Friday, 24 December 2010

A Christmas message (featuring Muppet Monday on a festive Friday)

So this is Christmas. And what have you done? Me, I've wittered on far too much about Strictly Come Dancing and neglected the other blog stuff. I have posted less this year than ever before. I have not started at least two sister blogs which I had brilliant ideas for. OK, my friend Stuart actually had one of those brilliant ideas but it was my seed. I feel lame about all of this. But I apologise and things are going to change, I'm telling you. Not right now, but in that telly-and-tracksuit-bottoms lull between Christmas and New Year. There are many posts that were conceived but not written, and I will be attempting to birth them (I'm not sure where this analogy is going) before I go back to work in early January.

The pun-tastic Britpop theme park! The most pathologically evil pair of tights ever! My flirtation (non-sexual) with our lord Jesus Christ! These and many more posts may yet go unblogged as I do recall saying exactly this last year and only catching up on about two. But still. That is my nobly intentioned plan.

Also, it always makes me feel highly awkward and adolescent saying this kind of thing, so maybe I shouldn't, but I'd feel rude if I didn't: thanks for reading and, like, leaving comments and that. And, like, the totally awesome emails and whatever, yeah? I'm looking at the floor and tugging my fringe down over my face as I say this. Metaphorically of course. I don't have a fringe.

Oh yeah, and happy Christmas. And if it's not happy, I hope that 2011 brings you much better.

And also, this:

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Taking care of business

So listen. I know no one can actually remember the Strictly Come Dancing final now, but I don't like to leave a job half done. You've been busy, I've been busy - principally catching trains and helping seven-year-olds break the world record for star jumps (awaiting official ratification), but let's rewind the last four days or so and pretend the red-hot sequin-and-fake-tan action has only just happened.

This series on Strictly, we've seen a whole lot more editorialising. That's what I'm calling it. You may call it gimmicky theming. That's your business. Personally, I like gimmicks. And I like theming. Things I don't like are polonecks and rumbas, which makes the next few hours' viewing a little trying in places

Under the producers' 'Hey team, let's get creative' brief, the show begins with a film on how Strictly fever has supposedly gripped the nation - which may constitute some kind of Christmas wish on the part of the BBC - before the studio fun kicks off with a boxing-themed pro-dance to Eye Of The Tiger and the contestants come on in dressing gowns. As the male dancers enter, shadow-boxing, I can't help but notice that a) little Vincent looks like one of the other blokes' younger brothers who's desperate to keep up with the big boys and b) 'doing sexy' isn't foremost in Anton's skill set. Waltzing yes. Ironing, hell yes. But unbridled, sneering passion? Erm...

So the first of the four dances each couple will perform tonight is their highest-scoring so far. So a repeat, basically. Swizz. The key points to note are:

* An extreme close-up of Matt's samba-ing arse, which prompts quite the discussion in my living room. I should point out there are other people in the room. I am not having a discussion with myself about Matt Baker's arse - although I'm not ruling it out.
* Tonight, the title is basically Matt's for Aliona to throw away. Were her choreography less bonkers, I firmly believe that his wholesome, blandly handsome, BBC-boy persona (voting turn-on - cf Hollins and Chambers) would prove more powerful than his naked ambition (voting turn-off - cf Healey and Logan, G).
* In Kara and Artem's training video, Kara is unable to talk about Artem without starting to cry. In a good way. Major vote-winner!
* Kara and Artem redancing a rumba is better than most people redancing a rumba.
* Artem is virtually crying at the end of the dance. Jesus, man up, you two. You've got the next two-and-a-half hours to get through.
*A discussion ensues on the sexiness - rightly or wrongly - of the crying man. Again, not just me.
* Pamela and James don't often get things wrong. But they don't often get me excited.

All this is just so many amuse bouches before we get to the main course of the final.

The Showdances! The Showdances are here! Hey, hey, it's the Showdances! Welcome To The Pleasuredome (of Showdances)!

First up, Matt and Aliona. Oh god, oh god, oh god. They've gone 'streetdance'.

I strongly suspect Aliona genuinely thinks that the judges who criticise them just don't 'get' her more out-there work - eg her 'modern' (her word) American Smooth. At this point, in her head, she's dragging the concept of the Strictly showdance into the present. In reality, she's dragging it into a Paula Abdul video from 1989.

They begin dancing on blocks covered in gold textured wrapping paper - although on consultation with The Internet, it seems they're supposed to be hay bales. Because Matt is on Countryfile and lives on a farm. It actually looks like he and Aliona are podium dancers in a provincial branch of Ritzy's. There's a lot of stunts and acrobatics and what have you, but hardly any, like, dancing. Also, almost unforgivably, Matt is wearing a flat cap. A glittery flat cap. Aliona looks totally triumphant at the end. The judges look baffled. Matt's mum (perhaps, or big sister - who am I to judge) blows her fringe off her forehead in a slightly anxious, flustered way. Craig has it right when he says the concept didn't quite come together. AND WHOSE FAULT IS THAT? I DON'T THINK IT'S MATT'S.

The crumb of comfort seized on in the Jones living room is that there could have been a lot more 'grinding'. We must take it where we can. The comfort, not necessarily the grinding.

Onwards. Artem is dressed as Freddie Mercury. Kara may also be dressed as Freddie Mercury, or is it Flash Gordon, or is it another member of Queen, or is it just a person wearing an unflattering white jumpsuit?

They perform a frantic jive to Don't Stop Me Now. Full marks for choice of music. Two out of 10 for playing to Kara's strengths. There's barely a second in which she can stretch out her limbs in that elegant way that persuades you she could make pulling her knickers out of her bum crack look classy. Unfortunately, in performing a backflip, Kara hurts her wrist and clearly can't give the rest of the routine her all, meaning she misses a lift and messes up the ending.

Pamela and James showdance to
I've Had The Time Of My Life from Dirty Dancing. It feels like an unambitious choice. I had thought P&J might go for the cheeky Hollywood charisma angle, a la Tom Chambers. Instead they seem to be channelling Ann Widdecombe, as the camera sees more of Pamela's gusset than can really be welcomed.

This may be the least inspiring group of showdances Strictly has ever seen.

Pamela and James top the leaderboard at half-time. Kara is absent at the summing up. I am imagining that somewhere backstage she is being filmed wincing under the hands of the show's doctors, and Artem is repeatedly smacking his head into a wall, full of self-loathing for making his beloved do that backflip. Artem is very emotional this evening. Perhaps it's because he is not wearing a trilby. It's a scientific fact that Russian professional dancers lose 80% of their emotions through their head.

Half time. We eat some cheese and vote for Kara.

