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

Search this blog

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Michael's out - at last

The Apprentice, week 10

Michael Sophocles finally got the boot last night, and I am still pondering on the whereabouts of the flashes of brilliance that Sir Alan seemed to see. I didn't see any, and was so indignant that he wasn't booted out last week that I didn't write my usual critique.

The trouble is, I am growing increasingly weary about this once stellar program. It's fallen into the usual trap engendered by success. The formula is exploited, and I'm sure Sir Alan is being told by the producers to keep certain candidates in because they're good TV. I didn't think Sophocles was even good TV, such was my distaste for the odious little sneak.

Anyway, to summarise last night's task in one sentence: they had to rent out posh cars. Michael had no interest in either the cars or the task, and it showed. Lucinda also reverted to her tearful "I can't do this" mode which we hadn't seen since early on when she couldn't use a PC. Pathetic. Helene, as always, did nothing but gave such a stout defence of her traumatic life at an American company, where they are always making people redundant (I know what she's saying) that Sir Alan kept her on for another week.

Alex had a good week; he managed to sell some car hours. Lee also scraped by with one sale. I don't like Alex. He still bites his lip and his surname is just too irritatingly northern to be taken seriously. "Wotherspoon" indeed. Claire is looking a bit of a dead cert at the moment.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Brilliant bank holiday

What a great bank holiday Monday! And no, I don't mean that in the ironic sense. We haven't had a wet bank holiday for a while, and what a treat it was to have to stay indoors, away from the tedious chores of the garden or the threat of a bike ride or walk, to read or watch TV. And how thoughtful of the BBC to have provided quintessential bank holiday afternoon viewing, The Sound of Music.

I spent a happy couple of hours scrapbooking, although it was a little too cold to stay in the lean-to any longer. I then went back to the snigger fest that is my latest book, "A nice cup of tea and a sitdown."

This book is laugh out loud funny, but only in the British way. If you're not British, forget it. Firstly, you wouldn't get our obsession with tea, and the way it has to be made; and secondly, you wouldn't appreciate the chapters about different types of biscuit and their dunking capabilities.

I was thrilled to see my own personal favourite the jammie dodger had a suitably "A list" mention. When the Rover Selection was proudly brought out in the office for an agency visit, there was only ever one jammie dodger in the tin which I was primed to grab before someone else did.

I was pleased to see that the Tunnock's Wafer also had a splendid showing. I never really liked them but Grandma always had them in her house, along with Schloer and Woodpecker Cider. Sadly the Bandit did not get a mention. Does anyone remember them? A chocolate biscuit similar to a Club. (And yes, I sympathise with the writer of ANCOTAASD who bemoaned the changes that have blighted the Club).

I would imgaine if you were at a pop festival, a 10k race or in a tent, today's weather in the south would have been a little trying.

But if you were snug in your house with a fine cup of tea (no biscuit) and the promise of sausages for dinner, than a finer bank holiday could not be had.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Change Eurovision or walk out

I'm afraid I succumbed last night to the lure of velcro, the whirling of numerous dervishes and the howling of banshees.

Yes, I decided to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. The only reason was because Sweden were declared favourites, and I perked up thinking that if a Western European country was a favourite, maybe things wouldn't be so bad.

In the event, Sweden didn't do very well (and I wasn't that bothered because the Scandinavian countries role modelled the art of voting for each other, long before Eastern Europe joined the party).

I could see that some of us were trying very hard. France even sang in English, for the first time ever, and had someone who's apparently quite cool. I liked their song. Germany were Germany. Spain tried to go for novelty and cheese with something about "cheeky" which really should have been a nul points.

As for the rest, well, I lost the will to live at quite an early stage in the contest and started reading, so they all merged into one. So many turkeys! (And Ireland wasn't among them). I did notice some old geezer, some head bangers (Finland again) and of course the dire Latvian pirates. A few years ago they may have won it, but Eurovision voters tend now to go for overblown big production jobs, and this year's winner, Russia, fitted that bill perfectly with some muscle hewn singer called Bilan and a male ice skater pirouetting in the background.

Terry Wogan sounded crushed and at the end said it was no longer a song contest and western Europe should think carefully about what we do next. He hinted he may not be there next year. I won't be either, unless there's a radical change. Seeing as we, Germany, France and Spain fund it, I believe we should now put our mouths where our money is. I'd like to see the senior bigwig from the BBC who runs this event defending it.

It used to be a bit of fun but now it's painful. It's not about songs but about allies and close countries. Sadly for us, only two countries deigned to vote for us (San Marino and Ireland) so it's a giant snub from western Europe. Yesterday's Times showed a table of all the winners over the years, and a few years ago we were always in the top 10. In fact, coming seventh was considered a flop. Now we are always at the bottom. It's not that the songs are dreadful. Scooch last year was pretty dire, but there are always worse. This year our song was like a Lennon McCartney compared to some of them.

