Sunday, November 27, 2016

UMK 2017 songs: first listen

A few days ago the line-up of finalists for UMK 2017, the Finnish national selection for Eurovision, was announced.  Today I listened to the songs for the first time.  Here are my thoughts.


Arrows - Alva
This is a pleasant and reasonably contemporary pop song although it has a rather bland and generic feel.  The "arrows, arrows, arrows" hookline is memorable enough but this song is lacking that something extra to appeal to the voters.



Blackbird - Norma John
I'm not a fan of ballads at all, but for me this is the standout of the national selection and could have the best chance of getting Finland a decent result at ESC.  This song's slow brooding drama immediately made me think of something which would turn up in Norway's MGP - and I mean that as a compliment.  Norma has a beautiful voice too.  If they get the staging right, this could do very, very well.



Caveman - Knucklebone Oscar and The Shangri-La Rubies
UMK certainly brings a bit of diversity every year but in 2017 there seem to be more novelty/joke entries than should really be necessary in a national final.  This isn't so much a song as a messy mishmash of ideas and will probably need to lean on significant staging to give it any chance.  It sounds like a leftover song from an axed musical and has no redeeming features for me at all.



Circle of Light - Emma
For me this is immediately drawing a comparison with "Hear Them Calling" and I'm visualising similar staging with added wolves (!)  This would make a very predictable and safe winner and it's all just too "been there done that" for me.  It's not the worst song I've ever heard but it's totally lacking in originality and brings nothing new to the table.



Helppo elämä - Lauri Yrjölä 
Hooray!  A native language song - the only one in the national final. The title means "Easy Life" and it goes from a "Hey Brother"-styled beginning to a chorus with some serious dance beats.  I quite liked this on first listen, I know it doesn't really have a chance in the contest but I'm glad it's there.



Love Yourself - Gunther and D'Sanz
Yes, that Gunther, sleazy old Gunther of Ding Dong Song and Like Fire Tonight fame is back, back, back. And he's crossed the border into Finland!

Love Yourself, eh?  This isn't Justin Bieber's worldwide mega-hit ballad, but instead it quickly makes its intentions very clear.  This song appears to be an ode to, erm, "touching your tra-la-la" and the chorus takes it into Eurodance banger territory.  It did make me smile, I have to admit!



Paradise - My First Band
This is just a bad, bad parody of an r'n'b pop song.  "I wanna see you satisfied/let me kiss your paradise"?  Goodness gracious. No thanks.  Perhaps I might have liked this better if the lyrics weren't so hideous.



Reach Out For The Sun - Anni Saikku
It boasts the kind of empowering "you can do it!" lyrics which turn up in numerous national final songs every year. My main problem with this song is that it's desperately needing a big old dance remix.  The sentiment of the song deserves something more uptempo than the sea of blandness which it's sailing on.



My Little World - Club La Persé
All together now..."I just love my little world, I don't need no new sensations..." oh wait.  It's not that one.  What's with rehashing song titles in this year's UMK?  31 years after Waterloo and Robinson brought us that cheesy tune, Club La Persé will bring something completely different to the Finnish national selection.  Visually this collective is, well, let's just say, interesting.  I like the beat and the retro-dance feel of the chorus but the whole thing is a bit of a waste.  Another "novelty" song.


Perfect Villain - Zühlke
When I saw her picture I was immediately reminded of Nina Soderquist in Melodifestivalen 2009. Zühlke could be just as fierce. This modern, mid-tempo number has the potential to do quite well, and the song's chorus starts with "what would the X-Men do?".  What would the voters do?  What would Brian Boitano do? (sorry).  I think this could do well.

All in all, on first listen I found this selection of national final songs to be disappointing.  Was that the best Finland could do?  You always expect something better (see what I did there!) and at least something different/unusual from a Finnish national final: but 2017 is more different/unusual in a bad way rather than a good way.  Maybe a few more listens will change my mind - or maybe not?

My preferred winner would be "Blackbird" as I feel it would give Finland the best chance at ESC.  I guess it's between Emma, Zühlke and Norma John, although in recent years UMK has given us some surprising results so anything can happen!

The UMK final takes place on 28 January 2017 - yes, just one national final, no semi-finals this time round - and it will be hosted by Krista Siegfrids.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Carcassonne Diaries: Day 4 - Saturday 24 September 2016

It's our last morning in beautiful, hot Carcassonne.  Which means last minute packing accompanied by music videos on TV.  Well, look who it is!


