Thursday, 30 September 2010

Masterchef Professionals reduce and Michael Wood plays it safe.

Michael Wood's Story of England continued tonight in what was a return to a more familiar format for the acclaimed documentarist. We pick up with the end of the World as we knew it and stopped short of the great plague. Most of the material had in fact been covered by other programmes last month during Norman week. That is not to say it wasn't interesting or well told. In his more familiar territory, Proff Wood did the BBC walk and interviewed a number of scholars who ritualistically pulled out the Domesday book and other ancient documents to appropriate awe and respect. He then wandered the countryside going to places so far away they had little if anything to do with Kibworth. I'm not saying he didn't illustrate his point properly, but we were told it was supposed to be about England through Kibworth's eyes. The one time he could have done so much more, he chose to do as little as possible. The Gar Tree or Speech Mound of Kibworth was a fascinating vestige of old English culture going as far back as the Druids, we had a location, medieval records, photos of the tree, we had aerial photography, we had a gnarled tree stump that looked at least 1000 years old. Did he do anything with it? Did they dig a test trench? Did they even walk over the spot it was supposed to have been on? NO. He could have  helped clarify much about early traditional moots, but he walked away. You know, while I'm at it , he also didn't think the Roman mound/Norman moat and bailey castle was worth excavating either. Time Team would have made a two parter of this one and most certainly discovered information that even now is under threat of being washed away and lost for ever. On the Gar Tree site alone, the number of questions that could have been answered. What kind of food did they eat? Did they leave sacrificial offerings on the site? Just how old is the site and of course if it was used as late as the 1700's, what was it's last recorded use and why was it abandoned.

As a history enthusiast, I was deeply disappointed. On the whole, I could have missed the hour and not been the poorer for it, that is except for the bit about the Gar tree. I sincerely hope the Plague to Oliver Cromwell is better and contains some nugget we might not have otherwise been aware of. Considering the programme was on at the same time as the 2nd half of  the Manchester United  CL match, and  was the only other thing  that wasn't a complete waste of time, I had hoped for something a bit more than reheated Norman history. If the next one is as tepid as tonight's effort, I may well consider looking to my DVD collection for inspiration. I know, I can watch a Tom Baker Doctor Who complete with sacred mounds and creepy villagers in tweed. Read the next review for Peasants' revolts to Tudors or watch the episode here

And so I was left with a bad taste in my mouth after the promise of a towering feast of history. But do not be concerned dear reader, I did get a pudding worthy of the G-ds. Masterchef The Professionals was in quarter final mode with a cornucopia of ingredients, including what looked like at least a £1,000 worth of perfectly formed truffles. There was sea food, fish , venison, rabbit, lamb and quail.  Fresh fruit and veg the likes of which make you want to fall on  and shamelessly writhe in. Is this making you hungry? It surely is making me. In order to insure no one is hurt in the reading of this blog, I will reveal that one beef Wellington was overcooked, an innocent rabbit was burned in a pan and some purée was polluted with vanilla pod served in a main?!?! Ben the French lad made the best pudding you will have seen till now on any Masterchef. Secret splosher Greg Wallace declared his pear in a sponge served with marzipan wafer, three raspberries and assorted other lovely bits to be the closest thing to a hug on a plate.  The critics unashamedly wanted to take it home and do unspeakable things to it with their tongues. Even our allegedly icy pro chef , multi Michelin star man was making noises that in no way resembled speech as we know it,  I myself was left in a state of utter ecstasy and I couldn't even taste it.

Needless to say, Ben will compete in the upcoming Semi finals, as for the rest, it was a question of do you put through the great chef who made you wait or the one who killed the Wellington but was on time. I say if a cook makes you wait and it's worth it , the wait is part of the experience. And eventually the panel agreed with me, putting through talented Northerner John from Northumbria who wowed the critics with lamb main and I think the shrimp starter . Nervous Dave and the others could have played a better game, but in the end inexperience and nerves took their toll. Basic mistakes  like not properly shucking beans and putting too many flavours on the plate at the same time, as well one case of murder through cold cucumber soup that ruined an otherwise perfect meal.  It's so easy to make mistakes, but on the level these people are operating on , they cannot afford to be sloppy. All of them have day sous chef jobs IN restaurants, and one is the head chef. Mistakes like burning rabbit and serving said rabbit won't be tolerated in a place were that kind of food doesn't get beyond the pass. Can you tell I'm enjoying this?

Reviews for week two here and finally here, And now week three and week four

Thursday, Nigella, and reviewed here, as well as  the Hairy Bikers are batting against tough Uefa cup competition. Manchester City v Nigella and Si and Dave, Hmmmmm, I know Nigella has her knockers (check in the mail for permission to use oldest joke on earth) and the Hairy Bikers with Mums know best seems be a repeat, but the TV guide is telling me otherwise. We'll see.

I promised you a Chocolate cake recipe yes? Well I'll definitely post it at the week end. In the mean time I strongly urge you to resist that Jafa cake, lovely as it is, and bake something fresh. My wife made us pretzels like they sell in New York and in the streets of old Poland. Cost us next to nowt and we'll be in hot baked heaven for the next few hours .

Till next time when I hopefully tear myself out of the kitchen and hop back into the mystery and mayhem that is comedy and detective crime.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

BBC 2 Whites, Alan Davies cooks up the laughs and Masterchef Pro

It was bound to happen, eventually they would commission a comedy about a restaurant that has more than just a passing resemblance to every kitchen we've seen in the last 5 years in cookery programmes from Masterchef to Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. As a bona fide cookery porn addict I was dead chuffed at the prospect of a show that recognizes that I am an important demographic.

Whites premier episode did not disappoint. It had in it two of my favourite people in the world, Alan Davies and the delectable as well as indispensable actress, Katherine Parkinson. The rest of the cast is rounded out by some well cast character actors who make the kitchen come to life. There is the inept Asian who cannot move without dropping things, the near pleading sous chef who spends most of the ep begging Chef Roland White for help during a gruelling service. He of course eventually gets it in the form of an overly ambitious little shit who will do anything he can to undermine his authority in the kitchen. Katherine Parkinson ( front of house) and the old dear who owns the haute cuisine eatery also compete with the sous chef for Alan Davies time.

Is Rolland White, Marco Pierre White? You tell me. Next week we are promised a new visiting celeb chef named Shay who is more than likely a combination of mostly Jamie Oliver and a few other people for extra seasoning. The cooking jokes are fine and the action moves in a natural rhythm that I recognize as a proper restaurant. It's not the IT Crowd or BBC3's Ideal, but then it's not supposed to be. It's a sitcom about a professional kitchen. I'm not sure what the ratings will be like long term, but I will be watching as long as they keep making them. Whites is made for the cookery crowd and thank you BBC for that. I get the jokes, I like the characters and I find the situations realistic as well as engaging. Alan Davies can speak and pretend to run the pass as well as any actual chef. According to my wife, who waited tables for a time, the ditzy waitress and some of the characters in the kitchen are so spot on it's spooky. Assuming he wants to, Davies can ride this one as long as he wants to. I suspect the audience for this is bigger than the legion of cookery nerds like me. I can see this being sold overseas to mainstream networks as well as cookery stations.Would I eat there? Yes of course, the food looks tasty, well presented and the kitchen is cleaner than the horror stories we've encountered on another network

Does Whites work as comedy if you ignore the fact it's about a restaurant? I like to think so, the chemistry between Parkinson and Davies as well as Davies and his sous chef  sparkles. The tension between the sous chef and his new mortal enemy is equally engaging. The comedy resides mostly in the sometimes exaggerated pomposity of celebrity chefs and real kitchen politics as a force that are well exploited by the writers. Even when you know a gag is coming, it still works, that is the sign of a well crafted bit of television.Whites seems destined to be part of our viewing menu for several series to come.In case you're wondering who plays the music in the Whites credits....look here as I've found the answer, even have the youtube link to listen.

