Saturday, 24 December 2011

The halls have been decked . . .

Well, here we are folks. The final few hours of madness before we can all sink into a rosy glow, knowing that the shops are closed and if we ain't got it by now, then we ain't 'avin it. Sorry, I came over all 'Albert Square' there.

Lots of madness to view in Waitrose this morning. Plenty of hyperventilating lunatics. Enough of me for the moment though. I wheeled my trolley past a puce-faced woman instructing her husband to "Just go and look at the Madeira. Now please!" The prize for worst selection of festive fare went to the glum looking couple with a trolley full of Fosters lager and parsnips. Someone's in for a treat tomorrow.

For me, the lead up to Christmas has probably been the same as that of many others. Each year I promise myself that I will not trundle down Oxford Street in December. Failed. I was particularly amazed by the desperation of some of the shopping in John Lewis where some people operated a kind of 'auto grab' method, whereby they just scooped up anything that lay in their path. Oh the joy of opening a festive pannetone and Union Jack tea tray tomorrow.

Last night I was out at a meal in south east London. The restaurant was lovely and the food wonderful. The floor show came courtesy of one of the chefs who made John Barrowman look like Danny Dyer. He glided across the floor, clasping his hands and brandishing a tart (ooh Matron!), advising us that he had made his own mincemeat. Not a snigger from any of us. I opted for a coffee . . .

Anyway, I've ploughed through the Radio Times to see what Christmas Day has to offer. Here are my recommendations:

8.20 a.m. Blue Peter Christmas Special (BBC1)
Here's one we rescued from a bin . . . (8.20 a.m.)
Join the team, well Helen, as she crashes into the scenery in the show's new micro bijou studio in Salford. No crib, no tree, no advent crown and a couple of carols sung by a woman from the production team and Shep. Plus photographs from the Summer Expedition to Belgium.

11.00 a.m. Songs of Praise (BBC1)
Pews that don't see a bum in a month of Sundays are now filled with ugly people in hats. Expect several carols to be desecrated beyond belief by a dubious chorister.

12.30 p.m Film: Panda Feet versus Aliens (ITV2)
Heart-warming festive animation voiced by Joan Rivers and Chuck Norris.

2.00 p.m Top of the Pops (BBC1)
Join a host of nobodys and Fearne Cotton as you try to remember anything that charted in 2011. Probably contains a scene with Cher Lloyd in a santa suit.

3.00 p.m. The Queen (Every channel)
Usual sour-faced meanderings topped off with that wintry grimace.

4.00 p.m. Panorama special (BBC News 24)
Is TV journalism dumbing down? Hosted by Dale Winton and Amy Childs.

7.00 p.m. Emmerdale (ITV1)
Marlon tells Sam that Andy Sugden is Amos Brearley's dad. Val Pollard eats Lisa Dingle's heroin and jumps off the Woolpack. In a shock revelation, Cain confesses to Mr Wilks that he was only responsible for 8 of the 14 disasters that hit the village this year. Edna eats dynamite and is shot from a cannon across a large expanse of the Nile delta.

8.00 p.m. Coronation Street (ITV1)
A bad hair day for Rita (8.00 p.m.)
Emily Bishop tells husband Ernie that Nick Tilsley is really Rita Sullivan's love child by Albert Tatlock. Meanwhile, Dev sings "I'm just an old fashioned girl" in full drag at the Rovers party just as the police arrive and shoot Eileen dead in the snug. Tyrone jumps off the factory roof on to a large spike.

9.00 p.m. EastEnders (BBC i-player if you are desperate)
Dirty Den confesses to Ethel's dog that Pete Beale is the father of punk Mary who hasn't been seen since 1988. Derek Branning gives Fat Boy a lesbian kiss in the laundrette and in a fit of jealousy, Dot Cotton jumps 80 feet from the roof of the Queen Vic, through a flaming hoop and lands in a bath of acid. Meanwhile a phonecall brings unwelcome news for Shirley.

10.00 p.m. Last of the Birds of a Grave and Horses (BBC3)
Two hours of festive comedy from the BBC, proving that they haven't managed to come up with any new formats for over a quarter of a century. Probably narrated by Alexander Armstrong.

11.20 p.m. Non-Celebrity Come Dine in Essex (ITV2)
Christmas pudding? (11.20 p.m.)
The perma-tanned uglies are invited to the remains of  a festive slap-up meal hosted by Arg and the fat one who looks like Diana Dors. Living the reem.

Merry Christmas from Clinkers to Riddle!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A feast of fine music?

It's time to let off the party-poppers and celebrate like there is no tomorrow. The end of the X Factor is nigh! I shouldn't really moan, having followed it from underwhelming week to underwhelming week. My heart has not really been in it this year and I guess I'm only watching the old nonsense out of slavish duty.