Yes it's none other than Måns Zelmerlöw, who's had a big hit in the French singles chart over the summer with "Je ne suis qu'un homme", the French-language version of "Should've Gone Home". His video has had quite a lot of airplay over the past couple of days.

Ad break!  If you're in need of a French advertising equivalent of "compare the meerkat" then may I introduce Les Furets.


But I don't have time to spend all day watching TV, because we have to reluctantly leave our hotel and grab a quick breakfast before heading to the airport.

Inevitably we are back on Place Marcou yet again.  We're just keeping it simple today: a coffee and a croissant.


One last look at Place Marcou...


And of course we can't leave the Cité without a last look at the Chateau.  Due to our short stay we didn't have time to go inside the Chateau for a full tour.  Again this is something for a future visit as we definitely want to come back again, all being well.



The airport bus leaves from where it arrived, near Porte Narbonne.  After a short journey completely bypassing the new city, we arrive at the airport.  Small in size, and equally small on facilities (unless you like salad boxes - which we don't!).  These small airports do have their advantages as well as disadvantages though, as certain "low fares airlines" choose them and therefore enable us to travel to places which would otherwise be overlooked.

Carcassonne is a magical place and a destination which we would absolutely recommend.  On a more personal level, it was the right place at the right time and if you are looking for a beautiful city break destination which is a break from the norm, but with a definite historical flavour, then Carcassonne is the place to be.  Just remember to pack the comfortable footwear.....!

The Carcassonne Diaries: Day 3 - Friday 23 September 2016

As we're only on a short break, this will be our last full day in Carcassonne.  So today we will be buying some last-minute souvenirs, and catching up with some unfinished business.  But first, breakfast.  Which means very large croissants. 


Yes, they were good.  

Given the medieval history of Carcassonne, you won't be surprised to learn that many of the gift shops/souvenir shops specialise in medieval merchandise - from full-size suits of armour to chain mail helmets to big replica swords.  

For this blogger however, toy cows > all of the above.  Meet Joyce. 


Joyce is named after faithful travelling companion's recent favourite French singer Joyce Jonathan by the way!  

But let's get back to darker, medieval times, as portrayed in not one but two small museums within the Cité.  One ticket covers two museums, The Museum of the Inquisition and the Museum of Torture take us back through history, to medieval times and the numerous methods of punishment from those days.  



Photography of the vile and gruesome exhibits is banned (which is maybe just as well, as they are so stomach-churning!) however the museum is certainly thought-provoking about the evil which the human race is capable of.

On to something a lot more pleasant now.  We had taken the public transport version of the 'petit train' yesterday, and had planned to do the tourist version of it today.  But on our way we discover this delightful duo.


Confession time: In all our years of travelling to all those wonderful places, we've never done a horse and carriage ride.  Until today, when we take a tour around the perimeter of the citadel.  There is also an extremely funny moment during the journey when one of the horses breaks wind.  Very loudly. Which greatly appears to our collective senses of humour :D

Just one more mention about the cobbles - I wouldn't recommend that you walk around the Cité in high heels.  Comfortable footwear is essential when you're dealing with this...


Some more souvenir shopping this afternoon.  I purchase a couple of tapestries (which 2 months later are now framed and hanging on my living room wall) as well as a tablecloth and the usual postcards. 

The sadness is beginning to descend as daytime turns into night-time and we get ready for our last night in Carcassonne.  It's another beautiful, warm night and we eat our meal outdoors in the shadow of the Chateau.  

Just as sangria turned up on many a drinks menu, the proximity of Carcassonne to the Spanish border means one more Spanish culinary treat, gazpacho.  However, views vary from restaurant to restaurant about whether the cold soup is still in season in mid to late September.  The answer tonight is = it's still in season!


After an enjoyable meal, time for a last look at the Cité.  It's Friday night, but the place isn't exactly jumping and it's early closing again.  We then however discover this place.  Behind the walls is a "secret garden", and it's a hip and happening outdoor bar with dance music pumping through the speakers and a distinctly youthful clientele.  Not the kind of place we would normally hang out, but a) we're on holiday, b) it's the last night of our holiday, and c) I want one last sangria.  So thank you, Le Bar a Vins.


Tomorrow: we leave Carcassonne.

The Carcassonne Diaries: Day 2 - Thursday 22 September 2016

Our first full day in Carcassonne.  Of course when in France, I always go in search of music videos on TV.  But things have changed and I can't find any on M6 any more.  Happily, I quickly discover CStar which would keep me happy for the duration of the holiday and that also means I'll be able to do another "holiday hit list" post which I haven't done for a while (this will follow after I've published all my holiday diaries),

It's another bright, sunny and hot day inside the Cité.  We head back to the Place Marcou for breakfast as we are only staying 'room only' in our hotel.  Needless to say, when in France we have to go for the traditional French breakfast.  There are plenty of brekkie "formules" available in all the restaurants but these are only served up to 11.00am.

Shopping in the Cité seems to mainly focus on small independent craft shops and souvenir shops, as well as upmarket gift shops selling the region's local specialities such as this one below.  


For more conventional shopping, you need to head downhill to the "new city".  For the moment though we are exploring the citadel in daylight, in more detail.  Yet again the place is packed with tourists - Carcassonne is definitely a daytime tourist destination.  It's no wonder it's so popular though as the sights are quite breathtaking.





After exploring the perimeter of the citadel, we make our way back to Place Marcou for lunch. Before coming to Carcassonne I was a bit worried that there would be very limited options for people who don't eat red meat or fish, but I needn't have worried.  Although Carcassonne is the capital of Cassoulet, there would be plenty of options after all.  Today I have this tasty tagliatelle (pictured below) for lunch.  We notice that the people at the next table are having cassoulet, which is a stew with a great big duck leg on top.


The weather is now very hot.   Our plan for the afternoon is to walk down to Pont Vieux and make our way into the old city.  Before that though we have an unscheduled stop off at a little place hidden away on Rue Trivalle, to get out of the baking heat for a while.



We're not really into visiting military museums, but made an exception for the Centre Culturel de la Memoire Combattante (above).  It's a small museum on two floors, full of exhibits, uniforms and memorabilia from France's involvement in military campaigns over the last century. The information captions are in French but happily our understanding of written French is good enough.  The first floor is mainly given over to World War 2 and the French resistance.  One section is particularly distressing as it displays letters from people from Carcassonne who died in the concentration camps.

There are also displays about more recent French operations e.g. peacekeeping in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  This museum is very interesting and thought-provoking.  Entrance is free but donations are accepted.

Time to head for the new city.  We cross the Pont Vieux.


You get a great view of the Cité from the Pont Vieux.


In the other direction is the Pont Neuf.


It's quite a long walk from the Cité to the new city, so we've planned to get the 'petit train' back up the hill.  Transport is not very regular between the old and new cities so make sure you check your timetables.

At the bottom of the hill, you'll find more conventional shops in the town.  There are also some nice sights too.




We can't hang around too long though or we'll miss our petit train, and in this heat the alternative (walking back uphill) isn't an option!  We won't have time to explore the canal area or take the boat trip, so that's something for a return trip.  What we see of the new city is nice, although the Cité is such a special place that there's no competition.

More big decisions to be made tonight about where to eat, as there are so many possibilities.  Faithful travelling companion wants to try cassoulet.  There are several different versions of this dish.  No massive duck leg in sight tonight, because it's all about the sausage (oo-er missus!!)


As for me, I go for the menu's veggie option.  We have another lovely evening out, and just like last night, we end up at Place Marcou just before closing time.  

I previously mentioned that Carcassonne by night is a very different, and much quieter place than it is by day.  By night, it's certainly as photogenic.  





In the next instalment: our last full day in Carcassonne. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Carcassonne Diaries: Day 1 - Wednesday 21 September 2016

So here, finally (two months later) is our September holiday diary!

After a very difficult and sad summer, we made the decision to take a last-minute short break rather than our traditional week-long summer holiday.  We were looking for somewhere laid-back and tranquil to allow us to unwind and find some peace for a little while.  Faithful travelling companion came up with the idea of a few days in Carcassonne in the south of France. This seemed like a very good idea, particularly as there were direct flights from Glasgow.  Although when I say 'south of France' you automatically think of the French Riviera (and one of our most-loved holiday destinations ever, Nice) but Carcassonne is situated inland, rather than on the Med, and it's close to the the Spanish border and the Pyrenees.

