Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Big Allotment Challenge – Review

So we’ve had sewing, we’ve had baking and now, we’ve got gardening. Jane Austen would have been so pleased. What could be next? The Great British ‘Stick and Hoop’ Challenge? Big ‘Basket Weaving’? The ‘Tapestry’ Take Over?

Fresh from her (secret) stomach-stapling scandal, was the newly glam, Fern Britton. Her endeavour to shake off the mumsy vibe has culminated in skinny jeans and a tousled blonde hair-do. I don’t like it. Bring back cuddly old Fern, not this tiny-stomached vamp.

The premise for this new show is exactly the same as ‘Bake Off’ but instead of a kitchen it’s, well, an allotment. Ok. I’m in.

Almost immediately it became clear this programme was made entirely so we could all play Innuendo Bingo at home. ‘Look at the size of that’, ‘get your radishes out’ etc. For the immature amongst us, it was very hard to watch.

Kicking off with patches of empty mud and then fast-forwarding 15 weeks to abundant plants and flowers spilling lusciously over every tiny bit. How satisfying. Let the challenges commence.

First it was radishes. “Easy to grow, but difficult to perfect”, were the wise words of judge, Jim (Ex -Royal Gardener). Fern’s role as presenter is to swish her new hair and body around, simper over vegetables and seemingly bore us to death with detailed narration about how to grow things, when we we’re all just trying to enjoy some harmless innuendo. Shhh Fern.

Next, it was a Sweet Pea bouquet and after a very hot summer, this was going to be tricky (apparently). They all fuddled around with twine trying to meet the criteria which was ‘a creative use of sweet peas and complementary flowers’. Shaun and Liz, who the programme editors clearly had it in for from the beginning, made a ghastly ‘mish mosh of flowers’ which narrowly escaped having carrots added to it. What? The tasteless, vulgar swines. Jonathan Mosely (flower design expert) was disgusted.

Finally, the jam and curd challenge. Having watched it and rewound it, and having had Fern drearily explain it, I still don’t think there’s a difference between jam and curd. Sorry. But anyway, the pairs boiled and bubbled their various fruit combinations into jars. Poor old Shaun and Liz made tomato jam, as well as a heinous curd, which expert Thane clearly thought was an absolute disgrace. They were for the chop and the accomplished winners were identi-bearded pals, Gary and Pete.

Overall, it was a bit flat, with judges looking for uniformity and perfection. I’d have preferred they look radishes with the Queen’s image growing right through the middle like a stick of rock. Or sweet peas shaped like Lady Gaga. Hopefully in upcoming episodes, there’ll be a bit more drama. Sabotage. Caterpillars. Maybe a flood.

Allotmenting is really a solitary, philosophical sort of thing, not lending that well to the ‘challenge’ genre. Plus, no contestants seem to warm much to this new version of our beloved Fern. Or maybe it was just me.

First published by Cambridge News


Top 7 things Oasis did for us


Happy 20th Birthday to Oasis. You know what this means don’t you? That was all 20 years ago. Twenty years. If ever we needed a doctor, a helicopter, a gin, a tonic and an Alka-Seltzer, it was upon hearing that news. Those marvellous albums have never left my record player. Although, the record player has changed a bit, from the amazing ‘Ghetto Blaster’ I had in my bedroom (with excellent stickers). Aside from great, GREAT songs, here are the top 7 things Oasis gave us:


Oasis were the ultimate kings of Britpop. Blur, Supergrass, Elastica, Pulp, Suede, Sleeper, Shed7, Bluetones, Lush. Ahh it was all so good. The charts were amazing. I’m so glad we picked up that torch when it all ended and just carried on getting better and better. Sorry who…? Jason Derulo? Robin Thicke? Pitbull? Oh bloody hell.

