Sunday, 29 November 2009

Arrivederci il mio amore*

This may be a truncated version of the newly traditional Strictly Blogging Shenanigans. This is because I have been away for the weekend, and for the second time in two recent train trips to Yorkshire, someone met their end on the tracks, so my journey home was delayed. Also, I am getting a cold. And why wouldn't I? It's been at least three weeks since the last one.

Another thing - I have consulted the tabloids and I know the result before I've pressed play on the Sky+. So I am watching this week's show clad in the flowing black garments and lace veil of an Italian widow, pressing pause every now and then to wail hysterically and shake a sodden tissue at the heavens.

So yes, this may be briefer than usual, but what normally happens when I say that is that I end up writing more than ever, so I'll see you in 10 screens of stream-of-consciousness wittering and we'll review the situation then, yeah?

Let us begin.

The pre-credits sequence of Strictly is becoming increasingly like that of Masterchef – Tess voiceovers essentially the same words (Blackpool pun-fest excepted) every week but tries to make them Sound! Increasingly! Dramatic! And! Important! Let's face it, though. This is unlikely to see off recent accusations that this series has become dee, you, double el, dull. But luckily there are Exciting Developments this week, as the couples are doing one of two dances that are new to Strictly, and they are both Properly Fun, which is to say Not Boring - the Charleston and Rock 'n' Roll (my apostrophes). The thrill ride does not end there though, no siree, because Tess has a new fringe. A new fringe! All the better for us to see her brilliant and 100% genuine facial reactions to Brucie's jokes, I presume.

First up: Chris and Ola. The audience goes wild at their mere introduction. They are doing the Charleston to Fat Slam's Grand Slam from Bugsy Malone. If Strictly ever did a Bugsy Malone special it would be amazing - they could waltz to 'Tomorrow… tomorrow never comes' and everything. I would record it on my Sky+ even if I was at home to watch it, and I would never delete it, and I would even press the special K button to Keep it and thus guard against accidental erasing, and I would watch it every time I was ill with a cold which let me tell you is about every two bloody weeks. That's how much I would love it.

It's been a busy week for Chris, as we see him moving into his new home which he will be sharing with his VERY SERIOUS GIRLFRIEND. Everyone connected with Chris, and especially his mother, have been at pains to emphasise how Chris has a VERY SERIOUS GIRLFRIEND. We see James Jordan helping to heave boxes around, which is another step in the Rehabilitation Of James Jordan, from the petulant, angry young man who was really mean to some girl off Casualty a few years ago, and nasty and bitter about John Sargeant in 2008, to the Hell Of A Guy who presents bits on It Takes Two, cooks dinner for Brian Fortuna and helps people move house.

So, the dancing. I still think that Chris's face doesn't do exactly what he thinks it's doing. I am sympathetic because I have that problem myself. People always accuse me of giving situations or things A Look, and I don't mean to, it's just what my face is like, except I probably do mean to, but I am trying really really hard not to show it.

Anyway, Chris's Charleston with Ola is about the cutest thing you could ever imagine, apart from if you could imagine Vincent in a really snuggly jumper rescuing an injured baby rabbit and taking it home and wrapping it in a blanket and feeding it with a little bottle of milk in front of a roaring log fire.

In the red/green room, Tess remarks on the fact that this is the first time anyone's ever danced the Charleston on Strictly, and Chris makes a little joke about how they're going to achieve the highest ever score for it. Winter becomes spring, and then spring turns to summer in the time it takes Tess to get it.

Ricky and Natalie! In the rehearsals, they are joined by '50s icon' and renowned Anglophile The Actual Fonz, who is resplendent in the colours of Norwich City. He says 'Wow' a lot and doesn't really do any actual helping. Still, it's Fonzie, isn't it? Yeeaaahhh!

Who can tell me why I find Natalie and Ricky's dances really underwhelming even when they are obviously really good? This one is not even really good, as they make mistakes and Ricky almost drops Natalie on her head at the end. Oops, clumsy. You might want to knock off the baby oil a bit, Ricky. Yes, it makes your sixpack look awesome but tell that to health and safety when Natalie's slid out of your greasy hands for the 10th time and has to dance her Final Showdance in a neck brace.

Two dances gone and Chris and Ola are leading Natalie and Ricky on the judges' scoreboard. If only it could be like this every week.

Brian and Ali! Ali spends the first bit doing the old 'broken doll' arms thing, and looks like Renee Zellweger in Chicago. Considering she's an actress, when it comes to dancing, Ali is not a brilliant actress. They are technically excellent blah blah blah but as always, I feel like Ali needs to print out the words to Footloose off the internet, stick them up in her kitchen and turn them into a kind of mantra. 'Yes! I will cut loose!' 'Yes! I will kick off my Sunday shoes.' The judges mostly agree with me, but score them 37 anyway.

Natalie and Vincent! Man alive, look at the colour of Vincent. He clearly knew this was going to be his last week, so he decided to let everyone who has ever worked in the make-up department give him a goodbye tan. Their training footage is hilarious, notably for Vincent failing at numerous acrobat moves, and saying, 'I'm scared of a roly-poly.' The judges don't like it, and tell Vincent they really needed the roly-poly in the routine, thus condemning my hero to a year of roly-poly-related self-loathing. Still, I would say that 80% of girls who did PE in the 80s suffered from roly-poly-related self-loathing, so welcome to our world, Vincenzo.

Leila and Anton do the Charleston. In their introduction Bruce stumbles over the word speakeasy, and I find myself actually laughing at this brilliant joke, and then I realise it's entirely unintentional

I think their Charleston is really good, which annoys me as it makes Natalie and Vincent more vulnerable to elimination, and I was counting on Anton and Leila going out this week. Then I remember last year's Strictly, when all I wanted for Christmas was for Anton to have a partner who is even vaguely competent. And now he has one, I don't really like it. What am I? I am NEVER SATISFIED.

This year, all I want for Christmas is for Vincent to get his BAGA one star award.

Next in this officially all-new and exciting episode of Strictly Come Dancing there will be a group competitive dance which will be… oh. It's the Viennese waltz. Dear BBC, introducing a group competition element to the Viennese waltz still won't make it interesting. No, not even if it's supervised by Flavia. They are dancing to Piano Man by Billy Joel though, which does claw back some minor thrill points, for me at least.

Professional dance! Foxtrot with 'a modern twist'. The twist is that they are wearing black and dancing to Muse. It's emo foxtrot! Are Muse emo? Hmm, I don't think so. They are prog, right? I don't really like it. When one of Dave Arch's army sings, 'I won't let you smother it, I won't let you murder it,' I imagine Matt Bellamy is at the same time on the phone to the BBC saying those exact words, with reference to his own composition.

There follows an extremely peculiar segment where all the contestants sit in a Grange Hill-style changing room and Julian Clary (a previous finalist) gives them all a lecture. I honestly don't know what to say.