Bored . . .
I won't miss Dead-Eyes Dermot, a man who lights up a room every time he leaves it. If ever anyone was going through the motions, it's Derm. Still, we should pause for a moment to remember his predecessor, the automaton known as Kate Thornton. Weep for her.

Hapless old Uncle Louis
I will also not be missing the panel of judges. Tulisa just about redemmed herself when she suddenly remembered that she wasn't actually a beer-swilling chav but a middle class girl who had a private education. Louis Walsh now appears to be played by some camp, elderly, confused uncle who shouts out at inopportune moments. Should he come back next year, then the producers will dump the over 25s category on him again. Watch him wail and moan under thity grand's worth of wig.

I will definitely not miss Kelly Rowland. She's a riotous joy of over-emphasing ridiculousness, every utterance some contrived 'east side' nonsense. "Go momma" is often followed by the same lines but bellowed at some ear-shattering level. She's a foghorn in a frock. Laugh as she sits there, dabbing at dry eyes, attempting to squeeze emotion from somewhere. Time for that momma to take a hike.

Let's feel sorry for Gary Barlow. He seems like a decent bloke but Mr Nasty he is not. I get the feeling that he won't be back in 2012. Barlow's career is pretty rock solid at the moment and he doesn't need to take part in an end-of-the-pier show.

As for the finalists? Well let's forget Amelia Lily. She's definitely a competent singer but bland in a Julie Andrews kind of way. If you heard her on the radio, you wouldn't hurl the set out of the window but you wouldn't batter down the doors of HMV for a copy of her CD.

Err . . . no idea
Little Misfits, or whatever they are, may just win. They have a decent singer (the blonde one - does she have a name?) but are saddled with the odd-looking one. You know, the one who sounds as though she is trying to force her lungs out of her nostrils. The other two could be anyone. It might as well be Yootha Joyce and Peggy Mount up there or a couple of wooden spoons. Not a clue who they are.

Which brings us on to the probable winner, Marcus Collins. When he's not channelling Bruno Mars, he's quite a decent singer. However, you just know that twelve months on, he'll be brandishing a top hat and a cane in cabaret somewhere. A West End career beckons and why not? The guy seems to have stage presence and a good voice. Let's wish him well.

Has Lys got the Swiss Factor?
Meanwhile over in Switzerland, musical hysteria of a different kind. Several thousand people will pack into an arena in Kreuzlingen tonight for that traditional festive event, a qualifying competition for next year's Eurovision Song Contest. Yes, the contest that will be held at the end of May. Not that I'm accusing them of overdoing it but six months of preparation for the 2011 contest resulted in a less than joyful 25th place for Anna Rossinelli. Or 'last' as it is often known. Tonight's show is the culmination of months of qualifying rounds which featured X Factor rejects Maria Lawson (who?), Same Difference plus international star Ultra Naté. None of them made the final. One person who did though is 87 year old Lys Assia. She has been to Eurovision before - in 1956. Back then she emerged as the winner and tonight, armed with a schmaltzy, calorie-laden pudding of a ballad, she is expected to win again. You can almost hear Kelly Rowland's cry of "Go momma"  . . .

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Oh Christmas tree . . .

Anyone got any tinsel?
The inevitability of it is now upon me. I can't escape the fact that by next weekend, a jaded old fairy will be staring at me in the living room. No, I'm not talking about Louis Walsh on The X Factor. I'm preparing myself for the journey to the shed. Once there, I will battle my way past the lawn mower, the half tins of paint and the gently rusting garden implements in order to locate a series of elderly cases and boxes. With in these boxes of delights lies Christmas. Yes, the entire festive works, save for the turkey. Tree, tinsel, lights, worried looking fairy for the top of the tree - the lot.

I gave up on having a real tree after several years of disasters. One Christmastide, I left it all a bit late and was actually about to leave the house for New York when I hurriedly went and bought a tree from Sainsburys. Back at home, I snipped the netting open only for an entire pine forest to burst forth and fill the room. This monster of a tree blocked out all natural daylight and, more importantly, the telly. Back from the Big Apple the following week, I dragged the thing out to the garden and stamped on it.

The following year I made my purchase from a local shopkeeper who became forever known as "that thieving witch". Basically, she saw me coming. They usually do. The tree didn't seem to fit in any stand I had. I considered stapling it to the curtains but then thought better and decided to saw the bottom off. With no saw to hand ( I know, what a desperate household) I took a bread knife to the thing. How I laughed with festive bonhomie as the blood poured down my hands several minutes later.

My problems were resolved by a quick visit to John Lewis who then delivered Christmas in the back of a van. All I now have to do is find the tree, cleanse it of spiders/grass cuttings and hey presto - it's Christmas!

Feeling excited yet? No . . .
At least I'm getting in the mood. Yesterday saw me at Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland, a Christmas cornucopia of loveliness. Brandishing a turkey bap, I pushed my way through crowds of bemused looking tourists heaving into cups of gluhwein. Seriously, the scent of mulled vino was everywhere. Fair play to the organisers though. The whole thing could have been ridiculously tacky but surprisingly, the idea seems to work.