The first thing you notice is that Carcassonne Airport is very small and I immediately nickname it 'the portacabin'; there only appears to be about 4 flights in and out of there every day.  But of course the important thing is that we have arrived somewhere where it is still actually summer.  At home, we have had reasonably decent weather by our standards in September (16-18 degrees) but on arrival in Carcassonne the temperatures were in the mid to high 20s, and the sun was shining in that beautiful blue sky.  

After a bit of a wait at (slow/diligent, delete as appropriate) passport control, it's time to take the shuttle bus into the city. There is a special shuttle bus service leaving shortly after every flight arrival. It's a reasonably short journey into the city and the bus drops off passengers at several key stops, firstly in the 'new city' and the 'medieval city' - Cité de Carcassonne.

That's right - Carcassonne is a 'tale of two cities' although size-wise you couldn't really describe them as cities!  We cross the river Aude and then it is uphill to the fortified medieval city.  The final stop is just a short walk from the Porte Narbonnaise - one of the "gates" to the medieval city.  I took this picture of the Porte Narbonnaise later in the week:


The place is absolutely mobbed with tourists.  We weren't expecting it to be quiet, but as we cross the 'drawbridge' and entered the medieval city we are greeted by a flood of people making their way through the narrow cobbled streets.  But we (and our suitcases) make it through and eventually check into our hotel.

It quickly becomes apparent that the Cité is unlike anywhere we've ever been on holiday or are ever likely to go.  There is something almost unreal about it - it's like living on a film set, yet it is very real indeed.  The citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's over 2000 years old.  Of course there has been significant restoration work undertaken over the years, but who cares?  After a very short time there, it's very clear that the Cité is going to be one of our most memorable holiday destinations we've ever been to.


A very important aspect of all our holidays is of course the food.  So after unpacking we head out in search of our evening meal.

One thing we observe very quickly was that the place has significantly quietened down since the afternoon.  Where have all those tourists gone?  Certainly not to the restaurants, that's for sure.  As we set out to explore the medieval city's eating places, we notice that many of them hadn't bothered to open.  Was this just because it was Wednesday, I wonder?  But it wasn't long until we find somewhere with a particularly appealing menu.

Being back in France for the first time since 2012 means only one thing - the return of soupe à l'oignon - onion soup.  Both faithful travelling companion and I agreed that this may well have been the best onion soup ever.


Our main courses are also very good too, and they are washed down with some Minervois. Languedoc-Rousillon is serious wine country - as we saw during our descent today, flying over fields and fields of vineyards as far as the eye could see.

After a very enjoyable dinner we do some more exploring of the Cité.  It is extremely quiet, and the same goes for nightlife too.  There isn't any!  But we are not here to party, so that's no problem. But one thing we do enjoy on holiday is sitting outdoors to enjoy those warm late summer evenings, which you just can't do at home (unless you want to risk hypothermia).

We come across Place Marcou, a little square packed with restaurants/bars on all sides. However most of these are either closed, or closing earlier than what we've previously experienced on our holidays in France over the years.  We manage to find one which is still open.  The geographical proximity of Carcassonne to the Spanish border means....sangria!  So needless to say I have to try it out.  We then head back through the quiet streets to our hotel.  I think we're going to love Carcassonne....

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Book Review: "A Man Called Ove" - Fredrik Backman


This is one of those books which seems to have been around in the public consciousness over the past couple of years. I was curious to read it as it looked like a change from the usual Nordic Noir genre which has filled bookshelves over the past few years (to saturation point at one stage).

If you're  familiar with One Foot In The Grave and its infamous grumpy protagonist  Victor Meldrew, or indeed Coronation Street's neighbourhood watching nosey parker Norris Cole, then you will recognise a lot of the characteristics of Ove, the lead character here.

Just when you've quickly got Ove sussed as the grumpy old man in suburbia, railing at everything the modern world has to offer. To begin with, the intolerant grump is not easy to like - but Backman then takes us back to the character's younger years and his early life and the circumstances which came to form his personality and develop his moral code. This helps us to understand the reasons why Ove is the way he is. Ove did find happiness with Sonja, the great love of his life.  After her loss, Ove realises he has nothing to live for; there follows a series of darkly comedic (and thankfully unsuccessful) attempts to end his life. Over the course of the book, new neighbours and characters enter his life - uninvited of course! - and they all turn out to have a very surprising impact on the lead character.

