Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Mrs Harris MP - Paul Gallico

Is it a bird? Is it a 'plane? No, it's actually a book review on Stuck-in-a-Book! Sorry that it's been so long since my last one. Especially since I'm going to talk about a book I finished over six weeks ago...

When I went to the Lake District a while ago, I took a range of books - some that benefited from a long, uninterrupted read on a train, and some that would fill gaps between dashing off on multiple buses to get to a wedding, get on a train, etc. And I turned to Mrs Harris MP (1965) by Paul Gallico when I was tired from the long journey and sitting on a bench waiting for a lift (that eventually didn't come... but that's another story).

Anybody familiar with Mrs Harris Goes to Paris (also published as Flowers for Mrs Harris) and Mrs Harris Goes to New York will doubtless already know and love the redoubtable Mrs Harris. A London char, she is a wonderful mix of no-nonsense and fairy tale. Her greatest dream, in the first book, was to own a Paris couture dress; in the second she heads off to New York on a quest, and in the third she wishes - as you may have guessed from the title - to become an MP.

The novel opens with Mrs Harris and John Bayswater the chauffeur disagreeing over a political broadcast. She thinks it's all two-face hogwash, and that she could do better herself... which isn't long off happening. 'Live and Let Live' is her political mantra, and it is tangled up with an argument about giving working people a chance, not being teddy boys, and above all not lying. She makes, still - perhaps more than ever, quite an appealing prospect in the world of politics. She is not interested in spin and self-promotion; she wants to stand for the little people. And Mrs Harris is so full of vim and character that the bland, careful politicians don't stand a chance.

Except things are a little more complicated than that. In all his novels, to some extent or other, Gallico seems to offer a sting in his fairy tale. Sometimes that sting is extremely dark (as in the very brilliant Love of Seven Dolls), sometimes it's fey (Jennie), but it's always there. In Mrs Harris MP it appears in the machinations of her supposed political ally... and appears perhaps more subtly in the after-effects of Mrs. Harris' political campaign.

Like the other novels in this series, Mrs Harris MP is light and frothy and completely enjoyable. All of which means that it was probably very difficult to write. Mrs Harris is a wonderful creation - and perhaps equally wonderful, in my eyes, is her timid but loving friend Mrs Butterfield. It's all quite silly, with (in this one perhaps more than the others) a note of the serious - and if you are sick of deceitful or boring politicians, or of a government that sidelines the poor, then this might provide some much-needed respite.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Shiny New Books: Issue 2a

Those of you who receive the Shiny New Books newsletter will know that the 'inbetweeny' issue is now live - that is, the update between issues, which includes anything published just after or just before Issue 2 went live that we were keen to incorporate. Go and explore!

In my case, it also involves a novel that I hadn't heard of - Virginia Woolf in Manhattan by Maggie Gee - that I was so intrigued by and had to read. Luckily it turned out to be very good. You can read my review of it here, and (even better) a piece that Maggie Gee wrote for us, answering my questions, here.

I'm determined to set aside some time this week to writing SIAB reviews, as the pile is looming, and there are plenty of treats to come. At least this way they will get posted after the summer lull, when blog views and comments crash down!

Hope you're all very well, and reading lovely books. I'm currently indulging in Marilynne Robinson's Home (finally, Susan!) in preparation for reading Lila for Shiny New Books Issue 3.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Great British Bake Off: Series 5: Episode 2

For those of you who read SIAB normally, and not just for Bake Off recaps, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to disappear again, and this won't become just a recap blog - life has been surprisingly hectic of late, as well as being knocked for six (or at least by three or four) by some powerful antibiotics. (Also why I haven't replied to comments - I will, honest!) But nothing will stand in the way of me recapping episode 2 - especially since it is the ever-exciting Biscuit Week, second only to bread week in its unconvincing attempts to make something fairly mundane into something 'showstoppery'.

First of all - fans of the bridge (and which of us is not?) from last year have to put up with these rather paltry steps. They're barely trying. They are not showstoppers.

This scene also makes it look like they've come from the house.
Clearly they are allowed nowhere near the house.

