Saturday, 12 May 2012

Made In Chelsea

     One of the perils of living in a cage continues to be not having access to the remote control. My twitterchums will be familiar with the tussle for control at Degu HQ over said device. Being of an intellectual nature myself, I have a preference for BBC4 and the veritable cornucopia of documentaries with which I can improve my little caviomorph mind. There is nothing quite as sonorous as a well-educated individual communicating eloquently about their field of expertise.
     You may wonder where I am going with this. Well, here goes…
     The Human – who happens to be the worst cook since “Arsenic Annie” served up her famous prune mousse – rather enjoys watching Saturday Kitchen Live (and also salivating over James Martin, although that is a rather different story). I hate Saturday Kitchen Live more than any of the other drivel that she watches on a regular basis and so I have developed a new trick: I squawk, squeak and bark loudly when it is on and until she changes the channel. Being of an essentially lazy disposition, she can only manage to press the “channel up” button three times before her podgy little fingers are exhausted.
     Thus we alight upon Channel 4. This is how it came to pass that, at Degu HQ, we watched Made In Chelsea, which is broadcast on the aforementioned channel, one Saturday morning.
     For those of you who haven’t seen Made In Chelsea, let me give you a quick summary. A group of over-privileged singletons in their late twenties move from party to party in various degrees of undress without ever going to work and making noises such as “yah yah”, “rah rah” or “jollybah bah rah yah rah” while swilling copious amounts of champagne. The girls all rather resemble horses and the chaps put me in mind of the Jack Wills catalogue.
     These young people are constantly in flux between attending openings or launch parties and sitting on yachts in the Mediterranean, they all seem to be employed by each other in some semi-incestuous manner, and if they aren’t currently in a relationship with one another then they have been at some point. In fact, in the last three episodes, all two of the girls have talked about is their relationship history with a couple of the boys.
     As part of my research I did try to learn the names of the characters. However, with one exception, the girls are all painfully thin and have blonde hair. Actually, I had been pondering how one particular young lady had such an extensive wardrobe when I clocked on to the fact that Caggie, Millie and Cheska are, in fact, three different people. I just thought it was the same girl but that she had truly appalling luck with men (which is why she kept talking about different ones that she liked).
     This programme had me reaching for Marx and Engels on the one paw and the remote control with the other. The week in which Ollie bought a sports car that was painted as a Union Jack was particularly frustrating, with Spencer sitting next to him saying that it was rather flamboyant and didn’t Ollie want something more low key. To which the response was that if Ollie was buying a flash car then he dashed well wanted to be noticed in it.
     This programme is like an homage to the rich, I thought initially. But the more I watched the more I started to question this. There is something strangely compelling about a programme where the people featured have so much and yet still have the same flaws as anybody else. Not one of them seems to be able to maintain a good relationship, they have the same petty arguments and fallings out with their friends, they still worry about having spots and putting on weight, and they stress about work. They just do all that through plummy vowels and within some of the most expensive real estate in Britain.
     At the outset, I wrote how much I enjoy the sound of the well-educated communicating their knowledge in a rhetorically sound way.  In Made In Chelsea, where they may be well-educated, they certainly struggle to communicate effectively. The pauses within the dialogue are painful. It’s worse than sitting through a school play where none of the thespians involved bothered to learn the script, but at least in that scenario you know that they are capable of learning it, something which I wonder about the cast here.
     All in all, I’m glad that I was made in Pets At Home and not Chelsea.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

What is love?

Here’s something that I have learned in the past three months, about the true meaning of love.

Three months ago The Human hit a low patch, which we’re not close to being out the other side of; my deguchums from the Twitterverse will be familiar with this. When “The Other Human” became “He That Left” I had a humanbean who did a lot of crying and, if I’m honest, not a lot of housework and not a lot of taking care of herself either.

During those darkest days in January I didn’t tweet. It was better that way. If I had tweeted, chances were I would have said something I shouldn’t have done, something unkind or something bitter on her behalf. I might have written about the emotional pain she experiences which is so raw that she feels it physically, about how she feels like there is a scream stuck in her throat, about the clawing desperation she has to change the way things have turned out. I might have tweeted someone’s mobile number or their e-mail address so that my – fantastically loyal, it has to be asserted – twitterchums could ask him the questions that he will not answer in the hope that maybe he would take the calls of another, read the e-mails or texts of another.