Just don't be tempted by the gluhwein before going on the fairground . . .

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Soup on a tray . . .

I've staggered to the keyboard. Yes, this brave little soldier marches on despite suffering from (weep for me dear reader . . .) man flu. This scourge of the eighteen plus male finally hit home and layed me low for at least, ooh, forty eight hours.

Of course being ill now is nothing like being ill when you are a kid. A sickness day in the 1970s had a certain kind of format to it. I would be transferred from bed to sofa just as Jimmy Young was piping up on Radio 2. Once there, I would be covered with The Sickness Blanket, a cholera-ridden piece of cloth handed down by my great-grandma. Accompanying this would be The Sickness Bucket. Whatever the illness, the blue plastic bucket, liberally filled with Dettol-infused water would slosh around within vomiting range. Also arranged nearby would be a copy of The Beano and a bottle of Lucozade, complete with crinkly yellow cellophane.

Even though school was obviously out of the question, schools programmes would be served up. And so, semi-awake, I would peer at Seeing & Doing, Picture Box and the eerie Experiment ("Write that down".) Mum would later make an appearance with the Official Sickness Meal - tomato soup on a tray. Why she never put it in a bowl is anyone's guess. This would be served against a backdrop of Pebble Mill at One, the seven year old me being entranced by Peter Seabrook's gardening tips and a song from Patti Boulaye. By the time Crown Court came on I would be feverish and demented.

Two hours that I'll never get back . . .
Anyway, that's in the past. The adult sickness day saw me slumped over this keyboard, hating myself for reading inane tweets (note to celebs: if the only thing you have to talk about is your up and coming tour dates, then please don't bother). The 'feverish' moment came courtesy of Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show which appears to be a spoken version of the Daily Mail, a forum for the 'nuts and sluts' brigade who usually meander on to the Jeremy Kyle Show. Must be something about the name Jeremy. Faced with a TV schedule filled with greedy pensioners grubbing around at antique fairs or rotund campsters tarting up derelict terraces in Stoke, I kept the telly switched off and sweated away in a corner. With The Sickness Blanket. Great-grandma would be proud.

Monday, 14 November 2011

I heard a Rumer . . .

Yawn . . .
My search for quality music goes on. I've decided that I'm never going to find it courtesy of the X Factor which I am now, after seven years, officially giving up on. Try as I might, I am unable to summon up any interest in this year's woeful contestants namely the Pislbury Do-Boy, the four munchkins, some bint with a loaf of bread on her head, a gasping 'theatrical' type who thinks he's Bruno Mars . . . oh you get the picture. Add to that the dead-eyed Dreary O'Leary, Auntie Louie and Kelly Girlfriend. Enough already. Or ENOUGH ALREADY as Kelly would probably bellow while trying to read the name of her acts on a cue card.

Mum's gone to Iceland
I found a little solace in thirty quids worth of Icelandic CD, the joyous Gleðibankinn. This celebrates, as if anything could, twenty five years of Icelandic participation on the Eurovision Song Contest. Feast on delights such as Hægt og hljótt by Halla Margret or the finger-clicking goodness offered up by Anna Mjöll's Sjubidu (it translates as Shoobedoo by the way).

Maybe musical perfection came in the shape of singer-songwriter Rumer. On Saturday night I made my way to Sheffield's City Hall, to join the throng of weak-bladdered, middle-aged people who had turned out to to be comforted by Rumer's songs. Battling through the queue outside the tea kiosk ("We've got no milk") and the grey-headed men in discomfort outise the gents, I settled down for the musical action. Rumer wafter on in a brown mumsy frock and launched into the first of many tracks from her debut album. The next ninety minutes were an absolute joy. Aided by an excellent backing band and two well-built backing singers, Rumer eased us through a world of middle-of-the-road mid-tempo songs, soft jazz and bossa nova rhythms. Her cover of Laura Nyro's American Dove topped off a rather lovely evening.

Musical excellence was, therefore, found. I embraced the middle-aged-ness of it all and, aftr rushing for the loo, floated home on a cloud of  . . . well, Ovaltine probably.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Missed World

If it wasn't for a small article in The Guardian this week, I would have been none the wiser that London was playing host to this year's Miss World competition. I felt slightly sad and nostalgic. Back in the day, Miss World was one of the annual television highlights, along with Children in Need and the Eurovision Song Contest, which caught people's interest.

Yes, a child I was always aware that, like a visit to the funfair, the search for the planet's best-looking woman was a tacky treat. On the big day we would glance at the 'runners and riders' lists in the tabloids. Miss United Kingdom would have been installed as favourite to win, even if she looked like Janet Street-Porter. By 8 p.m., the household would be seated and glued to the screen as shots of the Royal Albert Hall were replaced by a dazzling array of mismatched hosts. Would it be Michael Aspel in a dickie-bow, Esther Rantzen in a chiffon tent or Judith Chalmers with her lacquered skin?