Then there is an inexplicable fortune cookie scene with Mel and Sue, the less said about the better. And speaking of comedic misfires, Mel starts singing about 'savoury biscuits' in the line-up, in what doesn't appear to be a pun of any variety (possible musical puns: Sav[oury biscuits] all your love for me? There's no business like [savoury]bis[cuits]ness? It could never really have worked.)

Followers of fashion for the elderly, take note. Mary has exchanged her floral jackets for a side-zipping white bomber jacket (or something like that) while Paul has dispensed with his jacket altogether. Has the era of the blazer ended?

And Sue was such a trail BLAZER.
I'll see myself out.

They're making savoury biscuits that have to go with cheese. This stipulation becomes increasingly irrelevant, as quite a few bakers just plonk their biscuits on a cheese board and have done with it, but the intentions were good.

"These are big sunflower seeds!" says Enwezor, in what the editors were obviously hoping would sound like an innuendo to anybody not paying close attention.

"It's one thing making three or four biscuits for a dinner party," says Paul, before going on to say that this challenge was a thousand times more difficult, but - Paul - I have to stop you there. Who makes three biscuits for a dinner party? How much mixture would you have to throw away? Or would you go through all the effort with one tablespoon of each ingredient? This makes no sense. Your dinner parties are a MESS, Paul.

It's just dawned on me that this is how a Ken doll would age.

Mary witters on about snap, crackle, and pop, and it's all very endearing, if mostly filler.

Love the scarf, though.

I've decided to be kind about Jordan this week, which means not mentioning him in any way.
(He brought in Yorick the Yeast.) (He calls him a friend.) (He uses the word 'passionate'.) Mary Berry Reaction Shot time:

Oh, I SEE. You're mad.

Onto lovely Nancy. Despite the fact that she's from Lincolnshire, I remain convinced that she is a Cockney barrowgirl, and a fantastic one at that. She also has the largest family in the world, and feeds them on the set of a budget remake of The Forsyte Saga.


I love how wonderfully unbothered Nancy is by the process, cheerfully confessing in front of Mezza Bezza that she cooks with out-of-date fennel at home. Mary, who leaps at the opportunity to be pally and adorable wherever possible, does so again. Paul notes it in his Black Book.

I had forgotten how much hair Iain had.

I'm starting to think that he's like one of those images
that makes a picture of a face whichever way you turn it.

I'm not entirely sure that he isn't hungover. He's using fig and something that sounds like zanzibar, but probably isn't. He says it should bend and snap - as my friend Debs pointed out, this sounds very Legally Blonde.

This week's get-to-know-the-bakers home videos are the usual incisive three seconds, and the theme is 'the bakers like baking'. Truth be told, it might be more revealing if we panned to Luis in his kitchen saying "To be honest, I hate baking. Just don't fancy it."

But it does mean we get this adorable shot of Enwezor.


Mary gives Luis quite a warning look about him using olives in brine, rather than oil, but I'm not sure why. It is never mentioned again, in a move that uses more subtlety than usual. Usually Mary's warning looks are the framework to hang the show on.

And then we turn to Diana. She's the one who made a plain Swiss roll in Week One, flung it on the counter, and essentially said "Enough with your fripperies; this is what a Swiss roll should look like." I admire her for it. This week, she's apparently decided she's not that bothered about biscuits, thankyouverymuch, and is making pastry instead. "Because it's something I make."


I'd love it if she staunchly refused to engage with any of the challenges, and just dumped a Victoria sponge on the table every week. "What's good enough for Queen Victoria is good enough for you," she'd say, tartly.

PUN KLAXON. Paul makes a thyme/time pun. He's slowly cottoning on to the raison d'être of the show. Or should that be RAISIN d'EATre. No, sorry, I was right the first time. Or should that be THYME, &c. &c.

Bless Norman. He's decided ("bravely," Mel says) to make biscuits without any flavour at all. He and Diana are fighting it out for the "in my day all food was beige" award. And then he teaches Sue semaphore, because of course he does.

Hands up if you're adorable.

"Martha is just 17" says Sue, and a lifetime living with Beatles fans makes me, reluctantly, mumble "you know what I mean" to myself. Horrifying. What is not horrifying is the recipe Martha is using, which sounds delicious, even if it looks like frothy custard creams:


When I said earlier that the bakers all get home videos about baking, there is one exception, of course. It's Richard the Builder. He gets a video of Being a Builder. He will always get that video. And I'm sick of that ridiculous pencil behind his ear. He'll turn up with a hod next week.

