Saturday, 24 December 2011

All I want for Christmas is a Monkee

Many mistakes are made at Christmas – Cliff Richard is responsible for more than his share – and one of them is to repeatedly feel surprised that the kind of manic, rising December excitement you felt as a child sags and dims in a way that is commensurate with the rest of the ageing process.

But lately I've been experiencing one strain of childhood fervour that does endure – that deep passion for a beloved item of clothing; something you would simply refuse to take off until it was wrestled free of your body, crumpled and gravy-stained, by parental sleight of hand and Herculean feats of distraction. Because there are two new items in the Jones lookbook that I have formed quite the attachment to since buying them a couple of weeks ago, to the extent that few hours have passed without me and one or both of them being in intimate contact.

Observe then, if you will, a few of my [new] favourite things – bobble hat (I have very delicate ears) and checked shirt. The former has met with mostly positive feedback. The latter has been euphemistically described by my mother as 'very relaxed'.

(Other noteworthy things about this picture: 1 Yes, this is a tantalising glimpse into my bathroom. 2 One forearm is not, as it appears here, longer than the other. That is the witchcraft of the camera's lens.)

If I thought that anyone was actually reading this so close to Christmas, I'd install a poll here, asking which icon of showbusiness I most resemble in this picture. Is it a) Benny from Crossroads (though his beanie was bobble-less), b) one of the main characters in The L Word or c) my personal preference:

I like to imagine I'm experiencing the early stages of exactly how Mike Nesmith's trademark look came about. He bought a new bobble hat one winter as he, too, had a chronic ear infection a few years previously and had never been quite the same since. Then he found he loved it too much to take off. I don't imagine his was from Dorothy Perkins, however.

And then I thought of this, which at the time I believed to be written by Mike Nesmith. Tireless research has revealed that it's actually part of the Goffin/King canon, but whoever is responsible, it speaks of being younger again, emotionally speaking, like the magic of new clothes and That Christmas Feeling.

Happy Christmas and all that.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

It's been a while since we talked about the Olympics, hasn't it?

Regular readers will know that the longest love affair of my life is with the Olympic Games. It may not be the most ardent – John Taylor from Duran Duran, we will always have 1983 – but it endures after all others have fallen away. An empty carton explodes under the wheels of a car and that sound suggests a starting pistol. Police tape flutters in the breeze and I see the ribbons of rhythmic gymnastics. Birds sing and I hear the national anthem of the old Soviet Union.

And I am loyal. I am like one half of a couple you meet at a dinner party, laughing indulgently at my partner's excruciating impressions and gazing at him in blind adoration as he airs his challenging views on immigration.

Because since London was awarded the 2012 Games, I have refused to acknowledge that they will be anything other than the Best Thing Of All Time. I have turned a blind eye to the swelling budget; laughed off suspicions around the legacy. I put my fingers in my ears and sing Sting's Fields Of Gold when anyone mentions the transport system reaching meltdown or the various good causes that have had money diverted away from them and towards Stratford City.

But even I have a breaking point. And about a month ago I found it (those same regular readers will understand I meant to write this nearer the time). As you know, much earlier this year I feverishly completed my application to work as a volunteer next summer, and gabbled my way through an interview. No news yet, no. And no, I'm not worried. I imagine they're deliberating over which one of a number of powerful, high-profile roles they're going to award me. But now, my faith is wavering. Because about a month ago I saw the volunteers' uniforms.

The eyes of the world will be upon our glorious city. Hundreds of men and women will be giving up their time to assume positions of efficiency and responsibility, so their uniforms will be chic, stylish, effortlessly tasteful and a kind of shop window for the extraordinary design talent we have in our country, with Kane or Westwood on the case, no?








And this crack in my heart approaches a chasm when I think of some of the other design debacles endorsed by London 2012. The logo, the merchandise… too many ill-conceived ideas and ugly shapes.

But lately I have found a couple of official souvenir items that I can get behind. 

Something in these bears' blank, baffled stares says exactly how I feel about all these ill-conceived projects that are dragging down my precious Olympics. Uncomprehending. Lost. A little bit let down. And a feeling that this can't really be it, can it? One day soon, they'll reveal the real logo, surely. The proper one.

Move over, Mandeville and Wenlock. These are my mascots.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Strictly Final, featuring no lampposts at all

Roll up, roll up, it's the Strictly Come Dancing final! You'll squeal! You'll cringe! You'll feel a nagging sense of sorrow and emptiness at the passing of another year!

For its ever-inventive introductory sequence, the BBC have hit upon a gladiatorial theme. The reason for this is unclear until you see the opening group dance, where the male pros are stripped to the waist and strapped up, wielding swords and shields, and it becomes obvious that some assistant producer has taken the opportunity to recreate one of his/her most private fantasies. I imagine the production meeting went something like this:

'So I think we need to brainstorm some ideas for the clumsily punning opening sequence of the final. Any ideas, guys?'

'Well, I mean, I'm totally just winging it here, like, this is literally off the top of my head, but it's like the finalists have battled their way here, like... hmm... like... oh, I know, like gladiators. So what could we do? What. Could. We. Do? Hmm. Oh I know, it's literally just come to me. LET'S MAKE THEM GET NAKED AND PRETEND TO FIGHT.'

They've made Anton stand at the back.

I am spending the evening with my usual Strictly Come Dancing final companions, and despite our collective enthusiasm for soft-rock and its anthems – Living On A Prayer is the soundtrack here – the group-dance reaction in the room goes something like this:




For fans of sword-and-sandals light erotica, this is quite a night, certainly.

In the finest tradition of the Strictly Come Dancing prop department, as if the shoddy cardboard portcullis arrangement didn't smack quite enough of a rural amateur dramatic group's take on Ben Hur, the finalists are trundled on in wobbly gold cardboard chariots. One of which is being pulled by Vincent. Oh, the inhumanity! Poor Vincent! How could it come to this? He's probably thinking that this is all because he couldn't pull off a roly-poly in Series 7.

Who do we want to win? I have always loved Harry, even if, in recent years, Tom has overtaken him in my Order Of McFly, but I fear a victory for the Judd would be seen by Aliona as some kind of vindication of her 'artistic' choreography. I like Chelsee a lot, but I like Pasha more. So really, what would be ideal for me would be a Harry-Pasha pairing. Surely it's time Strictly embraced same-sex partnerships? Who would not thrill to the sight of Artem tango-ing with, oh I don't know, say, Tom from McFly? Phew. I might just open a window, it's getting hot in here.

For the first round, the three finalists are dancing the judges' choice. First up, Harry and Aliona, reprising their quickstep. This might be my favourite dance of the season, apart from Chelsee and Pacha's quickstep. I really love the quickstep. Over the last few weeks, Aliona seems to have found new reserves of taste and subtlety in her choreography, and I think this is where it started. Maybe Len staged some kind of intervention, locking them both in her dressing room and gripping her face tightly towards a grainy video of Top Hat he'd taped off BBC2 until she broke down and saw sense. Or perhaps as she and Harry have advanced in the competition, she has found some sense of affirmation and worth as a peformer and has felt able to ditch those sleazy pleas for attention.

It's possible I'm reading too much into that.

Anyway, this is BRILLIANT – so quick and light, and their feet are eating up the Tower Ballroom Floor like Len Goodman eats jellied eels. Probably.

The judges love it, although I sense that Len has written all his lines from last year's final on pieces of paper and put them in a bowl, and now he's pulling them out at random and reading them aloud. It's a big, fat 40 for Harry and Aliona.

Jason's VT is introduced with the words 'Let's find out what Strictly means to Jason.' Luckily, this part is pre-recorded, so there's no danger of him talking over the National Lottery draw with endless discussion of 'journey' and 'character'. Aww, earnest Jase. A career in motivational speaking surely beckons after this. He and Kristina are reprising their Priscilla-esque disco-tango, which is as much fun as ever. It scores 38 to a soundtrack of House Of Commons-style booing.

