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 Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE - PA­TRICK FREYNE

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.

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