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

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reasons to be Cheerful

It seems plenty of pesky visitors are writing books about how horrible they think the UK is. Yes we all know about the NHS (but at least you get whisked off to hospital when you're about to peg out without having to proffer a credit card, even if you do die of MRSA when you get there), public transport, hoodies and thugs with knives, unlicensed taxi cabs, appalling numbers of drunks, teenage pregnancies, fatties, WAGs, girls in Newcastle wearing mini skirts, fake tan and no coats, and scandalous nursing homes.

But there are also good things. I was trying to think of a few so it was opportune that Robert Crampton in The Times gave an amusing assessment yesterday. Here is my list of Reasons To Be Cheerful:
- we did very well in the Olympics - 47 gold medals - France and Germany, put that in your pipe and smoke it
- beautiful scenery and great regional variances - coastline, woodland, slag heap
- we brought the world Strictly Come Dancing and many other top shows (X Factor, Weakest Link, Dragon's Den etc)
- it's cheap to travel by air
- we know how to have a good laugh, even if it does involve wearing antlers
- We may pay more at the supermarket than the rest of Europe but our supermarkets are far superior to the dreary supermarkets you find elsewhere, with a huge array of choice and continental ranges
- We provide the best baddies in films - most thrillers from the US pay homage to this;
- we say "bring it on" to all the latest social media sites - we're not precious about secrecy and security;
- we don't allow celebrities and royalty to get away with murder - we rely on our tabloids for fearless exposes, unlike other lily livered neighbours where the press is gagged;
- our gardens are beautiful;
- we are the land of The Beatles, Shakespeare, Turner and David Bowie;
- OJ Simpson and Karen Matthews are doing porridge where they belong;
- the Eurovision Song Contest rules are being changed so we might have a better chance of winning next year
- we may have a high number of lardasses but if there was a mutant virus or we were all stranded up Everest, we would last longer.

Any others you can think of?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nearly that time of year

Christmas is nearly upon us and I'm indebted to Melissa for reminding me about the crackers, which I still haven't bought yet.

I will be scampering off to Marks & Spencer in the dark of night (well it opens at 6am) to get my crackers, turkey crown and some other oddments, then to Sainsbury's for the rest of the stuff (two selection boxes, the pork pie no-one will eat, and more wrapping paper because I fear we will run out and J hasn't even started on my presents yet).

Christmas in my family was always steeped in loony traditions and I am determined to uphold some of them. Viz a viz:
- on Christmas Eve you have to have sausage rolls and baked beans (J not keen on this one, even if the sausage rolls come from Marks & Spencer);
- on Christmas Eve I have to have a whiskey and milk to help me sleep. This one started when I was a kid - it makes you wonder what else used to go in the dummy, apart from rose hip syrup, and how it is I have any teeth at all now;
- on Christmas Day the presents are handed out by me, and preceded by a few chocolate biscuits from a Cadbury's tin;
- paper hats from the crackers must be worn all day. In the photo above, dating from around 1982, I'm competing with my Granddad for the prize. In the photo below, dating from oooh, a long time ago! - we were all doing very well - hats still on at tea-time;
- festive films should ideally include Scrooge with Alastair Sim;
- someone always turns into Victor Meldrew (someone male, I hasten to add). As it is just J and me on Christmas Day, I suspect it will be him. Probably when I decline his invitation to watch Band of Brothers, Hornblower or Hancock - all the dvds I am giving him, creating a rod for my own back, as my mother would say.

When I was a kid, there were other traditions including pillow cases instead of stockings; an enormous tea just hours after the enormous roast capon, and inevitably featuring: trifle and/or a peach gateau on Christmas Day, with the peaches aquaplaning down the Dream Topping; chicken sandwiches; home-made cream slices and meat patties (making use of the bulk quantities of Jus Rol pastry).

So all that remains is to charge your scooners with sherry and let's have a peaceful, happy Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It was always Tom's crown

Hurrah, so one of my predictions actually came true for once! Tom Chambers is the new king of Strictly Come Dancing.

I'd suspected that he probably got the biggest vote in last week's debacle and this was shown last night (although of course a mathematical flaw meant that he could never have overtaken Lisa and Rachel on the leaderboard). So put that in your pipe and smoke it, all the n'er do wells on the forums who said Tom should have resigned last week. He would have been saved and Lisa would still have been third.

