It’s the end of life as we know it. The Great British Bakeoff bit the dust this week when the 2016 final was aired and Candice was announced as the winner. This year’s competition has been overshadowed by the off-screen hoo-ha, and I’ll get to that in a minute. First though, I have to say that this current batch of bakers just didn’t grab me in the way that last year’s did (with one or two exceptions – I think if Selasi were to run for PM he’d be elected by a landslide). Stiff competition, I know, because the class of 2015 were pretty special. One of the things that’s always endeared this programme to me has been the chemistry between the contestants; the interest and tension all stemmed from the personalities involved and from their ability (or lack of it) to whizz together a benchfull of random stuff to create something delicious and occasionally magical. Every now and then we’d get a crisis where a cake that had taken three hours to make was dropped onto the floor, or an ice-cream extravaganza melted into a pool of slush, causing groans of dismay in living-rooms across the land – though I’m sorry to say that once or twice it caused helpless fits of the giggles in ours. And thank goodness it never sank to the depths of programmes like The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent that insist on feeding us sob-stories. I don’t want to know that the youngest contestant has fought her way to baking excellence whilst battling against a phobia of marshmallows, or that the guy struggling to get the Kitchen Aid to work has had to overcome a fear of machinery since he was frightened half to death by a scientific calculator during a maths exam.
Of course the other reason for the appeal of GBBO was its team of presenters. Paul Hollywood I could take or leave, but as a foil for the old-fashioned elegance and generosity of Mary Berry he actually fulfilled a useful role. He was bad cop to her good, and it worked for that reason. Over and above this duo though, holding the entire thing in the palms of their hilarious hands, were Mel and Sue. Talk about National Treasures! They are brilliant and irreplaceable and I have no doubt that the next incarnation of GBBO will be a poor imitation. Channel 4 has bought itself a very expensive lemon.
And so here we are at the tail end of October and already the silly season has begun. Consider this from the Metro: “We’re hearing disturbing reports that winter is on its way, the days are getting ever shorter and it’s going to start getting colder…one prediction is that it’s going to snow for 120 days and we’re heading for the whitest Christmas in five years.”
“Disturbing reports that winter is on its way”? Doesn’t winter normally come after autumn? And I’ve never been an expert on matters to do with planetary motion, but I’m fairly sure that after the summer solstice the length of each day is slightly shorter until we reach the winter solstice. As for it starting to get colder…well…yes, that’s what happens in winter. So from the bloomin’ obvious to the crackpot statement that it’s going to snow for 120 days…it seems we’re going to be living in Narnia (or ‘North of the Wall’ if you prefer The Game of Thrones to C.S.Lewis)
The Met Office have said we have equal chances of it being warmer or colder than average. In other words it’s either going to be cold or not cold, which is helpful. But let’s not worry about it yet – or at all, for that matter. There’s still some autumn cheer to be enjoyed and that’s what we’ve been doing this week, starting with a visit to a neighbour who’d invited the entire village for an afternoon of apple-pressing. There are literally tons of apples around here; sadly none in our garden but we have hopes for the tree we planted just over a year ago. For now we have to buy or scrounge them.
On Tuesday we spent the day with the community woodland group, hacking down brambles, bracken and rhododendrons alongside the canal. I didn’t get off to a very clever start when I slipped and landed on my knees as I went in through the gate. This has become something of a joke with the girls, if not with my other half. I’ve fallen over more times since I retired almost three years ago than in the whole of my previous adult life, with several broken bones as a result. The first time was my fault (I didn’t look where I was going, tripped over a rock and fractured both radial heads) and so was the second (because I was running through the kitchen to look at an RAF jet that was screaming overhead; socks and laminated flooring aren’t a good mix). But being sucked into a mountain bog several times last month was beyond my control and so was sliding across soaking wet wood like Bambi this week.
You’ll be glad to know I was undamaged. And if I was bothered by the muddy patches on my jeans I needn’t have been, because after a couple of hours there was no part of me that wasn’t dirty. It was hard work but thankfully interrupted by breaks for tea and home-made cake in the morning, then sausages cooked in an ancient frying pan for lunch. Two separate bonfires swallowed up the greenery and by the time we got home I was convinced I’d spent the day with a group of overgrown boyscouts. I had an idea that a hot bath (followed by a well-deserved gin and tonic) would stave off the aches and pains caused by the unfamiliar use of a scythe but I was wrong. Oh boy, was I wrong! I spent almost the whole of the next day laid out on the sofa.
Michael getting to grips with his tools
It was Thursday before we pushed ourselves out of the house for a walk, but as we were still staggering around bent double, we decided to take it easy with a gentle stroll. A few miles along the A40 is a hotel called Gliffaes with extensive – very extensive – grounds. In the words of a friend, it’s a huntin’, fishin’, shootin’ kind of place. The site is listed as having a Notable Tree Collection and there are at least 40 different species of tree there, including ancient oaks, redwoods,various types of cedar, maples and chestnuts. And, of course, apples!
Despite reports to the contrary, winter isn’t with us yet and we still have to get through Hallowe’en and then Bonfire Night. Having said that, I’ve made the Christmas puddings today (there’s one steaming away at the moment – only another six hours to go). I’ve always made the pudding the week of October half-term; in fact I make three. One for my sisters, one for Michael and I to eat on Christmas day (the girls don’t like it) and one for us to try out right away. Just in case there’s a problem.
Now all I have to do is decide on the alternative for the non-pudding eaters. Last year Alex made a meringue wreath and at some point we had James Martin’s delicious White Chocolate, Whiskey and Croissant butter pudding – I highly recommend that! You can find the recipe easily enough if you google it. Come to think of it I may just do that again.
Fortunately there’s time aplenty to stock up the cupboards in case we’re snowed in for 120 days – and if we can manage to dig ourselves out we’ll hopefully get to see another beautiful baby some time around the festive season – Congratulations to you both, Nicola and Tom, he looks absolutely gorgeous! xxx
I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers
“Anne of Green Gables”, L. M. Montgomery