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.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Mersey paradise

Far have I travelled and much have I seen.

Those aren't my words. Those are the words of Sir Paul McCartney who, as regular readers will know, is something of a second father figure to me.

Two questions.

1. Where have I travelled?
To Liverpool, the birthplace of Sir Paul. (I don't just throw these things together. Well, I do, but it's more of a half-arsed underarm lob.) Not recently, of course. You should know how this works by now. Two weeks ago.

(Generally, 'going forward' – as people I instantly dislike are wont to say – assume that anything I talk about here happened at least two weeks ago.)

2. What have I seen?

a) I have seen the Beatles-themed hotel – although only from the outside, which, honestly, was enough. The exterior features some of the most unfortunate rock 'n' roll effigies I have seen since the days of the 'Rock Circus' waxworks at Piccadilly Circus, where a figure who may or may not have been conceived as David Bowie would wave a mute coo-ee from a flaking plaster balcony at a figure lurching out of a neighbouring window, who probably looked a little bit like Jimi Hendrix in a dim light.

Considering that the Beatles are about the best known band ever, it's amazing how many artists and craftsmen seem to have absolutely no idea what they look like. Ringo, in particular, seems badly served. Of course, when performing, his head must often have been obscured by a cymbal, but I think there are enough photos of him leaping high-spiritedly off walls and larking around with Cilla Black to ensure there's no need for him to be depicted on plates, ashtrays and keyrings as a cross between some kind of melted Gary Lineker and an Afghan hound.

We didn't stay at the Beatles-themed hotel. We stayed elsewhere, in a room which seemed be channelling another strand of Liverpool's cultural iconography. With its wave-motif headboard and the aquatic colour scheme, it took me back to the watery opening titles of
This Morning in the mid 90s. (This Morning, you will recall, being filmed at Liverpool's Albert Dock.)

Perhaps this was a room where Richard and Judy would retire once they were off-air, in an attempt to keep some magic in their live-together-work-together relationship, despite the grind of five live shows a week. Then, later, it was redecorated in their honour.

The headboard lights up, which may or may not be a tribute to the bedroom prowess of Richard Madeley.

Ta-da! (As I'm sure he was fond of saying to Judy at key moments.)

In other themed hotel-room news, here is a
Sound Of Music-styled room I once stayed in when I went to Salzburg to do the Sound Of Music tour. Really, they just got some poster paints and put a castle and some edelweiss on the walls. Still, I appreciated the effort.

b) I have seen written testimony that I share a birthday with The Cavern.

I'd like to point out that despite my tea-scones-and-a-sit-down mindset, I am SIGNIFICANTLY younger than the Cavern.

c) I have seen many, many Beatles souvenirs. Here's one of my favourites…

…although I would only want to buy the apron if they threw in Sir Paul too.

I like to imagine this is how you might find Macca if you were ever invited to a barbecue at his house (a scenario I fantasise about frequently). Macca would be holding court on the patio, wielding the barbecue tongs, asking if anyone wanted to try one of his spicy Let It Bean burgers or a Mean Mr Mustard-Marinated Pork-Substitute Kebab.

I'm a bit disappointed I didn't score a wedding invitation, if I'm honest.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Strictly Come Wedding Dancing

Strictly Come Dancing is proving itself to be very easily led by its flashier US cousin, Dancing With The Stars. Levels of prop involvement this series are at an all-time high, and it is only week two. And it seems we have already embraced theming. Next week, it's Broadway night. This week, judging by many of the couples' performances, it's Wedding-Reception night. (Unless you're Aliona and Harry, or Brendan and Lulu, for whom it's apparently soft-rock soft-focus music-video night. I think every night is probably soft-rock soft-focus music-video night for Aliona. Sorry, Aliona fans. I don't like her choreography at all and I don't really know what I can do about that.)

Wedding Reception night begins, of course, with embarrassing speeches from Bruce and Tess.