Credit to Lisa and Brendan for appearing so magnanimous in defeat. She could probably add actress to her growing list of credentials (DJ, TV presenter, model). Their show dance was a bravura effort, but as I said to J, slim though she is, she is probably quite heavy because of her height, so as Anonymous pointed out, it was a challenge for Brendan to lift her although he gamely tried.
Rachel and Vincent's show dance was as I expected, slippery and lifty with quasi romance and lust going on. Zzzzz.

Tom's show dance stole the night and Camilla delivered a superb choreography, as I hoped; capitalising on Tom's charm and character, and playing to his strengths. Only two lifts and they were no more demanding than those of an American Smooth, but who cares?

Camilla's shock and delight was well worth the 3 votes I rang up, much to J's disgust.

I suspect Rachel will be inconsolable, but no doubt we will see her and Vincent dancing together for years to come, perhaps in next year's tour (I see that Cherie, Kenny Logan and Gethin are among those taking part in January) and in the "champion of champions" show at Christmas. Yes I know she's not a champion but nor is Kelly Brook, and she's still featuring in this year's show.

So hurrah for Tom: he was always the public's choice. What a year it's been for him!

Saturday nights will be drab now. No more the weekly refrain "what time is the dancing on?"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tom to win (reprise) ?

Well it looks as if we're in for a treat tonight with the final of Strictly Come Dancing. All sorts of shenanigans about the voting. And for those who thought their votes were being carried through to the final, apparently they will have a lot less impact than we were all led to believe last Saturday. There will be seven different calculations to arrive at the winner, and the BBC has taken no chances, using external experts to guide and advise on avoiding any debacles.

In terms of The Winner, I am revisiting an old prediction to say it may well be Tom Chambers.

Before you snort and recount how dire he was last Saturday, let me explain why I think he may come good.

Firstly, he's never been in the dance-off. So that tells you he has more public support than Lisa and Rachel.

Secondly, the show dance could potentially be a winner for him. If Camilla creates a choreography that will capture his exuberance and allow him to tap dance, it will be far better than whatever Lisa does (some variation on a waltz no doubt).

All three couples are doing a foxtrot and again this is an area where Tom is strong.

To my mind he's been a bit lazy: he has all the tools but he doesn't fully apply himself. Maybe the final will give him that extra ooomph. It will be historic to witness the dismay on Rachel's face if she does lose the final. To hear her saying she's shocked to find herself in the final is such a load of rubbish. The whole thing is pivotal to her regaining any sort of solo career!

The refreshing thing about Tom is that he seems to dance because he enjoys it. He's never come across as needy and desperate and determined to win at all costs. And as I've said before, that's what spoils Lisa and Rachel. For all their talk about The Journey and how they're loving it, they're both grimly determined to lift the glitterball at all costs, and their grimaces and facial expressions give it away.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The best Christmas story

It's a well stated fact that the true meaning of Christmas is an adjunct, a PS, to the festival of excess that most of us enjoy with the vast majority giving no thought to why it started and what it's all about.

And that doesn't have to be the traditional story involving a manger, wise men and a virgin either. To me, the meaning of Christmas is the way it encourages us to bond with each other, strangers and friends alike, in a celebration of life.

One of the most heart warming stories is the true account of the Christmas football match armistice of 1914 when British and German soldiers celebrated Christmas together with a game of football in the icy wastes of No Man's Land.

For many years after the war the story was hushed up. When it did emerge, it was downplayed. But chronicling the different accounts of soldiers reveals there were several incidents which happened spontaneously all along the front, and French and Belgian soldiers were also involved.

Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck chronicled the remarkable events in his notebook. His account titled ‘Not a shot fired’ vividly details the events when soldiers of the Kaiser’s army came forward to hand out drinks and cigars to British Tommies and invited them over to a friendly game of soccer.

"Christmas Eve, 1914, and not a shot fired. The Germans ask to play football and hand out drink and cigars. They are eager to swop almost anything for our bully beef," the 34 year old veteran of the Boer War, who spent Christmas in a trench near the Belgian village of St Yves, near Ypres, writes in his diary.

The truce was apparently spearheaded by some German soldiers who planned it in advance and started it off by hurling a chocolate cake over enemy lines with a note asking if a one hour ceasefire might be possible.