Then the real fun began as the 'bevvy of international beauties' clomped on stage to sing an ill-judged anthem. For several years this was the nauseating 'For only a day', a ditty so inane that it actually finished last in A Song for Europe. Of course, it was always fun to spot the non-English speakers opening and closing their mouths on the back row but enough of Miss Australia.

The national dress parade was always a laugh. Poor old Miss UK would lumber out in a Beefeater outfit, the country lacking so much cohesion that it couldn't even agree on a frock. This part of the show was educational. We learned that the national dress of Malta is a coal sack and that all African women are forced to wear wicker baskets on their heads. How we chuckled as the gangly seven foot tall Miss Netherlands struggled onstage looking like a fifteenth century milk maid. The representative of the USA (never Miss USA, note) would be resplendent with toombstone teeth and Miss Mexico would look like a bad joke from Ugly Betty. Miss Iceland, even when she won, remained a dry-eyed Stepford Wife and curiously unsexual. Our household would always indulge in the 'is she a man?' competition, won on one notable occasion by Miss Turkey.

After the girls had been crooned at by Sacha Distel (usually 'The Most Beautiful Girl in the World'), Esther, Judith or someone would ask each contestant something non-threatening ('So Miss Israel, what's it like to be a beautiful girl in the army?') whereas we wanted Judith to smile and ask Miss South Africa what she thought of the oppressive regime of her homeland.

Then it was time to meet the jury (usually of the Bruce Forsyth ilk) before the forever seedy looking chairman, Eric Morley, announced the results in reverse order. At this point, a no-show for Miss UK was always rated a disaster. Would we never get to see that Beefeater suit again? There would usually be a surprised runner-up (Miss Guam 1980 - but revenge would be hers) followed by either a bizarre winner who no one had rated (UK 1983, Austria 1987) or some glacial automaton from Venezuela. Cut to winner attempting to walk, arrange her sash and hang on to the ridiculous crown that had been forcibly jammed on to her Farrah Fawcett hairdo by the previous year's winner.

This year's contest isn't being shown on either terrestrial or satellite TV in the UK but we wish Miss England well as she steps out at Earls Court dressed in our national costume, protective armoured battledress.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Ta-ra duck . . .

The passing of Coronation Street legend Betty Driver marks the end of an era down Weatherfield way. Many of us grew up with the character of Betty Turpin. There she was, bustling around behind the bar of the Rovers Return, often sharp of tongue and breathing fire. Yet for all that, she always seemed to be the kind of character who would have had a quarter of sweets in her handbag. She was the Nation's Nan, hankie poised up the sleeve of her cardigan, a reassuring word at the ready.

Betty Driver the actress was, for many, Betty Driver the film star and singer of the 1930s and 40s. It almost seems incredible that she came out of retirement to accept the Corrie role back in 1969. Some newspaeers have referred to her characterisation as that of a battleaxe. Yet she was no Ena Sharples and nor was she a harridan in the Ivy Tilsley mode. Betty was one of a kind. For me she will forever be remembered rolling towards a lake in a second hand Rover with Bet Lynch. She will be ferrying hotpots from kitchen to bar, locking horns with Alec Gilroy and delivering that deep, wicked chuckle.

Striking the right note

I think that filing any kind of critique about the pros and cons of ITV1's The X Factor is a little like pushing at an open door. Is there really any point? For me, the show has been a guilty pleasure for many years. I've always enjoyed the pantomime judging panel and have sometimes been surprised by decent performers. This week's instalment was something else though. The panel had obviously had a rocket up the backside courtesy of Simon Cowell, no doubt in full histrionic Dame Maggie mode. All Gary Barlow needed was a black cape and a cackle to make him the ideal villain. Not that any of his criticisms rang true. He merely seemed to be going through the motions. Tulisa looked uncomfortable with the entire show and Kelly was all over the place. She needs to go home, 'girlfriend'. As for Louis? You might as well have Dot Cotton on the panel.

The lovely Frankie Coccoza
The acts this year are, on the whole, not good. I was pleased to see Brookside's Bev Dixon on stage, looking a bit bigger but belting out a Cher number. Jane MacDonald would have been proud. Rythmix were there again, a messy hotch-potch of looks and sounds. Boy band muppets The Risk looked distracted, as were their vocals at times, but still remain favourites. Weep for Frankie Coccoza with his 1970s ladies hairdo and weak vocal. Go on, cry bitter tears for this most over-rated of performers.