And then, in the manner of someone who has been drinking all day, Chelsee Healey cannot wait to start the dancing, leaping up on the judges' plinth and shaking everything the good lord (and her cosmetic surgeon) gave her. She is brilliant, but I am distracted during her judges'comments by a cutaway shot of Mel from out of Mel & Sue sitting in the audience with Paul Hollywood. Are they on a
Great British Bake-Off date? Are they cheating on Sue and Mary Berry? Or is it just Sue and Mary's turn to stay in and babysit the dough in the airing cupboard?

Edwina and Vincent are dancing the foxtrot. Edwina is really throwing herself into the cougar narrative. She even does the 'grrr' tiger-claw hands. Did any good ever come out of anyone doing this? Apart from actual tigers. It's probably quite effective when they do it. For their performance, Edwina and Vincent have a big neon sign that says 'Vincenzo's Cafe', plus the red and white gingham tablecloths from Tony's Trattoria in
Hi-de-Hi! – and sometimes it does feel a little like Vincent is shoving a particularly heavy sweet trolley around as he attempts to maneouvre Edwina into position. I'll have the fruit salad, thanks Vincent. I'd like to think I'm above the mass, indiscriminate slagging of Edwina, but MY GOD, she is an annoying woman. As the judges give their verdict, she will not SHUT UP, and apparently would like some kind of special treatment because this is the first time she has danced a foxtrot. Have you ever watched Strictly before, Edwina? Because that's PRETTY MUCH HOW IT WORKS.

Natalie and Audley are dancing a salsa. They are dancing to
one of the greatest dancing-to records of all time and if you saw Audley dancing like this to it at a wedding you'd think he was kind of a mover – the kind of confident, easy-going dancefloor character who might grab you for a bit of twirl. If you're like me, finding yourself the grabee in this situation immediately renders you anxious and physically rigid, so Audley would give up quite quickly. The best bit is when he and Natalie both turn around and run to the back of the set, and Audley takes giant heavy loping strides like a dinosaur, one for every two of Natalie's. Natalie's hasty sprint reminds me of my own indecent speed when the evening buffet is brought out late on at a wedding reception. I should point out that the recent wedding of Marbury offered a particularly special Yorkshire-themed evening buffet. I was not too proud to ask for a doggy bag of parkin.

Alex and James are dancing the foxtrot to
Have You Met Miss Jones?, for which they had to ask my written permission, and I graciously assented. Alex, who has been constructed from leftover pieces of Christine Bleakley and Carol Smillie, does a nice job, although I don't know why she plumps for sitting on John Prescott's lap when Tom and Dougie from McFly are right there for the preying on. This is what the stress of competition does to a person.

I am a bit in love with Dan Lobb now, and feel furious that I have been so demographically manipulated. Their training video has a cute segment where he and Katya play tennis together. Does anyone else think that the two of them TOTALLY fancy each other? After his testing first week, things haven't got any easier for Dan as now he has to dance the salsa – the scourge of the slightly awkward and inflexible. This is his punishment for coming from the
Daybreak sofa and not the BBC Breakfast equivalent. It's not good, but they do throw in a handspring and some good lifts. Unfortunately, I fear it says little about Katya's hopes for Strictly survival that she's pulled them out of the bag so early. Even Gavin Henson did not take his top off for at least five weeks or so.

Lulu and Brendan's foxtrot starts with a hideous mirror section - like a Bonnie Tyler video in ballgowns. Urgh. Brendan does seem enamoured of this kind of 'lyricism'. What happened to the old Brendan who was rude to everyone? He was great. Lulu does at least remember most of the moves this week, which is a relief for everyone.

Sound the gong! Holly Valance is the first contestant (I think – I'm not always concentrating) to do the splits. She's a really good dancer and her hands look especially lovely, but it's like she can't quite look anyone in the eye when she's doing the saucy stuff. Holly, what happened to that pouting red-hot sexpot of yesteryear? I don't know, but people ask me the same thing ALL THE TIME.

Like Dan, Rory has taken the express train to Awkward Town by drawing the salsa. I don't think he makes a bad job of it really, but I seem to be in a minority on this. In training, Erin says with glazed eyes that are strangely symptomatic of Stockholm Syndrome that the great thing about training with Rory is that he can be a different person every day – as he runs through a grating series of impressions, culminating, back in the studio, with a Len Goodman that is less Len Goodman and more generic middle-aged cockney. Has BBC4 ever made one of their the-tragic-personal-lives-of-comedians dramas starring Ken Stott about the secret pain of the impressionist? The search for identity! The lonely entertainer with only his 'voices' for company! Maybe Jason Donovan could take on a rare serious role and perm up to play Rory.

