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.