any), the office party.

My mum always got irrationally excited about Christmas, as did my gran before her. They put a lot of effort into making our Christmases special. Grandma would sit on Christmas Eve plucking and singeing a chicken, would you believe. Mum would make her Christmas and log cakes, and sometimes Christmas pudding, and on Christmas Day we always had a capon (not a turkey: too dry, she said). There were times when we got fractious or argumentative during MovieMaker, but generally it was a very happy time and steeped in traditions. Some of them continue to this day, even though we never all spend Christmas together.

We always watch "A Christmas Carol" (the Alastair Sim version). We always have sausage rolls and baked beans on Christmas Eve, although I don't need whisky and milk now to help me sleep (I did when I was seven!). We still call the leftovers "orks," and we insist on Cadbury's chocolate biscuits for breakfast on Christmas Day.

If you want to check out my scrapbooked Christmas past, it's here.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Matt to go

Bit of a trauma before SCD this evening: we'd had a power failure for a few minutes and the Sky Plus box promptly threw one of its tantrums and could not be diverted from tirelessly downloading software. This was only supposed to take 10 minutes but it was still going strong an hour later.

This meant that the usual frenzy of preparation prior to sitting down to watch SCD had to be put on ice (preparing my pitta bread, toasting J's roll, getting the drinks ready, sorting out the jacket potatoes for dinner) because it usually relies on pausing the programme. And without the Sky Plus, this was not possible!!

So it was a good thing I had Gethin and Camilla's gentle Smooth to calm me down as I started fretting that I would also miss the boxing later (even if it does cost £14.95to watch!).

Their Smooth was heavenly with Gethin finally laying to rest the old Geth, and allowing the new Gethin to bloom.

Letitia was fully recovered after last week and looked fabulous. Her dress for the waltz was sensational with a see-through corset bodice. The hooters were shown to best effect. I thought the judges were a bit harsh with her jive. I really didn't think it was that bad.

Alesha's Viennese waltz was beautiful and I didn't once think it was just another boring waltz. But her paso doble was a little disappointing. As the judges said, there wasn't enough stamping and haughtiness, although Matthew was certainly stamping and flaring his nostrils in a very fetching way.

Then there was Matt. Poor boy. During ITT this week, he said he was worried about tonight's two dances because he couldn't remember the steps. I don't think he was making it up either. He seemed to freeze and lose his way at exactly the same point in both the dances.

I think it will go without saying that he and Letitia will be in the dance-off tomorrow night. Unless Matt dramatically improves, Letitita will sail through to the semi-final. Fully deserved in my view.

You'll be glad to know the Sky Plus box has now recovered: John said mysteriously he had tricked it into working again, but who knows how men's minds work when they're fiddling with gadgets. So the boxing is back on again, yay!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Trinny and Susannah got it wrong

I'm normally a big fan of Trinny and Susannah and their brisk advice. But this week, when they bullied some mature ladies into going into stores like New Look and TopShop, and insisted they encase themselves in tailoring, I felt they'd got it wrong.

They'd assembled a great bunch of women in their 60s and above: feisty, independent, enjoying life. And T&S seemed to assume that because they'd given up on the high street, they'd given up on life.

What they didn't seem to get was that older women, quite often widowed or single, no longer feel the need to compete with each other in the way younger women do, or that they had to win the attention of men. It must be incredibly liberating, I think, to wear what you want, even if it's just something comfortable, and have great companionship with other women. Sheesh, when I'm that age I don't want to have to keep dieting and exercising and forcing myself into tailored clothes!

My mum is a great case in point. She wears very bright colours so could never be accused of fading into the background. But she gets most of her clothes in M&S and wouldn't be seen dead in New Look or Top Shop, Nor would I, frankly. Who wants to be looked at as if you're a mutant by teenagers wearing all the stuff you wore years ago? (Nothing is ever new these days my darlings).

If you want to play the mutton game, and turn back time, you end up being ridiculed like Faye Dunaway in today's Daily Mail. On the one hand they praise her flawless skin, her perfect veneered teeth, her tumbling hair...but then they spitefully show a close-up of her hands. In true Daily Mail style, they aim to humiliate and ridicule an older woman - when most of their readers are women. I just don't get it.

It would have been far more realistic to my mind if Trinny & Susannah had persuaded the ladies to shop around in M&S and not just in the Classics dept. They could pick up some tailoring or smart shoes and dresses in Autograph, Per Una or the other department whose name escapes me, and not feel out of place.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

My prediction: Matt and Kenny in the dance-off

Strictly Come Dancing - Saturday December 1 A torrid last night for poor Letitia Dean as she struggled against nausea and a confidence crisis and turned in a disappointing performance. But although she was in the bottom two, I believe the public will save her from the dance-off tonight. Her tears came across as genuine and I think people really like her.

So I'm predicting Matt di Angelo and Kenny Logan will meet in the dance off, and Kenny will finally go.

His improvement in the last two weeks has been phenomenal. Who would have thought he could turn in a rumba that wasn't laughable? But his hands are still like huge bunches of bananas and he doesn't do very many steps, so it's time he went.

Matt is very up and down, one week on sparkling form (like last week), the next a bit lacklustre. Sometimes he suffers from Flavia's overly difficult and trendy choreography. Their tango should have been a treat but it was ponderous and lacked the staccato. Alesha and Matthew showed how it should be done.

Another celebrity who's improved beyond recognition is Gethin. Last night he started to look like a serious contender for the title. If he gets in the final, I believe he could easily win because the public will probably vote for him more than Alesha. They should have brought in the acting coach weeks ago because the difference he made was huge. Gethin has suddenly become uber male, confident and charismatic.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cold and grey

Cold and grey has nothing to do with Strictly Come Dancing but it was the first thing I heard on the radio this morning. "Cold and grey." What a cheerful prospect!

Anyway, back to SCD and what a treat it was to see Kelly Brook and the loathsome Brendan in the dance-off. Kelly had been predictably babbling away all week about her dance not being very good and that she feared being booted off, but she does this every week and we just yawn and think "yeah right" because inevitably she then delivers a hum dinger (as my grandma used to say).

But this week she was right. Their dance, to Saturday Night Fever (a bad choice to start with) was lacklustre, repetitive and clumsy. It looked like a week one dance. I was glad to see Len tearing into them and their silly excuses about not enough time. The group dance may have taken 25 hours to rehearse but the other competitors managed to find enough time.

I can imagine the tongue lashing Brendan probably got after the humilation of the dance-off. I really hoped they would go but, darn it, the judges saved them. No doubt they'll be telling Claudia all week that it was a heart-stopping moment, a reality check, etc, and on Saturday they'll come back bigger and better.

As for the rest, the last two dances were simply irresistable with Matt and Flavia, and then Alesha and Matthew, weaving round the floor like dragonflies. They have broken away from the rest of the pack and currently look unassailable. The only doubt I have is whether or not Alesha can rely on the public vote as we get to the finals. Matt di Angelo can rely on the healthy EastEnders demographic, as can Letitita, who I think is extremely popular and a serious contender for the final three. But not having been in a group for a while, and not likely to appeal to the voting teenage girls or middle-aged women, I can't think Alesha will have enough support to win.

Gethin and Letitita both performed admirably but they're still a way behind Matt and Alesha. I was thrilled to hear Arlene tell Letitita that she is a beautiful woman and fabulous dancer. Earlier in the week, the marvellous Gok Wan said she had a gorgeous body and should be showing it off better. I agree! There's too much material in those dresses. Letitia, get your hooters out! Kelly has been doing it since week one!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Weighing in on the football crisis

So the bufton tuftons from the FA have met and quickly gave Steve McLaren the boot.

Not surprising: what is more surprising is how he got the job in the first place. Second fiddle to Sven? Low profile? But then, the buftons made such a hash of approaching higher profile international managers, we were bound to end up with a dud.

But don't put all the blame on McLaren. It also lies with the FA, and with the players. Firstly the FA. Bunch of middle-aged or elderly incompetents with no teeth (metaphorically speaking, though probably true as well). Unlike other countries, our players don't get much time to practice together. The FA needs to re-prioritise amd stop putting league gate receipts ahead of the national game.

Then the players. Their body language last night was defeatist from the start. When Lampard scored (a lucky-to-be-awarded penalty), the players didn't even celebrate. Not the action of a patriotic closely-knit team. At the end, they walked off as if to say "oh well, that's that." A bad day at the office, but hey? I got my pay (several thousand pounds). No tears or anger. Acceptance.

Croatia might not have a team full of stars but they have guts and team spirit. Our bunch of "stars" have never really performed together. Some of these "international names" have performed consistently badly for England: Lampard, Gerrard, Ferdinand, Crouch. I suggest a big cull and bringing in some new young talent. Let's face it, they can't be any worse.

