The Great British Bake Off Referendum (#GBBOR)

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It was an emergency meeting at the Council of Bakers, and Paul Hollywood was bashing his rolling pin on the table. Thankfully, Agent Mel and Agent Sue had arrived just in time to make a cheeky innuendo about it.

“Well!” gasped Mel. “I never thought I’d see the day that Paul Hollywood would get his rolling pin out in front of everyone.”

“I know!” responded Sue. “He clearly means business today.”

“Agent Mel and Agent Sue!” said Paul sharply. “I have just about had enough of your inappropriate innuendoes. Baking was a fine art before you started ruining it with your insinuations!”

“Ooh!” said Mary. “Look at the size of Sue’s buns!”

“NOT YOU TOO MARY! HOW COULD YOU?!” Paul roared, like an injured (bread) lion.

“Paul, I was just referring to the iced buns that Sue has bought along for the meeting,” Mary replied sternly. “I know you’re stressed out, but you need to remain calm. There’s no room for soggy bottoms around here.” She took a deep breath, steadying herself as she did so; it had been a manic couple of days, a real life technical challenge.

“First of all, thank you all for coming to this emergency meeting, and at such short notice. As past winners of Great British Bake Off you have all proven yourself to be important members of the Council of Bakers… Nadiya, and everyone else who came before, I can’t actually remember your names as it’s been so long but we still very much appreciate you coming.

“Now, the reason I have called you here is because the unthinkable has become a reality- the BBC has lost Great British Bake Off.”

There were audible gasps around the council table; it was Baked Alaska all over again.

“Channel 4 has put in a higher bid and won the rights to the programme. The reason we are telling you this is because we, as presenters and judges, have a very important decision to make. We want your advice in this crucial, once in a life time referendum: shall we remain with the programme, or shall we leave? Are we IN, or are we OUT?”

“Why not just let the public decide?” asked Mel.

“Yeah, I know we’re the ones that are part of the actual process, but this sounds like far too important a decision for us to make by ourselves,” Sue added.

“We did debate that, but what if it was a really close result?” reasoned Paul. “Our audience, united by so many things, suddenly split down the middle. Can you imagine the arguing? It would be too much to bear.”

“I believe we should leave!” A mysterious unknown baker had suddenly entered the room. He had a mess of blond hair, and a mad look in his eye.

“Sorry, but who are you?” asked Mary, trying her best to remain polite.

“I am Boris Chelsea Bunson!” declared the baker with great dramatic flair. “I’m one of those unknown bakers from one of the earlier series that you’ve probably forgotten all about. Now I know I have always professed a love for the company that produces our programme, but I say now that we should leave! Take back control… of our production!”

“Outrageous!” interjected Paul. “You just want to be the new head judge on the programme!”

“Nonsense!” Boris fired back. “I am more likely to be reincarnated as an olive-stuffed focaccia than to become head judge on this programme!”

“But have you really considered what it would be like if you were to leave?” spoke up Nadiya. “There is no certainty as to what would happen. We could lose our jobs! The ratings could slump. We are bakers. We should stick with what we know.”

“But Channel 4’s content is all about innovation, experimentation, creativity!” Boris retaliated. “The Great British Bake Off is quintessentially a BBC programme! The BBC has a long tradition of making programmes  that encapsulate our favourite hobbies and show off the best of British, like Strictly Come Dancing, and Crimewatch! If we can’t remain with the BBC, we should look to go elsewhere. We are a valued commodity in the world of television. They need us more than we need them!”

“Enough!” Paul raised his hands, and silence swept round the room. “To aid our discussion, I sent Agent Mel and Agent Sue to find out what will happen if we go to Channel 4. Agents, what have you found?”

“It’s a lot worse than we ever realised,” shuddered Mel. “They are already planning a spin off show called “Come Bake With Me,” where the contestants have to go round each other’s houses to try three courses of baked goods.