I guess that one of the lessons from this book is that (apologies for the book metaphor) you should not always judge a book by its cover, and that first impressions are not always accurate.  There is much more to Ove than you first thought.  For me, this book was also about the values of love, friendship and respect, and seeing good in people. In an ideal world, I hear you say, and well, this is a work of fiction after all.  But in a world where hate is the standard currency and hope and compassion is in short supply, we need to be reminded that goodness still exists.

My favourite books are generally non-fiction, I'm not really a fan of fiction but can honestly say this is one of the best books I've read in a long long time.  This book moved me to tears at several times, however Backman has the talent to quickly turn the tears to smiles and laughter.  Maybe it's because I was reading this book during a summer characterised by serious illness and bereavement, when my emotions were already shredded to pieces, but it's impossible not to be moved by this book.  I notice that it has been made into a film - with Rolf Lassgård perfectly cast in the lead role - but I don't think I'll be going to the cinema to see it as I will probably blub all the way through it.  And let me tell you, I'm not one of those people who cries at films either. Best to wait for the DVD I reckon :)

Festivali i Këngës 55

The list of participants in this year's FiK was recently announced but I haven't had the time to write about it until now.

There is going to be a change to how Albania chooses its song for ESC 2016 as the public will be partly involved in the voting process for the first time ever, alongside the jury vote.

No dates have been announced as yet, but it should probably be around Christmas time as usual.

Here are the 24 participants and their songs,  Big news is that two of my favourite FiK performers of recent years are back, back, back!  Rezarta Smaja has been a very familiar face in recent years at FiK and I can't wait for the return of Linda (Lindita) Halimi.  Since she blew us all away with her debut performance in 2014, Lindita has gone on to compete in American Idol but was sadly eliminated in the earlier stages of the contest.

Albulena Jashari –Fjalët ia lë zemrës
She's a very modern young artist, her music seems to be very "current" and judging by "Bashke", her latest video clip, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SzP3E1B4wk  could she be the Albanian version of Poland's Margaret?  If so, stand well back, because we could have a fanboy stampede here!

Classic Boys – Dashuria për jetën
OK so here we have an operatic trio discovered on X Factor Albania.  An Albanian Il Volo - will the viewers or juries feel "grande amore" for them I wonder?

Dilan Reka – Mos harro
Another former X Factor Albania contestant makes a quick return to FiK after last year's debut.  I wonder if he will come back with a more modern song?

Edea Demaliaj – Besoj në ëndrra
And here we have yet another graduate of X Factor Albania - only this time she actually won the competition.  

Edona Vatoci – Mirëmëngjës
For this post I've been looking at some YouTube clips of the artists and she looks like one of this year's more interesting performers.

Elson Braha – Edhe një herë
Another more "modern" performer but with a wide variety of styles.  I'd like to see him bringing something catchy, upbeat and ethnic like this Kenga Magjike song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyb4EPnBkFI

Erlind Zeraliu – Dhimbja e gëzimit
If the Classic Boys weren't enough for you, here comes another tenor.  Expect him to "serve some serious operatic realness" as the young folks say.  

Fabiola Agalliu and Agnesa Çavolli – Shkon e vjen
Fabiola has a nice jazzy tone to her voice, as indeed does Agnesa.  Again this could be an interesting one, although I worry that the guitar solo may come from an acoustic guitar rather than an electric one...!  Both have appeared on The Voice of Albania which is yet another fertile breeding ground for FiK contestants.

Festina Mejzini – Atje lart
She's certainly glammed up her image between X Factor Albania and this year's Kenga Magjike.  I'm sure that appearing in a current contest will have raised her profile sufficiently to boost her chances in FiK.

Flaka Krelani – S’dua t’flas
Now here is the big-voiced diva who single-handedly keeps the Albanian cosmetic industry in business.  I didn't really like her song in last year's FiK but she has quite a good song in this year's Kenga Magjike - "Rebelohem" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=857NP1G5bow  I hope her FiK55 song is as good.

Franc Koruni – Macka
Another artist currently in Kenga Magjike.  Listen to him sing without looking at him - you'd think it was a grizzled old blues singer (or a Cat Stevens soundalike) when in fact he is just a young man. It'll be very interesting to see what he brings to FiK.