I hope the FA gets off its corpulent ass to quickly hire someone who is capable of affecting change. Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger. Don't settle for second-best again. And a few heads should roll at the FA too. Nincompoops.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sour grapes from Gary Rhodes

I can imagine how it went at the PR agency.
"Gary's got a new book coming out. How can we raise his profile, increase his visibility with the national press?!
"Have him attack another chef. How about Marco Pierre White, who replaced him on Hell's Kitchen?
"No, too risky. The papers would compare them and Gary would come off worse in every area: number of Michelin stars, looks, viewing figures of Hell's Kitchen."
"How about Delia Smith?"
"No, done before."
"Nigella Lawson?"
"Perfect. She's on TV at the moment and she's unlikely to respond."

TV cook Gary Rhodes apparently accused Nigella of being an entertainer rather than a chef in one or two of yesterday's papers.

Not only is his puerile attack sour grapes, because Nigella's TV show is on BBC2 whereas he now languishes in the hinterland of UK Food, but it also insults those of us who watch her programme and buy her books. I counted and I have four of her books, but none of Rhodes's. I wonder why that is? Maybe because Rhodes only cooks British favourites that are stodgy and laden with calories (I remember he created a recipe on TV that had something like 12 eggs in it), and yet he himself looks as if his food never passes his lips. As shown by the photo, frantic working out, at a ridiculous hour of the morning, gives the vain middle-aged Rhodes a six pack.

Well, most of us prefer the luscious curves of Nigella and their testimony to the deliciousness of her food. Recipes which are far more creative than Mr Rhodes' gussied-up toads-in-the-hole or nursery puddings.

I suggest his PR people go back to their drawing boards and find a better way for him to try to rekindle the flame that went out last year when his version of Hell's Kitchen, where, in complete contrast to his normal persona, he turned petulant bully and nearly sank the show for good until the wonderful Marco rescued it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Becoming Hyacinth Bouquet

I was indulging one of my passions at the weekend, bidding on eBay for Royal Albert Old Country Roses salad plates. John merely rolled his eyes upon hearing that "I had won" (it sounds so exciting, even if it was "buy it now" which this one wasn't).

Those dear readers who know me may think it a trifle Hyacinth Bouquet to have such an extensive range of Old Country Roses china. Surely a bit twee for someone who likes minimalist and rarely wears florals?

True, and yet I still think it's wonderful (I love roses) and I can't stop collecting. Fortunately I have drawn the line at the more twee items like telephones, trinket jars and dorothy pots (whatever that is) but I do have salad servers, cheese knives and a bon bon dish in addition to all the usual plates, tea pots and tureens.

It all started when my mum had an Old Country Roses tea set many years ago. It stayed in its box, was referred to as "the Crown Derby" and was never used. She gave it to me about five years ago and since then I had added to the collection with gay abandon. It usually comes out twice a year, certainly at Christmas, and recently for a dinner party. The only drawback is that you can't put it in a microwave (the gold leaf) and I have never put it in the dishwasher.

You can still buy OCR in the shops. The Royal Doulton website has it. But as affectionados will tell you, the more recent china is made in Indonesia, so you have to look out on eBay for first quality, made in England, which takes it back to the 60s and 70s.

To complete my collection I'm looking out for a full set of cutlery (very rare) and to buy a couple more tureens. Then I can bustle around like a real Hyacinth Bouquet.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Kate gets the long awaited boot

My SCD predictions were all wrong again, but who cares? Kate Garraway finally got the boot. Thank God! It had become embarrassing, the spectacle of brave Anton heaving her round the dance floor every week; her studied lip biting as the judges delivered their repetitive criticism and the flagrant begging for votes.

Even my normally mild-mannered partner had tired of Kate and was quite vocal last night bellowing "get that woman OUT!" in the manner of my mum watching an international rugby match (although "go on my son" is her usual refrain).

Let's hope we get rid of Desperate Dan next week (Kenny) as he's equally as bad, lurching and posturing, and Ola looks increasingly like a pug.

What of the rest? Well, as expected, Kelly's jive was very good, though I had to suppress a smirk that it wasn't quite as good as Jill Halfpenny's and Kelly had wanted to do the best jive.

There's something not very endearing about Kelly. The ingenue act of giggling and the faked surprise when she gets through is very transparent, as she's never been a great actress. Underneath all that is a steel will and determination to win at all costs. This seems to mean increasing amounts of embonpoint and leg, so my prediction is that by the final she will be wearing next to nothing (like the champion Latin American female dancer from last night).

For me the best dance was Alesha and Matthew's waltz, which was dreamy and romantic, everything a waltz should be. Normally the waltz seems to be a pedestrian spin round the floor with a few token heel turns (get me!). I also liked Gethin and Camilla's rumba. I thought the judges were a bit hard on Gethin. He did come across as quite romantic and passionate, which was hard for him. I noticed the judges didn't even mention him when they were talking about those likely to be in the last three, yet last week they were eulogising about him.

Letitia was good, not marvellous, and her dress was much improved - although they need to work a bit harder to find her waist. I'm sure it's in there somewhere.

John Barnes was boring, and a likely candidate for the chop next week as he seems less popular with the public than "Mr Scotland" Kenny. Fortunately for Barnsey, he's a judges' favourite. It seems more obvious this year which are their favourites.

Finally, on an aside: I'm astonished at how the merchandising opportunity has not been grasped. If you do a Google search for ballroom dancing / SCD, you don't get very much beyond the official book I had last year. Where are the dvds, the franchised classes, the costumes, the frank autobiographies? (The Nicole and Matthew Cutler story seems fascinating!). And here's an idea for the BBC: a wonderful Christmas special by having well-known singers perform with the professional dancers interpreting the song, as they do in the results show each week.

Don't vote to vote in the little poll, possums, and how about some comments? Let's liven things up in here!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

In praise of The Tudors

The TV critics in the more upmarket papers were very scathing about the US production of The Tudors, currently showing on BBC2. They sneered at the historical errors, the actors, the sets, the "dumbing down" of history. Mostly they sneered because the Americans have had the audacity to recreate this period in British history.

Well, tosh to the pretentious old snobs. It's true that The Tudors is a glossy adaptation with a Henry VIII that doesn't look too much like the fat ginger beardy we've seen from the later portraits. And there is a lot of rumpy pumpy. But if we manage to introduce a few youngsters to the magic of history through this programme, than so much the better.

I remember years ago when I discovered the Tudors through the less than historically accurate pages of a Jean Plaidy novel. I was transfixed by this story of a king and his six wives...and it was all true! I became a devotee of the Tudor period to such an extent that I have a reproduction of Holbein's Anne of Cleeves looking benevolently at us in the dining room, and a bookcase groaning with academic assessements of the era (not just the populists like David Starkey).

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the king is a lot more suitable than the type we usually get, like Ray Winstone. In his day he was judged to be tall, when most men weren't, handsome, athletic and cultured. Katherine of Aragon is exactly as I imagined her, Ann Boleyn has won me round (she seemed a bit insipid to start with).

The only one who lets the side down, disappointingly, is Sam Neill as Wolsey. I've always liked Neill - he's a very versatile actor, and owns a vineyard too ("Two Paddocks" rather than Two Sheds). But in The Tudors his Wolsey somehow fails to hit the spot. He doesn't come across as obsequious, vile and toadying as Wolsey undoubtedly was.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Kenny to go

I wasn't too good at predicting the Strictly Come Dancing results last week so let's hope I return to form this weekend! I'm expecting John Barnes and Kenny Logan to be in the dance-off. Barnesey has to do the tango, and it's not a natural dance for him. He likes to move around, not be constrained. Kenny, well, he's generally very bad anyway. In the dance-off, the judges are bound to favour Barnsey again as they think he's got more natural rhythm than Kenny (but so would a donkey, frankly).
And what of Ms Garraway? Well, it's a no-brainer that she will get the worst score, but I think the public is going for the long haul here and she may get through again. I'm even starting to think of her as a finist. She's doing a paso, and it looks as if Anton will try to grip her in iron hold the entire dance. She's unlikely to display any of the drama or contrast needed.
I'm expecting the best performance from Kelly, in the jive; an OK performance from Letitia, and second best performance from Alesha (waltz). I think Matt will score over 30. Gethin may struggle with the rumba - they all do. He's had difficulty expressing an emotional bond with Camilla and I'm not sure he'll pull it off.

Monday, November 12, 2007

How could I get it so wrong?