I'm beginning to think that the Great British Public are falling out of love with Dame Cowell and his circus. Which leads me to believe that camp Eric Sykes lookalike Johnny will be this year's winner. Tripping around the stage like an embarrassing uncle on acid, he is however very likeable - something his fellow contestants (step forward Misha B - what does the B stand for? Bint?) are not. Viewers may well decide to punish Cowell and sink The X Factor forever by bestowing a victory on Johnny.

Like a Rhinestone cowboy . . .
Having recorded last night's show, I set off for the Royal Festival Hall and the farewell concert from Glen Campbell. As recently reported, Campbell is now living with Alzheimer's and made the decision to do one final tour before retiring. The evening was a delight, although quite emotional for some. Campbell's backing band included several of his children who supported him in every sense of the word. As for the music, well each song was a classic and was greeted with warm applause. Campbell joked "Without the songwriter Jimmy Webb, I probably wouldn't be up here doing this now!" From the joy of "Galveston" to the melancholy "Wichita Lineman", Campbell gave his all and given that he is 75 years old, this was impressive. A performer who has the X Factor plus a whole lot more.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Making a meal of it

When it comes to reviewing restaurants, I'm hardly Fay Maschler. I'm not even Faye from Steps. However, there comes a point when a disgruntled diner (that's me by the way) has to speak out. Yet again, I'm going to be jolly English and polite about it all and not even name the offending restaurant. I can confirm that this cheerless dump is situated on London's Charlotte Street.

Enter if you will, a restaurant devoid of any personality. This should have been a warning. The clientel were less than inspiring; a middle-aged couple sat in companionable, dreary silence, two excitable Italians and a smiling Japanese couple trying to make sense of the impossibly small tables. I thought I could hear someone weeping in the background but it just turned out be an elderly recording of Marianne Faithfull singing "As tears go by".

What onion soup SHOULD look like!
On to the menu then and I opted for a tasteless onion soup, topped off with a slab of lard masquerading as gruyere cheese. Removing this from the soup was akin to prizing a manhole cover up. Not to worry, I though, sea bass to follow. I wasn't quite prepared for the transparent remnant of fish that was hurried to my table, accompanied by four undercooked new (what? In 1985?) potatoes and a shaving of something which might have been ginger. I washed this delicacy down with the delightfully warm sauvignon blanc and waited for the 'fresh' bread which "might take some time because the electric oven has to warm up".

I shuffled off home and made a sandwich, the melody of "As tears go by" reverberating in my mind long into the night.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Sky's the Limit . . .

Thank you British weather. One minute I'm sat outside enjoying a mellow evening, the next I'm jammed up against a radiator. Still, being indoors gave me a chance to catch up on the all the telly I've been storing on my Sky box. It really is time to have a clear out. I reckon if I page back far enough, I'll find episodes of Pebble Mill at One on there.

Dumbed-down Abbey?
Lots in the papers this week about Downton Abbey and the disgruntled viewing public. I agree, the ad breaks are numerous and littered about the show in a random fashion. The characterisations seem to have gone a bit mad too. Mrs Crawley, loveable in the last series for sticking up to Dame Maggie, now comes across as some meddlesome ratbag. Cora's facelift (surely not in 1917?) has not been remarked upon and the rushed storyline concerning the Irish valet was poor. However, on the positive side, Thomas the footman is less 'pantomime camp' than he was last year.

Be afraid . . .
I always record Location Location Location, basically because I'm nosy and like to shout when people even consider moving to a cottage. Anywhere. The latest episode I watched (which was probably originally transmitted in 2008 - I'm that far behind . . .) showed signs of the whole thing lurching towards parody. The first victims . . . err potential buyers were a lesbian couple, both of whom were played by Radclyffe Hall. This duo spent days wittering on about whether or not their cats would like each house and weeping in unfinished utility rooms. The other couple were dull married accountants who shuffled around the Home Counties droning on about kerb appeal and whether or not the coffee shops were any good. The vox pop with a group of twee yummy mummies would have had me running a mile.

Supervising the whole circus was Kirstie Allsop, now firmly in bellowing Rodean head girl mode and Phil Spencer, who seems to have morphed into a chortling would-be Sid James. However, they do get results and both are far richer than yours truly will ever be.

Queen of Quiche - Jo Wheatley
Highlight of the week was, naturally, the climax of Great British Bake Off. This has been a joy from start to finish. Hurrah for Jo Wheatley and her perfect mini Victoria sponges and congratulations to this most unassuming of winners. I will celebrate with an M & S jam bake a little later. Co-host Sue Perkins excelled although I notice that she is becoming, a little like Alexander Armstrong, omnipresent on our TV screens. One moment she was stuffing macaroons down her throat and the next she was yomping across Dartmoor with Alison Steadman. I am, of course, jealous.

If you're tuning into X Factor tonight, enjoy. If you're settling down in front of Strictly - I ain't interested.

Friday, 30 September 2011

The long week is over . . .

