Bake Off: Why Women Aren’t Good Enough (Spoilers)

There’s always a lesson to learn during the final episode of the Great British Bake Off and this one came right at the end. The camera is focussed on a tearful, victorious Candice who just won herself gold with some tasty little pig sausage roles, moist chocolate cake and custard tarts. She’s got a bouquet of flowers in one hand and the random, glass medal thing in the other (oh, it’s a cake plate) and this is what she says: “I did it, I am good, I’m good enough.” And it’s funny because when I watched Candice ace it through each round of the final I never doubted whether or not she was good enough, for me, she was always more than good enough. But this isn’t the first time I’ve heard a woman doubt her self belief and I wonder if something’s going on?

The two female finalists got a lot of flack over the past few weeks. Candice was disliked for her varying shades of lipstick and her pout. She was disliked for her accent and her choice of clothes. Meanwhile, Jane was disliked for being old (she’s only 61!), for her hair and for her supposed headmistress sternness. All of these things are, of course, bullshit and we should have been cheering both them on for being such star bakers. Yet patriarchy is as patriarchy does and in a world where women are constantly made to feel inferior to men they have far more work to do to get to the top. But get to the top they did without a soggy bottom in sight.

Now, I don’t want to be accused of too many generalisations but it saddens me when people don’t think they’re good enough because often that attitude is the product of a misdirected over-ambition and an inability to see the good in oneself. Can’t we all just give ourselves a break and allow ourselves to be good enough? However, as our history is one of so much misogyny it’s often women who have even less self-belief. Anecdotally, I have never heard a successful man say he suffers from the imposter syndrome (i.e. the belief that you shouldn’t be where you are professionally and you’re just a sham waiting to be uncovered) but I have heard many successful women say it. Goddammit. Success is for all of us and we should be free to enjoy it without guilt (providing it’s the right sort of success, i.e. baking great cakes, not earning loads whilst crashing national economies).

So I hope winning the Bake Off helps Candice realise just what a blooming brilliant baker and person she is but I hope she knows she’s these things anyway, even if she hadn’t won. For me, the final showed that woman absolutely rock as lovely, earnest Andrew was forced to cash in on his male privilege and step aside. And what’s even better is that Candice and Jane, who shared a great rivalry throughout the show (for which they got much online flack), are now off on a baking road trip together. There are a lot of stereotypes out there that suggest women can’t be friends because they’re always bitching about each other and competing for men (or star baker) but, once again, the women of Bake Off showed us what a load of unbaked, bullshit that is. And here’s a funny penis cake.

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Bake Off: Climate Change Week

Week 7 of the Great British Bake Off and things got environmental. As comedian Mel Giedroyc explained at the start of the show it was a Bake Off first, Botanical Week: “We wanted to highlight the plight of nature as bee populations collapse, sea levels rise and numerous species become extinct due to human’s inability to live peaceably on the planet. We felt it was important to stand up for Gaia.” So those bakers got baking with flowers, herbs, leaves and other things that grow out the ground (y’know, like most things)

Round 1 was a classic: lemon meringue pie. Except they wanted a further citrus twist. “This might appear a controversial decision,” explained celebrity chef and national treasure Mary Berry, “But the reason we wanted them to use a wider panoply of citrus fruits such as grapefruits, oranges and clementines was to raise awareness of global warming. Just this summer Gravesend recorded a temperature of 34.4C, that’s the hottest day of the year since 1911, incidentally the year I was born. Ironically this will make Britain’s climate more amendable to the growing of citrus fruits and whilst I love a good lemon meringue pie I don’t want it to come at the price of numerous small island states going underwater, the Arctic melting and more hurricanes. I get that this is too little too late but if Bake Off can’t be used to make important political statements then what’s the fucking point.”