Chelsee does little to persuade me she's not in love with Pasha by calling him her 'Pash-Pash'. I hope Pasha realises that after the show has finished, Chelsee will still be on her mobile phone all the time, but it will be him she's obsessively texting. They're doing their Shrek jive, and since he's made the final, Pasha's earnt the right to have only a partially green face. I can tell you that this is absolutely the reason, and not just because he won't have time to get full facepaint off before their next dance. They score 39.

And so it is with a sense of trepidation and rising nausea that we approach the showdances. Far from being a feast for the eyes and the ears, in recent years, these freestyle opportunities have become noteworthy for colossol lapses in taste and judgement, and breakdancing off pretend hay bales. Ick. Will we ever see the likes of Tom Chambers' masterpiece again? Je pense que non.

First, and fearmost, are Harry and Aliona. Aliona is wearing some of the worst trousers known to humankind. This does not bode well. They are on a rock and roll vibe, which makes perfect sense after Harry's stellar showing at jive and swing, but there are some ludicrously over-complicated lifts, and here is my problem with the majority of showdances. Where is the actual dancing? If I wanted to see people being tossed around in mid-air I'd go and see those gold-painted freaks who won Britain's Got Talent.

Also, the climax involves Harry sitting behind a drumkit for about five seconds for no reason other than HE IS A DRUMMER, DO YOU SEE? A DRUMMER. PLAYING THE DRUMS. It's kind of a waste and a gimmick at the expense of the dancing, and I'm calling that a metaphor for what's wrong with Strictly lately, if you want to get all heavy about it. Alesha gives them a 10. WHAT A SURPRISE. Otherwise, 9s all around, and I'm glad it's not more, so bloody well there.

Kristina and Jason have gone hooray for Hollywood. Thank the lord! They're properly dancing. Kristina wins the choreography prize for me this season. What is that prize? It's a tangerine and half a Marks & Spencer's flapjack from my coat pocket. The stakes are high, after all. They score a perfect 40. I'm not sure it's 100% warranted but I'm pleased for them, and if Jason goes out next, which seems likely, at least he'll always have this moment to draw on when he's doing his morning affirmations.

Chelsee is wearing one of Alesha's glittery leotards, and begins her routine swinging around Pasha's neck by the ankles. And that is the hell of showdances right there. I'd hoped for less cheese from Pasha. I'm sure he had nobler intentions for the routine, but was ambushed by some BBC executive in stained slacks lurking in a dark corridor, rubbing his knees and saying, 'Passhhhhhha, what you need is to have your face as close to Chelsee's groin as possible. It's what everyone wants.'

We don't.

It's all a bit frantic and, for me, doesn't show off how brilliant Chelsee is.

And that's the end of the first show. It's time to eat a lot of cheese and ice cream.

Come elimination o'clock, it's Jason and Kristina who are out. No surprises there. Luckily the BBC has provided us with two non-voting surprises: One, Kristina appears to have had her lips plumped during Merlin. Two: cheeky Tess Daly has pulled off a hilarious wardrobe-related prank. There we were thinking she actually had quite a nice dress on, only for the camera to pull back to reveal a pair of net curtains glued to the bottom, thus rendering it revolting. Oh Tess! You minx!

Jason is dignified and gracious and... well... yes, earnest. But lovely!

Next, the final two tackle a new dance. Harry and Aliona have the American Smooth. Lucky. It's a bit rainbows and marshmallows, but I think we all know it could be A LOT worse. Pash-Pash and Chelsee get the rumba. Unlucky. It's pretty good as rumbas go, which is to say it's more of a tactical drinking vomit rather than full-on food poisoning.

Next, there's a review of this season's Strictly and a performance from Jessie J in which all the winter-wonderland scenery, creepy Nutcracker-style dancers and dry ice cannot avert my eyes from the fact she appears to be wearing some kind of vulval codpiece. Two words I never thought I'd type adjacently.

We finish with their favourite dances. Harry and Aliona's is the tango. Boooooo. I was hoping for the jive. It's content-heavy, though, so that's good, right? Apart from their showdance, which contained some of her Trademark Writhing, I'm relieved to have got through four of Aliona's dances with no swings, lampposts, trellises, stair-kissing or other accessories to naffness.

Yay! Chelsee and Pasha are quickstepping on an airline theme. Although... I don't think Chelsee's having a fantastic night. Maybe it's nerves, maybe it's fatigue, maybe she's living in fear – as we all are – that at any moment it may be time for Bruce's annual song-and-dance, but she just doesn't seem so sharp. 

Before the results, we have the now-obligatory montage of old women in shopping centres and men working in covered markets all saying how Strictly has been the best thing that's happened to them all year. Men building the Olympic park love the show! Pensioners at bingo love the show! Men who make cheese love the show! Women having a coffee in front of a giant sculpture of Barry Gibb's head love the show! It really does touch us all.

Results time! To no one's surprise, it's Harry and Aliona who are triumphant. And then someone lets loose a litter of puppies into the studio! Oh no, it's just McFly. Including Tom. I LOVE TOM. Bruce gets a bit angry caretaker-off-of-Grange-Hill and shoos these young hoolians off the stage. Harry is very gracious and thanks everyone through a veneer of suppressed emotion, in the great tradition of England's public schools, and we roll on to the Christmas special. A great man/woman/honestly-can't-remember once said, 'If the highlight of your line-up is Su Pollard, you know you're in trouble.' And I have to agree. No Madeley, no magic.

Thanks for reading, Strictly fans. Non-Strictly fans, normal blogging service will be resumed in a matter of days. I promise.*

*Not legally binding.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Lights, rumba, action…

Over the last few weeks, there has been a long dark shadow cast over Strictly Come Dancing. No, not the show's increasing infatuation with gimmicks, nor the toe-curling, someone-anyone–can't-somebody-stop-this VTs, but this:

Harry and Aliona's rumba is out there somewhere. And it's coming. A dance famed for its flourishes of purest cringe and awkward start-to-finish over-sexualising, choreographed by a woman for whom these features are a veritable trademark. MY EYES MY EYES, AND IT HASN'T EVEN STARTED YET.

This was the week that the rumba of rumbas finally came. My advice before the start of the show: make a cup of tea, check on the dinner for approximately a minute and a half, hide your face in your newly purchased Christmas Radio Times, do whatever you have to to save yourself.

So let's start. Oh, by the way, it's movie night, although barely anyone mentions it, so don't worry too much about that.

Some notes from the start of the show:

1) We kick off with a professional dance that salutes the magic of the cinema. Apparently. It features a segment with Anton and Erin in black and white. I see the BBC are now no longer attempting to maintain the facade that these two belong in the same century as the rest of the pro-dance gang.  Also making an appearance, and apparently becoming as much of an immovable fixture on the show as Anton and Erin, is the Strictly door, which has been repainted so many times it's now three times its original width. Surely the Ubiquitous Strictly Lamppost will also be employed tonight.

2) The BBC have attempted to counter the prospect of Harry/Aliona rumba horror by providing Tess with an outfit that is, well, OK actually. I mean, when judged against her usual sartorial standards. It is a black jumpsuit and I don't mean to gush here, but it's kind of almost bordering on chic. Apart from the shoulders. And the necklace, which is strangely dagger-shaped – exactly the kind of thing one could use to wreak serious harm on one's co-host, if one were inclined, speaking purely hypothetically, of course. Apart from those things, it's really fine.

3) Pasha's fellow pro dancers have clearly invoked some made-up 'last into the show, first into the most ridiculous costume' rule to ensure it's the newbie who finds himself greening up to play Shrek and not any of them. Other unofficial 'rules of the show' that Pasha has been informed are totally obligatory by his colleagues are stealing one of Brucie's rugs from his dressing room and wearing it to studio rehearsals, and putting on an extremely strong Italian accent whenever one talks to Bruno.

Anyway. The dancing.

