Grace Dent on TV: There's a decadence about Bake-Off that makes it joyous, gobble-it-up viewing
This week Grace watched...The Great British Bake-Off, BBC2; Celebrity Masterchef, BBC2
In recent weeks we lapped up abs and glutes. We basked in medals, muscle and physical might. And there's a beauty in all this sweating and grunting – the pinnacle of a thousand pre-dawn trips to a gym which reeks of Algipan and toe-jam – but there's also a beauty in cake. Oh cake. Some people say "cake isn't love", dieticians and psychologists mainly, quacking charlatans the lot of them, but cake IS love.
The Great British Bake-Off, back this week on BBC2, is an hour of pure televised love. It's no coincidence the BBC timed switching off the Olympic red-button multi-channels with the reappearance of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood in a massive tent in Somerset going gooey-eyed about sticky meringues. "Let them eat cake!" David Cameron possibly said as he bribed the Beeb to give us Bake-Off as a cheaper alternative to keeping the troops on the streets. Because there's a calmness and serenity which envelopes the nation during Bake-Off episodes.
If one takes to Twitter – a place where the ambience is often a spicy mix of high-sneer, knocking shop, back-stabbing brouhaha, witch-hunt and sixth-form common room – during GBBO it's suddenly transformed to a sea of "ooohs" and "cors" and "Caaaaaaaake". One nation under a groove of oozing jam, inch-thick butter-cream, sugar-spun meshing and edible silver balls.
Oh fey hipster, earnestly squirting a flawed yet boozy rum baba with cream, who learned to bake cakes with his mummy. You weren't supposed to put parsnips in the upside-down cake. "Mmmm adventurous," smiled Mary Berry. Oh indomitable matriarch contestant with your fondant icing, stopwatch and blind-baking beans. And you, geezer who looks like a North Sea gas engineer who I wouldn't have let loose making a Heinz Bean Breville who then turns out to be a whiz with kiddies' party cakes, I love you all.
"And you've made the first cake on the show which can be seen from space," said Sue Perkins cheerily as a contestant struggled into view with a cake which seemed to be influenced by the dimensions of the London Planetarium.
There's a silliness, a heavily knowing something'*'nothingness, a sheer for-the-hell-of-it decadence about GBBO that makes it joyous, gobble-it-up viewing. OK, I know the national zeitgeist last week shouted "be the best" and "inspire a nation" and "dib dib dib" and "feel the burn" but I've tried long-distance running on many occasions, with all that coughing and crying and throwing up stomach lining, and I've also laid on many sofas putting paid to a Battenberg slice, riding the ripply highs of its caster-sugary, apricot jammy marzipan marvellousness. The cake wins.
Remember that massive Olympic Stadium we built as a legacy for Britain's lean muscles and healthy beating hearts? Well it's August 18th now, please fill it with pistachio macaroons, petit fours and roulade, or build me a house next door using the same builders as that witch who ate Hansel and Gretel and I'll be full locked on. As a TV viewer I am fickle and I've had a think who I'd prefer popping over to your house on a Sunday afternoon – Mary Berry, with flour in her hairline, driving a Volvo estate full of mysterious Tupperware boxes, each one groaning with cream horns and whoopie pies, OR Jonathan Edwards in a flammable windcheater wanting to chat to me about Ryvita, and I'm thinking, "bring on the cake lady".
However, elsewhere on BBC2 this week Celebrity Masterchef returned, I'm sure hoping to make Britain happy, but somehow just making me blue.
Is it my pained imagination or is Masterchef in some manifestation on British screens almost perpetually? The format has now been so hammered and drained of every surprise and twist that I've had happier times recovering from norovirus than sitting through 30 minutes watching former Olympic swimmer Steve Parry explain why he can't fillet a pollock.
And do we care if Madge Bishop from Neighbours can make her own pasta? Oh and that bit where they're all sent to work in a restaurant and it's jolly scary and the big scary chef man is all gruff with them, but the round ultimately counts for bugger all as it's never mentioned ever again in any judging capacity (in fact one could set fire to the restaurant and calmly stand outside drinking a can of white cider when the fire engines arrive and still go through to the Celebrity Masterchef semi-finals if you're pretty and made something for Gregg Wallace that involves custard and runny toffee). I've looked at my critic's notepad of suggestions and they simply read "needs more nougat, needs more Paul Hollywood, needs more Mary Berry' So far, they don't stick in my throat.
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