“There’s also rumours of a show called “Baked Attraction,” where contestants work out whether to go on dates with one another PURELY on their baking,” Sue added. “Can you imagine anything so objectifying?”

Both agents then looked at each other, and breathed in heavily. Bemused expressions flooded the room; something else was clearly wrong.

“It’s been a tough decision to make… but we feel this is one recipe we cannot follow. We’re stepping down from the show.”

They said this both in unison, tears slowly forming in their eyes as the council stared back with shocked expressions. Paul was the first to respond. “Surely this idea is half baked?”

“No, we’re not taking the pitta,” Mel replied. “Yeah, we’re scone for good. Doughnut try and stop us,” added Sue.

They both knew that deep down, Paul really did love the puns, and all of the other bakery-related wordplay. At that moment of staring into the brink of the unknown, there was only one thing you could say for certain; at least we’ll always have the innuendoes.

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My Harry Potter Cursed Child Book Review

It’s official: Harry Potter is Lord Voldemort. His soul split into many pieces and hidden into books, theme parks and now a West End show, he will never die. But can the script alone do the show justice, and is it a worthy successor to the seven stories that preceded it?

I dissected this and a whole lot more in my Cursed Child book review on my YouTube channel. Give it a watch and see what you think!

 

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The art of walking in London

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Trains, escalators, discarded Evening Standards; London is just the time from one underground station to another. You spend so much time checking what line you’re getting onto, you rarely have the chance to consider what’s going on up above. But London is restless. There is just too much activity to spend most of your time travelling underground. Admittedly, I am incredibly lucky that I live within walking distance of my work in Oxford Circus… well, if you classify an hour as being “walking distance.” For me? That’s the perfect excuse to put on my headphones and stroll through the city centre.

Lunchtime at Tachbook Street Market, ten minutes north of where I live, is bustling with activity, offering food from every culinary corner. As I make it through to the other side, I spot a group of identikit businessmen all in dark navy suits, clutching a white plastic bag in their right hands with whatever delicacy they’ve opted for from the market. The bags mirror each other as they jostle, the group moving in a uniform formation almost eerie to the eye. Only one is without a blazer; it’s nice to see someone who dares to stand out from the crowd, even if it just with your items of clothing for a midday meal.

Then it’s through Victoria, nowhere near as manic as when swamped with miserable Monday morning commuters. There’s a pub advertising afternoon tea, “elegantly served with Pimm’s.” I can’t help but wonder, what makes the service so elegant? The fact that it’s Pimms, or do the bar staff twirl their way across the room like ballerinas, pirouetting as they pour the jugs from a great height and creating a red, fruit filled waterfall? So many questions, creating another of London’s little mysteries.

It might be the middle of the day- one of the better times for commuting in London- but it’s also the school holidays, and there’s a huge queue for tours of Buckingham Palace that stretches round to the front of the building itself. Tourists strain against the railings, scanning the soldiers for the slightest movement. There’s always people there, but in the middle of August, there are a LOT of them. In Liverpool, they’ve introduced “fast walking lanes” for those who are on a mission, not in the mood to dawdle; London could certainly use some of those at the prime camera-clicking locations.

Green Park is equally manic, a mix of lunching workers, fitness fanatics fitting in an afternoon run and school groups stampeding along the paths; the only oddity is a patch of barren earth where a tree used to be, now roped off but full of pigeons. The Pokemon Go craze has slowed down now, but before there were huge swathes of individuals dotted across the green, staring at their phones and occasionally looking up to where they imagined their target to be.

There’s a bloke fixing some kind of box near Berkeley Square, and what you may ascertain to be true workman fashion, there’s a plumber’s crack for all to see. An elderly gent in a suit has slowed his pace to fully take in the sight before him, gazing with an intensity that is bemusing to the point of almost amusing. Maybe he’s gay? Maybe he’s taken with buttocks in an entirely heterosexual way that is just aroused by curiosity? Maybe he also finds it funny? What I’d give for him to laugh out loud right now.

As I near Oxford Circus, there’s a tourist taking a picture of an ice cream advert on the side of a bus. I shouldn’t judge, but an ice cream advert? Tourists seem to take pictures of anything these days; the bus wasn’t even particularly red. And those are just some of the sights that caught my attention on the way to work; palaces, parks, posterior. Maybe I watch others a little too intently, but given the fact that the sheer number of people can be a negative for some- and it can be an annoyance at times for most- you have to find some quality to it.

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My return to Liverpool

 

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Traipsing through the University of Liverpool campus on a bright Saturday in July, I had completely forgotten I was slap bang in the middle of graduation season. Determined to get a photo of Abercromby Square for nostalgia’s sake, I found the gates locked, and had to twist my hands through the railings to get a half decent picture. Inside the square, a vast canopy covered much of the area, ready to welcome the new graduates relinquishing the reins of student-hood; some striding forth, others tottering more anxiously. If anything could make the two years since my graduation feel like a long time ago, it was this.

I was up on the Mersey for two days, just enough time to refresh my memory of the city. Even the train journey up from London Euston, a path trodden so many times in between terms, had a bolstering familiarity for it. You know you need to re-evaluate your emotions when you’re sighing at the nostalgia of a trip with Virgin Trains, a luxury rarely experienced by us luckless commuters in the South East. Before long I’m catching up with my fellow Bido Lito! alumni, music connoisseur and all-round-good-guy Laurie at Bold Street Coffee, and the ball’s rolling like nothing has changed.

There was an actual occasion for us to experience- the Liverpool Biennial, the largest contemporary art festival in the land, transforming the city’s landscape across ten weeks every two years. There were all kinds of exhibits dotted around Liverpool’s centre, but the highlight had to be in the Oratory at the Anglican Cathedral. Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s “Rubber Coated Steel” was minimalist in its approach, a shot of a corridor with hooks dragging forward startling images, the only audio being the cold, blunt mechanisms, and subtitles along the bottom.

 

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But an unexpected treat was to be found in the ABC Cinema on Lime Street; not just in the films on display, but in exploring the Grade II listed building itself. Closed since 1998, the downtrodden exterior can be a bleak greeting when you arrive into Liverpool’s train station, yet inside it truly feels like a capsule from another time. On leaving, the only downside is your longing to restore it to its former glory. Biennial is great at tapping into moments like that, but more than anything it gives you the impetus to explore some of Liverpool’s best kept secrets, with a real sense of the past and the future colliding, especially at the cinema.

The next morning, I decided to check out a few sites I had missed the day before, with Sefton Park being the biggest draw. Ah, Sefton Park. Such a huge open space, so many things to different occasions. Serenity. Open-minded exploration. Slacklining above the pond. Obscure but oh so brilliant reggae bands in the tropical conditions of the Palm House. Any way you want to relax and unwind, it caters for the occasion. Following this, a catch up with my favourite past reviews editor of Bido Lito! (that pink magazine was imperative to shaping my Liverpool experience) did much to prove that no matter how much time passes, friends will always be up for a laugh.

Granted, it was good to see some of the Liverpool landscape is changing for the better- strolling down Penny Lane for sentimentality’s sake, it was a relief to see the long-neglected shelter in the middle of the roundabout is finally being resurrected- something I always thought was one heck of a missed opportunity- and also the school at the top of Smithdown Road opposite Toxteth Cemetery, having been the site of barren patches of nothing for so long. Change, where needed, is incredibly healthy for an area, and it was good to see Liverpool was showing no signs of slowing.

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It sounds predictable, but Liverpool was such a formative experience for me, and not just at university. My first steps into the world of employment saw me pushing leaflets through letterboxes around Toxteth and Kensington; not the most strenuous of work, but you got a decent amount of exercise and I had plenty of time to listen to podcasts or bands I would be reviewing that evening. Working behind the bar at Chester racecourse, or stacking shelves at the Anfield Asda while dabbling in community radio at KCC Live, and the odd street team shift at Juice FM. All of that defined me so much more as a person.

Well, at least I can confirm it’s official: one and a half years away from your university city is enough to make you feel nostalgic when checking out the old haunts. As much as I love my new home of London, there’s an intimacy that gives Liverpool so much spirit. More chummy than cosy mind; excitable to the last, and always up for a laugh. But then, Liverpool was never just somewhere to study; it filled me with confidence that my own independent mind was not something to shy away from. I hope it keeps changing, but only for the better, and never so much that I fail to recognise while I fell in love with you in the first place.

 

I Can’t Give Everything Away: The Art Collection of David Bowie

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Musician, actor, curator.  Artist, icon, Bowie. There is no one word that defines him other than his name; such was the broadness of his interests, his pursuits, his (sound and) vision. Certainly, he will be mostly remembered for his music, and not everyone will have fond memories of the Goblin King, but to encapsulate what a pioneering, influential figure he was, there really is no other option in terms of providing an explanation.

It’s half a year since he’s gone and there’s no sign of his spirit disappearing. The Aladdin Sane lightning bolt atop the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury; a box set “Who Can I Be Now?” featuring songs from his “American phase,” out this Autumn; even a musical based on “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” coming to London in October (although admittedly Bowie co-wrote the show before his death). But his art collection? That truly is a new side to him, one that has only been hinted at before.

This November, Sotheby’s will be auctioning over 400 pieces of work from Bowie’s collection, many by some of the most celebrated British artists of the twentieth century. Before that, it will tour Los Angeles, New York and Hong Kong before a full exhibition in London in the week leading up to the grand sale, which is expected to bring in a cool £10 million- and that’s just the value of the paintings, before you take into account the previous owner.

For now, a preview of the exhibition has opened in the art business’s Mayfair branch, and with the luck of the draw giving me a day off on its opening morning, me and my housemate decided to head down. Thankfully, it wasn’t too packed- this is after all, only a preview, with just over two dozen pieces on display from the full collection- but there was still an excitable buzz as we meandered the halls checking out the pieces.

Not surprisingly, one of the highlights is Damien Hurst’s “Beautiful, shattering, slashing, violent, pinky, hacking, sphincter painting,” what I now know to be one of his trademark “spin” paintings. The vibrancy of so many colours, twisting around the circle in such a wild, enigmatic manner, made it impossible to miss this piece, an explosion of unrestrained creativity.

I also greatly enjoyed Ettore Sottsass’s ‘Casablanca’ Sideboard, another piece that refuses to blend into the background- except that this was a piece of furniture. So often now we pick out sets of matching chest of drawers, bedside tables and the like, almost for want of uniformity and order, but the jutting shapes and bold colours of this piece are entertaining to behold.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the most astonishing revelation that Bowie had an unusual record player, but the sleek, insatiably stylish Brionvega Radiophonograph by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni was something to behold. Accompanying it was a list of “25 Albums that could “Change Your Reputation,” according to David Bowie,” originally from a Vanity Fair article in 2013. I’m ashamed (but also not surprised, if I’m honest) that I did not have any on the list, but that will also make for interesting listening at some point in the future.

And there, in among the displays, are striking poses of the man himself- constantly reminding you that these particular pieces of art will forever be embedded with a unique context. Why did he buy them? How did they fit into his collection, his style, and his overall outlook on life? The further you look into these things, the more they befuddle you; at its simplest, it offers another definition of Bowie for us to ponder over.

Bowie me

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My first time at the Proms

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A man reaches for a Tupperware of grapes during the interval, as the smell of wine hangs thick in the air. It’s my first time at the Proms- officially as a “Prommer” too- and of all the concerts, gigs, live events that I’ve been to, this is one in particular that is unavoidably informed by the atmosphere. Of course, classical music can be enjoyed anywhere- and maybe likening it to the grandiose architecture of tonight’s venue plays into a certain snooty stereotype – but the ambiance of the Royal Albert Hall really lends to the feeling of the Proms as an occasion, one to celebrate.

And yet, here I am with my flatmate Gavin for the cost of seven pounds. Yes we’re technically standing (though many choose to sit down even during the recitals), but in terms of encouraging people from all backgrounds to experience classical music, the cheap price of the tickets is really promising. There was no queuing for hours either- this is the first year the Proms have started selling these tickets online, on the day of the prom itself. Granted, you can only buy one each, but if you organise it in advance it’s a relatively straightforward process; you really haven’t got an excuse not to give it a go.

The main difference here is that Gavin really knows his classical; he was so determined to hear two of the pieces at this particular prom that he was originally planning to go by himself until I jumped at the chance. I really enjoy classical, but I suffer from a naivety about the different composers, pieces and periods. Sure, I could throw a handful of names at you, but I wouldn’t feel confident debating it. However, your own experience can surprise you at times, and I was happy to find I actually knew the first piece on the bill, Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero;” I just wasn’t aware of its name. Gavin wasn’t a huge fan of its repetitive nature, but I liked the way it built with the number of instruments throughout.

After this came Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor,” an early twentieth century composition with the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging of its kind. As the grand piano was wheeled out, Gavin was craning to see who would be rising to the challenge, and was taken aback by the youthful appearance of Behzod Abduraimov. For such a complex composition, it soared and shimmered throughout its forty two minutes, with an abundance of keys giving the effect of a waterfall. Only the back of Abduraimov’s shirt at the end betrayed how difficult it must have been; the fact he returned for an encore was even more commendable.

Neither of us were aware of Ustvolskaya’s third symphony “Jesus Messiah, Save Us!” but given the uplifting nature of the previous two pieces, it bought a curtain of melancholy that felt out of place; sometimes formidable, sometimes sombre, never really welcomed.  It was intriguing, but fell to Rachmaninov’s shadow. But the fourth! It was a suite from Richard Strauss’s opera “Der Rosenkavalier,” which revived the merrier mood that had started the night. The melodies swelled and dived at such a pace, accelerating up to the gallery before crashing down again, without ever jerking out of place, that it all flowed rather beautifully.

Somehow, I had not comprehended the notion of an encore at the Proms, but after some frenzied foot stomping from the concertgoers, we were treated to two additional pieces. The first neither of us knew, but the second was an unexpected treat that again I knew by ear and not by name- Bach’s “Air on a G String.” Seeing as I have been trying to find the name of this for quite a while, I was rather chuffed to be able to experience it. For me, it’s always felt like a piece of reflection, a time to consider the events that have just occurred. Somehow I got caught up in the notion of an aftermath of a furious battle; quite a contrast to the gentle, contemplative ending it provided to a fine, varied evening of music.

The main thing that I took away from my first night at the Proms is that, because of a lack of lyrics (well, mostly), classical music is something you feel- there were plenty around us, sitting or standing, with their eyes closed as in meditation, just letting the music flow through them. It provokes such a wide range of emotions, that if you’ve not given it a chance before, I reckon you’ll be surprised. After all, movements, keys and composers are just names- the most basic instinct is whether you enjoy it. I can honestly say, as a Prommer, there’s nothing like it.

My Glastonbury 2016 Food Roundup

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If there’s one thing about Glastonbury that you can’t appreciate on the telly, it’s the food. Granted, festivals can be cruel on the bank balance, as your rumbling stomach forces you to part with astonishing amounts for a meal, but the right stalls reward a ramble. I really admire those who endeavor to cook pot noodles and Ainsley Harriot’s couscous on the campsite stoves, as a fair few of my festival mates did. However, if you’re willing to put some money aside, you can treat your taste buds for several days if you pick the right stalls. And the choice! It’s like a small sample from every corner of world cuisine convenes on Worthy Farm.