Look at him, dunking a biscuit, like a BUILDER.

Nancy has got her husband to make a utensil for her again.


My friends and I were a bit worried about the props that Nancy's husband has been making for her. They definitely fall on the macabre side of things. First a guillotine, and now a torture device. What next - will she hang her croissants from a decorative noose? Will her petit-fours be neatly arranged in an electric chair?

Fans of counting get to hear lots of bakers murmur '36' to themselves, and then the challenge is over. Everyone seems to have done very well, except for Jordan who gets a "My issue is - it's burnt" from Paul. Otherwise, Mary and Paul try and fail to find anything interesting to say about crackers. They don't even address the fact that Diana hasn't made crackers at all (a fact that leads the caption-maker, unwilling to perjure him- or herself, to describe them as 'triangles').


Norman is assured, by Sue, "You could sell those tomorrow!" Because who doesn't want to buy day-old biscuits?

Tangentially, I have high hopes for a Norman/Martha best-friendship. Think of the adventures they'd have!


"Onwards and upwards!" says Diana, leading me to hope that she'll take the John Whaite crown for platitudes this year.

The cake equivalent of Who Do You Think You Are?, but with fewer tears and more costumes and/or puns - is back. As my friend Lloyd says, it's a good opportunity to make a cup of tea. This week it's about ice cream cones, which is marvellously tenuous. But it's fun to watch how long it takes the gentleman in the white coat explain that a twist cone was twisted.


Someone has stolen Anastasia's ice creams...


He, like every person in all of these segments for five series, does his best to ignore everything Sue says. And we're onto the technical challenge - florentines!  Which apparently makes the tent shriek with laughter. Norman asserts that he's never made them "I don't make much fancy stuff. Mostly bread and pies." He's basically writing my blog post for me.

Paul and Mary sit tête-à-tête, and the conversation reveals what this week's arbitrary marker of distinction will be. Have you noticed that they're always on the hunt for something pretty precise, and seemingly irrelevant (the example par excellence was the pie that, for some reason, had to have distinct layers when cooked)? This week: zig-zags on the bottom. Sure, why not?

I do admire the set design department for their
delightfully whole-hearted commitment to twee.
"They give you basic instructions, but they don't give you exactly [what to do]," says Iain, for anybody who has missed the previous four series of technical challenges.

Chetna is a sweetie, but I don't understand her sense of humour. "I've never made a caramel with golden syrup", she says, which she apparently finds hilarious. Oh, Chetna. A comedienne you ain't.

"Caramel? More like CAN'Tamel!"

This challenge sounded quite tricky to me - always difficult to tell with the Everything Is Impossible theme of the voiceovers; "BAKERS NEED TO BE REALLY VIGILANT" - but everyone does pretty well. We do get a lengthy montage of people not knowing how long florentines need to be in the oven. This is repeated about eight times by different bakers, while a thunderous kettle drum is played in the background, interspersed with Psycho-esque stabbing sounds. But, truth be told, there isn't much to say in this challenge. How to make a zig-zag is, of course, repeated ad nauseam, with Mel taking on a conspiratorial tone with lovely Martha.

"Don't tell anyone!" - genuine thing Mel said.

Mary and Paul use the word 'lacy' a lot, without ever really explaining what they're talking about, and debate the 'classic zig-zagging' until you wonder if the bakers could have just scribbled on a bit of paper to win the challenge.  There is so much crunchy-crunchy noise in the background, seemingly unrelated to any moments of actual eating, that it sounds a lot like a sound-effect. Which perhaps it is.

Mel and Sue say not a word.

Iain comes last. Oh, Iain. And Richard the Builder comes first. Apparently his florentines were 'the proper size', which feels quite arbitrary - but Mary Knows Best.

And now the final challenge of the day, after we've seen many shots of lakes and lawns, this green and pleasant land, and so forth. Paul asserts that "these bakers are bakers in their hearts", and we get on with the show before having time to think what on earth that could possibly mean.