First up are Robbie and Ola. They are doing the quickstep to Little Green Bag and channelling Reservoir Dogs. I enjoy thinking about all the mummies and daddies at home explaining the ins and outs of the film to their little smashers. 'Well, it starts with Mr Orange who has a very bad tummy ache, and Mr White is looking after him...' It's not that different to the Mister Men, when you put it like that. Despite the 18-certificate inspiration, this is a marvellous concept, and a quickstep is always a force for good in my book. Robbie doesn't exactly nail it, though, and who can blame him? He looks close to tears that he hasn't done better, and we all know why.

Assume the brace position! It's Harry and Aliona. They are paying tribute to Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves and I know from catching It Takes Two on Friday that Harry is a big fan of Bryan Adams. I am too, as it happens, which means Harry and I could have one hell of a karaoke session together – culminating, bien sur, in our rendition of one of the greatest duets in popular music, When You're Gone. Anyway, let me be scrupulously fair about this and say that their rumba isn't actually that bad. I mean it is, but not necessarily any worse than anyone else's. It's all weird bendy pelvises and strange man-trousers, but I know this will never change. Alesha loves it, which is about as distinguishing a statement as saying that Bruce Forsyth likes an opportunity to show off his singing and dancing on primetime television. Afterwards Harry says how much he enjoyed it, which I find slightly unconvincing since he says this every week. Just for once, and preferably tonight, I wish he'd say 'Urgh, well, that was embarrassing. I totally had to lay my face on her jugs!' 

Next, it's Alex and James. I love Alex for describing the American Smooth, which she is dancing, as 'like a foxtrot with lifty bits' but then hate her for saying she loves Pretty Woman (which, for me, is a truly regrettable entry in the romantic comedy canon). That's life in the public eye, Alex. One minute you're up... I find their dance forgettable but everyone else seems to like it. Alex goes wrong apparently, but I don't notice, possibly because I'm distracted by wishing that Dave Arch got to sing the 'Mercy!' part of the song all by himself, preferably in close-up while doing 'Grrr!' tiger paws.

Holly and Artem dance a paso on a Zorro theme. Everyone seems to be saying that this is the week Holly really knocks it out of the park, but I find it a bit boring. I am hard to please this week. I have a snivelling cold, which is causing a constant trickle of ennui to leech from me, as well as the more conventional snot.  My 'more fun than watching the actual dance' activity for this pair is imagining that it's not Artem behind the mask, but some other stubbly lothario. Nick Knowles from DIY SOS? Toadfish from Neighbours? Or Anton, who lured Artem to a disused quarry on Friday night and pushed him over the edge in order to grasp a little more primetime dancing. He's had to draw on that stubble with eyeliner, of course. I'm a little surprised that Holy and 'Artem' get 2 10s, but not surprised that they come from Alesha and Bruno.

Jason is clearly feeling the pressure as he quite deliberately brings up the fact that he is the oldest remaining contestant in the competition. Desperate times, Donovan. He's obviously used this to pull rank in some way because he is gifted a peach of a track in Singing In The Rain, AND THE LAMPPOST. THE LAMPPOST IS BACK. Jason gets to dance on his own at the start, and he's good, but he's not Tom Chambers. It's terribly tasteful and nicely done, right until the end when Jason does a mad grinning monkey face. Always with the crazy faces, Jason. Can't you just smile nicely?

And finally there is Chelsee who is amazing tonight. Her kicking/flicking is so fast and fabulous that somewhere in Newcastle (presumably) Jill 'Jive' Halfpenny is clutching her glass of Bailey's so tightly it shatters in her jealous grip. Chelsee and Pasha are thrilled by their three 10s, but far more entertaining is Erin's extremely tight smile in the background, an expression that says, 'Me and Austin did a brilliant jive once and where exactly did it get us? BLOODY WELL NOWHERE.'

When results time rolls around, Jason is a shock bottom two placing. Would that make him bottom of the viewer vote? I don't know, I'm in the slow learners' group when it comes to Strictly maths. In any case, it's Robbie who's doing his final dance, which is sad, but just. He and Ola have their farewall smooch to Walk Away by Cast. If you watched Euro 96, maybe that song will mean as much to you as it does to me and my friend Stef, or maybe it won't.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Strictly Week 8: 'Daly and Vilani – my office. Now.'

For one very special week only, Strictly Come Dancing has been transported to the hallowed environs of Wembley Arena, that well-known cathedral of ballroom dancing. If you weren't lucky enough to secure tickets for this prestigious one-off event, move your television to the farthest end of your garden until the dancers resemble tiny brightly coloured dots, and set fire to some money while you consume flat lager and sub-standard nachos. It will be EXACTLY like being there.

From the outset, the programme makers are really embracing the footballing theme, despite later admitting that Wembley Arena has nothing to do with our national sport. Actually I think our national sport is cricket, but that still has nothing to do with Wembley Arena. Anyway, Strictly was never likely to let factual accuracy get in the way of an opportunity for laborious wordplay, and I can't honestly say I disapprove on that score. Ha! I just made a football pun without even trying. I may as well be working for Strictly. Let's pretend I am. Daly and Vilani, my office, now.

Kicking off (I just did it again! I am AMAZING!) is a group dance to a Queen medley which involves a faux Brian May flying through the air playing the guitar. Wow. I think this might be the best Strictly ever. Although at the moment it seems less Strictly and more Gladiators, what with all the cacophonous cheering and running around in something like a giant disused warehouse on the outskirts of London.

The first couple to dance are Robbie and Ola. I'm not sure how worried Ola is about their future in the competition, but let's just say she has deployed the catsuit. When it comes to taming Robbie's ludicrously leonine hair, Ola seems to have embraced the maxim 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em' as her own hair is very much The Cowardly Lion from The Wizard Of Oz tonight. They are salsaing – apparently – to Let Me Entertain You. It's terribly loud. I think if I was in the audience, I would have begged for a lie-down in the St John's Ambulance bay by now. It's a bit of a shambles, with Robbie and Ola running from stage to plinth like they're doing a circuit-training class. Ola seems happy at the end, despite Robbie nearly knocking her head off with his flying groin, which is a fate I wouldn't even wish on Aliona.

Next up are Alex and James. Oh, but wait. An elderly man has given security the slip and shuffled into the main arena. Oh no, he's dancing. Oh god. Someone help him. This is just sad. Why is no one looking after him? These vulnerable older people will continue to slip through society's cracks unless we try harder to help them.

So it's the tango for Alex and James. Their music is Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Twenty-five years ago this would have been banned but now that nice Alex Jones can dance to it on BBC1's premier family entertainment show. That, my friends, is progress. Relax, of course, is pure filth, but their tango is not. Is is nice. It's less Frankie Goes To Hollywood and more Frankie by Sister Sledge. It lacks aggression and intensity and I find myself getting distracted by the Topshop website. The judges love it, however, and give her three 9s and an 8, so what do I know? I know that I like this. James does a slightly embarrassing speech about how privileged he is to be dancing with Alex. I think on James's '10 Ways To Becoming A Personality Like Anton And Brendan' list, he has reached No 7, 'Emote!' (If you're wondering, No 6 was 'Have A Tantrum In Defence Of The Contestants  – Noble And Sexy'; No 8 is 'Get On Celebrity Weakest Link').

Artem's back! Is it bad that I feel slightly disappointed? I was enjoying Brendan and his new hair, and their unexpected comeback. He and Holly are doing a sort of lindy-hoppy quickstep. I think. Regular readers will know that my technical knowledge of dancing is unparalleled. Even if I didn't have a fanatical love of the quickstep, I would still be saying that this is a brilliant routine. And sometimes Holly is brilliant too, but sometimes she just seems to be trotting distractedly alongside Artem like a pony who is having a nice daydream about some sugar lumps. Artem picks up Holly at the end, which I think is rash for a man recovering from a serious back condition. Maybe Brendan could have run on just for the lifting, like when they have someone who just does the running in cricket. I have read much hating of Holly's outfit, but I love it. Who says nude sequins, emerald green and leopard-print don't go together? NOT ME.

