Claire Black: Reality baking, best pick-me-up ever

‘I’VE paused the telly so we don’t miss a second.” This is not a statement commonly heard in our household. In recent years we’ve got an almost 100 per cent success rate at missing event TV.

The BBC's The Great British Bake Off. Photographer: Mark Bourdillon

The Sopranos? Tick, never seen a single episode. Mad Men? Same. The Thick Of It, Borgen, Breaking Bad – our flat, and consequently my brain, is a TV-hit free zone. At least in recent years. I’ll have you know I never missed an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I sometimes wonder why we even bother having that big screen in the corner of the room which gathers stupendous amounts of dust and provides target practice for the baby’s frighteningly effective over-arm throw. And then I remember the Great British Bake Off.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t feel short-changed if my 12 quid a month licence fee only bought me viewing rights for Mel, Sue, Mary and Paul alone, plus re-runs of the old ones of course. I know it’s a cliché. I know people scoff at it, rolling their eyes at the innuendos (soggy bottoms, tasty offcuts) and Paul Hollywood’s lurid shirts. But I don’t care. I love the #gbbo.

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Did you watch it last week? Chances are you did because the first episode of the fifth series, awarded an upgrade from BBC2 to a new slot on BBC1, was watched by nearly eight million people. Have you picked a winner? Of course you have; you’ve plumped for Nancy. So have I. So have the bookies – they’ve gone and made her the odds-on favourite to win. And although Nancy’s way with a guillotine and her astonishing knowledge (“The cherries have to be washed and coated in flour or they’ll sink,” she explained) was seriously impressive, it was Richard who caught my eye. A builder who made a corker of a swiss roll (pistachio and strawberry, flowers on the outside because his daughters like them) and then presented it to Mary and Paul with his pencil tucked behind his ear, as though he was showing them a newly plastered extension. Lovely.

Why does it work? Well, it’s like a cake recipe, it’s greater than the sum of its parts. I mean, I don’t bake cakes and I don’t even particularly like eating them, but I love #gbbo because I love that people go on it to bake, just bake. They’re not there to become the next Joey Essex. Or to get into some grubby little business deal with the man responsible for the Amstrad. The ones that do have a whiff of this, never last very long. The ones who thrive are those who just want to bake cakes and make macarons. And there’s something brilliantly, satisfyingly, delightful about that.

A few years ago, my dad was dying and life revolved around hospice visits and silences which would never be filled by conversations we could never have. No amount of cake could help. But watching the Great British Bake Off did. It made me smile and it stopped my whirring brain from whirring quite so much. It’s the best antidepressant I’ve ever come across. I’m telling you, I’d prescribe a series of #gbbo for almost any ailment.

Why won’t women box clever?

Help me out, will you. Why would Nicola Adams, boxer extraordinaire, not want to call herself a feminist? Seriously, I am stumped. I don’t get it. She is a brave, she is a pioneer – the first woman to represent England in boxing, the first English woman to win a medal at a major international boxing tournament, the first woman to win Olympic boxing gold at London 2012 and the first woman to win a Commonwealth Games title. Come on, Nicola, what’s going on? I mean, I realise that Adams is not alone in her reticence. In the US only 29 per cent of women would happily use the F word and although that figure rises to 42 per cent in this country, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? One of the reasons that is often whispered by women as to why they eschew the term is that they don’t want to be thought of as lesbians. It’s ridiculous, obviously, but there it is. But Adams is bisexual and out. Och, I just don’t understand.

It’s like Caitlin Moran says: “What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? Vogue by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”

Still paying the price

And since we’re on this topic, let me turn to the hoary old problem of equal pay. If the current rate of change continues, women won’t be paid the same as men for another 60 years. Sixty. Years. It’s a funny thing, but the fact that women earn just 80p for every £1 that men earn is far from humorous. I remember a few years ago watching the film Made In Dagenham about the women who campaigned for the same wages as their male counterparts. Emerging from a darkened cinema I wondered why women weren’t out on the streets demanding why, since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970, it still isn’t enacted? I still don’t have the answer. Surely these new figures will shock us into action? «