(Slaps hand across forehead).
OK ok, so I fell for Kelly's "I'm rubbish at the Viennese Waltz" nonsense, and should have known better. It was a set up to make us feel sorry for her. She always was really good at it.
I'm talking Strictly Come Dancing of course. Another cliff hanger thanks to the public vote. I never would have expected to see Matt in the dance off: I thought the teenage girl vote was his (well, shared between him and Gethin).
So quite a shock to see him and Penny competing to stay. I knew it was a no-brainer that Penny would go. Her salsa was too frantic and needy. And she has less potential than Matt. I don't think he's had one bad dance, except arguably his first one.
Very disappointed to see Ian Waite go out at this stage. He's my favourite (so there, Brucie).
I did get one thing right, which was that John Barnes delivered a great salsa. I knew he would! I was disappointed by Letitia's (and her dress wasn't great again - the one she wore in the group dance was much better). But I think the best salsa of all was Alesha's.
I find the Viennese Waltz a real "zzzzzz" but my favourite couple, if I have to have one, was Camilla and Gethin's. He's coming on leaps and bounds each week and you can see him gaining in confidence. I thought theirs was very romantic, unlike Brendan and Kelly's which was posey and self centred as per usual.
What can I say about Kate? I really did think she would go this week, having shown a slight improvement last week (and therefore a dip in the public's need to drag her back for further humiliation). But her salsa was just the worst dance I think she's ever done. Freed from Anton's iron fists, as he normally drags her round the dancefloor, she went freestyle with laughable results. Next to her, Letitia looked like.....(insert your favourite lady dancer here).
When Bruce talks about "the public" I always immediately think of Kate's demographic: the staunch, fiercely loyal GMTV viewer. Who is this person? Whoever it is, she's in danger of dancing into the final at this rate!
Finally, a word as usual on "Dancing with the Stars." Jane Seymour went out this week. She didn't dance badly, in fact she scored three eights for her first dance and eights and nines for the second. But what she did do, shamelessly, was talk about how special the dance was for her special friendship with Johnny Cash and his wife. Cue video of JC with one of Jane's children. I'm afraid to say it was all too vomitworthy even for the Americans, and they gave Jane the boot.

Friday, November 09, 2007

My SCD predictions: Kelly to get a shock

Let's see what's in the old crystal ball for tomorrow's Strictly Come Dancing.
Hmm. Well I think Kate's number is up. I'm pretty sure she will go this week. Now that she's slightly improved, I don't think the public will vote for her in such big numbers, particularly as the judges are getting ever more self righteous about the public voting for the best dancers.
So I think it will be Kate in the dance-off....with.....either Kenny or Kelly. Now Kenny won't come as a surprise to anyone. He's lucky to still be there. His paso last week was nearly as laughable as Chris Parker's from series 1.
But Kelly is increasingly getting on my nerves, and also other people's. She's trying to redeem herself after coming across as a quasi-rebel with the illegal lift, and how is she doing this? By coming over all giggly and "oh I'm rubbish at the Viennese Waltz" on Claudia's show. Stifles yawn. That ingenue act might have worked, Kelly, had you stuck with it from the start and not got a bit carried away by the judges' comments in first couple of weeks.
So yes, I think Kelly could be in for a shock. Craig Revel Horwood didn't like the look of their waltz, and it's not a dance that Brendan includes in his repertoire.
I think Letitia will go from strength to strength, and am also expecting great things from John Barnes's salsa.

Let's see how it pans out!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Barry George: an unsafe conviction?

I have watched with great interest the growing body of evidence that says Barry George did NOT kill Jill Dando. I hope that tomorrow's Appeal Court judgment will be conclusive in dealing with the matter once and for all. The judges could free him, order a re-trial or confirm that the conviction was safe.

It does seem that there is huge doubt about the safety of George's conviction, particularly now the speck of forensic evidence, a particle from the gun shot, is not deemed reliable. Add this to the fact that all the witnesses claim the man they saw had long hair (Barry George always had short hair) and the overwhelming fact that he is not mentally equipped to pull off such a deft, clever killing, and you start to question the conviction.

Miscarriages of justice make me very uncomfortable, particularly so when the person incarcerated has lower than average intelligence. The worry is that in high profile murder cases the need to get a conviction might lead to a vulnerable person, unable to understand the implications of what is happening, being wrongly convicted.

Sadly, we have seen this happen all too often. Stefan Kiszko was wrongly imprisoned for 16 years for the murder of Lesley Molseed in 1975. He died aged 44 just a year after being released, and his mother, who had tirelessly campaigned for his freedom, died six months later. Derek Bentley, hanged on 28 January 1953, was granted a posthumous pardon in July 1998.

I knew Jill Dando: we worked together in BBC local radio and she came to my first wedding. She had a strong sense of justice and I know that she would want the truth to come out, even if it means freeing Barry George with the knowledge that her killer is still out there.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Petulant attitude sends Dominic packing

Last week among all the hoo-ha and fuss about Gabby getting ejected from Strictly Come Dancing, there was one celebrity participant who didn't think it was such a bad thing. Dominic, the cheeky chappie ex-criminal, said that actually if some of the better dancers went, it meant those in the middle would have more chance of staying in. At the time, the comment jarred, as everyone else was weeping and wailing about Gabby. And I predicted that Dominic would duly be evicted this weekend because his attitude was starting to grate.

During the judging on Saturday, Dominic made no secret of the fact he was expecting low scores from the judges and didn't agree with it. Instead of smiling and being gracious, which always gets you public support, he frowned and rolled his eyes. He very clearly gave the impression that when the judges said he wasn't musical, they were making it up.

So as I expected, he was in the dance-off with John Barnes. I fully expected Kate to be saved again, but, I predict, this is the last time. I knew the judges would save John Barnes because they've always praised his naturalness and the way he moves to the music. Dominic on the other hand stomped around the floor in his paso like an angry troll. I wonder if he will have recovered his (maybe false?) cheeky chappie persona in time for Claudia's show tonight.

For next week I predict that the public is tiring a little of Kate and because she vastly improved this weekend, they're less likely to vote for her. Unfortunately the public has a cruel malevolent side which means they vote for people who are terrible to prolong their agony (remember I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, and the Appleton girl who kept being 'saved' to perform the trials?). So I'm predicting that Kate will be in the dance off along with Kenny. The judges will then get their long awaited opportunity to send her packing. Could Anton be given someone good next year? Please?

I hope Letitita keeps up the improvement but for God's sake get her a decent dress. It seems every year the costume department has their favourites (this year Kelly, Penny, Alesha) and the other girls are given something from scraps as an afterthought. Letitia's dresses are either mumsy or tarty, but never pretty or interesting.

It was good also to see Kelly and Brendan getting taken down a peg or two. After last week's illegal lift they were smug and thinking that they're mavericks, rogues and unassailable. Kelly insisted on breaking the feminist mould with some cape shenanigans, but she just looked silly. She didn't hurl it away properly and Brendan tried a couple of times to push it out of the way. The dance itself was lacklustre and Craig was quite right when he said they looked like they were dancing for themselves and not with each other.

At the moment the finalists are looking like Matt and Alesha. Anyone disagree?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Whatever happened to Bonfire Night?

Thank goodness last night is over and we are safe from teenagers roaming the streets demanding money with menaces.

Sorry but that's how I see Halloween, which has morphed from some obscure pagan festival into a £160 million retailers' jamboree. How gullible is the British public, buying into something the retailers created? Somehow they identified a "need" for outfits of Frankinstein and serial killers, pumpkins and cakes with green slime, and the public bought it, hook line and sinker.

I can understand why people feel the need for some fun at this time of year, but the sad thing is, we already have a festival at this time of year and it's grounded in history, not some ridiculous made-up American import.

Guy Fawkes or Bonfire night is a true reason to celebrate with fireworks. Years ago, we carved faces on swedes and turned them into jack o'lanterns with a night light inside, and we spent ages building bonfires from rubbish and creating a guy (at least we made something for the penny we requested!).

Of course now a lot of the loony councils have outlawed firework displays and another historic tradition is being squeezed out by rampant commercialism.

Well, this Saturday we will troop out into the garden and set off some fireworks! Bit early I know but Saturday makes sense. It will take me back to my childhood when we obediently went outside for 30 minutes while my dad put rockets in milk bottles and Catherine wheels were attached to the fence. And my mum always started squealing about not going back to a lit firework, and panicked if a jumping jack or banger came over the fence from next door.

Ah the rosy tint of nostalgia! Parents, get in touch with history and the past, and remind your kids what this time of year is really about! (Message in Viz magazine).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Benares delivers a treat for the senses

Atul Kochhar sprang to national prominence in the TV show The Great British Menu, where he provoked anguished debate among the judges about whether or not his food was truly British cuisine.

Now, having dined at his Michelin-starred London restaurant Benares, I can say it very definitely is British cuisine but with the delicate touch of a spicing master. The menu was mercifully bereft of the onion bhajiis, rogans, chicken tikka massalas and biryianis. Instead, Benares serves up a short but saliva-inducing menu of classic fish and meat dishes with that extra spicy something.

I went a la carte and started with spice crusted seared scallops with grape and ginger dressing. What made this stunning was the fact that the grapes were served at just thawed temperature. The coldness and the crunch with the ginger was, as Michael Winner would say, historic.

Next I couldn't resist the star of his Great British Menu submission. Battered John Dory with crushed garden peas and Gorkha tomato chutney. We shared a side dish of water chestnut, baby corn and courgette tossed with crushed coriander. The batter and fish was sublime, the batter light and crispy, the fish tender and juicey. The only disappointment was the chutney which was quite bland.

Benares has a fine selection of teas - such an underrated drink - and I enjoyed the delicate but robust flavour of the Benares special blend.

