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

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Friday, December 25, 2009

My Christmas Message

Seeing the various religious leaders deliver their Christmas messages today I couldn't help feeling they were missing the point. They were highlighting troubles in society which we're all too well aware of. But they didn't say how religion was going to help. They didn't suggest any remedies at all.

I heard a sobering statistic the other day. Only a million people in the UK still go to church. That must make us a minority religion here, and certainly explains how Christmas became a gaudy commercial festival with no other meaning.

I pondered on the reasons why.

If there was a Henry VIII style proclamation that all churches must close, there would probably be a revolt among the chattering classes who, although they don't go to church, still count themselves as Christians.

I find it criminal the way the church has quietly festered for the last 100 years, losing worshippers and not figuring out why. It doesn't appeal to anyone now except the elderly. The only attempts to change this have been the evangelicals, but most stiff upper lipped people in Britain don't want to chant and clap and have trendy new hymns played on guitars.

We want something a bit more modern than Wesley hymns, lectures and incense, but we don't want to completely lose the traditions and heritage.

Maybe if church leaders debated this, instead of in-fighting and bickering at the Synod, they might become a bit more relevant and therefore entitled to give a view on society's problems.

Monday, December 21, 2009


When I become a dictator and ban certain things (among them: celery, goat's cheese, stiletto shoes (have you seen Victoria Beckham's feet?), Troll beads (in fact trolls per se), Uggs, Crocs and other ugly footwear, I will add a few festive specials, namely:
1) Stop the Cavalry, Jona Lewie. I can't tell you how much I detest this tired old song. It's one of three songs that I hate so much, if they come on the radio I have to find another channel. The other two if you're interested are Brown Eyed Girl, Van Morrison, and Angel, Robbie Williams.
2) Articles "reviewing the year" or even the decade, worse. Who needs it? We were here. It's a cheap trick for easy journalism, along with "top predictions for 2010".
3) Articles on how to make the turkey less dry and tasteless. We only have it once a year so surely we can tolerate it in all its blandness for one day? Even worse, the articles about making creative leftovers with the turkey. Don't buy such a big one!

What are your biggest gripes about Christmas? Oh dear now I've done it - used another cheap journalistic trick myself!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Triumph for Team Cola

This is the last post on Strictly Come Dancing, I promise (Maddie.) Well, at least for this year.

I was wrong, damn it, and Team Cola - Chris Hollins and Ola Jordan - triumphed in the final last night. I should have had more faith in the voting public, particularly as my mum put aside last week's Sore Misgivings about Hollins not deserving a place in the final and actually voted for him.

You do have to wonder about the judging though. Their Charlestown was marvellous the first time around but they didn't get 10s that time. I believe the judges feel that because it's the final, all the dances have to score 10s. But it begs the question, haven't they then been under marking throughout the series?

Anyway, Team Cola acquitted themselves very well. They must have worked so hard to produce such excellent dances. I was fearful for their show dance, but Hollins was soon flinging Ola around with ease, even with one arm only. (Whittle had to go one better of course and spin Natalie around his neck with no arms.)

Ola burst into tears as soon as the result was announced and I doubt if there was a dry eye in the land. "Ola Who?" asked Natalie imperiously at the start of the show, puffed up with the achievement of having won the show's equivalent in Australia. Well now you know, Natalie.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ricky Whittle by a whisker

Normally by now I would have predicted the outcome for the Strictly Come Dancing final tonight. But, dear reader, I am torn. On the one hand, the fact that Chris Hollins has such huge public support makes it seem certain he will win. But on the other, as Len said last week, the British public has a strong sense of justice so maybe Ricky will triumph.

It's amazing that Chris has never been in the dance-off. He epitomises the show's demographic to me. He's a personable BBC sports presenter and I can imagine all the middle-aged and elderly old dears voting for him. Ricky, from Hollyoaks, probably doesn't have many fans watching the show. They were watching the freak show on the other side. I don't expect many of them to be glued to the dancing tonight, even though the freak show has finished.

If I'm going to put my neck out, I'll say that Ricky will win, by a whisker. I will no doubt be voting for Chris, however, as will Anonymous (although we haven't conferred on the subject.) This will drive J mad. Last week he told me to vote for Ricky on his behalf while he was out of the room, but I didn't.

As for this series, well, I've written enough about what a disappointment it's been. My suggestion to the producers for the next series: dump Anton du Beke! Are we the only ones who find his inane comments irritating? He's often tipped to the Bruce's successor as host of the show, but I think the producers should look at someone else, namely James Jordan. In Claudia's show he's demonstrated a natural talent for presenting. In fact he and Ola (pictured) have been the stars of this series. Go the Jordans!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Told you so

If anyone is still watching Strictly Come Dancing, last night's semi-final was no surprise - I'd predicted that Chris Hollins and Ola Jordan (picture) would go through even though he was nowhere near as good as the other two semi-finalists.

If my mum's reaction was anything to go by, "travesty", "bloody public" etc, many people will think that Ali was robbed. How can someone who scored a perfect 50 be eliminated, they ask. Well, speaking as "The Public", and as someone who voted for Hollins (as did Anonymous), my reply is....

It's an entertainment show! And Hollins and Ola have been very entertaining. I didn't like him for weeks, but then in the torpor of the last few weeks I started to find him more endearing. No matter what they say, it's harder for a sports presenter to do well in a show like this than actors. Ali Bastian has had ballet training: it certainly shows. Not sure about Ricky Whittle, but I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't have dance training at stage school.

So I am unapologetic about putting Hollins through and look forward to his entertaining lindy hop and show dance in the final.

Let's hope that next year's series brings a more illustrious list of celebrities and some higher scores (hardly any perfect scores this year.) The Alesha v Arlene debate has been done to death but I have to say that Alesha has brought very little to the judging with her appalling English - "you was wicked" and has entirely eclipsed by the wonderful Darcey Bussell in the past couple of weeks.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Prepare for a shock in Strictly Come Dancing

I know it's become a bit tedious and boring lately, but I predict a shock in next week's semi-final.

All the signs are there that the public have taken "Team Cola" (Chris and Ola) to their hearts and will vote them through to the final, which means of course that either drippy Ali or Ricky Whittle will have to go.

This would spice things up a treat, even though the final is likely to be pretty lame if it's Team Cola v Ricky or Ali.

I suspect Chris and Ola will really need the votes this Saturday as I can't imagine them delivering a barnstorming Argentine Tango (my fave!)

Laila Rouass finally got the boot last night. Long overdue too. I'm amazed she lasted this long when you consider she really wasn't any better than her Footballers' Wives co-star Zoe Lucker, who went weeks ago. I couldn't believe it when Anton said she'd been wonderful to work with because she never complained. Never complained my arse. She must have saved it all for the cameras!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

"The Restaurant" leaves nasty taste

I very much enjoyed the first two series of The Restaurant on BBC2, where Raymond Blanc coaches aspiring restrauteurs who are put through tasks each week and eliminated.

But this year's show is a travesty.

Not only is it many miles away from Raymond's wonderful Le Manoir, and set in Bristol on a shoestring, the couples are so hopeless that I am questioning Monsieur Blanc's avarice in agreeing to do the programme. These numpties would surely damage his brand, which has been built so carefully over the years, if they were given a restaurant to run under his name.

How can it be that James and JJ, two cocktail waiters, are still in the competition when we're now at semi-final stage?

JJ, the "chef", had, until last night, only cooked once and that was throwing some cake ingredients into a tin and hoping for the best. He had no idea how to make pastry and fine dining to him is a scotch egg and a cocktail.

I think the BBC is even embarrassed about its own show because their dedicated Restaurant website hasn't been updated this year. All you get is a site where you can watch previous episodes with the iPLayer. Thy don't even have any information on the candidates or their pictures: I had to go to one of the forums.

The other two remaining couples are both useless. Michelle and Steve would be OK running a fairly unchallenging cafe somewhere. He seems to be able to cook, more or less, although his cake in the shape of an Airbus was something a child could have done better. Michelle, as front of house, is hopeless. Every week she cries. Last night she cried because Steve was in agony with his back. But instead of letting him have a lie-down and getting on with the deli task herself, she just blubbed.

Chris is the best cook in the programme, as Raymond said last night, but he is let down by his lazy, incompetent FOH Nathan. He has no clue about promoting or marketing their restaurant and is quite happy to sit on his backside while Chris does all the work.

I can't imagine this series will be repeated, which is a shame because the first two were excellent.

