Sunday, November 27, 2005

Preparation H

Ever since seeing Lee Latchford Evans wimping out of a bit of torture on 'Commando VIP', I haven't been able to stop wondering what's become of his blonde sidekick, H. And not just because I wished it was him being tortured instead of Lee. Well fortunately for me, Channel 4 have ridden to my rescue by screening 'H Side Story' on Sunday afternoons, a reality show following the man's progress as he spends a year at the Royal Academy of Music in London. It may not feature torture, but it is quite painful to watch.

H's real name, it turns out, is Ian Watkins, which is only one step up from Reg Dwight if you ask me, but having spent a few years named after a letter of the alphabet, Ian is apparently keen to move on and be recognised as a serious performer in his own right, on his own terms, and with his own name. Though he clearly hadn't told the programme's producers that. They preferred to call the show 'H Side Story', throw in a lot of Steps references, and only refer to him as Ian once. But never mind, eh.

Today's episode documented H's preparation for an 'Agents Showcase': a musical performance in front of an army of top west end agents looking for talent. None of whom were put off by seeing H's name on the cast list, which is a little surprising. Fortunately for H, he had on his side two heavyweights of musical theatre: Mary Hammond and Karen Rabinowitz, course leaders at the academy, who took it upon themselves to choose his song for the showcase. Mary eventually came up with Billy Joel's 'Goodnight Saigon', while Karen's contribution was to insist upon "keeping him down to a fairly still performance". Suggesting that she'd already seen him dance.

H was pleased with the song selection, stating that "people generally see me doing comedy songs" (well, I do find myself laughing at him quite a lot), and headed off for a singing lesson with 'Repertoire Coach' Dane. Dane duly listened to a run through of the song, and advised him "Don't be afraid to make an ugly sound". My girlfriend's got the Steps Greatest Hits album, so let me assure you Dane, he's not.

Warbling over, H showed us his "visual diary" (that's a scrapbook to you and me) into which he'd stuck pictures of Asians, in an attempt to get into the mood for a song about the futility of Vietnam. Alongside these images he'd jotted down the words "nightmares, alone, fear, therapy, death and numbness" - interestingly all emotions I felt when my girlfriend played that CD.

But it's not all fun and laughter at the academy. Fame costs. And right here is where you start paying. In sweat. Or to put it another way, H was having trouble sleeping. As he said himself, "I'm awake at two in the morning singing harmonies. It drives me nuts". I've always felt that way about his singing too, but fortunately for us both, H decided to seek out medical help. Not from a qualified doctor, obviously, but from "Australian master healer" Mike Squirrel. After all, if you're being driven nuts, it makes sense to go to a squirrel.

Mike performed the latest therapy from California, known as 'Access', which basically involved talking to H's feet and waiting for them to respond. Amazingly his ankles mentioned that he was having trouble sleeping, so Mike reached straight for the Tibetan sound bowl, sent a resonance through his thighs, and started the acupuncture, before setting light to a few smoking cones on his arm. It's not often you see a squeaky clean pop star endorse smoking, but H seemed quite impressed.

So with his health sorted, it was back to the showcase preparations, and the final dress rehearsal, described by course leader Karen as "a shambles". H bemoaned the whole process, branding the entire show as "a meat market" (which explains why Linda McCartney never had more of a showbiz career) before retiring to his dressing room an hour early to start straightening his hair and putting on make-up.

And then it was show time. H took to the stage with the words "Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be Billy Joel" (well, ok, he didn't), and sang his little heart out for the agents, one of whom declared "I'd be happy to audition him for my next project". Though possibly only for the fun of saying 'no'. But by the end of this half hour celebration of musical theatre, the results were there for all to see. In the words of H, "another bit of good news: I'm getting some kip". Him and me both.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Changing Vrooms

I got quite excited when I saw a reality show with the word 'pimp' in the title. I'd pay good money to see the likes of Biggins, Sonia, and The Krankies wearing white fur coats and snakeskin shoes, standing on street corners and trying to bitch-slap a few 'ho's. But sadly 'Pimp My Ride UK' is no such thing. Though it does feature Tim Westwood, who is to the world of hip-hop and gangsta rap, what Ali G is to black people.