Round 2 was fougasse, a type of bread typically associated with Provence in France. Judge Paul Hollywood chose this one: “I don’t actually believe in climate change and care little for the environment but a fougasse should be made in the shape of a leaf. So it was my token nod towards nature but who really gives a shit about nature. I mean, I’m off to Channel 4, I don’t have values, I just want cash. Sure if we each did our bit and consumed less, recycled more, became more politically active and challenged power then things might change. But that sounds like too much effort.” Swiftly onto Round 3 where the bakers had to make 3+ tiered cakes covered in floral patterns. It was contestant Candice who did a 4 tiered cake with each one representing a different season. She purposefully misaligned them as she piled them one on top of the other to ensure they looked, in her words, “higgledy-piggledy, like the seasons.” She went on to explain: “Because climate change has ransacked seasons around the world. They used to be predictable and delineated but now summers are cold, winters are even colder and there are heat waves in October. Basically the seasons are screwed and I wanted to convey that with my cake.”

And so the episode drew to a close and whilst it was lovely guy Rav who got booted off the last word went to Andrew. The adorable Welsh perfectionist, sitting on a rustic stone step surrounded by trees and flowers, was reduced to tears: “These tears are partly for me and my insatiable hunger for affirmation from octogenarian Aga users but they’re also for nature. I mean, why do we treat her so badly, polluting the seas, trashing mountains and killing baby seals. If only Mary Berry ran the UN.” Next week Bake Off will be focussing on plight of the worker under capitalism because, as Berry says, “If we can give a toss about 12 randomers in a tent then of course we can care about the exploitation of labourers around the world.”

Bake Off: Our Damnation And Salvation

Spoilers ahead if you didn’t catch this week’s episode of Great British Bake Off – think Game of Thrones meets the Home Counties by way of the Hummingbird Bakery. And this week was a corker – broken eggs, soggy bottoms, tarts galore and Mary Berry even cracked a joke. However, two things really struck me, one concerns filo pastry and the other concerns our dearly departed Val.

Kinda half way through the programme Mel or Sue (the comedy commentators who keep the whole thing together) go off on a tangent to reveal a bit of the history of baking. This week was Baklava. Back in the 13th century Ottoman Empire the Sultan was getting a bit peckish, so his royal chefs invented filo pastry. It’s a tricky process that involves finely rolling numerous sheets of pastry, so fine that you can read a book through them (or a bottle of alcohol as contestant Jane did, ahem). The process required such skill that, back in the day, the number of sheets within the filo pastry was used as a signifier of wealth. Rich households would demand a minimum of 100 layers. Wait a second. Number of sheets in filo pastry as a sign of wealth. What the actual f*ck?! I mean, come on people, let’s get a grip. But it was then, as I watched Mel bite into a tasty morsel of pistachio filled Baklava, that I realised we’re doomed. Humans are actually doomed. We prioritise the number of layers in filo pastry over things like lessening hunger in the world, tackling climate change and redistributing wealth. And things haven’t changed that much since then except it’s less about filo pastry and more about number of yachts, houses and watches. The irony is that once a year the Sultan would host a great Baklava ceremony and the servants of his Empire would be given some of the stuff as a token of gratitude in return for their unending service. After that it was back to a life of gruelling slavery. Humans. We’re the worst.

As you can imagine I was in despair and then Val was outed from the Bake Off tent. She’d had a bad week but when the camera turned to her these were her parting words: “When you bake you always bake for a reason, you’re giving it to people, so you make it the best you can and you make it with love. And whenever I make anything I stir love into it, I knead love into it, so when I present it, it’s special. I’m not unhappy, I’ve had a great time with some great people and, phwoar, I didn’t expect it, I didn’t expect to ever get here, never mind be honoured.” And those words speak for themselves. What a woman and what an inspiration to us all – so positive, so grateful and just so darn nice. All the other characters (I mean contestants) spoke so highly of her positive personality and even judge Paul Hollywood had a good word for her. And what a world we might live in if we didn’t prioritise the number of layers in our filo pastry but prioritised love instead. It sounds cheesy but it tastes great.

The Thing About Fat

So I’m producing Universally Speaking – a series of five monologues at the Bread & Roses Theatre in Clapham from 13th – 17th October (next week!). One of the pieces is mine and they were originally going to be produced at the Ideas Tap Festival this year but then Ideas Tap went bust. D’oh. I got in touch with Simon Jay, who was asked to direct the pieces, and he agreed that the show must go on. And it is! The venue is booked, the actors are rehearsing, the tickets are selling and we’ve even got a mistress of ceremonies to guide the audience through the night’s entertainment. On top of that the proceeds will go to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and Mind, the mental health charity.

