Friday, 29 October 2010

Snacks, not small talk

If you know anything about me – and I have no idea if you do – you know I love a snack. I love talking about a snack. I love eating a snack. What, where, when, how often, home-made, shop-bought… all snack facts are good snack facts, Jones-wise.

That's why I loved this man, enjoying a train snack on the 5.58pm last week, specifically some nuts (I'd say honey roasted, if you pushed me) in a plastic cup.

But where do you get an open cup of nuts? When you're shopping to satisfy your nut needs, no one asks you if you'd like them open or wrapped. There are plastic bags for this kind of thing anyway. Tubs with lids. Not cups from a water cooler, which this clearly was. We were pulling out of London Bridge station, where he could have pick-and-mixed those nuts from The Vaults, the sort-of-food-market they have there (if, under the canopy of food, you include flowers, greetings cards and Thomas Pink shirts). But I know he didn't.

I felt sure this was a case of buffet cut-and-run.

I know the signs because I am a buffet poacher myself. I don't believe a hotel continental breakfast is all it claims to be unless you can squirrel away enough items in your pocket to constitute a hearty lunch later in the day. It's not just buffets, though. I'm an any-time opportunist. I say this as someone who sat down to watch the Old Vic pantomime a couple of years ago with the bulkier elements of a Pizza Express Nostrana salad wrapped in a napkin on my lap, having run out of time to eat it in the restaurant beforehand.

I imagined The Nut Guy standing around in his office half an hour earlier, smiling wearily through one of those promotion/birthday/big-result-for-the-firm celebrations, all salty snacks and sparkling wine, where colleagues
pride themselves on steering the conversation away from shop talk, when it would be so much more comfortable for everyone if they left it there. The saga of the sales manager's loft conversion was not the engaging narrative he imagined.

At precisely the moment when the second hand nudged 5.30 (he'd been watching the clocks carefully – it was also 12.30 in New York and 08.30 in Tokyo), Nut Guy switched off his small-talk smile, gave out a one-word goodbye and made a break for the lifts. Then he paused, turned on his heel, walked back towards the party, wrenched a fresh plastic cup free of its family and filled it to the brim with snacks, before leaving for good. Maybe he stuffed a sausage roll into one blazer pocket, a miniature scotch egg in the other.

At 5.30, he became the rightful owner of a whole weekend's leisure time and a seat on the 5.58 train. But he was also entitled to his share of that buffet. And who says you can't have it all? Not Nut Guy.

He got off the train before me. Here are his leftovers...

I can't say I wasn't tempted.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

'Chocks away!'

This week on Strictly Come Dancing, contestants are doing the Tango or Charleston. This, for me, provokes ludicrous levels of excitement considering it is only Week 4. Normally I would be watching these kind of capers by light of the Christmas decorations. When you consider this in combination with the show's ludicrously profligate use of props so far, you wonder if the Strictly-makers are anticipating some kind of total funding withdrawal in the near future, and are spend-spend-spending while they still can. We will further consolidate this theory during the show.

First out of the traps are Jimi and Flavia. Jimi, in case you've forgotten, is a FILM STAR, so in his VT we get to see him at a FILM PREMIERE because he is a FILM STAR who acts in ACTUAL FILMS (honestly you'd think they'd blown the whole budget just on booking him). We are very lucky to have him on the show, even though his dancing is a bit weird sometimes. I imagine it's purely because Jimi is a FILM STAR that he and Flavia are allowed to have two lots of props – booths AND canes. I love their Charleston – I love all Charlestons, just so you know, so this is no indication of quality whatsoever – even though Jimi starts bloody well breakdancing. Seriously, Jimi, I have already seen enough of your breakdancing to last me forever, and you haven't even done the sodding caterpillar yet.

