Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Christmas dream

Michael Parkinson's wife promised me that it would taste delicious, but alas now I'll never know.  After a fruitless afternoon of traipsing around various Marks & Spencer branches in London town, the mythical Christmas pudding cheesecake remained a fleeting dream.  Even the sight of an empty shelf with a lonely price sticker demanding £12.99 for the privilege wasn't enough to deter me.  Something deep and primal told me that this cheesecake had been made for me.  it was something new... something better that the world had denied me.

Failing to locate an overpriced dessert that probably tasted revolting was my Christmas culinary dream...  small potatoes indeed compared to Nigella Lawson, busy lecturing the nation in Nigella's Christmas Kitchen (BBC2).  As someone who cooks as little as possible, I'm fascinated by cookbooks and cooking shows.  Not, you understand, so that I'll be inspired to cook, but because -- like the Christmas cheesecake -- they represent a better way of living that seems at once attainable, yet tantalisingly out of reach.   Throughout the proceedings, Nigella acts like someone drunk on her own brilliance, which might explain her slightly slurred speech and shaky grasp on the English language.  Luckily for her, she sounds very posh, so you spend most of the experience mildly beguiled whilst she trills made-up words and reminds us Just How Hard It All Is.  At one point, she even shares a handy invention called the to-do list.  "You will be eternally grateful," she later demands without much irony, finishing off her potatoes.

But it's not all hard work.  For when Nigella isn't reminding us Just How Hard It All Is, she's busy reassuring us that she's Just One Of Us Really.  To this end, she frequently tells us how much she likes a drink, leading up to a particularly memorable sequence where she shuffles through her kitchen in a dressing gown, hand poised at her temple, feigning a morning-after hangover.  Alas, she doesn't have the courage to go for full post-bender Amy Winehouse hair and Joker make-up here, instead reverting her Stepford wife poise after a couple of shaky steps.

Yet, for all my carping, it's hard to dislike Nigella, and I can't fully understand why.  Perhaps it's the fact that she seems a stone's throw from full-out barking madness...  "Fragrant bath water is ready... I'm now going to get the baby to pop in it," she grins maniacally, busy drowning a turkey in a bucket of chives.  Maybe I like her just because the recipes actually look genuinely delicious.  I can't pretend my imagination stretches as far as the sensation of gingerbread stuffing or semolina-laced roast potatoes, but like that mythical cheesecake, I know they have to taste better than the world I live in.

And that's the true meaning of aspirational television.  A glimpse into somewhere that offers us more.  Try and hate her though you might, who can honestly say that they wouldn't want to live in Nigella's world -- all autumn tones, attractive long-lens blurring and heartwarming Peggy Lee songs?  

No wonder she's so smug.

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