The restaurant was pleasingly busy for a lunch time and has a relaxed ambience with plenty of room between the tables. I think more could be done with the decor: the initial walk up the stairs and the marble sweep into the restaurant is spectacular, but once inside the ceiling is quite low and the wall covering - what appears to be smooth obelisks of Polyfilla - could be visually more exciting.

The only thing that jarred was the service. It was very much executed to a script with none of the intuition and anticipation that waiters display at restaurants like Le Gavroche. My companion's napkin was taken away when he went to the lavatory (why?) and the waiter insisted on describing exactly what we were eating, when it arrived, which seemed silly when we knew because we'd lovingly read every word of the menu. We weren't asked if we wanted to replenish our bottle of water, and uneaten poppadoms were almost removed before we had finished.

That aside, I certainly noticed the difference in spicing when I went to our usual Indian restaurant later that weekend. It's a perfectly acceptable restaurant, but somehow everything lacked clarity and unctiousness after Benares.

The wonderful wiles of the voting public

Wasn't the Strictly Come Dancing results show terrific last night? I had already predicted Kate Garraway would be saved and expected Kenny Logan and John Barnes to be in the dance off. So I was amazed, nay gobsmacked, as was the rest of the nation, when it turned out to be Mrs Logan and Penny Lancaster.

I certainly didn't get indignant or angry at the result, so I'm bemused by the fact the BBC website went down as people tried to complain about Gaby and Penny being in the bottom two. It's only a game, folks! Besides, serves the show right for under- estimating the voting British public. Having sanctimoniously decided that the judges will decide which of the bottom two goes, therefore removing the public's right of veto (even though we're expected to spend at least 25 pence on the call), I thought it was very droll that the public still continues to wield the power.

And as readers will know, I couldn't stand Gaby anyway and it seems neither could the rest of you. I have to say, I felt she danced better than Penny last night (she still looked ungainly and wobbly to me), but I didn't want Ian Waite to go out so it was a good call all round.

And great that the EastEnder boy is starting to shine. I feared it was going to get boring if Alesha and Kelly continued to dominate each week.

Finally a word to UK Gold. Sack whoever is doing the editing. I've been recording "Dancing with the Stars" every Friday, keen to watch the progress of Jane Seymour, Mel B and Marie Osmond. Last week's show was very entertaining: Marie famously fainted and Jane's rumba was divine, yet she ended up in the bottom two. In the US show, the public still decide who goes. But the editing of the show! It's appalling. After Marie fainted, we went to an ad break; we returned to find her fully recovered and waiting for her result - and then the result wasn't shown, because they shot ahead to the next couple! And this happens throughout the show. Very poor. The results show is abysmal, it seems to go on for hours, and instead of having all the couples together and doing the elimination in one go, they do it two couples at a time.

It doesn't look as if Jane Seymour will be in for much longer, which will be a shame. I am simply amazed at how good she looks for 56. She has the figure of a girl half her age, and none of the lumps, bumps and back fat that blight the middle-aged, even the slim middle-aged. Hurrah for a true English rose!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The elusive goal is reached

At the weekend we were in Amsterdam for the marathon, John's 16th and the penultimate marathon in his world's top 10. This is a list compiled by Runner's World and now he has only Chicago to run, next year.

John has been training hard to reach a particular goal. He runs five days a week and his schedule includes runs and races with the Orion Harriers, half marathons, a training week in the Algarve and losing a stone.

He didn't achieve his goal in Boston, back in May, although he came close. In fact the weather conditons were so bad that the elite runners were all slower than their normal times.

But in Amsterdam, the goal was achieved. It was a great moment sitting in the Olympic stadium and receiving his excited phone call as he crossed the finish, and then seeing him jumping for joy among the thousands of plastic clad finishers as they milled around in a haze of embrocation.

It's a huge personal success for him because he's had to change his mindset and the way he runs a marathon, plus he's getting older. The training he did in the Algarve this year was instrumental in the change. He learnt how to monitor his pace instead of his heart rate.

I've followed him around the world running various marathons - Berlin, Stockholm, New York, Honolulu, Rotterdam, Paris to name a few. I've seen him at quite a low ebb after poor performances in Stockholm, where he ran although he was unwell, and Berlin, where it was very hot. So it was great to see him jubilant and joyful. He seemed to recover much faster too. I've seen him walk down staircases backwards in the past, and limp at the airport, but after Amsterdam he was even quite chipper when we had to walk back to the hotel (30 mins).

Now the goal is achieved I don't think he will stop running for one minute, and I wouldn't want him to because running keeps him fit and stress-free, but at least the pressure is off in terms of personal bests. Next up is London, hopefully, if he gets a place, followed by Chicago in the autumn. And I'm trying to talk him into Tokyo.

Have I ever thought about taking up marathon running? No chance --- the runners are generally small and wiry, built for speed (which is another reason why it's harder for John as he is tall and well built). Plus I couldn't contemplate dragging myself out on a cold or rainy dark night. No, it's the swimming pool for me and my beloved aqua sessions!


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Willie freed

We watched Strictly Come Dancing yesterday (Monday) after returning from Amsterdam. I was surprised to see John Barnes in the dance off, but it seems the GMTV loving public are going to keep rescuing Kate Garraway in the way they did with Fiona, so as long as she's saved from the bottom two she will dance again. A bit of a travesty of course because she was much worse than Willie Thorne or John Barnes. I bet the judges are spitting a pillowful of feathers that their ploy to save the better dancers is failing.

Anyway, it was a foregone conclusion that Willie would go because John Barnes does have a lot more natural rhythm, and in his black outfit, looked much more like a contender than when he was wearing lurid orange. He looked as if he'd shed a stone and a half.

The wardrobe dept was kinder to Letitia Dean too. Last week's purple dress was horrific but this week she looked good (and slim) in a full-length gown, and her dreadful hair extensions were out of the way on top of her head.

Poor Penny looked like a prancing cart horse but as they all said, the jive is very difficult for tall people. Ian Waite somehow makes everything look very light and natural, despite being tall, but he is wonderfully in proportion and has been dancing since he was six.

Kelly Brook and Aleesha Hamilton are still looking the stars, although it was good to see one of the boys, the kid from EastEnders (I forget his name) coming through. I thought Gethin was appalling: he looked like a plastic model from Thunderbirds. Talk about a frozen turkey. Kenny Logan continues to look like a terrified Shrek, and Gabby Logan, while technically OK, continues to grate. She will not last once the public get the chance to boot her out.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sex and the City - don't do it

I have, in the words of Mrs Fussey from the immortal film "Carry On Camping," got sore misgivings about the forthcoming film of Sex and the City.

It's three years, though it seems longer, since we last saw Carrie and co. Now I was a great fan of SATC, but I'm less than enthusiastic about the prospect of The Film. The photos we've seen so far, which are apparently dream sequences of weddings to throw us off the scent (though they probably really are wedding scenes) just show how the girls are ageing, badly. Carrie, in a wedding dress, looks so thin her bones are jutting out. Ewww. I can't help thinking the whole thing is going to be a pale imitation of the original series, sadly played out but played by the girls to get one last crack at the dollars.

I can write the story of the film now. Carrie, reunited in Paris with Big, finds out he really is a shallow shmuck and ends up marrying someone else very quickly (Aidan?). Samantha probably dies (I read someone does). Miranda gets her long awaited happy ever after. Not sure about Charlotte. More of the same I suppose, with her solicitor husband and adopted children.

When has the film of a series ever been any good? I can't think of any instances. Star Trek? Noooo. Bewitched? Definitely not. Dr Who? (Has there been a film of Dr Who? Oh - I read that's another one in the making).

Still, there's always the possibility the SATC film may still get shelved. Apparently Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall are at each other's throats again, so one of them may have a hissy fit and walk out. Or, I suppose, the rushes could be so bad it goes straight to DVD.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Gaby's face was a picture

It really was. When the Alpha Female Mrs Logan realised she wasn't in pole position with the judges, she gritted that jutting jaw and said fiercely she would be even better next week.

I'm talking week two of Strictly Come Dancing of course, when the ladies were unleashed on us in all their finery.

They really are going to be a tough act to follow. The boys seem a lacklustre, uncompetitive lot, content to clown around. But among the girls, it's very difficult even at this stage to separate Penny Lancaster, Aleesha Dixon and Kelly Brook. You then get category two - hugely determined to succeed at all costs (Gaby Logan), but likely in my view to be voted out by the public as soon as she gets a poor vote from the judges. Category three are the no hopers: Kate Garraway and Stephanie Beacham. Beacham looked great for her age. Her face was so immobolised by botox it was hard for her to show any emotion. She performed commendably well, but give her a Latin dance and she'll drown. Letitia Dean is a category two: she could do very well but she lacks confidence. A bit like Carol Smillie. And she does have lovely legs, slim all the way up, lucky girl.