It's been a long but on the whole lovely week. Yes, the weather has been a bit freaky but wonderfully so. It has enabled me to sit outside in the garden for three consecutive evenings. Mind you, this is England and we could be drifting around in snow this time next month.

Not related to Noel . . .
Food of the week came courtesy of the excellent Anrew Edmunds on Lexington Street, London. It's something of a hidden gem and there is the issue of being crammed on to hard church pews but believe me, it's worth it!

Person of the week has to be, as mentioned before, the joy that is Jo on Great British Bake Off. She thinks she can't do it. She has a 'moment'. She realises that she is a damned fine baker after all. I would happily scoff one of her mousse cakes to the point of vomiting. Maybe not quite the ringing endorsement she's after.

Song of the week for me has been the addictive 'Ouch that hurt' by Dionne Bromfield. Until this little gem burst out of the wireless set, I'd given la Bromfield a wide berth because of the Amy Winehouse connection. I was wrong. Dionne is a class act in her own right and good luck to her.

Grandma we love you . . . as long as you don't sing
Mis-placed optimism of the week came courtesy of 278 year old singer Lys Assia, winner of the first Eurovision Song Contest in 1956. With a grim chanson that would have Vera Lynn gagging, Ms Assia is attempting to represent Switzerland again next year. I think the UK should retaliate by sending Dora Bryan or Anita Harris. Facebook campaign anyone? Thought not . . .

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Baking for Britain!

Too many cooks? Never!
It's official. I'm obsessed with a bunch of women baking scones in a tent. OK, perhaps I'm not being fair on the domestic goddesses who are conjuring up pastry-based magic on the outskirts of Ilford. "The Great British Bake Off" has been a Great British success this autumn. Next week will see Jo, Mary Anne and Holly will battle it out in the final. Will souffles rise? Can a surprise pie point a contestant towards the winner's rostrum?

The final trio are as different as any finalists could be. There's Mary Anne (maverick baker), Holly (driven, professional, air of desperation) and Jo (lovely, never more than thirty seconds from a total pastry-induced breakdown). These women know exactly how to make a cup cake runneth over with goodness and I've no idea which one of them will be victorious.

I wonder which one of them is baking the celebration cake?

Great British Bake Off Final 2011
Tuesday 4 October
8.00 pm BBC2

Saturday, 17 September 2011

On your marks . . .
Like a moth to a flame, yours truly found himself drawn to the Central Line and the inevitable visit to Europe's largest and possibly most monstrous high altar of retail therapy. I speak of Stratford City East where it's a case of 'come one come all' - and spend.

That was certainly the case today as I wove around gaggles of shouting teenage girls (note: if your gut is hanging over your trousers like a flabby spacehopper, maybe try a skirt?), slow moving Benidorm Madges, lads with camp Justin Beiber hairdos and the weary and puzzled (me). I'm hardly representative of the crowd Westfield are hoping to pull in but come on, who are half of these 'high street names'. Which 'high street' are they talking about? Bratislava?

She's lovin' it . . .
The food courts are interesting though. Sadly the most popular franchise seemed to be McDonalds (oh look, it's the lumpy teenage girls again) but there were some interesting looking Lebanese, Moroccan and Vietnamese places. Not that I went to any of them. There's always next time.

One of the best bits of the expedition was having the chance to view the Olympic Park from the comfort of John Lewis. Apparently it's the official Olympic shop of choice or something. Hurrah for that. And hurrah for the shop that managed to make me part with one hundred and forty quid on things I never knew I needed. I think they saw me coming . . .

Friday, 16 September 2011

A Pointless exercise . . .

Premature late middle age is setting in. I find myself settling down to, nay looking forward to, the lightest of late afternoon light entertainment. Take a bow "Pointless", BBC1's slice of comfiness, best served with a warm scone and a cup of milky tea.

"Oh what's the point?"
The show is ridiculously simple and barely a distant relative to BBC4's scary "Only Connect". In "Pointless" we are presented with four competing duos - usually a middle-aged husband and wife, a couple of camp young men with bad hair, two overweight sisters and a couple of clueless students. The hapless contestants then battle to provide the least likely answer to a given question. The team with the lowest score proceeds to the next round and so on ad infinitum.

Hosting this cosy interlude is comedian/actor Alexander Armstrong who peers at the contestants through screwed up eyes, possibly wondering what on earth brought him to this juncture in his career. Still, the thing works in a mild, uncomplicated way and is much more palatable than having Anne Robinson snarling at you.

Go on - give it a try! Reach for the malt loaf, your favourite slippers and something totally "Pointless".

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Strictly Not Watching . . .