Taping songs off the TV

In the 90s, this is how we all got our music. We held our little tape decks up to the TV when ‘Top of the Pops’ was on, or we recorded songs off the ‘Top 40’ on Sunday afternoon so that all our music had Jane Middlemass on it. ‘Here it is, nomber won, Oaaasis with som might seey….’. Is that not how that song actually starts? Why didn’t our parents help us buy tapes? Seems awfully cruel.


Blur Vs Oasis. Summer 1995. I genuinely believed that I had an important choice to make. It never crossed my mind that, as I liked both songs, perhaps I could hold my little record player up to the TV and record both. No no. I had to choose and I’m sorry to say, I chose Blur. Bloody loved that ‘Country House’. Please don’t tell anyone.


Oasis spent a lot of time telling us they were ‘the best band in the f-ing world’ and after a while, we started to slowly nod and go, ‘oh yeah…. you actually are’. There’s a lot to be said for just telling people you’re brilliant. I’ve been trying it for twenty years now. ‘I’m the best one here you know?’ I tell them all the time at work. I reckon it’s about to kick in. Knebworth, here I come.

Singing along to guitar chords

Before Oasis, we would all sing along to great songs. Sure. We sing our little socks off. ‘I can’t liiiiiive, if livin’ is without yoooou’. But after Oasis, where huge swathes of the songs were massive, brilliant guitar solos, we had no choice but to develop our guitar-singing. Every Oasis fan can sing, note perfect, every bit of guitar in those songs. Including all the computery bits at the start of some of them. Weird. ‘Neow neow neow, nenalinalinalilllll’. D’ya know what I mean?

Album Titles and Covers

I bet you did the following: Bought, ‘What’s the Story (Morning Glory)’ off the back of liking ‘Roll With It’. Then realised this was the second album from this brilliant band. What?! You eagerly returned to HMV with your £8.99 to buy ‘Definitely Maybe’. Then possibly you went to Knebworth, or at least you felt very excited about the whole idea of it. Then a few years later, you queued up to buy ‘Be Here Now’ (OK not actually, but you went straight there after school) and then went round your friends to listen to it while you stared at the album cover for ages, thinking it was immensely cool that it showed ‘today’s’ date. Yes? Thought so.

The Tambourine

Liam turned this instrument from, frankly, an embarrassment, to the coolest instrument around. Before Liam picked it up and gave in a nonchalant shake in between swigs of larger, the tambourine was just what got tossed to you in Double Music, if you were incapable of playing anything else. The Tambourine has Oasis to thank.

Happy Birthday Oasis. I’m a bit sad you all hate each other now.

First published by Cambridge News

Soap Star Disasters Survey for First4Lawyers

Soap Star Disasters


London. E20. Where no special occasion ever goes smoothly and you can abandon your market stall on a moment’s notice. In Albert Square, getting invited to a wedding, or deciding to go for a drink, is a very tense thing.

How much compensation would be due in the following scenarios?

1. When Phil was shot down his front steps, could he have claimed compensation for dry cleaning the blood out of his only nice shirt?

2. Could workers at the Car Lot claim for being forced to spend every day hunched sideways in a porter cabin? Come on Max, it’s time for a bigger office.

3. How much could the residents do with a night out that didn’t start in The Vic and end in the R&R?

4. How much would people save by going home for a cup of tea rather than always going to the caff’?

5. Likewise, could the residents make a saving by buying a washing machine rather than taking their clothes to the launderette?

(Sorry, we’ve got sidetracked)

6. How much compensation could Peggy Mitchell claim for having never had a single mouthful of her Christmas turkey before a fight broke out.

7. How much compensation would be due when the fairground collapsed in 2010?

8. How much compensation would be due when The Vic caught fire in 2010?

An additional sum is awarded each time someone asks, ‘What’s goin’ on?’ or says threateningly, ‘I said, leave it’.


Coronation Street

The most famous and disastrous street in Britain, where members of your family are the people you should trust the least and the unhappy residents are probably due quite a bit of compensation after more than 50 years of turmoil.