The showstopper challenge: a 3D biscuit scene! It's my belief that this challenge was chosen entirely in order to make references to Richard being A Builder. But it is exciting nonetheless.

Early in the day, signs aren't looking good for Enwezor. Mary asserts that she doesn't want to see anything non-homemade, and almost immediately we are informed that he is using shop-bought fondant. We get a couple of exceptional Mary Berry Reaction Faces.


If this isn't the cover of a book soon, I want to know why not.


Also, he isn't making a structure so much as... a pile of biscuits. Does he not remember Christine from last year? (She's still at it, by the way.)

Martha is making a ski resort out of biscuits, which is further insight into the life she leads (that 'supermarket' she works in is Fortnum & Mason, isn't it?) She's also made her structure before at home, which shows greater preparation than that demonstrated by 80% of previous contestants, who cheerfully say that they hadn't dreamt of giving it a go beforehand, following the 'practising is cheating' mantra of Flanders & Swann.

Many of the bakers are making different types of biscuits, including brandy snaps, tuiles, and other extremely difficult things. As I said last week, they're very impressive bakers this year. And there's a wide range of ideas - from Wild West scenes to dragons to 'Zulu Boats at Dawn', of all things. And the guy with the virtual crayons has fun with this one:

At what point do you think they gave up trying to make it look like food?

Chetna is making a fairground and beach scene - you might remember that I have a fondness for merry-go-round imagery - and my favourite moment is when Mary asks what the central pillar will be made of: "biscuits!" says Chetna, as though talking to a confused child.

I can't escape from an editing eye, and noticing that 'tuile' has been misspelled in this image...

I DEMAND A REFUND FOR MY TV LICENCE

"This is going to go in the oven," Chetna helpfully says of her biscuits.
"Bakers must keep a CONSTANT EYE on the clock," says Voice of Doom Mel, in a piece of advice that, if followed, would mean the bakers achieved nothing at all.

First baking disaster is Jordan's biscuits, which won't come off the tin.


This is very similar to what happened with the gluten-free almond/ginger cake I made for my Bake Off party. But, since I was not set a structural challenge by Paul and Mary, I chopped up what I could rescue, and mixed it with raspberries and Greek yoghurt, in a new spin on Eton mess. (I'd have been walked out that tent faster then I could throw away burnt pieces of backing parchment.)

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the fondant that Enwezor DID NOT MAKE HIMSELF.

#BrokenBritain

In quite a poignant moment, Diana realises that she isn't using flavours as exotic as her fellow bakers. She describes the rest of the tent as "young people", which - presumably - includes folk like Norman. Well, everything's relative.

"Once I drew a dinosaur for my daughter," shares Enwezor. "It was so bad that she cried." Touching. His fondant is not the only luminous thing in the tent, however. Despite the sanction against anything non-homemade, everyone has suspiciously-matching day-glo icing bags.

The world's least menacing mugging.

Mel finds her comments falling on death ears when the Pride of Belfast ignores everything she has to say, grunting 'uh-huh' every now and then in an effort to make her go away. I love that they decide to leave that in.

We get the usual montage of people saying that time is running out (it's like 2003 Muse, amirite) and the challenge is over.  And, it's fair to say, there are some pretty astonishingly good creations. Here are some of my favourites, although there are a lot of highlights.



Where's Wally?

It's a bit heartbreaking that they're snapping apart these fantastic structures. A few criticisms here and there - 'a bit lopsided'; 'overdone' - but generally an exceptional standard. A bit of debating (including the excellent neologism 'Iain has phoenixed himself') later, and they've decided the winner...

ENOUGH WITH THE PENCIL, RICHARD

...and the loser, yet again the second person the camera shows after they pause...


My friends and I gave a bit of a cheer at this point. Not because we disliked Enwezor - he seemed nice - but because the idea of a life without Norman was too bleak to contemplate. I do agree that he wasn't on top form, though; it's a bit of a stretch to call it a 'biscuit structure' when they're just piled in a row. For my money, Luis should have won, but I'll cope with it going to Richard the Builder, especially given the self-control M & P showed in not mentioning his profession as much as I'd expected.