Next up is Scott who plays a major vote-winning card very early on (seriously, do they even think the show is going to get to week 5? should we just have some showdances tonight and be done with it?) by using his son in his training VT. His son is like a child actor from a sitcom who specialises in going 'Ohhhh, Daddddddddd!' while clapping his hands over his eyes in pre-teen humiliation. In fact I would genuinely be surprised if he wasn't already in
My Family. Natalie is a very attractive girl, but with her hair pulled back tightly, and the usual trowelling on of make-up, she seems to be channelling KimnotAggie, out of KimandAggie. From the neck down, however, it's more Big Bird, which I'm not convinced creates optimum brooding sensuality. That's a shame as their tango is steely and great. They get a standing ovation and Bruce says 'Look at these people!' Yes, Bruce, they're the audience. Do you remember? Why don't you sit down and have a nice biscuit. Craig tells Scott and Natalie that their routine has chutzpah which is one of those words that I'm always slightly nervous to say out loud in company, like 'chagrin'.

Next up are Tina and Jared. If Jared's trousers were any higher, they would be a poloneck. Tina has recovered from chicken pox. Having to sit out last week's show made her so annoyed she 'almost threw a cushion at the TV'. Oof. Steady on, Tina, you mentalist! When Chris and Ola did the Charleston last year to
Fat Sam's Grand Slam from Bugsy Malone, I thought, 'The only thing that could make this better would be if they were dancing to the Bugsy Malone Bad Guys song.' Guess what Tina and Jared are dancing to? It doesn't make it better, though. It is quite a lot worse. Even with my now-legendary Zero Dance ExpertiseTM I can see that Tina is out of time. I love Jared and I don't mind Tina, but together they leave me cold. They're like... oh, I can't think of a celebrity/famous fictional couple who are like this. Help me, can't you?

It's Felicity and Vincent time! In rehearsals we see that Felicity can't tell her left from her right because she is a sexy ditz who would probably forget that she has pencils in her hair. I bet she can't park a car either. Vincent puts an apple down one of her legwarmers and a banana down the other so he can yell 'apple' or 'banana' to tell her which leg she should be leading with. At this point, late-middle-aged male relatives in living rooms everywhere remark that they always thought Felicity was 'a bit fruity'. Vincent laments that she cannot use the fruit aids on the night. Ann and Anton probably would – they love a gimmick (FORESHADOWING ALERT). The routine starts with Felicity sitting alone with a cocktail at the Judges' Desk Wine Bar. This is a throwback to her single-girl post-
Good Life sitcom Solo (probably – I can't really remember much about it, apart from the memory of it says 'wine bar' to me, in the same way as Just Good Friends. I love Just Good Friends). Their tango is pretty good, but Bruce seems scandalised that Felicity actually kisses Vincent at the end. Erm, Bruce? Maybe don't go into Kara and Artem's dressing rooms without knocking first.

Patsy has come as Catherine Zeta Jones in
Chicago. It's true that her expression does look a bit like she's murdered someone by the end of the routine – emotionally and physically spent while trying desperately to pretend that everything is BRILLIANT. I don't blame her. I'd be so exhausted after about 20 seconds of Charlestoning, I'd have to lie on the floor and start crying while my professional partner (preferably Vincent, but I'd take Jared if they begged me) shouted at me to get up. After high praise from Len, Patsy kisses him. Bruce calls the police. When Tess suggests an audition for Chicago might be in the offing, Patsy claims to be tone deaf. Patsy! How can you undermine the musical legacy of Eighth Wonder?

Gavin Henson is hilarious. I would like him to have his own series of comic
Marion & Geoff-style monologues filmed at the wheel of his doubtless ludicrous sports car, where he frequently checks his foundation and plucks his eyebrows in the rear-view mirror. In this new show, his blind optimism is constantly being popped like a balloon, leading to doleful reflection that encompasses not just the dancing, but also Marion/Charlotte's relationship with her new boyfriend, and his little smashers, Dexter and Ruby Church-Henson. This week he actually says that his biggest fear last week was being voted off in front of his idol Peter Andre. How can you not love this man? In training, he promises to nail it this week. He's going to stick it to Maslem and Baker. He's going to storm the leaderboard. Oh Gavin. Everyone, including Katya, knows this is not going to happen. Gavin's tango is poor, but luckily the singers' mauling of Britney Spears' Toxic is almost enough to detract from the dancing. Alesha tells him he needs to believe in himself. Prior to this series, I don't think many of us thought this would be a problem for Gavin. As Craig slates him, Gavin looks like he has just wet his pants in assembly and is being told off for it in front of the whole school. Since we are spunking all the usual series-long Strictly fun so early on, surely Katya will play the Acting Coach card soon in the hope of a dramatic (heh) turnaround.

Remember how I said I love all Charlestons? Peter and Erin's is excruciating. Alesha starts her comments with 'Peter, you are SO sweet' and gives him a 6. She and Tess have clearly had their regular dust-up over who gets to wear the Pants Of Patronising Power and this week it was a victory for Dixon. Peter says, 'At the end of the day...' and Tess says, 'It's a whole different ball game.' There is a very real fear in the studio that this may be the last week they can pull out their football cliches for Peter, so they're really going for broke.

Pamela and James perform a predictably feisty tango. What is less predictable is that Pamela reminds me of Letitia Dean when she is doing her out-of-hold tango stomping around. They dance to
Love Is The Drug. What with this and other amazing songs like Toxic and Bad Guys and Cabaret, this is shaping up to be Awesome Music Night. (Maybe X Factor could try that as a theme one week. No, wait, what am I saying?) Pamela brings her husband Billy Connolly to rehearals. Again, contestants – pace yourself with your shameless v0te-winning tactics.

This week Matt Baker has been styled as some kind of Victorian strongman. Well, that or Freddie Mercury. They fail to dance to a Queen song, which if you ask me is an opportunity missed, but you can't really Charleston to
It's A Kind Of Magic. At the start of the routine, Matt uses a unicycle. I'm not joking now, stop with the prop-cupboard clear-out. What next? Scott drives on in a tiny digger truck wearing a boiler suit and starts monkeying about with the big console thing from Chock-A-Block (I am showing my age here) before commencing a Pasa Doble. Ann and Anton don the Dobbin the horse costume from Rentaghost, just so the BBC gets a bit more wear out of it? Anyway. Matt is super. Of course he is.

Next it should be Brendan and Michelle, only Brendan has had to return to New Zealand following a family bereavement. This is horrible. Ian Waite takes his place and gets to perform the tango with Michelle that he never got to dance with Jade Johnson because of her injury. This is nice. The tango with Michelle is.... not so nice, even with the power of Waite, which is considerable. Next is Kara's Charleston with Artem. I like Kara a lot. I don't believe in women being threatened by other women and all that, but I do look at Kara's stomach and remember when mine used to be like that. I think I was about 10. They are adorable, but I think you can probably tell I'm losing interest in the later couples because we all know The Widdecome is On Her Way.

Now then. Hold on to your hats (unless you're Vincent or Artem, who both wear particularly nasty ones this week). It's the main attraction. Ann. In a harness. You'll believe that a 63-year-old spinster can fly! First, she is captured in rehearsal, saying 'Chocks away' in the most defiantly unexcited way you can imagine. Then, live in your living room (well, the telly part of it anyway), she comes floating across the studio like she's starring in her very own gender-switched version of
Up. Where are the talking dogs with malfunctioning collars that made me nearly vomit with laughter in the cinema? Actually Ann's not doing a bad job of that (I mean the laughter/vomit, not the dog thing, I'm not going down that route). I don't think Ann's dancing is so bad. She's no worse than Sargeant, and she has the added handicap of being about a foot shorter than her partner. She does seem to have inherited Sargeant's lack of urgency though. When they are out of hold, and Anton is stalking around doing his serious Tango face, Ann looks like she's circling a patch of grass in a park wondering where exactly she should sit to eat her picnic.

Let's crash on to the results show because, let's face it, we all want to go to bed. My favourite part is when Tess asks Alesha about all the fantastic mature women on the show. Like Arlene? Oh no, sorry.

No one at all is surprised when Peter and Erin get the boot (look, I'm sorry, but you know this is a cliche clear-out and everything must go), or as Tess says, 'the red card'. They have their final dance to
The Name Of The Game, which is not only one of the greatest ever Abba songs, but also mentions the word 'game' because football is a game and Peter used to be a footballer. DO YOU SEE? I wish the band could have reinterpreted Three Lions for him and sung 'Shilton's coming home'. Or really, any excuse to hear World In Motion. Arrivederci, it's one on one. That's really very apt for Strictly.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Picture post

It's Friday night! We are young and hungry. The whole world waits for us outside. What shall we do?