I hope that Penny Lancaster wins: she's a nice gel and Ian Waite is a nice bloke, and they look wonderful together, and it's fun to see Rod looking proud. Kelly Brook is too darned perfect for her own good - though it will be interested to see if she's still with Billy Zane by the end of it. He's looking balder and more dull by the passing day. And weren't they supposed to have been married this summer?

As for Gaby, she's a dead ringer for Gollum and I'm sorry but those desperate-to-win athletic types do not perform well with the voting public. That's assuming if any of us are voting. With all the scandals I for one will not be going anywhere near a phone.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sorry Brian

I must have put a hex on Brian Capron with my prediction that he would do well in Strictly Come Dancing. Ejected after the first show! And what a shame for Karen Hardy, last year's winner.

I do believe, and I'm not the only one (muttered darkly), that Brian was unfairly evicted. He was a better dancer than "Desperate Dan" Kenny Logan, who lummoxed around the dance floor like Nelson's Column on castors. However, I believe he was saved because of the corny couple storyline that they're determined to milk for as long as possible: the rivalry, the jealousy, yawn yawn.

The Logans do nothing for me: I can never bear the overly ambitious female sportswomen who "have" to win. I'm afraid I was already prejudiced about Gaby simply by the fact that she "had" to lose her baby weight super fast and then write a book about it, just to make ordinary mothers feel bad.

Poor old Stephanie Beacham was the only lady not to have any comments made after the group dance. Or, as John put it, "the old bag is the only one no-one's mentioned."
She was briefly seen carping at Kelly Brook in a manner that could only be interpreted as bitchy and jealous. Stephanie, if you want to win some votes, the Carringtons are a bit old hat these days.

After seeing "Take Two" last night, I'm now backing as no 1 Penny Lancaster. She seems really nice too. Nothing to dislike there. And having Rod and a few stepchildren in the audience can't do any harm. He isn't creepy like Billy Zane.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Nice bit of tail at The Clerkenwell

Restaurant review: The Clerkenwell, 69-73 St John Street, London EC1M

I have been fancying a bit of tail for such a long time now (ever since it got banned in the UK following the BSE scare, and its subsequent re-introduction). I refer of course to oxtail, and today oxtail ravioli was my starter of choice at the exquisitely lily scented The Clerkenwell dining room.

The oxtail melted in the mouth amid a pleasing and soothing blend of scallops, mizuna and red wine jus. I would have liked even more oxtail as it was just a fleeting taster. Mercifully the cauliflower that was mentioned didn't seem to materialise.

Next up I chose sea bass with scallops, risotto of fine herbs and champagne veloute. Superb. The sea bass was perfectly cooked, tender and flaking, and the risotto under stated but smooth and delicately flavoured.

Normally I try to pass on pudding. But the chocolate tart with caramel sauce, pistachio mousse and ice cream was too tempting. Oh my. Crumbly buttery pastry and a swoon of molten chocolate. The ice cream was only a bit player, pale green and fairly bland - I was looking for it to pack a little more punch. But a divine tart and mousse.

Another point in The Clerkenwell's favour was its excellent service. Each dish was presented to the right person without a word, the hallmark of great waiting. Pleasant relaxed atmosphere; good acoustics (no straining to hear what was being said) and tables nicely distanced from each other. Too many City restaurants have tables crammed close together which is hardly conducive for business meetings.
So, in summary, highly recommended for a business lunch. Quality food, imaginatively presented with a trademark "paint swirl," and excellent service.

Monday, October 01, 2007

It's back! Strictly Come Dancing!

The return of Strictly Come Dancing is one of the few reasons to feel good about autumn. My spirits soared as the familiar music rang out on Saturday, even though it was only a preview show. It's just fabulous. I love it!

Without having seen one step yet from the eager new intake of celebrities, I'm willing to take a gamble and give you my tips for the top. The horses I'm backing, if you will permit me to mix my metaphors, are: Brian Capron, Alesha Dixon, Penny Lancaster and Matt Di Angelo.

Capron is a more mature participant, but he looks in good shape, he's an actor and actors/actresses traditionally do well, and I can imagine he's going to be quite light on his feet.

Alesha Dixon danced a bit with Misteeq and she looks very energetic and bendy.

Penny Lancaster has been photographed dancing and showing off her endless legs in many tabloid pictures, and she will look stunning with the tall fair haired Ian Waite, so I think she'll go far provided she's got a bit of a competitive streak. I fear she may be too nice.

Matt Di Angelo seems very confident and I'm backing him for no other reason than that!

I personally think (and I may of course be proved wrong) that "Hollywood actress" Kelly Brook will be wooden in the vein of Carol Vordermann, and an early casualty.(Hollywood actress? She's appeared in a few flops, mostly with Billy Zane, that went straight to DVD).

Kate Garraway will probably be better than poor old Fiona, and I hope she does well because Anton Du Beke is so lovely and he's never won SCD.

I'm stifling a yawn over the prospect of the double husband and wife pairings of Kenny Logan and Ola Jordan, and Gaby Logan and James Jordan. The sports people are always a turn-off for me in SCD because they're so damned competitive.

As to my prediction of who will get knocked out first: I would say either Willie Thorne or John Barnes.

Oh - and I couldn't resist taking a peek at the new series of Dancing with the Stars, the US version of SCD, on, of all channels, UK Gold. It must surely be the only "new" programme they have, and sits uneasily amongst endless re-runs of Only Fools and Horses and Fawlty Towers.

I wanted to see Mel B from the Spice Girls and Jane Seymour, two English roses. Oh, and Marie Osmond.

Mel and Jane both performed superbly, a credit to the UK, and both looked amazing. Mel, you go girl - I hope Eddie Murphy and his latest fiancee were gutted to see you on such sparkling form. And Jane Seymour, at 56 - how does she do it? (Yes I know, Botox and fillers probably, but she still has the figure of a woman in her 20s and that's very hard to get, even with surgery). Marie Osmond was OK. She's a good example of how botox and fillers can make you look a bit odd (Kylie is fast heading in that direction: Danii went down that road a long while ago).

Check back for regular updates!!

UK warms to home cooking?

A story in today's Times made my heart leap. Well, two stories actually. Steady!! I must say that switching to the Times has done wonders for my blood pressure. They genuinely do have the odd good news story.

Anyway. "Mothers warm to home cooking" was one story that made me joyful. Apparently all the shock TV and newspaper reports about soaring levels of obesity have at last led to a rise in the number of women cooking from scratch.

But it's probably a bit premature to hang out the bunting. The survey was carried out by RaisingKids, a parenting website apparently, so I would imagine that its readers are far more well disposed towards healthy eating messages and doing the right thing for their kids than the general population. The organisation claims that the response of 2,500 is an accurate reflection of the views of the UK in general. If so, that's good: I had begun to fear that people were completely impervious to messages about children dying before their parents and so on.

The other good news today, which is widely reported, is that the smoking age has risen from 16 to 18. I don't suppose it will stop many kids from getting their hands on ciggies (I doubt if the shops will ask for proof of age) but it's a start, and following on from the ban in public places, a very useful start. In 50 years' time we'll look back on smoking as some strange antiquity. Having seen my dad die of emphysema, I can't wait to see smoking banned once and for all.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Reflections on a successful city centre rejuvenation

I'm back from a week's holiday in Devon (my ancestral home) where I did various sightseeing trips with my mum. We went to some of our favourite haunts, among them Buckfast Abbey and Roadford Lake, on the A30 between Launceston and Okehampton. More of that in a moment.

I also went into Plymouth city centre for the first time in about three years. What a transformation!

I was brought up in Plymouth, trained there as a journalist and worked as a reporter for BBC Radio Devon when it opened, so I was fascinated to see how the city centre has changed. Drake Circus, a 60s shopping centre, had become a very ugly and rundown part of the town, and I feared that lack of investment, following the cruel scything of Devonport Dockyard, was going to consign Plymouth, once an elegant city, to a deteriorating backwater of charity and pound shops.

The new Drake Circus mall puts paid to these fears. Architecturally it is very bold and brave. I am impressed that Plymouth was confident enough to go for something so distinctive and memorable, rather than the apologetic architecture you usually see in malls.

As you approach the bombed ruins of Charles Church, a permanent memorial to the war where Plymouth suffered terrible devastation, you see gold panels flanking the church and showcasing it in a new way. And then the mall continues to surprise, with chunky glass and granite decoration along the side walls. Meanwhile the newly built Plymouth University rises up beyond the mall and sits in an area which used to look horribly shabby but now looks proud and modern. Bravo Plymouth! All that needs to happen now is some investment at the bottom end of town - Colin Campbell Court - which is looking very rundown and apparently suffers because visitors only go to the better part.

Back to the solitary beauty of Roadford lake. Roadford is actually a reservoir but it was created very sympathetically and is a peaceful haven and magnet for wildlife and birds. The photo shows the sun glinting on the lake with the tea room and visitor centre in the top right. The conference/visitor centre is fairly new but was added very inobtrusively, and means that the tea room is now open for longer in the year, which is excellent.