'Pimp My Ride' first started on MTV in America, and like so many other shows which would clearly never translate well to a British version, has now been translated to a British version. Hence the addition of the word 'UK' - presumably a condition imposed by the American producers to make it clear that it has nothing to do with them.

The idea of the programme is simple: it's a makeover show for cars. Find a frumpy old runaround who's seen better days, tart her up a bit, and send her back out onto the streets looking a million dollars. The only problem with 'Pimp My Ride UK' is that in order to get the vehicles looking a million dollars, the team seem to end up spending a million dollars. And unlike users of L'Oreal, the cars just aren't worth it.

But anyhoo, in tonight's edition we met Asif, a young man from North London, who appears to have been named after Alicia Silverstone's catchphrase in 'Clueless'. Which is kind of appropriate, as he lacks much idea about anything except football. Asif drives a 1989 VW Golf Mk II in the kind of condition which would embarrass a scrapyard. The seats are broken, the headlights are missing, the bumpers are hanging, the wings are rusting, and the stereo's wedged in with coins. Which is the only thing keeping the car's value above zero.

Enter DJ Tim Westwood, who spent a few minutes gesticulating at the camera in a 16-year-old's clothes, before asking Asif "Do you worry about the car getting stolen?". Asif looked concerned, and replied "Every night. It's such a vulnerable target". Which either indicates a dry sense of humour, or a level of stupidity rarely seen outside of the Big Brother house. Westwood then stated the obvious: "We've got one choice: to dump it or to pimp it". So will they dump it? Asif. Sorry, I mean as if. After all, why buy a new car when you can spend fifty grand doing up your old one?

Timmy duly promised to make Asif's car "mad hot" (which I think is good) and took the rustbucket to his team of car makeover experts, led by mechanic Jamie, audio man Bluey, and designer Pinky. Presumeably Perky couldn't make it. Never ones to do things by halves, the gang decided to go one small step beyond a new headlamp and some furry dice, by stripping the car down to little more than the chassis, and installing a DVD player, PS2 console, top-of-the-range sound system, video camera, monitors, two fridges, and some red leather seats which cost £1200 each. Which clearly wasn't enough. So they added a vibrating massage and heat function too. And a 15" LCD screen in the boot.

That done, they fitted Lamborghini-style doors, smoke-tinted windows and a custom-made football boot cleaner under the rear bumper. Which is what the new Nissan Micra lacks in my opinion. They then painted Asif's name on the roof and handed it back to him. In the words of Tim Westwood, "The boys have blessed it with the mad flava". Which I didn't think made a lot of sense, until he added "Understand what's going down. He's given you crazy heat". Which frankly meant even less.

The car's now apparently worth more than £50,000. Though ironically you'd have to pay me at least twice that to drive it in public.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Faint & The Curious

If there's one thing which marks out a reality show for greatness, it's the sight of a prime minister's daughter pissing next to her bed. If there's two things, then add a soap star collapsing from the stress of eating unseasoned rice. Oh yes, the modern classic of reality TV is back for a fifth series, and it promises much. None of that old "this is a groundbreaking social experiment" rubbish, last night's 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here', offered only one thing: "Two weeks of absolute jungle madness". And Natalie Appleton isn't even in it this time.

But hey, who needs a tree-phobic in a hat, when you've got Elaine Lordan, a woman who began by describing herself as "feisty", and then proved it by being carried out on a stretcher after five minutes. Though she had just been introduced to David Dickinson, so perhaps it's not surprising. In addition to Elaine and The Duke, the other eight celebs hoping to resurrect their careers this time around include native Aussie Kimberley Davies, who stated "I hope to leave a lasting impression on the British public". Personally I'm still haunted by the memories of her trying to act in 'Neighbours', so I think she's already achieved that ambition.

