Ryanair boss and his famous mouth are right about this one…

MICHAEL O’Leary, the famously lippy boss of Ryanair, guards his mouth more than he used to. Not difficult, perhaps, for the man who once said: “Germans will crawl bollock-naked over broken glass to get low fares.”

Tact is not his thing, although he can he self-aware – but perhaps only in the way that Donald Trump is aware of himself all the time, and aware only of himself.

Here’s another bit of O’Leary scripture – “Do we carry rich people on our flights? Yes, I flew on one this morning and I’m very rich.”

You could fill a page and then a few more with his bon mots, and mots not so bon, but here is just one more from his back pages: “If drink sales are falling off, we get the pilots to engineer a bit of turbulence. That usually spikes sales.”

Not a comforting thought as we are setting off on a very long flight on Sunday, but luckily Ryanair doesn’t go that far. Anyway, we’ve been advised to skip the alcohol and the coffee, so the hours will be stretched.

Mostly these days O’Leary keeps his hand over his mouth, but the prospect of Brexit buggering up his budget airline has seen him remove that hand – not to unleash the full Irish vernacular, but to make a reasonable point in a colourful manner.

The Ryanair boss is worried that Brexit uncertainty could hit his business, as airline schedules and flight bookings are arranged nearly a year in advance. He says that Ryanair needs to be sure of its legal position by this time next year to start selling flights for March 2019, when Brexit begins (that’s if it ever begins or indeed ever ends, and there’s the Brexit Paradox for you).

The colourful part came when he criticised Mrs Maybe on Sky News, saying: “I fail to see what she’s doing in Japan for three days at the moment, why’s she not in Brussels or in Frankfurt or in Paris, which is where these negotiations need to take place.”

He added that Theresa May had just come back from three weeks’ holiday in the Swiss Alps and that she needed to be sorting out Brexit, “not swanning around Japan drinking tea and sake”.

O’Leary has a point here. Mrs Maybe swanned around Japan in the hope of drumming up post-Brexit business – but that can’t begin until Brexit has been sorted out. Why didn’t she forsake the sake and help to sort out Brexit first? Because swanning about is easier and probably more fun, and conjures a cake-and-eat-it illusion that everything will be crumbly and delicious once we leave Europe and instead go knocking on doors around the globe, like door-to-door salesmen in poor suits and with shifting smiles.

But I have preparations to make, two days’ work left to do, and other work to do for when I return, so that’s your lot for now. I plan to take my laptop ledge with me and will report in from Australia occasionally.

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Mrs Maybe goes on and on and Diana lives on and on…

TWO women dominate today’s front pages. One dead these 20 years and the other condemned as a “dead woman walking”. One departed in a moment of tragedy; the other was last seen in the political departure lounge.

Princess Diana first, I guess. Yes, her death was tragic, denying her sons of a mother; and robbing the nation of the woman Tony Blair went on to famously dub “the people’s princess”. Diana’s death in a car crash in that Paris tunnel helped define an era, and much weight is put upon that sad event.

This month’s remembrance always was unavoidable and now we have reached the actual day of the anniversary (do only non-royalist grumps sigh and mutter: “Enough already”?).

The national sainthood bestowed on Diana forgets her manipulative and scheming side; the woman who played the media to her own advantage, sometimes merely showing the honest good she did – visiting Aids patients, for example – and at other times using journalists in her personal wars with Prince Charles and the royal family.

Perhaps the best comment on all of this is a tart joke from Private Eye, calling Diana “the papers’ princess”. Diana was good for business in her day, and keeping her alive – perfectly preserved in printer’s ink – has remained good for business. If she signed a deal with the devil in her short lifetime, the devil seems to be getting the best out of the bargain.

Everything will be allowed to subside now, until the 30th anniversary, by which time life will have changed, and Charles could be king – or even William, perhaps.

And Theresa Maybe will still be prime minister, if she has her way. After running an election campaign so terrible that she threw away her majority, Mrs Maybe was considered doomed – having been given that ‘dead woman walking’ black spot by former Chancellor George Osborne.