So how to change?

First idea: get rid of the public vote. Go back to the voting panels. And don't allow a country to vote for those on its borders.

Second idea: create two Eurovisions, funded by the countries taking part. One for western Europe, the other for eastern Europe.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Making my mind up to give up Eurovision

This is very sad, very momentous. But after goodness knows how many years, I am giving up the Eurovision Song Contest.

I knew the rot had set in when I didn't bother to watch the two semi-finals this week. Then I heard that the UK entry is 100 to 1 and considered by the bookies to be our worst ever entry. Seeing as we've finished in the bottom three for the last three years, that doesn't bode well. The song is actually OK - not a novelty song - and Andy Abrahams is OK. But unless you're from the FSU or your country ends with "ia" you might as well go home.

It used to be fun, even the political voting. But it's just got worse and worse over recent years and now it's too much of a choker to contemplate, seeing buffoons in pirate costumes or people who should only be singing at karaoke bars, and then seeing the countries that fund the wretched thing ending up at the bottom.

So tonight I will be watching a film and a long standing tradition dies.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Make time to smell the roses

This is the time of year when gardens and hedgerows look their best. Even along the M25 I marvelled at the lushness of the elderflower and the profusion of white frothy flowers on the cow parsley.
In my beloved rose garden, the roses have burst into flower. I have two types, both pink and both David Austin English roses: Gertrude Jekhyll (pictured), a deep pink that's both hardy and highly scented, and Sceptered Isle, paler pink cup shaped blooms. Both are inclined to be climbers so they get a bit leggy as summer progresses. At this time of year, they're in fine form with no pesky diseases. Although I must say this year I am eschewing sprays which are friendly to ladybirds etc in favour of chemical warfare, to try to prevent a recurrence of last year's black fly.

My love of roses came from my dad, Stamps. I was only about seven when, in driving rain, he painstakingly cut out a circular flower bed in the front lawn. For many years it was filled with roses. I remember going by in a coach on a Sunday school outing and Mrs Newnham remarking on the garden with the roses. I told her proudly it was mine.
Stamps loved Ena Harkness, a deep red, highly scented, which is quite disease prone and has a bad habit, so it's not a rose many plant nowadays. That one sprawled over the back fence. It wasn't a very profuse bloomer: literally one magnificent flush and that was that, whereas my Austin roses start in April or May and happily perform until October. He also loved Wendy Cussons, a pink. I remember the arrival of Superstar, a new genre of highly coloured, highly perfumed hybrid tea roses. Shockingly vermillion, my mum thought it was a bit loud. Meanwhile she and Stamps both had an irrational dislike for Iceberg, which I thought was a shame so I used to put my egg shells around it.
My grandma loved Peace and not surprisingly this was the rose that we insisted on at the garden of remembrance, although it never really flourished.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Shrill Sara gets the boot

The Apprentice, Week Eight

Apart from her beauty it was hard to see what Sara Dhada had in the way of skills to contribute to Sir Alan's empire. Her voice was her worst feature: sometimes shrill, generally monotonous. She always seemed to be on the defensive, and when she did try to sell, she came across as hard and aggressive.

So in last night's bridal challenge, Sara was the evictee, although it was difficult to choose between her, leader Helene and the oily Michael. Notice how Sir Alan shrewedly put all the weakest contestants in one team? Alex was there too, and I don't think he's impressing Sir Alan. He's been on the losing side far too often and always seems more interested in covering his own back than anything else. He clearly lacks confidence with all the facial gurning and lip biting that he does.

Helene's team lost the challenge, to sell bridal dresses and a range of accessories at the NEC bridal fayre, by selling mid-priced dresses that looked somewhat downmarket. Ditto the wedding cakes. They sold five dresses but no cakes. Alex did most of the selling and to give him his due, he is a grafter. Helene did nothing apart from flounce around in one or two of the wedding dresses, like Boudica inspecting her flotilla.

Sara and Michael tried to sell the cakes and got increasingly desperate as the day went on.

Meanwhile over at the other booth, Lee was putting his charm to good use by selling "fongs", bikinis and sandalls, and delighting the women of Birmingham by under-guessing their true size; Claire was doing a great job giving nervous brides the right messages about the expensive Ian Stewart bridal gowns, and Lucinda was a beacon of calm, becoming stronger by the task. Only Raef seemed a little out of his comfort zone. But in the boardroom, he readily admitted to having pushed for the top of the range bridal gowns, even though they only sold three and all these at the end of the afternoon. Had the team lost, he would have taken the rap.