Start your trip with a light lunch in the tea room, where you'll find an excellent selection of delicious home cooked food. You may be lucky enough to be served by Shirley Maynard, who's worked there since it opened in 1990. She always remembers us. My dad and I used to love visiting the beautiful reservoirs of Devon and Cornwall. Roadford was a particular favourite, though I'm surprised it ever got built, such was the force of opposition from the "nimbys" and protestors. I hope they have eaten their words over the years, having seen how South West Water more than fulfilled its commitment to create a lake of beauty.

After lunch, set off on one of the walks. Some are marked suitable for wheelchairs; there are long walks and short walks. We walked to the bird hide, where we have yet to actually see a bird, but it makes a nice detour from the path. Unfortunately there's no longer a visitor book in the bird hide. We used to enjoy reading the various comments about what people had seen, including galloping herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

An end to the career of Jim Davidson

This summer I successfully weaned myself off Big Brother, and didn't watch one minute of the old tripe. I suspect I'm not alone there, based on its dwindling viewing figures. The only reason Channel 4 keep it going is that advertisers like the demographic profile of the mostly teenage viewers.

I haven't turned my back on trash completely, I'm afraid to say, although I have decided not to get a Sunday tabloid any longer. I've always had the News of the World and the Sunday Times, apparently the most popular combo. But the NOTW has gone so much downhill that it nowdays has very little news or crusading journalism and I don't want to read about bimbo models and which "celebrity" footballers they managed to dupe into bed. Even the quality of scandal has gone downhill. Their few exclusives come when they dress up as sheiks and deceive people.

On the subject of trash, I've also been watching Hell's Kitchen this year. To start with, I just wanted to see what Marco Pierre White is like, as he's never done TV before. He's a very successful chef and businessman with several successful restaurants to his name, and he famously made Gordon Ramsay cry.

To start with, I thought he was fascinating: very charismatic and an inspiring leader. But as the days have gone by, I've got disillusioned with his daily pep talks and how he keeps repeating the same phrases: "allow me to take you by the hand and guide you," "keep pushing," "nature is an artist."

Plus he became very friendly with the repugnant Jim Davidson, the former comedian. I have to question Marco's judgment here. Last night Davidson was sent packing after his homophobic attacks on Brian Dowling. What made it particularly distasteful to watch was that Davidson justifies his attacks with arguments that he is now in a minority (fat middle-aged misogynist and homophobic bigots inc) and where does he, and those with the same views, go from here? He asserts that now we are all "PC" you cannot express any views these days without getting into trouble.

Yes and no. Firstly, he used to have a big following and he's now struggling to find work. What does that tell you? We are tired of his brand of humour and his risque and repulsive jokes. And that's not just the "PC" among us but his target audience, presumably a lot of whom were middle aged men.

Secondly, I'm against "PC" when it becomes ridiculous, but I do believe that everyone is entitled to respect and dignity. We must put an end to people being bullied or humiliated. Where I do resent the "PC" culture is when it comes to loony left wing councils and organisations and ridiculous court judgments. Two examples: a loony council recently failed to challenge two homosexual men who were accused of abusing the children they fostered, purely on the grounds that they didn't want to make it look as if they were persecuting homosexuals. And then there was the RAF typist who received massive damages for injuring a finger while typing, while the most horribly injured soldier to ever recover received a derisory sum that won't pay for his care for the rest of his life.

ITV took too long to step in to evict Davidson. The bullying was even more loathsome than that suffered by Shilpa Shetty in Celebrity Big Brother. We shouldn't even have had to see and hear Davidson's unsavoury and prejudiced views. Hopefully now the death knell has been sounded for his career and we won't see him again. He'll go into the trash can occupied by Michael Barrymore and John Leslie (and until recently, Bernard Manning). Brian Dowling, meanwhile, will now probably win Hell's Kitchen.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Try this instead of counting sheep

My drives to Swindon, once or twice a week, are very LONG - usually two and a half hours each way - and if Sarah Kennedy and Chris Evans, for some reason, are not behind the mic on Radio 2, I have to find other ways to amuse myself (I don't listen to a stand-in).

Sometimes listening to CDs is good, but not if I forget to change them. I also keep an eye out for Bailey's Equine Nose Bags - their lorries seem to make the same journey as me, starting on the M25 at 6am and heading down the M4.

And then there's the filmstar game. Now this is far better than counting sheep. What I do is imagine that I'm casting the biggest, starriest film ever. Every filmstar currently living is featuring in my film. It's easy enough to come up with the superstars, but you have to think of older actors, those who used to be famous but haven't been seen, plus foreign actors who crop up in Almodovar films.

I'm always very chuffed when I remember stars who used to be big, or at least well-known, like Theresa Russell and Debra Winger.

I usually have a full roster of British talent in my film (naturally).If I'm really bored - ie stuck n roadworks - I start to cast them alphabetically.

I find it very amusing to imagine what it would be like having Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Joan Collins and Lauren Bacall coming face-to-face with each other.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Underrated Mr Almond

You know how, when you're in a hotel in Europe, you find yourself glued to the BBC World Service because it's either that or CNN? Well, in Cyprus recently, I found myself watching an interview on the World Service with Marc Almond. And I thought: what a nice guy. He was very candid and very likeable. Not at all starry.

When he was in his heyday with hits "Tainted Love" and "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" I wasn't wild about him. I quite liked those songs, but I wasn't a fan. I didn't check out his music or concerts. Then a couple of years ago I came across a greatest hits compilation and I was amazed at the purity of his voice. The most amazing voice, such clear diction you can hear every word. You can really sense heartache, joy or whatever emotion is relevant about each song.

I've just downloaded his latest album, "Stardom Road," which is a collection of cover versions but each uniquely done. I particularly like his version of "London Boys," one of David Bowie's little known early songs.

A very under-rated artist in my humble opinion.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Diana Myth

The Sunday Times ran a thought provoking article by Germaine Greer headlined "The Diana Myth." At last, I thought, someone who thinks the same as I do about Princess Diana.

Today, with the Diana Memorial service, it's wall-to-wall Diana. But it's not as if this is a one off. She never goes away. Not only is there is a steady flow of books from shabby spongers, with the contents increasingly becoming like Chinese Whispers, we have the Mail and Express stoking the coals of the ludicrous theories about conspiracy and murder. Why should the royal family or anyone want to kill Diana, when she was no longer married to Prince Charles? True, she was making a fool of herself with a succession of men (Gilby, Hewitt, the doctor, Dodi to name but four, and then there were hundreds of calls to someone she fancied but who was married, Oliver Hoare), but there was no reason to murder her at that time.

I think her supporters like to think she was murdered because it implies mystery and glamour, whereas the reality was: she died in a car crash where the driver was over the drink drive limit.

The French categorically denied she was pregnant, and a recent report said she was not serious about Dodi anyway but merely trying to get back at the Asian doctor she was apparently in love with.

I'm amazed at how so many have been duped by Diana over the years, and the way she has been elevated to folk hero or saint status. Her supporters will say she did a lot of work for charity. True, but no more than the Princess Royal. End of discussion. And does the Princess Royal ring the tabloids to tip them off about visits to homeless people or AIDS victims at midnight? No, she doesn't. Diana did frequently, apparently.

Diana's supporters will also talk about the magic she had with the ordinary person in the street: her warmth and so on. Well, given that our royal family is sadly dysfunctional in that they are so uptight and repressed, anyone showing a bit of warmth would stand out. But I don't think it's so unusual in the real world. And she was a nursery nurse, so you would expect her to be empathetic.

If you take away the "warmth" and the good works for charity, you have left many undesirable qualities which get brushed under the carpet. Attention seeking. Passive aggression. Neediness.

Diana's role and reputation seem to have been blown out of all proportion to reality, and I for one wish we would move on. Finally we have a woman who makes Prince Charles happy (who always made him happy) who is content to let him, as heir to the throne, have all the limelight. She does not resort to playing games in the media, even when vilified. She is a far more suitable character to be Queen than the unstable and star struck Diana.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

And now the good news: er.....

Regular readers will know that I enjoy a rant against the Daily Mail, and most newspapers and the BBC in general for the poor journalism that is rife in Britain: lack of objectivity, hidden agendas, perpetuation of damaging stereotypes and refusal to carry anything other than bad news.

Last week I decided I would try to restore the balance by publishing some good news each week. I'm not talking about heart warming tales of people doing good works for charity. No, I'm talking snippets which make us feel good to be British. Surveys that make us look good compared to other countries. Stories of our eccentricity. People standing up to hoodlums. Court cases where bureaucrats lose lots of money.

Surely there are surveys which reveal more positive facts about Britain than those we hear about? Today's example is that teenagers drive while under the influence of drink and drugs. Great! Surely there must be some positive attributes for teenagers? They can't all be obese, gun-touting, illiterate, drunken louts as the press portrays them?

