Stale bread.

The general mood of my recent existence has been about as buoyant as a heavy stool. There is too much to worry about and too much to do, not to mention additionally worrying about all those things there are to do and the way that one has to do them without risking ones own life. As a result I have not sat down as often as I would have liked to keep you updated and distracted with I’m not entirely sure you’d agree that this is necessarily a problem for anyone involved, but what I can say for sure is that it has taken me nearly two weeks to write this post, and the only reason I’m giving it the go ahead (regardless of its value) is just so I can establish some sense of closure, which might then mean I can start again fresh and make a bit more effort. If you have been following the topic addressed below I hope that by this self-pitying, introduction I have given you some form of helpful context and that you may tackle it thereafter as not really much more than a needlessly bulked up collection of words that has been published for my own mental health reasons. I’m going to need my mental health, you know, and so will you need yours: this is going to be a shit winter. At best.

I think I’ve had enough of The Great British Bake Off. It’s only been back on for a couple of weeks (three to be exact, though I started writing this after the second, I think) and it doesn’t seem so great anymore. Was it ever really that great anyway? Once that could be thinly argued, but now it has definitely sunk in the middle. It has a soggy bottom and been fingered into an unappetising, doughy mess. It has collapsed on the way to the judges table and no one seems capable of putting it back together again. You get my drift, I’m sure, and more’s the worry, who really cares that it’s a dying duck? It’s just become another predictable, homogenised cash cow (or duck, if you’re that bothered, I’m not past the first paragraph and this is all already as much of a mess as a dropped flan) and all we really need to do on this forum is identify the manifold expressions of its failure and dig out who (if anyone) or what is responsible. Because I don’t think we can really just blame cake.

And we can’t just blame Matt Lucas either, though he doesn’t seem to have helped. He started off well last week (now nearly three weeks ago) with a Boris Johnson impression, but he followed that with his first stab as a baking show presenter and it all well downhill from there. I have long admired Mr Lucas: his turn as George Dawes on ‘Shooting Stars’ was a masterclass of aggressive character comedy and there will always be a place in my heart for ‘Come Fly With Me’ as well, but, alas, on TGBBO he just comes across as ever so slightly boring. As someone who is amply capable of being both funny and interesting it seems odd that he has decided to leave both of these weapons at home and has instead chosen to appeal chiefly to those most easily offended. Perhaps he is trying to wipe away all the fuss surrounding the historical obliteration of his previous endeavours. Perhaps Matt Lucas has entered a safe hands, long term, apologist cul-de-sac and perhaps that’s where he’ll stay. Time will tell.

But no, it isn’t just him. Even before it started this new season I found myself in a state of acute indifference towards TGBBO. Where once it had some gaudy, fairy dust appeal it is now a challenge to simply stay put on the sofa for long enough to get through it. Each episode has been stroked out to nearly the length of a cheap feature film and there are more frequent advert breaks than the brain can cope with; the switch from the BBC to Channel 4 may have reduced the reasons for Sue Perkins being on TV by one but the downside was a sleazy advert orgy catering specifically to the type of people who just couldn’t live without baking programmes. And there you have it, another nail in its rubbery choux bun coffin.

Inevitably there are further fingers to point. In their desperation to tick all boxes and avoid any kind of backlash from the ranks of the politically correct diehards Channel 4 have tried to include individuals to represent every walk of life across this fair land, provided they come from an economic background which can support every spare moment and penny being spent on endless prototype baking disasters: home baking is, somehow perversely, a game for all walks of life except the very poorest classes. So TGBBO has become a postmodern utopian melting pot of gender, race and terrible affliction. I noticed that this time round one chap has a prosthetic leg and I wondered if they chose him on merit or if they now have some disability quota to meet. That leg even got what felt like a gratuitous close up at one point, not that I was really watching. The chap, it has to be said, does seem to be pretty sound (and I did feel, fleetingly, quite bad about myself but then I remembered that I couldn’t really remember the last time I felt good about myself and that all placed everything into a broader realm perspective which I was willing to live with).

That all said, ultimately the variety quota isn’t the main problem, it’s the undefinable irritant bullshit quota that really sticks to the bottom of the tray. There’s Dave the armoured guard (probably dropped out of police training) who acted like a sulky twat when Sura knocked his cakes on the floor. Interestingly Dave claims that one of his strengths is seeing the positive in every situation, a claim he managed to shatter like a stamped on brandy snap before the first hour was out. And then there’s Sura who tried to clobber a fly and ended up knocking some twat’s cakes on the floor (incidents such as these would normally cripple society with the tedious, bakery distracted discourse they generate, but in our new, crapper, virus addled world they suddenly seem even more empty and meaningless as events than they already were to start with). There’s also a Mark and a Marc, and that just seems like something that could have been avoided. There is, sorry was, a Loriea, who admitted she struggles to stick to a recipe and has to add her own twist; the twist for her was adding some hard cheese, because she was booted out in week one. And we can’t forget the assumed series hottie, Lottie, who is a pantomime producer, and I’m not sure I really have the energy to crawl any further beyond that introduction.

However, the star tit has to go to Rowan, who ground me into a ball of fury from the very first second. Let me tell you a bit about him. He’s entirely self-taught, which suggests that he just started experimenting with flour without knowing what flour was, and that he thought eggs were an act of witchcraft until he mastered the art of meringue making at the back of his isolated cave. He loves the Georgian era (though I guess he would have been unaware of Georgian baking until he invented it and then taught it to himself), and apparently likes to reinvent 18th century recipes, but then if he likes the era so much why does he feel the need to reinvent the recipes when he could just bake them as they are? He also has his own ‘unique’ style and is the owner/wearer of colourful waistcoats. “How many waistcoats do you have?” asked someone the other week, perhaps expecting a jaw dropping, Imelda Marcos style revelation. “Twelve” replied Rowan, as if that were something to be proud of (it is conceivable that he had one for each show he hoped to be in, but I couldn’t see him getting very far unless he self-taught himself a bit better on his days off – he left last Tuesday night, how good am I!?). And at that stale moment I felt my brain slump a few inches further down my spine. This is no longer even trying to be entertaining, I thought, this barely qualifies as a thing that’s happening. This makes the banal look like a foam party and smashing through the bottom of the barrel a long distant memory. The game is over.

If only. TGBBO will be with us forever. If at some point enough people get bored of going round and round with the same formula every year then it might fade away for a few seasons but I guarantee some smart arse will always think of a crap variation on a theme or bring it back for the nostalgia crowd. Prue will be there, smelling of wee and wearing a tea cosy on her head, and Paul Hollywood will have developed baker’s elbow, compacted bowels and a botoxed forehead. There will be the same magical blend of contestants, with at least two in wheelchairs and another representing the ‘in an induced coma’ community. The challenges will all be exactly the same only with some unimaginative, ever so slight, alteration and someone will still be trying to make a courgette and beetroot three tiered cake that reminds them of their first sexual encounter or their favourite scene from a David Niven film. And it is only now that it occurs to me that if it wasn’t for TGBBO the shops wouldn’t have run out of flour and eggs at the end of March, just so that Sophia, Charlotte and little Max could make Battenburg and cupcakes with Mummy. Shame on it, but it is paying the price, because now TGBBO is just a mild, wasteful distraction, a cluster of sticky minutes each week when I could be doing something more constructive with my time. Like posting this.

G B Hewitt. 12.10.2020

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