Last Night's TV - Kirstie's Homemade Home, Channel 4; Turn Back Time – the High Street, BBC1
Crafty Kirstie's ideal home exhibition
Wednesday 03 November 2010
We've started a revolution," boasted Kirstie Allsopp at the beginning of the third series of
Kirstie's Homemade Home – which is excitable television speak for "We got a lot more hits on the website than we expected". The revolution, which may have passed you by entirely, is something to do with making your own bookends and reconditioning antique furniture. Kirstie calls it "upcycling" and tends to bellow inspiring revolutionary slogans like some commissar of interior design. "Reuse! Recycle! Redecorate!" she told Sean and Gemma, the Wolverhampton couple who had been enlisted for a bit of political re-education in the first episode. And never, under any circumstances, have anything to do with those bourgeois revanchists at Ikea.
Sean and Gemma were an easy conversion job. For one thing, they had a big Victorian house in Wolverhampton which was crying out for a television makeover, so they were hardly likely to dig their heels in as Kirstie smoothed the way. For another thing they appear to have had a bit of a bric-a-brac habit already, having assembled a disparate collection of characterful tat which was filling their undecorated rooms without adorning them. Gemma knew she had to have the plaque with one lonely deer antler fixed to it. She just wasn't quite sure where to put it now she had it. And her house looked to be poised somewhere between promising blank canvas and an anguished call to the producers of Help! My House is Falling Down.
Kirstie whisked them off to architectural salvage yards and stained-glass workshops, getting them to pitch in with the craftwork. And the overall message is that you can get four times the value for a quarter of the price if you're prepared to buy secondhand and push a bit of repair work the way of Britain's craftsmen and women. DIY figures too: Gemma got a crash course in curtain-making, presented so briskly here that all you could take away from the sequence was the idea that it might be useful to learn yourself. And then finally – as in all these things – you got a triumphant reveal that seemed to have involved several thousand pounds more in cash and about three weeks more in work than you'd seen on screen. Kirstie (who never knowingly undersells anything and certainly not herself) declared herself to be "totally utterly gobsmacked" and announced that it had been "a JOY" working with the couple. At which point it was time to upcycle to Turn Back Time – the High Street on BBC1, another series with revolutionary ambitions and a passion for the antique.
Turn Back Time – the High Street would like us to stop shopping at the big out-of-town superstores as well, though an austerity-themed thrift has less to do with the matter than the commercial desertification of Britain's town centres. The implausible tool for the reversal of this process is an immersive history exercise in which four contemporary shopkeepers re-enact how their predecessors would have done their jobs, taking over empty commercial properties in Shepton Mallet's town centre. "Your aim is to make this town fall in love with its high street again," said one of the historical advisers who were guiding the volunteers through the process. What he didn't say was that historical accuracy would have been almost certain to diminish the love, rather than increase it, sweeping away as it would 150 years of painstakingly acquired consumer-protection laws.
Karl, for instance, was a hopeless romantic about the Victorian grocery he was going to be running with the help of his family. "Things were a lot purer then," he said, "and had more of an aspect of naturalness." Well, I suppose red lead and mercury and iron sulphate powder are all natural in their way – though cheese, children's sweets and pickles are not the place you'd naturally expect to find them – and I take it that Karl wasn't permitted to go down that route to increased profit. Over at the bakery, Nigel declined to introduce alum or clay to his loaves, but did adulterate the mix with rice flour – a standard Victorian trick for padding one's returns. Unfortunately, Nigel also declined to take any advice from his wife, a professional baker who had been banished from the bakery in deference to Victorian gender politics, and the first loaves he turned out were barely distinguishable from bio-weapons.
To go with the re-enactment shopkeepers a willing group of re-enactment customers had been lined up, most of whom dutifully ignored questions of quality, freshness, cost and convenience to declare themselves delighted with the experiment – though there didn't look to be a lot of takers for the more conspicuously piggy bits of the giant Gloucester Old Spot pig, which the butcher was having to flog off before it turned green. According to the voiceover, watching the butcher make sausages was what passed for entertainment in the Victorian era, and it certainly drew a crowd here, though I suspect they sensibly didn't cross-schedule against The X Factor. The whole thing ended on market day, with a giant cheese outside the grocers and pease-pudding hot supplied by the butcher. I suspect that its contribution to the revitalisation of Shepton Mallet will be minimal, roughly the equivalent of running 100 volts through a dead frog's leg and getting it to twitch fitfully – but as an entry-level history lesson it's quite fun.
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