Anyway, my good intentions faltered last week because try as I might, I couldn't find any good news in any of the papers. Sometimes you find something which sounds vaguely encouraging, for example, how statins may reduce the risk of senility. But these health stories are ten a penny and frankly hokey, in my view. I'm always furious when the Daily Mail takes a health study, usually on a women's issue like HRT, and publishes a shock horror front page aimed at frightening women everywhere, when the survey is statistically useless, and they fail to provide the counterbalance of other studies. See what I mean about objectivity?

The only good news stories I found, and I didn't think they would bowl you over, were: Madrid's public service TV station decides to drop coverage of bull fighting; a First Choice air stewardess successfully delivers a baby during a flight, and the aforementioned about statins.

I am still scouring the papers and hope to bring you some better tidbits tomorrow. If you find anything, do share. Let's try to make Britain a more positive place. Yay!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Worried about David

As a lifelong fan of David Bowie, I have become somewhat concerned about his whereabouts. I know he's happily esconsced in New York with wife Iman and daughter, but we've seen so little of him for the last three years. During his last tour in 2004 (when I saw him at the Birmingham NEC), he had the incident (in Norway I think) where a dart nearly blinded him, and then he had what was described later as a mild heart problem, similar to that suffered by Tony Blair.

But since then, we've hardly seen him and there have been no new albums except compilations. Strange for someone who has always been so prolific. Indeed, when I have seen him (at society gatherings or awards ceremonies, pictured in Hello) he looks bloated and unwell, most unlike his normally angular self. I don't buy the argument that maybe he just wants to take life easy and put on a bit of weight. I think maybe the heart problem was worse than we were led to believe.

I'm so hungry for a new album, a tour and an appearance on Jonathan Ross. My fervant hope has always been that David recaptures the public's imagination by having another blockbuster album. It doesn't have to be brilliant but purely commercial, like Let's Dance. The whole Facebook generation seems oblivious to him (you can only locate him there as "Bowie" if you want to find his music) and this is criminal when you consider that of all today's artists, he has had the most impact and influence. Plus he is still the coolest man in pop, even at the age of 60.

I read somewhere he has turned down an honour, which I think is very sad. It seems crazy when musical lightweights like Cliff Richard and Rod Stewart get honoured and Bowie doesn't. So I hope the right thing is done. Gordon!

Meanwhile: David where are you?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fairytale surroundings at Aurora

Eating out is one of the great pleasures in life and I have been eating my way round London's finest restaurants for some time now. I don't like pretentious, nouvelle, overly fussy or, conversely, poor value for money and slapdash. So I've become quite a difficult customer to please. Sometimes a pub meal can be great and memorable. Sometimes a Michelin starred restaurant can be choked by its own hype.

My latest foray was to Aurora at the Great Eastern Hotel in Liverpool Street. Not to be confused with a different and far inferior Aurora in Lexington Street, this one used to be a Conran restaurant (no longer). Here you can enjoy modern European cuisine in the beautiful surroundings of a landmark building from the golden age of steam railways.

The dining room itself is amazing with a Victorian stained glass dome. There was enough room between the tables to feel private (unlike a lot of London's restaurants where you are practically sitting with the people to your right and left). Service was excellent, discreet and inobtrusive. Impressive amuse bouches were followed by, for me, Cornish mackeral, which looked and tasted sublime, and then salmon en croute from the carvery trolley with new potatoes and broccoli. My only criticism is that the salmon was slightly overwhelmed by the sauce. As our main course was delayed, we were offered a complimentary pudding and chose the least calorific option, a baked peach with a light-as-a-feather tiny sponge pudding and a tangy sorbet.

All in all, Aurora fully delivered against the very positive reviews on the web, and is well worth a second visit.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The magic of Faro

We've just been back to Faro in the Algarve for a long weekend. We did the same last year, in September, when I suddenly decided I must bask in the sun for one last time before winter. This year, we went earlier (August) but our holiday in June seems a long time ago and the British summer seems to have given up the ghost.

I would fully recommend Faro if you want a simple, authentic, pretty place with a wonderful hotel overlooking the marina that has a "grown-up" outdoor swimming pool on the top floor.

The hotel in question is the Hotel Eva, which is just across the road from the pretty narrow town centre streets. There you will find very few big international shops. With the exception of Spanish retailers Mango and Zara, the shops are local, some selling pottery, one, Bijou Brigitte, selling lovely necklaces and beads. The streets throng at night with the sociable Portuguese (who outnumber the foreign tourists), and there is always entertainment, singing or dancing, in an outdoor stage next to the marina. There are plenty of outdoor restaurants offering locally caught fish.

Faro is not a seaside resort, although if you want a beach there are plenty of small boats in the marina which will take you to fairly nearby beaches. We were too lazy for that. For us, it was straight up to the top floor and the big, rectangular swimming pool, pool bar which does great salads at lunchtime, and a comfortable lounger. It was very relaxing with hardly any children. I had expected August to be really busy, but it wasn't painfully so.

Getting to Faro is easy: Easyjet have numerous flights each day (we counted four landing within 15 minutes of each other, one morning as we were having breakfast).Ryanair and BA also fly there. From Faro airport it's an eight euro drive, lasting 10 minutes, to get to the Eva and your own piece of heaven.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Weep for the British farmers

I'll admit that I wept when I heard the news at the weekend that foot & mouth disease had been found on a Surrey farm. Very swiftly the EU pulled the curtain down and the memories of 2001 come flooding back: the funeral pyres, the black smoke, the grief.

Now I am furious that the fault appears to lie with one of two research laboratories. There are even claims it could be sabotage. I just hope that the two farmers whose herds have been slaughtered will get legal redress for what has happened. As to Britain's reputation abroad, no compensation will restore that. I am pleased to see that Gordon Brown was quick to deal with the issue but he needs to take a very firm public stance if his govt owned laboratories caused the issue in the first place.

Years ago there used to be a saying that there was no such thing as a poor farmer. Now I find it very unlikely that can be such a thing as a rich farmer. Not cossetted and blessed with mountains of subsidy like their French counterparts, life is hard for the British farmer. He or she may have had to diversify; may have had to start again because of BSE and foot & mouth disease, and may be on the point of ruin because of the weather this summer.

Add to that the giant supermarket retailers, and the contempt in which they hold farmers, and you can see it's a brutal, stressful existence. Our retailers make handsome profits and we pay the most in Europe for what's in our shopping trolley.
But farmers get paid a pittance for their milk and their meat and can be dropped after years of trading if one of the supermarkets decides to save a penny here and there.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Musn't grumble (but here goes)

Thanks to the Telephone Preference Service, I have managed to get rid of 99% of those infuriating cold calls. And the Mailing Preference Service has put paid to all the direct mail we used to get. I'm very careful now when I sign up for new websites or catalogues that I tick, or untick, the right box so that they don't share my address with third parties.

All well and good. But since these services came into operation, the amount of junk through the letterbox has quadrupled. I often work from home and during the day I can expect around 10 leaflets on average, ranging from takeaway menus to people offering the services of cleaning / carpentry / carpet cleaning / yoga lessons. Then there's the "to the householder" old tosh that the Post Office is allowed to get away with, and numerous free newspapers and magazines.

I just don't want any of it. The trouble is, I don't see a way of saying no, except for a huge sign saying "NO LEAFLETS / FREESHEETS. HUGE SNAPPING TURTLE ATTACHED TO LETTERBOX". They're generating a huge amount of rubbish, plus alerting burglars when you're away and the letterbox is stuffed with free newspapers. My vote goes to the local councillor who puts an end to it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The return of glamour

The breathless excitement heralding the new fashion collections in magazines usually leaves me a bit cold these days (it's only ever a rehashing of something from a different decade) but the Sunday Times Style magazine succeeded this week in making me feel, ooh, quite tingly.

First they showed a fashion layout for now with figure hugging clothes. Not a smock or empire line to be seen! And how much sexier the models looked. Empire line, kaftans and smocks have been one of the worst trends for years. Unless you are tall with an ironing board figure (straight up and down, like Paris Hilton), empire line does you no favours. I've tried several variants but always end up looking like Abigail from Abigail's Party. This was particularly gutting when I was keen to buy a floral maxi dress to waft around in on my holiday.

So I'm pleased to see the return of the waist, missing for too long. Before the empire line we had the abomination of jeans and trousers cut miles below the waist, with teenagers flashing their "T" bone thongs, tattoos, muffin tops and God knows what else. And it wasn't just teenagers but women who should know better.

The Style magazine also featured some of the clothes and accessories for autumn. The return of black! Yippee. Gorgeous, gorgeous shoes - brogues with heels (I love those), Mary Janes, t-bars, in patents and metallics. Pencil skirts. Fitted jackets. All very yummy. At long last, a return to glamour. We will all look like laydeez!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Put howling women singers out of their misery

If there's one thing guaranteed to set my teeth on edge, it's the shrieking, toneless caterwauling of the vast majority of women singers.

Very few women can sing well, in my opinion. Most women deliver a pitch that is nasal in the extreme, or, if they think they can sing (Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, even Lesley Garrett), they indulge in cheap vocal pyrotechnics and the kind of screeching that would do credit to a tom cat.