Now the Riverdance people are Riverdancing to the music of Riverdance. Lo! See how diverse the world of dance can be! See how quickly the Riverdancers can waggle their legs around! See how I am not interested at all and start looking at things on the internet!

And now! A world exclusive by James Morrison and Nelly Furtado! A world exclusive of a duet that came out ages ago! Ha! Who's boring now, hmmm? HMMM? I've said it before and I'll say it again, The X Factor would KILL for this kind of drama.

Results time! Sob! Safe are: Ali and Brian, Chris and Ola (Ola is very excited and jumps on Chris, who says thank you repeatedly towards the camera, and does a kind of sitcom eyeroll about Ola, like 'Oof! My wife!') and Leila and Anton (who are appropriately gobsmacked). All though this, Vincent looks like he Knows. And when it is clear that it is him and Celebrity Natalie and Ricky and Professional Natalie in the dance-off, he looks like he Really Knows.

I am glad of the isolated fact that Ricky and Natalie are in the dance-off, but not glad they are in it with Vincent and Natalie, as it's so obvious how it will end. Especially if you read it in the News Of The World in WH Smith that morning. This time Ricky and Natalie do not mess up and you can see Natalie and Vincent in the corner of the stage dancing along with them and having fun. They are SO BRAVE. Ricky and Natalie do the same in return, but obviously it is not as good as when Natalie and Vincent did it, and they are basically Copying.

It's a sombre judges' verdict. Alesha says they are both winners. NO THEY AREN'T, YOU IDIOT because you are all about to send Celebrity Natalie and Vincent home, which makes them categorically and inescapably NOT winners. It's unanimous, of course. Ricky immediately goes to hug Celebrity Natalie and looks genuinely upset. Professional Natalie doesn't manage either.

Natalie and Vincent are both crying. It's possible that I am a little bit too. The applause for them is unprecedented. Goodbye Natalie and Vincent, we never knew your roly-poly.

Next week: Darcy Bussell joins the judging panel. World reacts with apathy.

*I got this off the internet. Don't blame me.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Topshop dispatches part 249

Statement jewellery:

What do you think? Too much?

It's alright, I didn't buy it. I got this instead:

Sunday, 22 November 2009

It's Saturday, it must be…

There was a time when this blog was about more than just Strictly Come Dancing and biscuits. Not much more, admittedly, but it was. And it will be again. Possibly as soon as tomorrow. But until then, I appear to have made a rod for my own back, so I'm just going to go ahead and beat myself with it because actually I really like it. I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I'll move on.

So, it's Strictly week 10 and Fonzie is in the audience! Fonzie just loves the old-fashioned British institutions like pantomime and dance-related family entertainment. I hear that next he's planning to make a documentary about the secret of the perfect Yorkshire pudding. A Fonzie double thumbs up, then, to Fonzie. A double thumbs down to Chris Moyles who is also in the audience. Chris Moyles is one of those people that it's hard to criticise because if you do, you are just painted by him and his Big Hard Gang Of People Employed To Laugh At Chris Moyles's Jokes as some kind of repressed sourpuss. I am a repressed sourpuss so I have little hesitation in saying that I really don't like Chris Moyles.

Tess is wearing a dress that may be any of the following shades: beige, taupe, gold, fawn, buff or mushroom. There is a sequined belt that looks like two sparkly hands reaching around her waist. Is is as though Michael Jackson is risen, he's finally found the other glove, and he can't wait to feel with his own two hands just how slim Tess is in the flesh.

Here come the couples. Jade and Ian are not among them, which is a surprise to precisely no one. They recap the story of her injury and last week's backstage interview, and they play Sad Piano music, which seems to be mournfully soundtracking not just Jade's pain, but also the halcyon days of last Saturday when Claudia was on the show. Jade says, 'When something's taken from you, it makes you realise how much you want it.' I think we all know she's not just talking about her future as a dancer, she's also talking about The Winkelman.

Tess interviews Jade and Ian at the side of the dancefloor on the gold spray-painted kitchen chairs. Ian says, 'Jade's developed so much as a person as well a dancer,' which makes her sound like she was doing Strictly as some kind of therapy for behavioural difficulties. Tess is sympathetic, and I am actually sympathetic to Tess because seriously, from this angle, that stretchy satin dress is no friend at all to her post-childbirth bosom. Bruce calls Jade 'a possible finalist', which doesn't seem a particularly distinguishing kind of compliment.

Anyway, Jade and Ian are out, which is bad news for the final as there will be only two couples in it. This has been the case for the last few years, because of Jimmy Tarbuck and Kelly Brook and John Sargeant all pulling out, but it makes proceedings feel over-stretched and thin. I guess the upside is that they will have time for another Brucie song-and-dance number. Thank goodness.

Anyway, on with the show.

First up, Ali and Brian! In their training VT, Ali seems to have decided that this is the week to get her raunch on, and suggests they do a 'Naughty Foxtrot', which are about two of the unsexiest words you will ever hear in tandem. They dance to a song which would seem to be called I Just Haven't Met You Yet, and is the soundtrack to the romcom Nora Ephron has yet to write. At the end of the dance they are walking away from each other as though their dance together was a dream, and actually they just haven't met each other yet. DO YOU SEE? Amazing. I love the way Brian looks at Ali. For him, this is Definitely The Real Thing. Len says, 'If that was a pudding, it would be an Angel Delight.' If Len was a pudding, he probably wouldn't be that different to how he is now. Brian politely thanks the voting viewers. He has lovely manners. I wish he would say, 'Yes ma'am' to Tess after every sentence.

Natalie and Vincent! Natalie looks very pretty this evening, and her hair is amazingly shiny and lustrous. She looks nothing like the 50-year-old dowager who seems to have inspired her recent styling on the show. They are wearing zingy fuchsia, apart from on his bottom half, Vincent is wearing the grey slacks of a bank clerk nearing retirement. They are dancing a samba to Holiday by Madonna. I was incensed this week when someone on It Takes Two said that Holiday is cheesy and one of Madonna's worst songs. I forget who it was, but j'accuse Michael Ball. This is heresy. It is obviously one of her best, and as good as the best disco songs of ALL TIME. The five best Madonna songs are Holiday, Borderline, Into The Groove, Like A Prayer and Ray Of Light. However, it is true to say that Dave Arch and his singers are doing nothing whatsoever to help Holiday's cause. Don't Tell Me is brilliant as well. Anyway, Len, Craig and Bruno pretty much slate Natalie and Vincent. Idiots. Their favourite Madonna song is probably Die Another Day or some shit.