It's Robbie and Ola! To show his respect for the decorum and sophistication of the foxtrot, Robbie has styled his hair like the Duchess Of Kent. I was just thinking about her hugging Jana Novotna at Wimbledon, and was reminded that Jana Novotna is also a bit Robbie-alike about the barnet. Robbie's foxtrot is great and full of – hold tight, I'm going to use the word 'pizzazz' – pizzazz, and Ola is a genius. Next!

Anita and Robin are doing the salsa. Anita goes a bit 'mad nan', but you can't fault her commitment. She makes very obvious mistakes, but the judges can't seem to get enough. (This will be further fuel for Anton's pyre of injustice.)

Hide your eyes, you infirm and squeamish, for Jason and Kristina are ROLE-PLAYING. No, they are not pretending to be strangers in the bar of a motorway-services branch of Travelodge. They are acting out some kind of 30s/40s (I am not very good at decades) jazz-club sleazathon, but they are doing it at the Rivoli Ballroom, which is one of the best places in the world, so that makes it kind of alright. Nothing could make Jason's bright red trilby alright though – not even Artem, who was probably the last person to wear it. Jase is brilliant, in a slightly blander way than last week. He talks about finding the character within the dance. If that's the way he tackles the foxtrot, his showdance is going to be like a two-minute
King Lear.

A lot of people have a lot of things to say about Anton and Nancy's salsa this week, but I have nothing because I spent all their screen time with my hands over my face. How is Anton's breakdown progressing, would you say?

Oh Aliona, you and your softly erotic dance narratives. They are lost on me – and also Len, apparently, who is angry at Aliona for claiming she never listens to the judges. She and Harry dance a competent foxtrot, but they seem to be getting lost in the field of contestants when, at the start of the series, it was all about Harry for me. So much so that when I heard about his rumoured participation, I went to the McFly website to check whether they had any autumn/winter touring commitments. My point is, POOR HARRY. WHO WILL CARE FOR HARRY? Who will correct his posture problems? Who will make sure he is eating properly? Will it be Aliona? Or will she be too lost in her reverie that she is a misunderstood artiste?

(Incidentally, in Aliona and Harry's training VT, it is totally brilliant when Dougie says he is supporting Jason Donovan.)

Now it's time for Russell and Flavia. Russell has Hugh Jelly sleeves (that's a little shout-out for fans of televised alternative comedy in the late 1980s) and he is the one left on the dancefloor at the end of the night, spinning round and round and having the best time ever. The judges seem to have disengaged from making any kind of dance-related criticism and seem hypnotised by his positive mental energy. 'Positive Mental Energy' is probably one of Russell's premium-rate motivational astro phoneline services. I'm a Capricorn, the most miserable of all the signs, and even I am feeling the effects.

Afterwards, Robbie Savage gives Russell a kiss on the cheek at the top of the stairs. They are, like, totally BFF, and now I can only think of them in terms of this sketch with
David Beckham and James Corden.

Come results time, it's Edwina and Vincent who are taking Len's Coaches directly to Loserville. Will anyone miss them?

Monday, 3 October 2011

Strictly Week One - Unicorns and Curly-Haired Elephants

It's Strictly Non-Launch Week One Proper (But With No Elimination So Not That Proper And Probably Just Copying What They Do On Dancing With The Stars). Hurrah for SNLWOP(BWNESNTPAPJCWTDODWTS)!

I have genuinely been looking forward to this. Not in a slightly sick at heart way, knowing I shouldn't watch, but that, inevitably, I definitely would, but proper real-life anticipation. I have been away having a lovely time in Liverpool this weekend, but still, I was looking forward to coming home, toasting a crumpet and catching up on the Sky+.

But first I must invoke some words of prayer. And those words are, 'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.'


And breathe. Because yes, it will always be like this. And there is nothing we can do to change it.

Let's dance.

