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

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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).
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