4 December 2010

Dance hall days

Strictly Come Dancing will be interesting tonight, as of the half dozen remaining, there is a very real chance that one of the "big four" will go.

The splendid Patsy Kensit's disappointing exit last week exposed more than ever this brand of voting that is making the eventual outcome unpredictable and prompting the dancers and judges to panic a bit. Every professional dancer who has left the competition while seeing Ann Widdecombe and, to a lesser but just as relevant extent, Gavin Henson survive will be seething under the fake tan and tooth caps. The judges feel the same. The rest don't, clearly - and they're the ones that matter.

But with Widdecombe clearly getting the entertainment vote (though I expect it's Anton du Beke's attitude to it all that is gathering in just as much core support) and Henson getting the girlie vote, a mega shock could be on the cards tonight. Though the departures of Kensit and one or two before her were premature, the sadness at their farewell will be nothing if Widdecombe and Henson each survive another week.

Matt Baker, Scott Maslen, Pamela Stephenson and Kara Tointon are all tremendous performers and, crucially, they have also come across as sporting characters as well. They are focussed but not to the extent of forgetting that a television audience wants to see sparkle as well as steps. They've been the four front runners from day one. And, thanks to Widdecombe's goofiness and Henson's pectorals, one of them might now go.

I think Baker and Stephenson are probably safe until the final. Both are flawless, consistent, amiable, in good partnerships and have found the key balance between competitiveness and humility. Both have also recovered brilliantly from mild setbacks. It's the current EastEnders star and former EastEnders star that feel in danger, to me. Maslen is a terrific dancer and a likeable bloke but is capable, as he proved last week, of spectacularly cocking it up. The two 9s he got for a dance littered with basic errors were scandalous, frankly. Tointon, meanwhile, still doesn't do it on the charisma front for me and, in a reflection of the reality television mentality that we often see, the majority of voting viewers will be jealous females who want her out.

I wouldn't miss Tointon if she went, but there would be an outcry from the dance fraternity if she, or any of the other three, did get voted out. The absence of the dance-off will be felt more than ever if so, and expect at least one of the pro dancers to kick up a stink in the papers or on Claudia's settee over the coming week.

Widdecombe wants to win. I still don't think she will - not least because I expect there will be a furtive change in the rules to allow the judges a bigger say in the final, just in case she gets there - but this weekend will be the ultimate test of just where the rule changes to Strictly... has taken them.

3 December 2010

And since we've no place to go...

I'm not a fan of snow because of the chaos it can cause. This year, however, I've warmed to it (so to speak) as it has occurred when I've been planning to stay at home anyway. As such, being snowed in has been rather fun.

The dogs have had some great walks, with their minute Basset legs disappearing in the deeper bits and therefore forcing them to bounce along rather than walk. The roads are almost entirely impassable and therefore it's been easy to have them off the lead as walking along our village side streets and estates have been akin to scampering about on fields and in country lanes. With the street lights reflecting on the snow, it's a remarkable sight.

This week I've helped dig out or push in three cars in my village, allowing me to speak to neighbours with whom I've barely or even never exchanged a previous pleasantry. I doubt that one act of brawn (which in my case is a bit restricted anyway) is going to get me an invitation to a neighbourly candlelight supper but that community spirit gubbins really is there.

I walk past houses and there are people clearing driveways, making enormous piles of snow. One house near me has a snowman as tall as the house itself. Everywhere there are fathers who can't get to work spending the day tugging their kids around on sledges. The local primary school is reachable for the kids but not for enough of the staff, and so they have days off.

Walking the Bassets at about 7pm last night was eerie. It felt like 4am, such was the absence of movement from anyone or anything. The snow had started to come down again just after we left, and on our normal village route, which took slightly longer due to unsteadiness underpaw, we saw next to nobody. Only one car came down any street, and that was one that I helped shove into the tyre marks from several inches of sticking snow while the female passenger got out and held the dogs for me. The night before, my mate Tony ran past us - in shorts - towards the local shop so he could get his lottery ticket just before the machines stopped, and he was the only person we saw. The only giveaway as to the presence of life was that every house had lights on inside.

People talk about how beautiful the snow is. Well, if you've had a meeting cancelled, a flight or train journey delayed or any other number of inconveniences thrown your way, then the aesthetic pleasure of a seriously big quantity of snow will, er, leave you cold. For once, the snow hasn't been disruptive or dangerous to me, and it has been both of those things in the past. The main roads have been well gritted on the one occasion since the weekend I've had to venture out, though driving the car has become an almost complete no-no in the last 48 hours.

And the snow, while plentiful, hasn't been horrible. By that I mean there haven't been nasty blizzards in severe winds. The seriously cold temperatures have been restricted to overnight, and we've had decent winter sunshine between the outbreaks.

This weekend will be fun though. The football match has been postponed but I still have to get to Stockport on Saturday night...

Anyone got some corn for popping?