Category Archives: Cambridge News Reviews

Vertigo Roadtrip – Review

Presented by Mel Giedroyc, this programme followed a group of Vertigo sufferers on their journey to overcome fear. Now vertigo, like proper vertigo, not just a little bit of sensible leg wobbling when looking over a cliff, is a terrible and debilitating thing, so our sympathies were with this group from the beginning.

The ‘treatment’ was lead by American phobia expert, Dr Jen and the group’s first assignment was to walk up a flight of stairs. We sat back. This could be interesting.

None of the group were too happy about stairs. We saw a photo of someone’s childhood birthday party, their 4 year old self ominously standing next to ‘the stairs’ that triggered a life-long fear. Gulp.

Anyway, they gritted their teeth and got through it. The stairs were conquered and next it was massive licence payers’ budgets at the ready and off to The Alps. Going straight from the stairs to The Alps seemed like a bit of a jump, but with only an hour programme, they had to get on with it.

The challenge was to travel in a cable car, which even most height lovers would agree is a little bit scary. Hooo hoo, we rubbed our hands together. The phobics are going to flip! But from here on out, the programme was a decidedly phobic-flop.

Forgive my perversity, but I wanted to see screaming, crying, shaking and instead I got slightly anxious people, in a cable car, agreeing that yes, they hated it, but yes, they could handle it.

Dr Jen tried to spice things up. As the cable car climbed she said things like, ‘now let’s all talk about what could happen. Are you afraid the car might fall, plunging us all to our rocky deaths? Are you worried that you might fall through the glass?’ Pairs of eyes blinked at her anxiously, but despite her efforts to freak them out, they arrived peacefully at the top and even enjoyed the view.

Next, a bridge across a ravine. Here we did eventually get some crying from Louise whose brother had (as a child) let go of her hand halfway across a suspension bridge and run off, thusly catapulting her into a life of crippling bridge-related terror. ‘Her fight or flight reaction has been triggered’, said Mel. FINALLY, we thought.

Louise’s breathing quickened and the on-hand medic, who had so far been twiddling his thumbs, seemed concerned. ‘Are you worrying that the bridge might collapse?’ piped up Dr Jen. What a champ. Kick ‘em when they’re down.

Tentatively Louise gripped Dr Jen’s hand and shuffled onto the bridge. ‘Don’t let me go Jen’ she begged. Now come on, you secretly wished they’d get halfway and Jen would let go and run off didn’t you? Admit it. We all thought it.

Boringly though, she got to the other side, incident free. This is ‘unbelievable’ proclaimed Mel and it was hugs all round. One by one, the rest of the group walked across the bridge. Some strolled. Some might as well have clicked their heels. Essentially, it was a programme segment of people just walking across a bridge. I don’t usually have to turn on my TV to see that.

After the bridge, the challenges soared and so did the budget. The group travelled to the 18th floor of the Capital Gate Hotel, United Arab Emirates and Mel promised us, ‘this is going to feel like HELL’. But the group took it totally in their stride. I was beginning to think they were all just in this for the free holidays.

A challenge involving a diving board had group member Lee a bit worried. ‘Eclipse!’ he shouted angrily at Dr Jen, which was the Fifty Shades-style ‘safe word’ for when they wanted out. Mel reassured us that Lee would not be forced to do anything he didn’t want to. Disappointing. I couldn’t help but wish for Lee to be marched to the end of the diving board and pushed in. ECLIPSE! Splash. But no.

Finally, to the world’s tallest building. The Burg Khalifa. If anything was going to set them off, it was this. True to form though, the group just got in the lift and strolled onto the viewing deck. Either this group were outrageous fakes on a free holiday, or Dr Jen’s treatment really worked.

First published by Cambridge News

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

BRITs 2014: The top eight most annoying things

Watching The Brit Awards last night, I noticed that being over 30 now prevents me from knowing who anyone is. Not entirely. Some things gave my brain a flicker of familiarity (‘oh yeah, I sort of know that one’). On the whole though, I didn’t have a clue. I missed Geri Halliwell’s dress, I missed Liam Gallagher, I longed to see Jarvis Cocker making a protest. Other than being too old, here are eight other things which were very annoying:

James Corden

James was hosting for the last time and they made a very big thing about it. Everyone kept saying ‘thank you’ to him for doing such a great job. I hadn’t especially noticed him ever hosting the Brits before (except the Adele year). He took a selfie with Prince while Prince was making a speech (Don’t interrupt Prince!), he made cruel jokes at the expense of poor Justin Bieber, he kissed Nick Grimshaw on the lips. Annoying. Time for a new host.