Mrs Maybe previously said she would only stay for as long as she was wanted, and some of her MPs appeared to think five minutes might be pushing it. But now she has turned defiant, saying: “I’m not a quitter.” In Japan, where she is drumming up business to fill that Brexit hole, she told reporters: “I’m in this for the long term. I’m the people’s prime minister. There’s no way those bastards are shafting me.”

Well, perhaps she only said the first part of that. But Mrs Maybe did say that she was aiming to fight the next election in 2022, saying: “There’s a real job to be done in the United Kingdom.”

With her usual rhetorical flourish, and channelling her inner Churchill – the insurance dog, rather than the noted Conservative – she added: “It’s about getting the Brexit deal right, it’s about building that deep and special partnership with the European Union but it’s also about building global Britain, trading around the world.”

Dear me, that woman is dull, but sometimes dull does it. Perhaps that’s her strategy: out-dulling everyone else until they all say, “Oh go on, go on.” It’s a plan, but the disaffected in her own ranks are not known for undying loyalty, so we shall see. It will take a lot for a leader who led so poorly to be trusted with the steering wheel for another general election.

Melania’s flood-proof heels and Trump being odd (again)…

MELANIA Trump is on the front pages this morning, accompanying her husband to Texas. Her outfit has drawn attention. Now I am far from a fashion icon, but can pass on that she was wearing aviator sunglasses, black tailored trousers, a FLOTUS baseball cap, bomber jacket and four-inch designer heels.

The heels were mocked on social media, so she changed to trainers, but kept the shades on. The ribbing seems unfair. After all, you need a bit of height if you are going to walk through a flood.

As for Donald Trump, he wore a totally unsuitable expression – part campaigning candidate, part weirdo without a clue, saying outside a fire station in Annaville, Corpus Christi: “What a crowd, what a turnout.”

The more the world puts up with him, the odder Trump seems. Arriving in a hurricane devastated, flooded state – with so much of Houston underwater and bodies being found – Trump seemed to suggest that the crowd had come just to see him.

But Trump always relates everything to himself. It’s as if the world is a big mirror in which he can check his hair hasn’t blown away and that he is still great, a great man.

Just what you need in days of devastation. A visit from a vain, egotistical president – and one who doesn’t even believe in the climate change which lies somewhere behind this disaster. “Many people are now saying that this is the worst storm-hurricane they have ever seen,” Trump tweeted, as if it were a reality TV competition between hurricanes, the Storm Apprentice.

As he toured Texas in the wake of hurricane Harvey, Trump had Arizona on his mind. He was less pleased with the turnout there for his recent rally, reportedly sacking George Gigicos, who organises his political events, because he thought the crowd in Phoenix was too patchy. Trump was in a grump about there being empty spaces in the convention centre.

Why is the president still campaigning to be president? So that he can gather the faithful few in a church of the absurd and bask in their adulation, while laying into the media and the opposition – who keep, you know, opposing him.

It’s all very odd, but then Trump is odd, the world is odd.

Living in a city that floods makes you aware of the devastation water can cause. We have friends who are still not back in their house after the floods of Boxing Day 2015. Yet nothing in York, however bad, compares to the destruction in Houston.

An interesting article in the New Yorker explains how this ethnically diverse city is exposed to flooding, thanks to a combination of geography, flatness, highways that become rivers, and a lack of proper planning control, with building on flood plains and so on.

That happens here, too. It’s as if we refuse to remember and forget the flood as soon as it’s gone. We’ve become Noah in reverse, closing our eyes to what is surely going to happen.

Incidentally, in Inishowen, County Donegal, a woman who gave birth to a baby boy last week after being stranded in the floods in the town of Clonmany has called her new son Noah. A cheerful note on which to end.

Here I am sticking up for the BBC again…

OUT and about in the sunshine yesterday, I spotted something on Facebook and felt moved to comment. Oh, the idiocy of looking at Facebook on a sunny bank holiday.

