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

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Friday, October 18, 2013

The drama of cakes!

Who would have thought that a gentle little TV programme about baking would have become such a hot-house of gossip, speculation and vitriol?

I'm talking of course about The Great British Bake Off, the final of which is next Tuesday.

Before this series started judge Paul Hollywood had scandalised Twitter by apparently having a romance with his co-host of the US version, a Mexican named Marcela Valladolid.

Hollywood's wife added to the low simmer of angst by giving tearful interviews where she claimed it had all come out of the blue, etc etc, and then sued him for divorce citing adultery.

The series started and, phew, it was still the same. Mary Berry was still rocking colourful jackets;  Sue and Mel were still like a couple of mates from the pub, and Hollywood was still flashing his blue eyes and going on about soggy bottoms.

But the contestants were different this year. Either that or the way they filmed them was different.  I noticed a lot more competition between them;  when one was being judged favourably, another would purse her lips.

Even worse, the front runners were very arrogant about their ability quite early on in the series. Whenever Jennifer, Kimberley or Beca were given any sort of criticism they would put on a questioning "really?" look.

Jen would say nearly every time that she "made it at home several times and it was perfect" so she didn't understand why it had gone wrong.

Then there was the Ruby factor.  Ruby Tandoh is a 21 year old student who tells us she only started baking six months ago. That might explain why she is forever decrying her bakes and telling the judges what's wrong with them before they start tasting. This week she added an overlay of tears.  Psychologically, it makes it very difficult for the judges to be tough on her. Especially as Hollywood is supposedly smitten by her.

I'm not sure I've seen that. They flirt a little, but I suspect it's his reputation going before him.  Ruby acts like millions of attractive young women have acted for centuries. She's coy; she cries; she giggles. She simpers. If he falls for that, well, we all know there's no fool like an old fool.

Apparently Hollywood gave an interview to the Times yesterday and he's still proclaiming his innocence over the adultery and divorce business. He hints darkly there is more to it than people know.  Perhaps he and his wife weren't sleeping together. Frankly, do we even care?

He was pretty unchivalrous about Valladolid, suggesting she was wrong for the US version. Let's hope she doesn't retaliate.

The show moves to BBC1 next year and I hope it stays exactly the same.

Meanwhile for Tuesday's final I would love to see wacky Frances win. I love her creativity, and I liked  the way she snapped back at Beca "who wants to be boring?" when Beca said that Frances was on some planet all of her own. It is perhaps telling though that on the BBC GBBO website, the photo of Frances is smaller than the others.

Kimberley is far too smug and Ruby, well, it's too soon. She may be prodigiously talented but I fear it would do her no good at all to win at such a young age and be thrust into the spotlight of cookery books and TV appearances.

Who are you tipping to win?


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Unexpected item in the bagging area"

Self service checkouts were in the news today. Apparently the retailers are introducing more of them because they reduce their costs. But consumers are less keen.

I didn't like the way that the reports implied that consumers have problems using the check outs, and are entirely responsible for delays.

I nearly always use the self service check outs, except if I have a lot of shopping.  I like to save time. I'm pretty fast at scanning the items and looking up prices for loose vegetables or fruit.

But let's go through one of my recent transactions, in Sainsbury's.

First.  "We need to verify your bags."  I always take my own bags, but with a self service checkout, this is actually a bad thing. Why the bags need to be verified I do not know, because if you're paying at a normal check out, someone doesn't peer into your bag to see if you have stolen something. Anyway, have to wait for the assistant.

Second.  The type of baked good I had selected was a loose item, with no bar code, and wasn't listed on the look up guide.  You either have to take the risk of selecting something similar, or wait for the assistant.

Third. A bottle of wine. Have to wait for the assistant.

Four. I'd picked up one of those multi-pack magazine offers. It was obviously heavier than the machinery was expecting because it became an "Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area" and, yes, I had to wait for the assistant.

Finally, I had a Brand Match coupon for six pounds. The check out refused to take it. The assistant explained they have to code them through if they are over a certain amount.

By now I had given up the will to live. I'm not surprised that one in three of us walks out of a store, abandoning their purchases, because of a bad experience.

As you can see, none of these problems were "my" fault.  I suggest to the retailers that if they intend to bulldoze these systems into the stores, they need to improve the technology.  Cameras and recognition systems and more real-time updating of stock.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Strictly Come Dancing 2013: The Lowdown

A couple of people asked me recently why I haven't been blogging.