1. How many people could have claimed how much compensation after a tram crashed onto the street in 2010 and trashed everything? (Hint: ‘everyone’ and ‘a lot’)

2. How much could the residents claim for the nuisance of Mary’s camper being parked permanently on the street?

3. Is compensation due anyone following the clearly limited career advice they’ve all had at school? The only jobs seem to be at ‘The Rovers’, ‘The Bistro’, the salon or Carla’s bra and knicker factory’.

4. Could Gail and family have claimed compensation after Richard Hillman drove them into a canal? Splash.

5. Could Deidre have a claim after she was wrongly jailed for fraud? Remember those glasses peering forlornly through the bars? It was a sad time.

6. How much compensation was due following the explosion of The Joinery on Peter Barlow’s stag do?

An additional sum can be awarded each time someone ‘pops’ to The Rovers, says ‘give over’, or asks for a ‘barm cake’.



Now we’ve travelled to the most dangerous village in Yorkshire, where no mode of transport is safe. In Emmerdale, it’s best avoid all of the following: Planes, buses, vans, trains, cars and…walking. In fact, just stay home, and even then, switch everything off to be on the safe side.

1.How much compensation could be due from the local hospital? No matter what they go in for, no one ever seems to come out…

2. Could the Sugdens have claimed compensation after a faulty boiler set their house on fire and interrupted their argument.

3. Could Katie Macey have a claim after falling into a mineshaft?

4. Could Jackson have claimed compensation after his van stalled on a railway line and he was hit by a train?

5. Could Genesis Walker have claimed after her car was chased over a ravine? (This might be a trick question. Think about it).

6. How much estimated damage was caused by The Great Emmerdale storm of 2004? Blustery.

An additional sum can be awarded each time someone says they’re ‘going to the Woolly for a pint’.



Over to a tumultuous village in Chester now, where disaster lurks around every corner. How much compensation would be due the victim in the following scenarios:

1.When ‘The Dog’ (pub, not pet) was set on fire, how much of the compensation money would Darren just gamble?

2. How much compensation money could Darren gamble in one afternoon?

(OK sorry, we’ll lay off Darren)

3. When Max Cunningham was run over on his wedding day, how much compensation could Niall have claimed for damage to his car?

4. Poor Tom Cunningham. Over the years, he’s had practically everyone he loves die in a tragic circumstance. How much compensation could he claim for childhood trauma?

5. How much compensation was due when a car crashed into the double wedding of Tony, Cindy, Ste and Doug?

6. Disasters don’t just mean flood, fire and theft you know. What about fashion disasters? How much compensation should the viewers be due after years of having to look at the McQueen family? Our EYES!

An additional sum can be awarded each time ‘The Loft’ burns down, an episode doesn’t begin with someone making their breakfast or Warren Fox reappears even though he’s blatantly ‘died’ several times.

Soap Star Disasters Survey commissioned by Branded3

Jockey School

We’re familiar with this format. A group of sour faced, moody teenagers are sent somewhere uncomfortable and muddy to get shouted at by ruddy-faced adults. At first they resist and then they transform, usually for the better. This time, in a slight amendment to the format, there were also horses.

The programme focussed on three charming (I’m being sarcastic) teenagers. Sixteen year old Stacey, expelled from school and who had a penchant for fighting, her mother tells us (with a giggle, for some reason). ‘If some other lass fancies the same lad as Stacey, then that’s when she might fight’ she says, speaking as if Stacey were an animal, who would fight under particular circumstances. Or maybe at certain tides, or times of year? Sure enough, next time we see Stacey she’s at the Police Station after a fight. She’s says worriedly, ‘If I hit anyone else, I’ll go to jail for 90 days’. Oh Stacey, if only you had a clearer idea of what to do. Stacey’s not all bad though and seems to find comfort in her horses. Or her ‘orses’. One lucky horse in particular has had his likeness tattooed onto Stacey’s back.