The only thing I tweeted was this—

Am working very hard trying to keep The Human from being so sad. Sorry if I don't tweet as much. Normal service will resume soon. Hopefully.

The Human then switched off the laptop and put it away. For a period of about three weeks she didn’t check her e-mail or facebook. However, I checked mine regularly.

I am so glad that I did because, in all honesty, I think that my twitterchums helped keep her alive and moving in those darkest and most hurty days.

What I received, on a daily basis, were so many tweets and direct messages from people asking if The Human was okay, offering words of support and advice. In one case there was even the offer of vigilante services, but I think – I hope – that may have been a joke!

Twitter – more particularly, my twitter – became The Human’s lifeline as she watched the number of tweets that I received which asked after her, which sent their love. People even tweeted their mobile numbers and e-mail addresses with offers of support. The Human felt touched at the patience and the love that my deguchums showed her. She is the first to acknowledge how difficult it is to deal with people who are impossibly melancholic.

So here’s my question. What is love? That is, after all, the subject of this particular piece.

Let’s look at how The Human has felt in the past three months, waking up in the mornings and feeling fine for a split second before she remembers it all, and before she wishes that she just hadn’t woken up at all. On these days her big victory is getting into the car because it means she has managed to dress and leave the house.

People say that time heals all wounds, but this doesn’t help. Time just takes her further away from it, from him, a thought which panics her, that she is moving further away from perfect days where she had wished that time would stop so that she could be in those moments forever. There is also the hideous fear that the further she gets from those days the more she will forget, the less she will remember, and that hurts just as much. On these days the emotional pain is physical, and she thinks about how she can't live like this for much longer. Why? Because she feels like her reason for living, the hope for a future, is gone.

She tries to think about the bad memories so that she can blame him, so that she can hate him, but all this does is remind her that there were no bad times, that all her memories are good. What does this do but cause her to wonder what happened that could have broken up something so perfect and so beautiful, something so precious to her, something that she believed would one day be the realisation of all of her silly, girlish dreams.

What torments her is that she doesn’t know, still, what caused it all to end. How he went away for a couple of weeks with friends and then, when returning simply sent a message which read that it “might be better” if they spoke no more and which wished her “good luck”. An impersonal, empty message that she won’t delete because it’s the last communication she has. Is she wrong to wonder? Is she wrong to be confused by this refusal to talk, to reply to either of the text messages she has sent since, and the odd juxtaposition between this and the fact that he hasn’t deleted her from Facebook, Skype or MSN? The truth is that she will not log into any of these because when she sees he is online too and yet he doesn’t talk to her it is like a stab through the heart and a punch in the stomach.

She now wonders if they were in totally different places. That she alone saw a future for them and he did not.

She thinks about why he hates her, and she assumes he does. She assumes that he blames her. That he blames her for telling him once when very drunk that she wondered if she felt more for him than he did for her. She wonders if he blamed her for how he felt guilty over not being able to commit to her and yet how she never made his life difficult about how there couldn't be more for a while. Did he blame her for being patient and for supporting the fact that his job came first instead of being jealous of it?

She spends hours thinking about how she doesn’t want to think about how wrong she got it or how she could have handled it better, differently. She hates that the only person she’s ever felt that connection with is someone she couldn't be with because of their incompatible geographies and a job that will one day end, because, let’s face it, they all do. She hates that he hates her and she doesn't know why.

Or does he not hate her? Does he just feel nothing. She wonders this and then cries, because the only thing worse than him hating her is the hideous thought that maybe she meant nothing at all to him really. But then she reflects on how he got all teary eyed that time when he said it might not work out, when he said he couldn't bear getting involved for it all to end. That it would all end when she got fed up with it and walked away. And yet she didn't. She hasn’t. She never will. The truth is, she will always be here for him if he turns around and comes back again.

Then, she wonders, is she just expendable? Does she not matter? Is she not worth having? Worth keeping? Is she not worth investing in? She wishes that she could hate him and she despises herself for not being able to see him in a negative way at all. She probably should, but she knows that he is a good person and that, for him to walk, she must be truly a dreadful person who has done something really, really awful.