Chris and Ola! Chris Hollins is the greatest children's TV presenter never to have presented a children's TV programme. He needs to be more graceful, so some under-10s ballerinas are brought in to rehearsals to help. They are impressively candid. One of them says, 'Chris is a bit stompy.' Or it may have been 'Chris is a bit stumpy.' It was hard to hear. Chris and Ola are doing the Viennese Waltz. Chris is wearing his I Really Mean It face, which I fear does not appear exactly as he imagines it to. He is thinking, 'Sincere and Intense'. We are thinking, 'A little bit Les Dawson.' Afterwards, Craig calls Chris darling, as he does to pretty much everyone these days. Bruce says to Chris, 'Be careful, he called you darling,' and then Len pitches in a bit. Oh good. Bruce and Len are back at the reins of the Chariot Of Casual Homophobia. Giddyup, you two. Alesha says she doesn't want to see so many pivots in one dance. Have you ever seen the Viennese waltz before, Alesha?

Ricky W and Natalie! Last week Len told Ricky off a bit for resting on his laurels. Miss L, who I was watching this week's show with, thinks this was motivated by the fact that Ricky is now Doing It with Natalie, and Len was telling him don't be distracted and get your head in the game, which is one of the best parts of High School Musical. It is a fact that Chelsea like to sing along to this before each important football match, although sometimes there is conflict in the dressing room about who gets to be Zac Efron. Most often, it is Frank Lampard.

They are dancing an American Smooth to an Eva Cassidy-style Over The Rainbow, which appears on a CD entitled 100 Greatest Emotionally Cheap Vote-Winners... Ever! At the end, Ricky lifts Natalie up over his head, like a weightlifter. Weightlifting fans may be interested to know that it was more of a Clean And Jerk than a Snatch as Ricky had a little rest halfway up. Kenny Logan would not have needed a little rest halfway up.

I am no fan of Natalie's choreography.

Len is outraged by the weightlifting, and not just because Ricky wasn't wearing the correct back-support belt. Alesha says every woman wants to be lifted like that. Not me. I would be saying, 'Put me dowwwn. I don't like it. Really, I've just had a Snickers, I'm going to be sick.' Alesha says the lift showed a lot of trust, and also how connected Ricky and Natalie are, ie You Two Are Totally Doing It And We All Know. Craig says the start of the dance was like Grade 1 ballet, which is completely true, and those caustic junior ballerinas wouldn't be seen dead anywhere near it. Craig says he loved the lift and Len looks at him like he's just spilled his pint in a rough East End pub in the 1960s. Seriously, if Craig was holding a snooker cue about now, Len would be taking it off him, and snapping it over his knee. Craig tells Len, 'You're so boring.' Len says, 'Craig is a doughnut and I can't be bothered to explain myself.' That's fine, Len, we'd really rather you didn't. Also, wouldn't you like to get in the car with us and go for a little drive? We're going to visit a lovely big home where you can live, with lots of other people your own age. Look! Isn't the garden lovely? A hairdresser comes round every week, and we play whist on a Friday.

Leila and Anton! Leila has only had two days to train! Will anyone honestly notice the difference? Not really, is the answer. They dance a waltz, which is Nice Enough.

Ricky G and Erin! Ricky describes his Dance-Off Hell of last week, and what was running through his mind, which was principally, 'I'm really sweaty again. Seriously no one else sweats as much as me', 'That's it, we're going home' and also, genuinely, 'I'll be able to get the garden furniture inside.' I'm sure this provides some kind of fascinating insight into life chez Groves/Waterman but I'm not sure what it is. In Ricky's rehearsal footage, he is actually sweating through his tank top. I love a tank top. To me, it is a sacred garment that should never be soiled with human perspiration. The only person who loves a tank top more than me is Paul Weller. Anyway, Erin and Ricky are doing the tango to U Got The Look by Prince and Sheena Easton which is my friend Mrs G's favourite Prince song. I think mine is When Doves Cry. Tell me, Strictly Rainmen, can you picture this? Not really, that was just a Prince joke. My real question to Strictly Rainmen – and I know you are out there – is has anyone ever done the tango to When Doves Cry? It would be brilliant. But anyway, Ricky, you sho nuf do be cooking in precisely nobody's book tonight because you messed it up big time. Since losing a stone and a half in training though, your body is heck-a-slammin', that much is true. Wow, this is my favourite tango music since this. Ricky says afterwards, 'It's a dance competition [yes, Ricky, just like X Factor is a singing competition] and if you make mistakes, you've got to go. So maybe it's my time.' I think that Ricky is a master of reverse psychology and there will be no dance-off for him tonight. Alesha commends him, 'considering what you've been through the past couple of weeks' which as far as I know is a couple of dance-offs, not major psychological trauma, but who knows how mentally damaging spending your every working moment with Erin is.

The judges discuss Ricky's mistakes. Bruce says he didn't witness any of them because he was 'stuck round the back and couldn't see what was going on.' Yes, Bruce, that is because YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY ONE OF THE JUDGES, however much you try to pretend you are by talking over them at any opportunity.

Ricky was further handicapped this week by the Chin Beard Of Sexual Revulsion that he has been growing. Seriously, men, why would you ever? Perhaps this is the colossal hardship that Alesha was referring to earlier.

As Tess reveals the final judges' scoreboard and plugs the phonelines, she tells the dancers off for chatting and Chris Hollins says a shame-faced, 'Sorry Tess,' like he's just kicked his football into her garden.

Darren and Lilia do a swing routine. It is only when you see an awesome professional dance like this that you realise how shit most of the other ones are.

The judges discuss the contestants. Len mourns the absence of Jade. Strictly The Narrative is mourning Jade too. All the other dancers have plateaued over the last few weeks but Jade was burning brighter and brighter. Len says that apart from Ali and Ricky W, the others really need to buck up, which is one of my favourite ever expressions. Len also says careless talk costs lives, and toodle pip. He doesn't really. But Bruce is so pleased with his own earlier assertion that Jade was a possible finalist that he repeats it for everyone. Thanks Bruce.

Bruce announces that next week the celebs will be dancing a rock 'n' roll-style dance or the Charleston. If you've ever seen the prop-fest-cum-live-flesh-show that is Dancing With The Stars, you'll know that this is the thin end of the wedge. Look, here's Sabrina The Teenage Witch, who is now Sabrina The Thirty-Something Mom Of Two, giving it her best, 20s-style.

Now the celeb dancers are doing a group rumba *shudder*. From the off, several things are clear:

* No one involved appears to have received last week's Why Miss Jones wardrobe memo, since all the men are wearing the White Poloneck Of Evil complete with Sinister Blouson Sleeves. They could have saved an awful lot of BBC redundancies if they'd cut back even a little bit on the sleeve budget. The women have gone totally batwing.

* This would not be out of place in the Total Eclipse Of The Heart video.

* I would not have been at all surprised if this was introduced by a 59-year-old headmistress saying, 'And now, some members of the fourth year dance club are going to perform something that they have been working very hard on in their lunch hour. Miss Devane, could you press play on the cassette recorder, please?'