Show us a leg Edwina! On second thoughts . . .
I've never seen "Star Wars". I've never purchased a Bob Dylan CD. I've never hurtled down Mount Snowdon on a tea-tray bellowing Celine Dion's greatest hits. Surprisingly, to some people at any rate, I've never seen an episode of "Strictly Come Dancing". It's not that I've gone out of my way to avoid it or that I start fizzing at he gills everytime 'Sir' Bruce clatters into view. Or that northern woman. No, it's just the suffocatingly. cosy, twee world of has-beens in big frocks isn't a big enough draw. I suspect that the BBC kicks off each year with a list of stereotypes to be included in the show - magazine show presenter, fat 'comedy value' entertainer, fruity sixty something woman, sports star nearing the end of a career, faintly recognisable totty from a soap . .  check this year's bunch. They are all there. All we need for a full house is Colonel Gaddaffi and the bloke from the Go Compare adverts.

For me, eventually, it will be an evening in front of "X Factor". Yes, I know it's a load of old nonsense too and admittedly, I haven't watched any of the 'nuts and sluts' auditions so far. However, as the dark nights creep in and the mellow fruits have been harvested, whatever that means, yours truly will be found open-mouthed and ranting at Louis Walsh and co. There is no hope . . .

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

To Twitter or not to Twitter?

Charlie Brooker - ranting on a page near you
Ok, so I've been hooked up to Twitter for a wee while now and admittedly, I'm a bit bored. That's probably my own fault given the eclectic nay random selection of people who I decided to follow. Some of them have really got the hang of tweeting - step forward Charlie Brooker, Julie Hesmondhalgh (Hayley from 'Corrie') and even the slightly acerbic Lord Sugar. Sue Perkins is a joy as is Clare Balding. However, there seem to be a whole bunch of 'celebs' who think that "Hi!!!!!!!" constitutes a conversation. Also guilty of such behaviour is a well-known BBC radio presenter, another down-to-earth soap bloke & a comedy actress.

There are some nuggets of gold though. One reknowned playwright often provides a minute-by-minute analysis of 'Big Brother' and a 'grand dame' of British TV acting reckons she might just end up in the high court because of the content of her tweets.

Any tips for entertaining Tweeters? I'm all ears (although not in a 'Martin Clunes' way . . .)

Monday, 5 September 2011

Hooked on Downton . . .

Have I chilled out too early in the year? OK so autumn seems to have been thrust upon us but does this mean that I should be allowing myself to cosy down with a box set? Oddly though, I've picked a couple of ITV1 shows to ease me into the season of mellow fruits and harvest festivals. Currently I'm knee-deep in 'Downton Abbey', the stirring tale of life in't big house where her ladyship rings the bell for tea and below stairs, three hundred extras start lobbing macaroons on to cake stands.

"Where's Mrs Bridges? Sorry, wrong show . . ."
Her from 'Benidorm'
The latter, of course, never happened and therein lies the problem. Prior to settling down with the Downton mob, I watched the Red Nose Day version, 'Upstairs Downton Abbey'. Not the best of ideas as I now snigger my way through the real thing, hoping to see the footman fall over, the blind cook chuck flour everywhere and her from 'Benidorm' sporting knitted hair.

If you love the series proper and have never seen the spoof, treat yourself to a viewing on You Tube. I'll bet a pantry girl's wage that you will watch series two in a very different light.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

All hail Mary Berry!

Don't mess with Mary . . .
I have a new heroine. Ladies & gentlemen I give you Mary Berry, cook extraordinaire. Here's a woman who can get me salivating over a lump of foccacia bread. She's currently wrinkling her nose at some of the offering (many of them burnt) on BBC2's 'The Great British Bake Off'. Our Mary may look like a gentle old dear but get the consistency of your quiche wrong and she's in for the kill. Hats off too to the contestants on the show who rise  (unlike some of the cakes) to the occasion and for whom I have the greatest admiration. Anyone who can knock up a batch of twenty four cup cakes under duress gets my vote.

Anyway, inspired by the shenanigans on Beeb 2, I've gone out and purchased a quiche tin. I have Mary's cooking bible and now all I have to do is assemble the ingredients. Wish me well . . .

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Mads about the boy . . .

Have I got to the age where some music leaves me cold? maybe. I really, honestly, truthfully don't understand and don't actually want to understand Cher Lloyd's "Swagger Jagger". Is it supposed to be a nursery rhyme? Anyway, if you fancy something a little more chilled on these balmy (?) summer evenings, why not give Mads Langer a try? He's a 27 year old singer-songwriter from Denmark who cites his influences as including Prince, Neil Young & Ray Lamontagne! Don't worry - he's not trying to cram all of these styles into the excellent album "Behold".

Best taken with a glass of white at the end of a long week at work. Enjoy.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

More theatre darlings!

"We must have got our Wires crossed . . ."
To the tiny Duchess Theatre near Drury Lane to see Simon Gray's wonderfully dark comedy "Butley". I previously saw this on Broadway back in 2006 where Nathan Lane took the lead role. The West End revival has "The Wire" star Dominic West as the decaying, whisky-soaked university don. For every dark moment there is something to chuckle at, whether it be Butley's exaggerated Yorkshire accident or his camp outrageous humiliation of colleague Joseph. Paul 'Doctor Who' McGann gives a brooding performance as Joseph's lover.