Three candidates are now looking very strong to me: Raef, who is a true gentleman with strong ethics and principles; Lee, who combines an outgoing nature and charm with the ability to understand when to challenge and when to follow, and Lucinda, who instinctively knows how to get the best out of people. Claire seems a little more average to me: a good operator but probably limited in her potential.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gird your loins - it's nearly here!!

The Eurovision Song Contest, live from Belgrade, Serbia, May 24

There's no middle ground as far as the Eurovision is concerned. You either love it or you hate it. Those who hate it look at you as if you're mad. Lighten up, I cry: it's a bit of a laugh! It's irony incarnate. It's kitsch. It's the only thing that unites everyone in Europe (and a few others like Israel).

So what's in store on May 24? And before that, in the two semi-finals? (April 20 and 22).

Well, UK doesn't have to compete in the semi-finals. Thank goodness! Because we'd never make it to the final. Along with Germany, France and Spain we fund it so we get a wild card or a free bus pass or whatever you like to call it.

What I don't understand is why we (the UK) are not allowed to vote in the first semi-final. I had already promised Kurt I would cast a solitary vote for Belgium, and then what happens? Belgium are in the first semi. I can't believe it's because Ireland are in the first semi. I mean, come on!! They never give us all their points and we only give them a few. It's not like the Swedes giving the Danes 12 every time, or Georgia giving Russia 12, or Croatia giving Serbia (need I go on about the nuances of the voting system?). We and the Irish have a bit of dignity and pride!

Anyway, down to the matter of form. This year it's all about the novelty act. There are several! Ireland has Dustin the turkey, a puppet singing "Irelande douze pointe". Clearly the Irish invested a lot in the lyrics. We're talking Lennon McCartney in their prime:
Hello Abba, hello Bono, hello Helsinki,
Hola Prague, hello sailor, c’est la vie,
Auf wiedersehen, mamma mia and God save the Queen
G’day Austria, bonjour Serbia, you know what I mean

Other novelty acts include Latvia with Pirates of the Sea singing Wolves of the Sea (I think there may be a theme going on here), and Croatia, fielding an elderly gentleman doing some rapping.

As for "Royaume Uni" (that's us), we have no chance whatsoever. We never do these days, with the Baltic bloc vote, but the trouble is this year we have a fairly decent song and a fairly decent singer, but it's all a bit...well, fairly decent and average. Not a nil pointe but it won't be giving Terry Wogan palpitations either.

The official Eurovision site, by the way, is worth checking out...not only can you see each participant and hear their song, you can see the lyrics too!

Stay tooned to this blog - there's more to come I'm afraid.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A most condescending article

Most journalism is fairly run of the mill. Now and then, an article strikes a chord and becomes memorable to me, either because of the subject matter or because of the way it was written.

Yesterday's Sunday Times had an article by Lesley White about John Prescott and his wife Pauline which was memorable because of the latter. It was extremely patronisng and condescending.

White clearly went to the interview with preconceived notions about the couple. She was snooty and sniffy about their house and its location, and some of their interests and habits: Pauline's love of champagne and handbags and her tidiness. You would think she had been confronted with Hyacinth Bouquet herself. Maybe Lesley White comes from "old money" where tidiness and cleanliness (and children) have a very low priority compared to dogs and muddy boots; a world where working class people know their place and don't attempt to better themselves. There wss a touch of ire about her tone that suggested she was aggrieved the Prescotts had done so well considering he failed his 11 plus. I am amazed people still talk about such things.

By the end of the interview, White had grudgingly grown to respect Pauline who seems a towering figure of strength. But her description of bone china cups, highly polished photo frames and cucumber sandwiches will live on in my memory.

I still carry with me the disbelief I felt, many years ago, when I read an interview between Jilly Cooper and Robert Redford. To me at that age, Cooper was ordinary with a desperately old-fashioned hairstyle (which she still has) and gappy teeth. I couldn't believe my eyes when she angled the whole article around the fact that Redford had not found her attractive, and he hadn't done much for her either. I remember saying to my mum, "does she seriously think he would fancy her?"

I also remember an article in She magazine at the time when the film Shirley Valentine was getting the sort of attention that Sex and the City gets now. The writer was excited about meeting Pauline Collins, who played Shirley Valentine, and hoping she would be similar in character. Instead, I remember the writer saying how bitterly disappointed she was when Collins was snippy and rude, quick to brush aside any suggestion that she was like Shirley.

The power of the written word is one reason why printed publications will never go away, in my view.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Selfish Profiteering

It's summer and the snakes in the grass are out in force. Three of them: Cherie Blair, John Prescott and Lord Levy.

They've all published their tedious autobiographies which have one thing in common: let's have a go at the prime minister, Gordon Brown.

I can't think what good is served by the odious trio and their selfish profiteering. Cherie must be the only PM's wife to ever write her account of "what happened". Presumably her motives are twofold: pay for the monstrosity of a house they have just bought, and try to restore Tony's reputation so that history doesn't only remember him as one of two idiots who took us to an unnecessary war.