Anita was devastated to be in the bottom two last week. She literally says the word devastated. But it's clear that during the week Brian May has been repeatedly playing The Show Must Go On around the house on one of his 30,895 guitars because Anita has her head back in the game. Come on, Anita! They are sambaing to Come On Eileen – a Latin American-Celtic culture clash that makes me a feel a little bit sick, like putting baked beans on a pizza. You can tell Anita is starting to be out of her depth because the judges are saying things like: 'You always give it 100%' and 'Full of personality' which is Patronising Judge-ese for If You Can't Say Anything Nice About The Actual Dancing, Don't Mention The Actual Dancing At All. This would never happen to me, because no one could ever accuse me of giving it 100%. I pride myself on being slightly half-arsed and under-prepared whatever the occasion.

Harry and Aliona are salsing to I'm Still Standing – which, in Strictlyland, is a song forever associated with Jill Halfpenny's Best Jive EverTM. This better be good. Oh. It's not that good. I mean it is, obviously, Harry is great at dancing. But when he is tossing the prostrate Aliona around near the start, it's like he's trying to wrestle a carpet into the back of a car. And the hips action? Not really present. Also, he seems to stop between a lot of the moves, like a robot. Never mind, Harry, you can't be good at everything. You are already good at drumming, looking nice and pretending to like Aliona, so give yourself a break. At this point, I would really like Bruno to stop with the lechery. If Harry was a girl, everyone would be up in arms about this. Still, with all the noise in Wembley Arena, I can't believe Bruno missed his opportunity to get Harry to sit on his lap so he could hear his critique properly, so let's be grateful for that narrow escape.

Russell and Flavia are doing the jive. I think it's safe to say that no one ever thought Russell would still be in the competition at this point. When Flavia was submitting her staging ideas for each dance before the series started, she put: 'Week 8: Jive – we fire Russell out of a cannon. LOL!' never believing it would happen. I think Russell's pre-dance waving might have been pre-recorded and he's actually been stage-ready in the cannon for several hours with only a bottle of gin for company because afterwards he's so full of love for everyone – I mean at least twice as much as usual – that I'm pretty sure he's absolutely plastered. My summary of the Actual Dancing is that Flavia does a lot more of the jiving than Russell does.

Chelsee and Pacha are dancing the samba, which is officially harder than rocket science. Chelsee starts brilliantly but fades a little, probably because she's knackered. It's an awfully big place to sexily samba-roll from one end to the other. Alesha says 'Great job' afterwards. I feel like '[Positive adjective] job' is a new compliment that Alesha has learnt for this week's show and boy is she going to use it. One of my friends has a theory that Chelsee is a bit in love with Pasha and I'm reminded of this when they get their scores and she tries to kiss him and sort of misses and he looks really embarrassed. We've all been there, Chelsee.

Yay! A jive! By Kristina and Jason! To Wake Me Up Before You Go Go! With his receding curtain hair and synthetic-look suit, Jason reminds me a lot of Ralph Cifaretto in The Sopranos tonight but I think that's where the similarity is likely to end. In their 'hilarious' VT, Kristina slags off Jason's bleached 80s wig. Let she who is without sin cast the first stone, Kristina, is what I say to that. It's not a good week for Kristina and Hair, because in the routine she has a weird frizz ponytail that is very reminiscent of My Little Pony – although it's good to see that the 80s theming doesn't just stop at the song and Jason's T-shirt. It's all kinds of fun until Jason gets in a tangle and has to stop and wait for the next first beat of the bar to pick it up. Don't worry, Jason, I'm sure this happened to George Michael too. The judges are acting as though this would have been the greatest dance of all time were it not for Jason's slip-up. To be honest, I found Kristina's hoofing white trainers far more off-putting

And that's the end of the main show. To close, all the couples are introduced back on to the floor, with the judges and presenters in a 'You have been watching...' style, and they all have a big dance. They should totally do this every week, it's really nice. Alex improbably tops the leaderboard so she's safe this week unless everyone at home hates her, but I'm worried for Anita. Still, despite the fact that she is clearly in the firing line, I reckon it's about time we had a SHOCK DEPARTURE. Are Holly's days numbered?

That is an invitation for you to write NO in the comments thread as soon as the results show is over.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Note to self

Once upon a time, when I was a full-time employee, my computer screen wore a garland of Post-it notes. They recorded important dates and deadlines, phone numbers of people who could provide aid in moments of technological crisis, and reminders that there are no 'a's in 'independent'.

Other computer adornment, on the desks of my colleagues, carried a more nurturing message – incitements to take vitamins and eat fruit. And occasionally, but unusually in the hipster environs of fashion magazines, a bit of fridge-magnet motivation. The kind that puts me right off anything that might be in the fridge.

Falling into the category of personal pep talk, I think, is the customisation on this workstation, which I saw on a recent sunny morning in the SE4 area.

This postman's cart bears a simple, single imperative: 'Aggressive!'

I think it's an attempt to claw back some authority after a working life spent being run off the pavement by delinquent under 5s on scooters and older ladies propelling their shopping trolleys townwards for two-for-ones on teabags. And that is before we touch on dogs.

I could never touch on dogs – either physically or metaphorically – for the rest of my life and I'd be quite happy about that.

Imagine this broken postman, returning to the sorting office every day, shoulders slumped, thoroughly cowed by the sections of society who should be his physical inferior; flinching every time a colleague throws an empty Coke can in the rubbish bin because it carries the clanging echo of hostile letterboxes.

He didn't don the red shirt of the Royal Mail and learn how to whistle just for this.

So maybe he decided enough was enough. He would be braver. He would be stronger. He started bench-pressing incredibly heavy Amazon boxes, swapping his shifts so he had to run deliveries up and down ten-storey tower blocks where he knew the lift was always broken. And until the day when he could say the pavements were once again his, his cart would bear that message.

Monday, 14 November 2011


Just like Len Goodman, I am also taking a half-term away from Strictly. As tempting as it is to pick the scab I'm calling The Tiny James Jordan Doll And What It Tells Us About James Jordan, I'm taking a week off in order to do some other blogging.

I guess that means I better do some.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Strictly week 6: brogues, broken backs and the lesser-spotted samba bounce

Week 6! Can it really be week 6? I mean, it feels kind of like week 10, doesn't it? Still, it's a bit like a holiday this week as we get a rest from the intense theming of recent shows. Apart from the Strictly pun writers, of course, who remain manacled in their dungeon while BBC light entertainment drones hold up cards showing images of Bonfire Night and fireworks. Tess's opening voiceover subsequently contains all the dextrous wordplay and gossamer-light, glancing references to the season that you might expect.

Who's first? I'll tell you, although you already know, because it happened half a week ago. It's Lulu and Brendan. They are dancing to Kiss by Prince, which is a BRILLIANT song to tango to. They start at the top of the stairs, and Brendan is quite clearly telling Lulu which steps come next – either that or he's voicing some kind of existential crisis about his life, of which changing his hair was a symptom but not a remedy. I think it's probably the former, though. It doesn't work, unfortunately, because Lulu still comes a little unstuck with her moves. It seems she's meant to kiss Bruce at the end of the routine, but she can't find him, and for a few seconds she looks exactly like a nan who's walked through the doors of the supermarket and can't remember what she's gone in for. Nice hair though, Brendan.

From one pillow-cheeked one-hit-wonder to another – it's time to meet guest judge Jennifer Grey. Hmm. Too harsh, right? Lulu had far more than one hit. Not least, The Boat That I Row, written by Neil Diamond, which is awesome/oarsome etc. Also, Jennifer was in Ferris Bueller. With Jennifer's habit of reading her pre-prepared comments with a taut-skinned expression, it's really a little like having Arlene back on the panel. Obviously it would have been too much for her to have memorised what she was going to say. It's not like she's an actress or anything.