In my searches on the web I found out that the winners of series 1, Jeremy and Jane, gave up running their gastro pub after just six months. The winners of last year's series, Russell and Michelle, still seem to be running The Cheerful Soul.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The mystery of Michael

I've always been fascinated by cemeteries and it started at a young age. I would happily go to St Mary's church in Plympton and study the gravestones. I was always drawn to one grave in particular, that of Michael Clyne Wasley, who died aged just eight months in 1945.

What's particularly poignant about Michael's grave is that every Christmas, new flowers are placed on it.

As the years have gone by, we have wondered who still keeps up the remembrance. His parents, if they're alive, would be very old now. Is it a sibling perhaps?

I created a scrapbook layout to ponder this and to reflect on a baby whose life may have been short but has never been forgotten.

Strictly Come Dancing preview

It's all change in tomorrow's Strictly Come Dancing and not a moment too soon. There are two new dances plus a competitive Viennese Waltz.
The new dances are the Charleston and the rock and roll (if that is its correct title.) Natalie and Vincent, and Ricky Whittle and Natalie will be dancing the rock and roll and the other couples the Charleston (popularised by Josephine Baker, pictured.)
What's interesting about the new dances is that they're not known to the professional dancers, who were trained and choreographed by specialists.
From what I've seen on It Takes Two, Vincent has been struggling with the rock n roll which is a very demanding and physical dance. He seemed to be having more problems than his celebrity partner, Natalie Cassidy, although you wonder if the producers "stage" this to try to get us to watch the show on Saturday.
As usual there is another injury drama. This time it's Ali Bastian who injured her foot. Nonetheless she will bravely battle through even though the Charleston is very "foot intensive" (I can't think of a dance that isn't!).
I'm really looking forward to the competitive Viennese Waltz. Unlike the group dances, which are choreographed so that there's enough room for everyone, a competitive group dance is basically "every man for himself", and couples will have to navigate their way around the floor to avoid bumping into the others and to showcase their dance. It's a real throwback to the old-fashioned Come Dancing show. It will be hardest for the male celebrities because they will lack the knowledge, garnered by the professionals over years of competitive dancing, of "room craft" and how to slow down or speed up to ensure a clear path.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cast Offs: Ground breaking drama at its best

Channel 4 gets a lot of stick from the lofty TV critics who disparage it for reality shows and documentaries that are in dubious taste.

But the channel is still a leader in bringing ground breaking drama to the screen. It is bolder about challenging taboos and the status quo than the other more conservative channels. BBC3, for all its supposed edginess, serves up a relentless diet of mediocre dross.

Channel 4's latest drama is the series Cast Offs. Hidden in the schedule (10.35pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and barely promoted, the station was perhaps a bit wary about the reception this might receive. But what a jewel of a drama!

The concept is what's ground breaking because the comedy drama features disabled actors and not in the negative or cruelly comedic comedy way in which disabled people are usually featured on TV (think of Blofeld in James Bond or the wheelchair worker in The Office.)

The premise is: six disabled people are sent to a deserted island to fend for themselves in a Channel 4 reality show similar to Survivor. The actors are all disabled in real life, as are two of the three writers. We have Tom, who is blind; April, who has Cherubism; Gabby, who is deaf; Dan, a paraplegic sportsman; Carrie, who has dwarfism, and Will who is thalidomide affected.

We find out that the characters are the same as the rest of us, except they have a disability to contend with. They're funny, sad, spiky, kind, sexy.

The first two episodes have shown life on the island interspersed with the run-up to the show for two of the characters, Dan and Tom.

The episode featuring Tom was very touching. Tom, a blind actor whose roles have been limited to "blind man in lift" was shown "teaching" an actor how it feels to be blind in certain situations. It was clear that he would have played the part better than the boorish actor, but wasn't given the chance. We saw him having dinner with the blind ex-girlfriend of his flatmate. All seemed to be going well until the next day she told him she was getting back with the flatmate and thanked him for allowing her to experience sex with a blind man.

Meanwhile back on the island, Tom is told to sit up all night with a shotgun, waiting to shoot a fox that keeps stealing the camp's food.

He probably isn't the best equipped for this task and falls asleep, earning the wrath of the other campmates. He goes back out with Dan and this time manages to shoot the fox by sensing it. He's treated as a hero and glowd with pride at having done something useful for the camp, having previously been described as being so lazy he makes Bagpuss look as if he has Attention Deficit Disorder. The humour in the programme is sometimes gentle, sometimes vicious, but it's in the natural context of people's dialogue rather than forced lines with canned laughter as you get in the appalling new comedy Miranda.

I predict a bucketful of awards for this brave new series and hopefully a gradual change in the way disabled people are portrayed on TV and in films.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nothing adorable about a 3 year old in heels

I am mystified as to why the papers and glossy magazines go ga-ga over pictures of three year old Suri Cruise in her designer clothes and kitten heels. "Adorable" they cry, while breathlessly recounting how proud mum Katie Holmes spends around £25,000 a month on clothes for the precocious kid.

I don't see it as adorable. The kitten heels, along with the nail varnish, look creepy to me. Why is childhood brushed aside so quickly? Do little girls have to be dressed up as teenagers? I'm wondering what Suri's feet will look like when she's 30.. Similar to Victoria Beckham's I imagine: misshapen and covered in bunions.

Maybe in later years we will read how Suri went off the rails because of the pressure put on her to look gorgeous and slim. Maybe - gasp - she won't have any talent and will be constantly trying to top her child star performances. Famous for nothing but tottering along on high heels. It's a hard act to live up to when you're only three.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sublime Dame Shirley

I've never been a fan of Dame Shirley Bassey. She always seemed like a relic from a different time. I was vaguely aware of songs like Diamonds Are Forever, Hey Big Spender, and the lady from Tiger Bay in her sequinned gowns. But she was never competing for attention on my ipod.

Until yesterday.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard Dame Shirley on Dermot O'Leary's radio show. She's done a Tom Jones with her latest album and collaborated with some of today's top songwriters and musicians including the Manic Street Preachers, Rufis Wainwright and Gary Barlow. I was busily painting or making cards but the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, which hasn't happened since David Bowie's Starman.

I downloaded the album, The Performance, and have been listening amazed to the sublime tracks. This is a softer, more vulnerable Shirley Bassey. But the songs are still show stoppers. I love the wistful sentimentality of "The girl from Tiger Bay", written by the Manic Street Preachers.

I've been checking out her website, Dame Shirley Bassey dot com (what else?) and discovered the album was Radio 2's album of the week. Give it a whirl!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Strictly Come Dancing: anti climactic final ahead

It looks as if Jade Johnson is out of this year's Strictly Come Dancing which poses a scheduling issue for the BBC. Unless they have a show where no-one gets voted off, the final will only have two couples competing, which does not make great TV. We also face the prospect of the final being a real anti-climax.

Jade didn't dance last night so after two non-shows, she probably can't come back as a contestant.

As I predicted, Ricky Groves was in the bottom two and was the unanimous choice to go when he competed against Laila Roussos in the dance-off.

Ricky and Erin's tango was a real dog's dinner. It wasn't just Ricky's luke warm performance, which lacked the sharpness and controlled aggression of a tango, but the choreography. It reminded me of the disasterous dance with dummies that Erin choregraphed for Colin Jackson which ultimately cost him the SCD prize.

Laila and Anton's ballroom number was effortlessly floaty and restrained but I believe the public is tiring of Laila and her ankle histrionics.

Natalie Cassidy was in the judges' bottom two but was saved by the public. Her samba lacked bounce and was a bit too stop / start, but we all love her and the bright pink she was wearing really suited her.

Ricky Whittle and Natalie did a bravura American Smooth and showed off with a lift that looked like it had come out of Gold's Gym rather than the ballroom.

Chris Hollins came good in the Viennese Waltz. He and Ola have a great partnership and I'm sure it's this that is sustaining his appearances week after week.

Ali Bastian and cheesy Brian were technically good as always but vacuous and unmemorable. I'm afraid I can't even remember what dance they did. Was it a foxtrot?

Now that Jade has gone, the final will undoubtedly be between Ali and Ricky Whittle. Jade was the only one who could challenge those two and bring a bit of frisson to the final. It will, I'm afraid, be a bit of a Strictly yawn.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Strictly Come Dancing preview

Will she dance or won't she?
That's the big question around Jade Johnson (pictured with the gorgeous Ian) and tonight's Strictly Come Dancing. On Take Two last night, Jade explained that she's has extensive physio on the knee problem which forced her out of last week's show, and while her phsyio says it's OK for her to dance, the BBC's physio is currently saying no (no doubt for insurance reasons.)
She hasn't rehearsed all week but she could simply recreate the tango she didn't get to perform.