Sometimes technology makes fools of us, or amplifies our foolish nature, but there you go.

I was photographing the Soapbox Challenge in York, managing to capture one of the carts flying past at speed. And what a lovely York event this is.

Anyway, after taking pictures I had a quick look at Facebook, and dear God how life can end up being measured in ‘quick looks’ at Facebook. There I spotted something being shared that ‘proved’ the BBC was hopelessly biased.

This claim is often made on Facebook by the usual suspects (mostly avid Jeremy Corbyn supporters) – and kicked around by another usual suspect (me with a frown on). The post was from the left-wing blog The Skwawkbox, a Corbyn supporter and frequent critic of the BBC.

On this instance, the accusation was that the BBC was involved in a cover-up (another one). The blog began: “If you get your news from the BBC, you may well have no idea that the Tories are now being investigated for serious multi-faceted election fraud in the recent General Election affecting no fewer than ten seats the Tories won in June.”

The blog then praised Channel 4 for uncovering the story – adding with a snarl: “Our so-called national broadcaster has put beyond question the fact that it is suborned by and in the pockets of the corrupt few against the interests of the many.”

If you get your news from the BBC… Well, as mentioned before, I do – along with the Guardian, Observer and other sources, including Channel 4 News. And I spotted the story the BBC is alleged to have smothered in an evil cover-up. It went up on their website on Saturday, when I first read it, and is still there now. The headline is: “Police probe claims Tories used call centre to canvass vote.”

Within the story there is a link to a previous BBC website story on June 23. That earlier story was, it is true, mainly a report on how a Channel 4 News investigation alleged that the Conservative Party contracted a secretive call centre during the election campaign and that this may have broken data protection and election rules – something the Tories deny. And will no doubt go on denying until they are even bluer in the face.

Now this is a good story and kudos to Channel 4. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that it was true; they’re a slippery lot, those Tories. But the BBC has covered it and that undoes the complaint made by The Skwawkbox, doesn’t it?

Now it is true that the BBC hasn’t given a lot of space to this story or much if any airtime. But it has covered the story on its website and the story is easy to locate. I found it with two or three clicks while standing in the sunshine watching those carts whiz by.

Nowadays anyone can have a platform, or indeed a ledge, but I worry when you see smears that aren’t true. You can argue that the BBC is too complacent/corrupt/whatever to cover this story properly. But you can’t say they haven’t covered it at all because they have.

People from right and left moan about the BBC, and this offers the Corporation the traditional defence that it must be doing something right if everyone is complaining. I don’t defend the BBC without qualification, but on balance believe that we would be much worse off without it.

The BBC does much more than supply a mostly reliable source of news, but even if you stick with that part of its remit, we are surely better off with the BBC at the cornerstone of our national life than, say, having to rely on a nakedly partisan broadcaster such as Fox News.

For all its faults, the BBC is mostly a good thing – and mostly a good British thing. That’s why I am happy to pay the licence fee.

As for the story in question, The Skwawkbox post complained about the BBC without exactly explaining what the story was. For that I had to read the two stories on, ahem, the BBC website, where a link was provided to the Channel 4 News page.

Such wildly critical items are shared widely on Facebook, and fair enough – it’s all part of the mix. But if you get your news from them, you may have no idea that you are only getting a partial picture.

Good move, Labour – but is it just me or is Brexit boring beyond belief?

LABOUR has come up with a policy on Brexit and it has people pleased or annoyed depending on where they stand on the soft to hard spectrum.

I was going to write ‘excited’ instead of ‘pleased’ but honestly the notion of anyone being excited by anything to do with Brexit is a stretch. The only ones moved to excitement are old-school, Empire-loving Tories or readers of the Daily Express.

Incidentally, that newspaper has a story that, ahem, really sucks this morning. It reports a surge in vacuum cleaner sales as shoppers allegedly rush to beat an EU ban on the most powerful models. “Buy now while stocks last,” the paper says, no doubt going red in the face and spilling its gin. “It’s a British person’s inalienable right to have a vacuum cleaner of such ferocity that is sucks up your underlay and your floorboards.”

