AFTER THE CATACLYSM LET US ALL EAT CAKE
From my perspective as someone who can’t bake an egg, ‘The Great British Bake Off’ is basically witchcraft, and the parallels with Brexit are irresistible
The final of The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4, Tuesday) opens, as usual, with near-erotic footage of pastries and flans. Once again, I do not know whether I want to eat these cakes or make sweet, gentle love to them. However, I am no monster. If I was to meet these cakes, I imagine I would install them in little apartments where they would have their needs met and could host salons with the poets of the age.
Oh, who am I kidding? I would install them in apartments IN MY BELLY. I apologise to readers who expected more from me.
When the intro credits finish and I am done licking the television screen (verdict? A little static-y) Cake King and Pastry Pope Paul Hollywood emerges from his pure white battle tent.
“The baking chooses the winner, not us,” he says solemnly, and I am surer than ever that Bake Off is the post-Brexit religion the surviving Britons will choose after the coming cataclysm.
I like Paul. His white hair and beard are like cake frosting gently dusted on to a ham, his blue eyes are like a cobalt sea and his voice is sonorous and filled with certainty. When you Google him the first suggested search query is “Paul Hollywood wife?” Though we may wish for a house filled with wanton baked goods, who among us does not also wish to be Paul Hollywood’s cake wife?
Prue Leith is also here, dressed like an old-fashioned television test card in vertical stripes, conjuring up an era when television occasionally stopped and we got to spend time with our own loved ones and/or cakes. Her matching blue glasses and earrings are actually special electronic devices developed to stop her going on social media to reveal the Bake Off winner before it’s officially announced (she did this last year, God love her).
And then there are the chuckling court jesters Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig, whose variant heights add to the onscreen drama of toppling cakes, burning buns and weeping cake mongers. Together they look like they’re about to head off on a quest across Middle Earth, Toksvig evoking a blonde hobbitian Elvis impersonator and Fielding ,with his raven-black hair helmet and a billowing blouse he borrowed from yer Ma, evoking a medieval witch. I also like Noel and Sandi a lot. Whimsy is their weapon; japes, their steed.
Is that it, presenters-wise? I think so. Occasionally my television glitches out and the faces of three other-worldly women appear in the white fuzz. They are screaming context-less nonsense words like “Merry Berry” and “Bibi Sea” and “Melon Soup”, which I assume are suggested ingredients for cake craft. I do not know who these women are or what they want. Perhaps they are not real and my television is just malfunctioning. All I know is that Bake Off is where it was always been, on Channel 4 outside the common market, part of no customs union and away from the European Court of Justice.
The residents of the big white tent have been whittled down to three contestants, all in thrall to Paul Hollywood’s rarely given handshake of affirmation. There’s a frightened looking Indian research scientist named Rahul (it’s good that he’s moved into baking – there’ll be no scientists in Britain come March). He has a permanent look of anguish on his face that totally belies the fact he is surrounded by cakes. “Stop being anguished around the cakes, Rahul!” I shout. “Who can be unhappy around cakes, you monster?”
There’s also upbeat mental health worker named Kim-Joy and a nefarious project manager named Ruby, who keeps asking the camera crew not to tell the judges about her various mistakes and misdeeds (I collated my own file on her and sent it into Channel 4; I don’t like “cake lies”).
Living in tents
Bake Off really does appear to be preparing for life post-Brexit. They have chosen to bake, and presumably live, in a big tent, the type of tent in which, presumably, most British people will dwell in after March 29th. The challenges also have a touch of “end times” about them. The first task, for example, involves the creation of donuts, which, as anyone who’s been to Krispy Kreme in Blanchardstown knows, is a harbinger of the apocalypse.
Rahul, who is from a country with a real food culture, is appalled at the very concept but he is soon syringing cream into deep-fried bread with the best of them. Then Kim-Joy discovers a real bee trying to “woo” one of the ersatz iced bees with which she has augmented her offerings. “That guy is going to be so embarrassed when he gets back to the hive,” says Noel, as though having sex with cakes is weird and not a natural consequence of Bake Off (see: paragraph one).
Indeed, Noel continues to sex-shame people throughout the show. “You’ve got mango on your wrists and your collar, your wife is going to think you’ve been having an affair with a mango!” he says to Rahul, who is, in fairness, entitled to a personal life.
The next two challenges are even more indicative of a dystopian future. “Make good use of your hot sauce,” says mad King Paul cryptically, after informing Rahul, Kim-Joy and Ruby that they must make flat bread over open fires, like hobos, or the characters in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
This is something none of them know how to do and they are soon almost crying with frustration while Paul and Prue and the twins chuckle smugly over cups of tea. This challenge seems designed not to test the contestants’ baking but their psychological resilience.
Their spirits not yet broken, they are ready for “The Showstopper Challenge” (this is, coincidentally, also the name of one of my nephews). It involves the creation of a magical landscape out of bits of pastry and cake. Ruby’s offering, for example, includes a pastry mountain, shortcake hills and an icing sugar unicorn, or, what Boris Johnson calls “post-Brexit tactical planning”. Kim-Joy cunningly chooses to replicate the Lost City of Atlantis, a potential future trading partner for the UK. And Rahul is hindered when one of his glass jars explodes and his whole work station needs to be cleaned.
This is probably because of the sort of EU health and safety regulations that will be gone soon (“Come Brexit we’ll be patriotically chewing glass-embedded pastries and will be happy to do so!” as Jacob Rees Mogg recently said). And yet, Rahul perseveres, and his 200-piece Victorian Garden impresses Prue and Paul who swarm upon it muttering judgmentally, as is their wont.
Anyway, from my perspective as someone who can’t bake an egg, most of what is achieved by the master bakers on this show is basically witchcraft, so apart from my well-documented cake-lust (see: first paragraph), the main reason I watch is because the people on it are pleasant. What a novelty! Any of the three would have been grand winners, but in the end it all goes to the Eeyorish Rahul who can’t really believe what’s happening. He is brought outside and presented to the multitudes who are soon all over him like Patrick on a cake (see: first paragraph). No-one has seen him since. The baking has chosen a winner.