I'm predicting that Chris Hollins (Viennese Waltz) and Ricky Groves will end up in the dance off tonight. Laila Roussos may also hover in the danger zone. Compared to Jade, it seemed her ankle problem and tearful exit last week were just an actress's histrionics, and she was lucky the public kept her in.

Natalie Cassidy is dancing the Strictly killer, the samba, but I imagine her zest and energy will help her pull off this challenging number.

I'd like to tell you what Ali Bastian and Ricky Whittle will be doing but I find them both so dull my mind tunes them out when they're on Take Two. Actually I think Whittle is doing the American Smooth. I find it hard to believe that Bastian is an actress because she doesn't bring any acting ability to her dancing: she's simply a good dancer, as you would expect from someone who was ballet trained.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Back in the Isles of Scilly

It's buried away in the wastelands of BBC2 scheduling, but "An Island Parish" is back and it's enthralling once again to be caught up in the lives of Heike, the newly engaged vet; the Rev David Easton (pictured) who's sadly having to leave because a secret Methodist vote turned against him, and other characters, new and old.

It's a gentle little series with beautiful scenery and a perfect voiceover by Nigel Farrell, who thankfully has stopped his efforts to be centre stage. Remember the ghastly staged Nigel & Nippi series about two friends starting up a restaurant? Or was it buying a chateau? Can't remember.

Last week's episode had a real surprise. Not only did a fine set of church bells get delivered to the islands for the first time ever, but it turned out that Father Guy was blessing them. And there he was! We haven't seen Father Guy for a long time and I even wondered in an earlier post if he had left the Scillies. Perhaps now he will take centre stage again, with the departure of Rev David. After all, it is supposed to be religious programming.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sickness and injury threaten Strictly Come Dancing

Well, what a night: first Brucie is laid up with the flu; then Jade does something to her knee and can't deliver the paso doble, and then Laila, with an ankle problem, limps off during her dance in tears.

As I expected, the silly public kept her in, even though she'd only done half a dance - badly, and Tuffers was evicted in the dance-off after Ricky Groves significantly upped his game.

The tears and histrionics make me smile. Ricky Groves, in his "keep me in, I'm on a journey" little speech (after lines had closed) burst into tears. C'mon guys, it's only a dance competition! I am more concerned about Jade's Olympic chances now that she has a knee problem, rather than will we ever see her paso doble.

So we have two clear front runners, Ali Bastian, whose chances are boosted by a strange little romance with her partner Brian Fortuna (it will last as long as the show, I predict), and Ricky Whittle (not Groves as I mistakenly said earlier today.) I reckon they will be in the final along with Natalie Cassidy and Vincente, if there are three couples in the final. Natalie is doing a good "tortoise and hare" but she will never quite reach the natural brilliance and ease of the other two celebrities.

Bruce has nothing to worry about after seeing Tess elevated to his role. What was Ronnie Corbett doing there? Absolute waste of time. Tess, I have read, considers herself the star of the show and no doubt put up a big fight to be allowed to do the Brucie role. But she is nothing more than a hostess, an Anthea Redfern, in a lovely dress. She can't sing or dance and she isn't funny.

If I was her I would be worried about my day job, seeing how easily Claudia Winkleman (pictured) made the transition to the after dance interviews. The atmosphere significantly lightened and she was amusing and irreverent. Drawing attention to Natalie's bow made of hair: that's the sort of insightful observation we want to see!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Mature Bride

Last Friday was quite a red letter day for me. Not only did I have a wonderful pre-birthday pamper day at The Sanctuary with Wendy P, and not only did I go to the theatre to see Little Voice, but J finally made an honest woman of me.

Yes dear reader, he proposed under the loudspeaker in a Canadian pub called The Maple.

Well, he insists that he did propose: it seemed more of a discussion to me which started with him asking what I really wanted for my birthday, to which I replied a BMW Six Series (well we can all dream.) Eventually he forced me in the direction of marriage and then said "do you want to?" which, as it transpired, was the proposal.

For the first few days I was excitedly surfing the web looking at historic stately homes and castles, and muttering "Camilla Parker-Bowles" when asked about The Dress.

It is our second time round, and as a mature bride I don't want to be labelled mutton, so sadly I won't be going to one of those delicious bridal boutiques any time soon.

But then my pragmatic side kicked in and I decided that we really would be better off going off to the register office with J's children and my mum, and then going to Scott's for a damn good lunch and maybe a show, and getting a nice ring.

So that's the current POR (plan of record), although it is subject to change of course. J definitely approves of the new plan: he was somewhat alarmed when fireworks and a Beatles tribute band were mentioned.

In the meantime, I popped out today to get some milk and came back with an engagement ring. I have always been very decisive (J would say impulsive).....and impatient. I will not be seeing J until Friday so this will be his first sighting of the artifact.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Little Voice and Jack the Ripper

J and I have been to the theatre twice this week and the two productions couldn't have been more different.

"Jack the Ripper" was an amateur production performed by the Royal Bank of Scotland Theatre Company, while "The Rise and Fall of Little Voice" is a West End production starring Lesley Sharp, Marc Warren and Diana Vickers (X Factor semi-finalist.)

It took us a fraught few minutes to find the Southwark Playhouse, venue for Jack the Ripper, tucked away in that part of London near London Bridge which, with its arches and narrow streets, is still so evocative of the time of Jack the Ripper and Charles Dickens.

The play opened with a bang that made everyone jump, and there then followed an exuberant performance by a small but lively company. With no stage or scenery, "Jack" was effectively portrayed by a menacing silhouette that was projected every time he stalked a victim.

For those who don't know the history of this production, the musical was first presented in 1974, transferring to the west end a year later.

The musical is largely set in a music hall and mines a rich seam of the type of entertainment you would have seen in those times, starting around the 1830's.

Stand out performance was from Helen McSorley, the very confident lead, whose pleasantly soaring soprano filled the playhouse. Helen is on the RS graduate scheme. I also liked the honest, earthy performance of Rose Mitchell as Lizzie Stride / Queen Victoria, and Gemma Rushton, the red headed Annie Chapman. J's colleague Lee Ford, as leader of the gang Daniel Mendoza, also acquitted himself very well with a swaggering performance.

Over now to "Little Voice" at the Vaudeville. This is a musical play that is rarely seen because it calls for a young girl who can convincingly deliver the voices of Judy Garland, Dusty Springfield and Shirley Bassey to name but three. In the film, Jane Horrocks shot to fame as shy "LV", who is forced to sing in a tawdry working man's club after being discovered by her sluttish mother's latest boyfriend, Ray Say.

The scenery and staging is absolutely wonderful: the house, with LV's bedroom upstairs, is so realistic, and it was amazing to see how the house swung round to reveal its front and then, with suddenly became the tinselly working man's club with the characteristic electric organ.

As someone who doesn't watch the freak show that is the X Factor, Diana Vickers was unknown to me, but she really is a star in the making and received a standing ovation. Not only does she sing exquisitely and soulfully in the manner of all the divas she imitates, but she brings a touching vulnerability to the role.

This could not be said for Lesley Sharp, whose performance as the manic slut Marie Hoff, LV's mother, was far too over-the-top. There wwren't enough glimpses of the real woman beneath the blowsy facade, so that when she was supposed to tug on our heart strings, it somehow missed the mark.

The charismatic Marc Warren was very competent as Ray Say, the Michael Caine role, showing the dexterity and command he brings to all his roles. Rachel Lumberg as the lumbering, largely silent but highly comedic Sadie, Marie's friend, was outstanding.

With a run time of 2 hours 45, this is a play that could still be reduced in length without losing any of the meaning. It runs until January and is worth seeing for the star-making performance of Diana Vickers. Sensible girl, she has apparently secured a separate record deal with RCA rather than join the Simon Cowell circus where she would be "milked" for a year and then dropped. I think we'll be hearing a lot more of her.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Wearing a poppy with pride

They used to say you can tell you're getting old when all the policemen look younger. Now I think there are two good barometers at this time of year: you know you're getting old when you're the only one who remembers Bonfire Night (or knows what it is), and you wear a poppy.

Some of the papers talked nostalgically this week about the demise of Bonfire Night and its replacement by the dreaded US replacement, Halloween. To be fair, Halloween wasn't strictly speaking a US replacement. I remember as a child carving out turnips and putting a night light in them, and apple bobbing in a bowl. It was the Hollywood films however, in particular ET,that brought Halloween and all its commercial ghastliness to our shores. Still, it if makes the hard-up supermarkets more profits, what's the problem? (She says cynically.)

I do think it's a pity that a real home-grown tradition like Bonfire Night, which was steeped in history, has faded away. At least when children begged for a penny for the guy they had actually made a guy, rather than just demanding money with menaces.