As for my piece – it’s all about fat. A lone woman sits in her car outside Tescos and ponders her relationship with food – she loves it, she loves all kinds of it – crisps, cakes, chocolate, marmite, bread rolls, tomatoes, ham, pork pies – the lot. She even loves mixing food and sex (who wouldn’t?). Although she’s a bit worried about her health because the doctors tell her she’s an ‘over-eater’ and that she weighs too much. She’s also fed up of the looks she gets in the supermarket aisles and the things people say about her behind her back. So the piece is part ode to food, part angry rant, part call for help, and part many other things. But I won’t give anymore away!

One of the inspirations for the piece is my fascination with the tendency we have to hold individual’s responsible for their actions – we can be so quick to blame and vilify people for the things they do, without stopping to contextualise their behaviour. Context is so important in explaining why people do what they do but we often ignore it. An example of context would be the consumerist nature of our culture – it relies on ever-increasing rates of consumption (our economy has to keep growing in order to function) which means more people spending more money on more stuff. One profitable avenue is the snack food industry that has perfected the art of selling unhealthy yet exceptionally tasty stuff to people. There are actually scientists out there tasked with coming up with the perfect ratio of salt:sugar in a crisp as well as its level of crunch and the speed at which it dissolves in the mouth. There’s a reason that once you’ve popped a tube of Pringles you can’t stop – they’re designed to be addictive. So the thing about fat is that it’s not one thing – it takes many forms (in crisps and cakes, in the human body) and forms part of so many different networks be they cultural, biological, political, economic or historical. Fat has a very big context.

So, 13th – 17th October 7.30 – 9pm at the Bread & Roses Theatre – my piece, aptly titled Fat, is one of five monologues that explores the darker dimensions of the 21st century. We got through the noughties and now we’re in the 2010s (teens, teenies, tens?) and one thing’s for sure, the 21st century is an odd place to be – often quite scary, sometimes very funny but occasionally lipsmackingly tasty (get your tickets here).

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Baked Goods And Wisdom

It’s nearly the final episode of Bake Off. Soon Mary Berry will be leaving our screens to find good flavour and soggy bottoms elsewhere, whilst Paul Hollywood will attempt some stand up in a grotty pub in East London (a safe distance away from the local cereal cafe). Much has happened in the tent this time round – we’ve had burnt biscuits, saggy souffles, sunken tennis court cakes (yes, tennis court cakes are a thing) but above all we’ve had wisdom, so much wisdom. I’ll share some of the tastier morsels here.

Take Nadiya for example, everyone’s star baker and tipped to win. When she started she just did not believe in herself. She would tremble as Paul and Mary came to pass judgement and make an assortment of brilliantly disturbed faces. Then she got star baker and she was ecstatic: “My kids are going to be really proud and my husband is going to be so proud. And it’s weird because I’m never proud of myself. But I’m actually really proud of myself.” How sad that someone so brilliant and talented never believed in themselves. Until she got a “lingering handshake” from Paul Hollywood that is. It’s testimony to Britain’s hard work, minimal praise culture that so many people grow up feeling worthless and undervalued, struggling to believe even in themselves. I’m just glad a glazed, chocolate peacock made all the difference for Nadiya.

Then there’s Flora. Week in, week out she’d go all out to impress the judges. She’d add praline flourishes and macaroon embellishments but time and time again she’d let herself down on the actual baking (it’s Great British Bake Off, not Great British Show Off). Mary would politely tell her to just do some good baking and Paul would reiterate that less politely. In her last week of the competition Flora did say, “Well maybe it won’t be perfect this time.” This was big. For a perfectionist like Flora to settle for good enough must have been very difficult. It didn’t quite work though as she attempted to over-achieve on her final showstopper but as Mary said “it lacks flavour.”

