Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Views from a Grumpy Old Man

Doesn't it seem like only yesterday that it was dear old Delia filling our screens with 30 minutes of 'How to cook an egg' or 'How to grate cheese' or my favourite, 'How to make ice'?

Or to acknowledge a true TV institution; the Antiques Roadshow would present us with a treat of little old ladies with pillowcases full of priceless works of art to which we sat on the edge of our settees feeling a strange, mixed emotion between jealousy and euphoria when the said little old lady finds out that the vase she has kept old screws, drawing pins and empty cotton reels in, turns out to be the missing centrepiece of Emperor Wah Wah III from 987 AD's wedding gift to his son and future icon – Ming, and is worth just over £40 million quid.
Fast forward 20 years and for reasons that any intelligent person cannot fathom, our screens are overrun with both cookery and antique sales shows.
Let’s tackle food first. I am all for education through entertainment and learning how to make a really decent hotpot/Bolognese sauce or indeed how an omelette is both useful and long-lasting. So why do we accept and apparently continue to demand food cooking shows that are so impossibly far from our day to day lives that that the TV companies would be better presenting shows about how to live on Mars (Oops, I think that has been done) or how to make an Ocean Liner from a sherbet dib-dab.

So as always, this is best by way of example. Firstly - I assume that our readers either go to work (I include parenting housewives and househusbands in this as there is no harder job!), are retired, studying, looking to work, or somewhere in between these - i.e. normal life.

One show in particular, asks members of the audience to spend £5 in a supermarket on random products and then the 'experts' will make a meal in less than 20 minutes - using only these products and a selection of standard store cupboard ingredients. On the episode I watched, the mystery bag contained some sausages, some potatoes, an onion and some gravy powder. Our audience guest confesses: “I keep seeing these ingredients and would love to know what to do with them.” Our 'expert' looks perplexed, confused and claims: “You do know how to challenge a man don't you Barbara.” He is given time to think his dish through and the presenter returns 2-3 minutes later and asks: “So then Tarquin, what are you going to do for us today?” Tense moments ensue to be followed by a positive explosion of enthusiasm: “I'm gonna do Sausage and Mash!” The crowd erupts into a near riot as if each of them has just had all 6 numbers come up on a Saturday night rollover. Meanwhile at the other end of the studio, Claudia  - our other 'expert' receives an equally gratuitous reception for announcing that with the eggs, sugar, flour, butter, milk, cream and jam delivered to her, she is going to attempt the Holy Grail of haute cuisine; the Victoria Sponge. The fact that neither of these dishes can be prepared in 20 minutes is a mere oversight, so clearly we have to assume that the studio staff ply the audience, contestants, chefs, presenters and indeed themselves with large quantities of cooking sherry so that the actual 60 minutes feels like 20 and they cut the program accordingly to fit their primetime slot. The end scene is our audience now beyond containment, sampling the extraordinary fayre on offer......Blimey. 
At the other end of the scale, we have the show where a Michelin starred chef brings his/her cooking into our homes and shows us that the dishes he/she charges £120.00 each for can be made by anyone at home. Again in a particular show I have seen, our host informs us that tonight he will show us how to make his signature dish: 'Filete asado con especias de la nutria erizo relleno con un jus flamenco rosado y caramelizada p├írpados bate.' In English: 'Roast fillet of otter with spiced hedgehog stuffing with a pink flamingo jus and caramelised bat eyelids' (note to Editor - no actual harm came to any creature in the writing of this piece!) We are informed that most supermarkets now stock these items ....well not in Ripley they don't! So, we sit in front of our TV with a long, exhausting day behind us munching on our exquisite sausage and mash watching in a sense of disbelief or wondering if they served this on Mars. Our host then begins to assemble this dish using kitchen equipment only reserved for those that have had all 6 numbers come up, in a kitchen the size of Swindon.
Now off to antique world.

TV Land has created a series of shows that have devalued our beloved Antiques Roadshow and tried to be humorous in their titling. So, we now have shows like: 'Shekels from the Shed' or 'Cash from the Cupboard' or 'Wonga from the Window Sill' - the format is the same. Some low-on-work antique traders visit some UK outpost and visit a family who need to raise some money for a holiday/wedding/car etc - all good so far. They then scour their house looking for stuff they think will fetch a premium in an auction. The program generally falls down as most people (myself included) have very few items in their house of antique value. So, our 'hunters' normally dispossess our victims of things they really need.

“Brian, how do you think today went?”

“Well I got 35 quid for my sofa, have nothing to sit on now and still owe 300 quid on it, so not a great day.” Our presenter looks slightly pained but not enough to really care too much.

In another format 'antique' show, we have two teams who, for their sins get to wear bright blue or red jackets to highlight them as being absolutely clueless to the antique traders. They then walk around an antique fair and try and buy a bargain that will earn them a profit at an auction. Our stall holders at the fair are not that daft, so when presented with two family members in bright jackets surrounded by a film crew and sound engineers they unsurprisingly are reluctant to give their livelihoods up, so they do not sell a Royal Crown Derby commemorative teapot with gold inlay for £20.00 instead of £1200.00, so our witless contestants come away with a bag of utter tat for which they have parted with £100.00 and make their way to the auction rooms. They are accompanied by 'experts' who have tried to help with the negotiations but typically fail miserably. The viewers’ joy (if it can be called that) is the ignominy faced by our contestants when their item; a chipped,
one-eared clay cat inscribed with 'Souvenirous de Torremelinos' on its base for which they paid £40.00, is snapped up for 60 pence by a 9-year-old boy who thinks his Gran would like it. After auctions fees, our contestant receives 15 pence and then is informed that they have lost £39.85. “How do you feel about that?” our presenter asks. “Gutted” says the contestant. “Wrong audience” says the expert. “Give me strength” says the viewer...

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