One Direction

The boys looked a bit tired. There was detectable sadness in their eyes, their youthful twinkle dulled by three long years in the music business. The terrible things they must have seen! Especially Louis. While everyone’s watching that wayward cad, Harry, who is watching Louis? That boy is looking more dishevelled every time we see him. I’m worried.

Beyonce

Beyonce has made the annoying- list, but don’t get me wrong. Beyonce is the absolute queen of everything. she was resplendificent. She was magnificulous! (I have had to invent two words to describe her, because there just aren’t words).Wearing a blue sparkly dress straight from heaven and singing a song that sounded like joy, if joy were a sound. Beyonce is the best. How annoying.

Noel Gallagher, Kate Moss & David Bowie

I briefly nodded off during some act I’d never heard of, when suddenly I heard a familiar Mancunian voice. Shocked, I rubbed my eyes. ‘Oh my God, my time machine. It’s worked!’ There on the stage was Noel Gallagher and Kate Moss, being all Cool Britannia. Sadly though, they were just accepting an award for David Bowie.

Lorde

Current darling of the music industry, the multi award- winning teenager Lorde was there. She is 17. SEVENTEEN. I can’t even bring myself to write any more about her.

Pharrell

Every time I turn on my TV these days, I see Pharrell Williams, in his park-ranger’s hat singing Get Lucky or Happy. He’s on my TV, he’s on my radio. I wouldn’t be surprised if one morning I find him making toast in my kitchen. Pharrell, I like those songs but can you just get of my face for a few days? Please.

Ellie Goulding

She’s almost as omnipresent as Pharrell and during her performance last night, which I was quite enjoying, she inexplicably started playing the drums in a most hectic fashion. It was not entirely unlike Animal from The Muppets. Obviously intended as a cool instrumental interlude to showcase how musical she is, it just made me want to give her a hug and ask if she was alright.

And lastly, but most annoyingly, Arctic Monkeys

Last time I saw Arctic Monkeys they were a group of gawky teens from Sheffield singing pretty good songs. I liked them. But they have seemingly morphed into slick haired men, oozing arrogance and delusions of grandeur. They do things like dropping the microphone and say ‘invoice me’ or make a speech about glass ceilings and rock and roll. Someone on Twitter said, ‘now Jarvis, now!’ If only…

 

First published by Cambridge News

Anne Frank + You – Review

Yesterday I visited the ‘Anne Frank + You’ exhibition in Ely Cathedral. Largely because it was raining and I needed to shelter my daughter’s pushchair and partly because I’d read Anne Frank’s diary as a teenager and fancied a refresher.

As I approached the Lady Chapel, I could hear the chatter and shrieks of excited school children, clearly enjoying a chance to be away from school, and above the shrieks was shh’ing from exasperated teachers, trying to encourage the children to think about the solemnity of what they were looking at.

I remember going on school trips to solemn places. Visiting the trenches of WWI as a child and not really understanding what we were doing there, I spent the day laughing with my friends while teachers shh’ed us. I’m sorry for that now of course. But the horror of war is not for children. They’re not supposed to understand this darkness.

The exhibition, run by the Anne Frank Trust UK, tells the familiar story of the Frank and Van Daan family through words, photographs, video and some pages from one of Anne’s diaries. We’re shown how the families were forced into hiding by the Nazis and lived for 25 months in a secret annexe, before being discovered and murdered. We all know the story, but it still gives you a chill.

There is a replica of Anne’s annexe bedroom, looking very much like a teenage girl’s room. A few movie-star pictures are pasted on the walls, but there’s sparsity to them. It’s clearly the best she could do with what she had and it gives the room the sinister air, which I’m sure the real room has in spades over in Amsterdam. Standing in the room, my daughter and I alone for a moment, the sadness is confronting. A young girl forced to grow to a teenager in this cramped space and even sadder is to know that the precious hope she protected so vivaciously within that room, came to a bitter end in a Nazi concentration camp.

As you move through the chapel, the boards tell other stories: Muslims murdered in Yugoslavia and Bosnia, the murder of Stephen Lawrence, racist clashes in sport, teenager Malala shot by the Taliban for speaking out against the oppression of girls – it goes on. It sounds bleak, but it’s not. Dotted everywhere are messages of hope. Quotes from Anne’s diary like: “How wonderful is it that no one need wait, but can start right now to gradually change the world.”