I know, let's stay in and laugh at this advert from a 1981 copy of the Daily Mail.

I'm pronouncing it doo-doo, obviously.

This featured in the souvenir Royal Wedding issue.

Sigh. Whatever happened to romance?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Flirting, flatulence and football - it's Strictly Come Dancing

Week two! Is it? I have no idea. I have not had a fun weekend, and I am weary, so I will be following the same couple-by-couple format as last time and the Strictly Come Dancing Monologues will not be making their debut this week, although they are coming and they will BLOW YOUR MINDS*

Tonight the dances are the quickstep and the rumba. See how they give with one hand and take away with the other. The quickstep lifts my heart. In a good way. The rumba makes me think of embarrassing interpretive dances I have witnessed at regional talent shows throughout the 80s.

Kara and Artem They are totally At It. But the Strictly shagbirds should heed the lesson of Brian Fortuna and Ali Bastian, and by this I mean go round to Brian's house and peer through the windows at him slow-dancing with a enormous framed photo of Ali's face and weeping, as Chicago ballads leech from the stereo. Brian and Ali have split up, is what I am saying. Anyway, Kara and Artem's flapper-esque routine is brilliant, but apparently she makes some mistakes. I don't notice. This blog was praised last week for its lack of insight into, you know, the actual dancing, so I am going to pursue this as my Strictly blog USP. 'Why Miss Jones - the Strictly blog with no credible knowledge of dancing.'

Felicity and Vincent Dear BBC, you know how you have all that spare money at the moment? Oh. Well, anyway, could you please commission a sitcom starring Felicity Kendal and Vincent Simone. Maybe they could be flatmates with sexual tension, or Felicity could be Vincent's landlady who slinks around in a satin dressing gown and mules. Felicity's catchphrase could be her dirty laugh. Is it still a catchphrase if it has no words in it? Meanwhile, Vincent's comedy calling card is a turn directly to the camera and a waggle of one eyebrow, while some kind of 'Oh behave!' musical sound effect is played. Anyway, Felicity will have no time for making sitcoms after Strictly is over. She'll be too busy making yoga videos and endorsing cod liver oil. That woman is hella bendy. Their rumba is pretty good, as rumbas go.

Patsy and Robin I love Patsy, but they are dancing a bizarre, Western-themed line-dancing quickstep which is like putting baked beans on a pizza, ie ILLEGAL and WRONG. It is the 5,6,7,8 of quickstep. Thank you, but no, Patsy and Robin. Let's never speak of this again.

Gavin and Katya In their rehearsal footage, Katya is infuriated at Gavin, who cannot express his feelings. Gavin mumbles slowly and makes rueful faces. I feel suddenly as though I have an insight into the dying days of the Church-Henson relationship. Katya wants Gavin to get sensuous with her. He strokes her cheek with all the sensitivity of a grizzly bear clubbing a man about the head with a giant paw. Their rumba isn't half as embarrassing as you might think. I manage to watch the whole thing without having to look away once. The marks are mixed. 'I am tryin',' Gavin says sadly. Yes, thinks Katya, yes you are.

Tina and Jared Tina is ill. Her and Jared are not dancing. Oh well.

Scott and Natalie I'm not sure Natalie is quite as obsessed with Scott Maslen as she was with Ricky Whittle last year, but on a brief It Takes Two clip that I saw mid-week, she did say 'We just laugh together ALL THE TIME.' This is how it starts. I bet if you looked in the back of her choreography notebook you would find written 'Natalie Maslen. Mrs Scott Maslen. Natalie Maslen-Lowe. Natalie Lowe-Maslen.' She must be gutted there are no i's or j's in 'Scott Maslen' for her to dot with tiny hand-drawn hearts. Their dance is amazing. I am going to have to concede that Natalie is quite good at her job.