First up,
Holly Valance and Artem. Holly has wild hair a bit like Wagner off last year's X Factor and strange metallic eyeshadow. And considering she once made a career out of writhing around, oiled up, wearing nothing but a flesh coloured thong, she looks surprisingly nervous at the prospect of a little light shimmying. It's all a bit lacklustre, but we must concede that the Valance can dance, and when it comes to the possibility of scuppering the predicted victory for Jason or Harry (or Russell), we must set her level of threat at 'Rachel Stevens' . My favourite thing about her routine is that you think it's finished! But then it's not finished! But then it is finished! When it comes to music, the 'fake' ending is the scourge of over-enthusiastic applauders and ill-informed DJs everywhere, but what is the best example in pop, I wonder? I like Video Killed The Radio Star, myself.

Dan Lobb and Katya. Dan has clearly read his contract very carefully and is fulfilling the obligations of his role as 'lovable, shrugging everybloke'/'friend's husband who you secretly have a crush on even though he talks a lot about his lawnmower' to absolute perfection. He's also the sweatiest man I have ever had a TV crush on. Apart from Bruce Springsteen at Glastonbury. Dan is dancing the waltz rather than the cha-cha, which is probably a gift for someone like him who is struggling with letting go and being fluid and full of dance-abandon. Still, they make it a massive uphill battle for lovely, slightly awkward Dan by making him dance on his own at the start, while holding a sodding rose and facing down that hideous trellised archway from last year, which I can't believe Matt Baker didn't track down in the Strictly props warehouse and set light to after last year's competition. Dan is OK, but rather wooden, and I don't think that comes as a surprise to long-term Strictly watchers.

Lulu and Brendan are cha-chaing. Or rather Brendan is. Lulu is doing a lot of strutting around. This is not Relight My Fire, Lulu. You have to do more than strut around. Gary and Robbie are busy being amazing on The X Factor and can't help you out here. Bruce says to Lulu afterwards, 'You're such a wonderful sport', which is a brilliantly creative way to say 'You were rubbish and everyone knew it.' Brendan has new hair. I think he might be going for 'tousled'.

Audley Harrison and Natalie are doing the waltz, and here you can insert all your favourite cliches about Audley being surprisingly light on his feet for a big lad, and their dance being strangely touching, and they will all be totally appropriate, but they won't make me remember much else about it. Also, Craig uses the words 'spatulistic' in reference to Audley's hands. Ah, the living, growing, breathing English language.

Robbie Savage and Ola are doing the cha-cha. But it's less sexy Latin party dance and more angry argument in a provincial nightclub. Robbie is snarly and a bit aggro, and Ola is trying really hard to make it alright. Also, Robbie has waxed his chest and talks about himself in the third person. Two big helpings of 'no surprise' there then.

Prior to her waltz with
Robin, Anita Dobson acknowledges the curly-haired elephant in the room when she reveals that she was slightly annoyed to find herself going out with someone who basically looks like her brother. She is adorable, and Robin looks delighted with her after their lovely waltz, and I find myself thinking that Robin might actually be awesome and totally know what he's doing. Afterwards, Anita proves herself to be the first succesful participant in this year's Strictly mind control programme as she says, 'I'm having the time of my life, it's the best present anyone's ever given me.' Although this last bit makes me wonder if Brian May traded a Bohemian Rhapsody platinum disc and a blanket woven from his own plughole harvest in order to get Anita a place on the show. We may never know.

And then... there was Russell. Somewhere, at the end of a rainbow,
Russell Grant has been waiting patiently, grooming the mane of a unicorn and surrounded by sequinned starbursts, for Strictly Come Dancing to come and find him. Why has it taken them so long? They were surely always meant to be together. Russell cha-chas to Venus and emerges from a giant shell, which is also, I like to think, what his bathroom looks like at home. Like Holly Valance, he is a victim of the metallic eyeshadow curse, and unlike Holly Valance, he pulls totally amazing dance faces, which are like a drunk person trying to look sober. It's an absolute joy, and the judges manage to critique him without really saying anything about his dancing. Successful Strictly Mind Control Guinea Pig no 2 says afterwards: 'It's just the most wonderful thing in the world. I'm just so happy here. I've got the most fabulous friends.' I'm not sure that Flavia is having quite as much fun, but she'd better suck it up as Russell could be here for the long haul. 'The long haul' is how Flavia may refer to leading Russell through rehearsals, but I hope that's not true.