I wasn't here last night on Bonfire Night, I as returning from a business trip, so I can't tell you if there were more or less fireworks than usual. I like to watch other people's displays. I would love to have some fireworks in our garden, which we did a couple of years ago, but it's really too small.

When we were kids we trudged out into the garden and Stamps would dutifully put rockets in milk bottles and attach Catherine wheels to the fence, and Giz would scream about the bangers and jumping jacks. It was all over in 10 minutes and then we would go back inside.

The other poignant symbol of this time of the year is the poppy, worn in remembrance of the dead. Hardly any young people wear them. My dad, Stamps, was in the Royal Marines and this is the time of year when I remember him most. He always watched the Royal British Legion's Festival of Remembrance, and I do too. It's a very moving moment when the poppies descend quietly and thickly from the ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall, each one commemorating a serviceman or woman who died in the line of duty, whether it was the world wars, Iraq or Afghanistan and anywhere else where there is conflict.

Every year there are fewer WW1 veterans. This year we have lost Henry Allingham and Harry Patch. I don't think there are any others left. The minute's silence at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month is very moving.

On the Sunday, Stamps would always watch the Remembrance ceremony at the Cenotaph. I remember asking him, many years ago, the name of the haunting music that was being played as the politicians laid their wreaths. "Nimrod by Elgar," he replied, and to this day I cannot listen to that piece of music without tears streaming down my face.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Dr Arnold Moon

I heard recently that a dear teacher of mine has died, Dr Arnold Moon. I was very sad because I had meant to track him down and write him a letter explaining the impact he had on me and other pupils. Brilliant teachers who inspire are so rare. At my school, Plympton Grammar, there were only three who met that criteria: Dr Moon, Mrs Bush (English) and Mr Brinkley (languages). The rest were average teachers who went through the motions.

Dr Moon taught religious studies, which I did at both O and A Level. It's down to him that to this day, I can talk knowledgeably about the Old and New testaments and I can still remember the differences in the account of the death of Jesus between the Synoptic Gospels and St John.

However, ask me about 19th century Europe, a period I did in History for both O and A level, and I remember nothing.

Mr Moon (he became a doctor later) was slightly eccentric, and because of the subject he taught was sometimes the butt of jokes by the snide Mr Dunton (history: average teacher.) I think he resented the fact that we seemed to look forward to religious studies after double lessons of Metternich and Bismarck.

When Arnold Moon taught religious studies he somehow managed to ground it into everyday reality, and when you're teaching 16 to 18 year old adolescents whose heads were full of romance and David Bowie, this was quite an accomplishment. I remember the long discourse we had about Saul of Tarsus, later St Paul, and how he suffered from manic depression. And how Dr Moon talked me out of Scientology when I began flirting with it because of one of the Spiders from Mars.

I heard via my mum, who sees Miss Bartrim socially (PE teacher) that Arnold Moon moved into a retirement or rest home in Portsmouth. I intended to track him down but I never got round to it. How I wish I had. But there is still time to contact Mrs Bush, who is in a rest home in Plymouth, and Mr Brinkley. I urge you all to do the same, because special teachers need to know the impact they made on impressionable youth. It's all too fleeting.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saving Craig for Blackpool (please don't)

Oh nooooo. First one of my favourite writers, Marian Keyes, goes on Strictly Come Dancing It Takes Two and calls for a campaign to keep Craig Kelly in the show so that he can dance in his home town Blackpool. Then the boy himself manages to survive the public vote, presumably because they're all keeping him in so he can go to Blackpool.

The Public are suckers for a sob story.

He's very bad and shouldn't be kept in, Blackpool or no Blackpool. He dances rather like the eponymous donkies at said resort.

Somehow poor old Jade the long jumper ended up in the dance-orf last night versus wobbly Jo Wood, who always looks like a rag doll being flung around.

It was a no-brainer that Jo would be eliminated. Her partner Brendan Cole seems to have had a personality transplant, if you remember how nasty he was to some of his previous ladies on the show. But he has been nothing but kind and benevolent to Jo, who came across as very sweet and likeable (but hopeless at dancing.)

As for the rest last night, the sambas were decidedly lacking any heat and passion. The American Smooths were OK but none really delighted. Is it just me or is this season's Z Listers delivering less by week six than their predecessors? So far we've only had two 10s.

I must give a special mention to the dresses too. For not being special. I can see that directionally they're trying to feature citrussy and zingy colours this year in a nod to fashion. Fewer pastels and floaty numbers. There's usually only one stand-out dress each week (last night it was Jade's amazing white dress with cut outs.) And quite often the male dancer's shirt is a different or uncomplimentary colour, which is disappointing.

Not only that, when the professionals do their amazing routines their outfits often look tatty and the colours clash. C'mon off it BBC, you sell this series, or the rights, worldwide, and the dresses are sold to other countries. You shouldn't be skimping on the costumes.

Finally, while I'm having a whinge: what's happened to the Friday show of It Takes Two? To me the highlight of the show is the panel previewing the dances and dresses, particularly when Craig Revel Horwood is reviewing the dresses. But lately it's become a rushed feature as they try to cram other nonsense into the show. This Friday, we didn't even see any dresses. C'mon off it BBC! Give the fans what they want.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Joan Collins back in style

I am amused to see that in the Yahoo UK search stats, Joan Collins is featuring in the top searches along with Leona Lewis (hit in face by nutter), David Beckham (going to AC Milan?) and Gail Hall. No, the latter was wishful thinking.

Anyway, back to the plot.

The only reason Joan can be in the top 10 is because of the programme she did this week on ITV1 where she descended on three unsuspecting Janners, as we would call them, in my ancestral home, Plymouth. Before she could say "Die-nasty," she had them out of their fleeces and into full slap and period costumes in an effort to restore Glamour to the UK's downtrodden women, who spend too much time emailing, texting and Internet surfing. Guilty of all three!

My mum, Giz, actually visited the same Sainsbury's just 10 minutes after Joan and her entourage had departed. It was a pity she didn't come face-to-face with Giz when she was searching the aisles for ladies of glamour. Not only is Giz the same age as Joan (76), but she always wears make-up and bright colours, and I don't think she owns a fleece.

The best moment for me was when Joan went to what looked like a bar to talk to young women who were supposedly dressed up. I imagine the nation united in guffaws and cries of "pots and kettles" as Joan, clad in leopardskin, that most tasteful of fabrics, questioned a young Janner on her navel jewellery. Joan's sense of style is somewhat questionable as you can see from the photo, where she has committed the cardinal sin of a white bra under a black dress.

Meanwhile the three bemused victims of the show scrubbed up very well and are no doubt being called "snooty" and "mutton" for wearing make-up and flowery scarves while walking the dog.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nothing left but the dancing

My reunion chums Reg Skoda and Maddie Grigg have done such a good job recounting Saturday's reunion that I fear I have just the dregs left. A good time was had by all, even though it did finish way past my bed time. I even got a new profile picture out of the gig (thanks Marge!) which replaces its predecessor, dating from Rhodes June 2007, of which it was said: "Goodness Gail, that picture must be pretty old!" (Thanks Zahid.)

The only thing left for me to write about is selected highlights from my visit to Plymouth including a) Christmas shopping at Endsleigh and Chaplin's; b) watching Brigadoon for the first time, and c) Strictly Come Dancing. I think that (c) might be marginally more interesting than (a) because most people probably haven't heard of Endsleigh garden centre or Chaplin's of Plympton. But I am open to persuasion, if you want to hear about this year's top colours for Christmas trees or what sort of reindeer antlers we will all be wearing. Or, should you favour (b), my assessment of this forgotten musical staring Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly. Now there was a pair who could dance, which segues nicely into:

Strictly Come Dancing.

Firstly, I don't understand why Lynda Bellingham, Claudia, Dinky Darren and Craig RH were indignant and spluttering about Lynda's exit from the show on Saturday night. Her time was up; she may not have come bottom but the public has its favourites and a feisty old girl was not likely to be one of them. She perambulated around the floor like an oven ready turkey in full sail, if I might mix my metaphors. The bloke she was dancing against in the dance-off is so boring that I can't remember his name. You know who I mean, what's-his-name from Coronation Street. He was rubbish too.

Meanwhile Joe Calzaghe heaves his carcass wearily around the floor like a beached whale and keeps coming bottom, but Wales seems to be keeping him in.

Chris Hollins had a brief flash of appeal but has lost it now that I know he still lives with his mum (he is 38 after all!).