Finally, we also learn…well, to be precise Quentin Letts learns, that people who are not white and whose families may have migrated to Britain a little after the rest of our Viking relatives, are actually humans. Letts wrote a long, ranty piece in some tired, right-wing newspaper about how overly ‘right on’ Bake Off was this year – it was too diverse, it wasn’t white enough, there weren’t enough middle-aged ‘mums next door types’ (because all mums next door are white and middle-aged of course). It was political correctness gone mad because the dreaded BBC with their ‘equality agenda’ had picked people based on their ethnicity, religion, sexuality or some other feature ripe for discrimination rather than their actual baking talent. Well, I think the quality of the baking speaks for itself as does the brilliant diversity of the three finalists. Chew on that cardamom and ‘other exotic, foreign spice’ infused iced bun Quentin Letts.

So to sum up the wisdom of the Bake Off tent: please believe in yourself, good enough really is good enough, striving for perfection probably won’t make you happy in the long-term, don’t be a bigot and, please, dry your bottom. Now for that heart warming intro music…

Is It Just A Cake?

There’s something amiss in the Bake Off tent, not quite rotten but still not quite right. It’s visible in the eyes of the contestants as they wait nervously for Mary and Paul to judge their baking. It’s in the wringing of hands, the stressful sighs and the general air of fear. It bubbled to the surface most overtly when, in episode one, one of the contestant’s Black Forest gateaux kind of just fell apart in an oozing, chocolately mess. Minutes from the deadline she began to cry and comedian Sue Perkins came to console her saying “it’s just a cake” to which she replied “it’s not just a cake.” If this is indeed the case and it is not just a cake then that begs the question what exactly is it?

As the Court of Denmark in the play Hamlet comes to act as a metaphor for the entire body politic of the country, symbolic perhaps also of Elizabethan England, then perhaps there are ways in which the Bake Off tent is a metaphor for our own society. From birth onwards we are relentlessly judged – our parents/guardians/carers tell us how and how not to behave, our teachers deem us worthy by giving us marks and grades, professors at university do the same except the marks tend to be lower, our bosses tell us if we’re good or not via the medium of money (if we’re lucky enough to have a paid job), mainstream advertising likes to remind us that we’re not good enough, newspapers like to scapegoat and blame whole groups of people and even our friends and loved ones will often be there to remind us what we could be doing better.

It is from this societal context of relentless comparison and competition that the twelve bakers arrive at the tent. Judging only what I’ve been shown in the first hour-long episode it seems like lots of them have something to prove – they want to prove they’re good at baking, really good. This could be a healthy, competitive attitude but when one contestant explained that her mum had told her not to bother coming home if she got kicked out in the first round one does start to wonder. Furthermore, as Paul Hollywood reminds us, the contestants, whilst great bakers, are at “the bottom of pack of great bakers”. It’s so hard to be the best especially when Hollywood and Mary Berry seem to have a monopoly on bestness anyway, it’s an ever elusive goal that we can be goaded into pursuing even though we’ll never attain it. It’s basically the mantra of our society – work harder, be better, work harder still and one day you might be happy (oh, and don’t complain whilst you’re at it, all that stiff upper lip and ‘keep calm and carry on’ sort of thing).

And then there are the facial expressions. The grimaces of fear and anxiety as Berry considers the flavour and Hollywood judges the sogginess of the bottom juxtaposed with the sighs of relief when the baked goods have been judged worthy. It seems like one major ingredient in the Bake Off tent is desperation as contestants try to fill the holes in their hearts with nods of approval from Mary Berry and a delicious assortment of baked goods. The idea that these people may already be more than enough just as they are and don’t need to prove anything to anyone seems an alien concept when it all comes down to being the best.

At the end of the episode one of the contestants (the one whose cake collapsed) admits that she feels like she’s “been initiated into truly what Bake Off means”. What, then, is that? Is it to strive constantly to impress others hoping that their admiration will yield a sense of worthiness? Is it to chastise oneself for every soggy bottom and forget to celebrate every other solid bottom? Is it to whip guilt and despair with a tantalising sprinkle of unattainable hope all served on a dish of insecurity? If so it sure makes for compelling viewing!

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Judging you worthy: Bake Off judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry