Dumbed Down

As someone who has worked in television for almost 15 years, Jamie Goode’s post River Cottage Goes Lame, which is basically about how Channel 4’s ‘The River Cottage Treatment’ sucked, isn’t surprising in the least.

In the mid-90s, there seemed to be a massive influx of people to the British TV industry who seemed only really excited about meeting a ‘sleb’ rather than making good programmes. Ten years down the road and many of those people are now Commissioning Editors… the same people who decide what fills the schedules.

Producers of programmes aren’t necessarily experts in the subject they are producing – for example, producers of Science and Factual programmes are more often than not Arts graduates. The level of information on a topic tends to only go as deep as the producer’s. They probably went to film school assuming they were going to be the next Scorsese… and here they are producing a half-hour on friggin food. So, they bash that one out, cash their pay check and hope that Hollywood phones damned soon so they don’t have to accept that job on ‘Saturday Cooks!’ for Prospect Pictures.

Jamie Goode and his readers used words like “manipulative”, “facile”, “banal” and “utterly useless” in order to describe television. And I don’t disagree. With some exceptions, obviously, a huge number of people working in television are manipulative, facile, banal and utterly useless. And these are the people who are guiding on-screen talent like ‘The River Cottage Treatment’s’ Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

I’ve had a producer ask me to try and make a guest cry. I’ve had a producer tell me ‘oh it’s just tv, lie’. I was once pitching a documentary idea to an executive producer about Albert Einstein’s first wife Mileva Maric, including her possible contributions to his Theories of Relativity, their illegitimate daughter who was given up for adoption and died young, how Mileva died penniless and is buried in an unmarked grave… this exec said, “This would be perfect for Jerry Hall to present!!”


When people go into an industry for the “wrong” reasons – ie the perceived glamour or the pursuit of fame over talent- rather than for a noble reason like “passion”, then you are going to get an industry that reflects that. If the industry continues to accept and encourage the “wrong” reasons (whilst at the same time keeping the doors barred to those who are passionate), there will be a tipping point where there is no turning back and it is stuck in its faded glory. That’s where television is right now- all of the passionate people are jumping ship. Face the facts, television is dead.

What’s the state of the wine industry?

Fork It!

I was talking to my husband about out favourite ‘drinking’ films. Though we named ‘Sideways‘, ‘Casablanca‘, the James Bond movies‘ ‘Arthur‘, ‘Animal House‘ and ‘The Jerk‘, our favourite drinking movie of all time has got to be ‘Withnail & I‘.

‘Withnail & I’ is considered one of the top British films ever made and was voted the third funniest film of all time by readers of ‘Total Film Magazine’. One things for certain 9 out of 10 Brits under the age of about 40 will have quoted the film at least once in their life, more often than not it being “I demand to have some booze!”

Very briefly, the film follows the exploits of two ‘resting’ actors, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) ‘and I’ (Paul McGann) in 1969 Camden Town in London. They drink away their disappointment at being unemployed and decide to go away on holiday (by mistake). That’s it. But it’s one of the most brilliantly written, perfectly directed and marvellously acted comedies around.

Though the film was released in 1987, still all across the UK people continue to play the Withnail & I Drinking Game, the object being to keep up with the drinks the character Withnail (pronounced With-nell) imbibes during the film. The complete list of drinks is as follows:

9 1/2 glasses of red wine, 1 pint of cider, 1 shot of lighter fluid (you can substitute this for something else), 2 1/2 shots of gin, 6 glasses of sherry, 13 whiskeys and 1/2 a pint of ale. Drunk as follows:

• Mouthful of red wine
• “Lighter fluid” (eg overproof rum)
• Double gin
• Finger of cider (with ice)
• Finger of cider (with ice)
• Finger of cider (with ice)
• Glass of sherry
• Two big chugs of sherry
• Mouthful of sherry
• Sip of sherry
• Double whisky
• Mouthful of whisky
• Mouthful of whisky
• Mouthful of whisky
• Mouthful of whisky
• Splash of whisky
• Single Teachers
• Double Teachers
• Double Teachers
• Single Teachers
• Sip of sherry
• Three fingers of ale
• Sip of red wine
• Gulp of sherry
• Small glass of red wine
• Sip of red wine
• Half glass of red wine
• Sip of something white (gin & bitter lemon?)
• Sip of red wine
• Sip of red wine
• Gulp of red wine
• Gulp of red wine
• Finger of red wine
• Finger of red wine
• Gulp of red wine (“’53 Margeaux”)
• Gulp of red wine (“’53 Margeaux”)
• Gulp of red wine (“’53 Margeaux”)
• Gulp of red wine (“’53 Margeaux”)