I was appalled at the high marks and sickly comments garnered by a dull and and frankly boring Foxtrot by Anton and Laila, but clearly the show is backing Anton after his ridiculous comments and nothing was going to deter them. The only plus point was that Anton kept his mouth shut for once with Tess and didn't rabbit on in that inane way he has.

Jade's gyrations were somewhat unseemly I felt, and what's with the costumes this year? When you see some of the best dances from previous shows, you notice how gorgeous the dresses were, but this year they're either unpleasant colours or skimpy to the extreme.

There are four who can't do any wrong for me.

Phil Tufnell is looking like a winner, provided the public keep him out of the bottom two. I am growing very fond of Jo Wood, although she may not last much longer. Ricky Groves has proved to be the dark horse. I never really rated him in EastEnders when I used to watch it - he always seemed a drip. But he's so entertaining in SCD. We just love him! And the same goes for Natalie Cassidy. I love her energy and the way she threw herself into the salsa and did some risky gyrating on her own, full of confidence. Way to go girl!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Teeline and typwriters

It's 30 years since a nervous bunch of school-leavers and graduates gathered in a Portakabin in Plymouth to be taught how to be journalists. Here I am, on the left, with Julie Skentelbery.

This Saturday most of us return to the city - my ancestral home - for a reunion. We will start our sojourn in the Holiday Inn where John Pilger was memorably short changed.

Back in '79, I was a fresh faced school-leaver who saw an ad for a trainee reporter in local paper The South Devon Times. I'd always wanted to be a journalist but as my deputy head mistress memorably put it, "Gail is too shy to get her foot in the door".

I somehow managed to get my foot in the door by mentioning at the interview how I read everything, including sauce bottle labels. That struck a chord and I was hired.

The course was run by Mirror Group Newspapers as a training ground for their string of regional weeklies (paid for at that time) and their nationals the Mirror, People and Sunday Mirror.

The first six weeks were spent in the Portakabin gaping at the graduates when they came up with words like "juxtaposition". We had to pass exams in numerous disciplines including Teeline shorthand, which was taught by the redoubtable Ella Furze. I still remember the outlines for "accident blackspot" and "to the best of my ability".

We were being paid a pittance at this time but nonetheless deductions were taken for the Olympia Monica typewriters we had to buy. No computers in those days.

We were occasionally marched off to courts and morgues to get a taste of life as reporters. We made hideous errors in those first reports. It is fortunate for habitual criminal Ernest Foxy Fowler that these were never published.

Having a press pass meant we could sneak into all sorts of events and situations, and Margery and I drove to St Austell where she was interviewing The Stranglers. We were very excited and all dressed up, but they kept us waiting for ages and were then bored and sarcastic. How rude!

After the six weeks were up we were sent out to the outposts of Devon and Cornwall to staff regional papers. I worked on the South Devon Times. Sometimes it was a struggle to come up with the big stories and then we'd have to lead with "Lettuce soon a Luxury" or "Asda to open on Monday".

Lurch no longer

There was a strategic inflection point on the shoes front a few weeks ago. I was in central London on a hot day wearing vertiginous wedges and two things happened. 1) I took the wrong turning and ended up walking for 30 minutes. The agony! I had to walk home barefoot; 2) I toppled over on Oxford Street which was extremely embarrassing, as Naomi Campbell will tell you. I leapt up straightaway and walked on as if nothing had happened, but of course a whole group of students were killing themselves laughing.

Providence then struck when I read an article about fold-up flat shoes which have become all the rage for girls to pop in their handbag to wear home after clubbing. They've even started selling them for five pounds a pair from machines in nightclubs.

I duly purchased a pair - very pretty with jewels and in such a cute little bag!

Then I started checking out flat shoes and found there was more to choose from than just ballerinas or brogues. And looking around, I saw that lots of women in London were wearing flats.

I bought a gorgeous sequinned pair and a pair that look very trendy, with an ankle strap and zip. It's a renaissance for my feet and also creates new opportunities with my wardrobe because I can now wear all the pairs of trousers that I had deemed too short. It gives me confidence to know that I could run if I had to. The only drawback is that I myself now seem a little on the short side, but apart from that, I can't recommend the flat life highly enough.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Disaster in Niagara

You know how on coach trips there's always one dozy couple that comes back late? Well, at Niagara Falls that couple was us - me and J - and not by just a few minutes either. I don't think I have ever been so mortified. More on that shortly.

The day trip to Niagara was what clinched the deal when J was pitching the Toronto Marasthon to me a few months ago. However, on the day it was raining and quite cold and we had Sore Misgivings, to quote Mrs Fussey from Carry on Camping, when we saw the itinerary. Not just the falls but several related "experiences", a shopping town (Niagara on the Lake) and a winery.

Fred, our Toronto Tours guide, said we wouldn't be back until 7pm. Groan, we thought. However, Fred's running commentary from Tronto (as he pronounced it) to the Falls was quite entertaining and I learnt a lot, including a story about the mayor of Mississauga, the doughty Hurricane Hazel aged 80+, slogan "I get things done, don't stand in my way".

It was tipping down when we arrived at Niagara and I was glad I wasn't wearing my sparkly plimsolls with the hole in. Then the sun came out for a while and boosted the photographs no end.

After the "eat all you like international buffet" we set off for the highlight of the day, seeing the Falls close-up on the Maid of the Mist boat (est.1846).

We were issued with blue plastic raincoats and off we went. Now I've never heard the trip described as a comedy but that's what it was like, because the wind was so fierce it was ripping the raincoats from us. Meanwhile those on the top deck quickly scurried downstairs as what seemed like buckets of water were hurled at us. We were all in stitches.

We didn't see too much "up close and personal", just a seething mass of white water.

Afterwards, we lurched somewhat shell-shocked into Starbucks and I hoped that clutching a hot beverage would restore the circulation in my fingers.

We were a bit bored in Starbucks to tell the truth and wished that we could go back to the bus sooner, but Fred had said 3.30.

At 3.30, we headed towards the bus and were pleased to see it moving towards us. In fact, it was leaving without us, but fortunately someone on board spotted my green coat and made Fred stop. "Are we late?" enquired J, to which the reply was a terse "30 minutes and I was just leaving without you".

J was apologising to the other 24 passengers but I was so mortified I shuffled to my seat, sadly at the front, conscious that 24 pairs of eyes were laser focused on the backs of our heads. Me, who is always so punctual!

We then stopped for a 5 minute photo opportunity further down the road and J and I were almost too sheepish to get off.

We couldn't wait to get through the rest of the itinerary after that debacle. Niagara on the Lake was like Stepford, a charming, flower strewn little town with window boxes everywhere and not a piece of litter to be seen. Spooky. Nobody seemed to buy anything in the shops which sold gifts, Christmas baubles, foodie food and, for some reason, Irish jumpers.

J and I scuttled back to the coach very promptly (first back) and heard Fred having an argument with the next location about how two coaches would arrive at the same time and they would have to deal with it.

Next up was the winery, or rather, Niagara's training college. Here a very professional and likeable lady called Vivian gave us some tips about wine tasting and shared some insights into creating ice wines, which the region is renowned for.

We got back to Tronto at 7.20pm which wasn't too bad, although 30 minutes later than planned thanks to two idiots from London.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

John's best ever marathon

We're just back from a short stay in Toronto, Canada, where J competed in his 20th marathon, the Toronto Waterside (not to be confused with their other one.)

He has been euphoric ever since having improved on his previous time by a staggering 10 minutes, and recording a new PB (personal best)of 3:43.09. To put this in context, he finished in the top 25% of the field.

What is particularly inspiring about it is that J continues to improve and get better times as he gets older. So there is hope for all of us!

He puts it down to diet (he lost a stone some weeks ago), training and conditions at the marathon. This one was flat and the weather was fairly cool.

His running club, the Orion Harriers, had been behind him all the way and there were numerous excited texts as the jungle drums got beating back home in Chingford.

For me the spectator, juggling cow bell and two cameras, it was not the easiest marathon to navigate. I don't think they were expecting many international visitors because the charmingly hand-drawn spectators' map didn't show any public transport links or even all the roads, so it was hard to work out a route. And on the day, many of the street cars or trams were diverted.

Fortunately I met up with Duncan, an old school friend of mine who has lived in Toronto for over 20 years. We managed to see John three times, at 10km, at 35km and at the finish. It was ironic that at 35km, we were outside Toronto's biggest scrapbooking store, miles from the centre, and it wasn't yet open so I had to leave it behind.

We rushed back to the finish as fast as the subway and a bus would allow, and J was already waiting for us in the H's, hopping around clutching his medal and talking to anyone in sight.

There were quite a few Brits in the hotel, many of whom had run the companion half marathon. All in all, an up-and-coming marathon according to J, that will grow in popularity.

Tomorrow: Disaster at Niagara as I recall the most mortifying moment of my life.

Monday, September 21, 2009

BBC should swallow its pride and reinstate Arlene

Now I am a great believer in moving on once a decision has been made. At work we call it "disagree and commit". But not so with the Strictly Come Dancing judging fiasco. I had sore misgivings about Alesha Dixon replacing Arlene Phillips on Strictly Come Dancing, and it turns out Alesha was even worse than I expected.

Today the papers report on uproar in the chat rooms as SCD fans call for the removal of Alesha.

And what does the BBC say? The pompous Tristrams say that web bulletins are not indicative of public opinion, and they have no plans to replace Alesha with Arlene.

Well, why not? It would be a terrific PR coup if they did. It would show the BBC listens to its licence payers, and that it acknowledges that Muttley (sorry, Alesha) is not bringing anything to the judging. And reinstating Arlene would show the BBC isn't ageist, as it keeps saying.

Louis Walsh was reinstated on the X Factor when no-one was that bothered he had gone. And Kelly Brook, who is very similar to Alesha in that she looks great but is an empty vessel, was dismissed from Britain's Got Talent after a couple of hours when the producers realised she couldn't cut it.

If the BBC doesn't get rid of Alesha, perhaps someone could start feeding her witty one-liners via an ear piece so that we don't have to keep hearing her repeating herself?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

No advantage for Hengis

Tennis player Martina Hengis was the first to be evicted from last night's Strictly Come Dancing.

The first couple of shows are a voyage of discovery to see who shows promise and who will continue in the hallowed footsteps of Quentin Wilson and John Sergeant.

Hengis wasn't the worse by any means but I expected an early exit because she has no collateral with the British public (there was a small matter of no charisma either.)

Ricky Groves from EastEnders is looking very promising as a) it seems like he is genuinely acting on EE and not a complete buffoon at all times, and b) cheekie chappie appeal. His second dance was a complete joy as he won the audience and threw himself into it with the most amazing gurning and goldfish impressions.

Joe Cazalghe is a likely contender for the Quentin Wilson Award. He was highly fancied by the bookies before it all began but it seems not all boxers are as light on their toes as Muhammad Ali was.

Of the women, Lynda Bellingham struggled gamely with the "token old bird" responsibility and some great corsetry. But I fear a fairly early exit.

The dancers showing the most promise so far are Ali Bastian (from The Bill apparently) and Chris Hollins from BBC Breakfast News - although I am exercising caution on him because he could be a flash in the pan.
Alesha Dixon, as expected, brought nothing to the judging panel which seemed unbalanced without Arlene's stern jurisdiction. Len keeps glaring at the others as if he's the only one who knows what he's talking about. In the case of Alesha that's right. All she could say really was "you were very nervous, you did well for the first time. It's very tough having two dances in the first week". Which she did. Ad nauseum. And there were a couple of Muttley sniggers.

Next week we see the other 8 entrants and I hear that Phil Tufnell is another John Sergeant, but we'll see. Looking forward to seeing Natalie Cassidy and expecting Jo Wood to get the boot.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Which TV chef are you?

I was planning a blog post in my head last night about TV chefs, and then today came the sad news that eccentric TV chef Keith Floyd has died at 65.

He was a classic example of a celebrity chef who polarised opinion. You either loved him or hated him. I never bought any of his books, but he was very watchable.

TV chefs come under three categories: firstly, watchable and entertaining but not "proper chefs" (Nigella, Floyd, Worral-Thompson, Ainsley, James Martin etc). Then there are those who are proper chefs, but not always very entertaining - Heston Blumenthal. And then the very rare hybrid, both entertaining and a seriously good chef (Marco Pierre-White.)

I love watching cookery shows and J finds it strange that with all the knowledge I must surely have acquired, I can still turn out tough roast beef on Sundays. It's the meat, I try to tell him.

I adore Nigella Lawson and I do have most of her books, although I haven't tried many of the recipes. I just like looking at the pictures. I think we all wish we could be Nigella: rich, famous, elegant.

I've never understood the appeal of Jamie Oliver. He seems too young and inexperienced to me to be held up as a food expert. I remember him throwing stuff into a pan and that characterises his approach to me. I can't take it seriously.

It's the same with Gordon Ramsay. I'm afraid I never got over the fact he was a footballer. I used to like his Kitchen Nightmares programmes - the first time - but he's too shouty and profane for me.

James Martin is a tubby twit without a neck who specialises in spun sugar baskets (yawn). Delia Smith is the one who's taught most of us how to cook. I don't enjoy her shows very much but her books are indispensable in terms of know-how. I also have an old Marguerite Patten book - she's now over 90 and used to advise housewives on how to cook in the war years.

I admire Marco Pierre White very much but I wonder about his taste buds. He uses a lot of ketchup and Knorr cubes, both containing vast amounts of salt. I always want to shout at the TV when chefs criticise food for not having enough salt. They should be weaning us off it and using herbs instead.

Heston Blumenthal doesn't do it for me, either personality or food wise. I've been to his Fat Duck restaurant on a couple of occasions. The first time it's a thrilling experience. The second time, oh not smoky bacon ice-cream again.

I would like to see Michel Roux Jnr given his own show. I could imagine that with his high degree of expertise and his stern, no nonsense approach, we could learn quite a lot, although it wouldn't be as entertaining as when Floyd was cooking and pouring himself generous measures of wine.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Different modes of transport

I've been trying out different modes of transport. The Wroughton Science Museum had a Festival of Innovation and we had various gaming and historical attractions in the D4 hangar and a "tent of technology".

The museum specialises in transportation. One of the highlights for me was driving a Sinclair C5. Now around 30 years old and derided in its day, we realised that this electric car was ahead of its time.

I also stepped into the basket of a hot air balloon but we weren't taking off - it was too windy - and I was quite relieved. I look a bit nervous and we were on the ground! I've been up in a glider and a microlight but I'm not keen on heights so I never know how it's going to affect me. I can't bear going over the QEII bridge (I drive in the middle lane so I can't look down) and I won't go on a chair lift, although a cable car is fine.

Also at the show was the Bloodhound SSC model. This remarkable car will eventually go at 1,000 miles an hour. It will soon built and I will be writing more about it in future. Watch this space!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

TOGS get a life : hurrah for Chris Evans!

A lot of coverage in the papers today about Chris Evans taking over from Sir Terry Wogan in the New Year to present the breakfast show on Radio 2. With eight million listeners, it's the most popular radio show on the island.

Most of the coverage centred on the negative reaction of the "TOGs" which I thought stood for "Terry's Old Gits" but actually it means "Terry's Old Geezers or Old Gals". These are his doughty listeners, mostly of a certain age and in Tunbridge Wells. Ms Esther Rantzen for example, former TV presenter and would-be MP, was quoted as saying that the TOGS need a gentle start to the day and nothing raucous from Chris Evans. Someone else said "spiteful".

Get a grip for goodness' sake!

Those who whine on about Chris being sacked from Radio 1 for being unreliable need to remember that was about nine years ago. He's a changed man since he remarried and had a baby son he dotes on.

I love his drive time show; he really makes me laugh and he is NEVER spiteful or raucous, except when he occasionally sings along to that Elvis song. When you're nose-to-tail on the M25 you need cheering up, and I can always rely on Chris and his team for that.

When he interviews people - and he has the most marvellously funny experts on, like the recorder lady I wrote about, or the recent lady who specialises in moths - he always sounds really interested, not just reading the questions a researcher has given him. The other day, when he was tasting Gentlemen's Relish (which I've always wanted to try), I went mad with frustration when my car went down the Holmesdale Tunnel and I missed his verdict.

I turn off the radio in the morning when Terry comes on. And so does Anonymous. Sir Terry used to be OK but I get bored now with the cosy chat and strange records. Besides, the Radio 2 demographic is me, without putting too fine a point on it. The more mature listener gets the 7pm slot and that awful Elaine Paige show on Sundays.

I'm looking forward to some lively company in the New Year...and while we're at it, how about pensioning off Sarah Kennedy too? I used to enjoy her show but she dominates it with her occasionally strange views. I'd like Simon Mayo to replace Chris; I love the way he engages with the listener using Twitter. To which the TOGs would say, "what's Twitter?" and I think that sums it up.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Bin that BlackBerry

It amuses me how much waffle there is around "work life balance", flexible working and so on, and then those who claim to have the most stress whip out their BlackBerry (other smartphones are available) at any opportunity.


Are they so important that every single email must be read and responded to the minute it arrives? Is it a statement of how fashionable (and important) they are to the rest of society?