Continuing the international theme was little Jimmy Osmond, who admitted "I'm kind of frozen in time" (I think he's referring to his plastic surgery there, but I could be wrong), before welcoming Harry Kewell's long-haired lover from Liverpool, Sheree Murphy, who frankly I've never heard of, and Jenny Frost, who declared "I don't like rude people, I don't like arrogant people, I don't like people who think the world owes them something". Which is why she's agreed to do a celebrity reality show. No chance of meeting any egos there.

Adding to the lack of arrogance was Carol Thatcher, who I'm sure will do her best to avoid mentioning her mother for the entire fortnight, much in the same way that Paul Burrell completely avoided the subject of Princess Diana last year. And then there was Antony Costa of Blue (which is how I feel when I hear their music) who quickly announced "I'm not a muppet". I agree. He looks more like a Teletubby.

Joining the obligatory line-up of former soap stars was Sid Owen, who managed to go a full five seconds before saying "Ricky!", and adding a touch of class was wine expert Jilly Goolden, who attempted to play down her posh-girl image by using the word "bollocks" the moment she arrived.

As for feisty Elaine, she announced "I've got more important things in my life than worrying what the public think of me". So give it a week and she'll be begging for our votes. While Carol endeared herself to the nation by deciding to call David Dickinson 'Chips'. It's a novelty which should have worn off entirely by the end of the first day. If not before. Frankly I could slap her already.

The same cannot be said, however, for Jenny Frost's sneeze. Described by The Duke as sounding "like Muffin the Mule", it has to be heard to be believed, and if ITV have any sense it'll be available on the 'I'm a Celebrity' website as an MP3 download before the week's out. I've put my name down for the polyphonic ring tone already.

But anyway, the celebs soon made their way into the jungle, five by means of a trek through the undergrowth and a shimmy across a ravine, the other 50% re-enacting the Enid Blyton classic that never was - 'Five Jump Out of a Plane'. Which gives me the chance to mention that my girlfriend's cousin's daughter's boyfriend was strapped to David Dickinson. Which is the kind of concrete claim to fame that's made Colleen McLoughlin a star.

Having arrived at the clearing they'll be calling home for the next two weeks, the group set about locating the toilet, with Jenny Frost spotting a green thing hanging on a tree, asking "is it that thing there?", and being told "no, that's the water bottle". Clearly they needed a leader with the ability to distinguish a toilet from a bottle of water, and David Dickinson was duly appointed head of the camp. It was an appropriate appointment because, as Antony pointed out, "he just looks like a chief". Well, he's the colour of a red indian.

As leader, David undertook the week's first Bushtucker Trial along with his willing deputy, Sid. It basically involved going up and down a tree and opening padlocks whilst sitting on a swing, but it was clearly a lot harder than it looked. Having collected only four of a possible ten stars, an exhausted Duke turned to his Boy Wonder and said "pretty physically tough, wasn't it". Sid agreed - "those combination locks... they were stiff". Yes, it was a truly horrific ordeal.

Back in camp, the group set about preparing their evening rations, at which point Jimmy revealed that he'd brought half of Salt Lake City's seasoning supply stuffed up the rear end of his teddy bear. Which didn't actually help much, as none of them knew how to cook. Though you'd imagine Antony Costa can make a cup of coffee.

To help get them in the mood for food, Antony and Sheree promptly volunteered for 'dunny duty'. As Sheree said, "It's not every day you get to pull out a big bucket full of pee and poo". Unless you've done time in prison of course. Step forward our old friend Chips.