It's the Viennese Waltz for Audley and Natalie. They have one of Holly and Artem's lampposts from a couple of weeks ago – seriously, what's with all the lampposts? I didn't realise they were quite so iconic. Oh OK. Singing In The Rain. That is pretty iconic. I guess they can keep the lampposts. They also have a white bridge, which looks suspiciously festive. I wouldn't be surprised if Will Carling/Susanna Reid/similar was waltzing in a winter wonderland over this come the Christmas special. This week is a return to form for Audley, if by 'return to form' you mean getting lots of things not quite right but being strangely charming with it. Still, he posts his highest score and Tess congratulates him as if he's just abseiled down a cliff face on a youth-club outward-bound weekend.

What will Harry and Aliona have in store for us this week? It's the samba! Aliona includes some actual dance content this week, just to spite Len in the very week when he's not there. Sadly, she still makes Harry touch his crotch after running his hands Grease-style through his hair. The way I've written that makes it sound like it's a huge hygienic no-no or something. I don't mean it like that. What I mean is, HE'S HARRY FROM McFLY. HE'S BETTER THAN THIS. DON'T YOU SEE? It's not Harry's finest hour. His bounce action isn't quite right. The samba bounce action is like some rare species of Amazonian birdlife, much talked about, seldom seen.

Let me say, at this point, that Jennifer Grey is not growing on me. She is strangely anonymous, but maybe this is because she has little of her original face left.

Also, urgh, if the BBC stopped making these tedious training-VT 'sketches' they could probably save BBC4 for all eternity. Or least pay for a decent stylist for Tess.

First Charleston of the series! By Robin and Anita! It's fun squared! Sarah and Keren from Bananarama are in the audience. I don't know if there's any significance to the cameras picking them up at this point. Maybe they are looking for a third member for their next comeback tour. If you see Anita tango-ing to Cruel Summer next week, then you know the audition process has started in earnest.

Talking of earnest.... heeeere's Jason! He's doing the rumba with Kristina. I think the best you can say about any rumba is that afterwards you know there is one less rumba in the world that you have left to sit through. In recent days, I've had some thoughts about the competitive rumba, which I think the governing body of dancing in this country might like to embrace. If we could only remodel the judging criteria so that the rumba was MEANT to be a dance of sexual embarrassment – dripping with awkwardness and cringeworthy facial expressions instead of fluid sensuality – I think we could all get behind it a lot more. Also, inhibited British dancers everywhere would become world leaders in the field. This week, even Jason, with all the relaxed qualities of his national stereotype, is struggling somewhat. Afterwards, Jennifer seems to be saying that she wants more intensity from Jason, which is like saying you want to see a little more speed from Usain Bolt.

Alex and James are doing the quickstep. Alex is steadily improving, especially when it comes to her dance faces. This week, her dance face is 'perky'.

Robbie has his hair modestly ponytailed again. Does this mean, in accordance with my anti-Samson theory, that he will have his dance mojo back tonight? The answer is... sort of. Clearly, I need to give some more attention to that theory, along with the one that London is really run by an army of fox generals and pigeon foot/wing soldiers. They are waltzing, Robbie and Ola, to Love Ain't Here Any More and Robbie is told off by Craig for not smiling. Craig has clearly failed to notice Robbie's sterling *SAD FACE* acting to one of Gary Barlow's most mournful ballads. I mean, it's no Patience but then what is? Robbie is clearly wounded by the criticism, but sadly not enough to hack off his long hair in a fury of despair, which would be my dream scenario. Maybe next week.

Russell and Flavia are dancing the paso doble. It begins with Russell wearing thick glasses, riding a bucking bronco and tossing pieces of blue satin onto the floor. I genuinely have no idea what it's all supposed to mean, but Russell's spectacles, tailoring and general physical demeanour remind me a lot of
Alber Elbaz, so I'm wondering if it's all an elaborate satire on the fashion industry.

The second Charleston of the evening is being danced by Pacha and Chelsee, who lose their synchronicity on occasion but are still the best of the night. Generally, a man in a vest does little for me, but Pasha is making a good case for the sleeveless male garment. I take back what I said about him looking like Chico. That was Week 1 and we were all much younger then. Apart from Lulu.

Finally, it's Holly and Artem. I'm loving Holly's trousers and brogues combo. Call me a prude, but it's nice to enjoy a Latin dance without constantly being assailed by a glimpse of female gusset. Also, she reminds me of Madonna on the poster for Desperately Seeking Susan. Holly finally finds some inner fire-power for their jive, which is back-breaking. Literally. ARTEM HAS LITERALLY BROKEN HIS BACK. How does this happen? It's only dancing. It's not even show-dancing. I think Artem needs to up his calcium intake.

Come results time, it's Brendan and Lulu who are leaving the competition, to the shock and trauma of a minority – which apparently doesn't include Brendan who has never seemed more lovely or more radiant. He bids an engaging goodbye to the competition, barely remembering to mention Lulu. And in this arena of near-constant physical bonding, he cannot even bring himself to throw an arm around her. Now Brendan can spend the working days fishing with Anton, feeling the wind in his new hair, eating ham sandwiches and talking about what it all means. Life, that is.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Strictly week 5: Anton's matchstick Tower Ballroom

As if they would ever let you forget it, even for a Strictlyeth of a second, this week's show has a Halloween theme. Well, that's the official line. To me, the theme of this week's show is dry ice and epic patronising.

First off are
Russell and Flavia, dancing the samba. Despite no longer being in the competition, Edwina Currie is still supporting her former dance rivals. This week, she has kindly agreed to have her eyebrows harvested and grafted onto Russell's face in exactly their original shape. Unfortunately, Russell's pact with the devil (I'm talking about his costume, OBVIOUSLY) has meant that he's also absorbed Edwina's non-danceability, as he is all mistakes and mouthing the lyrics. Don't panic, though, fans of Russell and Flavia. For Flavia is wearing a BLACK SEQUINED CATSUIT and in that combination of woman and all-in-one, there lies a power that can never be vanquished.

Pacha and Chelsee are doing the tango, which fills you with terror right from the start, although this fear is not Halloween-related, it is purely for Chelsee's boobs. Really, one wonders not how they popped out (if they did, it's not clear), but how they stayed in for so long. Poor Chelsee is mortified, and Bruce is no help, and god, but Alesha is patronising to her. And then Tess attempts to out-patronise Alesha. Forget Jason vs Harry, this is the show's most fierce contest. But Robin! Robin is gallant and lovely and rushs up to Chelsee when she gets to the top of the stairs to wrap a scarf around her and ease her self-consciousness. Would it have killed you to take your jacket off and wrap it around her, Pasha? If it was stitched to your shirt and trousers, then I guess yes, it probably could, or at least have caused some nasty ligament damage. What's that? Oh yes, the dancing. Hmm. Well, you can't really see much of Chelsee's legwork, what with her long dress and the dry ice. Plus, their conviction is hampered by her boob-flash anxiety, but never mind. I still love Pasha and Chelsee.

Stand well back! A large man is jiving! From the way people talk about this phenomenon, it is akin to looking directly at the sun with the naked eye. Correctly, in this case, I'm sad to say. This was never going to be a good dance for Audley and Natalie, and not even the introduction of his adorable daughter in training can rescue him. Bruce takes up the patronising reins and says afterwards 'He had a go.' This, presumably, is what the BBC say about Bruce's attempts at presentation.

Alex and James are dancing the paso to one of the worst records in popular music, but given these inauspicious circumstances, it could actually be worse. They started by chasing each other around a sacrificial table. Really, all teatime BBC family entertainment should involve some chasing around a sacrificial table. Especially the one with Richard Hammond that's a bit like It's A Knock Out. As regards the rest of their routine, I think we all enjoy the bit when Alex 'stabs' James at the end.

Artem and Holly are channelling Black Swan, a film that I have never seen and have little interest in. May I suggest, in the future, that American Smooths could be on the theme of the following films I do like: Ferris Bueller's Day Off; Clueless; Finding Nemo; Alien. Anyway, this is an American Smooth where Artem has decided to go for Aliona-style 'artistry' rather than, say, Erin-style Hollywood glamour, but despite this, it is, at times, quite beautiful. At some other smaller times, I find it a bit over-intense and embarrassing, but this may be because I'm quite immature.