On the same night we enjoyed Whites, Masterchef: The  Professionals was back for an hour this time. I was like a child in a sweet shop. If you add the previous night's 30 minute premier episode, we got to see 5 different recipes considered hard enough to test a pro. Except for the fried livers, I would have eaten every single dish from beginning to end. My personal favourite was the all sea food Sole and shrimp plate followed by the simple but tasty wild mushrooms with the chocolate tart for pudding. I promise to track down the recipes and post as many of them as I can here in later edits, but for now there is nothing online at the BBC food section connected to the programme.

Of the contestants so far, I think a few are capable of going all the way to the final, but we have the rest of the week to get through so I won't be choosing my picks to win just yet. The French born Thiery Henry look alike is promising though. I was a bit disappointed in the calibre of some of the hopefuls. Some  of them couldn't even truss a chicken or clean mushrooms properly. As always the two things that will get us to the final are presentation and palette. The judging panel of Michel Roux Jr and Gregg Wallace are joined by Michel's trusted sous chef Monica Galetti to grill and steam ( pardon the pun) alleged seasoned professionals. One of the best of the bunch was so unnerved his hands shook and the private cook to a "famous family" was just plain awful, having tried to poison Chef Galetti with her badly prepared gritty partly raw mushrooms.  I don't suppose she cooks for any noble house what with her bland seasoning and crust as underdone as what she attempted to serve Mr Pudding. I hate to imagine an army of  poisoners of Dibley lurking in posh kitchens all over the land, just waiting to kill us. I prefer to think that most of the chefs out there, genuinely do know what they are doing, but judging from the examples so far, there is nothing like years of practice to get it right. The contestants having cooked the least amount of time, even with the best raw talent, were not ready for this ordeal. Follow up ep blogged about here with appropriate hunger inducing language...

In the coming weeks, both Whites and Masterchef: The Professionals will  entertain and get the saliva going. It is my fervent hope to try most of the recipes AND not balloon into an immense fat freak. So I best get those nightly runs in. Remember, laughter is food for the soul and great food is one of the things that  make life worth living. If you can combine both, you have truly arrived in Heaven.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Gently Evil: Inspector George Gently returned Sunday evening

What could I say about Inspector George Gently? I could bang on about the scenery, I could bang on about the extensive use of Newcastle and area locations, I could even say something about the portrayal of the Geordie Nation in this film, But I won't. Suffice to say that as efforts go, this was among the best in recent times. If you watch this to play spot the landmark, you'll be too busy being drawn into the story to notice.

Peter Flannery has written a story that does so much more than show us 1966, he has entwined the personal  story of John Bacchus and George Gently with the heinous crimes committed so much , that you know you need to look at your own relations with your children and how your choices will inevitably impact your children. That the evil Agnes is deranged and a threat too serious to be allowed free in normal society is beyond doubt. That she was driven to this by her own Mother and Grandfather is equally clear. That such people exist we cannot deny, Mr.Fritzel is only the latest example of the aberration that can strike in otherwise normal families. As the case sheds it's secrets, you realize just how much we want to believe we could turn in our own if they were indeed depraved and sick like Agnes, yet her own Father, Grandmother and Uncle feared for her and feared her so much, that they were prepared to lie for her. 

It would have been easy to believe her Father was just a jealous man pushed over the edge, it would have been equally easy to tar the Uncle as a paedophile and a mental deviant. And yet the truth was so much darker. Agnes was beyond knowing or caring that what she did was wrong, or that she was hurting people, for her it was just a game, far more innocent than any played by Grandad and her Mam. The fact the justice system was able in 1966, despite a bit of Gene Hunt interrogation, or because of it, get to the bottom the case and avoid any further deaths, demonstrates that the truth is justice. Without it, Agnes would not have been put away and the whole sick tragedy might have gone on longer. Crime investigation is not a game you play where the prosecutors and the defence seek to outwit each other, they are officers of the court charged to insure we are safe from danger and that the innocent are not wrongly detained for the sake of a quick closing of a file. 

I do feel compelled to praise the writer for some interesting symbolism. The Image of the heartless and efficient Dalek is conjured by the audio clip off the telly and the fact Agnes herself refers to them in showing herself to be a mad  child who sees no harm in what she does. Daleks take their actions as the just retribution on lesser beings in the same way  Agnes feels the children should also know what it's like to be invisible and unloved.  Poor Bacchus can't help but wonder if his own daughter is next as victim or worse as cold and unloved child who will be scarred for life by his inability to interact with her and through the actions of authority figures who cannot and will not see past legal proceedings that she is a child who needs the attention of both her parents. When a child is treated as a prize or a cause to be fought over rather than a child, you will always on a lesser scale show that child only that he or she is only as important as the points you score. Which of course is the other layer of symbolism that ask us to choose between doing what's best for society or what's best for your career or your solve rate. 

I would be remiss if I didn't single out the young actress who played Agnes for high praise.  From the first time you meet her, you have a feeling she's not all there, but you can't put your finger on it. As the story progresses, Natalie Garner slowly unveils a deeply twisted dark mind through the kind of acting you might expect from a much older actresses. When she first is shocked at getting wrong for just playing with some children, you know she's lying, but the little bell going off in your head earlier is now screaming she's done it, is still tempered by the remote possibility it wasn't her. Is it hard to play crazy? Ask David Tenant who took barking mad to a whole new level earlier in the year in Hamlet. Ask a young actress to do this, and you know you have a future great talent on your hands. See  Gently Evil again on the iPlayer before part 2 airs. PS, for those of you within listening distance of BBC Radio Newcastle, have a nosey at our Paddy MacDee's pic and that of  George Gently.  

By comparison, Merlin was a Vogon bad level 7 abomination. The FX let me down and the story was even too silly for my wife who still defended the camp nature of Merlin as late as last week end. Can a programme get any worse? Clearly Merlin has. Nothing about the story was convincing plausible or remotely entertaining. At one point before we turned off entirely about 15 or 20 minutes in, my wife joined me in the kitchen to help me clean pots..... she hates washing dirty pots with a passion. I know some of you enjoy this so called popcorn for the mind, but we won't be subjecting ourselves to it again. And for the record, yet again the poorly cast and ill conceived Gwen was almost as invisible as a minister at question time the day after he's been accused of paying for rent boys. 