It's less clear to me what the motives of Prescott the bulimic and Lord Levy are. As they glory in their cheques from the newspaper serialisations, perhaps they should muse over their cornflakes on the opinion polls and the recent savaging in the local government elections, and wonder how much of a negative impact their books are having on their own party. So much for loyalty, eh?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Jennys are out

The Apprentice UK, week 7

Two departures from The Apprentice this week, which added an extra bit of zing to the Moroccan flavour.

The two Jennys, "Europe's best salesperson," Jennifer Maguire and redhead Jenny Celerier were sent on their way by Sir Alan. Not a minute too soon either. I had had quite enough of Jenny C's relentlessly clashing colours. Pink with red hair simply does not go, dear! And I felt she should have gone last week after the eco card disaster.

Last night though Jenny C really showed herself in her true colours (not just pink), and she more or less admitted in the subsequent Adrian Chiles' programme that she did change her story as dynamics changed in the boardroom.

She emerged as manipulative and keen to win at any cost, no matter how much it cost in terms of integrity or respect. Jennifer, on the other hand, simply lost the task because she lost the plot, not because of any Machiavellian tactics or inherent evil.

The two teams were sent to Morocco and given a very specific list of items to buy. Jennifer's mistake was rushing off to the soukh without any planning; probably not realising the size of the thing and how it's structured. She didn't pay any attention to detail, and failed to utilise pushy Claire, who seems strong in this regard.

Lee's team did do some planning - they knew where the Jewish quarter was for buying the kosher chicken, which was key to the whole thing - and it was good to see victimised Sara and Lucinda performing well, even though Lee kept them under a tight leash.

It was a chicken and a tagine that cost Jennifer's team dear. Jenny and the dreadful Michael ("good Jewish boy," who doesn't know what kosher means) bought their chicken from a Muslim butcher with some ridiculous nonsense about the butcher blessing it. Meanwhile Alex, whose constant gurning is driving me nuts, bought any old tagine instead of the branded one Sir Alan had specified. The team had to rush around looking for a green mosque alarm clock after Jennifer bought a white one by mistake.

In the boardroom Jenny C tried to stitch everyone up to save her skin but Sir Alan is shrewd enough to see through this in an instant. She will never forget her 35th birthday!

Jennifer's departure was then a foregone conclusion because she spent the whole task running around like a headless chicken. She looked very scary in the boardroom with her acid yellow top and bright red lipstick. Somehow she and Jenny played the whole series like a throwback to the 80s where it was assumed that women had to act aggressively to get on: to cheat, sneak, plot and boast.

I'm confident enough now to make a prediction for the final three: Lee, Claire (she got a "love" from Sir Alan yesterday) and Raef. What do you think?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Matt Lucas Lookalike bows out of The Apprentice

Feisty little bank manager Kevin Shaw was given the boot this week after telling Clinton Cards' buyer that he was as bad as George Bush if he didn't embrace his team's flawed concept of environmental greetings cards.

The teams had to devise a card opportunity and pitch it to three card companies. Both came up with a fairly lame solution: the dreadful Michael was pushing a Singles' Day card, and Matt Lucas lookalike Kevin the green card.

I actually think a Singles' Day card would be a neat idea, but not on Feb 13th when all the card retailers are rubbing their hands in glee and preparing to fleece us for Valentine's Day.

Kevin and team got rail roaded into the environmental idea by the pushy and charmless Jenny, even though, as she told a card buyer in one of the pitches, she has cut down on the number of cards she buys "for environmental reasons."
It was very strange that Jenny didn't end up in the boardroom, seeing as it was her daft idea that lost them the task anyway. Somehow they all turned on the quiet member of the team, Sara, although I distinctly remember her suggesting an Ide card, and that would have been a far better idea. I have looked for Diwhali cards, for example, and there are very few. Eastern European opportunities for cards must be significant.

Sara managed to survive but her days look numbered, particularly as the boys seem to be ganging up on her. I was warming towards Lee, a straight talker who was showing some promise, (and has played a blinder in so far being invisible in all the tasks) but then he started bullying Sara at the end of the programme. I even warmed towards Raef who defended her. What a gentleman.

Michael did not impress me in the least. There were two incidents that made me dislike him intensely. In the boardroom, he became very petulant, like a spoilt child, when chastised by Sir Alan. It was almost as if he was back in the nursery and had forgotten who was talking to him. Then, when he heard his team had won, he started yelping aggressively like a football hooligan. Most inappropriate. Margaret's face was a picture.

I think Sir Alan has warmed to Claire, who has improved leaps and bounds since her dressing down a fortnight ago. Having been leader for two tasks, she must be in a strong position now unless she messes up.
Blog Design Created by pipdig