I have to change stations if "I will always love you" comes on. Or "Eternal Flame." Or, the latest horror, Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry." She's gone for that dreadful sob-trapped-in-the-throat sound originated by Michael Jackson which is copied relentlessly by singers including Beyonce and Britney and everyone on those tawdry TV talent shows. Do they think it covers the term "emotions?" Fergie has also perpetrated another crime which is trying to sound like a little girl.

Beverley Craven doesn't seem to have dealt with the most basic of vocal challenges, getting rid of the sound of gulping in breaths. And Madonna, well, nasal in the extreme.

Maybe I have overly sensitive ears. But the only women singers whose voices are harmonious and pleasant are Barbara Streisand, Julie Andrews, KD Lang and Karen Carpenter. As their best bodies of work were many years ago, you can see I don't rate any of today's women singers. What do you all think?

Friday, July 27, 2007

UK Inc is so depressing

At the time of the World Cup there was initially quite a lot of patriotic fervour about the England team and the nation as a whole. Flags suddenly appeared all over the place and the country was on a brief high, unified and optimistic.

It all ended in tears and the country went back to its normal brooding state of resentment and confusion. Unlike the US, France, Italy and Germany, the UK has no true sense of identity. Scotland, Wales and Ireland yes; England no. Until recently, it was bad to even display the flag of St George because it was owned by the fascist fringe.

I find myself pondering over England's sociological status and identity confusion. I made the decision this week to stop buying papers, except on Sunday. The reason is that every day, the papers are just full of doom and gloom about the UK. I'm not talking about terrorism, murders or any other crimes, but simply the cascade of stats everyday that paint the UK as one of the worst places in Europe.

Let's take yesterday as an example. Britain has the worst behaved teenagers in Europe. Earlier in the week, it was revealed that 15 year old girls drink more than boys their age, and get drunk on average once a week. Wonderful. A former boxer dies after challenging three yobs who were smoking. In Gloucester, flooded houses were looted and vandals and children have vandalised water bowsers. Other people meanwhile were marching in and taking far too much water with the "I'm all right Jack" selfish attitude that prevails these days.

Then there are depressingly regular reports about obese teenagers; teenagers armed with knives; bullying; Britain having the highest number of teenage mothers in Europe; Britain having the highest number of university dropouts in Europe.

That's just the youngsters. Then there is what I consider the hidden scandal of how the elderly are treated in care homes and by the NHS; the NHS in general (crippled) and poor public transport.

It all adds up to a picture of a thoroughly unpleasant, divided land. It's unlike other countries where the majority of people are principled, honest and caring. I despair of the mentality of people. What makes someone think it's OK to damage a waster bowser? Or loot someone's flooded house? Or for a gang of teenagers to choose a victim and knife him to death? It's as if millions of people have grown up among wild animals with only a will to survive but no psychological training on respect or self-esteem.

I wonder how we got to this state. A lot of commentators and the Daily Mail blame either "the government" (and I do believe the avaricious Thatcher years have a lot to do with it because the divide between rich and poor became too great) or lax parenting. I think it's a combination of the two plus a general resentment that although we're supposed to be one of the richest nations in Europe, our priorities are wrong and somehow a lot of our public services - the NHS, education to name two -are worse than those found in third world countries. We'll happily spend millions parading up and down with America in countries where we seem to think we have a God given right to "restore justice" based on flimsy evidence. We give great tax breaks to the super rich allowing them to have some sort of "domiciled" status that means they don't pay any income tax. We fail to uphold the family as the structure on which a successful country is based, but make it so attractive to be a single mother there is no incentive to work.

I know there are positives about the UK. Er.....well, the sense of humour and the beauty of the place are the two things that immediately spring to mind. But it's all far outweighed by what is wrong, and I try not to dwell on it because it's just too depressing.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The rise of the humble blackberry

There are very few good things in life that are free. Blackberries are one of them. I was interested to read today that demand for the fruit has grown by 15% in the last year. Sadly though the word blackberry has been hijacked by the accursed BlackBerry hand-held. And the innocent, delicious pastime of "blackberrying" has probably all but disappeared. I doubt if the young even realise you can help yourself to very fine blackberries in the wild rather than going to Sainsburys to buy cultivated punnets from countries like Mexico and Holland, for around £1.99.

But blackberrying can still be done, and a fine pastime it is.

When I grew up in Devon everyone was at it. My dad was an avid blackberryer, and even when emphysema had taken hold, he was still blackberrying, although one time he tripped into a bramble and was virtually held upside down while my mother ran screeching for help.

Where we live, in a leafy suburb of London, there are brambles everywhere. Look, I cry to John as we go out for a walk. Look at all those brambles! We must come back when they're ripe with suitable receptacles.

He humours me while dreading that I may mean it, because I get the impression that taking nature's bounty is not the done thing in this neck of the woods. Last year a piece of wasteground near the garage yielded an absolute bounty of the black beauties and I was in there, happy to get scratched, pushing my way through the brambles to get to the juicier specimens at the back of the bushes.

Unfortunately that was the first and only time because that little piece of wasteground then became a shrine to the car (someone else's) and was hastily stamped out.

And what delicious things were made from blackberries when I was young! Bramble seedless (jam without the pips); blackberry and apple pie; blackberry and apple crumble. Now I have them stewed on my breakfast cereal. I do buy them from Sainsburys but no matter where they come from, Mexico, France or UK, the cultivated ones don't taste anything like the wild blackberries.

So I'm looking forward to the time when they ripen, although I imagine the lack of sun is probably not helping. I'm not telling you all where the bushes are because if you've got any sense you'll be out there too with your Tupperware. Just don't try to pick them when they've gone over. A Devonshire saying is (and excuse me for this), if you leave them too long, the devil piddles on them.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The delicious irony of it all

I had to smile when I read the headlines generated by the Food Standards Agency's discovery that it's not only what the papers euphemistically call "low income families" who eat convenience foods high in fat and e numbers. What the Independent today calls "middle class families" (a bold step nowadays to refer to class!) are equally guilty. In fact, there is hardly any difference between what the two types put in their trolley, whether that trolley is being pushed around in Lidl, Asda or Waitrose.

What made me smile was the imagining of shrill rebuttals and disbelief in the middle class homes of the chattering classes. The people who pay through the nose for organic produce and sneer at "low income families" saying that their children are hyperactive and fat because they're fed a diet consisting of the McCains range, cheesy lunchables and the Colonel's bargain bucket. Their chocolate is by Green & Black, not Cadbury, their crisps by Kettle and not Walkers; they rarely pay less than a tenner for a bottle of wine, and they like to buy fresh herbs and whatever's trendy to stave off ageing, pomegranate, blueberries, etc.

Yet despite all their foody posturing, they still lack knowledge of nutrition and health. Or perhaps they have the knowledge but still succumb to the lure of the ready meal. As one commentator pointed out last week, actually we do all know about nutrition and what we should be doing (making meals from scratch, freezing them, eating five portions of fruit and veg a day) but the way of modern life is not to do this. It's all about ease and convenience.

Today at the gym for example, I saw a car searching for a space closest to the building. Everyone seems to do this, whether it's the gym or the superstore. It's no longer "normal" for children to walk to school, even when they can, or for anyone to walk to the shops, even if they're 10 minutes away. We've become use to this life of sloth and indolence. So we all pretend we're too busy, our lives too hectic, to possibly cook our own meals from scratch. But really we're just deluding ourselves.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Goodbye to the Beckhams

With much fanfare, pouting and posing, the Beckhams have finally gone to Los Angeles.
It doesn't mean that we won't be spared all the usual dross about Victoria's latest shock diet or David's latest haircut. As seen this week, whatever they do in America is instantly broadcast in blighty: for example, Victoria's ridiculous attempts to look sexy while draped over the bonnet of a car, and her appearance on the Jay Leno show. There she apparently criticised Eddie Murphy. Go girl go! That man is the lowest form of life and I'm glad to see that Girl Power is reintstaed following the Spice Girls reunion.

I DO think that David is flushing his career down the toilet. It seems to me that a few months ago when he wasn't being selected for England or Real Madrid he was probably desperate for a new challenge and a megabucks contract in LA probably seemed the perfect solution.

Of course then he got recalled for England but the die was cast. He's gone out there five years too early in his career and he won't be playing for England in a year's time because he won't be good enough. The slow pace of US football won't be sufficient.

Will he succeed in converting Americans to soccer? I doubt it. Others have tried, including Pele. Beckham has the glamour factor, but soccer just won't be fast or furious enough for the Americans.

I wonder how it will all turn out. Will the Beckhams get swept into Scientology, a fate that seems to befall anyone who gets in with Tom Cruise? Will Victoria ever be able to dress down, or will dressing down continue to mean her own brand of jeans with vertigious high heels, huge bag, full slap, immaculate highlights etc.

They are such determined icons that you have to give them some respect. They give hope to chavs and wannabees everywhere.
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