Speaking of rubbish, if the best buzz X factor can produce is an overly tangoed alleged prostitute named Chloe Mafia, you know the franchise has gone to the dogs. Somebody please put it out of it's misery before some no talent inflicts another eminently forgettable single on us at Christmas time.  More on the Christmas number one in later posts, we should be prepared to fight back and I fully expect at least a half dozen plots to emerge on Face Book. My personal favourites would be Ernie the Milkman or Long haired Lover from Liverpool.

Thank God for Qi XL on Saturdays or there might be nothing worth watching till Strictly returns in a few weeks. Sue Perkins was a hoot and should be on more often. Highlights included an entire exchange on the subject of creepy handshakes, the entire panel brushing tribbles to prove you cannot comb a hairy ball and a most bizarre conversation about bleeding noses. Bill Bailey and company did not disappoint but I must admit to an irrational fear that the BBC might make some excuse or another to pre empt or ignore the far superior XLs in favour of some allegedly important athletic event we must all see. Qi Xl is far and away better than the Friday version, and watching both, is for me a waste of my time. Why don't they just expand the programme to XL and be done with it.

Well at least Monday night beckons with the return of Master Chef: Professional and the next exciting instalment of Spooks ....The less said about the week end's football the better, but I will say I hope James Perch will be a thing of the past come January. 

I will leave you with these wise words from Douglas Adams 

"There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened."

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Michael Wood's Story of England or Time Team BBC style

In BBC4's Michael Wood's Story of England, Kibworth plays host to Michael Wood and his Time Team wannabes for several episodes in order to trace the history of all of England through this one prototypical village. One suspects there is more to the choice than mere locale and  it's  near complete set of records going back to the early 1300's. The fact that a famous hoard of pre-Roman coins was found nearby and that it's near the Roman administrative centre of Leicestershire, must have factored heavily.

Before I say anything else, I have to admit to thinking that Tony Robinson was going to show up at any moment and accuse Michael Wood of nicking his gig. In fact the entire programme will likely be a continuous invitation to compare the two programmes. So lets get it out of the way now. Michael Wood is no Tony Robinson, while Baldrick has been doing this a few years over at C4 with sufficiently respectable results, Michael Wood has been wandering the major digs of the world going back to the first time I remember him doing the Helen of Troy story. Both are memorable for different reasons, all of them good. Robinson draws you in with his folksy style and complete lack of fear of embarrassment, while Professor Wood is the prototypical Don with his soft spoken approach that borders on the seductive, I should know, my wife does this sigh thing when he comes on. I'd love to see a Dan snow Michael Wood collaboration one day, that would truly set the ladies hearts fluttering. While Tony Robinson entertains while he informs, Proff. Wood comes off as less excited and more of an academic presenting you with incredibly important information in the nicest way possible, which suits me fine as he's not exactly covering new ground so to speak.

The archaeology is pretty basic, so what separates the two programmes? Not much really, except that in this case the entire town of Kibworth has been asked to dig test trenches in their gardens and front lawns. Clearly there was going to be more than the standard 3 days before the construction crews moved in or the budget ran out. Another curious thing I noted is the bad weather that "dogs" Tony Robinson, seems to have stayed away so far for the Kibworth dig. Michael Wood has not had to get his wellies muddy or have to hide from the elements in a noisy cold damp tent yet. It's early days I hear Tony screaming from somewhere under a tarpaulin. I do have to say for the record that I missed the madder than a bag of wet cats archaeologists from Time Time, Michael's lot seem so well behaved and clean.
Has it been compelling? Have I learned anything new? Yes and Yes. while much that was said or shown through voice overed info clips was pretty basic to veteran history enthusiasts, a few bits were new and well presented. We learn of the origin of the name English from the Anglo Saxon's description of them by the Pope. The new chosen people as the Proff told us. Not Angles but Angels. The use of superimposed graphics  very nearly like Time Team, is supplemented by a visit to several locations, one that recreates the life of a typical Anglo Saxon village. It's archaeology porn at it's finest, complete with experts telling us that otherwise unremarkable bits of pottery aren't in fact rocks or dirt, but proof of occupation by one invader or another.

What truly makes this telly hard to turn off, is the number of small children and assorted locals who's enthusiasm for the project shines through. They even get tested to see if they are Viking, Anglo Saxon, Roman or vestigial Welsh speakers. A sleepy village that could have easily been by passed and allowed to stay ignorant of it's past, is now literally getting it's collective hands dirty finding out about itself. During the programme, locals will read written accounts from throughout  the ages and no doubt come across direct blood relatives in the process. How can even the most jaded disreputable youth or bored pensioner be left unmoved after this much effort.

My favourite bit so far has been the Roman burial mound, though not touched in the broadcast, we learn it was the tomb of one of the last pre Roman nobles of the area. What the mound underpins , is the notion that despite many changes and new neighbours, the original inhabitants never actually left. They adapted from one regime to the next.  Anglo Saxons, Vikings and later on Normans ( who we'll see next time we're told) all contributed to the place names and the language spoken in the area without significantly displacing the previous influences.

One dark message in the first episode is the stark warning that with the fall of civilizations , come dark ages that are hard to come out of. This point is hammered home by the loss of Roman technology in 410 AD that would not be equalled before the 18th century. Will we suffer the same fate he asks, when the petrol runs out. I would argue  we already have to some extent, in as much as we are far more dependent on the skills of an increasingly smaller group of technologically gifted individuals and nations, having on a massive scale lost completely, certain previously common skill sets while others are clearly on the endangered list. If tomorrow the electricity and petrol stopped, our civilization is so thoroughly caught in its own technological trap that the very notion of going back to some of the old ways is impossible now. The decent into subsistence farming and crude tools would be rapid and brutal in some places.

I for one will be watching till the end. The prospect of missing out on some new nugget of information is too great. Yes I'm a history anorak and proud of it, and anything that gets an entire community so involved is not a bad thing. Catch up on the iPlayer here, and if you're like me, record it . Follow up review of next episode  from Domesday to the Plague.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Huzah! Spooks and Qi are back for another series,

What a great time to get ill. I have full blown stage 10 Man flu, Lurgie , call it what you want. But it means I  get to sit in front of the telly most of the day and then switch over to the iPlayer when I'm in bed. My doctor recommended lots of rest, and I'm following her advice. Haven't moved a muscle in the kitchen or gone outside except for some medicine. It's new series season and the feast that started last week continues apace this week.

At the week end I watched Qi XL and regular Qi. Loved both, but sad to say BBC scheduling boffins, if I have to choose, I will always want MORE Qi, not less. Hodge Podge was funny from beginning to end and featured the perfect Geordie. Seems Ross Nobel is the one man from the North who can communicate with Stephen Fry. I particularly enjoyed the monkeys who were ultimately clad in red and white striped pants. I cannot believe that was accidental. Perennial loser and straight man Alan Davies had a canny loss, coming 2nd  with quiet dignity never losing his ability to hit the punch lines. The best nugget of information I took from this ep was that Halitosis is a made up illness treated with harsh Victorian washing fluid. I was half expecting Victorian "enthusiast" Ruth Goodman to come on set with some of it to clean Alan Davies. Listerine was until the invention of Halitosis, not a mouth wash, but floor cleaner. Mouth wash , another clever concept like dragon breathe that hadn't previously existed.