But Chips and porridge aside, the group's first day ended on a high with the sterling comedy work of Elaine Lordan. Having keeled over for no apparent reason, Elaine was rescued by the ITV medics and given oxygen, before stating "I feel much better now". At which point she went for the full Norman Wisdom cabaret act, and hit the deck again. Her fellow celebs described Elaine's ability to faint at will as "very, very scary", with Sheree adding "honestly, it was so frightening". Yes, she'd jumped out of an aeroplane and handled a vat of celebrity poo, but there's nothing so scary as an Eastenders star out cold on the floor in front of you. Apart from one fully conscious, that is.

Having carried Elaine out on a stretcher, the baton of camp comic passed into the capable hands of Carol, who chose to mark her territory by having a piss next to the bed. I know there was some confusion about what the toilet looked like, but even Jenny Frost wouldn't just wee by the bedside. Into the water supply, maybe, but next to the bed, no. Ironically Carol was immediately voted in for the next Bushtucker Trial. I just hope she washes her hands.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Slough of Despond

As mentioned here previously, one of my favourite types of reality TV show is the sort that dresses itself up as social experiment. Never have we learnt so little than by watching a show which claims it's trying to educate, and not simply to entertain. So I was particularly pleased to see the start of BBC2's 'Making Slough Happy' last night, which billed itself as "a uniquely ambitious experiment". It's a reality show for people who think 'the Science of Happiness' is a Big Brother housemate.

The idea behind the programme is simple (in the 'foolish' sense of the word). Can the scientific study of happiness (which basically involves stating the obvious in a perky voice) be used to cheer up an entire town? Judging by the opening episode, the answer's no, but we've got an entire series to get through before then, so let's not prejudge it.

The location chosen for this experiment was the Berkshire town of Slough (the clue was in the title), home of the fictional Wernham Hogg, and a place full of depressed people. Apparently. It looked quite nice to me, but then I did grow up in Basildon. Taking on the cheer-up challenge was a crack troop of so-called experts led by Dr Richard Stevens, a psychologist who likes to perform modern dance in forest clearings, and who acts like a cross between a stage school child and a hippy. Backing him up was Richard Reeves, a writer and economist, who owns his own megaphone and who headed straight out onto the streets of Slough to ask the locals what they thought his chances were of making the town happy. The residents spoke as one man. What I mean is, there was only one man willing to speak to him. And that man said "Nil".

But undeterred, Dr Stevens announced his intention to create "a chain reaction of happiness" by packing fifty averagely happy Slough residents onto "The Happiness Express" for "a Happiness Away-Day". Yes, that's right, he took them to a conference centre on a coach. Once there, his fellow Richard gave them a lecture on the economy of happy countries, and told them they're more miserable than a former communist state, before the good doctor took them outside for a "Happy Walk", and some ice-breaking exercises involving public nursery rhyme recitals. By which time I'd have been ready to shoot myself.

The culmination of the day was the launch of "The Happiness Manifesto", a ten-point plan outlining the secrets of a happy life. These include such ground-breaking ideas as counting your blessings and phoning a friend, as well as cutting your television viewing by half and growing a plant. Of course if you grow the right kind of plant you can certainly experience a high of some sort, and I was tempted to switch off the TV already, so I could see where they were coming from.

The following day Richard Reeves headed for Slough Trading Estate, where he failed to find any takers for the manifesto, while Dr Stevens took a group of volunteers to the local graveyard. He was undoubtedly the creepiest thing there, but the idea was to remind them all that they're still alive, and make them grateful that they haven't yet died a horrible and painful death in an underfunded nursing home. Slough resident Joanne responded by bursting into tears and talking about the time she tried to kill herself, prompting Dr Stevens to declare "It could mark a new phase in her life". Yes, a new phase of clinical depression.

Clearly reinforcements were needed, and they duly arrived in the form of Dr Brett Kahr, a psychotherapist, and Radio 2's answer to Frazier. Dr Kahr wasn't so much happy, as gay, and he soon set about playing show tunes on the piano, and trying to get everyone singing. Thank god Joanne wasn't there. She'd have topped herself by the end of the first chorus. Clearly Brett had confused happiness with excrutiating embarrassment.

