First could you show me how to boil water?: A hungry Jim Shelley finds he cannot cope - or cook - with the high-flown advice dished out by the men and women on the box

I HAVE a problem with food, with cooking food: I can't do it.

Cookery's too difficult. It's too messy and time-consuming. When I try it, it gets me down. I get angry and irritable. I get frustrated and depressed. I get hungry.

The solution, I felt, (as I feel with most things) was television.

Cookery programmes, suddenly, were everywhere: Hot Chefs, Food & Drink, Foodwise, Get Stuffed, Fast Feasts . . . late night and early morning, all afternoon. Cookery celebrities abound: Rusty Lee, Anton Mosimann, Keith Floyd, Sophie Grigson and the Queen of Cookery, Delia Smith, who returns tomorrow, with Summer with Delia (BBC 2, 8.30pm).

I put my pinny on (they all had them) and watched everything.

The first problem with cookery programmes is the presenters. Some are just cretinous (Hot Chef Gary Rhodes, the grating Sarah Brown on Foodwise). Others are just incomprehensible (Anton Mosimann, Hot Chef Rosamund Grant, anyone on Masterchef): you needed 25 years' experience just to decipher what they were saying. 'Clarify the butter', 'de-vein the shrimp', 'devil the duck's legs'.

The presenters know too much. They know everything. They think the viewer will know everything, too. 'I've already started,' said Rosamund Grant. 'Put in any vegetables you like: yams, potatoes, cassava, breadfruits, pumpkins, turnips . . .' Which were best? I didn't want to improvise. What were breadfruits?

'First, make a batter. Then . . .' This was easy for her to say. Batter? I wanted to be told how to turn the oven on. 'Put in a bit more oil, some flour . . .' they said, tipping in various amounts. I wanted details: how many drops? How many grains?

The presenters just aren't helpful. 'Don't cook it in a bowl like this one,' said Sarah Brown, filling up the wrong bowl.

'I'm putting in a cup and a half,' said the pumpkin woman on Eat Your Greens. 'It's an American cup,' pointed out the presenter, Sophie Grigson, not helping.

'Normally it's a lime,' said the okra expert, putting in lemon juice.

I was confused. What was 'a well-fed cake'? A 'traditional pumpkin'? How did it differ from a radical one? What did it mean when Delia Smith said: 'The salt cod should not be very salty'? When Sophie, making squash risotto, said: 'You must never, ever wash the risotto rice'? What would happen if you did? What was a squash?

The presenters not only knew everything, they also had everything. Their kitchens were lovely and spacious. They had more kitchen equipment than I had ever seen.

But I was raring to go, eager to learn. I went out and bought bowls and baking trays, pie pans and earthenware cooking pots. I bought whisks and blenders and spatulas. I bought a pastry cutter, truffle cutters, paring knives, palette knives, a melon baller, a cake piper. I bought lemon zesters. I bought oven gloves. Instructed to bone the chicken, I went out and asked for a boner. I had dreams of basting, braising and battering, of perfecting my folding, mastering my mixing.

Cookery on television is like The Krypton Factor. It's all about ratios, consistencies, constructing lattice-top pie crusts, assembling cakes. One recipe required six egg whites at room temperature. I spent hours wondering which room had the best temperature. Delia Smith made a cake that required extensive origami expertise (putting pleats in the tin foil, cutting holes in the paper covering a cream cake). 'Pierce in three equidistant places,' Delia breathed. I didn't have a set-square.

Delia said my burnt butter had to be 'hazelnut brown'. Was chestnut brown good enough? Panic set in. I scoured the shops and bought a hazelnut, just to be certain I had the right shade.

'You can make a hot roux with cold milk or a cold roux with hot milk.' I was lost. Which was better? What was a roux?

Doing everything right was practically impossible. They jumped ahead, they missed things. They offered ominous warnings, threats to the innocent novice. 'If your filo pastry gets brittle, it's a disaster.' I passed this on to all my friends. 'Otherwise, you can get lumps.' Where would I get lumps? 'It's absolutely vital it's defrosted'. Why? What would happen otherwise?

I began to feel inadequate and persecuted. Paranoid.

The presenters, of course, cheated. They jumped ahead. Pastry cups appeared from nowhere ('Some I prepared earlier') to be filled with foie gras, filo triangles stuffed with apricot and prezzemolo, which were magically already immaculate.

Apart from Delia, the presenters all had helpers, assistants or (on Hot Chefs) slaves. I wanted someone to tidy up for me, to prepare the prune and blackberry sauce while I cooked my goose, having already (manfully) 'stuffed its neck cavity with horsemeat'. I wondered if I could get someone on a youth training scheme.

The next problem is the recipes they do. My hope that I could learn how to roast a chicken or make roast potatoes that were the right shape, serve some stew - that, basically, I could learn to make something that I could eat - was immediately dashed.

While I wanted to get the fish fingers right, or do things with baked potatoes, they wanted me to make orange and apple surprise, stuffed grape leaves or 'a platter of savoury mouthfuls' made of roquefort-stuffed prawns. They were trying to persuade me to make chestnut souffle and sesame rice wheels, and to decorate things with olive flowers. I was overjoyed to see bread and butter pudding on Hot Chefs but couldn't face constructing a bain-marie. Their idea of egg on toast was eggs served on 'toastpoints'.

Hot Chef Gary Rhodes insisted on fresh vanilla, not vanilla essence (which I was quite happy with). This took me two weeks to find.

While Get Stuffed may show you how to make something horrendous out of sardines, curry powder, eggs, kidney beans and white wine, 2am is not really the time for such delicacies. The other television cooks are busy using things such as Bing cherries or 'young spinach leaves' (mine looked adolescent). Obviously no one has told them that Londis does not sell snow peas or fresh, wild Venezuelan nutmeg.

Looking at Delia Smith was all very well (lovely, really), but I couldn't understand a word she was saying. The others were completely bonkers. I couldn't cope with the pressure, the dinner-party pressure. They expected me to spend a week soaking my fruit, marinating my mullet, pickling my walnuts. I thought the idea was to make things to eat.

I could not relate to Sophie Grigson (she of the alarming ear-rings) at all. When she said things such as 'There's a comforting satisfaction to be had from a safely stored crop of garlic,' I had no idea what she was on about. And her attitude to onions, frankly, bordered on the fetishistic. 'So delicious,' she sighed, adding cryptically, '. . .in cookery. I've often found,' she purred, 'that size and flavour don't often go hand in hand.'

By now, I was right off my food. It was all too demoralising. Nothing goes wrong on television. In my kitchen, my nerves were in shreds, my bank balance was destroyed and there just were not enough hours in the day to make everything they expected of me. I couldn't even follow it on video, in slow-motion or freeze-frame.

No one appreciated my efforts or the food I made. Even I didn't. My apple pies looked like sandcastles someone had trodden in. My custard curdled, my souffle sank, my butter burnt, my syllabub separated. My medallions of mushrooms looked like swastikas. I couldn't get the pleats in my tin foil right. I could not clarify my butter, de-vein my shrimps or devil my duck's legs. My aspic solidified (what is aspic?) and my tarragon eggs were, therefore, ruined. I was becoming overly reliant on regular intakes of liquid glucose (Delia's drug).

To cap it all, I was expected not only to eat my greens, according to Channel 4, but also to grow the bloody things, too.

I became tired and emotional and ended up shouting at the television set: 'I haven't got six pairs of hands, you know.'

I had regressed. Together, the television cooks had patronised and humiliated me, shattered my confidence, until I could no longer go on. I reached for the toaster.

(Photographs omitted)

Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

    £40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

    £30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum