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

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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.
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