That last sentence suggests a sense of humour not always to be found in the Express, so good on whoever wrote those words. But the story still sucks. Any green-minded, energy-saving suggestion from the EU has always been slapped down from such crusty quarters.

Do you remember all the fuss about how “they want to ban our light bulbs”? Those were the old incandescent light bulbs and the prospect of no longer being able to buy them sent certain people into a, well, incandescent rage. True, the new bulbs were slow to cast light at first, but now they’re fine and bright as you like, and longer lasting, too.

If you peruse the files there is probably a Daily Express leader article bemoaning the way Europe wants to “ban our candles” by forcing us to use electric light instead.

Anyway, Labour and Brexit. Here’s the problem I have with this: everything to do with Brexit is just so mind-numbingly and arse-achingly boring. Hugely important, yes; likely to shape this country for generations to come, for sure; but my God has there even been a time when a single matter has dominated the national conversation with such relentless boredom?

It’s as if a topic once obsessed over only by all the boring people on the dull fringes has, by evil alchemy, become the one topic of conversation.

Labour’s new preference is for a soft Brexit. This is good news for those of us who never wanted to leave in the first place. It also puts the government in a tight spot, as Mrs Maybe’s majority is thin and plenty of her MPs are pro-Europe.

Until now, Labour has slithered and slid over Brexit, making mischief for the government without being clear what, if any, policy the party had.

That has now changed and the policy launched in yesterday’s Observer by Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, sounds like a good move. Labour now says that as Britain leaves the EU, it must remain inside the single market and the customs union for a transitional period.

The timespan is yet unspecified, with Sir Keir offering the ambiguous phrase that this period with be “as short as possible but as long as necessary”.

Sounds sensible to me, but already Labour MPs in the midlands and north where the Breixt vote was high are complaining – along with Tory-supporting, Brexit-bound newspapers such as The Sun.

But at least Labour’s long-awaited position on Brexit is sensible and offers some reassurance – especially in the face of the delusional dreams of this weakened government as we amble towards the cliff edge on one of Mrs Maybe’s hikes.

That said, Brexit is still boring beyond belief, isn’t it?

Anyway, the sun is shining on a bank holiday by some oversight of the climate control committee. Later we are going to watch the soapbox challenge on Micklegate. This is the only relatively steep hill in the centre of York and homemade carts rattle down the incline, given a head start by an acute ramp.

Last year’s inaugural race was great fun. And if you happen to be looking for a passing metaphor for Britain nowadays, a headlong rush down a steep hill on a handmade cart with the danger of the wheels coming off sounds like a reasonable place to start.

A few thoughts on a pint costing £13.40, cars without drivers and driverless governments…

IT’S early Saturday morning and thoughts about thoughts are bumping around in my mind, like balloons on a ceiling.

Thoughts about thoughts aren’t, well, thoughts exactly, but they’ll have to do. I have just read that a pub in Borough Market charges £13.40 for a pint of beer. That’s not so much a thought as a liquid scandal, but that’s London for you.

Funnily enough, the offensively expensive pint comes from Manchester, where it surely won’t cost quite that much. Perhaps it’s a Mancunian joke at the expense of Londoners. Cloudwater North West Double IPA is a weighty 8.2% ABV. I may be wrong but think those letters stand for “absolutely bloody vulgar”. A glance at an online slang Thesaurus leads me to conclude that such a pint is fancy-pants spendy.

The owners of the Rake bar blame the suppliers, but point out that the beer sells out whenever they stock it. Perhaps you can just charge anything in London. Or maybe the more expensive something is, the greater its allure. When the Sun newspaper sent a reporter to try a pint, there was none left to sup.

