Tea or Books? #26: give up vs soldier on, and Matilda by Roald Dahl vs Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

Roald Dahl, Michelle Magorian, and whether or not to give up on books – I’m back from holiday, and Rachel and I have a lovely new (…long) episode of Tea or Books?


Tea or Books logoIn our first half, we discuss whether or not we give up on books, and what factors might play into that decision – and in the second half we get all children’s-literature-focused. We’re supposedly pitting Matilda by Roald Dahl against Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian (which only have in common that Rachel and I loved them both as children) – but we end up talking about every Dahl we can think of.

This is the excellent airbnb place I stayed in Siena, and this is our iTunes page. Listen to the ep up above, over there, or any which way you choose. We’re not the bosses of you! Having said that, I do want to boss you into telling us what you’d choose for each half. And more ideas, please! We got so many good ideas from people a while ago… and we’re running out.

Here are the books and authors we talked about in this episode:

Collection of Sand by Italo Calvino
Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Sword of Bone by Anthony Rhodes
Chatterton Square by E.H. Young
Miss Mole by E.H. Young
But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman
Jane Austen
The Dover Road by A.A. Milne (book your tickets here!)
Private Lives by Noel Coward
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Zadie Smith
P.G. Wodehouse
Patricia Brent, Spinster by Herbert Jenkins
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Crash by J.G. Ballard
Possession by A.S. Byatt
The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt
The Corner That Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Black Dogs by Ian McEwan
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Elizabeth Bowen
Jane Austen
Muriel Spark
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
Who Was Changed and Who was Dead by Barbara Comyns
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
P.D. James
The Chateau by William Maxwell
A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
Stories by Edgar Allan Poe
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
Going Solo by Roald Dahl
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
James and the Giant Peach: a play by David Wood
The BFG by Roald Dahl
Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
The Twits by Roald Dahl
The Witches by Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl
Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Doreen by Barbara Noble
Kisses on a Postcard by Terence Frisby
Put Out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh

The Great British Bake Off: Series 7: Episode 4

Look, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. You’ve almost certainly heard by now that this is the last full series we’ll get on the BBC, before GBBO moves to Channel 4. For those not familiar with British channels, this is admittedly the classiest channel after the BBC… but the idea of ad breaks in the Bake Off is anathema. And this couldn’t be more of a BBC show. It’s quite heartbreaking, and I was quietly proud of how outraged the British public was. I felt a bit like I was in mourning myself. And I’ll be taking next week off recapping, I’m afraid – partly because of mourning; mostly because I’ll be in Italy.

And we’re gonna also lose these two! (No word from Mary and Paul, at the time of typing.)

Yes, they're singing an absurd song. RIP Mel and Sue.
Yes, they’re singing an absurd song. RIP Mel and Sue.

Anyway, let’s get on to the episode itself – and it’s Batter Week. You will see very little baking this week. They should have stuck to cake… it is batter the devil you know (a joke I made before Mel made it on the show, I’ll have you know thankyouverymuch). I’m not above thinking this episode was chosen solely for the fresh new range of puns it afforded – and Mel & Sue leap right in the deep end with an elaborate skit based on the word ‘bat’. It’s the most innocent, ridiculous fun.

I miss you already.
I miss you already.

The bakers parade in, wrapped up in dozens of layers and – is that frost I can see on the grass? #Spring. In this crowd I can pick out Andrew and Val, but have no clue who the others might be. Who’s that person in the blue check? Have they just got extras to fill in? And is that the cake from the opening titles and is it seven years old?

So. Many. Questions.

Before we get onto the controversies of Batter Week, let’s have a quick peek at Blazer Watch. Well, we’re down to two blazers – as Mary is rocking an asymmetric bomber jacket. But these might be my fave blazers so far (my fazers, if you will) (no, of course you will not; that was a given) – I especially like Sue’s navy and yellow combo. Strong work, team. And thank goodness there was a 4-for-1 sale on straight leg jeans.


So, what IS baking? Dictionary definitions seem to be pretty much all-encompassing (anything heated not over an open flame, apparently, which would seem to include anybody standing near a radiator) – for me, it’s cakes, biscuits, bread, and pastry. And that’s it. The challenges today are cooking and frying. It just ain’t right.

The first challenge, indeed, is Yorkshire Puddings. One can only assume that somebody in the production team heard the word ‘pudding’ and is labouring under the misapprehension that they are some kind of dessert.

Mary – swathed in an enormous jacket – sits outside and gives us the usual helpful info that she’d like the bakes to be good, if it’s not too much trouble. She mimes the shape of a Yorkshire pud – presumably not to scale – and looks rather as if in the process of yelling hello at somebody across a great distance.

"Stay over there, Channel 4. Don't come any closer."
“Stay over there, Channel 4. Don’t come any closer.”

She’s after identical Yorkshire puddings – a feat that has yet to be achieved, or even attempted, by anybody, ever – and she wants to leave room for filling. Literally nobody has ever made a filled Yorkshire pudding. You might put stuff in them afterwards, sure, so long as it’s roast potatoes, carrots, peas, or gravy. Nothing else is welcome in a YP. I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.

Paul talks about the rise coming from eggs – and this is helpfully accompanied by a brief montage of eggs, for those unaware of what they are and curious to find out. It does beg the question what this baker, Jane I think, has used the enormous knife for – as, so far, she has only sifted flour into a bowl.

Maybe just a warning?
Maybe just a warning?

“We’ve all got a different family recipe for Yorkshire puddings,” Mel alleges in the voiceover, falsely, while Andrew suggests that the ‘Yorkshire pudding community’ has much debate about the number of eggs to use. Presumably that debate is more pressingly occupied with such questions as ‘Why have we formed a community?’ and ‘What are friends?’.

First stop for Mezza and Pezza is Dame Val’s counter – as Mary says, somewhat accusingly, “You’re from Yorkshire”. Val laughs her way through a story about how her husband will effectively throw her out if she doesn’t win this week. She is cut off midway through a story about her mother teaching her to make Yorkshire puddings which would, one has to imagine, have continued in an indefinite spiral of “and her mother before her“, until we reached Eve.

It seems unlikely, though, that Val’s Mum would have added chilli to them – if only because, again, literally nobody ever has added fillings to Yorkshire puddings.

Maybe it was arranged just so Colouring Pencils Man could use non-brown colours in his set.
Maybe it was arranged just so Colouring Pencils Man could use non-brown colours in his set.

Candice is growing on me quite a lot – partly, today, because she drops her fork on the floor and is witty about it. Certainly not for her ‘deconstructed beef wellington’ – it seems to be deconstructed only in that she’s not putting it in pastry and it is, thus, not a wellington. Look, I don’t know how much I can bring myself to write about the monstrous things these bakers are planning to do to the humble staple of a Sunday roast. About the only acceptable one is Jane’s Meat and Two Veg (a euphemism that Mel and Sue miraculously leave alone). There is the caveat that she insists she is terrible at Yorkshire puddings – a brave admission, one might think, though taken with surprising indifference by The Male Judge.

One of the few vegetarian choices is Rav’s – which has Thai tofu in it. Look, I can’t. The Thai meal sounds delicious. But in the name of all that is sweet and pure, keep it away from my Yorkshire puds. Serve it on a Monday, when Yorkshire puddings are but a distant recollection of Sunday’s dinner.

Does Paul like tofu?

His face implodes at the thought.
His face implodes at the thought.

Also vegetarian are Tom’s ‘fusion puddings’ – no – because he insists that the only vegetarian meal you can eat on a Sunday was at an Indian restaurant. I mean, sure, let’s pretend that’s a thing. He’s decided the best thing to do is use chickpea flour. Mary, be a doll and sum up how that makes you feel?