Also expelled from school is the freckle-faced, Tyler, who comes from a ‘traveller background’ and likes to career through the town on his horse, bareback, like a bad, skinny Braveheart. Tyler wants to be a jockey and says if it wasn’t for this opportunity (Jockey School), he’d just be ‘riding around with horses and signing on the dole’. Wouldn’t we all.

Finally, there’s sixteen year old Shona. Poor Shona had been bullied out of school and into a pale shadow. Her only friend was her horse Gilly who, she said, doesn’t have a ‘bad bone in his body’, but then she tells a story about how two years ago Gilly bolted and threw her into a barbed wire fence. She hasn’t ridden since. Hmmm. Sounds a bit bad. Bad Gilly.

On arrival at Jockey School the teachers lay down some basic rules. Boys and girls are separated at night. No make-up to be worn. No fighting. Stacey says if they carry on telling her what to do, ‘someone will get punched in the face’. I’m betting she means it as well.

After a hard first day’s horsing around, Shona is crying with the pressure of it all. Isn’t horse riding supposed to be a hobby? Fun? You never see people sobbing over their stamp collections saying, ‘I’ve got to keep going! I can’t give up!’

On we go with the usual trials and tribulations. Stacey meets a boyfriend (the lovely Liam) and then threatens to ‘punch Bethan in the face’ for flirting with him. Alright Stacey, pack it in now, can you do anything else? Tyler gets called a ‘pikey’ but says he isn’t bothered and horse trainer Malc calls Shona ‘a wimp’. That’s a bit strong Malc. Poor Shona.

At the end, precious placements in the riding industry are handed out. Stacey is too naughty to get one, but feels she ‘has matured’. Shona is sadly too much of a wimp to get one, but is returning home ‘an adult’ and amazingly, Tyler actually gets a placement. His dad nearly cries. Nearly. He is a traveller after all.

So that’s horses taken care of then. I can’t help but think maybe they should all go back to actual school instead? All in all it was a bit of an obvious format, and lacking a bit in content, seeming to race from beginning to end without much of a conclusion. When it comes to moody teen programmes, I’ve seen better.


Monkey Planet

Dr George McGavin looks like a cross between Richard and David (Attenborough). We’re on first name terms. I can’t help missing the Attenboroughs when I watch a nature programme presented by someone else. But with a white beard and khaki shorts, George had clearly done his very best to dress up as them, so I was prepared to give it a go. Yes I know, Richard is a movie producer, but I still missed him.

This was the first in a three part series about monkeys. Now, before we go any further, I must tell you, monkeys really freak me out. They have human eyes, saucepan lid faces with fur, and they often look angry, or accusatory, or indifferent. Happily, George tells us (and this isn’t verbatim) that no matter how creepy we find them, they are part of our family. Not mine *nervous laugh*. But yours.

Whereas normally I would run a mile from monkeys, off we went around the world with George in search of them.

First it was Orangutans (that’s ‘tans’ not ‘tangs’ – who knew?) in Borneo where we watched the creatures behaving in a ‘human’ way at the edge of a stream. They were sailing in little boats, drinking from cups, washing with soap and writing with pens. Honestly, I was nearly in tears. George proudly enthused, ‘Look! We share a similar face!’ Speak for yourself.

Then, the Tarsier monkey. These have ultrasonic hearing and eyes so wide that you feel like shaking them and saying, ‘What is it?! What’s wrong??’ If you suffer from anxiety, do not look into the face of a Tarsier.

The fluffy, Japanese Macaque lives in a minus 20 degree habitat. To demonstrate how cold that really is, George takes all his clothes off, turns to the camera and says, ‘eventually I’ll go into a coma, from which I’ll never wake up’. George, really that is not necessary. We get it. Put your clothes back on man!

The Chacma Baboon has a face like one of those heavy duty office staplers and while he’s out hunting we sneak into his cave for a look. Bats, spiders, dung, animal skulls – it’s nice. To be fair, he’d probably have smartened up if he knew we were coming.