I was thrilled, thinking only robots read my posts.

The robots give me hilarious comments full of mispellings saying things like "you such great writer I love your posts please check my blog XXXX."

Anyway, the reason for no blogging is that I felt I'd said it all.  The blog was becoming like a cyberspace Groundhog Day.

But, pressed into giving my thoughts on such heavyweight topics as this year's Strictly Come Dancing line-up, I decided to return to the fray.

Note new blog photo showing us at the summit of Skiddaw, England's third highest mountain, on our holiday in the Lake District.

Let's have a quick fox trot through the contestants:

The Boys
Are a bit of a boring lot this year and I am not expecting great things from any of them, except maybe Whats-his-name from Hollyoaks. The Hairy Biker Dave is admirably channelling the God of Dance John Sergeant, but I feel he is capable of much more than just stomping around.

The rugby player Ben Cohen is like one of those big American fridges being moved around the floor on castors. He has already done a ballet class and I predict he will soon be getting acting lessons.

The one from Casualty, Patrick Robinson,  is a smooth number aged 50. Could potentially do well, but I'm not sure he's trying very hard. Incidentally, his character in Casualty was the reason my mum stopped watching it. She found it too ludicrous that he was a nurse, left the series and came back as a doctor.

Mark Benton is this year's Lisa Riley: big chap who wants to prove he's nimble on the dancefloor.  Doing OK, but looks horribly scruffy during rehearsals. One wants to reach for the Lynx.

Julien Macdonald, fashion designer, blotted his copybook by either being stoned or drunk in the opening night and screeching unpredictably in a way that bothered Bruce. I remember Macdonald when he first appeared on Britain's Next Top Model as a judge. He's had an Elle McPherson directed makeover. He used to be fat with long lank hair. Now he's a preening peacock with a forehead smoother than a baby's. I predict he'll be in the dance-off again this weekend.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor
The Girls  (said in Hattie Jacques' voice from Carry on Camping)

I'm predicting a 3 way final between Abbey Clancy, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Natalie Gumede.

Sophie did the most fab - u - lous Charleston.  I reckon she'll do it again in the final and get top marks all round. Clancy is the pouting, hair tossing wife of footballing legend (not John's view|) Peter Crouch.  She's very good, but I wonder if she has vote appeal. Too much posturing. That toned midriff is a mixed blessing for the voting demographic.

Vanessa Feltz is a wiley old so-and-so. She suffers from misconceptions. People tend to think of her as loud, shouty and bossy. When I knew she was taking over the Radio 2 early show I groaned, thinking it would be too noisy. But she is a revelation. She listens intently to the people who call in and her use of English is sublime. Even her "potted history of the show thus far" is a daily mini masterpiece.

In a masterstroke, Feltz was seen blubbing over James Jordan in their lovely waltz, admitting the dance made her remember old love affairs. Transformed into someone vulnerable she sailed through, and if she keeps it up, may stay in for a while.

Fiona Fullerton
Fiona Fullerton, always plugged as "former Bond girl" is the oldest lady in the show at 56, and looks great. She's also a talented dancer so for once Anton isn't the comedy turn. She could do very well because Anton has his own fan base of elderly ladies.

Natalie Gumede is this year's Coronation Street entry and she seems a bit bland to me, but a good dancer from the stage school trained intake.

Dragon's Den star Deborah Meaden is radically remodelling herself and coming across very well. The miracles performed on her and Feltz by the wardrobe department with Spanx and Lycra are amazing.

Newsreader Susanna Reid is coming across as a bit frantic, desperate to impress and too orange. Her hair is too dark and she spends too much time in the tanning booth.

Finally Rachel Riley from Countdown doesn't seem to be trying very hard, and that's something we can't forgive.

Finally a word on the Bruce situation. Agree with the majority on Twitter who said last week's show was better without him. It had a new energy with Tess and Claudia presiding. There was no sense of dread. "Will Bruce forget his lines?"  "Will he look startled as usual when the camera finds him after Tess?"  "Will he forget the names of the dancers and judges?"  I just hope that when he does retire, the BBC will not decide to get in another man just for the sake of it, but will stick with the winning formula of Tess and Claudia.

That's my round up - what do you think? Who's your favourite so far? Mine are Sophie and Fiona.

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