Thank you, Mary.

He’s also using nigella seeds, which ends my speculation about whether or not the word ‘nigella’ can be used in this programme.

Bakers briefly debate whether or not to chill their batter – they really are making the very simple process of making a batter seem inexluctably complicated – and we wander back to Rav’s to see him making candles or preparing for this week’s laundry or something.

“Tofu is very bland,” he says encouragingly.

Selasi is filling his with various forms of pork, and apparently took the recipe from his girlfriend’s mum – news which filled some of my colleagues with heartbreak, I won’t lie. It’s the first time that pork crackling has been on GBBO, Mel advises, and Selasi could not seem less interested in that information. “Chill,” he may or may not have replied.

Kate tells a dark story about compromising over Christmas because her husband – innocently enough, one would think – quite likes a Yorkshire pudding and her family “never, ever had them”. She speaks of them as though they were something rather indecent. Her compromise seems to be… simply to make Yorkshire puddings. I don’t know. It also looks rather as though there is a fly in her batter mix, as the camera pans past.

Nothing says winner like the word 'compromise'.

Benjamina is doing what Tamal did in a previous series, and is choosing her flavours – onion, brie, bacon – based on what she’d like in a sandwich. Well, why not. She also tells us that we need “smoking hot oil” – which is a rare instance of ‘smoking hot’ used in its literal sense. (Val, on the other hand, asserts that you have to use beef dripping, though where she has found this I can’t imagine. I sort of assumed dripping grew extinct around 1957.)

It’s quite fun watching the bakers pour or spoon their batter into the trays – mostly because of how unabashedly inept many of them are. Here, for example, is Jane’s attempt…

I'm beginning to see why yours don't turn out great, Jane.
I’m beginning to see why yours don’t turn out great, Jane.

…while Mel is so incensed about Tom’s slapdash approach that she leans over him, and scolds him like a disappointed aunt. “They’re all over the shop! Look, you were star baker last week; you’ve got to raise your game, my love.” Bless.

Look at those seeds. Appearance is the least of his problems.
Look at those seeds. Appearance is the least of his problems.

It sounds like it’s time for oven-staring, am I right? Stare away, bakers, stare away.

They start to emerge pretty quickly. Some are very big (Selasi’s are huge); some are little more than biscuits. What nobody has achieved is consistency, of course. Yorkshire puds cannot be uniform.

Saddest of all – and please take note – are Tom’s disasters:

Yorkshire NOings, morelike.
Yorkshire NOings, morelike.

Luckily they seem to have ages, so plenty of bakers start afresh – presumably leaving Selasi et al to kick back and relax, or marinade whatever non-Yorkshire filling they are planning to destroy their puds with. Tom cannot fill his, of course, because they are mini Yorkshire plates. He seems to deal with it well, but this is rather horrifying:

Remember these, dear reader.
Remember these, dear reader.

Somehow, Mary and Paul stomach these bizarre concoctions as they go bench to bench. Paul’s gibberish for the episode is ‘irregular air pockets’ – which, of course, is something we’re all dying to see when we tuck into a Yorkshire pudding. It’s a little confusing because ‘irregular’ is also a criticism when he’s looking at Kate’s array.

Incidentally, they use a curiously large knife to chop the YPs, scraping the blade against slate in a manner calculated to send shocks of horror down the spines of those of us of a nervous disposition.

Who does best? Selasi, Rav, Andrew, and Val come away with happy nods – and Val gives a pantomime sigh of relief that is something akin to a hot air balloon deflating and seems to take about 20 minutes.

Are you ready for the Technical Challenge? It’s… lacy pancakes. Tom’s response is a look of kind confusion, perhaps assuming (as the rest of us naturally had done) that this was a slip of the tongue, or some kind of belated April Fool. Mais non, mes amis, this is what passes for a challenge in Batter Week. I can only imagine the execs at Channel 4, watching this together in their Knightsbridge apartment, turned silently to each other at this point and slowly shook their heads. Perhaps a single tear ran down one of their cheeks.

"I turned down The Apprentice for this."
“I turned down The Apprentice for this.”

“Lace pancakes were traditionally eaten by the rich at their dinners,” lies Mel in the voiceover, cleverly crafting a statement that can’t possibly be checked or verified.

“Paul, why did you choose lacy pancakes?” poses Mary, rather more appositely.

"Srsly, why?"
“Srsly, why?”

Paul mumbles about it being a vast improvement on the regular pancake while Mary looks on sceptically. He even discusses “that great pancake flavour”, presumably because there is so little surface area to it that a flavour is all you’re going to get.

This is one of the worst challenges I can recall. Because this isn’t baking. And pancakes aren’t difficult. And they don’t have the same designs, so they’re not even compared like for like. AND they’ll be served cold and unpleasant. It’s all so absurd.

The poor editors are left having to cobble something together about the thickness of batter (yawn) and try to fill up the time with incidental shots of grass, people leaning on desks, and Benjamina doing a solid impression of a high schooler with a crush that she’s desperately hoping somebody will ask her about.

"Oh hahaha THIS? Well, if you promise not to tell anybody..."
“Oh hahaha THIS? Well, if you promise not to tell anybody…”

Rav has sketched out some crosshatch, while Selasi apparently can’t even draw an empty heart. Bakers have one practice pancake they can get rid of before they have to commit themselves. “Paul hasn’t said what temperature they should make the pancakes at,” Mel warns – which is fair enough, since (a) making pancakes is childishly simple, and (b) they would have no way of reaching a specific temperature.

All of my criticisms are made to look rather stupid in the face of the beauty of Benjamina’s design. No, it wouldn’t be pleasant to eat once it’s cold and congealed – but this is still something pretty impressive:

*heart emoji*
*heart emoji*

Rav loves to burn things, doesn’t he? “The tester was much better than this one,” he comments of a charred pancake, “I wish I hadn’t dropped it on the floor now”… leading one to wonder at which stage he was pleased that he’d dropped it on the floor.

Selasi loses a couple cool points at quite how thrilled he is to have flipped his pancake. Dame Val has, of course, made a series of mismatched horrors, and doesn’t care at all. (Oh, by the way, I am now going to call her Dame Val. She deserves no less.)

Mary and Paul bravely face an array of unappetising looking cold pancakes, and apparently test them by flinging them around, smacking them against slate, and eating minute corners of them. They have, of course, absolutely nothing to say about them. At this point, I should say that my housemate made lacy pancakes while we watched, and they were very nice – but we got to eat them while warm.

Rav comes last, followed by Selasi and Kate. The top three are Jane, Candice, and Benjamina.

Oh my LORD I would watch a show where these two fought crime.
Oh my LORD I would watch a show where these two fought crime.

The bakers stand in the rain and reflect on the results.

But it’s sunny for Showstopper Challenge – which is churros! Paul, incidentally, uses ‘churros’ as both plural and singular throughout, but I am advised that this is not correct. Churros are traditional served with a chocolate dipping sauce, advises Mel – she seems to be doing the bulk of the voiceovers this week – but you can imagine that the bakers are going to play fast and loose with that unbeatable recipe. Dame Val, for instance, is adding orange extract – “for a nice hit of orange”, she cordially explains. Benjamina, meanwhile, is including “every kind of coconut”. I’m pretty sure that totals one kind, right?