To me it's a marvellous story and shows how humanity and hope can triumph. This was a truly dreadful war with millions of men killed, thanks to foolish and inept generals. Yet for a few hours, hostilities were forgotten and the festive spirit overcame the weary cold and sodden soldiers with the true meaning of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Strictly Come Dancing votes fiasco continues

I knew it would be controversial and the fiasco over the voting in Saturday's SCD continues. Last night a BBC dude appeared on It Takes Two and explained why it had happened (with the two girls getting the same scores and tying for first place, the public's votes couldn't save Tom). After public pressure, the BBC is going to give refunds to those who voted and want their money back. An interesting one! I did vote, first time this series, and out of interest I will endeavour to get my money back. Apparently the process will be explained on the SCD website next Tuesday. Do you supply bank details? Does the BBC send you a cheque? Most fascinating.

Another interesting development is that the BBC dude said all the votes on Saturday will be carried forward to the final and we will see the positions of the three finallists. It does mean that one or two of them will (obviously) start at a disadvantage. Now presumably that's all the votes, even those of the disenchanted voters, because they can't start to get their money back until after the final.

Once we have got rid of the third placed finalist, the two finallists start afresh.

According to some of the headlines today, people are threatening to boycott the final. It's all getting a bit out of hand. OK, the BBC blundered and should have anticipated this problem with voting, (surely they brainstorm disaster scenarios?), but give it a rest folks! The final will be better with three couples. It's a drawn-out, flimsy affair with only two. And you never know - maybe Tom can dramatically up level his performance and win, as I predicted last week. That would be a Christmas miracle!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Strictly Come Dancing set-up

I'm in a lather of indignation this morning and it's all to do with last night's Strictly Come Dancing.

For the first time this series I actually voted, in a bid to save Tom and Camilla. His performance was very average compared to Lisa and Rachel's, and they have overtaken him on "The Journey," but nonetheless, I wanted the perverse delight of the public saving Tom, and Rachel and Lisa being forced to go in the dance-off, which might have seen Rachel booted out. Too funny! Plus I wanted Camilla to go further than the semis this time.

Anyway, in the event it all turned out to be in vain, because despite the public being exhorted to vote to save the couples, the results show became embarrassing as voting was hurriedly brushed aside with no dance-off and votes allegedly being carried through to the final.

But this is a scam, surely? If you think you're voting for a particular event and you find out you aren't?

Of course it's all John Sergeant's fault. And no doubt the Tristans at the BBC laboured long and hard about what to do in the last programme when they might only have two finalists. How can you pad that out, even if the professionals or Barry Manilow come on eight times?

But remember it happened twice last year: we lost Tarbuck early on and then Kelly Brook close to the semis.

How about next year we have a "spare" celeb dancer who trains just as rigorously each week, and is shown rehearsing on Claudia's programme so we all know about him or her; who can then step in when a celebrity bails? That way the public wouldn't have to be deceived and it would be even more entertaining, particularly if the ghost celeb snatched victory at the last minute.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tom looks dodgy: another Strictly Come Dancing preview

Can I change my prediction?! I know I said on Thurs that Tom would win, well I'm now thinking he may go out tonight!

The reasons are twofold. I think Lisa and Rachel are both going to do great Argentine tangos, whereas Camilla went out at this stage with Gethin last year doing the same dance. It's a hard dance for a man to lead and to create the "goucho" character. I'm not sure Tom is up to it. Plue he's also doing the jive, and I very much doubt if he will score as highly as Rachel (Smooth) and Lisa (foxtrot), so that if he's in the bottom two, he's bound to go out.

It would certainly be different this year if two girls were in the final!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Carol's last show in innocent & kind Countdown

Two TV programmes left our screens this week with barely a murmur in the papers, but both are significant in that they represent a dying breed of show: the innocent, kind, whimsical programme that today's cruel and trashy reality TV shows and dumbed-down documentaries cannot hope to emulate.

The last Countdown featuring Carol Vorderman was shown today, preceded by a programme "One Last Consonant" that recounted the 26 years of the show.

Meanwhile, the gentle little series on BBC2, "An Island Parish", came to a close, with a shocking end.

Only the very hard hearted would not have shed a tear along with Carol as she struggled to say goodbye. Looking sensational in a red Roland Mouret dress, today's Carol is far more groomed and attractive than the gauche girl who was the first woman to appear on Channel 4 (pictured).