Genc Salihu – Këtu
At this stage, the one most likely to have a guitar solo.

Linda Halimi – World
Really can't wait to see what Linda/Lindita's going to do this time round.  I think it's brilliant that she she replies to her fans on Twitter too (myself included). Her Twitter name is @LinditaWorld so how appropriate that her song is called World!  Hoping fully it will be a great song and performance and she will go on to represent Albania in ESC, then everyone can live in Lindita's world...!

Linda Rukaj – Vija e lumit
From one Linda to another, this time a France-based Albanian singer-songwriter who plays acoustic-style music.  Not my thing as you know, but she may surprise us.

Lorela – Me ty
Unfortunately I don't know anything about this particular Lorela as I searched on YouTube and there are many Albanian singers named Lorela!  

LYNX – Sot
It's a band.  Expect guitar solos.

Luka and Serxhio Hajdini – Koha plaket
Luka is a New York-based artist and singer while her brother Serxhio appeared in The Voice of Albania.

Neki Emra – Dashuri dhe urrejtje
Could we be getting some Albanian EDM, Europop or a big ballad?  I really don't know what to expect from this guy.  

Orges Toçe – Shi diamantësh
A wee bit of gruff-voiced Albanian rock is sure to go down well with the juries.  

Rezarta Smaja – Pse prite gjatë
Haven't heard anything from her since her duet with Klodian Kacani in last year's FiK but I can only guess that it will be yet another ballad or mid-tempo number showing off her vocal talents.  I've seen clips of her singing pop and rock on YouTube and it would be nice to see her doing something different in FiK for a change.

Tiri – Më zgjo
Not sure if this is the same Tiri from The Voice of Albania.  If it is, we can expect some pop-rock.

Yll Limani – Shiu
Just when you thought we'd exhausted The Voice of Albania for FiK singers, well here's another one. Yll seems to specialise in a more modern, 'urban' sound.  Modern doesn't always do well at FiK but could this be the year that changes?

XUXI – Metropol
I searched on YouTube and again I'm not sure if I have the right one!  This one definitely fits into the FiK rock remit though.

Xhesika Polo – Eva jam unë
So we end the list with yet another talent show contestant, from the same series of X Factor Albania as Classic Boys.  I've watched a few of her clips and I really think she could be a contender if she gets the right song.

With very few exceptions this year, FiK features a younger group of singers which suggests a move towards, dare I say, musical modernity?  But before we throw our hands up in the air at the idea of tropical house in FiK (perish the thought!!) we have to remember that FiK is one of the last bastions of "old" Eurovision, with the orchestra and the conductors (although the sidelining of the conductors last year didn't please me at all as I didn't get to see much of you-know-who) and like Sanremo, it follows its own rules.  Bring. It. On!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: September-October 2016

Who'd have guessed that the biggest story in British TV over the summer would have revolved around a TV baking contest?  Since its humble beginnings 6 years ago, "THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF" (BBC1) has gone on to become one of this country's biggest ratings smashes and the format has been sold all over the world.

It was all good news for the BBC then, or so you would have thought.  Only problem is that the BBC didn't own it - an independent production company named Love Productions did.  And then, this September, they sold it to Channel 4 for a new 3 year deal...and all hell broke loose.  It turned into a Twitterstorm and a media frenzy.  It wasn't just about a TV show moving to another channel: it was a story of loyalty, and principles, and dough.  Hosts Mel and Sue, who are a huge part of the show's personality (and of course the all-important innuendo) have chosen to stay with the BBC and in their words, not to 'follow the dough' whilst judge Mary Berry is also staying at the BBC.  Her co-judge Paul Hollywood is however going with the show, and the dough, to Channel 4.

It's highly unlikely that the show will have the same level of success after its move to Channel 4: with the break-up of the winning formula of presenters, judges and - crucially - no ad breaks - it's hard to imagine anything else but an inferior product.