Not to be outdone, Britain's Really Disgusting Drinks, further educated us to the clear  dangers and minor perils lurking in our drinks cabinet. Alex Riley first blew the lid off the "medicine man" style waters on offer. Some apparently help us slim, yet others keep us alert and yet others supplement our vitamin deficient bodies with a bit of help from Pharmawater. Having never been taken in by the confidence men and women telling about pro biotic this and vitamin enhanced that, I was a bit surprised by the number of seemingly intelligent people who bough into the concept. Having flushed the lies from water, he next targeted wine. I dreaded the expose, but it turns out the worse thing I found out is that cheap wine special marketed to be sold at half price is fobbed off on innocent, read ill informed folk. Ok so maybe I'm not as easily fooled as some with a bit of French or Italian and a fancy label. But it was amusing to say the least to again see people delude themselves that the cheap plonk they were buying was somehow highly prized quality wine that Tescos had got a good deal on.  Cheap high alco beer got a quick going over, but did we really think the power buzz tramp special was anything other than what it was? It at least meant my tipple of choice, Guinness, wasn't mostly mouse droppings or  toe nail clippings .I can continue blissfully thinking beer is made from cold mountain streams and the heather of the valleys and if I drink it, truly fit women will want to have sex with me.. Or was that the Vodka advert?

Well in the end there had to be a Bogey Man to hang a sack full of blame on, the monks who have brewed the fortified wine Buckfast for over 80 years. Seems the Scottish reprobate of today chooses Buckfast to go off his heed and commit acts in the name of stupidity. Is anybody going to take out the caffeine? Why aren't there roving bands of wankered OAPs? Well simple answer first. The kindly grans of yore only have a wee glass, while the yobs can sometimes drink 2 to 3 bottle a night. Clearly something has to be done. Not one to avoid blame being heaped on the makers of the product, I fully agree something has to be done about the price and the easy availability of this Jekyll Hyde juice, I'm just not so sure that the full blame lies with the brewers. Oh in case you missed it, there wasn't anything particularly disgusting in any of the drinks. Disturbing and alarming perhaps, but not disgusting. I've eaten tripe, drank old fashioned cough medicine and eaten pungent cheese, now some of those can be disgusting, but that's just a question of taste and how prepared you are to open yourself up to the full range of flavours and textures. I have however eaten food in American fast food places and shopped in convenience stores. There lurks the truly appalling and disgusting, as it's not only foul tasting, but some of it will kill you. Nice touch, the animated balloon heads, never tired of them.

Speaking of scary, Go Compare, Go Compare!!!!!! No really, go compare the last few teeth rattling mind jolting outings of our least favourite insurance pitch man. The New Egyptian theme seems tired and forced. Even the victims seem  bored by it all. If you want to make it into a proper 30's or 40's musical, we need to move on and get a smooth crooner in a tux. not the male Ethel Merman. I know a mate of mine who will disagree with me, but I still much prefer the Meercats and even my till now brilliant Omid Djalili spots over these annoying adverts that serve only to insure I will never Go Compare.

I have saved the best for last. Spooks has at long last landed in our happy schedules that were gagging for some decent drama. Spooks yet again shows that dreck like ITV's Identity can never hold a candle to the best spy thriller on telly at the minute. So were we ?  Ros has died, Harry wants to retire, Ruth and Lucas are back in from the field. Another series opener, another funeral. If you are a cast member, don't expect any sentimentality from the writers. Tonight the world is on the brink of another well conceived Al Quada/Somali pirate story. Nothing is as it seems and you will be surprised if you think you can foresee the twists before they happen.  One of the best things about Spooks is that enough of the future story is dribbled out in little teasers of doubt and suspicion that you will need to re watch if only to be sure you were on the right track. Top scene has to be the scene when  Harry Pearce visits the now disgraced former Home secretary. The events that follow are a master class in keeping things in the family. Do I trust the new girl? of course not, where not supposed to, do I trust the new Home secretary? Definitely not, but I can't tell you why. He exudes a sort of reserved caution that could have him end up being Satan or Saviour. We have yet to crack the Hydra headed international conspiracy and the world of Lucas North is in for some more turmoil this term. It can't help but get better and better .

Don't miss starting this Wednesday, Micheal Wood's History of England, tracing the twisted alliances of history from early Roman times to today by digging up the past of a small village. And of course C4's Ramsay's best restaurant and the BBC's Great Bake off continue.

Happy telly all, I will now climb back under the covers and whimper quietly as my sinuses are held hostage by microscopic pirates intent on ruining my week.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Road to Coronation Street a BBC film

Squee..... Yes it was that good . As a massive Corrie fan and writer who one day hopes to have his work acted out on screen, Daran Little's play was a symphony of story telling that covered multiple layers of human aspiration and the beginnings of one of the greatest television programmes ever made.

Review of 50th Anniversary week here

The cast was brilliant, I could not have picked them better. It was nice to see John Thomson back on Corrie after having been so badly wasted by Kim Crowther. Must have felt like  poetic justice. The casting of William Roaches son was pure genius. While I may not have seen the first ep as wasn't yet born for another three months, the photo montage credits at the end was spooky in it's similarity to the people we had just seen on screen. As a bit of fun, see if you can spot bubbles off Ab Fab. Elsie Tanner and Ena Sharples were stand out performances from a vast cast that individually and collectively contributed to a great story.

As a story of a ground breaking programme being conceived pitched, written, and sold to the network bosses, it was an object lesson in my other motto...."Never Surrender", it goes along with my golden rule that it doesn't hurt to have friends in high places that believe in you. The Tony Warren I saw on screen was the ambitious, conflicted, driven man who believed in what he was selling so much , he could not help but infect those around him. That he was right only served to make his quest that much more an un-stoppable juggernaut. And yet it could have all stopped dead in it's track if his boss hadn't also had a vision of bringing quality innovative telly to the people of Northern England....Granada land. Harry Elton, we are told pulled out all the stops to sway the hard as nails money driven Bernsteins and even pushed for regional actors.  The scenes played out so well I felt I was the fly on the wall getting all excited about being part of the next great thing  on telly.

The reality of  how a programme was brought to us in stark detail when we went through the casting, costume and set design stage. And before that we even had the notion of an audio version to just hear the script to prove you could speak the lines and have them make sense and be entertaining. I cannot tell you the thrill my wife and I had as we witnessed every step and misstep taken by Tony Warren in his fight to make Coronation Street real. Entire meeting and script writing sessions flashed through our heads, we became Tony Warren. Even the first run through for the pilot was so real we couldn't help but feel the excitement and tension of the room.