I pity the poor person who has to follow that. Oh, it's Michelle and Brendan. Sorry Michelle. She has been feeling glum this week, and Brendan has been nice to her. Brendan is all about the nice now he's married. Her dancing is a bit... angular. The judges are kinder this week, and encourage strength through the legs. How can Michelle have strength through the legs? Hers are just two slender drinking straws holding up her whole body.

Peter and Erin Peter is wearing a terrifying mask of thick orange make-up, but it's clearly not as heavy as it looks because he manages to dance quite a fleet-footed quickstep. Erin is utterly delighted when they are awarded a 7. This is Peter and Erin's FA Cup final. That is one of my favourite football commentary cliches ever. I also like 'Meat and drink'. I'm going to use that next week. Peter says being in the bottom two last week was one of the worst moments of his life. Really, Peter? You have had a good life. But not The Good Life. That's Felicity. Hahaha. Oh god. I am really tired.

Matt and Aliona They are well narky with each other in practice. This is the dark side of Matt Baker. I knew it was there. He's not the Mr Wholesome Harvest Festival everyone thinks he is. I bet when Blue Peter was about to go live, he would break heinous nervous wind in the studio and blame it on Meg the dog. His dance with Aliona is brill though. I like the bits when they are dancing on their own but in time. Naturally I don't know what you call this.

Jimi and Flavia Jimi's mum calls him James. Aww. I wonder who decided to spell the abbreviation Jimi. Perhaps it was Natalie Lowe, who would be able to draw a heart over the first i and a star over the second. Jimi is dancing the rumba. Even before the music starts he is acting and he is acting HARD. Maybe that's why his body does weird things.

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Widders! With Anton! She looks lovely this evening. In the training VT, Ann is singing 'Clumpy clumpy clumpy' to herself, which is the sort of thing I would do. Anton drags her around the floor at high speed, and she is clearly exhausted at the end. Not too exhausted to ask Bruce if she's still his favourite. Hang on... is Ann FLIRTING with Bruce Forsyth? Later she ticks off Tess for talking too much. I am on some kind of terrifying wavelength with Widders this evening. Ann is very quick to embrace Anton after the scores are shown. Anton tells Ann 'You make me laugh! I do love you. I can't help it, I do.' Do I smell a July to September romance? Please don't think about what a July to September romance would smell like. It will destroy you.

Pamela and James If I was Tyra Banks I would be calling Pamela fierce about now. She is awesome. Pamela fails to make me give a tiny fraction of a shit about the rumba, but she's a 60-year-old psychologist and dancing dynamo, she's not actually a miracle worker. Maybe by week 8. I hope it has not escaped the BBC's notice that a 60-year-old women (and a 63-year-old one, in the form of Ann) has become the darling of Strictly Come Dancing, and one of the best things ever to happen to the show. You have to feel for poor old Arlene sitting on her sofa, weeping bitterly into her glass of Dubonnet**, dropped peanuts nestling in her cleavage.

Paul and Ola Now. God loves a tryer. But I can't help thinking that when God sees Paul Daniels with his hands behind his head, swivelling his hips, he lifts up his long white beard and uses it to cover his eyes, while howling to himself 'What have I created?' Paul chastises Ola for putting too much comedy in the routine, and the British public, who love Ola more than Jesus (God doesn't - but that's just because Jesus is family), react by voting him out and sparing her the pain of having pensioner pelvis ground in her direction for any longer. It's the kindest thing all round.

Next week, the Charleston and the Tango. In the words of Craig: A-may-zing.

* May not actually blow your minds.
** I don't know what Dubonnet actually is. It just sounded like the kind of tipple Arlene might favour.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The indignity of it all

Let me make this clear at the start. I'm no animal lover. No vegetarian. I may be hypocritically squeamish about tongues and trotters, but I'm rarely shy when they're handing out the breaded veal. Since being bitten by a Yorkshire terrier as a small child, I dislike dogs, to the extent where I have become physically allergic to them. Admittedly, most days I blame that on over-ingestion of antibiotics as a child (medical ratification and follow-up article in The Lancet pending), but the fact remains I am still profoundly canine-averse. I start emitting anxious squeaks should anyone incite me to heartily pat a horse during a trip to the countryside.

But even from that hostile starting position, I was perturbed to see this information posted on the glass wall of the intensive care unit at the New England Aquarium.

Clearly there is no vetinarian equivalent of the hypocratic oath.

One frail turtle has had his dirty washing well and truly hung out in public, in some macrocosmic version of being examined by a doctor in front of an audience of student medics. Only instead of, say, four weary junior doctors standing around staring at your physical vulnerabilities, there are thousands of visitors from all over the world, taking pictures of them, which they will then take home and publish on the internet to their literally tens of readers.

I can't decide whether it is better or worse that the patient answers to a number rather than a name. It offers a kind of anonymity of course - as much as you can find when you're swimming around in a transparent tank right under your medical records. But still, I keep thinking about that turtle saying to himself, 'If I'm going to die here, I want someone to call me Michael just one more time before I go.'

I'm guessing.

I can't quite bear the diagnosis of 'flipper lameness'. It makes me think of physically ungifted children struggling through school sports lessons, or tottering old people edging their way down the bus, looking hopefully at blank-eyed youths with Walkmans (Walkmen?) occupying the priority seats. I murmur a constant prayer that Michael isn't made to perform his physiotherapy as some kind of sideshow for visitors, like the reptilian Esther Williams.

I shudder at the notion of a similar report on my physical wellbeing getting a public showcase. 'Borderline verrucca. No discernible stomach muscles. Recurrent sniffling. Scaly dry skin (possible reptile cross-species?).'

At least I didn't take a prying picture of the patient.


Sorry, but the press never sleeps. Still, you will be relieved to see I've attempted to protect his anonymity, in my own small way.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Strictly Come Catch-Up

So I went on holiday the week that Strictly Come Dancing started. I'm not quite sure how this catastrophic oversight occurred, but this is only the start of the bad timing. In addition, the exterior of my house is being rendered, rainproofed and redecorated, which is great news for the internal fabric of my most expensive semi-possession, but less brill for my Sky+ system, currently disabled and unable to record amazing television in my absence. And having been away for 10 days, even the mighty punch of the i-player does not have a big enough reach to rescue me. I am wretched.

That may be the jetlag talking. Jetlag is such a ridiculously lavish word, all sunglasses over bloodshot eyes and matching luggage. I'm just a bit over-tired.

Anyway, as a result of the above, I have had to resort to YouTube for the first set of dances, but managed to see the whole of the second week's shows. So here are my beginning-of-term reports on this year's contestants. I am not feeling the need to dress in any kind of Miss Jones school teacher outfit for this exercise, although it's true that a lot of people come to this blog looking for exactly that kind of 'action'.

Firstly, let me say that I am aware Strictly is not the go-to, first-choice Saturday-night viewing for the hip young social-networking gunslinger. I don't care. I am, like the band on the Titanic, playing on regardless, scraping away at my insert-hugely-clumsy-blog-slash-violin-metaphor-here and refusing to acknowledge that Strictly may be in any way sinking.

So let's crack on. In order of how I watched their first dances on YouTube:

Matt Baker and Aliona For his first dance, the cha-cha-cha, Matt has brazenly refused to read the manual for BBC TV Presenters Starting Out On Their Strictly Journey by appearing fluid, limber, relaxed and physically at ease. In addition, the wardrobe department has cleverly played up to his fans' Countryfile-coloured sexual fantasies – he and Aliona start off dressed as wholesome Enid Blyton-esque chums enjoying a chaste day out in the country before passionately abandoning their binoculars and map and getting right down to it in a cornfield. Dance-wise, I mean. However, for their second dance, Matt's initial brio has ebbed away slightly, and he has reverted to the more conventional starting position of Hollins, Gethin and the like, where his expression is part nervous concentration and part impending unpleasant bowel episode.

Jimi Mistry and Flavia Jimi is not quite as good as Matt, I would say, but he achieves the distinction of being the first male celebrity to break out some slightly embarrassing school-disco/Saturday-afternoon-at-the-shopping-precinct breakdance moves – in the FIRST SECONDS of his FIRST PERFORMANCE, no less. This is some kind of record. I still fancy him. I understand this information is not actually dance-related.