In the meantime, the 2016 series (the final one to be broadcast by the BBC) was another massive success. As with every year's intake, it featured an incredibly talented group of bakers who were all winners in their own way.  But the visually inventive bakes by Candice - she of the eye-catching and ever-changing lipstick colours - reminded me a little of the baking creations by Frances Quinn who won the 2013 series, so I wasn't all that surprised when she took the title.  That's the thing about GBBO - it's a feelgood show, gentle, charming and warm, where each weekly elimination is almost apologetic.  In an increasingly nasty world, we need all the escapism we can get.  Whether Channel 4 can replicate that atmosphere of warmth and mutual respect, well I guess we will have to wait and see, but I fear the worst.....


Whilst I'm on the subject of GBBO, and TV reality/talent competitions....Of course a staple (and tedious) cliche of the reality TV genre is "the journey".  But in the case of last year's GBBO winner, Nadiya Hussain, it turned out to be very appropirate,  When Nadiya first appeared on GBBO she was a shy and uncertain baker who didn't know just how talented she was.  You'd never have believed that she would turn out to be such a natural TV presenter.  "THE CHRONICLES OF NADIYA" (BBC1) - love that pun, by the way - was a very interesting two-part documentary which saw Nadiya take a trip to Bangladesh to explore her family's roots, traditions and of course, food.

Nadiya is an articulate, charismatic and likeable young woman, and a particularly positive role model.  So I wasn't surprised to see the BBC signing her up for more TV work.

If I was inventing my own ideal TV presenter, likeability would be near the top of the list.  Yet it's a very rare aspect of many of those overexposed TV presenters who dominate so many of our shows. How many of them are really likeable and approachable?  Hmmm....let's think....


While you're thinking I'd just like to suggest that Si King and Dave Myers a.k.a. The Hairy Bikers are two of the most likeable TV presenters of the last few years.  Their latest cooking travelogue, "THE HAIRY BIKERS' CHICKEN AND EGG" (BBC2) did what it said on the tin and sought out recipes and cuisines from the UK to France, Morocco, Israel, the USA and back to the UK, exploring along the way how chicken is becoming the world's most popular meat (and the only meat which your almost-vegetarian blogger still eats).  Watching their show is like hanging out with a couple of warm and funny old friends who are talented cooks too!

Since the demise of TV Burp and the failure of the Stars In Their Eyes revamp, we Harry Hill fans have been waiting for the great man's return to our screens.  "HARRY HILL'S TEA TIME" (Sky 1) is a spoof cooking show and let's face it, you wouldn't be long for this world if you took some of those "recipes" seriously!!  Each week features a special guest star (GBBO's Paul Hollywood, pictured above with Harry) .Whilst I'm very happy to see him back on TV, I continue to have mixed feelings about this show.  It's packed with a lot of the surreal comedy, daftness and songs which made TV Burp such a hit - a trio of Delia Smith lookalikes singing a Smiths song every week, for example! - but this show also misses and misfires as much as it succeeds, and I find it funny and infuriating in equal measures.


Needless to say that after that referendum, there were lots of programmes over recent months about Brexit.  But notably most of these ignored the fact that the majority of Scottish voters chose to remain in the European Union.  Until "SCOTLAND AND THE BATTLE FOR BRITAIN" (BBC2) in which Andrew Marr finally had the opportunity to explain our political differences to the rest of the UK.  That situation is so complex that it would take much, much more than an hour's TV to explain, but Mr Marr did pretty well to at least go over the basics.


Now on to something a bit more frivolous....autumn means the return of "STRICTLY COME DANCING" (BBC1) and it became very clear, very quickly, that there is a very high standard this year. But Strictly being Strictly, the headlines are often made by those with two left feet.  This year's John Sergeant/Anne Widdicombe is the former Labour MP Ed Balls, who has also achieved notoriety in the Twittersphere over recent years thanks to "Ed Balls Day" which commemorates him tweeting his own name.  Yes. But Ed is also making some progress - yes, it's that "journey" again! - and he is actually learning to dance.  On the other end of the Strictly spectrum we have Hollyoaks star Danny Mac who is putting his previous dance experience to good use; TV presenter Ore Oduba is a strong contender (that jive was one of my favourite dances of this series), and Louise Redknapp is also very good although her dancing is still lacking in personality.

So far, no fauxmances/showmances to speak of, which I'm sure must be a major disappointment for the tabloids, but there has been plenty of controversy in the early weeks of the show, such as the departure of Will Young who had been one of my favourites to win.  My own personal favourite at the moment is little Claudia Fragapane, the Olympic gymnast.  I expected a lot more from her fellow Olympian, long jumper Greg Rutherford - he just needs to loosen up, lighten up and let go, and he could become a contender.  At the moment though it's hard to see past Danny Mac for the win.