You might think that the combination of Strictly's worst couple and its worst dance should somehow result in something good. Two negatives make a positive, no? But
Anton and Nancy's rumba is no respecter of maths. It's not even a respector of maths. Anton's hair is grey, his skin ashen, his eyes hollow and dark. Someone should really have made him wear some make-up to cover that up. AHAHAHAHAHA. Poor Anton. Relations between him and Nancy seem to be at an all-time low. If only this ordeal could be over for him. (DRAMATIC IRONY! WHICH IS UTTERLY REDUNDANT WHEN WRITING THIS SO LONG AFTER THE RESULTS SHOW!)

Harry and Aliona are doing the tango, although you would barely know it. At times I think it is a paso. I don't mind the stuff with the masks, which Craig would probably call maskography, but I think that's because I was thinking 'Oh they're going to start tangoing soon. Aren't they? Surely now? Any minute?' I'm running out of ways to say that I think Aliona's choreography is doing Harry a massive disservice and I feel cheated that he doesn't get to do more ballroom dancing. So let's talk about something else. Are Harry and Aliona Doing It? As you can imagine, I am praying as I have never prayed before that they aren't. Not least because Harry has a lovely girlfriend. Members of my Strictly council, or do I mean counsel, are convinced they are. URGH. Returning to the dancing, as with James and Alex, the bit when it seems as though Harry's killed Aliona is a particular highlight that I shall cherish. Also, let me say for the first time this series, I believe, that Alesha is a moron.

Ola looks like she's been styled up for a matinee of We Will Rock You. I think Robbie may be building up to an audition for the Chippendales. This can be the only reason for the amount of groin thrusting that occurs in their paso. Other things I don't care for in this routine are Robbie's hands, and the way he bundles up the cape and chucks it aside like he's throwing a towel in the laundry bin. It's ungainly as anything, but Craig's expression when Robbie jumps on the desk and thrusts in his face makes it all worthwhile. It's almost as good as when Denise Welch's husband tried to stage some kind of intervention with judge Jason Gardiner on Dancing On Ice and Gardiner said to him, aghast, 'Urgh! Your BREATH!'

Anita and Robin are dancing the tango to Devil Woman by Cliff Richard, a soundtrack that carries about as much menace as a trifle. Still it's all perfectly competent, and Anita is quite good, and the judges say fair and constructive things. At this stage, let's spare a thought for poor Robin, valiantly packing his routines with dance content every week, being utterly overshadowed by thrusting and writhing.

Lulu and Brendan are doing the paso. It's OK. Lulu gets to fly. I quite fancy Brendan in eyeliner. Shall we move on?

Last up is
Jason and Kristina's quickstep. THANK GOD. This is a brilliant routine, with humour and character, but lots of ACTUAL PROPER DANCING IN THE STYLE OF BALLROOM DANCING, although I suspect Kristina manipulated the whole scenario just so she could show off how cute she looks doing a Bewitched nose-wiggle (it is an unfortunately legacy of my time working for pop magazines in the late-90s that my instinct is to write that as B*witched). I'm so in love with Kristina this series, and how giddy she is at having a good partner to work with. However, I'm scared that next week, when the most earnest man in the world takes on the most earnest dance – the rumba – the amount of intensity involved may be sufficient to produce some kind of tectonic plate shift.

Still let's worry about that next week. This week, let's be grateful that Anton's ordeal is now over and he can go back to his comfortable old life of teaching the waltz to sane people and making his model of the Tower Ballroom out of matchsticks and practising his magic act. Doesn't Anton look like he should have a magic act?
I think he does.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Things I meant to post last week

Early last week, I was roused from my commuter-stupor when I saw a man who I was convinced played Danny Kendal in Grange Hill in the 80s. We got off the same train and I was transfixed by his head-down, purposefully shuffling gait – ambling down platform 14 at London Bridge station just as he used to turn his back on the school building and make for the gates, with the bellow of Mr Bronson ringing in his ears.
I think it's clear from this picture that it is DEFINITELY him – it's there in his thick black hair and diminutive stature. It's my considered opinion that he probably now works as a graphic designer or web developer. This is evinced by 1) leather elbow patches on a vintage-look jacket and 2) beard.

Similarly, when I first moved to London, and used to walk the [middle class bit of the] mean streets of Camberwell, I would, on occasion, see 'Bullet' Baxter. I'm sure that if I bumped into Johnny Depp buying Weetabix in the nearest Sainsbury's Local, it could not come close to eclipsing my excitement at these two fictional eccentrics from my childhood apparently walking their path out of my television 25 years ago, and all the way into my postcode.

It probably wasn't him.

Like many of our peers, my friends and I spent a significant portion of last week engaged in lengthy and involved discussion about whether we would attempt to go to see the newly reformed Stone Roses play next summer. There is no easy segue or close link between Danny Kendal and the Stone Roses, apart from, perhaps, that distinctive, nonchalant walk. A swagger in the case of Brown and co. A few daily portions of fruit and vegetables short of a swagger for Kendal.

Naturally, I have heard all the stories about Ian Brown's unconventionally impressive live vocals. I have heard Ian Brown's unconventionally impressive live vocals, but on that occasion, I had carefully set my expectations several legions below neutral, which enabled me to be pleasantly surprised. I have also read about the financial motivations that may be behind the Roses' new-found zeal for band life.

In spite of all this, there I was, sitting at my desk, excitement creeping all over every part of me, waiting for the news of the reunion press conference to break online, wondering if the Stone Roses would even turn up – just as, in 1995, I'd wondered if they'd even turn up at the Leeds Town & Country Club. They did. Grown men cried. In a good way.

But here's what I think I would really like to be doing when the Stone Roses take to the stage at Heaton Park next June. I would like to be in a friend's garden, staging 'the Headphone Roses', a glorified indie disco, listened to individually on earphones, because obviously we don't want to upset the neighbours, I mean we sorted the problem with the hedge out so amicably it seems like suicide to rock the boat.

It can't be my garden, because I don't have a garden. I have a flat roof outside my kitchen window. This would be fine if we kept the numbers right down, but even so, I don't imagine my downstairs neighbour would be too thrilled as we came crashing through her ceiling within the first four bars of I Am The Resurrection. There would be a 'support act' of course – a carefully compiled turn-of-the-90s indie playlist – followed by the playing in full of that golden first Stone Roses album, and there will be lots of dancing, because there will be room for lots of dancing, what with there not being 49,970 other people invading your personal space.

There would be cold beer at sensible, supermarket prices and upmarket organic red wine and barbecued burgers – we could, of course, undercook them slightly for an exciting hit of festival-food jeopardy. But in reality, of course they'd be reassuringly well done and served with that Waitrose celeriac remoulade that I really like. There would be a toilet that is clean, dry, fragrant, fully functioning and just a matter of feet away, so you would not hear the faint strains of one of your favourite songs drifting through the evening air as you exit a Portaloo and realise it will be over by the time you have legged it all the way back to your mates in the crowd, because the band has come on earlier than billed. YES JARVIS COCKER, I AM TALKING TO YOU.

I would perhaps scatter a carpet of half-eaten noodles and cracked plastic pint glasses all over the lawn for authenticity and 'colour'. But crucially, there would be NO DICKS THERE. And here I should make it clear that I could be talking about the crowd or the band. Only people whose occasional dickishness you are familiar with, and tolerant of – which is to say, your close friends and family – are allowed. There would be licensed taxis home, at a time that is later than your normal bedtime, but not, like, that late. We've all got DIY to do in the morning. No one will have to spend their journey home wedged in the corner of a surely-illegally-overcrowded bus or train carriage hoping that no one vomits on them, missing their stop because they are physically hemmed in by a league of bodies sweating cider.

The undoubted success of the night will lead to a franchise of similar 'music-listening experience' events, and eventually we will be able to eradicate the whole wretched business of live music altogether, and all the bad smells, discomfort and idiots that come with it. Jean-Paul Sartre said 'Hell is other people.' To that I say, 'Bonjour Jean.
Je pense que nous devrions être amis. Voulez-vous venir à la maison de mon ami et écouter les Stone Roses?'