Tony Warren and Harry Elton did what PT Barnum espoused, entertainment should be great and memorable. Not even the Bernstiens could guess that the boring bits in between would be great telly if they were acted well in Manc. The foundations of Coronation Street were reality, both in setting and situations, the addition of speaking Northern was nothing short of revolutionary. England was not just Royal Shakespeare or the BBC News. For the first time on television, regional accents and dialects were heard as well as reflecting back the real lives of those watching. As a Corrie fan It can see how until about two years ago that ethos was well and truly drilled into the production of Coronation Street. That even now as I praise this teleplay about it's creation, I cannot watch the current run , shows how far Corrie has strayed from it's roots. Corrie is not about spectacular explosions or homicidal maniacs, it's not about spending EVERY waking moment shouting at your neighbours and coming to blows. There is supposed to be a sense of humour about the place, a feeling of community that keeps it all from going out of control that is now sadly lacking. It wouldn't hurt the current production team of Phil Collison et all to watch a few old eps and this film to remember the spirit that created Coronation Street.

The Road to Coronation Street serves as a double jointed creature.On the one hand it is a present to the fans from the people who so carefully nurtured the project from simple spark in a pitch meeting to a full blown real 50 year old institution. That line about finally seeing the place that had until then only existed in his head, was incredibly powerful. I  had the shivers when they showed us the finished Number 3.  There was real love in that film tonight and it was for a programme and legendary group of humans who came together  to make our tea times inseparable from Coronation Street. Even now, entire families still make time to watch together. Oh we drift away from time to time, but never for long. If you are the average person who just watches telly, you need to have this on DVD.  It's a keeper you'll want to watch more than once.

Now if you are like me, a writer and aspiring television producer, this story is so much more. It is every one who ever dreamt of putting on a show and just how hard and unbelievable the process is. You watch this and learn a few simple rules.

1- Never give up
2- Make sure you have at least one friend upstairs
3- Don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself
4- Take chances
5- Never loose sight of the prize
5- Don't be petty, you never know who you'll meet on the way down.

Every incredibly hard step you take from first idea to pitching, creating the characters, creating the setting, putting words in their mouths, pilot,  casting, getting a commission to getting the thing done, keeping it on the air, is a struggle and a rush of adrenalin that keeps you going to the next step. Never get complacent or forget why it works in the first place. I would be lying if I said I watched this with the detached interest of a curious by standard viewing a historical special on the steam engine (also invented by a Northerner and a bit of a nutter). This story is as close to non sugar coated warts and all telling of the inside of the television game. I know from experience that some things have not changed a bit in all those years, but it also says that despite it all great television still gets made and if you have a brilliant idea, you shouldn't give up at the first hurdle. While most of you who watch this will just see a creation story, I will always see an inspired example of how and why we should continue to aspire to great art and great story telling.

The Road to Coronation Street is worth re watching, recording and owning when it comes out on DVD. Why the BBC did it and not ITV is a mystery to me, but I'm chuffed it got done by the right people judging from the results. For the full cast list and to watch on the iPlayer click here. Read Daran Little's piece in the Telegraph.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

It's cookery time again

Another night of iPlayer cookery fun. The great British bake off  and Gordon Ramsay's new best restaurants last night. Now I know not all of you consider 3 hours of food on the gogle box a thrill a minute telly, but I enjoy it immensely. My family certainly don't mind. Within a day of these things I'm the kitchen cooking my personal version of something I saw the night before.

Tonight I made mushroom and saffron risotto, because I can! tomorrow it's a chicken mushroom and leek pie. If we're lucky, there'll be enough pie to last us a few days.  Oh and a beef and barley soup from scratch.  Why do I mention these things? Am I boasting? Perhaps I want to torture some of you with food you can only buy from the frozen section. Honest truth?  Only a little bit. Mostly it's down to the knowledge that between myself and my wife, we can make the so called difficult dishes that pass for tests on the telly. Oh I haven't ever used suet in my life, but that doesn't mean I can't learn fast enough. We've come to the conclusion, while sharpening knives that were less cutting than an Oscar Wilde witicism, that just maybe we're beyond most of these cookery programmes and  it's time we took some classes. You know the feeling when you watch something and you're miles ahead of the presenter or reacting in the exact  same way as the expert? That's us these days. While I apprciate the fact that not all of us are on the same level at the same time, surely it's time the likes of Raymond Blanc and the cursing Scot were unleashed in some truly advanced cookery programmes. Blanc teased us with some secrets last Spring, but since then it's the same old same old.

Speaking of which, watched episodes 4 and 5 of the Great British Bake Off. That would be puddings and pastry. the remaining contestants without exception, get on my tit. Even the nice boy from Yorkshire is annoying. These contestants seem to revel in making as many base errors as possible. Posh southern lady thinks rules are for wimps, bald Ljunberg look alike flies by the seat of his pants, polite Asian lady is pretending to be 6th gen Norman and mostly ignores her Asian roots, Salford lady, one of two truly gifted bakers, is too afraid of her own talent, and accountant glasses boy ... it was baking or becoming a Lion tamer that kept him from going barking mad. So why do I watch? Simples as the Meercat would say, it's a personal competition to see if the challenges would make me break a sweat or not. The level of expertise required to complete the tasks is nothing to take lightly, but we're both up to it. If anything, simple basic mistakes we haven't made in years were routinely cropping up. Like what I hear you ask..... Well I'll tell you. Pie for example, you pre bake your pie bottoms for a few minutes ( 10 to 15 minutes depending) before you fill them. This avoids the old bogey man of the soggy bottom. But did these people do that? Of course not. They were all sweating till the last second never sure if the pie turned out well or not. Some were lucky  some were not. Had they taken the obvious step earlier on, there would have been no worry. Oh and minor complaint , but still worth noting, why did somebody present a history of puddings if she wasn't prepared to try the food from beginning to end? Hardly a ringing endorsement for her pallet. I'm supposed to trust her opinion on interesting and innovative combinations? Another thing, if those were Cornish pasties, I'm a Sunderland supporter. I watched the Hairy Bikers in Cornwall earlier in the year and they did it much better.

I will stick it out till the end as the presenters on the whole seems to know what they're doing. And despite my criticism, it's a friendly reminder that I may have neglected certain recipes. In fact I promise here and now to make a proper New York Deli cheese cake next week as my sponge is that tasty and light. In addition, it's been donkeys since I made a quiche Lorraine. Winter is coming and it's time to fill the freezer with tasty things we can eat later on.  Perhaps even a meringue that I'll whip by hand. I do consider myself lucky in one regard, my lovely wife affords me the opportunity to prepare feasts for her Holydays and she looks forward to mine. Between us we cover the gamut from Passover to Christmas with resulting occasions for mounds of Polish food to strain the molecular stability of our dinning table. Most recently Rosh Hashana ( a belated L'shana Tova to our Jewish friends) saw home made gefilte fish that was declared the best some had had in years. Particularly proud of that as it tasted the same as the deli stuff we used to get from the kosher counter years ago. Barscz or beet soup was another triumph that had us eschewing the jarred stuff from now on. As good as my Babcia's it was, and that's saying a lot. Next time the uszka ( mushroom filled dumpling you have with the soup) get made as well, but that will wait for Wigilia ( Christmas Eve) the most important meal in the Polish calendar outside of Easter Sunday. Those of you wondering if the food for Catholic and Jewish feast days is somehow different if you're Polish? Nope, as near as identical as to make no difference. The dates for the major occasions differ, but the food and the meanings are the same. These fine Polish dishes only find small echoes in UK cookery, but being a hearty northern cuisine, you find a lot of close relatives in Northern English cooking and baking. More on that in future blogs, 