* They are dancing to Frozen by Madonna, which is OK, but not even close to being in my Top 5.

Bruce introduces Dame Shirley Bassey as Dame Shirley Bally. Then he says what great friends they are. Not any more, Brucie.

Safe are: Chris and Ola (who makes a sound like an old-fashioned kettle boiling, which will please Len, who just can't get on with those electric ones), Ricky W and Natalie, Ali and Brian, and Natalie and Vincent, who actually, genuinely, says 'Mamma mia!' which is just another reason to love Vincent. They hug each other for ages, swaying, like they're at the school disco and Careless Whisper has just come on. That is me showing my age.

Dancing off, then, are Leila and Anton and Ricky G and Erin. The judges are extremely business-like about their decision-making. It's game over for Ricky G, who now appears not to be a master of reverse psychology, but rather the king of Calling It Like It Is. He is gracious in defeat, and says he's had the time of his life. He's met Rod Stewart! And Shirley Bally! Living the dream, Ricky! They do their final dance to What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted which is a brilliant song that was almost killed stone dead by Robson and Jerome. Whatever Dave Arch And His Wonderful OrchestraTM are doing to it, it is not CPR.

Till next week, Strictly fans and white poloneck haterz…

Oh! I also really like Like A Virgin.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Wait, oh yes, wait a minute, Mr Postman

If you are a biscuit claimer/claimant (you can choose your own suffix, I'm fairly relaxed about this), then today I have been working HARD for YOU.

Warning: red-hot naked biscuit action follows

You lot will catch your death. Put something on…

That's better. Now, if you, readers, are anticipating biscuits by post, take a good look at this:

Not actual size. By sending me your postal address you have agreed to enter into a ribbon lottery whereby ribbon despatched may differ from that pictured.

The next time you see something like it, it will be IN YOUR HOME, emerging from a Jiffy bag like a lumpy, edible butterfly from a padded chrysalis. And also the contents will have disintegrated into a fine brown powder which I would suggest you sprinkle on to some vanilla ice cream or something. You may notice that I have upgraded the container from Chinese carry-out foil carton to the kind of thing you might get a portion of takeaway lasagne from Carluccios in, if you are a profligate gourmand about town. This is because some biscuits are embarking on a journey to NEW ZEALAND, which is about as far away from London SE22 as it's possible to get. And also because I care. I really do.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Dancing doesn't get tougher than this

Tonight, Strictly Come Dancing does not come from Blackpool. But this week's show still has a Unique Selling Point because Bruce Forsyth is off sick with flu. While they clearly thought of a few more Blackpool gags on the minibus home ('Last week.... Blackpool rocked'), I'm disappointed in the lack of punning prep that has gone into this week's major story. Brucie must have been ill for days and it's like they haven't even bothered. What about 'Tonight, excitement is at fever pitch'? I just thought of that off the top of my head and I'm not even a scriptwriter. Lazy, lazy BBC.

Flu is zero fun for anyone, let alone when you're 82, so get well soon, B-Fo. But if there is something positive that can come out of this, then maybe Brucie will realise that it's not the worst thing in the world to be watching Strictly in the comfort of his own home with a tartan rug over his knees and two boiled eggs on a tray (insert your own 'that's no way to talk about Bruce's beautiful lady wife' joke here) – as opposed to presenting it.

Anyway, on with the show, and I am genuinely surprised to see Ronnie Corbett introduced as Tess's co-host for the evening. Let's be honest, we were all hoping for Winkles, but perhaps the idea of two women presenting a mainstream, early-evening show all on their own is a bit cutting edge for BBC1. Listen to me! I've gone Germaine!

Still, there is something groundbreaking about this early part of the show, and that is that Tess has broken her own world speed record for patronising – just 30 seconds in and already she's saying to Corbett, 'Come on, my darling,' and booming at him as though he's hard of hearing. However, one thing remains constant. She's no better at pretending to laugh at Ronnie's jokes than she is at Brucie's.

The contestants are introduced. Hair And Make-Up have managed to make Natalie look like Princess Margaret. Brian, meanwhile, has gone Milk Tray Man. Hang on… where are Jade and Ian? WHERE ARE JADE AND IAN? Jade has well and truly hurt her leg. We cut to Claudia Winkleman (yay!) in the red green room with Jade who is wearing her tango dress, her make-up, and the expression of someone who's suffered a very serious injury, but also been stood up on prom night. It is genuinely upsetting, and at the same time I start feeling a little bit sick as I remember that in the last couple of days I have had a discussion with one of my friends about the risk Jade is taking in doing Strictly. Most sportspeople who participate have already retired, or are certainly in the twilight of their competitive careers, but Jade is not, and therefore the notion of injury is much more dark and threatening, and NOW I HAVE MADE IT HAPPEN WITH THE POWER OF MY MIND. You know that Jade is not crying for the fading prospect of dancing the American Smooth in a couple of weeks, but for whether she'll actually be able to do the thing she has worked most of her adult life towards. Claudia is so incredibly nice to her, and so utterly sincere (again, rare on this kind of programme), that this alone makes you fill up. My shame and remorse have reduced me to echoing Brucie – you're my favourite, Jade. Also, sorry about making you get injured and that.

Anyway, it's on with the show. We are beginning with Phil and Katya. I am perhaps the only person in the country who is immune to the charms of Phil Tufnell and, as a result, find myself underwhelmed by their American Smooth, a dance which should normally be charm chimichanga. Katya wears a one-armed dress. The one arm is silver. If you were a cruel person, you might suggest that the other sleeve has been donated to make a full-length, spangly sheath-dress for Ronnie Corbett's other job as one third of the world's most bizarre Supremes tribute act. Corbett, by the way, has now retired to the audience, leaving Tess (b00) and Claudia (hurray) to Carry On Presenting. During the judging, Craig says P&K's dance is smooth but not bursting with character, which is what I thought, which is why Craig is the best judge. Bruno's face is really, really sweaty. At one point during tonight's show (I am writing this retrospectively), Alesha says to him, 'What are you on?' and seriously, Bruno, what? People are really starting to want answers on that one.

Red green room. During the chit-chat, Claudia says the phrase, 'I wouldn't allude to it,' which is the kind of elegant vocabulary that Tess is literally unable to dream of.

Ricky and Natalie are next, doing what is billed as 'one of the fastest jives we've ever seen on Strictly'. This is basically a gimmick, as they have clearly sacrificed truly great dancing for the sake of speed. Another gimmick is Natalie perching on the judges' desk at the start, which is the kind of attention-seeking nonsense you get on Dancing With The Stars. Afterwards, Len offers Ricky a bafflingly lengthy pep talk about how it's tough at the top, and Alesha offers the English language a new word, which is 'fun-ness'. Back with Claudia, Ricky gives a sweet tribute to Jade, and then is so excited by his scores that he puts his face right in Natalie's cleavage. Afterwards I notice that one of Natalie's boob pads is now showing, which makes me wonder if Ricky had started to pull it out with his teeth while he was down there, but then I rewind the faithful Sky+ and realise that style and polish weren't the only casualties of their Extreme Jiving.