Tom, on the other hand…


Nobody likes to see a pestle and mortar more than I, but fennel is not a flavour to include in a sweet dish. Or, to my mind, in any dish. Not a fennel fan, thankyouverymuch. And I’m *also* not a fan of the fact that Tom always puts his name into the title of his bakes. (I use the word ‘bake’ loosely – this is, of course, a deep fat frying challenge.)

And if that weren't enough: rosewater
And if that weren’t enough: rosewater

Clearly churros should be served with chocolate, toffee, caramel, or something in that family. It shouldn’t have matcha or be served with ‘white chocolate and wasabi’, which is what Rav has done. He explains matcha to us, in case we’ve forgotten from that time someone used matcha a couple of weeks ago.

Consistency and uniformity are, as ever, the watchwords of the day. Some of the bakers are piping theirs out onto greaseproof paper – Dame Val’s are unexpectedly precise – while others are loitering around, waiting for this stage of the filming to be over. Kate, meanwhile, is apparently making bunnies – and it feels a lot like Colouring Pencils Man is sassing her with his depiction which is anything but lapine:


I should say, my exception to just-serve-it-with-chocolate is Benjamina’s: coconut and passion fruit are the keys to unlock my heart. Just in case you wondered.

Chill, freeze, or stand? The choice is yours. But I’m guessing (by Mary’s look of incredulity at Selasi’s choices) that freezing is not the best idea. I mean, I also saw the episode, so I do know that it wasn’t a good idea. Soz, Selasi.

Dame Val wanders into shot and says “CHOCOLATE ORANGE”.

“My children’s favourite,” she adds. Her children must be fifty if they’re a day.

From here on, most of the rest of the episode consists of close-ups of deep fat fryers. Or, I learn, friers. But not friars. (I will let you have a single shot of one:)


I wonder how many bakers were able to practise these? I suppose you can do this with vast quantities of oil in a big pan, but otherwise I can’t imagine many of them can lay their hands on deep fat fryers. We had one once, I believe, though goodness knows what happened to that.

Each baker is making 35 (or was it 36?) of these, minimum, and it feels like we’re in a repeating montage of boiling fat. It’s somewhere between calming and unnerving. It definitely made me want to eat some churros – which, dear reader, I have yet to do since the episode aired.

It’s judgement time, and I spend most of salivating. Churros look so delicious.

Query: where did Tom get astroturf from? And why?


His feedback is very bad – they don’t like the taste, texture, or appearance. REMEMBER THIS, READER.

Indeed, quite a few people get negative feedback – Selasi’s frozen dough, Val’s doughy churros, Kate’s oily churros, Rav’s unpleasant flavour – but Jane does well and essentially has hysterics, while Benjamina also gets smiley nods all round with this very tempting display.

"Well done, you've cracked it" - Mezza
“Well done, you’ve cracked it” – Mezza

Mary throws around the word ‘impregnated’ far too often for my liking.

Judges and presenters huddle around the table and mull over everybody’s chances. It seems pretty obvious to me who ought to win and who ought to lose.

The winner is (hurrah!) is…

My new fave, and not just cos I'm hoping she'll pop those churros in the post to me.
My new fave, and not just cos I’m hoping she’ll pop those churros in the post to me.

The person leaving the tent is…


Tom was convinced he was going – and he’s not the only one. I reckon he was the clear loser this week (nice though he seems), and I’m rather perplexed. Not just cos I’m out of my office sweepstake now. It does seem like the production team might be playing a bigger role in deciding who stays and who goes this year – because we’ve had a series of unlikely choices… hmm…

Next week: some baking, maybe? As I say, I’ll be away – but I’ll be back recapping in a fortnight’s time.


Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys #ReadingRhys

I had enthusiastically signed my name (figuratively) for Jean Rhys Reading Week run by Eric and Jacqui, back whenever it was announced, and promptly put it to the back of my mind – and hadn’t spotted that it had started until I saw people tweeting about it. Luckily I had Voyage in the Dark (1934) on my shelf – thankfully it’s short, so I was able to read much of it on the train to London yesterday.


Voyage in the Dark is one of the rare copies I have where I have omitted to write where and when I got it inside, so I have no idea when I picked it up – but I do know that I’ve been mulling over reading another Rhys novel since I read Wide Sargasso Sea when I was 18, and liked it at least to an extent (though my impressions have mostly left me now). How very many people have read Wide Sargasso Sea and nothing else by Rhys? I suspect it’s a common refrain this week.

The novel – novella? – tells the tale of Anna Morgan, who has moved from her West Indies home to England and has recently lived with a stepmother who clearly considers her more of a burden than anything else. Anna is one of those characters who combines naivety with worldly wisdom – things have not gone well for her, but she retains something of a childlike optimism about the world. Or maybe just a childlike view of the world.

Anna must fend for herself – but (though at times this involves a rather haphazard training as a manicurist and a stage performer) this chiefly means relying on men. She skirts on the edge of being no better than she ought to be, let us say, but she also falls in love with an older man – Walter – who lavishes her with attention, but is never quite trusted by the reader. Discussions about men and women and their interactions are given in the bawdy, cynical voices of Anna’s friends, or the conservative tones of her stepmother or landlady, but we seldom hear a narrator’s perspective – or even much of Anna’s own. She is fixated on Walter alone, rather than men in general – though does get immersed in this sort of conversation:

“My dear, I had to laugh,” she said. “D’you know what a man said to me the other day? It’s funny, he said, have you ever thought that a girl’s clothes cost more than the girl inside them?”

“What a swine of a man!” I said.

“Yes, that’s what I told him,” Maudie said. “‘That isn’t the way to talk,’ I said. And he said, ‘Well, it’s true, isn’t it? You can get a very nice girl for five pounds, a very nice girl indeed; you can even get a very nice girl for nothing if you know how to go about it. But you can’t get a very nice costume for her for five pounds. To say nothing of underclothes, shoes, etcetera, and so on.’ And then I had to laugh, because after all it’s true, isn’t it? People are much cheaper than things. And look here! Some dogs are more expensive than people, aren’t they? And as to some horses…”

“Oh, shut up,” I said. “You’re getting on my nerves. Let’s go back into the sitting-room; it’s cold in here.”

Voyage in the Dark seemed to me to fuse comedy and tragedy in the way of a certain sort of interwar novel. Indeed, it blends fairy tale and realism in a manner that should cause disjunct in the reading experience, but actually blends very effectively.

voyage-in-the-darkActually, the writer I was most reminded of was Barbara Comyns – who does the same matter-of-fact depiction of harsh realities almost as though they were fantasies. Rhys has a greater simplicity to her tone – and, I have to confess, much though I enjoyed reading the novel and was impressed by her handling of character, I was a bit surprised. Rhys is so often mentioned as being among the greater writers of the period, and this novel felt like a very good example of something that a lot of people were doing in the 30s, 40s, and 50s – rather than an example of unique or unusually excellent authorship.

In Eric’s excellent review, he writes a lot about the influence of the West Indies on Anna’s life and on the novel. I have to confess I saw these only in fleeting moments, and I daresay a lot of the questions of identity were lost on me – but that certainly doesn’t prevent me valuing the book, and being very glad that I’ve read more Rhys. Perhaps it is all a matter of expectation. I’m not sure I’d elevate Rhys to the highest echelons of writers, based on this novel alone, but I am certainly more likely to return to her again now that I’ve better made her acquaintance.


Theatre review: The Dover Road by A.A. Milne

the-dover-road-posterWith apologies to those blog readers who are unable to get to London (and more particularly the Jermyn Street Theatre) before 1st October – I can’t resist writing about the play I saw this evening, The Dover Road by A.A. Milne. It’s absolutely phenomenal, and I am so grateful to Mary for bringing it to my attention.