Who's in?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Strictly: afghan hounds, budget airlines and Alain de Botton

Hello Strictly fanciers, how have you been? Have you spent the last seven days entertaining disturbingly vivid fantasies about the increasing attractiveness of Robbie Savage? No, neither have I. Absolutely not. Definitely. Not.

The first thing to note about this week's show is that Chris de Burgh is in the audience, sitting next to Ann Widdecombe. Oh wait. No, it's actually Gary Speed. Sorry about that, Gary.

Also, Tess's dress. Just that, really. Tess's dress.

Dancing first are
Jason and Kristina. Those who were entranced by Jason's game face last week during the tango will be drooling into their takeaways at the prospect of his paso. Yet not even talking to himself in the third person during training, nor wearing a false moustache, can summon up a convincing matador, which is extraordinary as I believe that's normally how it works. There are still Faces, of course – there will always be Faces – but everything seems fumbly and unsure. Jason even looks pained in places. Perhaps all the synthetic fabrics he's wearing are creating an unbearable amount of static sparks in the groin area. Still, it's obviously good for the show that Jason is no longer ruling the roost at the top of the leaderboard week after week like an intimidating but incredibly earnest hen.

Dave Arch is playing the guitar! He's so versatile! He really is so much more than just a baton and headphones.

Alex Jones and James Jordan are dancing the rumba, which regular readers will know is my Strictly Kryptonite, if I'm using the word correctly, which is unlikely. One of my sofa companions quite correctly describes it as 'an embarrassment of a dance'. In rehearsals, James tells Alex he needs to see sexy. The wardrobe department have tried to help her with this by channelling Cher in the If I Could Turn Back Time video, but sadly Alex doesn't have a deck full of sailors to get excited about. She has James. Good luck, Alex. At the start of the routine, they are basically copying Torvill & Dean's bolero. And they're not even on ice, so what's cool (quite literally cool, heh) about that? Then, later, there is floor-rolling. Floor-rolling is not dancing. It is floor-rolling. Any idiot knows this. Alex does OK, but her hips need oiling. James once again tries to display his 'personality' by getting chippy with the judges. Alex just looks embarrassed, like her husband's got really drunk at a dinner party and has started to tell everyone just what he thinks of them.

After his ballroom triumph last week,
Rory Bremner is doing the cha-cha this week. Hmm. The conversation at Miss R's, where I watch the show, goes something like this: 'Oh dear. He's... oh no... oh.. please don't. Oh god. He's actually in quite good shape though, isn't he? OH NO PLEASE STOP.' Rory was clearly struggling in training, so props to Erin for not turning this into a comedy cha-cha where Rory dances as Julian Clary or similar, because, in case you missed this part, Rory can do impressions. Alesha says Rory's work ethic is brilliant, which is a pretty damning thing to say about someone's dancing.

Audley and Natalie dance a sweet foxtrot. With all the aggro that goes on during this week's show, tonight I find myself warming to Audley, who's just muddling along with his ordinary marks and being all genial about it. He's almost certainly the only person who could genuinely intimidate the judges, but he'd rather just nod and smile.

Nancy and Anton time! At the start of the routine, Nancy is draped over Anton like a ragdoll. Maybe it actually is a ragdoll, and Anton has locked Nancy in a caretaker's cupboard, tying her up with a hoover flex, hoping no one will notice the difference. But no, soon enough 'Nancy' starts moving - so it's either genuinely her, or the BBC have really splashed out on the animatronics – and I have to avert my eyes, as is now traditional/necessary for my nervous well-being. Instead I watch my friends watching Nancy and Anton, observing them oscillate between sighs and winces at a remarkable frequency.

At the end, Bruce asks Anton if he's ever danced with a Nancy before. Even Anton, no stranger to a comment that's in questionable taste, looks dumbstruck.

Lulu and Brendan are doing the samba. We're slightly distracted from the dancing by an in-depth discussion about the thickness of Lulu's hair, and how attributable this is to good products. Their dance is notable for its gratuitous stair use. This is dramatic foreshadowing of a highly controversial incident later in the show. Who says Strictly is not as calculated and manipulative as The X Factor? Anyway, in samba-land I have no idea which bits are going right and which are going wrong but everyone seems to have a lovely time. During their judging, James Jordan shouts heckles from the balcony like a mad tramp who cuts his own hair. This, I've realised, is an excellent explanation for James's rear-mohawk.

Holly and Artem are dancing the Viennese waltz. The props department have been buying thriftily, clearly scoring a three-for-one on wobbly plastic lampposts. Their waltz is nice enough, which is as much as I can usually find to say about a waltz, especially the Viennese. I'm warming to Holly, especially after she mocks Artem's habit of self-flagellation.

Chelsee and Pasha get one of my very favourite dances. It's a cheeky airline-themed quickstep and it's totally brilliant! Why don't all quicksteps have a cheeky airline theme? Why don't all airlines have a cheeky quickstep theme? The quickstep is famously one of the fastest dances, which perfectly suits the budget-airline sprint for seats. It's four 9s for Chelsee and first place with the judges.

It's fair to say that I have concerns about the kind of storytelling we're going to encounter in
Harry and Aliona's Viennese waltz. It starts off reasonably well, although early in the routine I can see Harry eyeing the stairs with anticipatory hatred. Then IT GETS LUDICROUS AND I WANT TO BE SICK. If you didn't see it, I can't waste good typing on describing it. I mean, no one gets naked or anything, but urgh. It is naff and cringey and detracts from Harry being brilliant at dancing. Aliona's choreography comes in from some major stick, although not from Craig, which makes me feel like he has let me down in the most cruel and personal way. It's unclear whether Aliona realises they are specifically taking her to task. Harry manages to stop her answering back though. As Alesha contends that 'HARRY DIDN'T DO THE CHOREOGRAPHY' and awards him a 10, it appears we are looking at a major philosophical crisis in Strictly judging. Mark the whole performance, or just how competently the celebrity performs it? I believe Alain de Botton's next book takes this as a jumping-off point.

Anita looks lovely tonight. I hate being disloyal to the curly-haired sisterhood, but it might be because her hair is straightened kind of a bit. They are dancing the first American Smooth of the series, death-defying lifts and all. I'm not sure we like it quite as much as the judges, but I love Anita's face as she scores four 8s. She looks like she's having some kind of paralysis episode. I only love it when I realise she's not actually having some kind of paralysis episode.

Robbie has his hair flying free for the jive tonight. Like a reverse-Samson, he seems to gain power when his hair is reined in because tonight is definitely a step backwards from last week. The whole thing is a little manic and out of control, as Robbie throws himself and his hair around like a randy afghan at Crufts who has slipped his leash and is rumming amok, striking fear into the hearts, and hind quarters, of highly strung miniature poodles.

Last week, Craig told
Russell Grant he needs to take a more macho approach to his dancing, so for his tango this week he's wearing guyliner. This is probably exactly the kind of thing that Frankie Cocozza would do, and he's shagged LOADS OF BIRDS. I mean, it says so in the tabloids, so he must have done. In Russell's training VT, he has a dream in which he is a lot more bald than he is on the dancefloor. That is the magic of dancing. And/or spray-on hair and a combover. It's heartwarming business as usual for him and Flavia.

During the results show, everyone is shocked at Rory's departure, apparently overlooking the fact that he was third from the bottom of the judges' leaderboard, just above the teflon-coated Russell Grant. Meanwhile Anton and Nancy lurch on towards the Halloween special. Till next week...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Give my regards to Broadway

It is Broadway night on Strictly Come Dancing – a neat way to jazz (hands) up one of the interminable early shows. And as the contestants enter, there is much to note and discuss – Brendan's cape, Harry's bare chest, but all I can think is 'ROBIN'S HEAD! THERE IS A THING ON ROBIN'S HEAD. WHAT IS IT? IS IT A DEAD BLACKBIRD? NO, IT ISN'T! IT IS HAIR!!! ROBIN HAS HAIR!'