But all of this effort was beginning to pay off. In the words of volunteer Heather, "I do try to give myself a treat. I bought some scollops this week". Oh yes, happiness levels were beginning to soar, and riding the crest of this wave of ecstacy was Richard Reeves, who headed straight for the town centre with a megaphone and offered free pot plants to anyone who was willing to listen to him talk about happiness for five minutes. He found only one taker - a woman whose son had recently died, and who told Richard "You're gonna start me crying in a minute". Not quite the result he was looking for, but hey, Dr Stevens had pushed a woman to the verge of suicide, so Rich was still ahead on points.

What we needed was more experts. So enter business consultants Jessica and Philippa, who failed to get a tune out of the boss of Tunes Engineering, and Andrew Mawson, a social entrepreneur (eh?), whose plan was to bring people together by organising a beach party. Slough doesn't actually have a beach of course, but that's why it's such a brilliant idea. Apparently.

Dr Stevens meanwhile was packing everyone back onto the bus and heading for Hampshire, his plan to cheer up Slough seeming to consist of getting everyone out of there. And it worked. Having escorted them to the middle of nowhere, volunteer Ruth sat by the edge of the lake talking about the positive difference that fresh air and clean living make. She was smoking a fag at the time of course, but you can't have everything.

Back in Slough, Richard Reeves had lowered his standards. He was now offering pot plants to anyone willing to listen to him for one minute. He had no takers whatsoever, but at least he didn't make anyone cry this time.

To be honest, he should have been relieved he wasn't in Hampshire, where Dr Stevens had taken his happy campers into the forest and was attempting to get them dancing in the pouring rain with the words "Make love with this tree!". I haven't seen anything so disturbing in the woods since The Blair Witch Project. Frankly I wish I'd taken the doctor's advice and turned off after half an hour.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Wet Dreams

If there's one thing I like, it's posing rhetorical questions. And then answering them. So I particularly enjoyed 'Dream Business', a new reality fest which began last night on Five, and opened with this little poser: "Have you ever fantasised about jacking in your day job, packing your bags, and running away to start a business of your dreams?". Clearly my response of "No" wasn't what they were looking for, because presenter Geetie Singh (who apparently owns two organic gastropubs - no, really) went on to declare her intention to "find out if those fantasies could become a reality". I think she missed the word 'show' off the end there.

Of course, if a programme like this is going to hold your interest for sixty minutes, what it really needs above anything else is a neurotic incompetent with a drink problem.

Step forward Lesley Hay.

Lesley and her husband Peter have always dreamed of running a ski chalet in the French Alps. Obviously they don't cook, clean, or speak French, but they do live in Scotland, so they're used to the cold. Peter's a farmer, but claims "there's no future in farming", which is true - the days of people buying milk, bread, meat and veg are clearly numbered, so the pair have set their hearts on a move to the mountains. 'Dream Business' kindly (and foolishly) gave them the chance to try their hand at running a chalet for five days, after which their performance would be judged by experts, and if found to be up to scratch the couple would be awarded a prize of £10,000 towards their new life. What could be simpler? Well, if you're Lesley, nuclear physics.

The pair arrived at Chalet Piton in Meribel with high hopes of success, and were introduced to the chalet's owners, Kate & Andrew Thorley (pictured above), who showed them around the seventeen beds and nine toilets they'd be cleaning for the next week. Peter cheerfully stated that "I've had my hands in a lot worse places than a toilet", which is no way to talk about Lesley, and met up with chalet boy Dave, who'd obviously been told to plug the company website address at every opportunity. He eventually resorted to wearing it on a t-shirt.

Introductions over, Peter and Lesley went shopping at the local supermarket, where they took four hours and went £100 over budget. Not the best start, it's true, but at least it got them out of the chalet, which for Kate & Andrew was probably good news.