Before I get carried away, Gordon Ramsay is back on C4 with what I fully expect to be an exciting new series of Ramsay's Best Restaurant. Last night was Italian night. Traditional cooking v Heston foam and dry ice . While the traditional restaurant had continued troubles with front of house, the Italian Hestons with a Michelin Star wowed a panel of cognoscenti and took the Italian title. While it may be a nice nod to an innovative take on Italian, as a relatively normal dinner, I would not choose to regularly drop large sums of money to see steam come out my wife's nostrils. If I'm tired of cooking, I want a nice lasagna, chicken alfredo or veal parmigiana.  I appreciate that Gordon Ramsay is trying to represent the  sometimes uncultured tastes of the average white Norman person raised on " not too much spice please". But I hope he allows for genuine ethnic cooking to rise and shine above the toned down "acceptable" chicken tiki places. Last night's ep was outstanding for one particular reason, the restaurants were both on a level of professionalism that led to greater expectations than anything you would get in a bog standard spag bol place. The first chef frankly was head an shoulders above the wet behind the ears lads flash freezing peas. He commanded his kitchen while holding the  respect of his sous chefs. A pity his waiters were more interested in big tips and less interested selling the full range of items on offer any given night.And how sweet is that gig if you're a GR coach party special dinner or even a secret tester. You get to be a bit of  prat and get paid to eat some truly outstanding food. I'll let you know when I find out just how you sign up for this kind of jury duty.

As good as Gordon gets up to at home, his latest US venture.... Master Chef USA, was a disappointment in sooo many ways. Most importantly, his final 2 hour special that crowned a frankly amateurish and pedestrian Southern girl as winner. The final featured recipes that Jaunty Road and Greg Wallace would have rejected in the quarter final stages as too simple or too flawed. Basic errors like potential raw chicken ( unchecked but still served) by the eventual winner and overcooking of simple dishes in the grand final were enough to make you feel bad for Gordon, who was sat there looking like he might not be able to find the strength to pretend that these 4 people were anywhere near as good as any of the top 10 finalist of the last UK Master Chef. Even Celebrity Master Chef  had more challenging dishes and better cooking than these four so called finalists were able to produce. Simply put, I would rather eat anything cooked by people who had to serve royalty and the WI to win, than this bunch who had only to impress two judges with no taste buds and Gordon Ramsay. If this is the future of Master Chef UK, then I'm not sure I'll be watching.

BTW, a massive thank you to Ivica Slavikova fans, you keep coming back every time that advert runs. Is it the peas or the way she says "Purr-verse"?  

Next blog will have the long promised top 10 baking tools we can't live without, and if I ask my wife real nice, one of her best cakes you to can try yourself at home. As always, this blog written to the tune of BBC Radio Newcastle's Beat Surrender. Great show Nick, nice to hear some new songs in the line up. Thanks for getting me through blog post number 42. Indeed food should be the answer to Life the Universe and Everything.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Ann Widdicombe, Merlin and Football. Normal service has resumed

You can tell summer is over, the last blush of delusion from that Toon 6-0 win against Villa is gone, and Mock the Week is back. While I'm pleased to have MTW back, the aura of invincibility could have lasted a little bit longer. I'd much rather have seen Newcastle in 4th, instead of Blackpool  sitting high in the table and us12th.

This last week, that is as off Thursday when life resumed to about as normal as it gets at ours, we sat down to the first new Mock the week since the last new MTW aired. How long has it been? Let me tell you. While the panel may have had time to mock the England team and vuvuzelas, they missed out on a lot of other cracking stuff. Like what you ask? Barry Moat, Gazza and his fried chicken, the Labour leadership contest annnd  and  ermmmm nowt much else if were honest. Seems even the freaks and chronic attention seekers take the summer off. Which is not to say there wasn't plenty to talk about on the first show back. Wayne Rooney, prostitutes, threesomes and Tony Blair's new book among other things. Best answer of the ep was "Ballistic Missiles Improve Sunderland" . I'd like to say I miss a certain panellist, but so far so good. Ironic comic in a bad Hawaiian shirt, Milton Jones stopped Dara in his tracks with a joke that is worth re-watching for. The rest of the cast, guests and regulars regardless, carried on in usual fine style. Between Mock the Week and Qi soon, there will be no excuse for UK comedians to starve on our watch. 

Merlin was next up on the Saturday and to be honest I was looking forward to it about as much as a goose looks forward to Christmas. It's my wife that really wanted to watch, but if I wanted to have some leverage later on for something less to her liking, I was going to watch and that's it. She says it has something that reminds her of Xena about it, just camp and silly enough to forgive most sins. But even she can't get past the Gwen character who will eventually have to reveal some kind of noble blood, explain the less than fair complexion  and stop being a washer woman before Arthur can marry her. I understand why it was done, but it doesn't make it right.  And on this one point we at least agree. I however found the wholesale ripping off of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter a bit hard to swallow in the first ep back. The CGI monsters made a lot of racket and had me expecting the Knights who say NI a lot, only to turn out to be very un-scary spiders and scorpions that even Ron Weasley would have had no trouble wishing away. Next week we get Ray Harryhausen skeletons that aren't much better than the last time they fought Jason and the Argonauts in the early 60's. It seems even the matting of scenes that purport to be ancient Camelot, ruined abbeys or dark scary crossings into haunted woods are more obvious than usual. All of these faults can be laid at the door of the producers and writers, but the  principal crime against acting in the series opener is the actress playing Morgana. Katie McGrath leers and winks her way through the story like nobody sees her acting so suspiciously that a blind man would know she's up to no good. Seriously, did no one notice how she wasn't the least surprised when the King fell ill or that she didn't seem to be concerned? If it weren't for the dragon at the end, I'd have been livid, instead, I was laughing my arse off. Proof if we needed it, that last years money is gone and they had to resort to 70's animated lizard stock. Merlin had better be on it's last series if this sort of mess is the best we can expect.

Oh and right after that Strictly Come Dancing returned complete with Brucie. It's nice to see you, nice to see you nice Brucie . It's not Strictly without him. Along with the returning Judges, yes even Alisha Dixon is back from her extended tour of the USA. Seems she wasn't as big as Katie Price or Lady Sov, so she came home, we have a few new dancers. As I don't follow the World Cup of Ballroom, I have no idea who these new people are, but they are supposed to be good. And if the display of styles they put on was any indication, we're in for a decent couple of months of dance. And the the celebrities this year? I didn't believe it either. They've gone out of their way to add a few dancers older than Brucie and one of them is Ann Widdicombe. And guess who got paired off with her???? That's right, last series tosser of the year, Anton DuBeck. Serves him right. During the group dance it looked like he was dancing with his gran, very badly. As well, the great tradition of paring off well fit single people with equally fit professional dancers continues. There are at least two couples if not three in the making and I predict Corrie babe Tina O'Brien will be the least concerned about being linked to her young American partner.