Ricky and Erin are next, and Ricky has lost some of his confidence after being in the dance-off last week. Erin bucks him up by showing him a video of his entirely unbiased nan, who begins by saying, 'I'm sitting here being photographed, I think,' which brings back fond memories of one of my university lecturers, the awesome and by that point rather elderly Inga-Stina Ewbank, who would test her microphone in lectures by asking us in a reedy voice, 'Am I being magnified?' Ricky is dancing in glasses which is way cool. It is almost as cool as athletes who wear glasses. Tonight, Ricky is basically Dayron Robles. Perhaps he will break the world record for Viennese Waltz.

He does not.

It's Chris and Ola time! Yessss! Chris Hollins has now become what I call a second-tier crush. You have your first-tier crushes, obviously. For me, that's your Gyllenhaals, your Krasinskis, your O'Learys (Dermot, not David), your Ezra from Vampire Weekends. Then there is the second tier, which I would define as people whom, if you were to work alongside them, you would eventually end up fancying, even if they did not at first meeting make you feel a bit funny in your knees. You would make up excuses to send them emails and feel a bit depressed and empty inside when they were away on holiday, while at the same time saying to colleagues, 'Fancy him? God! No! God.' Chris is just so incredibly sweet, he may be my new favourite. Sorry, Jade, I really am that fickle. Get better soon!

In their training video, Chris and Ola are modelling yet more garments emblazoned with Ola's catchphrase, 'Yeah baby!' I think it would be nice if Ola could get herself a more up-to-date catchphrase – maybe something like 'Can I phone a friend?' or 'Yeah but no but…'

Chris is commendably fierce during his paso, and only wavers at the end, when he has to fling Ola to the floor. As he walks away, he twitches as though, with every fibre, he is fighting the urge to go back and say, 'Gosh, I'm so terribly sorry, are you alright? Let me help you up.' The judges carp a bit, and Chris, in what must be the most laughably innocuous threat ever uttered, says, 'I'm going to get you!'

Here come Laila and Anton! Anton is wearing mint green. Laila has sprained her ankle. They are dancing the rumba and there is much talk in the training VT of the need to express passion and desire, to exude sex and longing. This is instantly undermined when Laila emerges on the dancefloor wearing a heavy bandage that looks exactly like some kind of support stocking. They battle through an obviously painful (I mean literally painful) rumba. Eventually, Leila starts to cry and Anton heroically – yeah, you heard – scoops her up and spins her around in his arms until the music finishes. It is amazing and a gesture that will keep an awful lot of single, 53-year-old women warm at night for about the next five years.

Also, Christ, X Factor would kill for this kind of drama.

Maybe they should literally start killing their contestants.

Anyway, Laila and Anton are forced to go through the rigmarole of judging and Craig, with quite brilliant sang froid, scores them a 3. Let me say it again. Craig is the best judge.

Natalie and Vincent are next. In her hair, Natalie is wearing a bow that is made of actual hair, which makes me feel a bit sick. The dancing is cute, but it's all a bit low-key until the end, in which they are obviously both meant to blow a kiss, except Vincent does the Signature Simone Move where he licks two of his fingers and grooms his eyebrows with them. I have no more words to describe the genius of Vincent. In the red green room, Claudia echoes my words about the hair bow of hair. I am thrilled, yet unsurprised, that Claudia and I think entirely alike.

Ali and Brian perform a spectacularly anaemic cha-cha-cha.

Claudia reveals the final judges' scoreboard in brilliantly demented fashion, offering an air of spontaneity that does not simultaneously make you feel massively uncomfortable. Seriously, why is Claudia not on every Saturday? ANSWER ME, SOMEONE.

All the dancers are gathered in the red green room, discussing Laila's foot, which she thinks may be a little swollen. Claudia has a good look and then barks slightly too triumphantly, 'THAT IS SWOLLEN!' like a schoolboy celebrating the removal of one of the limbs/wings/antenna of one of God's tiny beautiful creatures.

Professional dance time! Brian and Kristina perform a romantic bolero to She's Like The Wind (*looks to the sky and remembers Patrick Swayze*). Maybe it's the studio lighting, but they would appear to be wearing brown. Brown, to me, is not the colour of romance. It is the colour of clearing out a warehouse. Also, Brian is wearing a white poloneck, AKA the world's least flattering man-garment. Urgh, I'm not really into these slow 'emotion' dances. For me, they always carry with them the excruciating whiff of GCSE drama.

Tess is chatting to Ronnie Corbett in the audience, who inexplicably goes into the Two Ronnies' weather forecast routine ('It will be dry in Rye... but if you live in Lissingdown, etc etc'). It is as if he is desperate to communicate that he hasn't always been nothing more than a stooge to Tess Daly. 'You know that funny little man that used to be on Sorry!? THAT WAS ME, YOU KNOW.'

There follows some on-location vox pops, where members of the public talk about who they want to win. They feature, among the usual barrow-boys and back-combed sixth-formers, a couple of characters who are so genuinely bizarre I feel as though they are being played by Fry and Laurie circa 1989. (I can't find the relevent YouTube clip, but please imagine Stephen Fry in make-up and a headscarf saying, 'Oh Christ, I've left the iron on.') They are the ones who also love Chris. I'm not sure what that says about me.

There is a professional dance to One Night Only from Dreamgirls, which is notable only for Lilia randomly recreating Usain Bolt's signature victory 'bolt' arm move. Then there is some awesome streetdancing to a song from Jersey Boys, and afterwards, Tess says, 'Streetdancing on Strictly? Bruce will be choking on his cocoa!' in a way that suggests she is slightly too excited about the genuine plausibility of this.

Another VT, this time interviewing the celebrities about how much they want to stay in. It's all fairly trite, until Ricky Groves starts crying, saying Strictly has been 'the most remarkable experience of his life'. If I was Hannah Waterman, I wouldn't be too thrilled to hear that.

Results. Safe are: Ricky and Natalie, Natalie and Vincent, Ali and Brian (who looks positively weak with relief, or perhaps the Restricting White Poloneck Of Evil temporarily deprived him of oxygen), Chris and Ola (when Ola turns to hug Chris, you can see that the back of her hair is totally Princess Anne. This is Royal Hair Week on Strictly) and, entirely predictably, Laila and Anton.