Hope you've enjoyed this - let me know who your money is on, and I'll see you next week!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Great British Bake Off: Series Five: Episode One

I'm back, the internet's back, and the Great British Bake Off is back! By popular demand - and demand really is the word - I have decided to do my recaps again this year. The caveat is that they will probably come out some days after each episode, depending on my schedule... hope that's ok!


Well, this series is on BBC1, rather than BBC2. For those watching from abroad, that means that Mary Berry et al have become prime time stars rather than appearing on the subversive (as far as the BBC gets subversive) sister channel. It's not before time, but there had been some anxieties that it would change them. Putting aside the fact that they probably had no idea which channel it would be on when it was filmed, the opening shots are reassuring. Mel and Sue leap out from behind a wall, and it's only moments before Mel is saluting 'Queen Mary Berry' and 'that angry man with the expensive blue contact lenses'. The bakers loom behind them, clearly not having been instructed by the producers whether to have their hands behind or in front.

Iain's rogue hands-in-pockets is an omen of what is to come.

The breathy "here's what's been happening on BBC2 while you were watching National Lottery Live and Ant & Dec Take Out Pet Insurance, you dullards" voiceover is delivered by Mel while the contestants share such pearls of insight as 'today it starts!', 'I've been baking for sixty years!', and 'The thing that worries me most is opening the oven and discovering that I've burnt EVERYTHING.' It's also the only time in the episode that you'll see Claire smiling, so... treasure that.

That's not fair, really. She was quite cheery before the first judging.

Let's skip through all the intro - which is filled with coy innuendo from two of the older contestants, essentially saying that they will wink-wink-nudge-nudge their way through the competition.

This year the competition is held at Downton Abbey, and Mel and Sue lie on the lawn to ponder the definition of 'cake'. It might be the first time that the words 'love dungeon' have been mentioned on BBC1. I keep worrying that this show will go full-circle into being so self-aware that it's not aware at all, but... I think we're safe for now. If Paul starts turning to the camera and winking after every comment, then we're in trouble.

The intro to the first challenge - making Swiss rolls - also gives us the first glimpse of Jordan's facial expressions. I should be careful what I say about contestants, after lovely Howard started reading the recaps last year, but my friends and I found Jordan decidedly haunting. His profile on the website says he has pet yeast called Yorick. As I said to my friend, "I'd be more surprised to find out he wasn't a serial killer."


It also gives us our first sight of the lined-up judges. Somewhere there is a blazer seller who knows where the bodies are buried - we have another selection here, from pastel pink to Mary's trademark patterns. And, bless Dame Mary (well, she should be a Dame), she's joining in with this clawing action.

Paul is having none of it.

Jordan starts singing "It's only a cake" over and over to himself. Christine from last series, who thought she'd cornered the market in talking madly to herself in the tent, sticks a pin in a mini voodoo Jordan, complete with mini voodoo hair clips.

Speaking of, it's a really eccentric bunch of bakers this year. Usually there are so many of them around at this stage that they all blur into one baking behemoth, but this series they're nearly all mad as a box of badgers. But not in the usual reality show way (where everyone will scream at each other and push each other down the stairs) but in a village fete sort of way (where someone will probably start wearing a jam jar as a hat, or insist on inundating the bric-a-brac stall with home-crocheted leg-warmers).

Mary very sweetly says that she learns a lot from the bakers, and that she's looking forward to finding out what she'll 'absorb' this year.


Diana is the oldest contestant ever to be on the Bake Off, and she tells tales of Swiss rolls being the Sunday treat at home, while they waited for the telegraph boy to bring news of the Boer War. She's this year's contestant who refers to her food as 'homely' and 'rustic', 'plain' and 'simple', which means that she refuses to make anything with more than one flavour or four ingredients. But I do love her already.

"You see, pistachio hadn't been INVENTED yet."

She also gives us our first glimpse of those oh-so-pointless three second snippets of people's home life. Her free time is apparently spent prodding the ground with a hoe, while her husband needlessly moves paving slabs around.


She's making quite a simple Swiss roll, which is a bit of a relief given that a lot of people are making very complicated things. (Tell me, have you ever had a Swiss roll with a sculpture on top? Or a tree on top?) It takes nothing more than Luis mentioning Spain and aniseed to get these looks from Bezza and Hollywood:


Piercing.