At the start of the second show, it's time for one couple to leave. It's a surprise to hardly any of the viewing public that it's Pamela and James. It's more of a shock to Bruce, Tess and the judges. The BBC must have splashed some serious licence fee on soundproofing as it seems they genuinely could not hear 12 million people shouting '40? REALLY?' at their televisions in unison over the last couple of weeks.

The remaining two couples perform the dance they haven't yet done over the series. For Matt and Aliona, it's a Paso to
Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, which, you've got to think, is a message from Aliona to the judges about her 'groundbreaking' choreography. It's not a classic. In fact, there's a strong whiff of Week 8 about it. Aliona is wearing a hideous red and black Ann Summers-style basque, with a skirt stapled on. A member of our group expresses the wish that Matt had gone bare-chested under his bolero jacket, instead of wearing a grim crimson poloneck that looks like it was made for sweating through. Matt looks wounded by the judges' tepid comments, until Craig says he likes it, and then he looks nervous but embarrassed.

Kara, WHO IS INJURED, and Artem do the waltz. Kara is wearing a plucky, painted-on smile. Artem is still struggling to keep it together. In Tess's enclosure afterwards, Kara says in a flat voice: 'I can't seem to straighten my arm at the moment,' which reminds you of some tearjerking war film: 'Are you alright, Private Tointon? You seem to be bleeding a little.' 'Yes sir, tickety-boo. Silly really... can't seem to feel my damned legs. You go on ahead without me, I'll catch up.'

Finally, they repeat their favourite dance. Matt and Aliona repeat their Viennese Waltz which means the return of THAT SODDING SWING. They seem to have adjusted something so they don't get tangled up in the ropes. Urgh, can we have some more fun, Matt and Aliona? This is tedious. And, by the way, shopping-centre breakdancing does not equal fun, no matter what a 13-year-old boy may tell you.

For her American Smooth, Kara is wearing the dress of the series. This is the dance that will clinch the title. It is gorgeous. You can tell Kara is in a lot of pain and at the end, Artem stands apart from her so she can take all the applause. Aww. He kisses the side of her head (he does that A LOT in this half) and holds her injured arm tenderly. The Jones jury starts to express some concern at this point that Artem has showered Kara with affection this evening, and she hasn't totally reciprocated. Don't break his heart, Tointon!

Alesha tells Kara she is a beautiful woman inside and out. I agree. However, the man sitting next to me in a cafe in Dulwich on Monday does not, telling his friend that Kara's body is nice, but her face isn't all that. To which I say, do you want to wear that cooked breakfast, monkey chops?

Backstage, Tess keeps grabbing Kara's bad arm and waving it around. NOT HELPING, TESS. They get 10s from everyone except Len. Katya and Felicity are crying in the background.

I want them to win so badly. I thought I wanted Matt to, but I was actually supporting the Matt who exists in an alternate reality where he was partnered with Katya or Flavia, and danced a tricksy, fun, elegant showdance.

In their final summing-up VT, Kara says of Artem: 'I've made a friend for life'. He says: 'When she laughs, I find it so adorable.' This is more fuel for the one-sided fire.

Results time! Kara and Artem are triumphant! Phew. Right and good sense has won out. Matt is extremely gracious in defeat, and doesn't start crying or go mental. Kara pays tribute to Matt's time-consuming day-job which, to his credit, he hasn't harped on about.
Unlike Scott.

She and Artem celebrate with that slightly awkward first-dance-at-a-wedding thing and - AND! - an ACTUAL KISS. Well. It's like a l-o-n-g peck. But on the lips. I think it is a sexy kiss. My guests think it is a fond-but-friends-only kiss. We rewind and watch again. I am right. You don't kiss your friends like that unless you're very drunk. I am assuming Kara and Artem are not very drunk, but I guess there's an outside chance Kara could be out of her tree on painkillers by now.

There's not much to say after that apart from, judging by the trailer, the Christmas special is going to be bloody brilliant. But blog-free - by me, at least.

Over and out.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

There Will Be Showdances

It's Friday night and Strictly Come Dancing is on. It must be some kind of special occasion. It is, of course. It's the semi bloody final. This means I have to curb my usual Friday-night activities which may include any combination of burlesque dancing in a Hackney dive bar, handing out nourishing home-made soup to street children or performing my Spenserian sonnet cycle told through rap at a poetry slam event on Brick Lane.

Instead I am sitting on the sofa eating roast chicken and watching television. I can't tell you what a dramatic curb this is on my lifestyle. I literally can't tell you.

So who is first to dance for their lives? (In the case of Natalie, you could believe this is really the case.) It is Pamela and James, who are dancing a paso doble to
Bad Romance, which is almost as awesome as it sounds, but not quite. Pamela seems to be channelling an evil doll while, with his hair and his waistcoat, James is looking particularly Wolverine this evening. Perhaps this explains how he has managed to train Pamela, WHO IS 61, to such a high standard. If ever she starts getting sloppy, he draws his terrible claws on her, and suddenly she finds new reservoirs of concentration.

Next, Kara and Artem do something I never thought I'd see with my own two lovely, lovely eyes. They make the Viennese Waltz sexy. They said it could never be done. By 'they', I basically mean 'me'. Kara is so good, even readers of this blog in Australia who have never watched Strictly Come Dancing know she should rightly win. Yet again, Bruce Forsyth seems to be totally surprised by the standing ovation that follows. Maybe, between each show, he simply forgets that they happen. After all, he is even older than Pamela, WHO IS 61. Kara and Artem only fail to get a perfect score because of some matter of a lift. Regular readers will know that these technicalities rarely bother me – other than when its suits me, of course.

Gavin and Katya are dancing the samba, a sexy, uninhibited party dance. For Gavin, this is a challenge akin to climbing the north face of the Eiger. Despite a valiant effort by Katya, they're not really demonstrating the appropriate levels of sensuality. When Gavin is called on to run his hand down Katya's thigh, it's as though he's wiping up a spillage of ketchup that just dripped off his portion of chips. The judges aren't keen, but afterwards Tess is particularly eager to see Gavin recreate his almost-perfected hip-swivel, and he is more than happy to oblige. This, you feel, is a new element he has introduced to his morning mirror routine – Blue Steel face, that twitchy pec thing people do who have more muscle mass than sense, a kiss for the 'guns', and now a swivel of hips. As he does it, Gav thinks: 'Yes! Now I am the complete package!'

Next up are Scott and Natalie. It's Scott's turn to wear the Ill-Advised Trilby this week. Artem must be sulking. In their training VT, Natalie says that Scott is the best partner she's ever danced with. Somewhere in his chrome-and-glass Cheshire bachelor pad, Ricky Whittle is tearing up his Strictly Come Dancing calendar and shouting 'Did what we had mean NOTHING to you?' Scott and Natalie dance the tango to the kind of wine-bar chill-out tune that makes me really aggressive. Scott seems to be lacking in conviction but luckily Natalie has more than enough intensity for both of them. She has 'Intensity' tattooed on one of her eyeballs. She has 'Ricky' tattooed on the other, now hastily covered up with a large flower design, and 'Scott' etched underneath.