Phil and Katya mess up in the dance-off, which is their undoing as Ricky and Erin are saved. I honestly did not see that coming. But what I do see coming is the beginning of next week's show. If Brucie does not salute the work of Tess and Claudia tonight with the words, 'Didn't they do well?', I will eat my computer.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Bought to you by the letters D, I, S, T, R, A, C, T, E and D

So there's this post that I've been meaning to write for about two months, but I keep getting sidetracked – tonight by 40th birthday-prompted clips of Sesame Street

Monday, 9 November 2009

Vampire weekend

Vampires are totally hot right now – films, books, TV, the 40th birthday of Sesame Street… Everyone thinks this is brilliant and sexy and dangerous in a safe, fictional kind of way. It is none of those things. Not only do vampires feed on blood, they also feed on publicity. As a result of the recent media surge, they are becoming stronger and stronger. Look at this one, waiting to get the train from platform 6 of London Bridge station on Saturday afternoon, brazen as you like…

Next thing you know, they'll be making hungry eyes at your garlic bread in Pizza Express…

Saturday, 7 November 2009


Today, you will witness a small step for blogging kind, but a large step for my blog. Amid all the excitement of biscuits by post and found knitwear, there has been a rumbling of mild dissent from some of my oldest readers (and by this I mean two of my friends). 'Why don't you blog more about Strictly?' they said to me. The answer is that I feel like I don't have a lot to say about it.

'I feel like I don't have a lot to say about it,' I said to Miss W. She said, with her usual plain-speaking sagacity, 'Why don't you just write a review?'

So this is what I am doing. Do not blame Miss W, or my friends, for what is to follow.

What you are about to read was written in real time, sort of, apart from a bit of live Sky+ pausing in order for my fingers to catch up, or rewinding to make up for the instances of concentration fail that occur every 10 minutes or so when I watch television. Honestly, every hour-long episode of Andrew Marr's The Making Of Modern Britain is taking me roughly three hours to watch because my mind keeps wandering and then I don't know which bearded man in black and white is which.

I am slightly late starting because I am eating a Greek Lamb Burger from the Gourmet Burger Kitchen, which has no tzatziki or sweet chilli sauce on it, which is pretty much the whole point of the Greek Lamb Burger. I try not to let this prove in any way inauspicious for the evening's blogging.

For one week only, apart from the other times it has been there, Strictly is coming from the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool. This provides the BBC with the opportunity to power up the pun generator (or for various script drones to brain-storm roller-coaster-related words on a flipchart). In Tess's intro she says, 'After last week's white-knuckle ride… who will give a towering performance? This is The Big One.' There is some talk about the atmosphere being electric, and I think of the Electric Ballroom, which is nothing to do with dancing in Blackpool, but is a tiny indie venue in Camden and then - mind-wandering alert! - I start thinking about what Indie Come Dancing would be like, where Bez and Shaun Ryder and Graham Coxon and Jarvis Cocker and Kim Deal learn the foxtrot and the rumba. Bez would dance the Viennese Waltz by taking enough mind-altering substances so that the room turned around him, while he just stood there, entirely stationary, his shouts of 'Let's 'ave it!' just audible over the orchestra

The ballroom is enormous, way bigger than the BBC studio. This affords Bruce even more space to do his excruciating opening-of-the-show dance solo, which is surely what the world of light entertainment has been missing until this point.

We begin with Ricky Whittle and Natalie. There has been a lot of tabloid talk this week about how Ricky has split up with his long-term girlfriend. I have felt for some weeks that Natalie has been carrying a torch of galactic proportions for Ricky, while he is politely and sweetly Not Feeling It. Natalie must be thrilled about the opportunity that may now be presenting itself to her, and sure enough, in their training footage, we see that she has come to the rehearsal studio in a boob tube ('What, this? Yeah, it's the only thing I had that was clean. I really need to do some laundry…'). During this short film, it is clear that the BBC is going out hard for the cheap, X Factor-style human interest angle. Which clearly involved the reporter repeatedly asking each of them how awesome it is training with the other one, and whether it truly is amazing, and do they really love dancing together, so they both end up saying, 'It is awesome training with Ricky/Natalie. It truly is amazing. I really love dancing together,' which would, to a simpleton, sound like there is Something Going On. Anyway, they dance a tango to the Kinks' You Really Got Me. On paper it should be amazing, yet it's strangely unappealing, despite the brilliantly sharp jerking-the-head-around bits. That is, indeed, the technical term for them. I decide it is so unmoving because Ricky is wearing a velvet jacket. I try really hard to think of someone who has been sexy while wearing a velvet jacket and I cannot. A velvet jacket is like a furry shield that repels the sexual urges of others. Backstage, Tess remarks on what a passionate dance the tango is and asks Ricky what it was like dancing it WITH NATALIE. He says it was good fun. Ouch! Sorry Natalie.

Next up are Natalie and Vincent, my second favourite couple. They are doing the quickstep, and in the training footage, we find out that Vincent has made the choreography much more difficult this week. 'Vincent seems to have changed,' Natalie says. Then Vincent turns his head to the side and says, somewhat mournfully, 'People change, bella.' In the film of Vincent's life story, this dialogue is post-shadowing (I am assuming that's what you call the opposite of foreshadowing), as this was exactly the line that Flavia said to Vincent when she broke the news to him that she was sleeping with Matt Di Angelo in Series 5.

Vincent explains his toughening up of tactics by saying 'This is the time when we say in Italy, "We are turning the frittata around."' I wonder then if this is the only dish Vincent can cook, which may have been another reason for Flavia to look elsewhere. Matt Di Angelo can cook two dishes - chilli con carne and spaghetti bolognese.

Len scores them an 8 for doing a brilliantly competent dance, shortly after giving a 9 to Ricky Whittle for quite clearly messing up, which highlights effortlessly why the problem with the judges is less to do with the Arlene/Alesha issue and more about him.

At this point, I pause for a while because I can hear fireworks going off outside my kitchen window. Fireworks and I perform our annual ritual where I turn my kitchen light off to see them better, and go over to the window, and they immediately stop. I wait for a few minutes, turn away and leave the room, and they immediately start up again. We repeat this perhaps six times until I glumly and metaphorically go back indoors.

There are few things I like better than fireworks, but one of them is Jade and Ian. IT'S TIME FOR JADE AND IAN.

At this point, I remember that I had a dream last night about getting my hair cut by Ian Waite. It was going to be very expensive, but during our lengthy period of consultation, Ian told me this was because I was having several one-off deep-conditioning treatments, which are very costly, as well as the haircut, which was relatively cheap. It was only when I got to the hairdressers for my appointment that I remembered that I usually got my hair cut by Matthew Cutler, and there was a very awkward moment when Matthew was really pleased to see me, and ushered me towards the basins, and I had to tell him that, hair-wise, I was dumping him for Ian.

Jade and Ian are awesome, obviously.

