Let a proper chef – rather than a cheerful amateur – into the kitchen and stress levels will boil over. You can see it in the current series of Masterchef: The Professionals. Back in the summer, in the celebrity version of the show, Dick Strawbridge (alleged TV presenter) actually sold me cookery as a leisure activity. He was enjoying himself. So do most of the non-celebrity competitors. Yet the contestants who already run restaurants for a living, like the quivering David in this week's show, seem to collapse under the pressure faster than an overcooked pommes fondant.
For these young chefs, perfection matters. Timing matters. David's hands were shaking as he arranged his duckling with cherries under the mad staring eyes of Michel Roux jnr. For God's sake, man, just throw the food on a plate and have yourself a glass of wine!
More stress and stridency is aimed at domestic kitchens next week in the person of Jamie Oliver, whose latest hobby horse is teaching us non-professional morons how to multi-task – at top speed. The title of his new TV series, Jamie's 30 Minute Meals, is rather misleading about the "revolutionary approach to cooking" he's about to enforce.
I leapt on the book of the same title when it arrived in our office; and the bit about doing it all in 30 minutes – well, I could take that with a pinch of celery salt.
Alas, it is impossible to follow Jamie's instructions at your own speed. There aren't really recipes at all in this book (a format presumably to be repeated in the TV show): just a list of instructions for cooking three pre-chosen courses, simultaneously. It feels a bit like having a rally co-driver in the kitchen; you're told not to think and simply obey orders. It's quick all right. But fun? As much fun as being a short-order cook.
Lots of people will probably love Jamie's extra-hectic approach (which he indelicately compares to "making 'beautiful love', you might not always get things right first time around, but the benefits when you finally crack it are incredible!").
Maybe some of his fans really do want to eat a hefty three-course meal (risotto AND salad AND cheesecake? ) on a Tuesday night, as Jamie urges. But do we need a chef to hold our hands? Isn't multi-tasking at this level – put carrots on to boil while you're browning beef – anything that a sentient person couldn't work out for themselves?
Turning a cook into a machine is what we get for letting professional chefs and their hierarchical, aggressive and stressful ways of working into our own homes. If we forget that making food is also about pleasure, and might be worth lingering over, we've lost something important. How about cooking that is a bit less tough than this?
The end of this pier was due years ago
I have a rock-solid alibi for my whereabouts on Monday night, so I write this without fear of arrest: Hastings Pier may have been the last word in pleasure back when it first opened in 1872. But latterly it was an unlovely construction. So while I'm not quite cheering on the two men who allegedly torched it, its demise is not a serious loss to our national heritage.
I walked the pier several times as a teenager, taking the special train to Hastings that had 1066 printed on the side of the carriages, and tried to see the kitsch attraction of penny-pusher machines and candy floss. For if Brighton Pier is a depressing little boardwalk crowded with drunken stag-party goers and a karaoke bar drowning out the screams from a rickety funfair, Hastings Pier was worse than that; it was creepy, too. Following storm damage, it eventually closed in 2006, became an eyesore and looked unlikely for rebuilding, even before the flames destroyed it.
I could never understand nostalgia for this utterly oxymoronic building: because what is a seaside pier but a Victorian idea of fun?
The former artist as the lord of the manor
This week we learned the names of four Turner Prize nominees who will compete for a £25,000 pot – actually small change to a successful British artist. According to Tatler, the YBAs are now so loaded and bloated by the art-market boom and years of successful self-promotion that they have shoved the landed aristocracy out of their rightful homes, this nation's great manor houses.
Since 2005, Damien Hirst has owned the 300-room Toddington Manor in Gloucestershire; this summer Antony Gormley bought High House, near King's Lynn, the 100-acre hereditary home, built in the classic Georgian style, of the Birkbeck family; Jake Chapman has a giant converted Victorian farmhouse, also in Gloucestershire; Sarah Lucas now lives in Benjamin Britten's former home near Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
I think there's something heartwarming about this upturning of the social order. Why shouldn't the winners of the art-boom lottery leave Shoreditch far behind and install themselves in historic estates with tree-lined drives? Hirst plans to use his gothic revival manor as a home for his huge collection of contemporary art, according to the magazine, which would be a decent use for it (what else is someone going to do with a 300-room house?). I can think of worse people than artists to be guardians of our most beautiful buildings.Reuse content