When visiting a group of monkeys in the jungle, George climbs a tree and hangs from it in canvas bag saying, ‘this is actually very alarming’. George, again, not necessary.

Lar Gibbons have faces a bit like a Scream mask, and also a bit like when you see a homeless man drinking on a bench. Grey, whiskery, rough and sad.

The Aye Aye monkey has ‘the ears of a bat and the tail of a squirrel’. They tap on trees searching for insect lava and then probe it out with a long, spindly finger. Oh my God. Horror.

Most miserable looking monkey of all is the Black Howler. No, that’s not a Hogwarts spell, it’s a monkey. Its face looks like the embalmed corpse of Tutankhamen, and when George makes a (pretty crap) monkey sound up at the tree, it sets the Howlers right off. Again, horror. I think they saved the post-watershed monkeys for the end.

It went on and on. I’m sorry to say there wasn’t one cute or nice looking monkey in the whole thing, although I’m sure all you monkey fans will disagree. Weirdos. Big or small, they all have human eyes. I feel like they’re looking at me. I’m not sure if I can bear episode two.

Monkey Planet airs Wednesdays on BBC1 from 9pm

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Joanna Lumley meets

People will probably be cynical about this programme. is an unusual guy and therefore quite easy to pick on. Musician, producer, philanthropist, weird clothes, gentle with an asexual demeanour – he’s a bit like Michael Jackson with a corporate make-over, like when coffee shops go ‘authentic’ and hang black and white canvases of Italians laughing over coffee. Anyway, after watching this, I can’t help it. I like him a lot. I’m a brand new fan.

Not only is Will a bit strange, but Joanna Lumley is a strange choice of presenter. She has a Louis Theroux-esq, faux-naive style of documentary making, but if it’s possible, she’s convincingly genuine. Maybe she really is? Who knows.

On arriving at Will’s house, Joanna is met by a host of assistants, including Will’s brother Carl who cuts his hair full-time. Yep.

Will comes down the stairs like a gentle breeze, wearing his trademark ridiculous jacket made from what looks like a cross between a wetsuit and a Galaxy bar wrapper (more on this later). Like an enthusiastic child, he eagerly shows Joanna his awards cabinet, which also contains pictures of Will with Obama, Oprah and his family. Joanna comments (as an aside) that things in Will’s house seem to be switched off and locked as (we guess) he spends so much time away. This is where I had my first pang.

Joanna is invited into the ‘heart of Will’s family’. We met his best friend and band mate Apl.De.Ap (who is a Filipino man, not a robot as his name suggests). Later, Joanna heads over for supper with his mother (he never knew his father), his uncles and an old friend of his Grandmother’s. Clearly, the older you are in the family, the greater respect you’re shown. Watching Will at the table you could be watching a little boy being careful to mind his manners.

Raised to have a strong Christian faith and with a strictness that forbade him to say words like ‘lie’ or play outside the boundaries of his postage stamp sized front lawn, Will obviously maintains a respect/fear and deep love for his family. Again, I felt a pang.

The programme moved through Will’s various ventures, of which there are an exhausting number. Telling us curtly that he gets 4 hours sleep a night by saying ‘think what you can do with 20 hours a day’. My mind goes blank. All I can think is I could do a whole lot of mooching around the house in 20 hours. Will and I are worlds apart.

His involvement in a technological investment, the nature of which was too secret for us to know, meant cameras were ousted from a meeting, described by Joanna as some kind of ‘techno wizardry’ – said with a completely straight face. Theroux would be proud.

Will himself tells us he has a deep sense of social responsibility and a ‘need to help’ so there are numerous philanthropic projects to discuss such as ‘ College’, a school set up by Will to educate youngsters in his old community.

Of course, there’s fashion. He explains how plastic bottles are used to make high quality fabric, or headphones. Joanna buys a tailcoat for her conductor-husband for $2000.