Next, Brian and Ali. Again, their 'love story' is shamelessly ramped up in the training film. After the Total Outrage of two strong couples being in the dance-off last week (one of whom was B&A, of course), rather than any of the weaker couples, I suspect the BBC are trying to construct a romance narrative for the competent but dull couples, in a bid to keep the viewers interested in them so they are not eliminated unjustly early (cf Ian and Emma Bunton, James and Gabby Logan, Rachel Stevens and Vincent, even) and the whole contest, and by implication the BBC, is branded A Total Farce. Brian and Ali are dancing the Viennese Waltz. It's hard to find good, contemporary music for either of the waltz dances. Very few modern songs are written in 3/4 time. Sometimes, you get a corker like this which Anton and Leila used this series, but sometimes they put non-3/4 songs in 3/4 time, and it is all messed up and off-balance, like you are wearing the wrong prescription in your glasses, or you have an inner-ear infection.

To all the hard-up musicians who are constantly asking me for advice, I would say write songs in 3/4 time so people on telly can waltz to them. Strictly Come Dancing is franchised in 30 different countries. Think of the royalties. Has anyone ever danced to Paul McCartney's Frog Chorus? I would choose that.

Brian and Ali get four 10s. Everyone hopes that they will fall into a Josh-and-Donna-style snog of momentarily-inhibition-free triumph and it almost, almost happens but doesn't quite. But all the other couples in the red green room go, 'Woooooooooooooo!' like it is primary school and someone has just clocked them holding hands under the desk.

Ricky Groves (or Ricky Grove as James Jordan calls him) and Erin do the salsa. It is clumsy, and Erin is wearing a dress that appears to have been decorated with screwed up toilet paper they have pulled off the shoes of women emerging from the ladies'.

Next, Anton and Laila. In the footage of them rehearsing, there is an image of Anton playing air guitar which we must file under 'Things That A Girl Ain't Supposed To See'. Their dance is surprisingly convincing, so much so that you almost forget it's Anton. Laila looks incredible. The judges are slightly underwhelmed and Anton, who these days is utterly conditioned to routine disappointment, resorts to his usual lame, audience-ingratiating jokes of self-flagellation, like a waiter who has been working for 25 years in the same family-friendly restaurant.

Phil and Katya do the rumba. I mostly look away.

In Tess's room, Katya talks about how her mom is coming over from the States next week to watch the show. This attempt at emotionally blackmailing the voting viewers is as nought, Katya, unless you are prepared to at least pretend you are interested in sleeping with Phil Tufnell and it is very plain that this is an option in which you have zero interest.

Ola and Chris. Chris does some face-acting at the start, which is sweet. Afterwards, Tess asks Chris whether he thinks he would be still be here without the help of Ola. Chris actually laughes in Tess's face at this idiotic question, and you wonder why more people don't do the same in response to her interviewing style. They get two 9s and it's ridiculously cute how pleased they are. They are third on the leader board, which obviously means that they will be in the dance-off, unless you believe certain tabloids who are claiming that it's Chris who is winning the public vote every week.

Craig Kelly and Flavia Cacace dance the cha-cha-cha. It is awful. Simply being in Queer As Folk is no longer providing sufficient incentive for me to keep forgiving Craig. The judges are scathing, particularly Alesha. Craig Kelly takes the piss out of Bruno a bit and Bruce tells Craig he's got a good sense of humour. It is a total pity compliment, the 'you've got a really good personality' of SCD judging.

Next, a professional Viennese Waltz, for which chandeliers have descended from the ceiling to the dancers' chest height. After all the palaver reported during the week about the health and safety issues around dancing with poppies pinned on, it seems incredible that it was considered perfectly OK to have pointy hot electrical lights in close proximity to people moving at high speed.

There is a group swing dance in which we are promised two special guests. Who is the first one? IT'S JILL HALFPENNY! She is dancing with her former Strictly partner Darren Bennett, which means that Lilia is dancing with Brendan, which is like the world has slightly slipped off its axis. Who will the other guest be? TomChambersTomChambersTomChambers. Oh, it's not Tom Chambers. It's Brucie. Great. He sings Almost Like Being In Love, from the end of Groundhog Day. He fluffs the words at the start, when he can't decide whether the first line or the second line comes first, so instead of 'What a day this has been' or 'What a rare mood I'm in', he sings, 'What a ray this has been.' My ears start to bleed, and then he does a bit more dancing and my eyes start bleeding as well.

Rod Stewart is singing. There is some issue with the sound as you can hear the rabbly chatter from the backstage area and it reminds me of when I used to do teen am-dram and the people in charge of us would come rushing backstage in a big flap from the front of house, hissing 'WE CAN HEAR EVERY WORD YOU'RE SAYING OUT THERE'.

Who will be dancing to Rod? The answer is his wife, Penny Lancaster (former Strictly contestant) who, it is safe to say, is no Jill Halfpenny. She is partnered by Matthew Cutler, who has been undisputed king of the pro dances this year, and I feel glad he was eliminated so early, because he seems to have blossomed in a way he couldn't if he was also having to heave a lumpen amateur partner around the rehearsal studios every working day.

Score time! Safe is: Ali 'n' Brian (another near Josh-and-Donna euphoria moment), Chris 'n' Ola, Jade 'n' Ian (YES! YES! Jade does an amazing 'surprised' face), Ricky 'n' Natalie (who have a really long hug during which Ricky very audibly and emphatically says 'Mmmmmmmmm', which causes me to review my earlier assertion that he is Totally Not Interested in Natalie), Natalie 'n' Vincent, Phil 'n' Katya and… Leila 'n' Anton.

Dancing off are Craig 'n' Flavia and Ricky 'n' Erin. In contrast to last week's tense, tortured ten minutes, the judges vote-off verdict has a near-party atmosphere. It is the party atmosphere that was missing from Ricky and Erin's salsa, but better late than never.

Flavia and Craig dance their final dance. No one cries.

That is the end of my inaugural Strictly real-time (almost – that adjective is not legally binding) 'review'. There is no punchline. I am exhausted.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The borderline anti-climax of the interactive excitement, in which interactivity eats itself, and some people get to eat prize-winning biscuits

You may recall that several weeks ago, on these very screens, I set a thrilling mystery object competition.

The time has now come for prizes and further interactivity, and also for confession and atonement.

The truth is that the identity of the object remains a mystery. I have let you all down but, in my defence, I have been let down too on many sides, and those sides include The Internet Generally, with particular reference to Google Images, as well as Dulwich's upmarket kitchen utensils shop. I have asked, via email, an actual proper food journalist/chef who has been on television and everything, and who was recently full of praise for my baking skills, of which more to follow. She has not replied, which shows what a big deal I am.