I can’t see many Yorkshire drinkers handing over quite so much for a pint. If you don’t live in London, and chances are that you won’t, my recommendation is for a limited-edition beer that is 2% weaker than that London disgrace. High Tea by Roosters is a Jasmine green tea IPA made in collaboration with coffee and tea suppliers Taylors of Harrogate. I know – sounds like a ponce beer, but it was lovely and for a short while sent my brain to a pleasantly unsteady place.

I forget the price in York for a pint of that and a smaller glass of something less brain bewildering for my wife, but it didn’t amount to even half the cost of that London pint.

Here’s another thought bouncing off a thought. Driverless cars are in the news often nowadays, nudging us into the future. An item on the BBC news yesterday asked who will be to blame when driverless cars crash. Is it the driver or the computer? Here’s another thing: will you be allowed to be drunk in charge of a driverless car? Not that I want to be or anything, but it’s a question. If so, the phrase ‘driving me to drink’ might take on a whole new meaning.

Here’s another mental pause: will you need a driving licence or take a test? Anyone who has spent a lifetime manually driving themselves around is going to be lost in this brave new world. That’s if it ever happens.

The driverless cars were forming an orderly queue in the headlines alongside driverless lorries. The trucks aren’t entirely without drivers, but travel in convoy with only the first lorry having a human occupant. The others are linked by wi-fi or something. When I read about this experiment, I thought of our wavering wi-fi at home and began to worry. What is the driverless truck version of that spinning circle you get when the TV freezes? It’s not a comforting thought.

Driverless vehicles suggest other unpiloted things, such as Mrs Maybe’s government on its plotless skid towards that big wall marked Brexit. Do driverless governments have brakes and does anyone know now to use them?

I love it that the UK has been accused by the European Union of “magical thinking” over plans to create an invisible border in Ireland after Brexit. The EU seems to have its finger on where we are driving ourselves, even if we don’t. Magical thinking is not confined to the border between North and South in Ireland – it basically sums up the government’s whole approach to leaving Europe. Magical thinking and crossed fingers.

And here’s a thought to end these thoughts – if a driverless government crashes in the wall of calamity, who’s to blame? Who you gonna call, as that Ghostbusters film once said? And whose ghost will need busting when it all comes down on our heads?

Is it time for a beer? Ah, no – it’s 7.50am, I’ve not yet had breakfast and work starts in two-and-half hours. See you later.

Mrs May walks into a non-story and gets her migration sums wrong…

THEY say walking is good for you, but it doesn’t seem to do much for Theresa May. She returned from a walking break in Snowdon with the idea to hold a snap general election to increase her majority – “Oh, look Philip – there’s a landslide. It must be an omen.”

We all know how well that turned out.

The prime minister is just back from another walking holiday – three weeks in Switzerland this time. She hasn’t called an election on this occasion. No, all that Swiss air has merely left her carrying on just as she did before, saying something stupid about the latest national nonsense controversy – and refusing to admit that she was wrong about foreign students.

Her first act was to wade into the giant non-story that is Big Ben falling silent for four years so that vital maintenance work can be carried out.

Mrs May has plenty on her tin walking plate already: the slow-motion car crash that is Brexit and Donald Trump fomenting racial tension in the US and making threatening noises towards North Korea are just two items to be found there, next to a half-eaten apple.

Instead she joins the entirely bogus fuss about a large bell. She said that it “can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years” and has asked Speaker John Bercow to investigate urgently so that “we can continue to hear Big Ben through those years”.

It’s a big clock, no big deal – and that bell makes a lovely sound, for sure, but sometimes the issues we are expected to be agitated about really aren’t worth the hot air. Not only that, it’s almost as if such non-stories are put up there so we don’t notice anything else that’s going on.

It has been pointed out in various social media posts doing the rounds that MPs seem to be more exercised over the tower containing Big Ben than Grenfell Tower in which so many people died. It’s probably an unfair comparison, but still you can see their point. Sometimes we just prefer a big fuss about nothing rather than truly facing up to something that should shame us to our core.

As for foreign students, new figures suggest that Theresa May’s long-held belief that foreign students overstay their visas is just not true. She was obsessed with this as Home Secretary, and carried the obsession with her into 10 Downing Street.