The second favourite sport during strictly season after who's shagging who, is of course who will be voted off and who will stay no matter how rubbish they are. Evil Australian judge has warned he won't be tolerating any dead men dancing like last year. What about dead grans embarrassing themselves? I doubt we have to worry. Ann Widdicombe is a bad dancer, she's poorly paired, she's Ann Widdicombe and she's a Tory, that should be enough to have her sent packing in 4 or 5 weeks when the show comes back. I have  greater concern over the towering figure of Peter Shilton. As a footballing hero and potentially far better dancer than a certain boxer last year, he could be a dark horse who could be a vote getter that hoys off more talented but less loved people. Another one who could have staying power, if people my age vote and she can dance, is Felicity Kendall. I first fell in love with her when she appeared in The Good Life. To this day I still think allotments are sexy and wellies on a woman need not be a bad thing. I think despite Len Goodman saying the same thing every year, this may be the best Strictly ever. Other than the vicious uncalled for on air murdering of Ballroom Blitz, the series seems off to a good start. Michelle Williams, former Destiny Child is looking to make a permanent move to the UK and the rest of the stars lined up, all seem to have no real desperation about them. It's a proper list of mostly respectable names we can relate to. Last thing about this year's Strictly, it's cut the number of celebs and is paying them on a " As you dance" basis. So if somebody crashes out early they won't be getting a huge pay out. Good thing too, Merlin needs all the money it can get to improve the look of it's monsters.

Sunday night was the icing on the cake. "Newcastle night" BBC4 billed it, and it was good . First up Coast , then Today I'm with you followed by Newcastle on Film capped off by the excellent A Journey Back to Newcastle: Michael Smith's Deep North An emotional trip any way you sliced it. Do yourself a favour and watch on the iPlayer if you missed any of these. Regardless of if you live in the Toon, are away or just love Newcastle, any one of these programs will leave you wiser and all the more seduced and attached to the City on the Tyne.

My one special recommendation from a brilliant list of programmes off the BBC's Planet North schedule is Corrie: The Road to Coronation Street.Thursday at 9 pm, the BBC ( not ITV) will tell the story of the oldest running soap in the land. In an interesting casting touch, James Roache will play his father William Roache playing Ken Barlow. David Dawson, most recently from Secret Diary of a Call Girl and Thick of it, plays Corrie creator Tony Warren. Full cast list and lots more here . A pity the current Corrie has so soured me I may not be able to watch till I know the great train accident is upon  us.

Battle of Britain season should be excellent as well. so look out for that.

In Torchwood news too strange for some of us, Ianto Jones apparently will be back from the dead in the next  series. How they will explain this one is beyond me, but given enough time and money, I'm sure they'll come up with something plausible. In the mean time we can all play silly theory. How one dies of an alien virus and lives again, is beyond me. Maybe he only had a cold and was covered by the solid lead table nearby we hadn't noticed before. Perhaps it was all in fact a dream and he'll walk out of the shower any minute now... Come on RTD, You better make this a good one, or we'll write terrible things about you in Galli Base (like that hasn't happened before).

Monday, 6 September 2010

Is Top Gear past it's sell by date and other unmentionable thoughts?

As television watcher and reviewer, I take very seriously the prospect that a production company is watering down the product or not doing all it can to entertain me. Conversely, if it's not broken divn't fix it.

Top Gear, a programme I've been watching, it seems like for ever, is it possible it's gone soft in the middle and lost touch with it's audience? Is it possible the Guardian and a few other Top Gear haters are right? I only ask as that I myself found myself getting weepy at the sight of vintage British sports cars on one of the eps of the last series. Top Gear sells itself as a car enthusiast's magazine. From such a show I expect to be informed, educated and entertained. If I'm honest I'll admit that sometimes it verges on the sentimental and soppy when they revisit the classic cars, but are they out of date? I don't think so.  I can honestly say that the presenters reflect the interests and cares of the average  modern BBC viewer. Through all the silliness that keeps me coming back for more, it seems enough car news and automotive knowledge seeps in that I can carry on an intelligent conversation about the latest trends and features in motoring.

And lets talk about the silliness. Jezza and his uncensored tongue, are we really that sensitive that we need to read the most base and unpleasant motives into his every utterance? He is what he is, a bufoon, an opinionated man who says what he thinks and talks of what he sees. He is not a hate monger or a wind up artist, why should he pretend things he's seen haven't happened? The worst reaction I've had to his jokes is to not have laughed at a few of them. He means no harm and he incites no one to violence, if you don't include views on motor-homes and their owners. Jezza, Capt'n Slow and the Hamster are every knot of 8 year old boys in men's bodies. We like what we like, we think farts are funny and we call a spade a spade. I don't think it's a crime to be funny and informative or to go miles out one's way to make a point. To quote the lunatics at Myth Busters... "If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing". If the critics want a dry dull documentary style auto show like you can find on any other network they should be watching those, I however want to be amused and kept wondering what happens next.

So the new series is in filming at the minute and we'll be getting a new Stig. Seems the old one was hoping to make a few quid after hiding in a white suit for 7 years. Ben Collins who replaced Perry McCarthy when he got rumbled, was on the point of being rumbled himself. I suppose it's only natural that these things happen. I hope the next Stig is better at keeping his mouth shut and his eyes covered. Which of course begs the question... what colour will the new Stig be? Will he still be white? Will the new reasonably priced car perform as well with the new Stig? Will we kill a few more Morris Marinas with pianos? Will there be more crazy road races? Who knows, but I'll bet the answer is yes to the last 2 questions, why change what works, we expect certain things and if it still works, Top Gear should not stop doing them. At it's core, Top Gear does what it's supposed to do well. The whole fastest production car record was gripping and worthy of any serious news story about auto-mobiles. While I don't expect Jeremy Paxman to drop frogs down Mishal Hussien's blouse, the serious people could learn a thing or two from the hyperbole of Top Gear presenters. The road trips in Bolivia, The North Pole and Vietnam to name only a few were as good as or better than some BBC4 travel programmes.

My other un mentionable thought is even worse than the first.... Is it possible that the RTD years of Doctor Who were .... how to say this ... too slick?

I ask this as I have been re-watching early Who from the start and have also begun re-watching Ashes to Ashes. I cannot however bring myself to watch much of the new Doctor Who after Ecclestone. It's not that they weren't good. On the contrary, despite my criticism of Russell T Davies and his decision to isolate the Doctor by making him the last of his kind, the eps were gripping first class drama. They squeezed out tears fears and exposed the raw nerves and bizarre paranoia that lurks in all of us. No the eps in question, with  several Tenant exceptions, are lacking  the kind of individual scenes that taken separate and apart  could serve as humorous interludes, small slices of Doctor life that inform more on the character than just the current story line.  Re-watching the old Whos and the Gene Hunts, I found myself looking forward to many specific scenes and was mouthing dialogue as if it was HHGTTG, Torchwood or a Python sketch. Perhaps my core criticism is that RTD took Doctor WHO too seriously. He turned it into Spooks in Space and Time for a while.