I regard myself as an early adopter in most respects when it comes to technology. I've tried smartphones, including brand new models, but now I have two residing in the bottom of a drawer somewhere, and I use an old-fashioned mobile phone that doesn't do email. I don't need email 24/7. If I'm delayed at an airport, or in a hotel, I'd rather use the wi-fi network and my laptop. Goodness knows why anyone would prefer a tiny keypad and screen, and costly GPRS, to The Full Monty.

The only benefit of smartphones is when you're constantly on the road, driving from meeting to meeting, and you need to quickly catch up on mail.

I won't even use one on short train journeys because that time, to me, is better spent reading a newspaper or marketing magazine. A few gems learnt and dropped into a presentation or converation are more valuable than responding to a non-urgent email.

You wouldn't believe how many of my colleagues surreptitiously tap away on their smartphones during meetings, having been asked to put down the lids of their laptops. They've lost sight of the fact that the face-to-face contact is far more important. I was appalled when a senior exec from the US once spent the whole of a dinner in a charming Parisian restaurant doing email. He should have taken the opportunity to chat to, and learn from, European colleagues he hardly ever had the chance to see.

My advice is: don't become a slave to your smartphone. Bin that BlackBerry. Human contact and learning is more important.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Epping Forest Festival

It was a lovely day for the annual Epping Forest Festival. It's an old-fashioned family fun day that celebrates the life of the forest. Straw bales are thrown around the beer tent and the show ring for seating, and people munched on organic hog roast rolls and ice creams as the spectacles of jousting and archery with flaming arrows were performed.

There were donkey rides and numerous stalls and tents selling tea and cakes. And J's beloved Orion Harriers were there with a splendid gazebo and a handicap race for children.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Cup of tea and a sit down

I can't think of one single topic on which to expatiate, dear reader, but I need to warble about something or my ratings will plummet.

Here is one of my pot pourris where I share with you my profound thoughts as I make the tortuous journey to work.

Today I drove to our office in Winnersh Triangle ("makes people disappear") which should only take an hour or so on a good day, but of course there are those nasty M25 roadworks ("delays until 2012") to contend with. So plenty of time in which to ruminate, and wonder where all the equine horse feed lorries have gone.

1) Paul don't do it! I am gutted, as is my mother Giz, to learn that Paul O'Grady is rumoured to be leaving Channel 4 for Sky for a lucrative contract. Channel 4, the old skin flints, have apparently offered him 50% less. They are no doubt projecting a reduction in their coffers with the demise (thank God) of Big Brother. Please don't go Paul! Giz doesn't have Sky and neither of us like Graham Norton very much (rumoured to be leaving BBC for Channel 4, and Paul's teatime show).

On that matter, if the presenters are all playing musical chairs and Mr Norton is off to Channel 4, I would like to make an early bid at this point for Jonathan Ross to present the Eurovision Song Contest. He likes the show, would give it the sensitive yet ironic treatment it needs, and is the logical successor to Sir Terry Wogan.

2) I am always thrilled to find an author I like, and one that has a good back catalogue for me to discover. I chanced across "The Senator's Wife" by Sue Miller and am enjoying it greatly. It's beautifully written and from the point of view of an elderly woman which is refreshing, because as I'm increasingly finding, you may look more dilapidated on the outside but you're still the same inside.

3) Today's useless health advice: four out of 10 women get breast cancer because they are unfit with a poor diet. So the majority of women with breast cancer have a healthy diet? Wouldn't that be a warning NOT to have a healthy diet?

4) Finally I must share this little titbit (or tidbit if you're in the US). It's very rare that Curious Girl receives a compliment these days. I was buying diesel today when a man came up to me and said "I just wanted to let you know -" (and I was thinking glumly "flat tyre? Lights left on?") but no, he added - "you have a lovely figure." A great tonic indeed, particularly as J is always dropping hints about the "skinny birds" at his running club and how I would do well to join them. He was somewhat taken aback when I told him and blustered about lorry drivers needing glasses.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Strictly Z List

I don't know how they decide which dancer gets which "celebrity" on Strictly Come Dancing but I always imagine it being like the draw for the FA cup. A couple of bufton tuftons shake up a bag, someone pulls out a ball and a sonorous voice says "Natalie Cassidy". Another shake, another ball, and it's "Vincent Simone".

Otherwise, I can't think how else poor little Vincent could have ended up with the heffalump who used to be in EastEnders.

After all the fuss about BBC bosses getting rid of Arlene, and then "ageing" Karen Hardy stepping down, I thought we were really in for a celebrity studded feast to give The X Factor a run for its money.

Wrong. Not only has the BBC bitten the hand that feeds it, by upsetting SCD's loyal fan base of people older than 25, but they can't be offering much money to attract such a lacklustre list of celebrities (note I used inverted commas for the word earlier.)

To give them their due, a couple of the sportspeople are genuinely successful and don't have the epithet "the former" in front of their names. There's Martina Hingis who would still be playing tennis if she hadn't been banned for taking cocaine. Joe Calzaghe is at least an undefeated world boxing champion. Jade Johnson is a long jumper who hasn't exactly set the world on light yet (two silvers in the 2002 European Championships and Commonwealth Games.) The rest are "formers" like Phil Tufnell who turns up for the opening of an envelope.

Then there are the other celebrities. Lynda Bellingham is the token old bird at 61 although she will hate that. At least she has a solid and constant body of work behind her including appearances on Loose Women and a stage role in Calendar Girls. I am quite interested in Jo Wood, the long-suffering and gorgeous wife of ridiculous old Rolling Stone Ronnie, but I bet Brendan Cole is spitting feathers at having to squire an old 'un (sorry but she is over 50 and that's prehistoric in BBC terms.)

But if you don't watch the soaps (and we don't), the likes of Ricky Groves and some unknowns from Footballers' Wives and Hollyoaks mean nothing. Mind, we then have an underclass below even them with a Breakfast Time sports presenter and a Crimewatch presenter. Zzzzz. So much for the likes of Linford Christie, Fern Britton and Richard Madeley whose names were leaked in the usual run-up to the announcement.

Another interesting thing I noticed is that with the demise of Karen Hardy, there are no professional British female dancers in the show. Why is this? It seems to have been invaded by Eastern Europe. Stalwart and favourite Camilla Dallerup is also missing, perhaps because she got married recently. She surely can't be too old, although you never can tell with the BBC's ridiculous obsession with yoof.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back from Alicante

We're baaaack! The chill breeze hit us at Stansted; it took an hour to clear the airport and then the Strictly Come Dancing line-up announcement compounded my gloom. It was only lightened by a trip to Sainsburys and some good old British nosh (before going back on the diet and Nutracheck tomorrow, of course.)

So. The three day "last chance for the sun" break in Alicante, Spain. I'm a bit like Bridget Jones with the old mini breaks. I love to have a short break at the end of August just before the weather goes pear shaped (but that happened some time ago this year.)

I was pleasantly surprised by Alicante. I had visions of skyscraper hotels, British lager louts and big signs saying fish and chips. There were a few skyscraper hotels but not much evidence of the last two. Alicante turned out to be an elegant town with pleasing architecture, and much cheaper than the resort we stayed in back in June on Mallorca. There were a few ghastly eateries on the promenade but at night the narrow streets were festooned with tables and there was much eating of paella among Spanish families.

Our hotel, Hospes Amerigo, was superb. Picture at the top shows John outside. It was elegant and tucked away in front of ancient fortifications and an old church. This was the view (below.)

One of the highlights of the day was the foot wash on the beach. Heaven! And I managed to find some postcards with girls wearing real fabric dresses, so I imagine these will be cut up and used in my crafting somewhere along the line....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Memories of the recorder, instrument of torture

Very interesting segment on Chris Evans' show on Radio 2 yesterday. He was discussing that musical instrument of torture, the recorder, with expert Sue Klein (pictured). Now when Sue played a baroque recorder, it sounded sweet. But when Chris had a go, all the memories of squeaky out-of-tune recorders from school came flooding back.

Recorders were big at my primary school and I had a fine burgundy wood descant courtesy I think of Freeman's catalogue. But I was a renograde player and not part of the cliquey little recorder group, because I was too terrified of its leader, Mrs Gullett.

She was never (fortunately) my teacher but I had a few brushes with her because she supervised sewing and handwriting classes, neither of which are a strong suit of mine. I remember her being very scathing of my letter "G" which, instead of being big enough for a fly to walk in, "was big enough for an elephant".