The ‘fact’ of foreign students ‘flooding’ into the country was taken as a totem of bad migration – and she made life much more difficult for these students in the name of cutting the numbers.

The Home Office previously reckoned there were 100,000 students a year staying on illegally, but now new data from the Office of National Statistics puts that figure at only 4,600. Pretty much a non-problem – and another non-story, although one with a serrated edge.

Lib Dem leader Vince Cable, who was part of the coalition under David Cameron, says he spent five years telling the Home Office that their figures were bogus – “But they persisted nonetheless on the basis of those phoney numbers.”

The new figures suggest that 97 per cent of foreign students leave after finishing their studies – a percentage that makes Theresa May look plain stupid, as well as narrow-minded and wrong-headed. Perhaps she should go on another walk.

Much was wrapped up in those bogus statistics, not least the anti-immigrant undertone to the Brexit vote.

The new data also reveals that net migration is falling, partly because of a rise in EU workers leaving our sinking ship. This is only good news if you are the editor of the Daily Express – “MIGRATION SLOWS AFTER EU EXIT VOTE.”

Plenty of other things have slowed too, including common sense; what has increased exponentially is a general sense of us not having a clue about what we are doing or where we are heading.

The fuss about foreign students – coming over here and spending their money at our universities – is in line with other fears about migration. In 2016 Ipsos Mori found that voters believed that 15 per cent of the population were immigrants, with Leavers putting the figure at 20 per cent and remain voters guessing 10 per cent. The official figure at the time was closer to five per cent – suggesting once again that fears about migration are mostly prejudice wrapped in a toxic cloud.

How I lost my car just like a woman…

I HAVE lost my car in a multi-storey in Hull and this says something about me as a man. Men  carry on when they can’t remember where they parked, so I am not being man enough about this.

This will be revealed by the man who miraculously tracks down my car, a sort of lion-hunter of these concrete plains – or, in this instance, a Leon-hunter.

I stand before the sign reading inquiries. In my mind it says: “Idiots queue here.” The car park office has a mirrored wall and I see a reflection of a balding bloke in a white shirt and Levis. He is frowning.

I have been here for an interview. Crime writer Nick Quantrill, that friendly man of Hull, told me to park in one car park and I accidentally ended up in another. A small misunderstanding, but not a surprising one if you are me.

The car park has many storeys and I park somewhere near the top. On the way out, I notice a sign saying that you need your registration for the payment machine. I find a scrap of paper in my wallet and write it down.

Two hours later I return and type the registration on the screen where you pay. It doesn’t recognise the car, so I type it out again. Still no joy, but the machine lets you estimate your time of arrival and you pay accordingly. Two hours in the centre of Hull cost me £1.90 – a sum they’d charge you in York for driving past and thinking of parking your car.

Feeling pleased with myself for having worked all that out, I go up to the top floor where I parked my car. And it’s nowhere to be seen. I dash around, but it’s still not there. Concrete rampways are climbed and descended. But that car is still not there.

After ten minutes of this, I admit defeat and walk all the way down the concrete stairs and find myself in a dead end by the fire escape doors. I go back up the stairs, trudge across more concrete acres until I am looking at myself in that mirrored wall.

Remembering that the machine didn’t recognise the car, I wonder if I have wandered into a different multi-storey or possibly a parallel universe.

The window opens and the car park boss, enormous through the smallish opening, listens to my sorry tale. He is unsurprised by what I say. Happens all the time, apparently.

He sends someone out to help me. This man is the most cheerful car-park worker in the whole of Hull or quite possibly the world. He writes the registration on the edge of his hand, where another number is already there in a biro tattoo.

This valiant hunter of lost cars then dashes off, saying: “I know where it’ll be.” Which is more than I do. Five minutes later, he returns and takes me up in the lift. I apologise for my idiocy. He assures me that I am a gem. “Women come and ask for help,” he says. “But most men carry on when they can’t find their car. When I show them where it is, they say, ‘Well, you must have moved it’.”

