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Smash Hits used to be cutting edge, including a free condom for each reader.

Let me take you back to your childhood (cue horrendous memories of shellsuits, Michael Barrymore, novelty board games and – if you’re lucky – images of the twins from Pat Sharp’s Fun House). Chances are that Sunday nights meant sitting in your room with a shitty tape recorder listening to the top 40, index finger cocked, ready to punch record when your favourite song was played. If not, you must have been one of those losers who watched Heartbeart, which attracts an even greater level of social stigma. While sounding easy enough, taping tracks from the radio was a tricky business and the success or otherwise of each Sunday night depended on a keen appreciation of timing, and a good element of chance. More often than not, panic would set in and I would press record too early, thereby taping ten seconds of jingles and high octane introductions, before getting to the goods. If done while the countdown was still in the thirties, the pressure would build for the rest of the show and by the time I was in the top five, I’d be a nervous wreck, pressing multiple buttons every few seconds with no concept or understanding of what the hell I was trying to achieve.

This nostalgic trip down memory lane was prompted by Sting’s recent verbal barrage against reality TV juggernaut, The X Factor. In some shameless PR rant to coincide with the release of yet another piss-poor album, the tantric shagger branded The X Factor “a preposterous show” that has “put music back decades.” While he was right on many levels (and simply repeating what any half-intelligent being already knew), Sting’s claim that The X Factor has put music back decades was intriguing, as it implied that popular music was once in rude health. My gut reaction was to think that the charts in my time were pretty good; however a sustained period of recollection allied with some research informed me otherwise.

Below is a list with video links to some of the most shameful singles of all time, largely derived from my youth, and also from more recent times. I’ve deliberately stayed away from some of the more obvious choices, for example La Macarena, the Crazy Frog, anything by Meatloaf/Bryan Adams, as mere references to those songs/”artists” bring me out in a cold sweat.

10. Blazin’ Squad – Flip Reverse

For those unfamiliar with this seminal UK band, Blazin’ Squad (we’re dropping the ‘g’ ‘cos we’re FUCKING hard) were a collection of ugly, horny chavs who sung about shagging. Key to their appeal was hair product, derivative crutch-grabbing and over-sized T-shirts. Against all odds and despite widespread derision, they sold some records including the horrific Flip Reverse, before one of them appeared on Big Brother and lived out his life’s ambition – shagging Jodie Marsh.

9. Scatman John – Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)

Imagine a world where the only things that exist are you, Scatman John, a desert island, a CD player and a copy of the Scatman. To make things worse, let’s assume that you accidentally killed Scatman John’s wife in a fishing accident, so he doesn’t like you very much. Overtaken by rage, Scatman John decides that he’s going to torture you. Rather than conventional torture, the wily Scatman adopts a long game and ties you to the only tree on the island, puts the Scatman on loop and leaves it tantalisingly close, but ultimately away from your feet, forcing you to listen to this utter cack until you draw your last breath.

8 Lisa Maffia – All Over

The self-named “First Lady of garage” and So Solid Crew member managed to creep into the top 15 with this tale of Crystal popping club action, featuring the extraordinary lyrics “if you no cook you get no dinner” (what about restaurants?) and “ladies in the club shake your booty like dice” (is it possible to dislocate your own buttocks?). The video remains one of the most amusing things I’ve ever seen, largely because of the joker with the Burberry visor who screams “tiiiiiight!” and “diiiiiiice!” at the chorus, and the little kid at 3:58 who dances like an out-of-control epileptic. Gold.

7. The Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe

Words fail to do justice to this musical aberration, where a bunch of pissed hicks bang some drums, massacre a violin and sing the same two lines over and over again. It transpires from a bit of internet research that “The Rednex” were in fact a Swedish techno band (featuring a member called “Ace Ratclaw”), which makes one wonder how such a racist piece of work ever got into production. This view is compounded by the video, which features long-haired peasants with no teeth, a bird in a bikini riding a motorised bull and a wooden sign saying “horses outside”. Most alarmingly, the band is still going, with an eagerly anticipated new album – Saturday Night Beaver – due for imminent release in no stores near you. If you’re blind deaf and dumb and like Cotton Eye Joe, have a listen to their follow-up, Old Pop In An Oak, which doesn’t feature drums or a violin and definitely doesn’t sound anything like Cotton Eye Joe. Honest.

6. Romeo Dunn feat. Christina Milian – Its All Gravy

The second UK garage sensaaaaaation on the list. Like Ms Maffia, Romeo Dunn is So Solid Crew alumni, spitting one of my favourite comedy lyrics (“two multiplied by ten plus one, Romeo Dunn”) in breakthrough song 21 Seconds. While 21 Seconds was fresh and not unpleasurable, this duet with American grinder Christiana Milian is unadulterated toilet; the kind of depressing by-numbers R&B fodder that populated MTV and the airwaves at the start of the millennium. When I first heard the title, I thought the song was a ripping yarn about Romeo’s failure to buy chicken for a Sunday roast. Having read the nonsensical lyrics, it still could be. The video sees Romeo wearing a ghastly array of jackets before resorting to type and getting his six pack out. According to Wiki, Romeo’s second album, announced for release in 2008 “has not materialised”. Shame.

5. Outhere Brothers – Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle)

I remember buying the “explicit lyrics” version of this song from Woolworths (wipe away nostalgic tear) and listening in my room, with rampant disappointment, as my mother baked cakes in the kitchen, unknowing of the filth – lyrical and musical – that was corrupting my eardrums. The song starts off promisingly, but then goes dramatically downhill when you realise that there is no discernable difference between the beginning, middle and end, however the bit when the singer hurriedly says, “wiggle wiggle”, as if he’s overdosed on helium and being sexually assaulted by Dawn French , moderately amuses. Subsequent releases included the ludicrously titled and equally horrific, “Pass The Toilet Paper ’98”. Needless to say, it didn’t trouble the charts.

4. Whigfield – Saturday Night

I love the comments posted on YouTube videos. One of my favourites can be found on the link to this barrel-scraping slice of Euro-trash, which simply says, “I’d fuck Whigfield.” No musical appraisal, just a primal cry from a lone wolf surfing the net for semi-attractive nineties idols to add to the wank bank. Bleak. My loathing for this song dates back to a school trip to Spain where we were forced to perform “the Whigfield dance” for no reason other than our teachers’ sadistic sense of humour. The dance itself was a routine number involving much thigh-slapping, a few hand claps and some pelvic thrusts. Such was the trauma caused by this event, even the passing of a wig shop fifteen years later is enough to trigger an involuntarily bout of air shagging.

3. Michael Jackson – Earth Song

“What about elephants, have we lost their trust?” posses philosopher Wacko in this tawdry, never-ending eco-ballad, singularly responsible for the ubiquity of the key change in modern pop music. Personally, I struggle to recall the good old days when my elephant friend used to come up to me in the pub, gently rest his trunk on my shoulder and say, “thanks for babysitting last night, it’s great to have someone in the neighbourhood whom we can trust; fancy a leg of darts?” but then again neither did I have a pet monkey called Bubbles and a snake called Muscles. Check out the HOO HOO extravaganza at 5:34.

2. Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars

Previously unheard extract from “the making of the X-Factor” – “Ok, guys, we’ve hit the jackpot here. Check out the working class family in the lobby sat behind Dermot. I’ve just spoken with the father and his wife died last week after being eaten by a badger. He was just about ready to blub but I told him to save it until the cameras were rolling.” Everyone leans forward while the researcher looks smug. “But it gets better. The youngest son has one leg, masturbates to Countryfile and thinks he’s Barry Chuckle, while the singing daughter is a mute who only ever speaks when she sings.” “This is gold, people, fucking gold,” says the head producer, “Lisa, get the Snow Patrol CD out of the car; this is gonna last three ad breaks.”

1. Black Eyed Peas – My Humps

After staring at the screen for nigh-on half an hour, unable to articulate the bowel-retching horror of this piece of musical leprosy, I’ve devised the below formula to do the job for me. Simply pick one option from Sections A and B and insert in the gap which appears in following sentence, “I’d rather [A+B] than be forced to listen to this shit.”

Section A Section B
   
Play twister with Fred West
Stick my genitals in Pat Butcher
Tell a bed time story to Mr Motivator
Go to work dressed as Louis Walsh
Stroke and cuddle Keith Chegwin
Go out on the piss with The Krankies

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5 Outhere Brothers – Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle)

I remember buying the “explicit lyrics” version of this song from Woolworths (wipe away nostalgic tear) and listening in my room, with rampant disappointment, as my mother baked cakes in the kitchen, unknowing of the filth – lyrical and musical – that was corrupting my eardrums. The song starts off promisingly, but then goes dramatically downhill when you realise that there is no discernable difference between the beginning, middle and end, however the bit when the singer hurriedly says, “wiggle wiggle”, as if he’s overdosed on helium and being sexually assaulted by Dawn French , moderately amuses. Subsequent releases included the ludicrously titled and equally horrific, “Pass The Toilet Paper ’98”. Needless to say, it didn’t trouble the charts.

4 Whigfield – Saturday Night

I love the comments posted on YouTube videos. One of my favourites can be found on the link to this barrel-scraping slice of Euro-trash, which simply says, “I’d fuck Whigfield.” No musical appraisal, just a primal cry from a lone wolf surfing the net for semi-attractive nineties idols to add to the wank bank. Bleak. My loathing for this song dates back to a school trip to Spain where we were forced to perform “the Whigfield dance” for no reason other than our teachers’ sadistic sense of humour. The dance itself was a routine number involving much thigh-slapping, a few hand claps and some pelvic thrusts. Such was the trauma caused by this event, even the passing of a wig shop fifteen years later is enough to trigger an involuntarily bout of air shagging.

3 Michael Jackson – Earth Song

“What about elephants, have we lost their trust?” posses philosopher Wacko in this tawdry, never-ending eco-ballad, singularly responsible for the ubiquity of the key change in modern pop music. Personally, I struggle to recall the good old days when my elephant friend used to come up to me in the pub, gently rest his trunk on my shoulder and say, “thanks for babysitting last night, it’s great to have someone in the neighbourhood whom we can trust; fancy a leg of darts?” but then again neither did I have a pet monkey called Bubbles and a snake called Muscles. Check out the HOO HOO extravaganza at 5:34.

2 Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars

Previously unheard extract from “the making of the X-Factor” – “Ok, guys, we’ve hit the jackpot here. Check out the working class family in the lobby sat behind Dermot. I’ve just spoken with the father and his wife died last week after being eaten by a badger. He was just about ready to blub but I told him to save it until the cameras were rolling.” Everyone leans forward while the researcher looks smug. “But it gets better. The youngest son has one leg, masturbates to Countryfile and thinks he’s Barry Chuckle, while the singing daughter is a mute who only ever speaks when she sings.” “This is gold, people, fucking gold,” says the head producer, “Lisa, get the Snow Patrol CD out of the car; this is gonna last three ad breaks.”

1 Black Eyed Peas – My Humps

After staring at the screen for nigh-on half an hour, unable to articulate the bowel-retching horror of this piece of musical leprosy, I’ve devised the below formula to do the job for me. Simply pick one option from Sections A and B and insert in the gap which appears in following sentence, “I’d rather [A+B] than be forced to listen to this shit.”

Section A Section B
   
Play twister with Fred West
Stick my genitals in Pat Butcher
Tell a bed time story to Mr Motivator
Go to work dressed as Louis Walsh
Stroke and cuddle Keith Chegwin
Go out on the piss with The Krankies

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Smash Hits

Smash Hits used to be cutting-edge, including a free condom with each edition

Let me take you back to your childhood (cue horrendous memories of shellsuits, Michael Barrymore, novelty board games and – if you’re lucky – images of the twins from Pat Sharp’s Fun House). Chances are that Sunday nights meant sitting in your room with a shitty tape recorder listening to the top 40, index finger cocked, ready to punch record when your favourite song was played. If not, you must have been one of those losers who watched Heartbeart, which attracts an even greater level of social stigma. While sounding easy enough, taping tracks from the radio was a tricky business and the success or otherwise of each Sunday night depended on a keen appreciation of timing, and a good element of chance. More often than not, panic would set in and I would press record too early, thereby taping ten seconds of jingles and high octane introductions, before getting to the goods. If done while the countdown was still in the thirties, the pressure would build for the rest of the show and by the time I was in the top five, I’d be a nervous wreck, pressing multiple buttons every few seconds with no concept or understanding of what the hell I was trying to achieve.

This nostalgic trip down memory lane was prompted by Sting’s recent verbal barrage against reality TV juggernaut, The X Factor. In some shameless PR rant to coincide with the release of yet another piss-poor album, the tantric shagger branded The X Factor “a preposterous show” that has “put music back decades.” While he was right on many levels (and simply repeating what any half-intelligent being already knew), Sting’s claim that The X Factor has put music back decades was intriguing, as it implied that popular music was once in rude health. My gut reaction was to think that the charts in my time were pretty good; however a sustained period of recollection allied with some research informed me otherwise.

Below is a list with video links to some of the most shameful singles of all time, largely derived from my youth, and also from more recent times. I’ve deliberately stayed away from some of the more obvious choices, for example La Macarena, the Crazy Frog, anything by Meatloaf/Bryan Adams, as mere references to those songs/”artists” bring me out in a cold sweat.

10. Blazin’ Squad – Flip Reverse

For those unfamiliar with this seminal UK band, Blazin’ Squad (we’re dropping the ‘g’ ‘cos we’re FUCKING hard) were a collection of ugly, horny chavs who sung about shagging. Key to their appeal was hair product, derivative crutch-grabbing and over-sized T-shirts. Against all odds and despite widespread derision, they sold some records including the horrific Flip Reverse, before one of them appeared on Big Brother and lived out his life’s ambition – shagging Jodie Marsh.

9. Scatman John – Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)

Imagine a world where the only things that exist are you, Scatman John, a desert island, a CD player and a copy of the Scatman. To make things worse, let’s assume that you accidentally killed Scatman John’s wife in a fishing accident, so he doesn’t like you very much. Overtaken by rage, Scatman John decides that he’s going to torture you. Rather than conventional torture, the wily Scatman adopts a long game and ties you to the only tree on the island, puts the Scatman on loop and leaves it tantalisingly close, but ultimately away from your feet, forcing you to listen to this utter cack until you draw your last breath.

8 Lisa Maffia – All Over

The self-named “First Lady of garage” and So Solid Crew member managed to creep into the top 15 with this tale of Crystal popping club action, featuring the extraordinary lyrics “if you no cook you get no dinner” (what about restaurants?) and “ladies in the club shake your booty like dice” (is it possible to dislocate your own buttocks?). The video remains one of the most amusing things I’ve ever seen, largely because of the joker with the Burberry visor who screams “tiiiiiight!” and “diiiiiiice!” at the chorus, and the little kid at 3:58 who dances like an out-of-control epileptic. Gold.

7. The Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe

Words fail to do justice to this musical aberration, where a bunch of pissed hicks bang some drums, massacre a violin and sing the same two lines over and over again. It transpires from a bit of internet research that “The Rednex” were in fact a Swedish techno band (featuring a member called “Ace Ratclaw”), which makes one wonder how such a racist piece of work ever got into production. This view is compounded by the video, which features long-haired peasants with no teeth, a bird in a bikini riding a motorised bull and a wooden sign saying “horses outside”. Most alarmingly, the band is still going, with an eagerly anticipated new album – Saturday Night Beaver – due for imminent release in no stores near you. If you’re blind deaf and dumb and like Cotton Eye Joe, have a listen to their follow-up, Old Pop In An Oak, which doesn’t feature drums or a violin and definitely doesn’t sound anything like Cotton Eye Joe. Honest.

6. Romeo Dunn feat. Christina Milian – Its All Gravy

The second UK garage sensaaaaaation on the list. Like Ms Maffia, Romeo Dunn is So Solid Crew alumni, spitting one of my favourite comedy lyrics (“two multiplied by ten plus one, Romeo Dunn”) in breakthrough song 21 Seconds. While 21 Seconds was fresh and not unpleasurable, this duet with American grinder Christiana Milian is unadulterated toilet; the kind of depressing by-numbers R&B fodder that populated MTV and the airwaves at the start of the millennium. When I first heard the title, I thought the song was a ripping yarn about Romeo’s failure to buy chicken for a Sunday roast. Having read the nonsensical lyrics, it still could be. The video sees Romeo wearing a ghastly array of jackets before resorting to type and getting his six pack out. According to Wiki, Romeo’s second album, announced for release in 2008 “has not materialised”. Shame.

Part II to follow…

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Would you believe me if I said it was shaving foam?

Mrs. Gloop: [Augustus is covered in chocolate] Augustus, please don’t eat your fingers!

Augustus Gloop: [licks his fingers] But I taste so good!”

– Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.    

Ah, little Augustus, synonymous with children’s love for chocolate. I can still remember sitting in the back of my mother’s car, driving past the local sweet shop, and announcing that when I was old enough to earn money I would spend it all on Mars bars and nothing else, except maybe the odd Bounty (a criminally underrated item of chocolate). As I child, I used to love chocolate, perhaps only marginally less than championship manager, table tennis and pornography. How times change (except for the devotion to table tennis, of course).

In my ascent towards thirty, chocolate no longer has the appeal it once did; chocolate has been replaced by real ale, darts and second-hand books. Sure, I’ll tuck into a Cadbury’s Double Decker every once in a while, but rarely more than twice a month which seems ludicrous compared to the lustful times of my youth. However, last Friday I relapsed and gobbled a Double Decker at lunch, followed by a Crunchie from the work vending machine during the afternoon. As I opened the wrapping for each bar, I found myself doing something unusual – I studied the consistency. The Double Decker: half biscuit at the bottom, nougat at the top; the Crunchie: pure honeycomb, no other constituents save for a tawdry layer of chocolate. OK nothing wrong, per se, with the established combinations, but it got me thinking – what defines a chocolate bar?

In the evening that followed, myself and a colleague discussed the issue at length over an Indian and several pints of Kingfisher, trying to identify the characteristics that distinguished a chocolate bar from, say, a chocolate biscuit or chocolate wafer. Sparks flew, fists were nearly thrown and the following were identified. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t know how to party.

Size of the bar

To qualify as a chocolate bar, a rectangular size is essential. A Crème Egg will, of course, not cut it, although the recent Crème Egg bar will pass through security. Potential flies in ointment include a Toblerone with its knobbly pyramid top, but this is just a smoke screen as the object is clearly a rectangle. Other comestibles excluded from the club include Maltesers, Minstrels and M&M’s, which are best described as entry level chocolate, before the student moves onto the serious world of Bourborn, and Fruit and Nut.

Why will only a rectangle do? Well, consider the chocolates received at the end of an Indian meal: sugary, hint of orange, nasty taste in the mouth, proud gold trim wrapping, and always square – a chocolate every time, lacking as they do the phallic girth to qualify as a bar.

Another problem area is the recent introduction of “duel bars”, a shameless marketing rip-off aimed at duping the consumer into thinking they have two items of chocolate, when the combined duo is exactly the same size as an old-school single bar. In any event and while arguable whether one part of a duo bar would be considered a chocolate bar on its own terms, one has to consider the two as a whole, as that is the way they are sold – ergo, clearly a bar.

Content

Assuming the item delivers on size, the next stage is to review the substance. If the bar is encased with chocolate, the fat lady’s loosening her belt and ready to squeal; however, it at this point that problems arise.

Chocolate Biscuit – Take the example of a Club Bar – a staple morning break snack for children of a certain generation boasting a satisfying array of flavours including my personal favourites, orange and fruit (incidentally, type in ‘club biscuit flavours’ on Google and marvel at the level of description in some of the entries, one of which describes the current Club biscuit as “a shadow of its former self” with “the glamorous packaging, which lent itself to not one but two small origami dogs, now a cellophane sachet”). Despite formerly having a generous chocolate coating, the middle is pure biscuit and cannot be considered a chocolate bar.

Chocolate Wafer – Wafer bars are generally gash, the best example being the Blue Ribbon – the Lidle of childhood snacks; if you had one of those in your lunchbox, chances are you spent most of the week ravaged by hunger, applying Clearasil to your face and getting beaten up by the lockers. I remember my mum trying to sneak one into my bag on occasions and I told her in no uncertain terms to buy me a bag of Trios. The problem with the Blue Ribbon was both the feebleness of the wafer, which dissolved in the mouth without effort, and the shoddiness of the chocolate. While that’s not to say there aren’t one or two good wafer bars out there (Turnocks), they definitely aren’t chocolate bars.

The rule, then, comes down to the percentage of biscuit or wafer. Where the biscuit/wafer comprises 50% or more of the entire product, I would submit this to be a chocolate biscuit; for example, a Boost has always been known as a chocolate bar and if you tally up the weight of chocolate and caramel against pure biscuit, the level of biscuit probably falls below this threshold. A Kit-Kat is a little more controversial, but most likely a chocolate bar as the amount of wafer is minimal compared to the total amount of chocolate coverage, even with a Kit-Kat chunky.

As for Wagon Wheels, answers please on a postcard.

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Masterchef

Does Masterchef make you horny? Not a conventional chat up line or opening gambit but stay with me on this – I need your help to clear up something that’s been bugging me for the past year. During this time, I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time wondering whether I am alone in deriving unbridled pleasure from watching John Torode’s culinary gushings on Masterchef. I sincerely hope not because if I am, you, the esteemed reader, has been missing out on one of life’s great gifts; only marginally less fabulous than the prospect of a reality TV show where gangs of formless jewellery laden chavs with tattoos of baby names etched on their ball sacks are forcibly wanked-off by their own grandmas as punishment for their pointless existence.

Welcome to my world. But before you rightly express outrage at the notion of sadistic granny porn, allow me to clarify: the knuckle action, which I imagine taking place in the basement of Channel Five’s studio, would of course be censored. The show’s money shot would be the post wank interviews where each spent oik is subjected to a one hour interrogation of character. Cue sheepish viewing of the floor and general weepiness interspersed by cries of ‘don’t you fucking dare tell Sasha about this’, and ‘but she’s my gran, bruv, innit’ or something.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Masterchef recipe (shit pun: check) despite the pilot having been broadcast during the Jurassic period, allow me to explain: the series has moved on since the days of Loyd Grossman, a man who, when he spoke, sounded like an American dalek sucking turds up his backside. Compared to previous incarnations, the new (and thankfully brief) Masterchef is a slick animal keeping you drawn in by getting rid of the chaff early on in proceedings. Each week sees the Beeb gather a handful of amateur cooks supposedly focused on becoming the next Fanny Craddock or, God forbid, Ainsley ‘Jazz Hands’ Harriott. I say ‘supposedly’ as seemingly each episode contains at least one middle-aged fishwife who continues to grin dementedly without opening her mouth when told that she hasn’t made the grade, until security have to remove her from the kitchen.

Each of the early episodes begins with a mystery ingredients round where our frankly indifferent contestants are given a limited range of basic food stuffs with which to give Torode (JT) and his Shrek-a-like sidekick a culinary hard-on. Most of the resulting dishes look like something a toddler could have knocked up, but Shrek and JT, nice guys that they are, offer abstract terms of encouragement, citing ‘a good idea of flavour’ (flavour, as we shall see, is everything for JT) or ‘a real hunger’ (oddly, quite a good idea in a cooking program) before banishing three amateurs back to their starving families, where they can shelve their feigned interest in Nigella Lawson’s cooking abilities, and watch HD close ups of her tits instead.

For the victors, JT’s silver tongue awaits. The next round sees each prepare their very own three course meal using whatever ingredients they want. Apart from human bones, I would imagine. Or monkey semen. As the tension builds, JT and Shrek sit down to chew the fat in the style of two pot smoking frat boys discussing expectations for their next lay:

‘Shrek: I don’t know about you, John but if Roxanne pulls all her ingredients together, she’s really going to be pushing my buttons.

JT: I agree, but at the moment I’m more concerned with Aleesha. She showed us in the first round that she can present well, however at this stage of the competition (beat) she simply HAAAAS to deliver on flavour.

Shrek: Good point, John.’

(Camera zooms in on JT who nods half-heartedly indicating life, despite his eyes appearing closed. Camera pans to Shrek who momentarily gurns whilst raising a solitary eyebrow, presumably an attempt at conveying an uncertain grimace.)

At this point, I think we should consider our judges. JT: Refined Australian accent; thatch of brown hair; looks a bit like Alan Duncan – fruity Tory MP and panel show whore – less the brown hair; shark eyes; bizarre ability to draw out the words ‘has’, ‘needs’ and ‘must’ beyond their natural end; smug but endearing. Shrek: rotund orphaned Mitchell brother, but cuddly, like a man sized tickle me elmo; basic working class London accent which goes all dirty and Frank Butcher when he utters the phrase ‘floats my boat’ at least a million times per episode; loves a good underdog and triple chocolate puddings that will increase his BMI and cause a tingle down below.

The cooking’s incidental, really. If you follow it, you won’t learn anything. I promise. All you see are the ingredients and then the finished product, sandwiched between flashy camera shots of Shrek groping his own chin. Personally, I spend the time trying to work out who’s worked up the most embarrassing hot flush or river of sweat which dribbles, almost unnoticed, onto a plate of glorified fish and chips.

Come the hour of judgment, JT and Shrek defy convention by standing up to eat. You almost want someone to make them eat off the floor like dirty animals, but no-one does. The fools. (Interestingly, you can discern the class divide between JT and Shrek from the way they take the food from their cutlery. JT carefully loads his fork, ensuring that the correct balance of food is present in order that he can deliver a reasoned verdict, stares at said loaded fork with his dead eyes, before finally digesting and removing the fork from his gob in one seamless movement. Shrek, on the other hand, goes for the ‘i’m not sure when i’m next going to have a feed, so i’m going to fill my boots here’ mentality. Making a mockery of JT’s foreplay, Shrek treats his fork like a JCB, closes his eyes (not sure what that’s all about) and piles a mother load of produce into his cake whole. The most concerning part of the performance is the tortuous process of waiting for the fork to be regurgitated. When it does finally appear, it’s akin to watching an anaconda spew up an antelope.) Provided you haven’t fallen asleep by this stage, you’ll get to hear JT deliver his patented ‘shopping list’ verdict:

‘JT: The basil (beat), the coriander (beat), the garlic (beat), the flaky texture of the haddock (beat), the decadent use of truffle oil (beat), the mange tout (beat), the salt (beat), the pepper (beat)….the get the fuck on with it.’

OK, I invented the last bit, but after a while it becomes too much. The beauty of the shopping list technique is that it can be used positively or negatively. To conclude on a positive note, simply add ‘all of these ingredients are bursting with flavour and, as a whole, it works beautifully’. Not too impressed? Why not add ‘it’s just too overpowering and confusing, and the end result is a mess, quite honestly’. There, piece of piss.

Shrek has a few more tricks in his armoury, perfectly happy to deviate from the script when his senses take a pounding. Put a distinctly average chocolate ice cream in front of him and the result is alarming, yet strangely captivating:

Shrek: aaaaaAAAAW [Shrek’s legs quiver, as if he’s received a cheeky knee trembler]. Hahahaha [genuine belly laugh]. I can’t believe that. What flavours! I don’t give two hoots about you’re Cajun salmon risotto. You can cook, don’t worry about that, son. I’m not sure about you, John but that certainly floats my boat. Where’s the cheeseboard?’

Seriously, if you’re a lonely old lady itching for some action, give him a caramel Vienetta and he’s yours, scout’s honour.

Like my attitude to the cooking, I couldn’t give a shit who wins. It’s all bollocks. Try and think back to any winners from the show who’ve achieved anything in the cooking game, come to think of it, try and name me a winner. No Wikipedia allowed. There, you couldn’t do it.

In the end, the only winners are JT and Shrek, with their post-Brokeback Mountain mix of light sexual tension and perverse mannerisms, laughing all the way to a chocolate coated bank. Long may it continue.

14 January 2009.

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Rab C Nesbitt

Yuz looking at mae ca' of tenants pal?

If the papers are to be believed, your working day presently consists of snogging a Tesco value bottle of whiskey, and contemplating going on the game to pay the lecky. If not, I reckon you’ve got another month, tops, before you’re showing your naked rump to a pensioner for a fiver. So perhaps I shouldn’t brag about the penthouse in Monaco that I’ve just bought. That would be cruel, and possibly a little fanciful bearing in mind my recent demotion to a four-day working week. But, you see, I’m learning to embrace the bad times. What other option is there? Besides, I don’t need money: as long as I’ve got some darts, a laptop and a few cans of cider I’m as happy as Rick Waller at a Mr Kipling open day.

However, I’ve become aware that my attitude is exceptional and that fear is prevalent. I even heard a rumour that bakeries were warning customers not to eat large sausage rolls in public because they were at a high risk of being stolen by starving children. Shocking.

To help you through these tough times, I’ve racked my brain for a few suggestions that might be of practical help:

1.    Trade in the other half

If you ditch your partner, I confidently predict that you will make significant savings. No more presents, no surprise gestures, no romantic nights at KFC and no more tacky Valentine’s day cards. It all adds up.

If that approach is too drastic, try downsizing. If your partner’s generously proportioned, try your hand at picking up a more slender model. In theory, you should save money on nights out, both at dinner (less appetite) and in a nightclub (more of a lightweight). I was going to suggest that you might also save on toothpaste, but that’s definitely controversial.

Warning – you may have to sacrifice attractiveness in pursuit of this objective, but the likelihood of this will vary from case to case.

