It has been some time now since I have owned a television. For reasons I have yet to fathom, this tends to surprise people ('But how do you survive?' 'How do you know what's happening in the world?' 'Isn't your house really quiet?' - er, 'I have a lifetime supply of canned goods', 'the internet', and 'yes, thankfully').
Anyway, one cannot avoid tv entirely, and every now and then I get top-ups in the form of The Guardian's Lucy Mangan, other people's Facebook statuses, and being at my parents' house. Most pleasing, of course, is when two or more of these combine into what we can describe as a 'fuller picture', and as you may already have guessed, one such moment has recently presented itself.
First, some Background Events.
I'm sure we have all heard of The Apprentice. Now, since I tuned out of televisual entertainment at around the time that Gareth Gates stuttered his way into the hearts of a million housewives, I had only ever heard of this via third parties. Many Facebook statuses had declared 'such-and-such is loving The Apprentice', 'such-and-such is lying on the sofa with a bottle of wine, watching The Apprentice', 'such-and-such thinks so-and-so should win The Apprentice', and so on; occasionally these pronouncements had even been by people for whom I had a level of respect, and therefore it had seemed that The Apprentice might actually be Not Too Bad. The premise, as you will no doubt be aware, is that a chap called Sir Alan Sugar wants to hire an apprentice for his business empire; he is keen on 'keeping costs down', and therefore decided it would be financially savvy to do this via reality television, rather than, say, a recruitment agency. So we all get to watch various over-confident people stuffing up what ought to be fairly straightforward tasks, and then blaming each other. Splendid stuff, frankly.
Furthermore, several weeks ago in The Guardian, Lucy Mangan was waxing unlyrical about 'The Speaker', another reality-tv programme devised by the BBC as, we can only assume, a warning on Where Things Will Go If You Don't Let Us Put Licence Fees Up. The premise of this offering is an attempt to find Britain's best young public speaker, by way of watching them audition. As Mangan says, already death seems like the better option.
So it was with great delight that I discovered that both of these delights are on on Wednesday evenings, and would therefore be available during the Easter Visit To The Parents.
So I get to The Parents, and find they are both at work (rather unfortunately, since I had mixed up their back door key and my own back door key, meaning I couldn't actually get into the house, and had to drive to Mama Smile's work before getting myself across the threshold). I curl up on the sofa, pick up the first in a pile of trashy magazines (which, in my mother's defence, she is given by my Great-Aunt, who likes them for the crosswords; we may at some point come back to said magazines in a future post), turn on the TV and wait. And wait, and wait. And realise I pressed the wrong button on the remote (because they hadn't invented DVD players and HD-thingy boxes when I stopped watching, so it's much more complicated now). And press the correct one. And am presented with some feck-awful show with that bloke with the orange face trying to flog antiques to chaps who wear jackets with leather patches on the elbows. But I watch it anyway, because there's nothing else to do.
Anyway, eventually (6 hours later) my patience is rewarded, and 'The Speaker' comes on. And oh. my. glorious. life. it. is. every. bit. as. bad. as. I. expected, and possibly worse. Excellent. The 8 young hopefuls are taken to Althorp House and given the task of conducting guided tours.
I immediately have nasty feelings towards Duncan, a boy with the sort of enthusiasm generally reserved for a WI meeting to which the Lord Mayor pays a long-awaited visit. I am also not keen on Jordan, who seems more confident than his talents would necessarily merit, and who delivered his audition speech on 'The Education System'. Gag. Add to the mix Irene (who could burst into tears at any time, and is virtually overwhelmed by there being a picture gallery), Keke (who almost threatens a takeover of the estate) and several others in a similar vein, and of course I am irretrievably sucked in.
Naturally, the Smile family expend much merriment in laughing at the contestants. There is, of course, a school of thought which says that you shouldn't mock people who are doing things that you couldn't do yourself, and indeed it is quite true that WhyNotSmile could never in a million years do the sorts of things these youngsters are doing on national television. I'm afraid I am simply too compassionate; I have too much concern for my fellow man.
For what it's worth, my money's on Thomas (?), who endeared himself to me simply by not saying much.
And so, on to The Apprentice. The contestants are almost unanimously obnoxious. My personal favourite is Ben, the Northern Irish one, who is so adorably self-unaware that he could be put in a little cage and people would pay just to see him talk. Furthermore, we are now - I believe - on series 5 of this programme, and you would think that the people who enter would at least have watched previous series and grasped some basic concepts which would help them to progress, but, thankfully, it seems not.
So the contestants are split into 2 teams ('Empire' and 'Ignite' - sorry, what is this? Ice breakers on a mission team orientation weekend?), and are tasked with producing some beauty products, and selling them. Whichever team makes the most profit wins.
Now, initially I am thinking that this looks quite hard - who knows how to make soap, after all? Where do you source all the plastic bottles for bubble bath? But it transpires that they are to be taken to the Lush factory, where they basically choose product type, ingredients and packaging, and then make it all into sellable products and flog it on Portabello Road. This, you would think, would not be a difficult task for the 'top young business minds in the country'; you would, of course, be utterly wrong, but at least you would be entertained by the resulting farce.
One team manage to decide that it would be a good idea to make soap with actual bits of honeycomb inside (I mean, seriously); thankfully, after finding that it disintegrates into a sticky mess on contact with water, they have the wit to lie to potential customers ('Once you use it a couple of times, it turns into proper soap'), and therefore manage to make a respectable profit. The other team mix up two different types of oil, inadvertently selecting the one which is 1000 times more expensive than they think, and then proceed to use too much of it; the best bit about this is when they realise that making their soap has cost them £750, rather than 'about a fiver'.
I was so hooked that when I got home, I went straight onto iPlayer and caught up on the previous episodes in the series. More gems, and yet so many more questions. Who in their right minds, for instance, when planning a sophisticated drinks party for important city lawyers, would consider it appropriate to have 4 pale young men dressed in togas serving the canapes? Ah, the 'top young business minds in the country', apparently. Or at least, half of them.
All of which makes you think: if these are the future speakers and top business minds in the country, we're fecked.