Believe it or not, I have a bad feeling about Matt tonight. You can't help but feel a sense of dramatic irony about his somewhat over-confident training interview. Matt, don't you have any grasp of narrative? Don't you watch any TV when you're not, like, on it? OK, I know you are kind of busy perpetuating the miracles of nature on your farm, but still. Tune in, now and again, and see how it works.

Sure enough, their salsa is a troublingly bizarre combination of incredibly basic steps that I learnt on a Saturday-morning class in Kennington about seven years ago, and writhing, gyrating and thrusting. Three of the very grimmest '-ings', I think you'll agree. It all adds up to a big pile of Unsexy. Where are the spaghetti-junction arms? Where are, like, the good bits? They are dancing to Kylie's Spinning Around, which is more hands-in-the-air disco than grind-in-your-face salsa. Also, Aliona kind of has her jugs out. The whole thing just doesn't work – and the judges are lining up to tell them. They really go to town on the harsh stuff. Aliona doesn't really seem to grasp what's going on, but Matt is completely taken aback. Please don't cry, Matt. Oh God, I actually think he's going to cry. When Tess turns her sensitive and subtly probing interviewing beam on him, he can hardly speak.

The scores are in the 7s and 8s. OK, now what's going on? Matt is the new BBC primetime pin-up. Other contestants have danced this badly and got 9s. Why the slating? Are the judges undermarking Matt to jumpstart a huge sympathy vote from his supporters and ensure his progression to the next round, just in case the Handsome Droid is in danger of robotically ploughing his way through to the final, lights flashing and head swivelling?

But if this is a secret pro-Matt exercise (cruel to be kind and all that), then way to challenge him by making him go straight from the energetic salsa into the Swingathon – a dance so long it ends in 'athon' – with barely time for a towelling-down. Not to mention the fact he has to pick himself up emotionally from a place several hundred feet below devastated. Still, that's showbiz, Matt. Surely you learnt this on Blue Peter when you had to keep grinning like a simpleton through yet another exhibition of sarcophigi. Fortunately, Matt is at the peak of physical fitness as he races sheepdogs in his spare time.

The Swingathon should be the best thing ever, but it's something of a challenge to camerawork. You can't really see enough of the dancing. Predictably, Gavin goes out first, followed by Scott. Shock result! I thought Maslen would have this in the bag, what with him being full of 'personality' and all. Matt claws back some self-respect in second place, but Kara and Artem win. They also have the best outfits, so it's a victory for fashion too. Pamela is wearing hideous black clumpy trainers. It's as though she's forgotten to put her proper dancing shoes on. These tiny lapses of memory come with increasing frequency WHEN YOU ARE 61.

Ding ding! Round two! It's Saturday night! I am on my sofa again, but I am about to go to Camberwell and eat delicious tapas. You might think those things would be mutually exclusive but you would be very, very wrong.

Scott and Natalie are first up. After turning Scott into James Bond last week, Natalie is indulging another of her fantasies tonight, dressing him as a sailor. He's not exactly Richard Gere in An Officer And A Gentleman, but I expect she's not too fussed. They are dancing the Charleston, and I am fully expecting four 10s. Unfortunately, Scott's face seems to be working a lot harder than the rest of his body, and Natalie is doing most of the work. He's still very good, and we all know he's working incredibly hard and he's tired and blah blah, but he really could do with a bit more, as Len – and Chas and Dave – would say, 'Gertcha'. There is no standing ovation at the end which, from the usual studio audience, is pretty damning. Almost as damning as a panel of judges who have just sat through Matt Baker's salsa. Considering he has been gifted two of the most crowd-pleasing dances in the semi-final, Scott is not – as The X Factor judges would say – smashing it.

Unlike Kara and Artem, who have been given the two dullest dances. After the miracle of the Sexy Viennese Waltz, can they produce the Miracle of the Sexy Rumba That Is Actually Sexy And Not In A Way That Makes You Do A Little Bit Of Sick In Your Mouth? Yes, is the answer. Yes. Kara does stumble a couple of times and borderline-infringes the lift rules again, but that doesn't stop three of the judges giving her a 10.

Next, Matt and Aliona are dancing the tango. Matt still looks like he's about to cry. Come on, Matthew. Think of all those animals on the farm, with their noses pushed up against the windows of your house, watching their master on the telly. Do it for them! Do it for the pigs! Do it for the cows! He does do it for them. It's brilliant, principally because they are dancing to Hung Up by Madonna. It would be hard to fail. He does do a 100% laughable hands-on-hips pose at the end, but compared to last night, this is a triumph. The judges are full of praise. Is this the completion of some triumph-against-adversity, comeback-kid vote-generator for Matt? I think I'm right in saying the phone lines weren't open last night, after his downfall, but they are tonight, after his get-back-up. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Gavin and Katya dance the waltz. The most exciting thing about it is Katya's red dress. Len gives him a 9. I swear at Len.

Pamela and James close this week's competition with a quickstep which is not particularly quick. Maybe this is because of her fitness levels what with her BEING 61 and a GRANDMA. It's very classic Hollywood though and the judges think it is the best thing they've ever seen.

They score it 40. Really?


Finally, Take That perform The Flood. I love this song. If you like, my friend Stef and I could come to your house and present our one-hour thesis on the symbolism of the video. It's not a complicated interpretation, but we are particularly enthusiastic about it. Robbie and Mark do some dancing and larking about together. If you do not squeal at this, then you did not live with a houseful of girls at university in the early 90s. Or maybe you did, but you were quite a lot cooler than us. Wait, no, it can't be that.

Also, Jason looks SPECTACULAR.

We end with a montage of 110% journey-speak from the contestants. Scott says he's given it everything he's got. I don't know about everything, but he's definitely given it about four stone.

I do not see the results show because I AM AT WORK. ON A SUNDAY NIGHT. I KNOW. But I have heard the outcome and, for me, it is the right one. Also, I know that Take That performed Back For Good, which I'm not sure I could sit through without combusting with excitable nostalgia.

Join me for The Actual Final next week. There Will Be Showdances (this is the title of Daniel Day-Lewis's next film project). About the prospect of Matt and Aliona's showdance, I feel the way I did about queuing up to see the body of Lenin in his mausoleum in Red Square when I was an impressionable 18-year-old. Nervous, excited, scared. Nauseous.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Ding dong, the Widz is (not literally) dead

This week, it's nudist week on Strictly Come Dancing. Oh sorry, that's my mistake. It's actually movie week. Never mind. I'm sure it will still be fun.