2.    Buy short-sleeved shirts

I recently asked Clare whether she thought a short-sleeved shirt cost less than the traditional long-sleeved shirt. A fair question, I’m sure you will agree. In support of my case, unfailing logic: less material, therefore less cost. Clare, however, was not convinced despite my best arguments. Thanks to the delights of the internet, we didn’t have to wait long for an answer. A set of 3 long-sleeved shirts from Marks and Spencer: £19.50, a set of 3 short-sleeved shirts from Marks and Spencer: £18. So, there we are: a genuine money saving tip, although I should include an important caveat: short sleeved-shirts make you look like a tool.

3.    Buy Y fronts instead of boxers (gents only)

As for the principal – see 2, above.

Warning – added risk of chafing, and not flattering on a rotund gent.

4.    Have a baby (woman only, assuming no rapid medical advances)

The ultimate card in a game of recession top trumps. If you become pregnant, you won’t be made redundant and, by the time you return to work, it’s a fair bet that the economy will be in a healthier state than when you left.

Warning – in the long term, it’s true to say that having a child can be a costly business. On the plus side, you’ll have someone to eat Werther’s Original with during your old age, just like the adverts.

6.    Change your attitude

I have trouble taking serious people seriously. They worry me. Life is funny and perverse, how else can you reconcile the success of The Krankies. Once you’ve accepted this basic principal, you’ll feel liberated and won’t be bothered if you lose your job.

7.    Stroke a baby’s head

This will provoke a cosy sense of wellbeing, and you will momentarily forget about your troubles.

Warning – get consent from the parent before attempting this in public. Getting entered on the sex offenders register is NOT cool.

8.    Take up bowls

Lost your job and have too much time on your hands? Ever wanted to be a world champion? Surely no other sport (perhaps a little generous – you could smoke whilst playing it) could offer such a chance to Joe Public. If a19 year-old pikey from Torquay can be the English singles champion, surely we’ve all got a shout.

Warning – people might think you are a loser.

9.    Embrace comedy

Self-explanatory.

See this link for a classic couple of scenes from the Wedding Crashers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7maf2xP1Rdg

And a bit of Flight of the Conchords for the uninitiated

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPyuZ6ZTqmo

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gandhi

'Just-out-of-the-bath' chic

Ever seen James Bond eat a curry, or drive a Jaguar shaped like a Naan bread? No, nor me and – quite frankly – I feel cheated. Imagine a Naan bread supercar run on mint sauce, fully equipped with ten fuck-off Gatling guns loaded with vindaloo and a lime pickle bazooka. If the sight of the thing didn’t make Scaramanga’s third nipple shit itself, a quick blast from the Gatling guns soon would. Even if it was hard enough to survive the vindaloo, a minute pummelling from the lime pickle bazooka would finish things. Seriously, how can anyone eat that stuff? Words fail. However, the idea of Bond as a curry lover has several main problems. Imagine the scene: Sean Connery ordering a King Fisher whilst raising his eyebrow playfully towards Pussy Galore, rivulets of sweat tearing down her cleavage as she struggles on a surprisingly hot Rogan josh. No. It could never work.

Why am I bleating on about Bond and curries anyway? Well, Exeter recently played host to the inaugural James Bond Curry Club outing: Dr Naan. Perhaps I should explain.

Several weeks earlier, myself and a couple of friends found ourselves enjoying a low key Friday night curry at one of our regular haunts. The place resembled a morgue. However, no matter how quiet an Indian restaurant is, I promise you it will always be filled with at least 4 waiters. There’s no rationale for it. Don’t even try to think why. Just go with the rules. As we discussed the waiter surplus and reviewed our surroundings, we noticed a new addition to the staff: a pony-tailed Indian chap with a weathered face and Roman nose. Having placed our orders, talk soon moved away from our genial hosts to football, woman and work: the male conversation staples. Several minutes passed before our poppadoms arrived. When they did, the long haired Indian approached me from behind and rested his palm on my shoulder authoritively. He allowed a moment of awkwardness before saying the words, “poppadoms, shiir” in the style of a young Sean Connery politely addressing a school master.

At first, we weren’t sure if we had heard correctly, but upon delivery of the mains, Sean didn’t disappoint, offering a second utterance of “shiir” and our favourite Indian waiter was anointed. During the meal, we could talk of little else, and the idea of an extensive Exeter curry tour was conceived. I say Exeter, but to appease my fellow judges, Paul and Robbo, we added a couple of establishments from their home towns, Newton Abbot and Teignmouth, to the list. One thing we were unequivocal about, however, was the need to focus on the real issues facing your average consumer; the main criteria that would define the success, or otherwise, of a restaurant, and so we came up with the following. In homage to the Sean Connery waiter, we christened the tour ‘James Bond’s Curry Club’:

  1. Location;
  2. Date Potential;
  3. James Bond relevance;
  4. Friendliness of staff;
  5. Price of a pint of Kingfisher (anything above £2.50 is marked down);
  6. Number of poppadom condiments;
  7. Number of complimentary sweets;
  8. Sex Face (frequency of a pleasure grimace, ordinarily prompted by a particularly fierce curry);
  9. Quality of food;
  10. Example of the Indian Chef (a category in homage to one of our favourite Indian restaurants which boats, on several occasions in its menu, of dishes displaying ‘the perfect example of the Indian Chef’); and
  11. Any other business.

To ensure that all restaurants were on a level playing field, we designed a set menu:

Mains

Rogan Josh

Balti

Biryani

[One of the meats must be chicken, the other lamb with the third at the group’s discretion.]

Rice

Special Rice

Pilau Rice

Naan

Garlic Naan

Plain Naan

Drink

As much Kingfisher as we can get through.

Additional – for each event, James Bond is allowed to invite a special guest, although the guest cannot contribute towards the judging.

The Verdict – The Gandhi, Exeter

Looking back at my notes, it is clear that the first impression was poor: ‘rug draped on the step’, ‘decor very footballer’s wives’, ‘staff seem uninterested’, ‘kid with a gold chain’. I’ll add an afterthought: ‘sex parlour’. Most worrying of all was the lighting. Having been shown to our seats, myself and Paul immediately had difficulty identifying Robbo who was stationed against a wall opposite us, barely an arm’s length away. Robbo has a moderate tan but one would hardly describe him as having a Mediterranean complexion. In the brothel-like atmosphere of the Gandhi, however, he was as black as the ace of spades. Half an hour in, and the light had diminished further and the only sign that we were in fact sitting opposite a person was the sight of a paw reaching into the middle of the table now and then to tear off a piece of Naan bread. Anyway, I digress. Let’s get down to business:

Location

A mixed bag, really. In its favour: very central – five minute walk to the main high street and ten minute brisk walk to Exeter St Davids train station. Quite likely to be a favourite with students owing to its proximity to the university campus. The case against: despite it being a stone’s throw from the city centre, parking is a major issue with no obvious car park nearby. The restaurant is located on a busy roundabout, but, once inside, noise didn’t seem to be an issue. Overall mark: 7/10.

Date potential

The Gandhi boasts a good pedigree in this category. The majority of dinners were couples, all of whom seemed young, trendy and fertile. If you bowled up here for a first date, you wouldn’t be alone. Another positive is the visual solace offered by the dim lighting, should your blind date turn out to be a bush pig. Overall mark: 9/10.

James Bond relevance

I’m not going to lie. Piss poor performance in this category. Paul mentioned tenuously that the waiter looked like Nick Nack. Not convinced, and possibly racist. Overall mark: 2/10.

Friendliness of staff

Perfectly pleasant, if not a little slow. No banter, but I can’t remember ever having a gritty or humorous conversation with a restaurant waiter. When asked for our order, Robbo produced our notebook with the set menu and read from it shamelessly. Alas, our efforts to look like reviewers for some reputable publication didn’t work, as no preferential treatment was given. Maybe next time. Overall mark: 6/10.

Pint of Kingfisher

A wallet busting £3.40. No overall mark is awarded in this category, but consideration can be given to it in the event of a tie between restaurants.

Number of poppadom condiments

All over this category like a sex crime. The panel set the benchmark at four (mint sauce, onion salad, mango chutney and the filthy pickle), and we weren’t disappointed with the full quota deposited on our table. Ever an optimist, I think a 10/10 score can only be obtained for a selection of more than 4 condiments, therefore overall mark here: 9/10.

Number of complimentary sweets

Three very basic plain chocolates which left a faintly unpleasant taste in the mouth. Nothing fancy, and smacks of an establishment resting on its laurels. Needs to up its game. Overall mark: 4/10.

Sex face

Love the title, and I allow myself a chuckle as I type. This category proved something of a revelation in its first outing. I had heard rumours of Robbo’s capacity to sweat in the days leading up to Dr Naan, but I had refused to believe allegations of needing to swipe napkins from neighbouring tables to mop his brow. How could such a hulk of a man wilt in the face of a medium heat curry? I didn’t need to wait long for an answer. No sooner had the first forkful of Balti passed Robbo’s lips, did a flood of liquid begin to pour down his forehead. Even in the dark chambers of the Gandhi, I could see a man in peril. As I leant forward into the table, I studied his face: the eyes were empty, the cheeks flushed and the lips pursed. Alas myself and Paul showed a studied tolerance for our dishes, and I was impressed I showed no signs of discomfort with my hearty Rogan josh. For Robbo’s sexual gurning alone, however, the score has to be decent but I’m sure we’ll encounter greater heat as the tour progresses. Overall mark: 7/10.

Quality of food

I’ll keep this brief after the long winded sex face discussions. The panel was unanimous in its praise for the food, especially the balti. The naan breads too were generous and Paul’s biryani was solid. As for my Rogan josh, I was more than happy. Overall mark: 8/10.

Examples of the Indian Chef

The menu was basic, with no mention of the mysterious Indian Chef or of any other culinary boasts. Weak. Overall mark: 1/10.

Any other business

Date of next meeting to be confirmed. However, venue confirmed as ‘the one opposite Fast Eddie’s takeaway’, which we think is the Light of Tandori. Probably name for said review: From Rogan With Love.

The business card has a picture of Gandhi on it. Amazing, and worth going for that alone.

Overall score: 5.89/10.

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