Forget X Factor - the highlight of my Saturday night is catching up with the previous night's "DOOBIDOO" (SVT) which recently came back for another series and continues to do very well in Swedish TV ratings.

It's a very simple format.  Swedish singers/actors/TV personalities compete in teams of two in various rounds of music questions interspersed with archive TV clips and the whole thing is held together entertainingly by host Lasse Kronér (pictured above).


Another new show which recently caught my attention was "EN KVÄLL I NEW YORK" (SVT), a 4-part series where several of Sweden's best-known singers took a trip to NYC to perform at the world-famous Apollo Theatre, backed by a top gospel choir who also perform on the Late Show.  So, no pressure then!

Week 1 featured Roger Pontare, Darin, Titiyo and Sweden's latest worldwide sensation Zara Larsson. It was a very entertaining hour: special mentions to Roger's encounter with a stylist, and Darin's reunion with Kat DeLuna ("Breathing Your Love") along the way.  Oh, and on a shallow note here, Darin is still hot.   It was funny though, seeing the choir's reaction to the "murderer" lyrics from the choir in "Lovekiller"!

In week 2 it was the turn of Sarah Dawn Finer, Andreas Lundstedt and Linda Pira to meet the choir and band.  For Andreas it was a new take on "Crying At The Discotheque" whilst Linda chose "Knäpprar Mina Fingrar" and Sarah interpreted "For A Friend".  Unfortunately I didn't see the rest of the series as I had discovered it pretty late and by the time I got round to the remaining episodes they had been removed from SVT Play.  Well done SVT for bringing this new fresh musical format and giving these very talented performers their moment on that iconic stage.  I can only envy Swedish TV channels for trying out music-themed TV formats over recent years, which don't just involve the talent-option (apart from TV4's Swedish Idol).


Talking of which, I haven't been following Idol this year: I have too many other things to watch, and too much to do. The show's had a revamp with an all-new jury of Fredrik Kempe, Nikki Amini and Quincy Jones III (pictured above).

It was time for another episode of "THE PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF POP" (BBC4) an occasional and very enjoyable series which takes a look at a particular 10 year period through the experience and anecdotes of the people who were there - the fans.  The latest episode covered the period from 1976 to 1985 - personally a very exciting and incredibly diverse time for music from punk, new wave and 2-Tone to the new romantics and The Smiths.  In the same way that BBC Radio 2's "The People's Songs" played the longer game in exploring the soundtracks of people's lives, so there was potentially a longer and more detailed story to be told; this series could potentially have focused on a different year rather than a decade for every episode, but I suppose we should be grateful for whatever we get.



Another terrific recent documentary which should probably have been watched in conjunction with "The People's History of Pop" was "BOY GEORGE'S 1970s: SAVE ME FROM SUBURBIA" (BBC2), another very personal look back at an influential decade, which was not perfect; industrial unrest, unemployment, economic gloom, and an EU referendum.  Sounds familiar, but at least the music was a million times better than what we have to put up with in the "tens".....Anyway it was very entertaining and it was interesting to see George catching up with a couple of old friends, namely Marilyn and Martin "Sigue Sigue Sputnik" Degville.


BBC1 had a little nostalgia trip by reviving a few classic sitcoms and bringing them up to date. "ARE YOU BEING SERVED", that classic department store-set slice of innuendo and double-entendres, didn't really float the critics' boats.  But it was very well cast, I thought, and in a time when Mrs Brown's Boyd is so popular (although the critics detest that too!) maybe it could have succeeded with a longer run?  But the very old fashioned setting of Grace Brothers suggests that this sitcom should just have been left in the 70s after all.



However the most successful revamp was "PORRIDGE" which will now get a new series.  Glad to hear that, as the pilot was pretty good.  This time round, Fletch's grandson (played by Kevin Bishop) is in prison, and it will be interesting to see where they take the character from here.

As I said in a previous TV review post, I'm watching TV a bit differently these days and take a long time to get round to watching series!  So I have still to see the revived series of Cold Feet, Hand series 2 of Humans, 30 Degrees in February and The Code.  I guess that's my homework for the next few weeks then...!