However, not all Glastonbury food is created equal. Last year, at the end of one night, our drunken eyes were allured by the 24 hour food marquee near our campsite. Even with our alcohol-soaked senses, it was still one of the worst cheeseburgers we’d ever eaten. This year, we arrived at a different campsite at around midnight, shattered from hiking the final three miles to the site with our entire luggage. There was nowhere else to go; even so, I hoped this 24 hour outlet would be different. Sadly no luck; our only hope was to douse it in ketchup. The fact is, there are too many burgers in the world for you to waste your time forcing down a sub-standard one.

THURSDAY

Thursday went a lot better. Any trip to the Park Stage around lunchtime deserves a stop off at the Lebanese Mezze stand. Along with the standards of falafel, olives and hummus, there were also vine leaves stuffed with feta, sumptuous bean and potato dishes. Over at William’s Green for dinner meant an obligatory visit to the BEST cheesy chips you will have; just the right level of crispiness, and melted mature cheddar that doesn’t overpower the whole product. I also tried a stone-baked pizza from a nearby stand, proudly proclaiming it was courtesy of one of the Great British Bake Off finalists; spicy lamb with onions, on a nice crispy base. If they told me he was Italian, I would have believed them.

FRIDAY

On Friday, we were caught in an almighty grime shutdown on the Pyramid Stage, which meant one thing for lunch… Oli’s deep fried halloumi, served in a crispy flatbread cone with salad and sweet chilli sauce. Even writing this makes my mouth water. Granted, a lot of things taste good deep fried, but the combination of textures is what makes this. The soft, chewy flatbread with the rubbery halloumi and the crisp salad leaves… it has to be one of your “must have Glastonbury lunches.”  That evening, as me Tom and Lavie made our way to Foals, I took a chance on Chapati Man; my masala chicken wrap had just the right level of spice, with a good portion of chicken breast in there among the veg.

SATURDAY

Saturday took us back to the Park area, but as much as I loved my mezze, there was too much on offer to go for anything else. I stumbled upon a Carribean stall serving delicious jerk chicken, with a whole charcoaled chicken wing and a large dollop of sauce amongst the rice and peas. Granted, it was a little bit black on the outside, but otherwise the meat was succulent and very good value. That night, waiting for the wonder of Adele, I stumbled across one of several Le Grande Bouffe stands dotted around the site. There’s a reason there’s a few of them; they’re too good to have just one! I went for a sausage in white wine with a potato tartiflette; honestly, one of the nicest things I’ve ever tasted. Probably the only time I debated going back for a second meal!

SUNDAY

On Sunday, I was determined to round off a weekend of good food (and some decent music besides). This was to be a day of past tradition; round the corner from the Other Stage, I banished my hangover with a “Growler”; a deep filled baguette with bacon, chips and melted cheese, described as a “tribute to Pauline Fowler.” Not sure about the link, but it hit the spot. A late afternoon visit to the old favourite Goan Fish Curries was too good to miss; their mackerel masala dahl, with a whole smoked fish atop it, would make the entire ocean proud, and the fresh herbs made it as fragrant as it was tasty. Finally, right before LCD Soundsystem, so I treated myself to Square Pie- a spot-on steak and Guinness, with gravy full of tang and delicious flaky pastry.

Festival food can be hard to get right- not just because there’s so much of it, but if you’re in a group it can be hard not to just go for what’s in front of you- but there are plenty of decent options among the bland. As a rough guide, try anywhere where they’ve made an effort with the name, appearance, that sort of thing. It sounds trivial but often the generic names that just describe the origin of the food (e.g. Mexican) are often below par, as my friends Tom and Lavie sadly found out with some much maligned nachos and a pessimist’s burrito. I couldn’t help but feel bad as I sat there in curry heaven thanks to Chapati Man. Of course, the headliners will always get the most attention, but if you can feast for five days, why turn down the option?

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