It starts well enough, as the opening sequence features one of my favourite moments of
Strictly scripting ever (admittedly, the competition is not overwhelming). The celebrities are introduced in the style of the characters in The Breakfast Club, with Kara as 'The Princess', Matt as 'The Farm Boy' and Gavin as 'The Handsome Droid'. The Handsome Droid! He TOTALLY is The Handsome Droid.

The proper red-hot, primetime, lights-camera-action starts with a kind of pro-dance medley featuring iconic film moments. Amazingly, no one has thought to ask Kristina to reinterpret Meg Ryan's fake orgasm scene from
When Harry Met Sally through the medium of dance. Neither has anyone invited Anton to choreograph a cha-cha-cha that represents the harrowing 24-minute beach battle at the start of Saving Private Ryan. Let's call that an opportunity missed. Instead, we get James and Ola doing a sodding rumba to Take My Breath Away from Top Gun. God, those Jordans love a rumba. Stop rumbaing, Jordans! Just because you're professionals doesn't mean it's not embarrassing.

Also, you just know how excited James Jordan is to be dressed up as Tom Cruise. Imagine him whipping his aviators on and off repeatedly in front of the bathroom mirror while Ola's trying to pluck her eyebrows.

Then Erin and Anton perform a modern street dance to a selection of Daft Punk's music from
Tron Legacy.

I'm joking. They go Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, of course.

With that over, Scott Smaslen, as Brucie calls him, is the first contender. He's channelling James Bond, with Natalie in an Ursula Andress-style white bikini, in a scenario that Natalie has absolutely, definitely NOT been fantasising about all series. At the climax of their paso doble, she rips his shirt open and trails a trembling hand down his hairy chest. She's quite obviously thinking 'Why did no one think to do Movie Week before now? I've wasted SO MUCH TIME.' With Natalie essentially wearing a bra and pants, and Scott's let's-call-them-swarthy good looks, it's a little like watching one of the lower-order Chippendales doing a work placement in Stringfellow's. Scott is back in business in terms of remembering the steps, and there's some great choreography, but I'm left slightly cold. And not just because it's, like, cold.

Ann and Anton are dancing an American Smooth which, by way of novelty, does contain some actual dancing. This week, Ann overwhelmingly reminds me of a miniature pony competing in some sort of dressage event - trotting along faithfully beside Anton, then standing stock still and counting beats while he goes and does the tricky stuff, until he comes back to her and it's time to set off trotting again. When it comes to the judging, Alesha, Bruno and Len are surprisingly damning. Ann is so taken aback, she's uncharacteristically slow to Come Out Fighting. Instead, she's stunned into temporary silence, which must feel like some kind of balm to Anton. I can understand her surprise, though, since the spectacular over-marking she's received from some of the judges in recent weeks could lead her to think she was kind of a big deal.

Poor Matt Baker. After last week's 'modern' (and by that I mean weird) American Smooth, he's now taking on the jive. The jive is great, Matt is great. There is no reason why they shouldn't be even greater in partnership, like rhubarb and custard. Except... maybe there
is a reason, and maybe it has six letters and begins with A. (Clue: it's not Antonn.) The first thing to say is that Matt is wearing a hideous Austin Powers costume that looks like it's a) been hired from a grubby fancy dress shop, and b) been heavily sweated in over the years by its 'wacky' previous tenants as a result of the over-exuberant dance moves they've made their friends and colleagues deeply uncomfortable with at parties. Matt, however, is awesome, and performs brilliantly all the physical 'groovy baby' ticks that would normally make me bite my own hand off with 22ct-cringey mortification. Tragically for his scores, though, he does go out of time very noticeably at one point. Probably because he is encumbered by his STUPID BIG VELVET SUIT. Also, there doesn't seem to be a massive amount of actual jiving because he and Aliona keep stop-starting to do 'funny' bits. God, can't someone save Matt from all this? Surely Flavia or Ola could stage some kind of intervention. They've got time on their hands these days. I feel very strongly that if Matt Baker does not win Strictly Come Dancing, it will not be because of Matt Baker. After their dance, Bruce says 'You must have worked so hard on that.' HOW PATRONISING.

In accessories news, I do actually love Matt in those big geeky glasses. If his new job was as a T4 presenter, he would have to wear them permanently from now on, but since it's actually on
The One Show, he can put them back in the fancy-dress cupboard.

In Pamela and James's training VT, they recreate the
Ghost clay scene which, I'll be honest, makes me feel quite unwell. It's Pamela's 61st birthday. I like Pamela a lot, but I'm a little bit bored of her going on about her age all the time and calling herself grandma. When June Brown, aged 83, steps on to the set of the Strictly Christmas special in a couple of weeks, she'll be well and truly stubbing out her cigarette on Pamela's forehead in the battle of 'Look how old I am! And I'm dancing! It is a MIRACLE!' Anyway, in their waltz, Pamela plays bereaved Demi Moore (where Demi Moore is blond and sixty bloody one), while James is the ghost of her lover who comes back to dance with her for 1 minute 30 seconds before walking slowly back up a staircase. This routine proves conclusively that ghosts are real and not some wishful figment of the imagination, as I don't think any woman would choose for their beloved to reappear in those trousers. Billy Connolly is sitting in the audience. I know everyone's mad for Billy Connolly, but I find myself more distracted by the man sitting behind him who looks like the Demon Headmaster. Pamela and James dance a brilliant waltz, no doubt, but I'm still slightly surprised that they score 40. Feed that into your Strictly conspiracy generator and see what comes out, why don't you?

The Handsome Droid and Katya are dancing the foxtrot to Minnie The Moocher from
The Blues Brothers. The Handsome Droid really does look much better with clothes on, but I guess there is the risk that they might cause his internal wiring to overheat and short-circuit. He makes a pretty good stab at the dancing, too. Two 9's worth of good, though? Hmm.

In this week's style-crime news, Artem has swapped a trilby for appalling George-Michael-tribute-act facial hair. Having seen Artem clean-shaven and dressed down in a normal checked shirt during training, I realise he is actually very attractive when he's not trussed up for the show in a stupid, entirely flammable costume and hefty trowelling of make-up. Long-time
Strictly fans call this The Dallerup Effect. In their training VT, Artem actually speaks openly and directly about his nascent relationship with Kara. It represents an appalling puncture of romantic tension that I am still struggling to comprehend. Has no one explained to him how these things are supposed to work? Artem, you and Kara are meant to gaze longingly at each at the climax of every dance, locking eyes for slightly too long, making enigmatic statements about how amazing it's been to work with your partner, how they've become a best friend as well as a pupil/teacher/other. During your farewell dance, you should look as though you are the only two people in the room. Then, after you're eliminated, you declare your love via a photo shoot taken during an all-expenses-paid-holiday and splashed across the shiny pages of a celebrity magazine. You're not supposed to say you're going to ask her out once the show's over and maybe take her out for a bite to eat. Good God, man! What are they teaching you at Strictly Pro School? Apart from how to draw on a beard with eyeliner. Anyway, their tango is amazing. But apparently it's not as good as Pamela's waltz. You could have fooled me, but what do I know?