Luis keeps bees, because of course he does. It's not quite Rob's foraging-for-mushrooms, but it delights Mary. And gives us the line "His wife Louise gave him his first bee hive five years ago."

There are too many bakers for me to write about all of them, so here are some highlights:
-- Richard is a builder. This will be mentioned every time he is mentioned.
--Jordan has a ridiculous bike, and no colleagues in his office.
--Enwezor has four adorable children
--Everyone apart from Diana seems to be madly putting in every flavour they can think of - including one with pistachio, raspberry, and praline in one, which sounds disgusting.
--Diana 'never uses a timer at home'. She's making the jokes too easy for me.

This series' theatrical contestant is... no, can't remember her name, but she looks like Alex Kingston. This action is not for a moment explained. Unless you count the fact that she's from Brighton and restores furniture as an explanation.


Her white chocolate/red velvet cake sounds delicious though.

For some reason we are treated to a montage of trainers, presumably because nobody has had the decency to drop anything on the floor or cut their fingers off.


Martha has hit the headlines by being the youngest ever contestant, at 17, and falls into the Ruby school of so-young-she-apparently-can't-use-a-desk. She seems rather lovely (in an off-to-the-pony-club sort of way) and I wish her well. (Her bio on the website says she is the youngest by 14 years... that means everyone else is at least 31. Surely not?)

Is it just me, or does the 'dream' sign seem like a terrifying instruction?

Oh, Iain. He tells Mary that scoring the sponge is the best way to make sure it rolls properly. Oh, Iain.  That may become a mantra.  Mary has to be forcibly removed from the horrendous scene, because obviously it goes horribly wrong. Sue applauds, and Mary can't bring herself to do anything but look faintly wounded.



And then we're introduced to Norman. Those who predicted he'd become a favourite of mine were not wrong. He battles it out with Nancy, but he is a gem. We first see him informing us in detail that the Black Forest isn't in Switzerland, in a thick Scottish accent, and showing us the pottery skateboard he's made to display his Swiss roll, but things will get even better later.


"A traditional Swiss roll is rarely decorated. Something most of this year's bakers are planning to ignore." So declares Mel in the voiceover, while Diana (presumably) air punches in the background.

We swiftly move on to my other favourite baker, Nancy, who looks, sounds, and acts like a stallholder from a 1990s episode of Eastenders. She's got wry wit down pat. She's also completely unfazed by anything, to the delight of Mel.


Iain's Swiss roll is a mess. My housemate was cheering him on, because they're both Northern Irish, but even she had to concede that he had brought shame on Belfast. And he put basil and apricot together, which doesn't sound good.


There are some very impressive Swiss rolls, however, with lovely decoration and excellent spirals. And then there is Norman, who stares, bewildered, at his Swiss roll for what feels like half an hour.

Where am I? What IS this?

It's time for the first judging. Too many bakers to consider, again, but highlights are...
--Chetna's chocolate sculptures
--Jordan's strawberry pattern
--Mary and Paul say Claire's cream is 'nondescript', and she replies that it's a matter of opinion, and she likes it. Oh, Claire. Never disagree with the judges. They don't like it. They don't like it at all.
--Norman declares that his Swiss roll 'is for men'. Which makes it sound like a cologne. "Swiss Roll. For Men."
--Alex Kingston's swirl is great, but apparently the sponge is dry.

We can't go any further without talking about Iain's beard. Oh, Iain. At least, if - sorry, when - he gets knocked out, he can play Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

"A daughter of EVE?"

It's time for the technical challenge - a cherry cake. "Good luck, and do your very best," says Mary as she wanders out of the tent - sounding precisely as though she were a Forces' Sweetheart sending out a message to our Brave Boys on the eve of Dunkirk. Which, doubtless, she once was.

(The least said about 'pop Mary's cherry... cake into the oven', the better.)

Should we read anything into the St George's flags,
in place of the Union Flags?

"Why have you picked this for the first technical challenge?" says Paul. Mary resists replying "It had nothing to do with me, it was a team of producers in Salford", and instead waffles on about the suspending of cherries and the distribution of cherries. If you're given to drinking games, take a sip every time they say 'distribution of cherries', and you'll be horrendously drunk before long. Paul asks her if the cake is better than her mother could make. "Yes!" says Mary, "but don't tell her!" Can she possibly still be alive??