The first full day in Meribel was guest changeover day. Peter & Lesley got off to an enthusiastic start by attempting to show a new guest up to her room while the previous occupant was still in bed, before getting down to some cleaning, which gave Lesley an opportunity to prove just how badly she takes criticism. It was an opportunity she grabbed with both hands. Frankly if I'd been Andrew, I'd have hit her.

But amid the scowls and pouts, they began preparations for the evening meal. Which for Lesley involved getting pissed and turning on the grill instead of the oven, meaning that whilst she was in the dining room giving a drunken speech to the guests, the Mozzarella & Aubergine starters were setting the kitchen on fire. As Lesley herself admitted, "I'm a disaster with a glass of wine in me". Although to be fair, she's pretty close without.

Not to be put off, Lesley set about serving frozen veg which had barely been defrosted, and responding to a guest who doesn't eat fish with the words "Give him a fucking ham sandwich". She then poured herself another drink and attempted to make an omelette, reclassifying it as scrambled egg half way through, and presenting it to a guest with the words "That's minging".

There's only one way to react to a first night like that. Peter & Lesley took the day off and went ski-ing.

By the end of the week, Lesley had hit upon a new plan for the catering side of the business, which could basically be summed up in two words: ready meals. So as the final 'Test Day' dawned, and with the arrival of the two Chalet Inspectors imminent, Lesley was planning to wow the judges with instant creme brulee out of a packet. Fortunately Geetie managed to talk her out of that one, and as Martin & Marguerite from Bigfoot Travel began their detailed inspection of the chalet, she asked owners Kate & Andrew "If you were the inspectors, what would you fail them on?".

Kate looked uncomfortable, and tried to find a polite way of saying "Everything", while Andrew merely passed judgement on Lesley's cooking with the words "I don't think she's a natural in the kitchen". He'd noticed then.

Back in the chalet, Lesley was attacking her creme brulee with a blowtorch, before losing control and nearly gassing the judges, while Peter was confidently stating "Whatever they think, we've done as well as we can". Which just goes to show how low their standards really were. Sure enough, the inspectors found unacceptable levels of cleanliness, and a poor standard of mushroom risotto, leaving Lesley and Peter with only one course of action: a lunchtime barbecue on the slopes.

Peter attempted to round up seventeen guests, managed only six, and thereby proved that eleven had learnt something from the previous five days, while Lesley attempted to lug a gas barbecue up the side of a mountain on foot. At the top, judge Martin inspected Peter's cooking with the words "Is it meant to look like that?", before forcing it down and gathering the couple together for the final verdict.

Clearly the decision could only go one way, and sure enough, with a look of ashen-faced concern... Martin & Margueritte handed over the ten grand. After all, this is reality TV - you can't have results that make any sense.

Peter & Lesley took the money, before announcing that the week had taught them a valuable lesson, and they were abandoning their dream forthwith. Peter went back to the farm, and Lesley started training as a beauty therapist. She may be incompetent, but she's not stupid.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Avocado Baby

The good thing about a show like 'How Not To Decorate', which began its third series on Five tonight, is that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Each week, Colin & Justin (think Trinny & Susannah, but openly gay) go into a home that needs a bit of a revamp, and armed with nothing but good intentions and a lot of enthusiasm, they completely balls it up in nine days. It could be renamed 'When Interior Designers Attack'. And probably will be for the fourth series.

In tonight's edition, the prancing pair demonstrated how not to decorate the London flat of Neil & Christine Hamilton. The resulting fallout has been plugged to high heaven by Colin & Justin this week - in the past few days they've appeared on Richard & Judy, Des & Mel, The Wright Stuff, and numerous other shows I should be ashamed to admit watching, stating at length that they don't want to talk about it; but having seen tonight's show, I have to say I thought it was all a storm in a tea cup. Or in Christine's case, a wine glass.