The results show starts with a very lengthy
Mamma Mia! routine. I have to confess that my attention seriously wanders during this show dance, but that's probably because at this point I decide to open my recently purchased Christmas Radio Times for the first time, a moment which, for me, is pretty hard to compete with in terms of dramatic tension.

Katya and the Handsome Droid are the first couple revealed to be safe, and they're very moved to get straight through (we must assume that the Handsome Droid is probably faking his emotion, like Tiny Tears). Katya says something about it being a privilege to be there alongside such fantastic dancers. I love the thought of her growing up in Lithuania with posters of Erin Boag on her bedroom wall, falling asleep every night, thinking, "One day..."

Scott and Natalie are in the bottom two, and Bruno is outraged. I am outraged by Bruno's outrage. How can be cross with the public for supposedly voting erratically when he's been marking like a total moron all series. Also, any opportunity Bruno has to stand up behind the desk, he just has to take it. Have you ever considered shop work, Bruno? That way, you could stand up all the time, and then Vincent could take your place on the judging panel.

Perhaps the most bizarre moment of the results show is the performance by the Manic Street Preachers. I am disappointed that they have apparently snubbed the possibility of having professional dancers choreographing a routine to their song. Nicky Wire has been dabbling with a feather boa and glitter for years - I bet he was all for it, but JDB and Little Sean On Drums outvoted him. They should totally ask Nicky Wire to be a contestant next year. Although he is very tall. I'm not sure who could partner him.

Come results time, finally, finally, we say goodbye to Ann and Anton. She can't win. Strictly is saved. And so is Anton. Semi-finals next week!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Strictly: The Pretty Good Four (And The Other Three)

There are now just seven contestants left in this year's competition. Seven! So have the Strictly Come Dancing scriptwriters chosen a seven-related theme to flog to the verge of collapse? I think you know the answer to that. But are the competitors the Seven Wonders Of The Strictly World? Are they the Lucky Seven? (In the case of Ann, yes, obviously.) Are they Strictly Club 7? No, but if they were, Gavin would totally be Tina.

They're the Magnificent Seven! Of course they are. Or, more accurately, The Pretty Good Four, plus Patsy, Gavin and Ann.

Kara and Artem are on first. Artem is clearly feeling better because he has a hat on again. All is right with the world. Not the fashion world, obviously. But, you know, the Strictly world, which a remarkable number of people confuse with the real one.

Kara and Artem are dancing the jive. It doesn't go entirely according to plan. It's a bit unfocused and there seems to be something missing. Maybe what's missing is two days' training which they had to skip as a result of Artem's shocking Neck! Injury! But still, Kara is just great at dancing. I'm sure she could pick her nose and wipe it on the judges' desk in a way that looks elegant and well-placed.

In a week in which Alesha's judging plums new depths, she tells Kara and Artem that they are on a journey. Let's recap. They started off being really good. They're still really good. They got off with each other a bit and then Artem hurt his neck. That's hardly the Trans-Siberian railway, Alesha.

Next up are Ann and Anton. I don't remember them being this high up in the running order before – perhaps the Strictly bosses are hoping the voting public will have forgotten about them by the time the lines open (The X Factor seem to be trying a similar technique with Wagner tonight, who is also on early) but give that most of Ann's performances scar the retinas of all who watch them, this seems unlikely. Their training VT is painful to watch as Ann squawks and snaps at Anton. Jesus, I feel for him. He really has atoned for the misdemeanours of last series. He has been wearing that Widdecombe hairshirt for nine weeks now.

I picture him at home, getting ready for training – ironing his slacks with shoulders slumped; pulling on his smart V-neck and wondering if he can just hide there inside his jumper for the next four weeks; looking at himself in the mirror as he straightens his tie, pale and hollow-cheeked, questioning whether he can paint the smile on again for yet another day. But of course he can, because he is Anton Du Beke and that is What He Does.

I'm extrapolating slightly.

Admittedly, the first moments of his and Ann's rumba, when you realise they are essaying an interpretation of Titanic, is HILARIOUS. After that, not so much. Ann's 'feisty' (translation: rude) backchat to the judges afterwards? Even less so. The only other watchable part of their routine comes at the end, as Anton lowers a plank-like Ann towards the floor. I can't be alone in imagining he is lowering her beneath the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean and holding her there.

I don't know what to say about Patsy who is next. She dances the tango. It's OK. She gets OK marks. She will probably go out this week but she will be OK with it. It's all OK. (Also, OK is just one of the magazines she will be interviewed in over the coming weeks, as she talks about how Strictly has Turned Her Life Around).

Scott isn't having a good week. He's exhausted. He's doing two jobs. Man up, Maslen! At the start of their American Smooth, he looks uncomfortable. By the end, he's suffered a total D'Angelo and has forgotten his steps and is being dragged around by Natalie. In an attempt to make Scott feel better, or maybe because he simply didn't notice the meltdown, Bruce says, 'That was my kind of number and my kind of dance.' What, where someone is forgetful, makes loads of mistakes, and is led through the show by a younger colleague..?

I think Craig is being generous when he gives Scott and Natalie a 6. Bruno and Alesha give them 9s. Alesha, at exactly this time three years ago I thought you were amazing. Now, you have RUINED what we had between us and you will NEVER GET IT BACK. Bruno, you had less far to fall, but you are also marking like a dick.

Do the judges always score the
EastEnders stars so kindly? Perhaps Len is angling for a part as the next Frank Butcher/Archie Mitchell gentleman gangster - all twinkly eyes, sovereign ring and Costa Del Tan.

Next is a weird Magnificent Seven montage (there are seven of them, you see) where the contestants were obviously grabbed as they came off stage last week, had a sparkly hen-night stetson thrust on their heads and asked to pose as cowboys and speak in American accents. Tsk. If we really have to have this kind of filler element in the show, can't it at least be a selection of Bruce's hairpieces fashioned into marionettes, 'dancing' in a miniature puppet theatre?

After this diversion,
Katya and Gavin are doing the jive – a dance which is fast, athletic and doesn't require a huge amount of emotion. Right up Gavin's strasse, you might think.

Not so much as it turns out.

In training, Katya is trying to get Gavin to express his emotions because, according to Gavin, there's too many of them in his brain, and he needs to get them out so that the steps can go in. I'm fascinated by the 'one in, one out' door policy of the thoughts in Gavin's head. "Alright, my brain, I'll swap you a nervous embarrassment for a swinging Katya around my head."

Unfortunately, the emotions Gavin is expressing seem to be those of a 13-year-old. For example, 'The jive is a STUPID dance and I HATE IT.'

After they've floundered their way through the dance (I think it's fair to say that Gavin has plateaued), Len tells him we all have to do things we don't like. His mum used to dress him in an angora beret when he was little. I never knew that Len was secretly Our Rita,
Johnny Briggs' sister. (Thanks to Len for providing this week's 80s TV reference, so that I don't have to.)

Next up are Matt and Aliona, who are dancing the American Smooth. Now, let's imagine you're a professional dancer and your celebrity partner is graceful, muscular and gymnastic, with a twinkly old-fashioned appeal. You'd be channelling Gene Kelly for all you're worth, right?

Not if you're Aliona.

If you're Aliona, you choreograph an incredibly bizarre 'story' dance that - unforgivably – makes you think of the rumba when it's NOT EVEN A RUMBA. You will make Matt wear a terrible 'blousony' shirt that matches your hair, and have him pull excruciating 'I'm in love! I'm in pain! I'm in love!' faces throughout. Matt starts and finishes on the floor, which makes me think he's meant to be dead. I wonder if this is what he was wishing for when Aliona first showed him the steps. At the end, he bangs his fists on the ground in anger/pain/frustration/it's anyone's guess really. I'm not sure if that's actually in the choreography. Aliona says the dance is about 'a struggle in New York'. Aliona, finding a nice hotel room in Manhattan for under £100 is 'a struggle in New York'. This dance is not.

Matt looks deeply embarrassed during the judges' lukewarm comments, like he just wishes he was in a field in the dark in County Durham birthing a sheep, even if it is -10º outside. Matt's lovely wife in the audience has a face that says 'You! Red! Why are you making my husband look like a TOTAL moron?'

Should they make the final, I can only imagine the interpretive car crash of their showdance.

Still, I should point out that despite the alarming 'concept', their dance is hugely accomplished technically - although Alesha and Bruno score them lower than Scott and Natalie.

Pamela and James dance the Charleston. It's fun but a little inelegant. Given the night that everyone else has had, though, it's still enough to get them some 10s and put them at the top of the leaderboard. They use the same prop door that Scott and Natalie did for their brilliant jive. I'm going to start calling it the lucky door. It's only a matter of time before Tess does.

A few notes from the results show:

1) I could have choreographed that pro dance at the start.
2) Claudia interviewing a mumbling Gavin and then admitting she didn't understand a word he said is one of my favourite things I have ever seen on Strictly Comes Dancing.
3) In a bizarre dress-up montage where the celebrities introduce next week's movie theme, Ann is truly chilling dressed up as Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz, walking a yellow brick road and shrilly calling 'Anton! Annnn-ton!' It's like a horror film. But this is Anton's future, once the series has ended Ann ringing his doorbell, bellowing his name through the letterbox, while he cowers inside, crouched below the living-room window, desperate not to be seen.
4) Patsy is eliminated, and is OK.

Next week is movie week! Theming craziness! After ending up in the bottom two this week, Gavin has to start being blatant again. Will he and Katya attempt some erotic-pottery tribute to Ghost? He's going to need something drastic. It's that or 9 1/2 Weeks.

Saturday, 27 November 2010



I'm sorry that you have to see this. I'm about to share with you a particularly unattractive moment of procrastination in an attempt to shame myself into reforming my behaviour.

While attempting to rewrite the post below for Tall Tales – I wasn't even attempting to write something from scratch, not even a blank page to excuse my ickyness – I noticed these two holes at the front of my laptop.

Teeny-tiny holes just made for squinting into, if you are hell-bent on avoiding the task that is set out in front of you, and have seen all there is to see out of the window next to you, and you have deliberately removed yourself from the room with the telly in it. And then I noticed what was inside those two little holes. Fluff and crumbs and all manner of bits. They had become two electronic belly-buttons.

So did I turn my computer upside down and shake them out? No, that wouldn't have wasted half enough time. Instead I spent a good half-hour playing Operation with a pair of pointy, pointy tweezers…

Some of the extractions were quite tricky, and there is further surgery to be done, but this is what I excavated:

Sorry. Disgusting. Yes.

(It could have been worse. Over the last couple of years, I've protected you from the stage-by-stage photos of my finger recovering from surgery, as a new nail grew from tiny stubby chrysalis to ongular butterfly. Predictably I never did get round to making a flickerbook of those photos as I planned.)

I couldn't believe that pile of eww had come out of those two tiny holes. But that was only the start of it. Look what else I found in there:

Oh, and these:

I'm wondering what else I've dropped down there over the years. Maybe this is where I might at long last find my missing ability to get the f*** on with things.

The Night Swatch

Last weekend I was walking the elegant avenues of Blackheath on the way to visit my friends Mr and Mrs S-P when I saw this house:

How community-spirited of its residents to invite neighbours and passers-by into the discussion of what colour to paint the front door.

Exactly which tasteful period-perfect bullet-grey shade should replace the current tasteful period-perfect bullet-grey shade?

Decisions, decisions.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The joy of repetition

I know I repeat myself. Don't tell me I'm the only one. But this time I'm doing it quite deliberately, with my eyes open and my brain on. Somehow I still feel the compulsion to apologise.

Since the initial publication of the post below a few months ago, it has been revised a little, and yesterday I read out the new version at Tall Tales, an excellent night of stories and music hosted, curated, birthed by
Dr Robert Hudson.

Marbury – a constant spiritual and intellectual inspiration to me – suggested I post the updated version. It would be, he said, like the Director's Cut. So here it is:

Shopping Centre Soulmates or In Which I Realise That No Ideas Are Truly Original

In this country, with our general reticence and limited enthusiasm for strangers, we’re not renowned for our customer service. If I am served in a shop by someone who doesn’t so much as acknowledge me, so busy are they telling a colleague about an out-of-order ex or some aspect of the holiday-leave structure that’s an affront to their civil liberties, I am seething but unsurprised. Yet when someone does offer me true, Uncle Sam-style, teeth-and-talent-show salesmanship, it seems so contrived, so commission-chasing, that I have to beat a terrified retreat to the furthest corner of the shop, and hide from anyone who might ask me if I need any help at all.

But I have astonishing news: on a Saturday afternoon in the shops of Bromley – the Bromley just south of London, the Milan of northern Kent – I recently discovered you can experience delightful customer service from an unexpected corner of the population. The youth. The Saturday girls, the college-holiday boys, the McJobbers, the saving-to-go-travellers. Those who, biologically and culturally, should be the most surly and the least giving of any kind of a shit become, on a Bromley Saturday, sincere, sunny, flawlessly nice. The Pollyannas of sales, working in the Pleasantville of retail. Like robots who have developed genuine thoughts and feelings. Almost like....wait… yes, like humans.

No one could blame a 19-year-old Starbucks Saturday girl for having an attitude problem. A sunny disposition is hard to maintain when a hard eight hours’ milk-frothing has laid waste to your eyeliner and tireless table-scrubbing has chipped away at your black nail varnish. Also people treat Starbucks really badly. Customers! Why not just crumble your muffin directly onto the carpet. Why persist in the charade that you are actually trying to get it into your mouth. Plus, if you take away the risk of actually eating any of it, it is far less fattening.

But in the Bromley branch of Starbucks, the Saturday girl who served me recently was a willowy 5ft9inches of enthusiasm and best intentions – stoically reiterating a pink-cheeked apology that the dishwasher wasn't working so all the drinks would be served in paper cups and was that OK. Presumably she thought that someone who’d been pushed to the brink by the queuing system in nearby Argos could flip out at the prospect of being denied their coffee in a massive china bucket you need two hands to lift. Perhaps she feared they would run amok, smashing the heavy glass jars that adorn the counter, showering unsuspecting pensioners nursing tall hot chocolates with a shrapnel of hazelnut biscotti and suburban bitterness.

But even in that eventuality, I felt sure Miss Starbucks would have smiled on.

In Marks & Spencer nearby, later the same day, my friend and I spent quite some time with a friendly, funny boy-cashier, all frayed festival wristbands and a fringe made for sulking behind – except… he was not sulking at all. He was patient and good-humoured and actually claimed to be enjoying our lengthy investigation into whether the top my friend wanted to buy her mum had been mislabelled. You see, the label said it was a 12, but it looked more like a 14, but when we held it up against a 14 it was much shorter, but it was still wider than a normal 12, and there were no other 12s to compare. There was a 10 but the 10 looked like it would pinch a bit around the…


There is a slim chance, of course, that Mr Marks & Spencer’s eagerness to please was on account of the fact my friend looks like Cameron Diaz’s sister. The one who lives in Orpington. But I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.

It wasn’t just those two employees, though. There was the beaming young man cheerfully refunding rogue purchases in Gap. There was the girl with the highly diplomatic advice in the changing rooms of Uniqlo. I have seen them, my friends. I have seen the service-industry Salvation Army of Bromley.

As my friend and I wandered back to the train station at the end of the day, we reflected on the youth we had met and their uniform good character. We wondered whether they all hung out together after their shops closed, like a really well-mannered casting of Skins.

We wondered if Young Mr Marks & Spencer and Miss Starbucks knew each other. And then we talked about what an adorable, late-adolescent romantic couple they would make. What joy their kindness could bring to each other, as well as a lot of orphanages in less developed countries of the world when they inevitably went on a do-gooding gap-year excursion together after a year or so of dating.

But what if these two individuals were totally unaware of each other? Working away on their separate floors of the Glades shopping centre, Bromley, perhaps one directly over the other, a gilded thread of romantic potential running through the floor and the ceiling, connecting the pair of them in a way they could not yet understand but sometimes felt. A quivering sensation they merely put down to the building work happening in Debenhams next door.

Perhaps they already passed each other on the shopping-centre escalators every Saturday, one going up, one going down, him with his head hidden in Kerrang! magazine, hers buried in a copy of The Belljar or The Girl Who Played With The Hornet’s Tattoo.

Perhaps, of a lunchtime, he would walk into Pret while she had her back to him, picking up cutlery to go with her soup. She would spin round to leave just as he’d turn away towards the sandwiches, debating whether to have prawn and avocado or Posh Ploughman’s.

As I thought about this, I felt the sun come out a little bit in my wintery, single-and-30-something soul. If I could find a way to bring these two marvellous young people together, it could somehow thaw my icy heart and a spiritual summer would come. I may continue to be alone with my king-sized duvet and costume-drama boxsets, but I would live vicariously through this young couple, in a way that I hoped would be less weird than it sounds. I would bask in their youthful glow of contentment, at least until one of them decided they wanted to ‘do India’ alone for six months, sending the other into a cider-bingeing emotional breakdown soundtracked by emo ballads.

But how to light the spark between the two of them? I thought about it for the whole train journey home from Bromley.

Well, I don’t like to brag, but I do have a GCSE in drama. I felt sure I could fashion some kind of uniform and pose as the head of facilities at the shopping centre in which they both worked. I could enter their respective shops with the borrowed authority of a false moustache, requesting their presence at a vital health and safety briefing at which they would be the only two attendees. Then, under the pretence of showing them a fire escape, I would somehow trap them outside or on a roof space overnight, requiring them to cuddle up together for warmth, if not survival.

It would obviously tarnish the achievement somewhat if one of them died from hypothermia during my attempts at matchmaking.

Or, in a ruse that shows little concern for my own personal safety, I could initiate a compulsory fire-extinguisher training session for two in an outdoor car park. As I started a controlled fire in a metal waste-paper bin, the flames would ignite in other, clumsily metaphorical places.

Or perhaps, if I took on an accomplice, one of us could distract Mr Marks & Spencer with another mislabelled item of women’s clothing, while the other of us eased his mobile phone out of his pocket, or slipped his name tag off his shirt, and then abandoned it on a table in Starbucks, knowing that there was a sweet-natured girl working there whose devotion to duty would lead her to track down its rightful owner.

I was delighted with my plans. I would create love’s young dream. Then I would create an Oscar-winning screenplay based on the escapade. The Academy would love the shot of the lovers working one above the other, with the golden thread that ran between them.

The train was just pulling back into my home station when I realised I had essentially reinvented one of the subplots of the film Amelie.

What, I wondered, would be the market for Bromelie, a romantic comedy about a single women in a south London arrondissement who deflects attention from her own loneliness by doing good turns for strangers.

If you need me, I’ll be sitting over there in the corner, working on my pitch.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Last night I dreamt that I saw Ann Widdecombe's undergarments. Oh no. That wasn't a dream

In case the subtle theming and gossamer-light wordplay of the scriptwriters haven't given it away, tonight Strictly Come Dancing comes from Blackpool. BLACKPOOL! LIVE FROM BLACKPOOL! THE VEGAS OF THE NORTH. SEE HOW THE PROFESSIONAL DANCERS ARE DANCING TO VIVA LAS VEGAS. DO YOU SEE? IT IS BECAUSE WE ARE IN VEGAS BLACKPOOL!

Just so long as everyone's clear on that.

The graphics department have gone to town on a special
Strictly logo thing, which includes an Illuminations-style effigy of Bruce Forsyth that moves a clenched fist up and down. It is tempting to speculate on how much more animated it is than the real thing.