Tips about washing, chopping, and flouring cherries are vouchsafed to us. But Jordan has forgotten to save his cherries for the top.

Haunting.

At this juncture, let's mention the absence of the Learn About Baking segments. They've finally run out of rudimentary things to say about cakes. Thank Heavens, says I.

In Norman News (I'm thinking about calling the newsletter Norman Is An Island) he used to own platform shoes, and is clearly already lifelong chums with gal pal Mel.


It's not the most interesting challenge, as everyone seems to be pretty good at it. The main factor separating them is how they put the icing on the top. Some spread it on, some pipe it beautifully, and the builder goes rogue and puts watery icing on, saying 'you have to go with your instinct'. No, builder man, you don't.

Mary and Paul say 'distribution of the cherries' so often that it no longer means anything. Of course, it didn't mean anything in the first place. A few 'good bake's are thrown in, but it feels a bit half-hearted.


Jordan comes in last, and Nancy comes top, but they all seem to be essentially the same. Iain redeems himself a bit by coming fourth. And the contestants are filmed in the dead of night.

Let me sleep.

We go through an unnecessary recap (DID SOMEBODY SAY UNNECESSARY RECAP OH THE IRONY) of the episode so far, and move onto the Showstopper Challenge - which is 36 miniature British cakes. Mel immediately repeats the challenge in the voiceover, for the hard of thinking.

Norman has a lucky spoon.

Quite a few bakers are making things which are in no way bitesize, such as Chetna's four-tier sponges:

BBC1 hasn't changed the cartoon recipe man. Not one bit.
Keep doing you, cartoon recipe man.

Nancy has a guillotine to chop her cakes in half - Mel makes an excellent "You can execute cakes well with this!" pun (PUN KLAXON) which entirely goes over the head of our Nance, who just says "Yes" in response. Oh, Mel. Not appreciated in your own time.

Things are going surprisingly smoothly all round, despite Luis's insistence on providing pipettes with his cakes, and Martha's starstruck repetition of everything Paul says. Mad Jordan tells the oven to 'fill your boots', which means nothing. The soundtrack goes curiously musicbox Disney when they put cakes in the ovens.

Mel and Sue show how delightfully they haven't changed at all - they steal Diana's mousse and run around the tent with it. It no doubt reminds her of the vagaries of Marie Antoinette.


Curiously, my favourite moment of the whole episode is Norman saying "I'm just making the jam now." It's so wonderfully dour and deadpan. He then claims to have been paid twopence to pick raspberries in his youth "which was good money in those days". I know that is the expression that people use about any amount of money, any time in the past, but... Norman, no, it never was good money. You were cheated. Call the child labour authorities.


Btw, I'm loving the lamb segues this week. It's going to be adding insult to injury in pie week, though.


And then - oh noooo! Our first baking proper disaster of the day. Series-Two-Rob, wherever he is, is smiling down on the tent.


Paul and Mary stand awkwardly at the side and talk loudly about how horribly wrong it's gone, while Claire bravely (and falsely) believes she can remedy it all. Mel and Sue continue to wander around and eat everyone's off-cuts. There's an unnecessarily long segment of bakers counting to 36.

Again, it's nearly all very impressive. Every series the bakers get better and better.
Mary and Paul continue their different approaches to euphemism (Mary: "It doesn't wow me."/Paul: "They look a mess.")
Mary uses the word 'scrumptious'.
Builder man staunchly keeps a pencil behind his ear.
Mary and Paul claim never to have seen individual battenburgs before. Mr Kipling could tell them a thing or two.
Norman ignores everything they have to say, and is only interested in what they think about his jam. "What did you think of the jam?" he said, with the pride of a man who spent his boyhood making a meagre living picking raspberries.

Here are some of my favourites:





Star baker is:


Nancy. HURRAY!

And going home (following my formula of second-person-they-show-after-the-announcement-pause) is:


Claire. She laughs, but in her website Q&A she says that Paul has the eyes of Satan. So...

Next week - will Norman make more jam? Will Diana refuse to use electricity? Will Sue make an innuendo so inappropriate that the whole series is cancelled?

See you next week! Hope you've enjoyed it :)