Then, one evening, a friend of hers turned up on the doorstep with a large bag of Chinese food. The two of them sat on the drawing room floor by my cage and ate the lot. And without offering me so much as a nibble of a prawn-cracker, but let’s not get bogged down in bitter trivia.

When they had finished eating, they talked about how gluttonous they felt. Which they might not have done had they shared the Chinese love with me at all, but never mind. They decided that they needed to exercise more. Neither of them wanted to exercise on their own, they needed company so that they would feel less like the one Michelin Man at the back of the room hiding behind all of the lycra clad gods and goddesses so that no one would see their rippling fat rolls for all the rippling pectorals. So they started going to Zumba and to the gym together. Because two heads are better than one and it’s easier to stay on track when you have a true friend on side to laugh at yourself with.

So, for all of you out there who are looking for “The One” and who are disappointed because you haven’t found them yet, I say stop. Stop! Look around you; look at the people who support you and who care about you because, here’s a flash, this is love. The people who are there for you at 4am when you a crying into your pillow? These are the loves of your life. Maybe it was He That Left who was The One for The Human, maybe not, but what is certain is the powerful truth that I have learned here. If anything I am shocked that it took so much heartache and misery for me to learn this one lesson.

What is this lesson?

That I have an incredibly supportive and caring network of people who are there for me when it feels like the world is ending, when, as Victor Hugo once wrote, “whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees”. I am blessed to have such people who stood, tweeted and telephoned by me during the very worst of times. This is love. Yus.

The 2012 Academy Awards

This week my column is about what The Human calls “the greatest unreality show on earth”. It encompasses all the things that a reality television show relies upon: drama, intense beauty, freaky outfits that scream “I am an individual! Look at me!”, attention seeking behaviour, romance, mad tasks, and rules. I don’t know who or what a Josh Groban is, but he was right when he tweeted that the red carpet is nothing more than “Best In Show” for humanbeings.

If I’m honest, the arrival of a (faux) middle eastern dictator on the red carpet wouldn’t have been appropriate as a task on Big Brother and it certainly wasn’t especially acceptable when Sacha Baron Cohen did that very thing when he arrived at the Oscars last week. Apparently clutching the ashes of Kim Jong Il in an urn to his bosom. When there are members of our armed forces deployed to the near east makes this stunt less than amusing. And if I was Martin Scorcese, I would have bitten Mr Cohen on the nose for being invited to the Awards as a member of the Hugo cast and misusing it to promote his own project. You don’t get that on Come Dine With Me.

The highlight of the whole event was not Christopher Plummer becoming the oldest codger ever to win a Best Supporting Actor award. The Human squealed with excitement at this juncture. I tried to remonstrate and to explain to her that he hadn’t won for his “performance” as Georg von Trapp in The Sound of Mucus, but she didn’t seem interested at all.

The real star of the show was, of course, Uggie the giant-degu-they-call-dog. I was disappointed that he didn’t receive a special award all of his very own. We animals are never recognised for our contribution to culture. Indeed, we are much overlooked in the reality television stakes. When was the last time you saw animals in a reality television show which didn’t involve them being eaten in a “bush tucker trial”?

The only abstract award seems to be that Angelina Jolie’s right leg has some 47,000 followers on Twitter now. Meryl Streep’s frock looked like gold lamé, which I found profoundly disconcerting. Is it still 1985 in Los Angeles? I know it’s the Oscars, but I don’t think it’s mandatory to arrive at the awards dressed as the gongs.

This year’s Academy Awards was lacking something else too. It was bereft of musical numbers. In the good old days, the Oscars felt like they were never going to end with floor show after floor show. Actually, I don’t know why I’m complaining when I prefer it this way.

And has anyone else noticed the bizarre theme that is starting to trend at this award ceremony? Last year the principle focus was on the English monarch who struggled with speech. With me so far? This year, the focus was on an inaudible Frenchman. What next year?! Angela Merkel signs the complete works of Goethe?

All in all, I was just relieved that this was the shortest ceremony – alongside 2005 – in a quarter of a century. Had it gone on much longer then I might have been forced to dig for freedom, there really is only so much self-congratulatory faux modesty that a degu can stand. Really.

My Super Sweet Sixteen

When the Big Brother final was broadcast I had thought that the torture, the agony, the drudgery, of reality television on our screens was over. I have survived weeks of celebrities trapped in the Australian bush, celebrities ballroom dancing (badly) and talentless nobodies attempting to sing and dance.

What else could be left?

It turns out that, on the extra-terrestrial channels, there is a wealth of other “reality” inspired programming. These appear to focus on following around former-glamour models, Greco-Antipodean pop stars or people who live in Essex. I am fairly certain that none of these fit into my reality, but such is life. And the only thing that any of them have in common with each other is a curiously orange glow about the face.

You would be forgiven for thinking that any of those is the subject of this column. In fact, if it is imaginable, I have found something even worse.

You can’t guess what that could possibly be can you?!

My Super Sweet Sixteen is the sort of programme that is beyond the comprehension of anyone who is not an overpriliged pubescent with parentals in possession of more money than IQ points. In preparation for this column, I watched a few episodes of this programme. No, I subjected to episodes of this horrendous assault on my principles for Ebeneditor Scrooge – who doesn’t feel a lot of degulove for me right now as my column is over 24 hours late.

The mind boggles at the idea that anyone would give their teenaged daughter a limitless pot from which to plan a birthday party which, realistically, they won’t remember in ten years time. In one particular episode, for example, the birthday girl hand-delivered all two-hundred and fifty invitations in a hired Bentley and with a hired musician to play a fanfare and an actress dressed as a renaissance maiden to announce the birthday girl’s arrival.

Watching  a sixteen year old break up with her boyfriend whom she loved ‘with all my heart’ – ah, the innocence of youth – at the start of the episode because he refused to sing a song she had told him to write for her as a birthday present, made my blood boil. Actually, it made me so angry that I upturned my sandbath on the drawingroom floor just for something to do. I then picked out each individual green pellet from my dinner bowl to throw at the remotecontrolmabob in the hope that the channel would change. Alas, all to no avail.

It seems an obligatory part of this programme that the spoiled brat in question tries on numerous designer dresses – which, I am reliably informed range in price from £300 to £5,000 – so that the birthday girl can “look epic” because “people are going to, like, remember this for the rest of their lives, you know?” No, I don’t know and I really don’t care. In one particular episode, the birthday bash was fancy-dress, and the princess tried on a reproduction Marie-Antoinette dress amongst others. These were not enough it seemed, and she ended up changing her clothes six times during the Sweet Sixteen party. It was the way her mother calmly handled the tantrum in a Knightsbridge shop when Princess Petulant was told she couldn’t have the £3,000 dress that she wanted. “Why are you trying to ruin my party?” She shouted at her mother. I’d have cancelled her £100,000 party after that one!

There are no words for that. Actually, there are, but they are not publishable.

If I had to draw my conclusions about this programme it would be that My Super Sweet Sixteen is, as a title, only 75% truthful. There is nothing super about this programme or the odious brats that it chronicles the parties of. Certainly I didn’t see a great deal of sweetness about it either, unless the quantity of Haribo consumed is to be brought into the equation somewhere. Some episodes were not even about 16th birthdays, they were about 18th birthdays, especially on the nights that it was the British episodes rather than the American ones. That said, the “my” is true to form. After a week of being subjected to this programme, every time that the Birthday Girl of the evening spoke all I heard was a high-pitched whine that sounded like “Me! Me! Me! Me! Meeeeee!”

Celebrity Big Brother

I had hoped that, with a new year on the horizon, those responsible for scheduling at our illustrious broadcasting corporations might have made the resolution not to continue tormenting those of us who are trapped – imprisoned if you will – in homes where the humanbeans watch “reality” television. Yet here I am, with another column about my tragic life behind bars, being forced to watch this drivel, yes, drivel, by a tele-addicted humanbean with taste so bad that she once ate a degunugget and said, ‘That’s not half bad.’

There is always a ghoulish delight to be had from watching celebrities on “reality” television. Ironically, this makes it even less real, but I’m just a caviomorph and not an expert on social realism. The same frustration and irritation applies as you watch people struggle with basic tasks, like eating porridge, which they can’t do because they’re used to having their “people” do it for them. Not that I can complain on that score, as I do, technically, have a “person” too.

Actually, the porridge task was a brief highlight in this series. Firstly, because I like oats. Secondly, because the idea that the “celebrities” had to eat bovine urine mixed into porridge should have made me feel rather nauseated, instead we were exposed to a display of the most diva-ish behaviour I have ever seen. Teenage glamour models running round the “diary room” swearing and screaming about how “you can’t do this to me”. Seriously? Did you check your reality-o-meter at the door? This is not something to scream and cry and swear about, this is a silly task on an even sillier game show which you are on to further your career, it is not third world debt and it is not a terminal illness, no one has died and you are perfectly safe. You chose to be  here, so get over yourself.

In the case of Celebrity Big Brother, I find it more difficult to complain about the premise of the programme. The locking up of people and watching them run around inside their little prison, grooming themselves, eating, drinking, exercising and then some inappropriate things which I will not comment upon because they are, frankly, rudies. I detest reality television, this garbage that The Human inflicts upon me. But, if I am going to be honest, I like that the boot is on the other paw. Now I get my revenge: I can watch some other species being imprisoned, publically eating their degunuggets, drinking their water and washing their naughties. Not that I ever want to see Natalie Cassidy’s naughties.

What I have enjoyed about this series of Celebrity Big Brother so far is the unashamed way that the inmates have talked about how they are taking part in the hope of getting work out of it. “It’s all about the job, isn’t it,” one housemate said to another. Although I do suspect that Michael Masden doesn’t actually understand what the whole business is all about, he seems confused all of the time.

I was devastated when Andrew Stone left. I enjoyed watching as he made those celebrities dance to keep fit, but also I feel rather let down that he never showed us how to make a dance studio out of a pineapple. Apparently this sculptural feat is what he is best known for. I did, however, cheer when Natalie Cassidy was voted off last week. Presumeably this was for crimes against use of the word “babes” as a form of address for ones contemporaries, especially as she couldn’t say it correctly and insisted on saying “bayebth”. I suspect that the perennially confused Mr Masden thought she was a non-English speaker.

Of the other housemates, another TOWIE “star”, though how going from one reality show to another makes you a celebrity I’m not altogether sure. Thank goodness, he’s on there because I was almost suffering withdrawl after almost a month without the other TOWIE chap who was in I’m A Celebrity… A month which was filled only by the charity single that the cast of that esteemed piece of programming released in an attempt to add “Christmas No 1” to their list of reality achievements. Not that matters now as poor old Kirk was voted off by the sensible Great British public.

I was rather concerned when The Human and chums became excited that there was a loose woman in Big Brother this year, I had my suspicions that this was an attempt to sex up – as New Labour would say – a televisual concept that is, frankly, stale after a decade. Just as I was about to turn my paws to the typing of a strongly worded letter to Ofcom, I discovered that Denise Welch is a television presenter from a programme so vile that even The Human doesn’t watch it. If anybody’s interested, my money’s on her to win, all the Loose Women viewers will be voting in force.

Frankie Cocainer, one of my particular favourites from X Factor, seems hopelessly ill-placed in a programme that supposedly features “celebrities”. What is he actually famous for? Let’s break this down. He entered a performance based competition from which he was forced to retire because of an alleged substance abuse problem. On what planet does this make him anything but an abject failure? A loser, he surely does not qualify as a celebrity.

And while I’m on the subject of celebrity status, I would be interested to know how Channel 5 and Endemol justify the presence in the house of a former lover and sister-in-law of a celebrity. By definition if you make it into the press because of a super injunction you are not a celebrity, you are part of an entourage, and a secret part at that. In fact, I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to include you in my column, so I’m not even going to say your name.

In short, television has hit an all new low with this series of Celebrity Big Brother. The celebrities are wannabes, the talented housemates are the ones being voted off and, frankly, if I wanted to watch someone locked up in a cage doing ordinary things with the occasional jump through a hoop then I’d get a mirror.

Strictly Come Dancing

In recent weeks I have been subject, from my prison cell, to inappropriately named television programmes including “I’m A Celebrity…” and “X-Factor”. I did not think that The Human could plummet to all new depths of televisual trauma. Then she discovered “Strictly Come Dancing”. Strictly has at least one thing in common with X-Factor, the two-part final. I hate to sound cynical, but is this break between the two parts merely to facilitate the National Lottery? Another money-making scam after weeks of having naïve humanbeans phone in for their favourite celebrities week after week?