Robin and Anita will be dancing to a song from
Hairspray, but surely the hair and make-up team can't really have thought, 'If only Robin had some kind of wig on, he would look EXACTLY like Zac Efron.' Maybe they did. What we've ended up with is less Zac Efron, or any generic Link Larkin, and more Harry Connick Jr's older brother who runs a bingo hall.

Anyway. Let's concentrate.

Holly and Artem are first up tonight dancing the Cell Block Tango from Chicago, which should be amazing, only a) SOUND THE ARTEM BAD HAT SIREN, and b) every time Dave Archer's singers sing 'Lipschitz' all I can think is 'They are saying shit on the BBC and it is only 6.30! Heads will roll!' Miss W, my sofa companion who is not a Miss any more, remarks astutely that should Holly and Artem get to the final, they will revisit this routine and it will be amazing, but at the moment it is not. It needs more strength. Also, I am immaturely distracted by the fact that it really looks like Holly has no pants on.

Dan is doing the Viennese Waltz in a pleather waistcoat, which, once again, is a challenge for any man. He is dancing to Someone To Love from, I assume, We Will Rock You. I am rocking, this is true, but more backwards and forwards in a 'this is quite uncomfortable' type of way. Dan at least manages some smiling this week, but I am really worried he is becoming Craig Kelly. This was the fate I originally envisaged for Jason Donovan, which J-Don escaped by being good at dancing. But Dan has the Kelly belief that things have gone pretty well just because he hasn't actually forgotten any steps – when really they haven't. Oh Dan.

Anita and Robin Connick Jr! There's a bit of joshing around with a giant fake can of hairspray at the start, presumably designed to match Robin's giant fake hair, and then they get down to a frantic jive, during which Anita commendably manages to sustain her 'Best fun ever!' face from start to finish. The judges give her little credit for thrashing her way through it at the age of 62, but perhaps that's because they, like Bruce, think Anita is trapped in a timewarp of 20 years ago, what with his constant banging on about the Queen Vic. SHE DOESN'T WORK THERE ANY MORE, BRUCE.

At this point, Bruce welcomes one of his favourite singers Jack Jones to the show, to the indifference of the majority. Unfortunately all I know of Jack Jones is that he sang misogyny anthem
Wives And Lovers. Presumably he sang other songs too.

Alex and James are dancing the Viennese Waltz to Memory from Cats. James loves these slow numbers, but I don't think Elaine Paige would love what Dave Arch's singers are doing to her song. They do a graceful and elegant job, despite the fact that Alex's nan has collared her backstage and insisted she carry a large handkerchief in each hand 'just in case'.

Rory has a bit of a tantrum in training, but don't worry, Rory, because guess who's here to help you. Yes, it's Lionel Blair! I know, not ideal, but it's the best they could do. Times are hard. Rory and Erin dance the quickstep to Top Hat (I think) and Rory negotiates a very difficult 'cane catch'. Lionel must take a lot of credit for this, and I like to imagine him throwing the cane to Rory again and again, while pulsating motivational music plays, shouting 'NO! WRONG! AGAIN!' until Rory can do it blindfold. The routine is great, not least because Rory does not do any impressions.

Lulu seems to have come tonight as Felicity Kendal who, coincidentally, is also in the audience. They are saluting The Good Life Musical - an off-off-off-Broadway hit from 1984. Oh wait, that's a mistake, Lulu and Brendan are actually doing the rumba. Urgh, the rumba. Lulu has a little self-hating cry in training about how useless she is. MAN UP, LULU. Brendan is wearing a cape his mum has made him and Lulu is in a nightie. The BBC cuts have swathed right through the wardrobe department, but there still seems to be plenty of cash left for IDIOTIC PROPS. There's a chance this is actually a good rumba, but to me it still looks like a cheesy old load of interpretive bollocks.

Nancy and Anton! Dancing a tango! What can possibly go wrong?! Actually, not that much! Which is not to say it's any good. There seems to be a creative struggle in the training room, with Nancy suggesting her own ideas for choreography. The result is that she mostly pouts and looks sexy, while Anton moves around her in another terrible hat, although it's not clear if this is Nancy's idea or Anton's. They have a kind of push-and-shove argument at the end of the routine, and, again, I have no idea whether this was planned.

Audley and Natalie are dancing to It's Too Darn Hot, so they go training in a heated bikram yoga room. YOU SEE WHAT THEY DID? THE ROOM IS LITERALLY TOO DARN HOT. This series, Natalie seems to be a shadow of her former, dementedly competitive self. I think in previous years, she's caught a whiff of potential victory early on and pursued it like a bloodhound, but she seems more zen these days – although on reflection perhaps doing dance training in a near-sauna is Not Entirely Normal. Their quickstep is big fun and reminds you that Natalie is pretty handy when it comes to the old choreography.

Following the model of Gethin Jones and Chris Hollins, I was expecting Dann Lobb to be the one who went on a journey this series, but I think it's going to be
Robbie Savage. He may even be there already. See how he's falling in love with dancing! See his bromance with Russell Grant! See how he's on the verge of tears when the judges praise him! See how he bonds with his adorable children! It's only week three. Goodness knows where he's got left to go during the next seven weeks. It will have to be a major religious conversion or gender realignment at this rate. They dance the tango to Gimme Gimme Gimme by Abba, which is, on paper, gold but we must still salute the genius of Ola. Poor Harry must weep when he watches this. Also, Robbie seems to have found the right level of attack – which is to say controlled aggression, not actual bodily harm.

Russell and Flavia are dancing a foxtrot. Russell is so relentlessly positive about everything, it's a wonder he manages to get anything done. It must take at least 20 minutes to make a cup of tea once he's said how grateful he is for the kettle, the water, the teabags and the milk, and told the sugar how happy he is to have it in his life. It's a great song, a great dress (for Flavia) and great choreography, and Russell is not going home any time soon, and I'm exhausted just thinking about how blessed and thankful that's going to make him.

Jason Donovan is taking on the tango to I Will Survive. It sounds like it shouldn't work. It is genius. Jason's 'attack' faces are especially spectacular, and should really have a show of their own. I imagine they would constitute an excellent anti-ageing regime, when done in combination with some other exercises for the facial muscles. Perhaps this is what keeps Jason looking so young. And perhaps he could pass them on to any fellow contestants who may be taking a less natural approach to staying young. Not that I'm singling anyone out, obviously. Oh hi, Lulu! You look nice today. I suspect Jason is cheating slightly by replicating some moves he's previously performed in Priscilla, but sod it. Len calls Jason 'The Midwife' because he keeps delivering. I wonder how long Len has been waiting to use that one.

Pacha and Chelsee are channelling Jersey Boys, although Pacha looks more like a showjumper. I would love it if someone used a live horse in one of their showdances. Their cha-cha-cha feels pretty much like their salsa, and I'm a little bit bored (despite Chelsee's ability) so please can they have something radically different next week. Not the rumba though, obviously.

Harry is jiving to Grease Lightning with no shirt on. Even Aliona cannot blight this for me. Harry's 'jive action', as Strictly afficionados say, is brilliant, and I feel a little sad that he's having to spunk it in an early week of the competition, instead of being able to play it like a joker in week 7 or week 8, when his chances of making it through to the next week are tighter. When they finish the routine, Harry breaks off IMMEDIATELY to do a cute 'Thank god that's over' face. Aww. He also deals admirably with Bruno's borderline sexual harassment.

And that's that. Contrary to my expectations, Broadway week has been pretty awesome. In the end, it's Dan that goes home before he can even start his journey. I thought the female voting public would carry him through, but I suspect he was betrayed by his fellow mid-table under-the-radar contestants (Alex, Rory) having a really strong week. Anton, who is also in the bottom two, looks surprised and a tiny bit gutted at his own reprieve.

You are not this year's Chris Hollins then, Dan. In the end, you were not even Craig Kelly. I probably still would though.