We begin with
Robin and Patsy. One of my viewing companions for the evening expresses some concern about Patsy's emotional stability. This hadn't really occurred to me. I'm usually transfixed by how much of her face can move – and the good news is: most of it. But on reflection, there may be something Patsy needs to work through, with her near-constant stream of: 'Well, I'll probably get everything WRONG. A contender? I don't THINK so. I'm wearing a leotard and NO ONE WANTS TO SEE THAT.' But this evening, her mood seems to have swung the other way because everything is BRILLIANT and AMAZING and I LOVE BLACKPOOL. Her samba is not quite worthy of the same superlatives - I'm going to say it's a bit skippy and her face says 'desperate concentration' rather than 'party time'. But she's still my favourite of the celebrities who are not quite the best ones.

Although you may think Patsy should stay single for a while, I'm wondering if a nice, down-to-earth man could provide a stabilising influence. But who? And where to find him? I am still pondering this five minutes later when we are reintroduced to Dave Arch and his band. Dave Arch! Dave Arch and Patsy! Aww, Dave looks so nice and cuddly. I bet he would like to put on a cosy jumper and a sensible coat and take you out for a lovely country walk and a pub lunch. And he's in the music business, which seems to be Patsy's main criteria for a partner.

Over in
Kara and Artem's corner, Artem has sustained an injury earlier in the day, while practising a tricky lift. There is high drama! There is ominous music! There is Artem wincing under the hands of a medic! Kara feels responsible and is crying, ruining her terrifying amount of make-up. But even wracked with pain, Artem says 'I'm still going to dance the American Smooth, like I promised her!' OK, maybe he actually says 'Like I promised to' but still. Don't tell me this just is a showmance. To be honest, I think Kara could probably do a bit better, but never mind.

When it gets to show time, you can tell Artem is feeling out of sorts because he can't even manage to put a trilby on. They are brilliant, as always, but Len is furious that their American Smooth wasn't a proper foxtrot, so how can he judge it? Erm, maybe as an American Smooth, Len. Not, like, as a foxtrot. You will remember, at this point, that I know nothing about dancing. Still, Len has quite the episode about this. At point one he stands up to address the crowd, and I hope he is going to launch into a brilliant loose-cannon speech about the state of ballroom dancing and television today, like Judd Hirsch in the first episode of
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, only that is not about ballroom dancing. But he doesn't. He just sits down again. Maybe next week.

There is much discussion in the room about the fancyability of
Matt Baker. Verdict: pretty fanciable, especially after we witness his quite spectacular range of lower body movement during the samba. It's best not to dwell on his 'samba face'. Matt finally gets his first 10s, but they come from Alesha and Bruno, so I'm not sure that's any indication of quality. But if I ever meet Matt – and I am increasingly entertaining fantasies of this happening – I would tell him that the least Strictly-obsessed of our number is unsure whether he or Aliona is the professional dancer tonight.

Felicity and Vincent must be nervous this evening. They are dancing the American Smooth, which starts with a celebrity/paparazzi theme, and then goes into a lot of what I call strolling about, with Felicity looking slightly disorientated, as though Vincent is showing her around the gardens of a sheltered housing development. But then they move into a conventional hold and things pick up no end and it's elegant and sweet. Bruce says 'That's your kind of dance.' And by that, Bruce, do you basically mean an old one? The judges have mixed feelings. I'm transfixed by the marshmallow-pink, PVC-effect bodice of Felicity's dress.

Grab a cushion to hide behind, it's time for
Gavin and Katya. Katya is wearing a crazy hat, which makes me think of Kim Cattrall in Mannequin. I'm hoping for a full-on tribute to the film, danced to Starship's Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now, although it would be confusing as to which of them was impersonating the shop dummy. Ahahahahahaha. Sorry Gavin. When it becomes clear from their training VT that Gavin is going to attempt a death-defying, Kenny Logan-style one-armed lift, I wonder if Katya's hat is an elaborately disguised crash helmet, but no, she discards it early on in the routine.

Their dance starts with Gavin playing a rock star, miming along to the singers. You just know that what's running through his little orange head is : 'Yes! I'm Peter Andre!' When they attempt The Lift, it is very shaky, and you sense that Katya's life is flashing before her eyes, and she is wondering why she wasted so much of it trying to teach Gavin Henson to dance.

Now it's time for Scott and Nata... oh.

Oh God.

Oh no. Please no.

I think we all knew that this was going to happen tonight, but none of us wanted to face up to it.

Bruce starts dancing.

Some of the comments in the room where I am watching include:



It is a mercifully short performance, though, and there is no singing.

Come on, everyone. It's over now. We're all OK. A little shaken up, but we've lived to tell the tale. This will only make us stronger.

And here are
Scott and Natalie, with their samba. Despite impressive chest-shimmying (technical term), Scott is just not as bendy as the Baker. Scott is not bendy enough to bend over and lace up Matt Baker's bendy boots. It is disappointing, but Alesha and Bruno still give them a 9. CHRIST.

Pamela and James dance a cheeky come-hither American Smooth to Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps. Will the people who regularly sing karaoke with me in small rooms in Soho remind me to try this next time? Thanks. It's great, but there's a bit of ungainly pre-lift action, so we're slightly surprised that they get a couple of 10s. Less surprised that they're from Alesha and Bruno, obviously. James is stoked, though, and it's hard to begrudge him and Pamela their scores. Obviously I'll have a good try though.

Ann and Anton close the show. Normally, you are only forced to turn away from the screen when they actually start dancing. But this week, well, their costumes are something else. Ann is wearing a shade of yellow I can only describe as furious. Anton is wearing gold trousers that I can only describe as gold. In their VT, as Ann's feistiness is highlighted, the backing music is Bigmouth Strikes Again by The Smiths. I'm distracted by the idea of Ann and Anton waltzing to the maudlin strains of Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me? Or, perhaps, a cha-cha-cha to Girlfriend In A Coma?

I can't really say much about Ann and Anton's samba, other than it ends with Ann sprawled on the floor, canary-yellow undercarriage centre-stage and camera-wards. I will merely report the words of the male faction of our party, spoken with the terrible eyes of a haunted man: 'I have seen up Ann Widdecombe's skirt.'

None of us, now, can ever go back.

So that is this week's Saturday night show. In other
Strictly news, though, let us pay tribute to Harry from McFly's Children In Need paso with Ola Jordan. Harry is my second favourite member of McFly after Tom. Tom is the brains of the outfit. I like brains.


Let us also rejoice in news of the
Strictly Christmas special – not so much in the line-up (still no Madeley, though booking June Brown is genius) but specifically the return of homoerotic overlord (see November 2nd's write-up) Matthew Cutler. Let joy be unconfined. And, like, ding-dong merrily on high.