Define “classy”…?

“You heard Jersey was safe, did ya? Last time I was over there, a car drove up. Guys jumped out and beat the shit out of yer man standing near me on the street. I mean, I looked at him and thought, ‘Well, someone hadn’t paid his bills, has he?’ And then yer man here took me to a tattoo parlour. FFS – should have seen the state of the place. And then the tattoo artist arrived and the f-ing cut of her – an f-ing wheelie bin with feet and a neck. A thick neck. So I turned to yer man, so I did, and said “Where’d ya fecking bring me? An episode of ‘Shameless'”? Yeah, Jersey is a classy place but when it goes down, Jersey goes waaaayyyyy down!”

Oooooh, come in GBBO. We’ve been expecting you….

The Grand Prix of Baking is back on our screens and with its arrival is the simultaneous depletion of sugar, flour and icing funnels in every shop throughout the British Isles. The Great British Bake Off – affectionately referred to as GBBO – has taken baking to a new, delicious, level and its spectators to a whole new stratosphere.

With a flurry of flour, a blast of baking powder, a smidgen of suet and a whirl of a whisk, it has sashayed from its spot on BBC2 to prime time viewing on BBC1. And deserving of this place it is. Now in its fifth series, its popularity continues to rise and rise to soufflé proportions with the finals last year attracting a staggering 9.1 million viewers. Out-peaking its nearest rival, Top Gear, in the rating stakes, its formula has been bought by over fourteen countries so we are not the only ones who flock to it like bees to a Honey Cake.

What is it about the GBBO that makes us hit Sky+ every time we hear a new series is on its way? It’s tame – twelve people stand in a tent and…eh…bake or kneel in front of ovens as we look on. It’s gentile. It’s nice. The people are like us. Nice. On paper, it doesn’t sound like a winning recipe.

Across the pond, baking at a competitive level is a mean sport. Compared to its American counterparts, the GBBO doesn’t carry any of that grit or vigour. With Ultimate Cake Off, size really does matter with bakers competing to create cakes over 5ft tall which carry oodles and oodles of pounds in weight. They concentrate on aspects of technical difficulty, aesthetic appeal and tripping up their competitors by knocking them out for 30 minute segments. Taste figures in there too – just – but more attention is placed on girth than mirth as these bakers do battle. Like other American baking programmes, it may look like a kitchen but act like a hardware store when a range of tools is thrown in the mix. For its finale, Cup Cake Wars expects 1,000 cup cakes of different varieties prepared in two hours. Competing teams are allowed assistants and…eh…a carpenter… Blow torches, belt sanders, power saws – the possibilities are endless as are the ingredients where basil and oysters can sidle their way in under the heady challenge of ‘Aphrodisiac Cup Cakes’ for a match-making party.

Back to the comparative tranquillity and twee-ness that is the GBBO. Idyllically set in the garden of a Country House, nestled under cover of a marquee on a warm summer’s day with a set which looks like an explosion in a Cath Kidston factory. It’s difficult to get more quintessentially English than this. But don’t be fooled! It may lack the physicality of the American programmes but GBBO is a battle of wills, striving for perfection over erection. A mouth twisted in a wasp sucking gesture, Mary Berry can floor contestants with one look as quickly as she can raise them up with an exclamation of ‘positively scrumptious.’ Swaggering over, hands in jeans’ pockets, Paul Hollywood can ask a pointed question so sharp it deflates confidence – instantly. And in between the cookers and counters skip Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc spitting out puns quicker than bakers bake buns and throwing in every sexual innuendo conceivable.

The bakers bake. They fret. They sweat. They create with one eye on beating their new found baking buddies and the other on creaming butter, eggs and sugar. Age or experience is not a factor here; it is how smooth you can get your Crème Pat that really matters.

Skills present in one round can instantly evaporate in the next. Mary and Paul judge masterpieces while then looking on in horror as bread is plaited into creations that could terrify even Tim Burton. As bakers hurdle the Technical Challenge, surmount the Signature Bake and wow with the Showstopper, personalities start to ooze to the surface. Who can forget doe-eyed Ruby of the quivering lip or Brendan the Buddhist Baker?

We sit in our homes, barking at the bakers in our telly-box to whip, beat, cream with all the aggression of well-seasoned sports pundits. We tell them the ingredients to use and despair when they pick Genoese sponge over traditional Madeira because how could they not know it will sink under the weight of all that lavender icing? We are shocked at any foul play and demand that custard thieves be spat out immediately. And we watch, aghast, heads buried behind cushions, as a procession of soggy bottoms make their way to the Judging Table.

This is serious business. As we sit glued to the challenges, teenage daughters and sons replicate the masterpieces in our kitchens while the ranks of the Women’s Institute swell to unprecedented proportions. We watch in our millions, the rise and fall of egos and sponges and when we are surprised by the choice of ultimate winner, remark with sheer, unprecedented, delight – ‘Oh, my giddy, giddy, aunt!’

Published online: 2014

Pet peeves of today’s commute…

Pet peeves of today’s commute….

 To the girl who decided to put on her jacket while we were huddled in a tight group and made us all duck to avoid being hit by her flaying arms – that is a no

 To the woman who tried to shoo away oncoming pedestrians with two hands and a twisted face like they were giant flies – that is a no-no

 To the animal who let rip as we huddled to cross at the lights – that isn’t a no-no-no. That’s an offense punishable by a proper lambasting if I had figured out your identify.

The spirituality of dinosaurs…

“What’s the new place like?”
“Nice.”
“And the people?”
“Really great.”
“Hmmmmm. Any religious types there?”
“No idea. Why?”
“Just curious, that’s all.”
“We don’t talk about stuff like that. What about your place?”
“Nah. All grand. A few repressed Catholics and the usual smattering of Heathens.”
“The usual?”
“Yeah. The usual. Wasn’t like that in the last place though.”
“Why?”
“We’d a bunch of those Palaeontologists.”
“You had a bunch of what?”
“Palaeontologists. You know them. Real conservative types. Clothes down to the knee and wrist. And up to the neck. Very conservative.”
“And what do they worship?”
“Don’t you mean ‘who’? They worship God.”
“Not dinosaurs?”
“Huh? Dinosaurs? No, God. These Palaeontologists even have their own pope”
“A pope for dinosaurs? Are you sure?”
“What’s with you and dinosaurs???”
“Palaeontologists study dinosaurs.”
“Huh???”
“Eh…You sure you don’t mean Palmarians?”
“Oh…That’s them!”

Ah…the lure of a bargain!

“Been shopping?”
“Em…yes…” answers the friend as she tries to squash an oddly shaped bag into the seat alongside her.

“Whatcha get?”

She pulls each item out for review…

“A mat for outside my bedroom door so I get into the habit of taking my shoes off…”
“Hmmmm…”
“A breakfast tray for when I find someone to bring me breakfast in bed…”
“Oooooo…”

More rustling and box opening…

“A glass trinket box for my…eh…trinkets.”
“What’s a trinket?”
“No idea!”
“They must have cost a pretty penny.”
“€7.50.”
“You were in Dealz again, weren’t you?!?”
“Yep!”
“What did you go in for?”
“Deodrant…”
“And did you remember to get it?
“Eh…of course not!!!”