Then last but not least, there’s the music. Sitting next to Joanna in his studio he casually knocks out a new track called ‘Alright’. It’s not amazing, but it’s definitely ‘alright’. Certainly, a million times better than anything we could have come up with in 4 hours, or ever.

At the end, Will was at the O2 Area on his first solo tour. I felt nervous for him, being so far from home and his mamma. A sensitive child-man, in his smart little jacket, with his hair all done ready (Good old brother, Carl), just wanting to do some good and to please people. It was pang-central. Perhaps he’s more of a bastard in real life, I hope so anyway. It’s a bit scary out there if you’re very nice.

Catch up on Joanna Lumley Meets on BBC iPlayer now.

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Mayday: The Passenger who Landed the Plane

This was the incredible survival story of 77 year old John Wildey. A kindly, British sort of Grandad, with coffee coloured teeth, watery eyes that sparkled with jokes gone by and nerves of absolute TITANIUM.

It all started fairly nicely for John that evening. He’d decided to go for a jolly day out at Butlins and instead of driving he thought, ‘why not take the plane?’ Wow. Most Grandads would suggest the bus, or a day watching the snooker. But Butlins? Just for the day? And in a plane? I loved John already.

Along he chugged in his Cessna, his trusty pilot at the wheel, when (as always in a Channel 4 documentary) disaster struck. The pilot said, ‘I feel a bit sick’.  John was instantly worried about getting sick on his trousers and quite rightly so – who wants sick on their Butlins trousers? Soon after, the pilot started breathing heavily, threw his head back and died. (Poor chap. RIP). John reached over and felt the pilot’s forehead. It was cold and clammy. That can’t be a good feeling. We, the viewers, did not feel good.

Finding yourself suddenly alone with a corpse, in an aeroplane that you don’t know how to fly, is the point when most people would do the decent thing and freak out massively, before sending some heartbreaking goodbye-texts from the cockpit, looking for a minibar, and sobbing at the controls until the inevitable happened. Fortunately, John who had worked as a desk clerk in the RAF and, we’re told, ‘knew some flying terminology’, was made of stronger stuff. Don’t knock it. I’ve spent my entire life basically muddling through on zero knowledge and a bit of terminology.

He radioed down to deliver the bad news to air traffic control, ‘Mayday, I’m not a pilot’. The words every controller hopes never to hear. ‘An innocent day had turned into a full blown emergency’, said the narrator. We’ve all been there.

Then began a united effort by Humberside Airport, RAF Search and Rescue and a Flight Instructor named Roy, to help John land his hopeless little plane, in the dark, without being able to see, as he couldn’t work out how to put his dashboard lights on. Oh John again, we’ve all been there.

The team suggested John aim for ‘Runway 26’ which was a small, unlit runway. Let me just pause for a moment and let that terrible advice sink in. The tenuous reason presented for this awful, AWFUL idea was that the wind would be ‘ahead’ and therefore, it would be safer. However, I suspect the real reason was that Humberside Airport didn’t want a plane to crash on its main, lit and international runway and then have to spend the evening delaying flights while poor John was scraped off the tarmac. Shame on you, Humberside Airport.

Anyway, John valiantly flew his aircraft at the dark, little runway-of-no-return, before bailing out and diverting to the more sensible and real runway. I’d imagine air traffic control went, ‘oh for God’s sake OK, let him do it’, before muttering angrily to themselves, ‘this is going to be a long night’.

It was nerve-racking viewing, but to be fair, we knew he got down safely because we knew the programme title. After much tension, the realisation that John had to fly over a main road and an oil refinery to get to the runway, which, had he crashed onto Hull, could have caused massive improvements (sorry DAMAGE, massive damage), John amazingly pootled down and landed the plane. What an absolute LEDGE.

He said it must have been his lucky week as he went on to win £6.70 on the lottery. What a testament to keeping your cool.

Catch up on Mayday: The Passenger Who Landed a Plane on 40D or tonight on 4seven from 9pm

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