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.
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