The make-over started well anyway, with Colin & Justin giving their first impressions of the Hamiltons' apartment. Colin called it a "hovel" and added "It all looks like it smells of wee", while Justin went with the slightly more camp "Oh come on you monkeys!". No, me neither. Having wondered aloud if the soft furnishings were created from the same fabric Christine uses for her outfits, they made their way into the bathroom, where Justin started fiddling with a wooden chicken, prompting the retort from Colin "Don't pull on the cock". I wonder how many times he's said that before.

To be honest, plywood poultry was the least of their worries. The Hamiltons had fitted carpet in the bathroom and wallpapered over the tiles with a mind-numbing choice of paper which made it look like someone had pelted them with tomatoes (probably not for the first time). As Justin said, "You're lucky you're not crazy, you two". He'd clearly never met them before.

For her part, Christine began optimistically, looking Colin & Justin in the eye and boldly declaring "I think you're manna from heaven". Which I believe was the first - and last - positive thing she ever said. Probably because she hadn't seen their designs at that point. Designs, it has to be said, which consisted of black carpets, magenta furniture, and a timber-clad avocado bath. I'm not saying Colin & Justin didn't have the Hamiltons' best interests at heart, but having settled on the final layout, Colin's exact words were "I think Christine is going to hate it".

He wasn't wrong. She quickly stated "I'm not having an avocado bath", although a jungle shower is obviously no problem, judging by the first series of 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here'. Frankly avocado in the bathroom was nothing - Justin declared a desire to put "a bit of spunk" in the kitchen, which is surely far more unhygienic.

Nevertheless, work began, with Christine becoming philosophical about her new black velvet curtains ("I can use them to scrub the black floor"), and Justin calling her "an old bitch" to her face. A quick snog later (did they learn nothing from Louis Theroux?), Christine outlined her plans for the flat, prompting the outraged response from Justin, "If you want that, go and get some bloody daytime makeover shit to do your house". Yes, how dare she! This isn't daytime TV, this is Channel Five, dammit!

But the trio soon made up with a trip to the bath shop, where Christine talked about her hatred of avocado, and Colin & Justin bought a bath. Which wouldn't fit in the bathroom. A basic error, yes, but remember: this is called 'How NOT To Decorate' - they're contractually obliged to be crap.

Back at the flat, they took delivery of a twenty foot carpet described as "horrible" by the builders, and attempted to get it up a flight of stairs with a maximum width of seven feet, before Christine informed Colin & Justin that "you have screwed my flat into the most godawful mess I have ever seen". Which prompted a masterstroke by the builders - they took out the electrics so it was too dark to see.

Cue the arrival of the new kitchen, courtesy of design assistant Katie. I'm not saying it wasn't everything they'd hoped for, but Colin's response was to tell Christine "It's all your fault", Justin added "I hold you personally responsible", and Christine declared "It's not Katie's fault, and it certainly isn't my fault". Personally I blame it on the boogie.

But all's well that ends well. A mere nine days after work began, and having blatantly ignored every instruction they'd been given, Colin & Justin successfully delivered the Hamiltons the most hideous living room I've ever seen. Or, as Christine put it, "a Morticia Addams pastiche of a funeral parlour". Not so much manna from heaven then, more a bat out of hell.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I Put a Spell On You

Anyone who's seen the documentary film 'Spellbound', ITV's 'Great British Spelling Test', or the BBC's 'Hard Spell' and 'Star Spell', will know that these days, spelling has replaced cooking as the new rock 'n' roll. Channel Five have so far failed to jump on that particular bandwagon, but just weeks after trying to harness the pulling power of Jordan by hiring the lead singer of New Kids on the Block, Five last night attempted to capitalise on the national spelling craze with a show called 'The Real Witch Project'. It might feature the wrong kind of spells, but it gives whole new meaning to the word 'miscast'.

This one-off reality show took five women (with a sixth turning up a week late - they're women, it was bound to happen), and persuaded them to try witchcraft for a month. After all, if you can't mess with the dark side on a cheap reality show, when can you? The would-be wiccans included the likes of 28-year-old Mecca (whose parents were obviously bingo fans), unemployed mum of two, Sam, and good Christian girl Maria, who didn't seem to see any conflict between her religious beliefs and becoming an amateur anti-christ for a month.