I’ve written before about the special role that Milne played in my development as a reader, and how much I love almost everything he wrote – novels, stories, essays, poetry, memoir, sketches, and plays – but I never thought I would have the opportunity to see one of his plays on a London stage. Sitting in the tiny underground theatre on Jermyn Street – which seats 70 people, many of whom seemed to be regulars – I kept having moments of happy disbelief that this dream was coming true. And, better yet, with what is possibly my favourite of his plays (the only rival being Mr Pim Passes By). I’d read it many times, and even given a conference paper on it, but seeing The Dover Road actually being acted in front of me – well, I almost had to pinch myself.

A little about the play before I talk about how good this particular production was. The Dover Road features ‘a sort of hotel’, run by the mysterious and witty Mr Latimer, outside which Leonard and Anne find themselves when their car breaks down. They have no choice but to seek shelter, but it is almost immediately obvious that the hotel is unconventional, and that Latimer knows more about them than he should – he knows, for instance, that Leonard has left his wife Eustasia for Anne, and that they are eloping. With impossible charm, Latimer (aided by Dominic and Joseph) imprisons them. His sort-of-hotel, you see, is run to help these sorts of couples get to know each other more closely, before they embark on potentially disastrous second marriages.

Also at the hotel, however, is another couple – one coming to the end of their week of genial imprisonment. Look away if you don’t want spoilers, but I don’t think it negatively impacts the play to know (and is, indeed, somewhat inevitable) that one of this pair is Eustasia herself – and the other is Nicholas, heartily regretting his absconding in the face of Eustasia’s maddening attentiveness. There is a wonderful scene where Nicholas calculates how many times he may have to protest that he really doesn’t want anything else to eat, at the end of meals.

The couples, of course, meet – and masks fall and plans unravel in the face of this encounter, albeit always with Milne’s characteristic wit and brilliant construction of lines. Though there are certainly more poignant moments, the stakes are never quite as high as they would seem in another playwright’s hands. (One has to wonder how intentionally Noel Coward was influenced by The Dover Road when writing Private Lives; the overlaps are considerable.)

And this particular production and performance? I don’t think I have ever seen a better ensemble cast. There is no weak link, and the casting and directing were pretty much flawless (my only tiny caveat is that, while Stefan Bednarczyk was fantastic in the role of the wise, unshockable aid Dominic, also lending his skills on the piano in inspired musical additions to the play, it was somewhat hard to believe that he would be physically threatening towards the taller, younger, and bulkier Leonard).

The play depends upon a great Latimer, as the puppeteer of the whole piece. Milne helps with the fantastic lines he writes, but even with his humour and obvious good intentions, he could seem cruel – but Patrick Ryecart carries the role so smoothly and warmly that you can’t help side with Latimer and fall under his charm. It is up to he and Georgia Maguire, as Anne, to provide the pathos of the play alongside the comedy – and she does this equally brilliantly. A quiet scene where they have breakfast, and Latimer guesses the past that has led her to this present, was far more moving on stage than I had expected from the page. Anne is perhaps the most typical Milne character in The Dover Road – he loved a determined, amusing, slightly vulnerable, female lead – and AAM would have been thrilled by Maguire’s casting.

I could eulogise about everybody in this. Katrina Gibson has all the fun that is deserved in the entertainingly awful persona of Eustasia, particularly in her first glorious appearance. Tom Durant-Pritchard works wonders with the role of Leonard – who can come across as rather unattractive on the page, but is here an appealing, good man pushed beyond his boundaries and vulnerable to foibles. And Durant-Pritchard does more with an outraged side-eye than anybody I’ve ever seen.

But my favourite performance came from a character whom I hadn’t paid that much attention to when reading it: James Sheldon as Nicholas, suffering the attentions of Eustasia, had me choking with laughter. Not being an actor, I don’t know how much the audience affects them, but… well, if you were distracted by the guy roaring with mirth throughout much of the play, and particularly for the first scene in which we meet Nicholas and Eustasia, then that was I. Sheldon’s facial expressions, delivery of lines, and half-formed throwaway words, demonstrated such excellent comic ability that I ended up more or less just laughing at what the character was thinking. So good.

As I say, there were no weak links here. I’m hardly objective, but I think it isn’t a day too soon that a Milne play has been revived. The comedy and the poignancy of The Dover Road were shown in this production beyond anything I could have hoped, and I (for I believe this is what is done in the theatre review world) unquestioningly give it 5 stars.

Now, can I persuade anybody to stage Mr Pim Passes By?


Tea or Books? #25: to adapt or not to adapt, and To The North vs The House in Paris

Elizabeth Bowen and novels adapted into films – though not in conjunction…


Tea or Books logoIn the first half of this podcast, we discuss novels adapted into films – and whether or not we would like our favourite novels to be adapted into films – along with our takes on many different films we’ve seen. (By the by, do go and listen to my brother’s films podcast, The C to Z of Movies, which you can also find on iTunes.)

In the second half, we pit two Elizabeth Bowen novels against each other: To The North and The House in Paris, and I get into a mess trying to work out what I think of her. I’d love to hear what Bowen fans (and antifans) think of these books.

Listen in the player above, or a podcast app, or visit our iTunes page. Sorry for slightly lower quality than usual – we spoke for so long that the file size was too big for the usual quality!

Here are the (many!) novels and authors we mention in this episode:

The Dover Road by A.A. Milne (on at the Jermyn Street Theatre)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
Persuasion by Jane Austen
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson
To The River by Olivia Laing
One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes
Sylvia Townsend Warner
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
A History of England by Jane Austen
Emma by Jane Austen
High School Musical: the book of the film (so sorry)
Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Sister Sister (look, I don’t know why I’m typing these out)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley
Submarine by Joe Dunthorne
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
The Ghost and Mrs Muir by R.A. Dick
Patricia Brent, Spinster by Herbert Jenkins
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson
Beryl Bainbridge
The Cazalet Chronicle by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White (The Lady Vanishes)
‘The Birds’ by Daphne du Maurier
To The North by Elizabeth Bowen
The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
Manservant and Maidservant by Ivy Compton-Burnett
The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Muriel Spark
Friends and Relations by Elizabeth Bowen
Family and Friends by Anita Brookner (is what I meant!)
The Little Girls by Elizabeth Bowen
A World of Love by Elizabeth Bowen
The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen
The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen

The #1947Club is coming

I thought it was about time I sent a reminder that The 1947 Club is on its way – and it’s time to start preparing!


Together with Karen/Kaggsy, I’m running the week-long event from 10-16 October, where we encourage everybody to read books published in 1947 and share their thoughts about them. Together, we’ll build up an overview of the year’s reading – having already had lovely success with the 1924 Club and the 1938 Club.

I think it’s always best when people explore their own shelves, but the 1947 in literature list on Wikipedia can also help as a starting point. But here are some of my tips (please forgive formatting issues with the reviews that were imported from my old blog)…

A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor

Sisters By A River by Barbara Comyns

Manservant and Maidservant by Ivy Compton-Burnett

Of Love and Hunger by Julian Maclaren-Ross

Abbie by Dane Chandos

but the best ones I’ve read so far are the phenomenal novels The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton and One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes. If you’re struggling for inspiration, I’d recommend those as a great start!

Do let me know any suggestions you’d particularly like to make, and whether or not you’re hoping to join in with the 1947 Club. Feel free to use the badge, and do spread the word!

The Great British Bake Off: Series 7: Episode 3

Sue is back (with hair so different from the rest of the episode that it was either very windy or this is filmed long afterwards), a laboured pun has been made on the word roll (PUN KLAXON), and somewhere Paul is looking in a mirror and saying “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who’s the breadiest of them all?” It must be… Bread Week!


Tbh, I always find bread week a wee bit annoying. Partly because there are very few ways one can be creative with bread without making it substantially worse than regular bread, and partly because Paul suddenly fears the challenge of anybody else in the bread arena, and wildly criticises everything he sets his eyes on.

But, as promised, Candice is wearing red for bread. I’m wondering how distinct her different lipsticks have to be over the series. By the final, will she be donning a shade of ultraviolet?

Or a whole new colour?
Or a whole new colour, previously – and subsequently – unknown to man?

Blazer Watch, you ask? No? Well, here is is. Some very muted colours this week. And some intriguing turned-up sleeves from Sue.

Paul has been accidentally exchanged with his Madame Tussaud's waxwork.
Paul has been accidentally exchanged with his Madame Tussaud’s waxwork.

In the Signature Challenge, they are making chocolate bread (“the bread must contain chocolate”, as Mel helpfully elaborates). I’m going to come in with a hasty ‘no’ at this point, as I don’t think sweet bread is a thing or should be a thing. If I want sweet bread, I’ll have cake. I do not want chocolate bread. I do not want chocolate on my bread. I hope I have made myself clear.

Mary, though, is apparently excited about the challenge, because they haven’t had it before. As the series go on, they will have to come up with increasingly unlikely (and unappetising) challenges. “Pineapple bread,” Mel will announce in Series 9. “METAL BREAD” squawks Sue in Series 12. By Series 15 they’ll be making flatpack furniture while Paul murmurs the word ‘bread’ in the background.

Another downside to bread week is that it’s not the most fun to watch. We learn (grab your notebooks, stat) that yeast is involved, and that people are putting entirely normal and bread-like ingredients into their bread. We’re left to gasp in awe and/or dismay at Candice putting in 250g of butter. Paul Reaction Face time, for a change:

Tbh it might have been another weight. I'm not that invested.
Tbh it might have been another weight. I’m not that invested.

KNEADING DOUGH HELPS DEVELOP GLUTEN PEOPLE.  (An object lesson in the importance of punctuation.)

Val apparently kneads her 500 times, and wearily counts to eight before the camera mercifully pans away. I suspect she is the sort who would skip numbers while playing hide and seek.

Rav is making a babka, which he thinks is a Middle Eastern bread. Paul says it’s a Polish cake, and waltzes away. Right over to Benjamina, who thinks she’s making a babka, but is apparently make a couronne. Gosh, it’s intense. Sorry, no, it’s just in one tent. *orders some new sides because mine have split*

Mary tells Paul not to be ‘grumpy’ about it (glorious) and Colouring Pencils Man totally has Benjamina’s back when it comes to the name of it.

Even if he does need to learn about the Oxford comma.
Even if he does need to learn about the Oxford comma.

Kate is making two types of chocolate dough, because apparently some of her family will get knifey if they don’t get the one they like. She laughs nervously about pleasing everyone.

Over at Tom/Michael’s desk, he’s doing the windowpane test – which someone does most years, but GBBO always tells us about as though it were a fresh new invention. One can imagine GBBO as a caveman, forever trying to impress people with a circular stone or fire.


This year, we skate past the usual prove-in-proving-drawer-or-oven debate, in favour of Andrew’s daring (apparently) decision not to double prove. Look, I had no idea double proving was a necessity, but then I’ve never made bread. Mary is certainly shocked, and Rav treats it with the polite subdued horror that one would the tid-bit that a friend was considering bestiality.


The downside to proving and long oven times is that the bakers don’t have much to do for a while. Not enough screaming and running about and trying to turn demerara into a miniaturised sculpture of Weston-super-Mare. Selasi is really committing to his relaxation schtick.


Val takes a jaunt down memory lane, telling us that she couldn’t afford chocolate as a child. That can be added to the lollipops she couldn’t afford last episode. I’m fully expecting her to continue on this path throughout the series, confiding (by the end) that she couldn’t afford grass or friends or the number seven.

"Chopping? Couldn't afford it."
“Chopping? Couldn’t afford it.”

She does advise that you can make your own chocolate spread, instead of buying it. I economise by not having chocolate spread.

Michael (they just said his name! I’m golden) is every one of us who has tried to spread cold butter onto a sandwich:


People fill their doughs, twist them, cut them, and worry about whether they have too little, or too much, filling. Selasi wisely decides not to go for “too much”, suggesting only that he knows what the word “too” means. Andrew, meanwhile, with his SINGLE PROVE – remember that scandal of a paragraph ago? – has little to do but stare into his oven, and perhaps wonder if that butter wouldn’t be better off in the fridge. Otherwise it might be butter off, amirite.


I’m ten minutes into the episode and I can’t bear hearing the word ‘prove’ anymore. This always happens.

This is a shot that the editing team decide is a keeper:

Blurry? Obscued? I'LL TAKE AN EARLY LUNCH.
Blurry? Obscured? I’LL TAKE AN EARLY LUNCH.

We get intermittent shots of streams and daffodils, suggesting that we have inadvertently wandered into the mind of William Wordsworth, and then effectively a montage of people taking bread out of ovens – and a shot of Candice apparently taken by somebody lying on the floor.


She is wearing quite the fancy dress, incidentally, looking a fair colleen, as our Irish friends might say.

The fiddles come out, and the final minute is filled with people fanning their bread, scattering nuts, and saying “glaze, glaze, glaze” with the wild-eyed intensity of an insane ceramicist. Adorably, showing just how friendly this competition is, everybody rallies round to help Candice in her hour of need. She is doubtless grateful, but also adds “I hate oven gloves” – though presumably the alternative would be worse.

Rav hovers like that friend who wants to get involved, but doesn't know who started it.
Rav hovers like that friend who wants to get involved, but doesn’t know who started it.

And there we have it. Suddenly the breads are all revolving in front of us, and we’re ready for some judging.

Paul likes Andrew’s bread DESPITE that single prove. Or single proof. Hmm. Not so good for quite a few of the other bakers, who have an unusually high proportion of underbaked bread. Which Paul invariably calls ‘raw’. Surely it is underbaked rather than raw? Isn’t it only raw when it’s a pile of ingredients? Look, Paul says “less curls” so I have no faith in anything he says, thinks, or feels. (He also tells Candice that hers is “down to the eat”, whatever that means. Whatever it is, it’s not good; she has a little cry and it’s very touching.) (THIS is how unsporty kids feel in your P.E. classes Candice, let me tell you from bitter personal experience.) (This took a turn.) (I’ll stop.)

Rav seems to do the best at this stage, and he adopts a Little Miss Muffet stance under a tree. Still wearing his apron, which doesn’t seem particularly hygienic.


That sun has suddenly disappeared by the rainy Technical Challenge – which is one of the more unpleasant sounding (and, it turns out, looking) bakes they’ve had for a while. Dampfnudel. I forgot to ask my German colleague if anybody actually eats these in Germany, but Benjamina is all of us on hearing the task:


We get our usual collection of bakers telling us that they haven’t heard of it, and haven’t made it before – they have this in common with literally everyone ever – and Candice says she was rather hoping to be making toast. Paul’s defence for assigning this task is that “we’ve never steamed bread before on the Bake Off”. Again, nor has anybody, ever. The camera operator does their best to make the dampfnudel look attractive in panning close-ups, but this only serves to ensure that nobody will ever make these again.