I just am relieved that Edwina Currie was voted out so early on, I might have actually chewed my own paws off with rage had I been forced to watch her trip about dance floors as inelegantly as she tripped her political flaws. Unfortunately, it was not possible to vote off the other irritation perpetuated by the programme. This other annoyance bugs me, and I mean really annoys me, indeed, it vexes me to the degree that I pile all my kitty-litter in the centre of my cage before climb atop it and kicking it across the drawing room floor with my back paws. Bruce Forsyth. Or “Brucie” as the BBC calls him as they try to convince us that he is a national treasure and that we all love him. Just like they used to do with the Queen Mother, except they didn’t call her “Brucie” because that would have been weird…

Brucie Brucie Brucie Brucie (to the tune of “Ruby” by the Kaiser Chiefs)

This cage is full of toys and “boredom breakers” as one well known national pet shop chain refers to them, but it is still not enough to get me through an evening with Forsyth. It’s just the way he crops up on the screen for a quick one liner, which is supposed to be funny or witty or both, but fails miserably at all three. Seriously, Bruce, no one - repeat, NO ONE - wants to see or hear you. Get off. Retire. I would ask The Human to change the channel, but I know that she would only change it from this to some other ghastly reality television nightmare. In fairness, though, I suspect that the human beans feel the same about Sir Bruce of Forsyth as I do, given how many new swear words I have learned – and just from the final of Strictly Come Dancing – from them as they watch this. I deduce that they dislike him. He is Moriarty to my Holmes. That is how severe my dislike has become. I believe him to be plotting the demise of watchable television, when he appears on BBC4 then we know that civilisation is soon to be purged and we must man the guns.

Any Dream Will Do . . . unless it’s to win Strictly

Jason Donovan, you remember him? Had a lavish wedding on “Neighbours” to Kylie Minogue and a brief pop-career before getting a cocaine habit and then re-emerging in “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here…” He wasn’t the King of the Jungle and he’s not the king of the dance floor either, I suspect that this had nothing to do with his footwork either, but was because Christina (his partner) kept flashing her rudies and the Great British public got fed up with it.

Jason Donovan’s appearance on Strictly has been surrounded with controversy. Allegedly his wife tried to persuade him not to take part because of the supposed numbers of affairs that take place between dancers and their partners. Watching the programme, I empathise totally with Mrs Donovan, I wouldn't want that breast-rubbing specimen dancing with my husband either. In the first part of the final his score was poor, but I suspect he had probably scored quite enough anyway. As he bowed out of the competition, with the usual contrived good grace that celebrities exhibit on these occasions, Jason sensibly thanked his wife before gushing all over Christina.

I felt a need to take back all of my unkind comments about Donovan and partner when, in his last dance, I nearly expired with shock as she performed a dance that doesn't involve her thrusting her naughties in his face. Unfortunately, I had chirruped too soon, and there she was thrusting her rudies in his face much to the horror of my innocent caviomorph eyes. I struggle to believe that this is suitable viewing for human pups, if The Human had baby beans I would feel rather uncomfortable with them watching this sort of thing.

Judge not lest ye be judged

Do you recall all that fuss when Arlene Philips was given the boot, err, I mean dancing shoe, from the Strictly judging panel in favour of the youthful Alesha Dixon? This is all well and good, but what exactly are Alesha’s credentials? One of my favourite moments from the final – yes, I am being ironic, I don’t actually have any favourite moments unless you count the credits rolling at the end – was when she turned to one contestant and complimented them by calling them a “true dancer”. I would have felt happier about her saying this if I thought that her knowledge of dancing extended beyond her own victory on the show a few years ago. And on behalf of drummers everywhere, I would like to know what the implication of her saying to Harry McFly "Why have you been hiding behind the drums? You're so talented" was meant to be, because all I got from that was one popstar being bitchy towards one with more talent.

Of the judges that do know something about dancing, Degu HQ loves Bruno Tunioli with his soliloquies and rhetoric so reminiscent of the epic poetry of Homer. Yus! Bruno acts as a reminder that the programme is supposed to be fun and light-hearted. All of his hard work was blown out of the water, however, when Len started comparing dancers’ struggles to overcome their numerous left feet – two was just not enough in some cases – with actual military battles where people actually died defending their country and your liberty. I cannot conceive of a culture where it is acceptable to compare a fight for freedom, for equality, with a dance-off. Good grief.