Anyway, back to the recorder, and on one occasion my whole class had to play something in front of Mrs G. She listened sternly, her mouth mashing in that ferocious way she had, and her beady eyes fixed on me. I had created a new note, of which I was quite proud, three fingers from the left hand and then index finger on the right - and she must have clocked this because she said someone had been out of tune. Yes reader, it was me.

My self imposed exclusion from the recorder club meant I never got my hands on a treble or bass recorder, which I longed to do. I notice you can buy a new one at Amazon for a tenner so who knows, I may well treat myself.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In praise of The Hotel Inspector

J was fiddling around with the Sky box and announced he had deleted The Hotel Inspector because there was a conflict.
I nearly fell off my chair.
My most favourite programme of the week! It gets recorded twice just in case of mishaps.
When Alex Polizzi took over from the formidable Ruth Watkins, I had Sore Misgivings to quote Mrs Fussey in Carry On Camping. It took her a series to "bed in" but now she can destroy a hapless hotelier at 10 paces, simply with one of her scathing looks.
The premise of the show is very simple: hotel inspector visits shabby, run-down and/or cluttered with junk hotel, finds heinous crimes ("man wee" carpet stains), tells hapless hoteliers what they need to do, and comes back to see if they've taken any notice. Usually a secret hotel inspection is involved to gain them some tourist board stars, or they hold a party to celebrate their new look.
What makes it so entertaining is the high quality production. I love the music. There's 'sad' music which plays when the hotelier talks tearfully about having sunk all their cash into the hotel and now it's going to have to close. And there's powerful "danger ahead" music, played just before the break.
Recently, in a programme about Blackpool, the owner's wife was extolling the virtues of the place and said "what is it that Blackpool hasn't got?" While this was going on, we were seeing scenes from Blackpool and as she asked what it hasn't got, a shot of a gift shop called "A Touch of Class" came on screen. Genius.
Do catch it if you can - I believe there are only 2 episodes left. Mondays at 9pm on 5.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Harriet Harman talking sense (sort of)

Poor old Harriet Harman. "In charge" of the country, she's gone a bit power mad and is using the opportunity to acquaint us all with some of the feminist wisdom she has acquired over the years.

The mostly misogynist tabloids are in a feeding frenzy after she said women need to be in top positions to give a balanced view.

And I'm thinking: quite right too. Why the debate? Why is it such an issue? This is the depressing reality of "women's rights". Men at papers like the Daily Mail can still publish their propaganda every day saying that women are happier when they're at home bringing up a family. But it conveniently ignores the reality that most families can't afford this throwback to the 50's.

Harman also said that the financial meltdown would have been avoided if women had been involved. And she's right there too. This was a point made also by the doughty ladies who are now running Iceland.

Unless you have women on a board, you don't get a balanced view. Women bring different strengths and intuition and realism is often two of them. A male dominated board goes into a testosterone fuelled meltdown with everyone trying to be Alpha Male. Funny how all those banking chiefs were men.

Taking risks in business is fine and laudable but it has to be countered with pragmatism and realism. When you have a combination of men and women together, you get the best thinking and discussion.

So why did I say "sort of?" Well, Harman is not the type of woman we want to aspire to. She comes across as preachy and slightly hysterical. And the way she has thrust feminism into the spotlight is a typical example of her "cow handling a musket" approach.

We're all a bit fed up with these pushy women. You don't have to act like a man now to get on. Mrs Thatcher did, but times have changed. Women like Karren Brady and Jacqueline Gold are better examples of successful women than 80s throwback Harriet.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Bad service from Autoglass

I always thought that when your windscreen got shattered, Autoglass would be round in a flash to fix a new one. How silly of me.
Poor service from Autoglass
This is the view from my windscreen.
It's not great, or am I over reacting as a hysterical female? Because a bored young man at Autoglass, who hadn't seen it, was very dismissive yesterday as I tried to get them to set up a third appointment with some degree of urgency.

I explained the damage was quite bad - more than "just a crack" as he put it, and it wasn't great that I have had to drive 600 miles with it. "It's laminated" he kept saying. Yes I know that, but if it is on the driver's side and you have to peer over the top of a series of cracks, it could affect your vision.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the sorry tale.

A week ago, I was on the M25 in the evening when I saw a speeding van throw up a large stone from its back wheels. It hurtled straight towards me, and, on the driver's side and right in front of my face. Bit of a shock I can tell you.

I rang Autoglass the next day (I have to use them under the company scheme.) They had to order the windscreen and would fit it the following day.

Unfortunately, and this was my fault, I had wrongly said the windsceeen had a rain sensor so the Walthamstow branch turned up with the wrong windscreen. The guy said they were fully booked the next day (Sat) but he would try to fit me in if I dropped the car down. Alas this was not possible. J was not available to do the conveying - and their depot was miles away in an industrial estate- and I had to make a trip to Lewisham hospital.

On Monday I made an another appointment, this time in Swindon where I was working for a couple of days. Again, another delay to order the windscreen (which surprises me as it's a very common model of car and their web site claims 24 hour service). To cut a long story short, I was told they would come between 1 - 4pm the following day and it would take an hour, plus an hour afterwards where I needed to let it dry.

By 3, when they hadn't turned up and it was raining, I wearily rang to rearrange and was told quite shirtily the appointment had been from "1 to 6pm". It hadn't, because when it takes you three hours to drive home, there's no way I would have agreed to that.

They then had to contact the Walthamstow outfit to make another appointment. Quite possibly piqued because I didn't go there on Saturday, they said they couldn't do it for THREE DAYS. This is when the bored young man was quite rude and dismissive of damage he had not seen. He didn't seem to think it an issue that by the time they finally fit the new windscreen in Swindon on Friday, I will have driven 800 miles and suffered a cracked windscreen for 9 days.

No doubt because they're used by fleet maintenance companies, Autoglass think the complaints of one individual mean nothing. Well, here's my report, and to optimise it for SEO I have mentioned Autoglass and poor service several times so that the search engines pick it up.

That's the great thing about the Internet. Power to the people!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Whacking mobsters

I have never been so popular. I am getting daily friend requests on Facebook. And the reason? A game called Mafia Wars that has really taken off and has a FB site with 13 million members.

It's a game that attracts both sexes and all ages. It really is beautifully thought out. Your friends become "your" mafia if they play the game; you give away "gifts" such as paintings for their vault, extra energy or weapons; you seek help when you're in a gang fight, and those who help get extra points.

My top mafia includes Karen who was my penfriend when we were 15 - we recently found each other via Friends Reunited (and she's very good, over level 200 whereas I am a lowly 23); Fred in Sweden who was a colleague 10 years ago and Taj,a colleague in Munich. My bodyguard is a stranger from the US, a level 233.

The basic premise of the game is to earn money from doing jobs (heists, robberies etc) which you spend on weapons, vehicles and properties. You accumulate loot and art works and fight rival mafia. As you progress, your character "improves" as you award yourself more points for energy, stamina and health. When you get really good you go off to Cuba but that is denied me at present.

J is not happy about this development of me becoming "a gamer" and has started timing my stints on the upstairs PC. He's actually relieved now if I'm using the PC to buy shoes. "Are you playing that game?" he asks suspiciously.

I have tried to explain some of the addictive features of the game which include unprovoked attacks and robberies by other mafia.

I quite often find that my mafia of 36 was attacked in NY by a mafia using a Really Bloody Mop, a sawn-off shotgun, three hand grenades and a lucky shamrock. And it's quite gutting if you lose. You're tempted to put the offender on the hit list rightaway but as Fred rightly said, "the hit list is for losers". Instead I must concentrate on the big ticket items like assassinating a political figure or invading a Tong-controlled neighbourhood. Why don't you join me?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Plague Island

It would appear that the perception of other countries is that the UK is an island in the grip of a pandemic of Plague proportions.

A friend in Hungary was told by a doctor that if his family came to the UK, they would be dead within half an hour.

We hear how badly some British school chidren were treated in France, hounded out of their hotel in swimming costumes, forced to wear masks.

And today on the news we discover that the new NHS Helpline has been swamped by calls and more staff are being recruited to deal with the volume.

We need a bit of perspective. Swine flu has killed 31 people so far. Most if not all of them had an underlying condition. Influenza kills around 60,000 a year, every year, in the UK. Flu is bad news for the elderly, pregnant women and people with "underlying conditions" (asthma for example). But for the vast majority of us, it's going to be an unpleasant inconvenience for a few days. Surely no need for most of us to panic or to phone any helplines. Stay in bed and drink fluids!

I'm also going to scream if I hear anyone else say "I think I may have swine flu." You know when you've got the flu. You don't struggle bravely to work and persevere. You are physically exhausted and have to drag yourself to bed. Most of the time it's a bad cold.

Perspective folks, perspective.
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