Like all the best breads, it’s served with a spoon. Mary damns it with faint praise by saying it is like an iced bun without icing. Mmm.

Selasi uses those muscles of his to slam the dough against the counter, and the BBC’s Foley artist has a high old time creating unlikely noises to go along with it. He also does something in the line of a fan dance with it.

I think I remember this scene in The King & I.

Oh excellent. There’s an interesting history of dampfnudel saving a town or something that takes Mel off on her hols and allows Germany’s foremost food historian to repeat everything she’s just said in her voiceover.

Why are we in this kitchen? No reason.
Why are we in this kitchen? No reason.

Apparently dampfnudel is still very important to this community, as proved by a photo from about 1996 and a barbershop quartet singing something that almost all of the audience won’t understand, myself included. That’s quite enough of that. Let’s get back to the tent to see bakers making that noted baked good, plum sauce, and watch Candice attempt to divide 900 by 12 solely with the use of her fingers.

They get there in the end.
They get there in the end.

Somebody’s found some timpani, and that’s what accompanies the bakers putting unattractive looking dough balls in saucepans, and looking gloomily into the steam-covered lids. We see but through a glass darkly, y’all. At some point, inexplicably, foil gets added.

Having been told earlier that the bakers shouldn’t lift the lid early, it is with a delicious sense of dramatic irony that we watch every baker do precisely that.

Val. I love you.

Also, is Selasi... wearing a cape?
Also, is Selasi… wearing a cape?

Mel makes an excellent ‘rising dampf’ joke – see, she can do it when she needs to – and the unappealing dampfnudel are presented in their pans to the judging eyes of Mezza and Pezza. In short: all of them are hideous. It’s inconceivable that anybody could want to eat these. That German conflict probably ended because both sides developed a common enemy in the dampfnudel.

Rav comes last, followed by Jane. Winning the technical challenge, much to everyone’s surprise and consternation, is Val. She puts it down to the “pure luck that I’m older that everyone else”, showing that she has only the vaguest understanding of how time works.

Aaaand we’re onto the Showstopper Challenge. It’s ‘savoury bread’ (this should be a tautology), and we have to go through another year where we accept the harmless fantasy that a bread centrepiece is now, ever was, or ever could be a thing.

Oh, and they’ve got to have plaits in them.

Things kick off with Kate, who is taking a turn for the pagan with her corn maiden – but it does give Colouring Pencils Man another opportunity to show off his admirable shading.


It does sound delish, with foccaccia and goat’s cheese and other good things. Mel raises the topic of fertility and Kate violently asserts that she doesn’t want any more children. It all gets a bit awkward, and we wander over to see Michael plying Mary with (the prospect of) a Cypriot alcohol akin to white spirit.

Andrew is making a basket; Tom is making Thor’s hammer; Val is making… Noah’s Ark. While I am fully willing to believe that she was a passenger on said ark, her actual construction ambitions only seem to be tangentially related to it. She’s essentially shoving a few animals into a basket. “Yes, it’ll be plaited,” she explains to Paul, with the bright smile and weary patronising tone of an exhausted kindergarten teacher.

"Lovely animals!" she added. "Now let's all have a lovely lie down!"
“Lovely animals!” she added. “Now let’s all have a lovely lie down!”

Look, I haven’t got a clue what’s going on in Colouring Pencil Man’s illustration, but it does end up eerily accurate.

He wisely doesn't attempt to identify any of the animals.
He wisely doesn’t attempt to identify any of the animals.

There is quite a sweet moment where Mel queries why there aren’t two giraffes, rather than one (Bible knowledge time: there would actually have been seven giraffes, as there were seven of each animal considered kosher) and Val says “they’ve argued”. One of the doves, she adds, has flown away – which has more of a scriptural precedent.

Selasi tells some anecdote about sitting under a tree that apparently justifies his centrepiece not being a centrepiece. His voice remains like one that Marks and Spencer would use to advertise caramel puddings. Rav, meanwhile, is making something he’s calling pesto but which has seemingly none of the correct ingredients – and is interrupted by Mel and Sue playing ‘guess the smell’, where Mel tries (and fails) to fool Sue with a timer. I remain wholly in love with the fact that these two have the professionalism of two teenage girls putting together a dance routine for the end of year assembly.

At the same time, take my licence fee. Double it if you have to.
At the same time, take my licence fee. Double it if you have to.

Oh good. Lots of close-ups of cooking meat. I suppose that’s the price we pay for bread being appropriately savoury.

We scurry around the tent finding out who can’t plait (Selasi, Val), who can (Kate), and who has decided just to make a basket instead (Andrew). Kate, of course, used to do this to her pony.


Tom refuses to join in Mel’s naughty suggestions about the shape of his dough, because his mum will be watching. I applaud you, Tom, to the extent that I think I’ve finally established that your name is Tom rather than Michael. I’m not promising anything.

The word ‘prove’ has lost all meaning. I want a company to set up that does PR and baking, and it could be called PR.OVEN. And it would be wonderful.

Less wonderful is Val who, in the process of ignoring Mel’s questions about her Noah’s Ark animals, manages to… cut herself on an oven tray? I’m pretty sure she burned herself, and Sue has got entirely the wrong health and safety response in mind.

Still, great television.
Still, great television.

Paul looms around the tent like some sort of grim reaper, and we get our usual flurry of ovens taking things out of ovens while Val wanders around with her hand still in the air, apparently doing nothing whatsoever. Except look a little like her Statue of Liberty from last week.


After a quick final immersion in daffodils, we’re onto the judging. I don’t think any of them look particularly nice enough to feature in a ‘my favourites’ section. Instead, let’s have a gander at Val’s debacle. (“You can do design,” lies Mary, stroking the bread.)


Most people do pretty well – perhaps something with actually giving them enough time to bake the bread properly – but Selasi is criticised for just dumping a pile of shapeless loaves on the table, and Michael’s is considered a mess. There is not, I am sorry to tell you, enough coriander.

Most heartbreakingly, Candice gets all upset at her quite bad feedback on her underworked dough and appearance, but they do like her flavours. She’s obviously one to take things to heart – as opposed to our Val, who could be told that she was literally on trial for her baking ineptitude and would cheerily, madly, laugh it off. They seem to narrow it down to Val and Candice going home, in their pre-announcement debrief.

Then, rather out of nowhere, the winner is…


Tom – whom Mary describes as having been “consistently in the middle” over the past weeks – which, can I remind you, have only numbered two so far. How consistent can one be twice?

And it’s not Candice or Val heading home – but rather:

Michael. (I *think* Val has gone to sleep.)
Michael. (I *think* Val has gone to sleep.)

So, Tom has won and Michael has gone. Finally I can conclusively remember which name is whose. Sorry it took this, Michael, and all the best! You’ve still got hockey.

Next week – besides the threat of a return of Kate’s pagan doll – we’re on batter week. Who knew that was a thing? In what world is making pancakes a baking challenge? We’ll find out next time – hope you can join me!


Brensham Village by John Moore

brensham-villageLIFE. It’s so busy right now. And that’s why I don’t seem to be reading or reviewing very much. But I have one more Shiny New Books review to point you towards – and it turned out to be an unexpectedly personal one, since it was about the area in which I grew up (albeit a lot earlier). Read the whole review here; this is the opening to entice you:

Brensham Village, the latest volume from the Slightly Foxed Editions series that I love so dearly, is a sort of sequel to Portrait of Elmbury, also published by Slightly Foxed – indeed, it is apparently the middle of a trilogy. I have yet to readPortrait of Elmbury, so let me put your mind at ease from the outset: this is a straightforward delight that requires no familiarity with the first memoir. First published in 1946, it must have been a wonderful antidote to years of war – and is equally welcome today.

