IF ever I come across one of today’s wretched TV ‘talent’ shows and reach for the ‘off’ button, it reminds me of driving along the M65 about 30 years ago and calling up the local radio station in the hope of some travel news. This is what I heard:
Male presenter: Good morning and welcome to BBC Radio Lancashire’s Search For a Star, coming to you live from Accrington Market Hall. (Interrupted by cry of ‘Get yer new taters, only five pence a pound’. ‘Sssshhh!’ ‘Oh, sorry, pal.’) And here we have our first contender. Your name is?
Female voice, strong local accent: My name is Samantha Skilling but my friends call me Sam (sound in the background of a metal stepladder falling over and dog barking).
And where do you hail from, may I ask?
I’m from Ossie.
What, all the way from Australia?
Nah, (said with scorn). Oswaldtwistle (small town adjacent to Accrington).
My mistake. What do you do for a living, Sam?
I work in a slaughterhouse but one day I hope to be a pop singer.
And what are you going to perform for us today? (Sound of mother admonishing child: ‘Stop pickin’ yer nose, our Darren!’)
I’m going to sing for you a little number called The Shadow of Your Smile. (‘Darren, I told you!’ Sound of mother’s hand clouting son around the head, followed by wailing).
Sam begins a tuneless screech in the style beloved of Irish pub singers, causing feedback over the radio microphone. Greengrocer decides to compete: ‘Come on, lasses, get yer broth mix here. Only 15 pence.’ After 30 seconds, presenter decides enough is enough.
‘Well I think we’ll leave it there, Sam. Thanks very much for coming along and we’ll no doubt be in touch.’
‘OK but before I go I just want to say thanks to my family, especially my mum and my nanna. They’ve been supporting me EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.’
Parris on the dole
ACCORDING to the Guardian (so it must be true) Matthew Parris admits that his lucrative career as a columnist and broadcaster was launched on the back of a TV documentary when, as a Tory MP, he attempted to survive for a week on the dole. What an admission! An entire career based on having proved himself to be a total plonker.
Let me take you back to 1984, when ITV’s World in Action challenged Parris to endure a week in a Newcastle upon Tyne bedsit while spending only £26.80, the supplementary benefit paid to a single unemployed man.
At the time Parris, in his mid-thirties, was the Honourable Member for West Derbyshire, having previously been correspondence secretary to Margaret Thatcher. The programme, which you can see here, begins with him addressing ‘the Tory ladies of Nottingham’, who are concerned that scroungers are exploiting the benefits system.
He tells them: ‘We must never make it too comfortable for people to throw themselves on the state.’
He is then seen in jeans and shiny new donkey jacket arriving in Newcastle and unlocking the door of a dingy flat. He is clearly and woefully unprepared for the week ahead. This is an ideal opportunity to show that, with sense and resourcefulness, it is indeed possible to get by on £26.80. He blows it, big time.
Had it been me, my first recourse would have been to the market, where rejected fruit and veg, still perfectly edible, can usually be scavenged. If the skips were bare, he could buy all the ingredients for a large pan of broth for little more than a quid. Instead, he heads for the supermarket, where he blows £11 on items including strawberry jam, tinned goods and sausages. ‘He can afford only one fresh vegetable – that’s potatoes.’
Back at the bedsit, Parris feeds coins into the gas, electricity and television meters before huddling beside the fire. Over the next few days spent mooching around like a wet lettuce, he pours much of his capital into the gogglebox while complaining of being bored. Did he not think to bring a book? Could he not visit the library? No, but he does manage to blow three quid on a visit to the football, presumably because he thinks that’s what jobless riff-raff would do.
At the end of the week the MP is dispirited, penniless and forced to admit that he could not cope, while still incoherently defending government policies. The Leftie programme-makers are full of glee that he played into their hands. For the Benefit of Mr Parris brings in no fewer than 13million viewers, none of whom can have been impressed by his pathetic own goals against the Tories. Mrs Thatcher must have been incandescent. I hope she gave him a good handbagging.
SPEAKING of broth, here is another of my mother’s idiotproof recipes ideal for the impecunious student.
INGREDIENTS: Half a packet of dried soup mix of lentils, barley etc. Small packet dried peas. Broth mix from the market, if available, otherwise carrots, swede, cauliflower, leeks, celery, cabbage and any other fresh or frozen veg hanging around. Flour and suet for dumplings.
METHOD: Pour boiling water over the dried ingredients and soak them overnight. Drain, place in the largest saucepan you have and cover with stock. I would use water left over from boiling spuds, along with Maggi, Woh Hup and Knorr chicken powder (see previous column). Bring to the boil, add chopped vegetables and simmer. Meanwhile make the dumplings according to the instructions on the suet packet and leave to stand. When the broth is starting to disintegrate, place the dumplings on top and cook gently, covered, until they are massive and you can’t wait any longer to dig in.
By the way, thanks for your messages about last week’s suggestion to put salt on banana sandwiches. Reader Vernon Warner emailed with a controversial variation – Marmite and banana. I tried it and, hmmm, interesting. Think I’ll stick to the salt though.
FOLLOWING my list of 100 favourite albums, hordes of readers (well, a couple) have asked me to name the tracks that mean the most to me. So here are the first few, not in any particular order.
Jimi Hendrix: Like a Rolling Stone. World’s greatest guitarist plays one of greatest songs by Bob Dylan, world’s greatest songwriter. Recorded at the 1967 Monterey Festival.
The Bunch: When Will I Be Loved? The Bunch were a gang of English folk royalty who got together in 1971 to make Rock On, an album of pop and country cover versions. On this song, written by Phil Everly, Sandy Denny and Linda Peters (later Thompson) harmonise to delightful effect.
Ian Matthews: Biloxi. From his 1974 LP Some Days You Eat The Bear And Some Days The Bear Eats You. This excellent Jesse Winchester song is taken into the stratosphere by the lap steel guitar of David Lindley.
Jussi Björling and Robert Merrill: Pearl Fishers Duet. You can keep your Nessun Dorma – I think the sound of these two geezers is almost unbearably beautiful and it always brings me to tears. My mum used to have this on a ten-inch LP and it was the only non-pop record I ever played as a child.
More to follow in coming weeks.
A PS from PG
‘Ahoy there, Stilton!’ I cried.
He spun round with a sort of guilty bound, like an adagio dancer surprised while watering the cat’s milk.
PG Wodehouse: Joy in the Morning