Ann Widdecombe and Anton You may say I'm dangerously sentimentalising Ann Widdecombe. But I'm not the only one. (These are the words John Lennon would have written to Imagine 2010, had he lived.) And now I'm just going to say it: I found her waltz with Anton strangely moving. I'm not sure exactly what we want Ann's story to be. It's maybe not that we want her to become a beguilingly brilliant dancer, or discover an untapped well of sexual energy or shimmering femininity. I think we want her to become a real person, not some cartoon dowager of doom. Already there have been a handful of moments when she has been genuinely overcome with something near delight (even glee, if not Glee), in spite of herself. And I love those bits. Furthermore, unless my ears were deceiving me, I actually heard her say, 'Can't you guys understand fun?' Although my hearing may be ravaged by transatlantic flight, and what she actually said was 'Why are you making me dance to Satan's music like a whore from the slums?' Either way, through Ann we are starting to see the rehabilitation of not-racist-just-old-fashioned-honestly-that's-all-no-offence-meant-Mary-Poppins-step-in-time Anton. He dances with her so sweetly, like she's a child at a wedding reception, looming over her with his over-animated, encouraging face, mouthing the steps to her. Aww.

Gavin Henson and Katya Sweet, shiny-faced, bodyhair-barren Gavin, shielding his shyness with the kind of excessive male grooming I always find strangely sexless. As a result, his waltz with Katya has an unexpectedly charming innocence about it that reminds me of Anne Of Green Gables. He is Gilbert Henson. The salsa is a different kettle of rubbish, however. To anyone with a default biological interest in the Henson body, do you prefer him and his ice-rink-smooth chest with his clothes on or without? I am emphatically Team With.

Scott Maslen and Natalie I don't have a lot to say about Scott. But never mind, watch me eke out a hefty paragraph of waffle regardless. OK, let me say this: He looks about 10 years younger doing the salsa than he does dancing the waltz. How does this work? He dances to Let's Hear It For The Boy, and I love x100,000 the scene in Footloose that it soundtracks, where Kevin Bacon teaches Christopher Penn how to dance. Watching this post-Strictly, I am imagining Chris Penn's character played by Gavin Henson, and James Jordan as Kevin Bacon. Natalie has yet to show the frothing mania for competition we saw last year, but I sense it is there under the surface, waiting to burst out of her like something from Alien. For now, she seems to be channelling that energy into her hair foils and curling equipment.

Felicity Kendal and Vincent Every new episode of Strictly brings a new reason to love Vincent Simone. This year, he seems to have cast himself as some kind of Inigo Montoya figure, opening his introductory VT with the words 'Hello, my name is Vincent Simone and, oh my God, I am the best dancer on the planet.' I love Kendal. She's no Keith, but still. After their less than triumphant second dance, Vincent tells her not to worry, he has lots of friends who will vote for them. She says she doesn't have any left, they've all died. Felicity's funny.

Kara Tointon and Artem The costume department have clearly decided that since Ola has been paired with Paul Daniels this year, she probably won't be involved for much longer, so they've made her and Kara share a wardrobe. Who else could they sew into Kara's kinky leopard-print wrestler's leotard? The tabloids poking around in Strictly's ashes with their blunt sticks are trying to spark up talk of a relationship between Kara and Artem. And Tess is doing her clumsy best to fan the flames, on her hands and knees, blowing hard. OK, this analogy has gone all sorts of wrong.

Tina O'Brien and Jared I think Tina has a will of iron, but she looks so nervous, I can't keep my eyes on the screen. I find Ann a more compelling dancer. Jared is adorable, even when he wears his hair forward in a weird point, like Woody Woodpecker. I don't like it when they're mean to him. If you're going to patronise anyone, Tess and Bruce, and let's face it, you definitely will, can't you make it him?

Patsy Kensit and Robin Patsy! She's already saying Strictly has changed her life and it's only week two! Atta girl. Her first dance was awful, but her second was unbridled, skirt-hitched-up, Tina-Turner-tribute-act terrific. Also, my friend interviewed her a few weeks ago and didn't have a bad word to say about her. And trust me, we really pushed her on that. Patsy looks beautiful too. What do we think about her and Felicity and the notion of 'work done'? Whatever, I have a girl crush on both of them.