The girls were introduced to the unlikely named Gaillies Codd, who sounds like an old-fashioned fishmonger, but is in fact a High Priestess who practices witchcraft in a shed in Walthamstow, and under Gaillies' watchful eye, the five formed a coven and decided what they wanted to achieve using the power of spells. Samantha wanted to give up smoking, Maria to stop arguing with her mother, and Hanna to find a parking space outside her flat. World peace obviously hadn't occurred to them. Mecca's most burning desire, meanwhile, was to get her mobile phone back from her ex-boyfriend.

By a stroke of good fortune, Gaillies Codd happened to know a traditional centuries-old spell for the return of missing cell phones, so the women soon set about chanting and wailing at the kind of volume which, ironically, makes a phone unneccesary. That issue sorted, they moved on to Maria's family problems. Gaillies handed her a bunch of leaves, and instructed her on how to use them to cast a powerful spell. Though whether you can really improve your relationship with your mother by waving a salad in the air, I'm not sure. Mine would probably just tell me to stop playing with my food.

This first coven meeting over, the fledgling witches made their way home, where Sam swept through her house with a magical broom (shouldn't she have been riding it?) to rid the place of bad spirits and bring her health, wealth and fertility. Looking at her children, I'm not sure fertility was such a good idea, but her house did look like it could do with a clean.

Mecca, meanwhile, had managed to get her phone back from the ex, stating "it was definitely witchcraft that brought him to me", thus ignoring the bus he'd taken to her flat, while Samantha was introducing us to her partner, Rob. Rob liked to refer to witches as "strong birds", and was about to undergo surgery for a neck injury he'd sustained whilst headbutting a man in a pub. I swear I'm not making this up. Fellow witch Hanna also had a lame duck husband, Steve, whose heart condition was probably less self-inflicted, so the two women joined together to cast a healing spell for their hubbies.

When asked how he felt about being the subject of an amateur spell, Steve responded with this powerful metaphor: "If you paint a front door with gloss paint and you don't put an undercoat on, it'll just peel off. So a little knowledge is dangerous."

I never did understand DIY enthusiasts.

Fortunately the men survived, so the spell must have worked, and at the next coven meeting the girls were joined by Sarah, a bongo player who claims to have had "a blinding moment of clarity". Which is a bit like Stevie Wonder singing 'I Can See Clearly Now'. Maria, who was still finding her Mum irritating, proved how dangerous witchcraft can be by burning herself on a candle, while Mecca announced "I want to get laid a lot", and immediately jumped naked into a bath of rose petals.

Samantha meanwhile had had an argument with Rob, so used the traditional pagan method of overcoming a row, and buried his toothbrush in the local park. Which is sure to placate any man.

Another day, another chance to see Mecca stripping off and oiling up, this time in the living room with some penis-shaped candles. Apparently it was an 'attraction spell', and let's face it, if there's one thing likely to attract men, it's a girl who likes to get naked and announce a penchant for sex.

Back in the coven, the others were being taught the art of tarot reading, tea-leaf analysis, and crystal-ball gazing, before deciding to hold a seance with a ouija board. As luck would have it, they were soon chatting to Sam's dead grandfather, who was swiftly followed by American hip-hop superstar, Tupac Shakur, who wanted a word with Maria. She just happened to be a fan, though quite what a black gangsta rapper is doing hanging out in heaven with Sam's grandad, I've no idea.

By the end of the month the results of the experiment were clear. Mecca got a shag, Sam bought a cooker, Samantha became a Native American stripper, and Hanna forced Steve to do a parachute jump two weeks after his heart surgery. Which shows the benefit of a good life insurance policy. Maria meanwhile had learnt a great deal, saying "I feel I'm a Christian, but I would also do witchcraft now". I'm sure the Pope won't have a problem with that.