As he leads me to the car, he says that the multi-storey has a new numbering system. For now the floors have different numbers depending whether you are inside or outside  the parking area. He generously offers that as an explanation for my car dislocation.

“Never lost a car from this place in 30 years,” the friendly man says, whizzing off to rescue the next forgetful driver.

This leaves me wondering why I am not man enough to have a testosterone fuelled paddy about my own stupidity. It seems that I am just like a woman when it comes to losing my car.

I drive down all the levels, remembering why crime dramas set car chases in these places, all concrete claustrophobia, steep ramps and crying tyres.

My own tyres are not crying as I pull up at the automatic barrier. This doesn’t budge. Other cars pull up behind me. I have spent so long looking for my car that I have outstayed my welcome. I press the help button.

“Hello, you just helped me find my car and…”

“Hang on a moment, sir” says the cheerful man who has been 30 years in this place.

The barrier rises and I head for home, a journey that passes without incident so long as you overlook me losing my way around Beverley. And that, for non-northern readers, is a pretty market town and not a girl.

 

A first glimpse through the new GBBO oven door…

GBBOTHERE I was yesterday pretending to be a TV critic and praising the lovely Nadiya Hussain – and this morning the Great British Bake Off is all over the newspapers.

Turns out the stolen recipe makes its debut on Channel 4 one week today. You will recall that the channel dough-hooked the series away from the BBC in a row over, well, dough.

I watched every episode of the BBC version, paying keen attention to the bread section. The transfer didn’t please me, as the way favourite programmes suddenly disappear from one channel is annoying – especially if they migrate to Sky, when watching requires the payment of the Rupert Murdoch TV licence (much more expensive than the BBC version).

The broadcaster Mark Lawson, reviewing the first episode in the Guardian this morning, also watched every episode on the Beeb – and concludes that the new version “is as strong as any previously made”.

High praise, so let’s hope that Mark isn’t being half-baked. He is usually a good guide to cultural matters, able to scoop low and rise high. His regular stint at launching the crime-writing festival in Harrogate each year showcases his talents – talents mysteriously abandoned by BBC Radio Four’s Front Row arts show, following a falling out and some reported nastiness.

Over on the BBC website, there are “33 things you need to know about the Channel 4 version”. That’s a lot for a baking show, although it does maintain the list habit of having an odd number of items – more catching to the eye, apparently.

One of the ‘things’ is that veteran cookery writer Pru Leith – in the Mary Berry role ­– told everyone that they should record the show and skip the ads (16 minutes’ worth from a 58-minute show). More ads than ever before in a Channel 4 show, apparently, causing this morning’s edition of The Sun to shout: “Dough Nuts”, adding “C4 milk hit show for cash”.

That seems a little unfair, as well as hypocritical from a commercially owned newspaper, but their sauce is never consistent and often comes with lumps.

The usually reliable Lawson reckons that the ad breaks give the show better shape than those “rather Blue Peter-ish drop in films”. He is also won over by the new presenting team: Sandi Toksvig is always a safe but sufficiently cheeky pair of hands, but the rogue element here is Noel Fielding, who came to prominence being surreal in the sketch show The Mighty Boosh. Lawson says he is an inspired choice, encouraging to the contestants and respectful of the show’s cosy record.

Fielding is no Mel and Sue, of course, but only Paul Hollywood has made the cross-channel swim, reportedly with twinkling ego and celebratory handshake intact.

Fielding and Toksvig are said to work well as a curious double act, with Fielding telling reporters: “When we did our chemistry test we made love straightaway.” He’s referring to the screen tests presenters do to make sure they’re a good fit on camera. “Sandi is the quickest comedian I’ve ever worked with,” he adds, fan-boyishly.

On radio shows such as I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, Sandi also has the longest, maddest and most breathless laugh ever broadcast, but perhaps she’ll keep that in check on Bake Off.