Great British Bake Off: Series 7: Episode 2

Thank you for your very kind comments on last week’s episode – it’s lovely to have lots of people enjoying the Bake Off together (and many apologies to those in countries which can’t watch this series yet! There will be many spoilers, I’m afraid.) Sorry that I haven’t replied to comments yet; I will soon, promise.

It’s biscuit week, and for the first time ever – he says, without troubling to check – Mel is flying solo for GBBO. And, to emphasise this anomaly, she is huddled, miserably, in an anorak at the end of the drive.

Oh, hi, I guess.
Oh, hi, I guess.

She isn’t woebegone to the extent of not making a ‘snap’ and ‘crunch’ pair o’ puns (and presumably also quoting the name of a rip off cereal from Lidl). Like some sort of ghostly ancestor, Sue remains on the voiceover. She is lingering, much like the looks exchanged by Selasi and Candice (thought I’d forgotten that? Mais non.)

Our bakers enter to jaunty music, and the cameraman finds ever more unlikely ways to obscure them in the establishing shots. We see Tom or Michael or someone through a cloud of mist, and a concerned Jane from behind a pillar.

Or his finger was on the lens. We'll never know.
Or his finger was on the lens. We’ll never know.

Even sans Sue, we can’t omit Blazer Watch – and we have some lovely pink and – what – cerise? burnt salmon? another pink? – from Mary and Mel. Mary is looking at Mel with “I’m sure there used to be two of them” etched into her eyes.

...no, probably not.
“…no, sorry, I was wrong.”

The first challenge is a fun one – 24 iced biscuits. I’m really enjoying this series’ return to everyday bakes, because it should inspire more home baking – even if we can’t all hope to achieve biscuits “as crisp as Paul’s hair” (Paul stoically ignores Mel, as per). Jane confides that she has practised the biscuits but hasn’t practised icing them, to be honest – we appreciate your honesty, thank you Jane – and Selasi says something calming but irrelevant about taking each day as it comes. I’m 90% sure that he’s lowkey auditioning for a Stop Smoking in Forty Days audiobook.

Mary waffles about consistency, in the garden, huddled in an enormous coat and clearly freezing, while the camera pans in on Louise shovelling some teabags around a glass bowl. The poor thing has clearly lost her mind completely.

They are, I grant, a consistent size.
They are, I grant, a consistent size.

Paul says something provocative about dunking, and we’re over to find out more about Louise’s biscuits. She’s only had a chance to say “Welsh fruitcake” – the joke is too obvious, so I shall leave it to one side – before we see her partner dragging her up an otherwise deserted hill. Yay! It’s hobbies week!

"Hobbies? No, not really. Oh... we HAVE to have one? I guess... well, I guess we sometimes go outside."
“Hobbies? No, not really. Oh… we HAVE to have one? I guess… well, I guess we sometimes go outside.”

It ain’t looking good for our Louise, as she answers the “snap or shortbread” dichotomy with something akin to a halfhearted sigh, and a concession that the biscuits will probably be disappointingly soft. “Good luck anyway,” says Paul.


Val’s hobby, meanwhile, is shrieking with laughter at her grandson, whose witticisms – couched, as they are, in stoney silence – left me rather cold. She does also laugh at the rather heartrending tale of childhood poverty she tells, though, so perhaps she sees merriment where others do not. Andrew, for his part, is in the world’s smallest musical theatre group.

Who meet, it seems, in Candice's P.E. hall.
Which meets, it seems, in Candice’s P.E. hall.

Kate, having missed my edicts about flower flavours in biscuits, is making a lavender and bergamot array. We get one of my fave ever Mary Berry Reaction Faces:


Kate is, of course, a Brownie leader – but it looks rather like the only members of her brigade are her daughters.

Selasi, poor boy, is putting hot peppers in his biscuits. I mean, why? Tom, meanwhile, has made 300 practice biscuits – which smacks of a dangerous and debilitating obsession, if anything. Early fave, at the design stage, is Benjamina’s chocolate orange biscuits, which wisely note that flowers should only be seen as an inspiration for decor, not as a flavour. Colouring Pencils Man has done a lovely job of drawing them, though his arrows remain vague at best.

How he must love M & P's love of layers.
How he must love M & P’s fondness for layers.

Rav – who, for some reason, I keep forgetting exists – was apparently inspired by a visit to Goa for his daring and unusual combination of… coconut and lime. Guys, I’ve made coconut and lime biscuits before and, as far as I know, I’ve never been to Goa. He’s looking closer to home for his decor, as he’s directly ripping off the tent bunting.


Disaster strikes for poor Louise – as her biscuits take something of a tumble:


She is clearly one of those who deals with difficulties by resiliently and silently continuing – and Candice helps her as she scoops away the debris and starts again. It’s a better response to disaster than Val’s – of deciding that she can probably just use the floor biscuits anyway.

In no time at all, the ovens have done their magic – and 24 biscuits are coming out of everybody’s ovens. Except for Candice’s, as she’s made 48, to sandwich and double up. “24 on the top,” she notes, pausing for an extraordinary length of time before adding the second half of the sentence, which can hardly be considered a thrilling denouement: “24 on the bottom”. She does also, however, confirm that she will be wearing a different shade of lipstick every week – which is enough to warrant a high-five with Mel. Mel responds with the desperate uncoolness of the schoolgirl who can’t believe the popular kid is talking to her.

Look, I empathise.
Look, I empathise.

Everybody is icing, except Val – who, with supreme unconcern, announces that she hasn’t done any yet. Mel flutters around her in a panic, and Val considers a quick nip to the end of the garden to see how they’ve got their delphiniums so hearty.

Various bakers are furiously counting their biscuits – something you’d think they’ve had considered earlier in the process – and Val stalls around 19 including, I believe, two which remain in a dispiriting state on the floor.


And – the icing is over. I think special mention has to go to the impressive uniformity of Michael’s flagons of ale.

Which, of course, he is staring at with the mournful eye of a mistrustful parent.
Which, of course, he is staring at with the mournful eyes of a mistrustful parent.

There is no crime so great as a soft biscuit, it seems, and Andrew, Louise, and more get penalised on those grounds. I stand by my admiration for Benjamina’s decoration – and Paul approves of the chocolate and orange. Well done for inventing that combination, Benjamina.

Terry who?

Best burn? Mary telling Val “I’m sure you can pipe well”. That’s the sort of cruelty that Paul can only dream of with his overt insults. She comes a second best with labelling Kate’s icing “informal”. As it looks pretty darn impressive to me, I can only imagine she’d describe my icing as straight-up vulgar.

Tom gets… the Paul Hollywood handshake!! He gives the camera a glowing look of pride.

To clarify, this show has no cash prizes.
To clarify, this show has no cash prizes.

Sue wanders into a posh hotel (in jeans) to learn about biscuit dipping. I will avert mine eyes, and we’ll pick it up at the technical challenge (“an afternoon of misery and stress”). And it’s a good’un – I’m quite keen to try it myself. Viennese whirls!

Mel, incidentally, is doing a brilliant job on her own – and I am not the sort of man who’ll fault either her whirl, or her Viennese accent. She does tend to lean in far too close in her conversations with bakers, but we’ll let that slide. She presumably wants the company.

Don’t these look delicious? Mmm. Even Paul doesn’t dunk these, by the by. Oh, and is that a flowerpot shaped like a handbag AND a teapot in the background?