Squeal! It's
Harry! Oh, he's still dancing with Aliona. Never mind! There's Tom from McFly in the audience! Harry's cha-cha is great, as I knew it would be, but it's got the slightly over-sexual Aliona trademark. God, but that women loves writhing. I can just imagine her looking for frozen Yorkshire puddings in Sainbury's and body-rolling all over the freezer cabinet, and sleazing all over a parking meter as she feeds coins into it.

Rory Bremner looks more nervous than I think I've ever seen anyone look in my life. He has a fixed grin that is less I'm-showbiz-till-I-die and more I'm-about-to-be-run-over-by-a-showbiz-juggernaut-driven-by-Bruce-Forsyth-who-is-wielding-a-deadly-weapon-and-yelling-at-me-to-smile. His and Erin's waltz is somewhere between moderately charming and quite charming, but I have concerns about the Latin dances that are to come for him.

Alex Jones and James are doing the cha-cha, and Alex throws herself into the sexy faces quite well, but the dancing is a bit pedestrian. James's dogged, but ultimately fruitless, pursuit of 'Strictly favourite' status continues as he attempts to take Craig to task about his negative feedback. Craig seems fairly non-plussed, as are the rest of us. In other news, I've decided I love Alex Jones's accent.

Next up is the waltz from
Chelsee Healey and Pasha. What with being TOTALLY BUBBLY and A BIT MAD, Chelsee seems a natural fit with the cha-cha, but instead she dances a stumbly but promising waltz. She then has to endure a stream of patronising platitudes from the judges and Tess, who seem intent on casting her as a character somewhere between Eliza Dolittle and Cinderella. Yes, she does look really pretty and elegant in a marshmallow-pink dress, but off-duty I hardly think she dresses like a scarecrow with soot all over her face, and talks like some caricatured savage from the South Riding slum: 'If you please, Miss Tess, I feel like a proper lady now.'

Vincent, my Vincent. You are dancing the cha-cha with Edwina Currie, and I expected to find it more cringey than it was in the end. Which is not to say that I found an applause-drunk Edwina lying on the floor and waggling her legs in the air anything other than mortifying. Choreography-wise, the Italian Shetland has clearly been dipping into Make 'Em LOL: Anton's Big Book Of Comedy Dance Moves. Anton never signed off on this title, he thinks it's kind of gimmicky, and was, as a result, a little cool to his fans at the subsequent book-signing sessions to publicise it.

Nancy Dell'Olio and Anton's waltz is almost entirely scuppered by Nancy's feather boa tangling itself around their feet. Anton doesn't look at all impressed – and cannot seem to summon his usual amount of world-weary good humour about it. Could this be the year that the cracks start to show in Anton Du Beke? Will yet another season of bad luck and ropey dance partners see him slowly unravelling, at first turning up to work in creased shirts he's clearly slept in, and tiny pieces of toilet paper stuck on his face where he cut himself shaving with trembling hands, and culminating in a total, live, on-air breakdown where he takes all his clothes off and urinates on the judges' desk, then goes to sit in the audience stark naked, refusing to move and singing a loud, drunken, off-key version of the Strictly theme tune whenever Bruce or Tess start to speak. I mean, probably this won't happen, but I'm a little worried about Anton, is what I'm saying.

Jason Donovan! There is a lot of love in the room for Jason. And with good reason. Or perhaps 10 Good Reasons, which was the title of his smash-hit 1989 album. Heh. Anyway, against all odds (which, to my knowledge, is a song he has yet to cover) Jason's cha-cha with Kristina is fantastic and he is clearly having such a BRILLIANT TIME, so we do too and all my anxieties about him being an ernest plodder turn to fine glitter and blow away. Kristina is so happy afterwards she can barely speak. Awww.

Next week, the salsa and the foxtrot and someone definitely, almost certainly, probably going home. I'm excited! Are you?