According to those 33 things, there are 12 contestants and “their names are Liam, Stacey, Yan, Steven, Tom, Flo, Kate, Julia, James, Chris, Sophie and Peter” (seen above in a photo borrowed from Channel 4).

As the contestants are basically the whole point of these shows, we will get to know them well enough.

Will I watch? Not sure yet. The first one perhaps, but then we’re away for the next three. Maybe I’ll be able to kick that flour-drenched sugar high after all this time.

Top Of The Lake, bottom of the class…

TODAY I shall pretend to be a television critic. Disappointments over food and other matters will be mentioned, although a passing hooray will be raised for the marvel that is Nadiya Hussain.

The second series of Top Of The Lake (BBC2) is a curious mess. This was must-see television after the first series of Jane Campion’s crime drama was so damn good: edgy, weird and compelling. Mostly the second series has just been flat weird without the better ingredients.

The first series was set in a creepy corner of New Zealand and it lured you in like the mist disguising a dangerous stretch of quick-sand. You couldn’t take your eyes away as you took cautious steps forward. It was all so darkly addictive, and Elizabeth Moss as Detective Robin Griffin was messed-up but strong.

In follow-up, The China Girl, something has gone badly awry as Griffith returns to Sydney. You can watch the whole series on iPlayer but at the time of writing, we are up to episode four – a better hour than the other three, but nothing to worry the shadowed splendour of the first series.

The third episode ended with a frankly bonkers scene in which the now hopeless Griffin had a fight with a man in a wheelchair – the guy she had put there in the first series. They were in court and he trapped her in an anteroom and, oh well, it was the stupidest moment in a series that has struggled to find its feet.

There are strong elements, including the mystery spun around the dead Chinese prostitute found in a suitcase dumped in the sea, and the theme of women being abused is interesting and handled well. But, oh, the characters are just so annoying. Moss’s sidekick, played by Gwendoline Christie from Game of Thrones, seems to have wandered in from a buddy-cop sit-com. Her performance, while striking, is just so strangely out of step with everything else.

The personal strands here are more prominent than the crime backstory, mostly concerning Robin’s 18-year-old daughter Mary, whose separated parents are at war with each other, but united in their horror at Mary’s boyfriend, a weirdo creep of a lecturer with straggled hair and a filthy flat above a brothel. He is quite possibly the most annoying character you will ever have encountered in a crime drama.

Episode four saw Mary, as groomed by her boyfriend, joining resentful prostitutes under a flyover, where she was rescued after attempting to give a stranger a blow job (“I’m not paying for that!”). The closing scene where Mary sobbed in the lap of Robin, the mother she doesn’t know, was powerfully done, and you felt that perhaps this drama might redeem itself. But mostly it’s been a mess.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown (BBC2) is one of the Beeb’s answers to Channel 4 nicking off with The Great British Bake Off. After one helping, it is difficult to see that this show will take off in the same way, but sometimes these affairs manage to stir their own alchemy.

Having families compete against families might work, although it misses the unpredictable chemistry of putting competitive strangers behind the mixing bowls. And family cooking – although important to everyday health and sanity – isn’t exactly sexy in television terms.

Nadiya Hussain hosts with Zoe Ball and does her best, but you can’t escape the feeling that they’ve just met and have been told to act like mates, whereas Mel and Sue in the original Bake Off were genuine lifelong friends. The judges are Rosemary Shrager and Giorgio Locatelli. Rosemary does what she normally does, which is be blunt and a bit eccentric. Giorgio is more of a wild card, unpredictable and grumpy: he was the best thing about this first course.

Will this show be any good? I wouldn’t bet your pudding on it.

But the Bake Off winner is a marvel in her other BBC2 series, Nadiya’s British Food Adventure. What a delight that woman is: friendly, funny and all-round lovely to everyone she meets. And I know it’s a lot to place on such slight shoulders, but Nadiya, the ever-charming, smiley Nadiya, is such a potent symbol of modern Britain. How could any dunderhead watch her and grumble about migration? The day Nadiya migrated into our lives was a happy one indeed. Nice looking recipes, too.