Now the nitwits at Channel 4 have decided Carol is too expensive for them. I believe the show is continuing, but I can't see it lasting. It was unique, and solely because of the friendly banter and family atmosphere. I don't think the viewing regulars will choose to be insulted by Channel 4 with a new look all cheap show.

"An Island Parish" recounts life on the Isles of Scilly. Nothing much happens: it's big news when someone gets married, or gets a boyfriend, or starts a new business. Sometimes what does happen seems manufactured, like the time Heike the vet decided to go to London to see if she could become a foot model. But it's very gentle, easy entertainment, so it was quite a shock this week when the Methodist Minister who has been the lynchpin of the series, David Easton, was voted out by the locals.

It was such a surprise, not just to him and most of the locals, but also to Nigel Farrell who produces and narrates the programme.

It seems just a tiny handful of the voting Methodists voted against him. I imagine their names are well known now in the Scillies - it's not the sort of place that can keep a secret. It was very moving to see poor David breaking down because he loved the islands and didn't want to leave. Plus he felt, inevitably, hurt and rejected.

I hope those who voted against him had proper reasons for doing this and weren't motivated by jealousy of his TV success, or some past slight that as Christians they should have forgiven.

I wonder what will happen now. Will there be a new series, featuring the new Methodist minister as he / she seeks to be accepted by this complex community? Judging by what happened to Father Guy, the hapless CofE vicar in the last series, maybe it's a poisoned chalice.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tom to win

Another (useless?) Strictly Come Dancing prediction

I wasn't too successful last week in predicting Lisa and Rachel would go head-to-head in the quarter final. At least I was 50% right. So quite a surprise to see the back of Austin, although we (my mum, Anonymous and others) weren't too gutted to see him go. Taking his shirt off was a step too far. I did enjoy his Paso but otherwise there was too much strutting and posing.

Erin seemed beside herself with grief and regret on Claudia'a show, whereas Austin came across as peeved and astonished. But of course Erin did blow it in the final a couple of years ago when she and Colin Jackson missed out because of the ridiculous show dance they did with dummies.

So then - this week's semi finals. And don't forget folks, both shows are on one night, Saturday, so don't forget to set up the Sky+.

I'm predicting that Lisa will go out.

All three are doing the fabulous Argentine tango, plus a dance of their choice. Lisa inevitably is doing some sort of waltz, Rachel is doing the Smooth (foxtrot flavour), and Tom is taking a risk by doing a jive. It wasn't his highest scored dance but after all those schmaltzy waltzes, Camilla is right in thinking it will be a foot tapping crowd pleaser.

I think Tom will win now. Rachel has had better scores so in theory should win, but I somehow think Tom will seize victory. It will be like the year when Darren Gough won. A bit of a surprise, but he pulled it out of the hat. Tom is a performer whereas Rachel is still a bit of an automaton. She will be fine this Saturday because Vincent excels in Argentine tango, whereas Brendan has never done it before.

Do you agree with my bold prediction?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Strictly tip: the boys in the final two

Off you go to the bookmakers - I'm willing to pledge my reputation on the assertion that Tom and Austin will end up as the two finalists!

The reason is: they haven't been in the dance-off. Clearly people are voting for them in droves. And public support seems a bit thin and patchy for Lisa and Rachel. It's often tough for women because of the voting demographic. Some of the previous winners managed to overcome this --- Natasha Kemplinsky (although in the final she was competing against that guy from EastEnders who made John Sergeant look like Mark Ramprakash), Jill Halfpenny and Alesha Dixon had more consistent support throughout the series.

I reckon this coming weekend we will see Lisa and Rachel go head-to-head in the dance off, and the judges will probably save Rachel. She is the best dancer of the four I believe - I would imagine her overall scores verify this. Lisa will do a stellar waltz, I predict, but she may struggle with the jive.

Meanwhile I am with Lucy (previous post's comments) about this series. It hasn't quite delivered in the way that previous series did. Maybe we're getting a bit jaded. The Sergeant Saga spiced things up for a while but quickly got boring. One of the panellists on Claudia's show last night summed it up perfectly. The girls are too earnest. They, and we, know that the vehicle is essential for the continuation of their careers. It's all life and death. Lisa has a frantic smile pasted on her face at all times, and Rachel looks like she's going to snap and burst into tears at any moment. Lighten up ladies and perhaps one of you could make it into the semis. It would be a miss if you didn't.
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