Contains David McCallum a gentleMan From U.N.C.L.E., Maths rock stars, Maggie Smith winding up Downton Abbey, the joy of food fibs, and and how Flower of Scotland was £££ ‘dearly held’
Daily Mail August 18 2015
Inspired by the towering cakes and moulded chocolate on the Great British Bakeoff, this week I dusted off some self-raising flour and baked some cheese scones this week for friends. Alas, the flour was old and feeble, and as the smell from the oven rose, my scones sank. “So what are we having then?” said Craig, eyeing the Norfolk-flat patties before I could hide them in the bin.
“Cheese rounds,” I said airily. “A bit like cheese straws. It’s a German recipe.”
This is what I miss in The Great British Bake Off: food fibbing. Sometimes recipes don’t turn out the way you expect them to, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. A bread dough of mine refused to rise despite pummelling, yeast injections, and being placed on top of the radiator overnight. So I reinvented it as Beerbread by slinging a tin of beer and some baking powder into the mix and baking the shaggy batter in a cake tin. Delicious.
And unlike Dorret Conway, there is no despair in my house if a Black Forest Gateau turns into a mudslide because of an un-set mousse. You simply rebadge is as a chocolate trifle and hand out spoons.
My mother is a champion repackager of baking disasters. Until I started going round to schoolfriends for tea, I believed that all lemon meringue pies were meant to have a soft, chewy topping, lightly browned, and even now, I prefer it to the traditional polystyrene version. Then there was her homemade spaghetti bolognaise: I was bewildered when served its cousin in an Italian restaurant because their version was brown, not red. Apparently only my house makes spag bol with corned beef, a hearty skoosh of tomato ketchup and one bayleaf. Even that undiscarded bayleaf became a prized item because finding it in your dinner or your mouth was, according to my mother’s quick thinking, as lucky as finding a silver sixpence in the Christmas pudding. And by the way, Christmas pudding should have gin poured over it then set alight, partly because one year I forgot to buy brandy.
The obsessive perfectionism of Bake Off, Master Chef and British Menus is weird. It is boutique food, made to intimidate, rather than share with friends. In Bake Off, one man, an anaesthetist, brought in one of his hospital hypodermics to inject rose syrup into his Madeira cake. I was glad he wasn’t a coroner. It all feels a bit Marie Antoinette — except this is not so much let them eat cake, as let them watch cake.
Meanwhile there’s a real food crisis around the corner. If the EU signs up to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, there may be small benefits for big business — but the implications of handing over control of our food to big corporations could add up to Farmageddon.
Unlike America, our dairy cows are not injected with growth hormones, our poultry doesn’t need to be washed in chlorine to render it fit for human consumption, we restrict GMO crops and levels of pesticide residues are policed. European food standards still need scrutinising, but if TTIP is imposed, the healthiest and most wholesome thing you may eat all day is a home-baked cake
The Man From UNCLE is back: a slick attempt to revive the old TV series with big action setpices and chic 60s fashions.
Unfortunately, like its stars, Guy Ritchie’s new movie is all dressed up with no particular place to go. Long on style but short on substance, it’s unlikely to damage Alicia Vikander, Hollywood’s current darling, and who gives a spirited performance as a double agent. But Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer move through the picture like bored supermodels: the mannequins from UNCLE
Sorely missed is the bright, tongue-in-cheek charm of the original Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.I’ve always had a particular soft spot for McCallum, who is still working, and always identifies himself as Scottish, although he’s been based in America for more than 40 years.He visited Glasgow quite often, usually to see his own Uncle — John Abercromby who looked after young McCallum during the war when he was an evacuee. A friend of mine recalls seeing McCallum at the height of his blonde moptop TV fame, as he drew up in a fabulously posh car.
McCallum was immediately clocked by Angus and his little pals, all of them UNCLE devotees. All of them were given autographs — and Man From UNCLE pens that McCallum had with him. And that’s what I love about McCallum: the fact that he carried branded biros around in case he met a young fan. Henry and Armie take note.
Making his Edinburgh debut this week is Stephen Tobolowsky, with a one-man show that shares some of his experiences of life, love and the entertainment industry, Tobolowsky is a character actor who has appeared in literally hundreds of movies, from Groundhog Day to Thelma and Louise to Miss Congeniality 2.
He’s great to watch, but even better to listen to — although if his Pleasance show takes off he certainly won’t be boasting about it back in Hollywood. “I’ve learned that actors never want to hear that you’ve got an audition or are doing well,” he told me during a pre-Festival chat. “The only thing an actor really wants to hear is that you’re leaving the business and opening a sandwich shop.”
This weekend the cast of Downton Abbey shot their last scene, and Dame Maggie Smith has been praising the crew for always being “ in a very good mood, which I can’t say for myself.” Indeed, a pal who works on the Dowton set confirmed that Dame Maggie was never stuck for acerbic zingers. On one occasion filming ground to a halt because continuity had noticed the dowager’s brooch was on the “wrong side”.
“If they are watching the brooch, instead of me,” said Dame Maggie, as she was repinned, “Then we’re all stuffed”
There have been some provocative guests at the book festival this year — and I don’t just mean the presence of David Mitchell on the opening day. His Q and A session prompted three texts, two of them warmly approving, but one of them a little panicky. “Argh! It’s not THAT David Mitchell”. Well quite: Mr Peep Show had stayed home, leaving the Booker nominated author to hold court on novels, the film version of Cloud Atlas, and his forthcoming book Slade House.
Jesse Jackson is due to fly in at the weekend, but he may have to sharpen his rhetoric after one of world’s greatest mathematicians drew a gasp when he took to the book stage and announced that academic progress was in danger of being stifled because kids don’t want to try.
You can’t miss Cederic Villani: he’s French and with an unusual period dress sense. Most mathematicians appear to view their kipper tie predecessors on 1970s Open University programmes as quite the dandies, but Villani favours cravats, a pocket watch and a three piece suit. In a festival yurt, he looks like Mr Darcy on a camping minibreak.
It’s quite a look, but it shouldn’t distract from his observation that an upcoming generation of unmotivated kids are unwilling to push themselves and struggle with the complexities of subjects like maths and science. Is he right? If so, rather than teaching children to dream big, how can we encourage children to embrace less alluring realities, such as self-control and hard work. Solving that equation requires some real big brainwork.
A wee stint on Radio Scotland’s jaunty Janice Forsyth Show last week brought the bonus pleasure of meeting Ronnie Brown, Corrie, and owner of the finest head of hair in Scotland.
He even shared a little film story about Cloud Atlas, a movie he hasn’t seen but loves because it features Flower of Scotland on the soundtrack.
Unfortunately for Cloud Atlas, they hadn’t asked for the rights first, and had to pay up. “So dearly held” indeed.
Congratulations to Paisley boy Andrew Neil on tying the knot in a private ceremony attended only by Noel Edmonds and his wife. Unusual vows we hear; “Deal….or no deal?”