Moffat by contrast, in choosing to craft a Doctor more related to the Throughton era, has written or had his writers create scripts that are increasingly manic at times and have from the beginning allowed a longer peek inside the world of our favourite Time Lord. While he still scares socks off our feet, he hasn't edited it so close to the bone that we don't get the intimate moments you used to get when Tom Baker had the luxury of 5 or six eps to sort out a story. Another thing, Moffat (or RTD before him) hasn't gone bananas with the special effects over the merits of the written word as acted by actors and actresses. Despite a mammoth budget compared to say Sarah Jane Adventures, Doctor Who is careful not to dazzle you with too much sizzle at the expense of substance. When Matt Smith talks to Auton Rory, he does so in a manner you could enjoy if it had been in any other story. It's one of many bits I want to see again. I suppose what I'm saying is that I want the shmaltz and the humour and the personal stuff like we used to get before it was boiled down to one hour, one story.

A propos of nothing, next time you watch a show on telly, pretend the cast is on a near empty sound stage,  then picture a painted back ground, if the acting and the writing still holds up even with the barren set, you know you've got something special. 

A great format about to change is that of Master Chef UK. I like the current format, I know the Australian version is massive and breaks records. But I've seen the format in the US version. It's got weeping contestants telling sob stories to get in the starting 20. I don't want to see three weeks of preliminary frying of eggs mixed with tear jerker stories of just how much this will mean to them if they win. For me it's always been about the cookery. I stopped watching X factor and BGT for the same reasons. The success of Master Chef UK so far has centred on the notion that the cooking is the star, the ingredients are the supporting cast and the contestants are aware they are only there as long as the cooking is up to par.  I don't care if the contestant is a single mum or a struggling artist, for me it's down to one Greg Wallace says,  "But can he cook?". The perceived need by production companies to inject pathos is incomprehensible, what's wrong with just talent?

Till next time ....So long and thanks for all the fish.

What I did for my Summer vacations or How I migrated to Windows 7

Yes yes I know, it's only been since the third ep of Sherlock aired that I went missing, but I think you need to know why an opinionated person such as myself has been silent for what seems an eternity to me.

A while ago I heard a report that Windows XP would no longer be supported by security updates or online driver services. This news came to me as a hammer blow being a loyal XP user for as long as it's been around. I studiously avoided Vista and only grudgingly bought a previously  loved lappy with Vista. So it was with regret and great sadness I made the trek to my computer gadgee Lamine. Asked him to upgrade both comps to Windows 7 and could he do it with as little fuss as possible?! That was a month ago like. So I here I sit with two machines that are finally up to almost acceptable standard, only now pouring out words gasping to be written for so long. So what happened you ask, well even if you aren't asking, I'll tell you.

The first machine , the one with XP on, kept crashing when the new OS software was installed. Two weeks later and many tweaks later, I got the Acer back and began the long job of resetting the look content and utility of the laptop to pre upgrade perfection. If you haven't spent a week installing software, inputting saved bookmarks and passwords on top of restoring files saved over a lifetime ( in my case since the tinternet was made easy to get), then you haven't been tortured properly. The one silver lining in all of this was that the Acer could now connect to the internet from a cable ( more on this in a minute). I could of used the other machine I hear you say...And you'd be right. But we are not alone using a computer, I had to let my wife do her things as well. So that was any real productive time shot to hell. Now the newer Vista infested laptop went in. Piece of piss you're thinking...won't be a problem. Well it was. took an age to get the machine back when it turned out he couldn't just upgrade from the hated, reviled, unloved Vista. I had to back up all my data and bring the computer back. At least it went faster this time. No crashes, no nothing. Well almost nothing. Got the machine home and  spent the prerequisite week restoring my vision of perfection. However, during this week I discovered that the hitherto Shangrila like Windows 7 had a hick. Seems some wireless LANs don't seem to work on W7. So now I still have a comp that only connects one way, but now it's the Sony that won't go wireless. I'm told there's a patch on the way, but I still haven't found it.

So how are the old new computers doing? It could be worse and it could be better. The machine that was XP'd can now properly mirror on the telly. This is huge, as for donkeys years we've wanted to watch films and other things on the telly in the kitchen. One of the benefits of W7 is also the canny magnification feature that easily allows recently deprived 20/20 types and older people to read things without resort to specs.  Now while these featured and many more are in Vista, unlike Vista, W7 does not go stupid and keep asking you 30k times for permission to turn off applications. I'm no engineer, but it feels like the damn thing is learning how we use our computers and adapting. I still hate voice activated functions. My English is such a dog's breakfast of accents and words that I think it will take longer to teach the comp than the machine will be of any use. Imagine me dictating in Word some text that include the words gan, dalek, pierog, kielbasa or kvetch. I tried that for fun and the poor thing didn't even get Newcastle United right. Giving it orders in my voice and vocabulary is definitely out of the question. I'm imagining with great amusement great armies of Geordies, Scousers, Brummies and my wife's relations in Brooklyn trying to instruct a machine.  

One of the best reasons to  move toW7 is the simple fact that Firefox, the world's best browser, is developing version 4 on the back of W7. Even now the Beta 4.4 runs better and almost never crashes. It would be nice to see the Adobe/Java script errors sorted sooner than later. It seems the platforms are not taking into account these programmes or Adobe is just not keeping up. Java script is the only real problem that persists in ruining what is otherwise the pop up free, user friendliest browsing experience around.  Speaking of open source freeware, Open Office has replaced Office Suite. Just as good, often updated and compatible to most of our correspondents. I'll be replacing Windows Media player as soon as I can as well. As a long time proponent of being able to "open up" and tinker with my OS, I love the less than complicated path you take to personalise the regional and basic settings. Mirroring or as I call it, watching the computer on telly, is dead easy. The personalization toys available are a treat, I have unashamedly played with them for at least a day.  Still not clear on how to make a home network , as I'm not a Wizard robe wearing IT type. My mate has been duly bribed with a large meal to set up our network and shared printer.We expect him any day soon.

On the whole it was worth the effort and the money. But I'm glad I did it when I had a month to devote it. Only last night I spent the better part of 2 hours restoring a stack of mp3 discs to the hard drive. It's not the 6,000 plus tunes I had a few years ago, but at least we now have the music library that any ageing activist/anarchist/footie/socialist would be comfortable with if not proud of. Still need to restore my celtic rock, punk, ska and indie rock files lost to mates not returning things. What I find amazing was the amount of Goth wrist slitting rubbish I used to listen to. Not binning Muse, but most of the HIM will have to go. How depressed do you have to be listen to that? Equally embarrassing was the file filled with bad 80's pop music. I swear I have no idea how it got there. On high note, Mr Spock singing the Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, Weird Al, including the Bohemian Rhapsody polka, along with AC/DC and the Beatles are back in pride of place.

If you've been putting off upgrading to W7, don't wait any more. Microsoft have gone out of the way to make us happy this time. Make the move now before you to have to loose a month of computer time.

As always, this blog brought to you by Nick Robert's "Beat Surrender"" heard every Saturday evening on BBC Radio Newcastle.