Anne Frank reaches out to young people as a peer from the past, offering them hope and inspiration to make a future for themselves where the tragedy of racism doesn’t exist. Here’s hoping.

My favourite part of the exhibition is on the way out. There’s a wire tree where you can leave a message and hanging from a branch is one that says, ‘Sorry you’re dead. I think you will be safe in heaven’ – by Evan, age 6. Very good use of the apostrophe for a 6 year old there, Evan. Anne would be proud of you.

First published by Cambridge NewsImage

The Restaurant Man

New series The Restaurant Man, starring Russell Norman, kicked off last night on BBC2. London based Russell is the founder of successful restaurant chain Polpo and is a very accomplished restaurateur. Looking like a cross between Robin Thicke and Pete Postlethwaite, he strode purposefully around London in the opening sequence telling us all of this, with success and trendiness practically pouring out of his shoulder bag. Can you sense the sarcasm?

First lucky duo to be given the Russell Norman treatment, were best buds Matt and Rich. Matt looked like quite a normal guy, but not Rich. He wore braces and a stripy blue T Shirt and actually had one of those French cartoon moustaches, perfectly twiddled into two little flicks. He might as well have a string of onions round his neck. Maybe Matt had met him at a French themed event. Who knows. So French cuisine it is then? Pas du tout! C’est le burger!

Matt and Rich wanted to take the upmarket burger (I’m assuming every time they said ‘upmarket’ they meant ‘disgustingly marked up’) to Southampton. ‘They want to what!?’ we shouted. People in Southampton still live in wattle and daub huts and boil whole hog’s heads for supper don’t they? They trade in grain and bits of flint. They won’t understand this trendy food from London! Surely Matt and Rich must be out of their minds? We were worried. So was Russell. ‘Is Southampton ready for the high end burger vibe’ Russell asked us in a worried tone. To be honest, we just didn’t know.

Rich had a little practise working in a burger kitchen first. Turns out neither he nor Matt had ever been in a kitchen before, so his burger flipping was a bit dodgy. They called in some burger experts who commented on the coarseness of the burger meat. Did you know there was a coarseness numbering system to burgers? I didn’t. But Matt and Rich’s burgers had a nice American vibe apparently. The expert said that ‘in America, everything is finer and easier to chew’. Surely not everything? Those massive cars they drive? Their huge buildings?

There was also the issue of decorating the restaurant. In the end they went for the ‘reclaimed distressed look’ which Russell told them was ‘perfect for the high end burger experience’. I have to agree with Russell there. On a Saturday night at 3am when I’m enjoying a burger in a doorway, I find the distressed look of the pavement really gives it that high end feel.

Not content with all the Southampton bashing so far, Russell continued to totally offend practically everyone by telling Matt and Rich, ‘this is not the sort of place people have expense account lunches. It’s a bit grotty’. Russell, you do realise this programme goes out nationally don’t you? It’s not just a special channel for people who live in London? Ok good, just checking…

So, to opening night. The simple folk of Southampton came suspiciously up to the door, peering in at the lights and fabulous distressed, reclaimed decor. Some of them even came in and amazingly, enjoyed the food. Sniffing it at first and then poking it with their staffs, they tucked right in. Rich’s moustache remained unflustered as he flipped thousands of burgers and he and Matt made a packet. Seems like the rest of the country is ready to spend £10 on a sandwich after all, just as long as it’s served to them in a distressed red plastic basket and they can sit on a reclaimed chair. I’ll be tuning in next week for more trendy tips.

First published by Cambridge News

Was Channel 4’s Don’t Look Down documentary irresponsible?

Oh my GOD – did you watch Don’t Look Down last night on Channel 4? I don’t think I have ever said ‘Oh my God’ more times as I did during this documentary. The previous record for ‘Oh my God’ television was when Felix Baumgartner jumped out of his spaceship and fell to Earth, but this made that look like a little trip round your Granny’s. Felix had a parachute…

Urban free climber, twenty-three year old James Kingston seemed nice, if a little serious. Sitting in his bedroom, he explained his hobby to us with an unsmiling face and cold grey eyes. James spoke of enjoying a life outside of the comfort zone, but as he lived with his mum we weren’t initially convinced. All fine so far. However, James went on to explain how he had transitioned from a reclusive teenager, in his bedroom, at his mum’s, obsessed with gaming and being a bit dull, to a person who liked to climb up cranes and hang from them. HANG. From CRANES. Woah there James, I can barely climb the stairs. What are you talking about…?

In was then, during the montage of James’s crane escapades, that my hands truly started sweating. A head-cam showed James’s feet as he looked down at the city below and took some tentative steps along mind-bendingly narrow strips of steel. Cars whizzed and rivers flowed beneath him. This would be bad enough (my palms are sweating again now as I type – I hope this wears off later. Cheers James) but James then liked to do the unthinkable and allow himself to dangle into the void, holding on with his bare hands and then letting go with one, hanging by just a few fingers. ‘James!! Are you out of your mind?!’ we all shouted, as he smiled up at the camera. Who was filming that bit? Oh don’t think about it, it makes you too dizzy.

This went on for a while. James, climbing cranes. His friend driving him to building sites in the early morning and waiting for him to come back down. His poor mother, sweating in her kitchen as she waited anxiously for him to return home for his breakfast. It was a terrible melting-pot of sweating and cold steel for everyone involved and then after the adverts came the worst bit of all…Mustang Wanted…

Mustang Wanted is a Ukranian lunatic, infamous on YouTube for daring free climbing. Cranes? Pah! Mustang climbs cranes in his sleep. Mustang’s montage of free climbing was almost unwatchabley terrifying. James flew out to Ukraine to meet him and maybe discuss doing some climbing together. It was like watching exchange students, who’d spent the school term corresponding about their hobbies and families, finally meeting each other, but in a horrible, sweating nightmare gone wrong.

Using an interpreter, Mustang told James he wanted to hold his hand and dangle off the Moscow Bridge. Now, people have said this to me before and usually it’s the point where I tip my hat and bid them ‘Adieu’. Not James though. He was tentative at first, but Mustang convinced him and like two monkeys they shimmied 377ft up the bridge to perform the trick. With Moscow nauseously far below them, they held hands and swung off the bridge. Then James did a back flip. Classic James. When he showed his mum the footage later at home, she buried her head in her hands, but I think I detected a flicker of pride on her face. That’s my boy.

Following the programme, there has been some concern that Channel 4 broadcasting this programme may have irresponsibly invited copycats to follow in the dangerous footsteps of James and Mustang. All I can say to that is…. ‘umm don’t worry.’

First published by Cambridge News

The Secret Life of Cats

If you’ve ever wondered where the neighbourhood cats go, or what they get up to when you’re not around, then this was the programme for you.

In the village of Shamley Green, fifty unwitting pet cats were fitted with GPS trackers and Cat-Cams so that finally, we could get some answers. ‘Finally’ we thought as a nation, as we prepared to watch an hour of whiskers, fur and cats jumping up on fences. We sat back on our sofas and crossed our arms. ‘Let’s see it then. Let’s see what they’re doing out there’

First, to add some credibility to the project, they brought in Cat-Scientists John and Sarah. I don’t remember the ‘Cat Scientist’ talk on career day but it looks an excellent job. If only I’d known.

‘Cat HQ’ was fitted with high-tech monitors to track the volunteers (cats), as well as an impressive looking video wall, showing footage of cats running and frisking about – presumably to motivate the Cat Scientists and keep them at it.

After 24 hours, the GPS results looked as mental as you’d expect. Multi coloured lines representing different cats, zigzagging all over the place, up the road, round the garden, down the local woods. No surprise there. That’s pretty much what it looks like they’re doing to us anyway, and we haven’t even GPS’d them. What else have you got?

Well, the Cat Scientists were fascinated as they pawed (sorry) over the data. With further analysis, it was clear that our volunteer cats were very territorial and operated sophisticated patrol systems involving shifts, leaving clues and purring.

As well as the GPS, ten of the volunteers were fitted with a Cat-Cam. This gave us a visual of their patrol routes and the camera angle offered a nice view of the world ‘through a cat’s eyes’, framed by whiskers of course, which hung down over the lenses. Whiskers add a certain authenticity to a Cat-Cam, don’t you think?

It wasn’t all feline fun in the woods though. Some shocking behaviour was exposed. Cat volunteer, Ginger, deviated from his patrol each night just to meow, snarl and generally wind up another cat, before scampering back to his zone. Bullying.

Volunteer Claude liked to burst uninvited through cat flaps and eat other cats’ dinners. Claude’s owner was most embarrassed to be shown that particular footage. How embarrassing we all thought, your cat is a thug.

What was uncovered was an underworld of stealing, anti-social behaviour and unfortunately in most instances, the murder of smaller creatures. The long-suffering pet owners dutifully collected any furry victims each morning: shocked looking mice, stunned looking moles and even a rabbit, which the owner had stuffed into the designated box (provided by Cat HQ – naturally), but clearly couldn’t get the lid on, so that it gruesomely loomed out of its box. Its furry eyes closed for ever. Its cotton tail never to bob again. A ghostly parade of woodland tragedy, lined up on a bench. What more was there to say?

While the show aired, there were numerous tweets from viewers showing photos of their cats watching the programme. Their secret lives exposed. A scandalous Horizon expose. Ginger and Claude will have some explaining to do today no doubt…

Needless to say, I woke up this morning suspicious of all cats and where they were last night.

Also, I wonder how many times can I say the word ‘cat’ in one article? 27 it seems.

First published by Cambridge News

The Apprentice: Our Verdict

Season nine of The Apprentice kicked off last night. There were all the usual trappings: Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights, contestants striding purposefully round Canary Wharf, over bridges, wheeling their little suitcases and the narrator reminding us to marvel at Lord Sugar and how he clawed his way out of the East End into a life of wealth using nothing but a wrench, a broken bottle and a dream.

If it’s possible, the candidates seem even worse this year. Sixteen businessmen and women all vying to win £250K investment from Lord Sugar himself. ‘I’m prepared to drown the others if I have to’, ‘I just won a ‘coldest heart’ competition for stamping on a child’s ice-cream’ – I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea.

The first thing to note about this year’s candidates is they all had utterly lunatic eyebrows. Monobrows, brows drawn on with a biro – this group have every type. It was distracting initially, but then we were into the first task.

Leading the girls there was Jaz who describes herself as ‘half machine’ (I couldn’t work out which half) and leading the boys was Uri Geller lookalike Jason who proclaimed, ‘my intelligence is like a machete’ (whatever that means).

Each team had to shift a shipping container’s worth of tat including: union jack mugs, Chinese waving cats, ukuleles and toilet paper in just one day. Cue lots of shouting into phones, taxi rides and massive amounts of ‘I’m talking, I’m TALKING, let me finish, I’m the best, I’m the tallest, my eyebrows are drawn on!’ and so on.

Jaz’s project managing style could be summed up as ‘hyperactive holiday rep’, with a demented smile and motivational speeches shouted into the faces of chilly, sceptical looking team mates, who clearly just wanted her dead. Whichever half of her was a machine, it went on the blink fairly early doors.

They got off to a bad start, with ‘ruthless’ Rebecca selling two cases of water for £15 and as the day progressed the team ended up wandering hopelessly around a boarded up China Town, trying to flog Lucky Cats to bewildered shop keepers. The in-fighting didn’t disappoint either with classics like Luisa exclaiming to Leah, ‘I’m in sales and you’re just a doctor’. Ah the topsy-turvy world of The Apprentice.

The boys team weren’t much better. There was Welshman Alex, owner of the most demonic eyebrows of all and who bore an uncanny likeness to Dracula. After accidently dropping and smashing a lucky cat on the pavement, he expressed concern that they shouldn’t carry the ukuleles into appointments, to avoid looking like ‘purveyors of tat’. Sorry Jason but I think that ship had already sailed. Neil wasn’t too bothered about the smashed cat, exclaiming ‘I despise cats to be honest’. Wow, who despises cats?

At the end of the task, each team had made a few quid, but had unfortunately spent over £4 million each on taxis.

Winning by £58 was Uri Gell…sorry Jason and the boys. Desperate to be noticed, Tim made a full-body cringe, self-promoting speech, as the underwhelmed panel (Nick, the newly coiffed Karen and Sugar) looked at him in violent disgust before Shugsy silenced him with a, ‘shut up, you won’.

The girls were sent to the losers’ café to snarl and point fingers at each other over polystyrene cups and then back to the boardroom where it was inevitably project manager Jaz who got the chop. She did admirably try grabbing around, like a drowning woman, momentarily getting hold of Sophie who, being Chinese, she insisted had portrayed herself as an ‘expert on lucky cats’. I wish I had that on my CV don’t you? Also, I don’t think I was alone in wishing Lord Sugar would give a lucky cat wave as he said ‘You’re fired’, but he didn’t.

First published by Cambridge News