The reality of life beyond the school gates

A common theme in reality television is the carefully deployed sob story. The sob story has to be unleashed at just the right moment to guarantee full effectiveness. It will usually consist of the loss of a partner or a very ill parent and it is designed to elicit sympathy and therefore votes. I like Chelsee Waterloo-Road for all the same reasons that I liked Stacey Solomon on “I’m A Celebrity” last year, she is genuine and kind, you can tell that she is there to learn to dance – whatever her agent’s publicity machinations may have been. For these reasons, it upsets me that it was Chelsee who filled the sadness quota on this year’s Strictly. The moment that she uttered the words, “Knowing that people actually like me means a great deal to me” should have brought a tear to my eye, a lump to my throat, anything rather than my nails scratching at the door of my cage for escape from the cliché fuelled drivel.

We are used to seeing Chelsee as the bumbling, ineffective, nosey and gossiping school secretary in “Waterloo Road”, so to see her doing something as well as she took to the dance floor actually made this programme enjoyable for a few brief moments. I particularly enjoyed the moment in the final when she and her partner, Pasha, quite literally, made it a pantomime by dressing up as Shrek and Princess Fiona. It was one of the costumes she wore that did not seem built to sabotage her performance; after the week where her heal got caught in her hem and then, this week, when she wore a dress that had what appeared to be looroll flowing merrily from the shoulder.

I have to say, however, that the very worst thing about watching Chelsee dance was the moment that the galumphing blob that is The Human said that it made her want to take up ballroom dancing again. She would be better off in a ball pool than a ball room, except with all those brightly coloured spheres haning about we might not be able to locate her, such would the camouflage be. As my cynical soulmate and Strictly judge, Craig Revel-Horwood would say, that would be dizz-arh-struhss, dahhling.

A festive tale involving no ghosts but definitely a Scrooge

No newspaper, online or otherwise, is anything without its editor. The editor is like the captain of a ship, we need him for direction and for his superior wisdom. At this juncture I would like to pay homage to my editor here at the Gazette, who asked me to review “Strictly Come Dancing”, a programme so dire that even The Human does not usually watch it. A programme so dire that even The Human wants to pick up my cage and hurl it out of the velux in a fit of intellectual depression. I pointed this out to Ebeneditor Scrooge, who admitted that he himself would not be watching the show – by which I mean he would not be watching Strictly not that he would not be standing outside Degu HQ to observe it rain degu cages from above. I ask you, where is the support? If I was him I would be constantly on the lookout for the imminent arrival of three knowledgeable ghouls, frankly. His only response, the old soak, was to ask me “Whose chube to you have to shred around here to get a dry martini?”

I’d like to be a McFly on that wall

Jason Donovan is not a one man show when it comes to taking over the world of reality television, McFly – a band, apparently, minstrels of some class or persuasion – are also going down a storm at the moment. First, Dougie in “I’m A Celebrity” and now Harry has won “Strictly Come Dancing”. At least the latter took some level of talent, I suppose. Interestingly, he was more humble than his bandmate at his victory in the battlefield of dance – cripes, I’m turning into Len Goodman. He looked so pleased to be praised for something. Still, I would like to have been a fly on the wall in the meeting where their “people” cooked up this plan for press coverage…is that the pitter-patter of tiny album-shaped feet I hear on the far off horizon?

The X Factor

This year’s X-Factor has been rife with controversy. We’ve had bullying, drug allegations, contestants being brought back, judges fighting and contestants surviving on just twenty minutes of sleep per night. If social-networking site Twitter is anything to go by, then not only has the nation not enjoyed this series but they have also cottoned on to how fixed the whole event is. The general public have seen through the sob stories and the tricks that the editorial room play.

And yet The Human has still seen fit to make me watch this rubbish on a weekly basis.

Imagine my delight then, when, for the first part of the final – yes, there are two parts, presumably as a way to make more money out of the general public because after three months ITV and Simon Cowell can’t have earned enough to buy a crust, poor lambs – Degu HQ had no volume on ITV. It was potentially the best night of X-Factor this season. Even better, by the time the delinquent humanbean with whom I live had fixed the problem we were just in time for the adverts.

