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.