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The Pariah: Scribblings from a Confederacy of Dunces


EDWARD HIGGINS, takes the rise.

What's wrong with the people of this country who have insisted on making a veritable king out of a kitchen orderly? Even the largely fictitious 'war on terror' seemed to lose the battle for airspace against the labrador-faced lisping of TV chef Jamie Oliver...

There used to be a time when watching television was a pretty good thing.

Did it used to afford the same pleasure as a really hot cup of tea? Or that so simple a delectation that can only come from the kiss upon a lady's wrist? Maybe not. But it was definitely up there, and for a large proportion of penniless young men, it was riding high on a pitifully short list.

But, now, what with the relentless positioning of the faux-Cockney hellion Oliver upon all channels, many a right-thinking young man has been forced into creating their own homespun Taliban-style telly ban. Their own personal war, on their own personal terror. In my living rooms, up and down the country, televisions have temporarily ceased transmission.

So where now, instead of TV? Braving the outside world with your pasty skin can be similarly dismaying. These days, all the shops seem to be scattered with books, CD's (His selection of 'cooking anthems', Scarlet Division etc.) and life-sized pictures of that tongue-dripping oik. There he is: either stuffing sweetmeats into his oily, opened mouth or wiping it dry on the sleeve of some tropical shirt. Always grinning inanely at the camera, tongue out and face contorted with idiotic concentration, like a pool-playing hound.

Maybe, it's just pedaling some sort of outmoded stereotype, but surely - doesn't it make sense, doesn't it necessarily follow - that the skills of a chef be contained within a kitchen? Anyone?

The whole idea of food television is surely some reduction unto the absurd... I won't deny that people enjoy food. But isn't the thing they enjoy about it most the taste of it? Or, maybe, for some (and I'm thinking of the Bisto kids here) the smell. Surely, the look of food as it's unceremoniously shoveled into another man's mouth (or as it's sent flying onto the camera lens) as he chews and winks and makes unconvincing cockney-barrow-boy witticisms, isn't what's attracting the populace, is it?

And It's not just The Naked Chef. If it had been, my plan of action would have been so simple: simply boycott BBC2. But, no, there are also his endless chat-show appearances and the relentless current of tawdry Sainsbury's adverts, with him shamelessly whoring it about; supported throughout by the entirety of his ever-expanding family.

I don't feel it unjust to point out that there are actors in the world. Professionals; who have trained hard; scrimped and saved to attend schools of speech and drama, crept boards, worn tights etc. Needless to say, that they are not a group that I would normally offer much sympathy to: but I send out my condolences to them this Christmas, as it seems that their hard work has been all but scuppered by the spluttery, raspy pratfalls of a cook...

It should come as no surprise that Oliver has a hand in the writing of the Sainsburys' ads. Who can recall the ad where he fills his moped helmet with feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, before filling us all with delight with that waggish combination of stomach fondling and exaggerated lip smacking. That was Jamie's idea. But that wasn't the only time he's let his genius shine. We all stood back in awe as he cleverly lured us into his Cockney world by exchanging the word curry with the word 'Ruby' (He's seen Only Fools and Horses, don't you know...). He also feels the need to relentlessly prove how down to earth he is, by traveling on buses and hanging out in greenhouses, by wearing tatty scarves and hanging out with his rough diamond 'mates' (a bunch of middle-England drawling model types).

Is it all just jealousy on my part? Probably, yeah...