I was surprised that the play is showing at such a tiny theatre as the Duchess. Maybe a transfer is in the offing. A great night out though, plus a lovely if expensive meal in Covent Garden.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Something for the weekend . . .

Well, it's been a bit of a terrible one hasn't it? The shocking atrocities in Norway and the untimely but, sad to say, often-predicted death of Amy Winehouse have given much cause for reflection. Therefore I was happy of a bit of a distraction tonight and it came in the unexpected shape of Paul O'Grady. His Sunday afternoon Radio 2 show is a little gem and I recommend it for anyone feeling those Sunday evening blues. There are usually a cuple of featured artists and a generous helping of Northern Soul. The e-mails and letters from listeners are usually barking mad but for a couple of hours, indulge yourself.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Theatre darlings!

OK so I took myself off to Theatreland last night and in particular, deepest, darkest Soho. The Soho Theatre always feels as though it forces the audience to suffer for art. The theatre areas are sometimes small and filled with the kind of chairs that usually get strewn around village halls. However, the productions are usually worth the hardship. "Hundreds and Thousands" was a a darkly comedic piece with a cast of four including Nadine Lewington. Fans of medicated soap may remember her as irritating doctor Maddie in "Holby City". Her performance last night was excellent. Mention should also be made of Stuart Laing (ex-"EastEnders") for his chilling portayal of Alan. Also of note were the bizarre elderly Italian couple who appeared to have wnadered into the wrong play, quite possibly in the wrong city.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Nasty Street furniture . . .

It's been a while since I last blogged. Blame the summer holidays . . .
"Is there anything else we can cram in?"
I often find myself becoming mildly annoyed by some of the tatty old furniture that seems to appear in Weatherfield. There's plenty to chose from. Deirdre's horrid chaise longue, squahed in between that debating table and the never-seen telly box. Or that grotty sofa in the Stape household. However, my current bugbear is that ridiculous table owned by Leanne & Peter. It's about the same size as a dustbin lid and yet we are expected to believe that the Barlows were going to entertain Stella and Karl to a delicious banquet whilst crouching around this offending article. There again, they probably needed some form of reward after entering the flat like demented crabs through that slit of a door.

That's it then. Leanne & Peter quite possibly live in the worst dwelling on't cobbles. Weep for them.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Go away Graham . . .

I think you'd better leave right now . . .
One of my fave characters is being dragged through his final, tedious storyline at the moment. Let us gather in silence for the passing of Graham Proctor for he is, to all intent and purpose, an ex-character. How I loathe the day he ever agreed to do a favour for that permanently smiling "Blue Peter" auditionee with her nodding figurines aqnd understanding nature.

Feel a pang of sadness as Graham plays happy families with the cuckoo in the nest while poor Tina gathers dust in a corner. Weep for him.

In all seriousness, I will be glad when Graham is put out of his - and indeed my misery. As a leaving present, could he take wifey with him? Please? Pretty please??

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Dennis returns!

"Remember me? No? OK . . ."
OK, so he's only featured in a couple of episodes to date but I'm liking Dennis Tanner already. Phillip Lowrie seems to have stepped comfortably into the shoes he vacated an incredible forty three years ago. Plus Dennis brought us up ton date with the Elsie Tanner story, a wonderful gesture by the storyliners which helps to clear up the non-ending to her character.

Time will tell how Dennis interacts with the Corrie characters of 2011. He's already renewed his friendship with Rita but how will Ken reacft to his return? Dennis has also locked horns with Sylvia Goodwin which could be interesting and seems to have a genuine connection with Sophie Webster.

Of course, I want to know whether or not Dennis had any family himself. I'm betting that he has. He left with wife Jenny in 1968 and certainly seems to have been with her up to around 1973.

Welcom back our kid!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Leg it Liz!

She won't be missed . . .
Sorry folks! I apologise before I write another word but this particular blogger is looking forward to the disappearance of Liz MacDonald. For over twenty years we've had to put up with this shrieking Harvester barmaid, her bizarre 'northern' accent and her dodgy moralising. Mother, one-time landlady and full-time slapper, she's staggered across the cobbles in a variety of ill-fitting skirts for far too long.

Having said all that, Corrie does seem to be dispatching the old trout with more of a whimper than a bang. Poor Liz is currently embroiled in a ridiculous plot which will see former hubby Jim incarcerated in the Big House for the rest of his natural.

Too harsh to be a Bet Lynch 'tart-with-a-heart', too mouthy to make many other female friends (only Deirdre & Eileen since 1989) and with a string of useless romances behind her, Liz has finally come to the end of her useful life. Enjoy your retirement, hang up your cheap frocks and sun yourself on a Spanish beach. And please stay there.