In summery, the proper, actual serious competition remains unresolved. The not literally glittering organic marmalade that looks like it's been tampered with but actually hasn't will not be awarded to the one true winner just yet. This is just The Way It Is. Suck it up. It is hard to suck marmalade, but that is not what I meant. However, it is time to proffer the previously secret and never-before-mentioned Other Prizes. It is like this is the boxing tournament at the Olympics, and I'm giving out the bronze medal before the gold medal fight has taken place, only there has been no bronze-medal deciding bout, I'm just giving lots of people bronze medals because I think it might be, like, nice and stuff.

Yes, it is exactly like that.

But what are the bronze medals? Where is the further interactivity? Read on, read on.

I received several suggestions relating to the use of the object which were ingenious and brilliant, while not grounded entirely in reality, and generally Incorrect. These originators can now claim a batch of handmade chocolate and ginger biscuits which I, Miss Jones, small-fry award-winning baker of south London (NB, the biscuits are not fried), have freshly made for you, the bronze medallists. The biscuits are the bronze medals. They are round, like medals, and a bit bronze-coloured. I don't just throw these analogies together. These are the biscuits that won the prize that comprised the mystery object that initiated the competition that made the whole world sing.

Because Poundland is full of interesting things, the biscuits will be packaged in foil takeaway cartons like this:

Stunt biscuits were used in the recreation of this photo and do not resemble the actual prize.

They will not be packaged like this:

This is something that my phone camera/camera phone did that I did not ask it to, because I wasn't really concentrating, on account of the fact I was at the same time watching Siobhan who is in my choir on The F Word talking about the venison she was eating.

So, if you are the commenter named Salvador, Hel, Simmo, Frances or Holly and if you would care to, please send me an email by clicking on the Contact Me link to the left, and nominate a postal address where your biscuits can be sent. I will also send a batch to the first random reader who responds this way. Then, when you receive them, it would be totally awesome if, in return, you email me a picture of the state they arrived in, as well as the date. Thus the interactive element thrusts tirelessly forward in a ground-breaking investigation of the state of the Royal Mail, the robustness of home-made biscuits, and the suitability of takeaway-style foil cartons for transporting them. We are breaking boundaries, you and I, and the Royal Mail are breaking my biscuits, almost certainly. I will wait a couple of weeks before baking/posting because, unbelievably, not everyone is feverishly checking this blog on a daily basis.

Finally, in further baking news, here is a picture of an excellent eccles cake made by Miss W which I ate on Saturday, even though it had a plaintive little face that was looking right at me:

Monday, 2 November 2009

Lost Tribes: The Middle-Aged Women of M&S Marble Arch

If you've recently lost touch with one of your older female relatives, it's entirely likely that they've joined the nomadic, department-wandering women of Marks & Spencer, Marble Arch.

These ladies of a certain age were once innocent shoppers Up West, who were simply Having A Lovely Day In Town, until they wandered into the gilded palace of scones and were seduced by the cosy nightwear, comfortable shoes and extremely competitive basement coffee shop. Soon it was apparent that their every sensory need was being met somewere across the marbled floors of Marble Arch branch and they just never left. Meanwhile, in houses across the capital and the Home Counties, there are lone men opening and closing the fridge door absent-mindedly, dimly aware that something is missing.

I had this revelation as I was trying on shoes at lunchtime today. I was taking a walk around the second floor in some new heels and thinking 'Mm, these are quite comfortable' (of course they are, you idiot. It is only when you leave the shop that the spell is broken and the Grinding Cogs of Screaming Shoe Pain begin to turn) when I saw a mature lady sitting on the edge of a mannequin plinth, watching me intently. I smiled at her in a non-hostile way and eventually she smiled back. Ten minutes later, I walked back in a different pair of shoes and she was still there in exactly the same place and I realised, that is because she has been here for 18 years.

These women can be found roaming the floors day and night, pushing trolleys full of Useful Things and Lovely Treats that they've collected, like Bubbles from The Wire, with hair that is actually not dissimilar (albeit tonged and backcombed, not natural). Some members of the species live in isolation within the colony. Others prowl the aisles in groups of three or four, picking over racks of scarves and sniffing at foam bath like monkeys investigating an exotic piece of fruit, or calling out orders to meet at handbags in 20 minutes. They never sleep and they live off ham and fruitcake that they've scavenged from the food hall while the security guards are distracted.

They speak in many tongues, but they are generally friendly, if initially startling. While you are in front of a mirror, distractedly looking at your feet in grey patent sandals with a gold heel, and bemoaning the Curse Of Meaty Calves that has been visited upon you, you may hear an exotic call aimed at you from 15 metres away: 'TOO BEEEG, DARRRRLING. ONE HALF SIZE DOWN!' And you realise they are reaching out to you. It's exciting, of course, to find that you are communicating with them, but as they come closer and fully engage you in conversation, you start to edge away, realising that you're not like them, you're young and you belong in Selfridge's next door, with its exclusive perfumes and dangerous fashions and champagne bar. Don't you? And you turn and run away through smart trousers and umbrellas and slippers you will never wear, and they stare after you, thinking, 'You'll be back. And one day you'll be staying. You'd better like teacakes.'

Sunday, 1 November 2009

In which I fail to break the cycle

My name is Miss Jones and I live in a dysfunctional relationship with the cold virus.

I am weak and I am needy, and he is always stronger.

As soon as the wind starts biting, and my mum and I have the year's first Sunday-evening conversation about needing the heating on, and my mum says, 'The woman I was sitting next to on the train yesterday had the most terrible cough,' I am waiting for him, chewing anxiously on vitamins and peering at my throat in the bathroom mirror, and thinking, 'Soon, surely, soon… but when?'

Sometimes it seems I ache purely in anticipation of him, and by the time he arrives, I am almost grateful. Sometimes, I wait so long I think, 'This is it. I've done it. I've broken the pattern. I'm free of him for ever.' But then, there he is, tickling at my throat, rendering me hot and helpless in the same old way and it has started again.

And then I'm pathetically trying to please him with nose-kind tissues and clumsy lumps of ginger in hot water, and I'm changing my plans, cancelling my friends to just Be With Him. And there we are on the sofa, surrounded by tissues, exhausted and miserable with each other.

In the winter I know to look out for him. I watch for his shadow. But even in summer, when I least expect him, there he'll be, ruining a weekend at the seaside, embarrassing me at weddings. I am an idiot. I think I can change him. But all the Pret Vitamin Volcanoes in the world can't stop the thing that always brings us back together.*

Everyone has an opinion. People always do. 'What do you mean you're not taking Lemsip?' 'XYZ gets this amazing stuff from Holland & Barrett.' But they don't know him like I do, and they don't see how it works between us. Also, Lemsip is disgusting.

And then, after a few days of tangled sheets and lost sleep and rushing straight home from work, he has gone. Slowly, I am myself again. I watch my red, peeling nose become white and smooth again, and I give Dorothy from The Golden Girls back the voice I borrowed, and I wonder when the next time will come around.

*My innately feeble, Victorian-child constitution.