So, which farm did you watch last night? That's going to be my new Friday icebreaker. Not, admittedly, the snappiest of choices but... Oh, OK. This joke's not going anywhere. Still, it does seem rather odd that, if you happened to be channel hopping at 8pm last night you'd be choosing between fashion on BBC1, or, erm, farming on BBC2, Channel 4 and Five (Emmerdale on ITV1's not really a choice, is it? And hasn't it got something to do with farming?). Your options on Channel 4 and Five were almost exactly the same: Build a New Life in the Country on Five or My Dream Farm on Channel 4. The first's a trusty staple, the second Monty Don's one-episode-old pretender.
In Build a New Life in the Country, we had Keith and Antoinette, who wanted to move to the south of France. They were halfway there already, with a holiday house round the corner from their desired address, and a three-hundred-grand mortgage on a five-hundred-grand property. All they needed to do was renovate and move in.
Except – surprise, surprise – it wasn't that simple. It never is. In order to fund the building works, Keith was going to have to sell his IT business. Until then, they'd be living off borrowed money. So while Keith buggered off to England to try and raise funds, Antoinette stayed in France with the children to supervise "the project", as she likes to call it. Unfortunately, her French is no great shakes. Neither, apparently, is her building management. Problem after problem emerged and little progress was made.
Back home, Keith wasn't doing so well either. As it turned out, he couldn't sell the business... because it had gone into administration. Gosh, that mortgage isn't looking like such a great idea after all. Not to worry. Keith had a cunning plan. He, um, decided to set up a website. Teaching businesses how to do less harm to the environment. Which is bound to generate the several hundred thousand they now owe people. In the meantime, poor old Antoinette had to move out of the holiday home and into the building site. And what a building site it was too. Months after their self-prescribed deadline the work was still floundering. Nothing seemed to be moving forward. And that's how we left them. Heigh-ho.
Monty Don's rural-bound family didn't appear to be doing much better in My Dream Farm. This time, it was the Wood family doing the moving (Antoinette to France; the Woods to the country... anyone else spotting a pattern here?). Rob and Sue wanted to leave behind their city existence and head to Cornwall to farm. They'd put all the money into a property development that they hoped would generate the cash to fund them. Unfortunately, that was just before the credit crunch. Months later, with the development unable to turn a profit, they were stuck with barely any money, a baby on the way, and a farm to develop. Fortunately for them, Monty was on hand to offer help. Unfortunately, they didn't want to take it.
I actually don't know who was more incompetent – Keith and Antoinette or Rob and Sue. Probably the first, since at least Sue seemed to have her act together. While Rob faffed around with his building development, refusing to heed Monty's call to help Sue on the farm, she was on her knees harvesting vegetables and generally making things work. Poor old Monty did his best to persuade Rob to up his game, but his advice, at least for the most part, fell on deaf ears. Right at the end, salvation appeared in the form of a novelty chicken coop (well, several). Do they have farmers in them? Monty didn't think so. And I'm with him.
Meanwhile, my new guilty pleasure did little to make me feel any better about it. Actually, if they don't find a new plot line for next week I may have to tune out: how many times can we watch Ali from Material Girl come perilously close to reputational and financial ruin, thanks to the evil plottings of fashion nemesis Davina, only to pull one out of the (designer) bag at the final minute, leaving egg on her rival's face and stealing the spotlight? The edge of my seat is looking increasingly distant. In brief: this week, Ali's supermodel BFF, Lydia, almost wrecked her career by throwing up on herself after a party. Meanwhile, Davina had bought up all the red fabric in London, forcing Ali and Marco to buy in bulk. In order to compensate for the volumes ordered, Marco went behind Ali's back and hired sweatshop labourers to make the dresses, including one to be worn by Lydia at her ball in aid of a human rights charity, the very event that's supposed to act as her PR relaunch. Doh! Needless to say, Ali saved the day in the end, thanks to her unique combination of compassion, talent and heady good looks. Who would've thought, eh?