Pamela Stephenson and James It may only be week 2 but I feel confident that James Jordan will not be making Pamela Stephenson cry, as he has done with previous partners. If anything, it's going to be the other way round. It is awesome the way she's throwing herself into things, in the same way as Patsy, only with marginally more control and less the air of predatory divorcée at a 40th birthday party. I may be about to overstate things somewhat, but it is a little bit exciting to see a collection of sparky women with something to say for themselves on a show like this. Even this year's obvious eye candy seems to be either a) gutsy or b) a right laugh, as opposed to doe-eyed and anaemic of opinion. I'm not sure where Pamela ripping off her lab coat and glasses and getting all sexy fits into the Strong Women Of Strictly conceit that I'm flailing towards but still. All this, and Claudia promoted to BBC on a Sunday night. I love it.

Michelle Williams and Brendan Poor Michelle. Even though her first dance is all over the shop, the judges are being unnecessarily harsh to her. They seem intent on taking her down a peg or two, with her fancy Grammy-winning, saying-sidewalk-not-pavement airs and graces. Also, according to the brilliantly indiscreet Tina Knowles (Beyonce's mum) in her book about Destiny's Child, which I reviewed years ago for a popular weekly celebrity magazine, Michelle has a little hair problem on her upper lip. I'm practically quoting directly here. Well, apart from the fact that she might actually have been talking about Kelly. Anyway, way to be supportive, Mrs Knowles! The upshot here is that Michelle needs our love, not our condemnation.

Goldie and Kristina This is going to be a great series. I know this because despite Goldie's Big PersonalityTM, I can barely remember anything about his performance. Sorry, Goldie, but that's showbiz. The greater good of Strictly is at stake here, and you were this week's sacrifice.

Peter Shilton and Erin Peter Shilton reminds me of someone. I don't know who it is. It might be Duncan Preston in Dinner Ladies. There is something deliberate and concerted about him, about his every flex, every fist pump. Perhaps it was always thus. 'Right, I'll just clear this ball out of the goal. Job done! Next, massive clearance upfield. Actioned! ' While I find his dancing almost impossible to watch, he is hard to dislike. He's Peter bloody Shilton! of course he is!

Paul Daniels and Ola Paul is actually not the out-and-out Sergeant you might think. He is surprisingly fleet of foot, if somewhat directionless. He reminds me of when you bump into someone in the street, and then you both drift one way, then both drift the other, then back the first way. He basically does that for a minute and a half, with magic-related gimmicks, while Ola is busy being awesome.

Props and accessories seem to be the theme of this series. This is a direct borrow from Dancing With The Stars where they're mad for a desk or a bunch of fake flowers, but that's no bad thing, as direct borrowing brought us the runaway success of last year's Charleston and Rock 'n' Roll week. X Factor are no strangers to the US influence, of course. They've been busy apeing American Idol for a couple of years. This year's new favourite, Aiden Grimshaw, is being moulded as the new Adam Lambert. They'll be breaking the eyeliner out on him in no time, mark me.

Anyway, first-week summary? Turn up the hideous Here Come The Girls-style motivational lady-music.

Although Scott, Matt and Jimi are ace too.

I went to the States because...

And so I'm back! From Outer Space! Or, in fact, New England, where I have been vacationing in all manner of weather conditions, and making a solemn pilgrimage to various iconic and defining sites of American culture:

The site of Thoreau's cabin near Walden 'Walden' Pond…


The grave of Nathaniel Hawthorne which, when I was doing my A-level English Literature, was the best place for him to my young mind. I mellowed subsequently.


Oh wait, I'm not sure how that got in there. That's a mistake. But still. Mystic Pizza. It's a much underrated movie, I would argue.

I will be back shortly with talk of
Strictly Come Dancing. That won't be good news to some of you. The fact is, me, this blog and Strictly Come Dancing are probably going to be spending quite a lot of time together over the next few months. It won't all be Strictly, but it will be there. I can't fight it. You're going to have to trust me when I say I'll always come back to you afterwards.

This is just something I've got to do.