For the abandoned Margaret Thatcher week.

Everybody’s made jam in a matter of moments, and we’re onto the perennial thrill of being told how to cream butter and sugar. Val jokes that she should probably have the right number – well, perhaps – and we get a shot of Kate that makes me proud to be British.

Mid-piping is, like every moment of every day, a perfect time for tea.
Mid-piping is, like every moment of every day, a perfect time for tea.

Consistency of mixture is an issue for all, and Rav is having rather a hopeless time of it – to the extent that it looks rather as if he is using Viennese whirl mixture to illustrate the shifting shapes of the lunar cycle.

We will gloss over the segment on Mel's warm hands.
We will gloss over the segment on Mel’s warm hands.

Bake or chill? The debate we all face on a Friday evening. Some of the bakers pop the trays in the fridge or freezer before the oven – still more, I suspect, wander around opening and shutting the fridge doors, possibly at the direction of the production crew. Said crew are also very keen this week to give us sweeping wide shots of the tent – perhaps they are proud of its placement, though it does seem to have been erected in rather a curious diagonal.


The bakers act as though making butter icing were a complete unknown, wander around, open and shut ovens, and… some of the whirls come out looking great, and some rather flat. And then the cream and jam is added, and Selasi’s aren’t looking so great… presumably unaided by the looming voyeurism of the cameraman who (as luck would have it) still manages to find a way to obscure a section of the tray.

Phew! Almost an uninterrupted shot, there.
Phew! Almost an uninterrupted shot, there.

The music ferociously tells us that the climax of the challenge is over, and the bakers mill around with trays covered in whirls while Mel explains the concept of blind judging in the voiceover, for those viewers who’ve tuned in for the first time in the past three minutes (and have previously had only minimal acquaintance with the English language). Perhaps the saddest moment comes when Paul says “broken” and the camera shows Louise, who could be given the same adjective.

Selasi comes last (all the way from winning the Technical last week, if memory serves), and the top three are Benjamina, Jane, and Kate. I will try making these whirls before the series is over, and feed back with my results.

Mezza, Paul, and Mel debrief on the first two challenges while the bakers sidle into the tent, mutter to each other, and – in the case of Candice – apparently put on two aprons.

Well, sure.
Well, sure.

The final challenge is to make gingerbread memories, or something – basically turning those home VTs into gingerbread sculptures. The important thing is that they taste nice, says Mary pointlessly, while Paul illustrates the need for them to stand up with an anecdote about his Christmas gingerbread houses still being standing in February. It doesn’t speak wonders for their mass appeal, does it?

(Everyone presumably laments Lee’s early exit, as we can now no longer make jokes about him having been a builder, or laboured references to the fact that two of the bakers are making churches.)

Val is making various unrelated gingerbread pieces and shoving them together, so far as I can tell. It has all the design cohesion of a pile of rubble from an overturned lorry. She also appears to want to commemorate a precious memory of that time Louise made sheep biscuits earlier that day.

Oh lord.
Oh lord.

There’s not much to say about flavours and biscuit choices this week, since nobody is veering far from a standard gingerbread, and so everything is about the design and construction. They make what they can of Selasi using honey, and a lacklustre conflict about whether or not to include eggs, but it’s not exactly maverick.

Louise is apparently remembering the future, showing her forthcoming wedding, complete with the easiest conceivable sculpture shape, gravestones – all illustrated here in what turns out to be a rather charitable depiction from Colouring Pencils Man.


Candice is compiling a whole pub – Mary’s face lights up – while Michael (Tom? I’m not putting this on, honest; I forget the moment after their names are mentioned) is devoting his gingerbread sculpture to a time he met Santa at Lapland. And, apparently, made gingerbread and created a souvenir… tablemat?

Look, I don't know.
Look, I don’t know.

Over with Kate, she’s making something or other to do with Brownies (for audiences unfamiliar with this, it’s in Girl Guides movement where young girls get together to make trails and tie knots and foist slings on each other – all clear?). Mary and Mel launch into the Brownie Promise and Mary, adorably, has to pause during “…serve the… Queen”, since presumably the last time she had to say it, it was a King. And that King was Harald Hardrada.

It does seem early in the competition for a challenge this hard, and I’m impressed by how all the bakers are rising to the occasion. There’s lots of flatpack construction (Andrew has 37 pieces), while Candice is making a green jelly for a pool table. She fondly recalls times her younger brother played pool, when he could barely see over the top of it – which rings alarm bells to me, personally, and I wonder if social services should be contacted as a matter of urgency.

A couple of people seem to be making the Empire State Building, and Val talks to the camera about trying to get the right number of windows – while cheerily disregarding even matching one side to the other in this shot.

Lady just don't care.
I am mostly aggrieved that nobody has made a reference to how many storeys this story has.

Sue warns us, in the voiceover, that pieces of gingerbread not only have to go into the oven, but also have to come out of it – and Jane confides in the audience that she doesn’t want to overcook them.

Memories of Ugne come to the fore when we get a passing moment of Kate saying “the children are cooked now” – but she loses Ugne points for not laughing maniacally at the same time.

Construction time has come for most, with royal icing or caramel being used to hold pieces together. Meanwhile, Val has opted for an approach of just moving things around the counter.

Helen - will you concede yet that she is a tresjz?
Helen – will you concede yet that she is a tresjz?

Mel stalks her around the tent, adorably shepherding her back to her post.

Now starts the stage of the episode where I was more or less constantly shrieking at the television. Walls are collapsing, glue isn’t setting, and the Statue of Liberty – in what I can only assume is a poignant metaphor – has had her head snapped off.

RIP Freedom.
RIP Freedom.

There is literally a montage of collapsing pieces – my HEART, my NERVES – and it culminates with this heartbreaking moment, just as music and Mel alike signal that the challenge is up: Louise’s church completely falls apart, each wall going in a different direction.

It reminds one, does it not, of the dissolution of the monasteries.
It reminds one, does it not, of the dissolution of the monasteries.

Again, I can’t emphasise enough how impressed I am with Louise’s attitude. She deals with it so well. I would be a sobbing mess, subtly trying to dislodge other people’s creations. Louise, you are a hero.

The bakers are, somewhat cruelly, made to carry their creations to the table – a distinct disadvantage for those at the back of the tent – and Mary and Paul get to judgin’. Here are some of the creations which most impressed me:




[Not pictured: Tom/Michael’s rather demonic Santa scene. “I wouldn’t give top marks to the actual piping” – Mary in understatement of the episode.]

Winning this week – despite rather clear indications throughout that Kate should have won – is…

Candice, hiding
Candice, hiding

Leaving this week, which is sad but perhaps not a surprise…

Louise. Val lives to see another day - both literally and metaphorically.
Louise. Val lives to see another day – both literally and metaphorically.

I hope you’ve enjoyed it :) Tune in next week for bread week! Here’s something inexplicable to whet the appetite…



Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

Madonna-in-a-fur-coatMy first Turkish book, I believe! This is one I read for Shiny New Books last issue (which reminds me, I should really start organising books for the next edition… if anybody knows of any reprints coming out soon, let me know!) Read the whole review, or here’s the beginning…

Madonna in a Fur Coat, translated by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe, was first published in Turkish in 1943. This translation is the first time this Turkish classic has been available in English, so the book cannot strictly be called a reprint – but we are bound by the restrictions of WordPress (only 4 categories allowed for the menu!) and the fact that new translations make up only a tiny percentage of new titles. We hope Freely and Dawe – and Ali – will forgive us; this is certainly a glimpse back into the Turkey of the 1940s, whichever way we look at it.