It says a great deal about this year’s X-Factor that, in order to make it big and to keep the public interested, they had to take the final to Wembley. They also had to lure the general public there with promises of performances from platinum selling artists. What troubled me was that we had been watching the programme for twenty-seven minutes on Saturday night and only heard from one of the three finalists. I’m not saying that the whole event is an exercise in time wasting and money-making, but…

River Deep, Mountain High

Controversially Amelia Lily, who had been voted off quite early on in the series but voted back in after Frankie Cocaina left, made it to the final, and with that incredible voice she deserved to be there. Her rendition of “Ain’t No Other Man” by Christina Aguilera was a great improvement on the original and her duet with Kelly Rowland of Tina Turner’s “River Deep” was a real festival of singing talent. If anything, I’d say that Miss Lily out-performed her mentor. I am disappointed that she did not survive the first night of the final, but then she was lacking the necessary sob-story to guarantee her a place in any reality-television final.

Last Christmas I gave you my vote…this year I’ll give it to someone special

For my money, not that I have much, being a degu, it was Liverpuddlian Marcus Collins who deserved to win. His rendition of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” was a great way to kick start the final. It would have been a better way to kick start the final had it been in tune, but one can’t have everything.

Despite the expense – there’s that word again! – of the lavish staging (faux aeroplane) and numerous backing singers and dancers this was a distinctly average performance. Indeed, it only got worse for Marcus when he dueted with his mentor, Take That’s Gary Barlow; their rendition of “She’s Always A Woman” by Billy Joel left me vomming in my cage, wondering whether I could use my own vomit as a cover for escape a la Pat Reid.

You’ve got the marketability, err, love

My cynicism peaked with the performances of Little Mix. I am not a fan of girl-group-teeny-bop-pop anyway, but their post-Lily Allen “let’s all sing in a cockney accent and deliberately make it sound as discordant as possible” style is one that I simply do not get. What I want to know is how they have gone from being four teens who can't sing to performers. Hmmm…

Para Para Paradise . . . is when the professionals show up

The highlight of the two nights was watching the “guest” celebrities perform. I was astonished to see Leona Lewis singing on British television, we only paid for her to win the X-Factor after all. She showed outstanding loyalty to those members of the British public who did vote for her by heading to the USA within minutes of winning the competition herself. I felt truly privileged to hear her again. Until she started singing, and then I remembered how boring she was as a competitor on the show and why I didn’t vote for her then (and frankly wouldn’t now, either). Indeed, Michael Bublé may have been the only artist to hit all the right notes and do a quality performance on the first night of the final, and then, on the second night, Coldplay exhibited a winning combination of performance, song-writing talent and musicianship; things that this series of X-Factor had been entirely lacking until that moment.

Personally I was with Olly Murs, a runner-up from the past, who took to downing cocktails named after the finalists in order to survive the final. Such a good idea that I seriously considered doing the same; actually, Mr Murs’ adlibbing was so entertaining that I was on the verge of telephoning ITV and asking them to open a separate line so that we could vote Murs all over again.

Floating like a cannonball…

The winner’s song, Damian Rice’s “Canonball”, seemed apt to me. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, the noise coming from the television was so aurally offensive that I seriously considered tying a cannonball around my paws and jumping in a river. Secondly, both finalists really did float like cannonballs, delivering performances that made my heart sink, plummeting to the same murky depths as their professional prowess.

Who won the competition does not matter. (It was Little Mix.) Inevitably marketability won out over talent and the real loser was not the runner-up, but the Great British public who had to suffer hearing Mr Rice’s song murdered for a second time. It was at this point that I chirruped loudly, a chirrup meant to denote that if the channel was not changed soon then bitings would occur.

I suggest that we all take a long hard look at the girls who make up “Little Mix”; the so-called “winners”. The next time you see those well-rounded and normal British teens they will be pop starlets. They will have been styled, personally trained and photo-shopped. Their innocence and youthful exuberance will be lost. They will be skeletally thin and have personalities the colour of beige as the deliver the gospel according to Cowell in every interview. Their individuality is lost along with the souls that they have now signed over to X-Factor…