Of course, I’ve never known a single person to finish the game (I think it’s the sherry that properly gets me). As we’ve got older our game playing has veered from sitting on the floor in front of a small telly and a loud VHS machine trying to match Withnail drink-for-drink to basically just over-indulging on expensive wine and stinky cheese while watching it on our wall mounted wide-screen telly and home cinema surround sound system. We still believe that you’ve not properly watched ‘Withnail & I’ if you’re not ill for at least two days afterwards.

Take a weekend, get some great wine and food in, buy or rent the DVD, over indulge yourself. And laugh.

Dutty Wine

My friend went on a blind date the other night. Her first. Apparently, she had been told the guy was tall, handsome, funny, clever, musical, a doctor. He had been described to her as looking like Adam from Spooks.

She’d prepared for the date all week – getting lots of rest, going to the gym, buying a new outfit (including shoes). She was incredibly excited. She did, however, say that she was sure it was going to be a massive disappointment.

They met in a bar in Central London. On first meeting, she wasn’t disappointed – he was indeed tall and handsome, very charming. He asked what she wanted to drink, she asked for a Leffe Blonde. He went to the bar, ordered their drinks and on his way back that’s when she realised: he’s gay.

She said it wasn’t just the too tight jeans and the leather jacket. It was the white wine. He had ordered white wine. For. Himself.

I told her that surely there are loads of straight men who drink white wine. “In a bar?” she asked. I had to concede,”That is a bit poofy, but I thought gay men were drinking cocktails these days.” She pointed out that this guy came out on a date with a woman, clearly by ordering white wine he was trying to hide his gayness. A Cosmopolitan would having given it away immediately.

I tried to think of any man I’ve ever known, friend or boyfriend, straight or gay, who has ever ordered white wine in a bar. Sure, we’ve had white wine with dinner, but in a bar? I couldn’t think of a single one.

So please, tell me, do you think the fact this guy ordered white wine in a bar makes him gay? I want answers people. My friend’s future depends on it.

Wine Kitten

Wow. I’ve got a lot to live up to after Jason’s last post. “[Gia] is brilliant, a gifted writer and a talented tv presenter.” Ah, shucks, Jason, you make me blush.

I’ve followed the whole Stormhoek online campaign since its inception. I’ve been to the Stormhoek-sponsored Geek Dinners in London, hung out with Hugh and Jason in Geneva, I was even one of the first group of bloggers who signed up to try Stormhoek out.


Basically, you could say that I’m a Stormhoek groupie.

So last week, when I was asked if I would be interested in writing for the Stormhoek blog, I jumped at the chance. Whether or not I deserve Jason’s gushing, one thing’s for sure, I’m definitely not a wine expert.

I can tell you everything you need to know about working in British television, but I don’t know the first thing about the wine industry. I can explain pretty much everything you need to know about nuclear power, but couldn’t tell you whether acidic or alkaline soil will produce a better wine. My day job on sci-fi film Sunshine has made me an expert on the science and mythology of the Sun, but I don’t have the first clue about what effect the weather has on grapes. I can talk about politics, religion, science, technology, philosophy until the cows come home, but I couldn’t even begin to describe the different tastes and aromas of a wine.

I do know that I don’t like Chardonnay, I could probably live on Cabernet and Mature Cheddar (though am prevented from doing so by the fact that I’d probably outgrow my wardrobe every few months), I once had a dessert wine from Chateau D’Yquem which I decided wasn’t a wine at all, but was, in fact, a bottled orgasm and I get a headache more often with red wine than white. But I don’t know why.

I also know that I tend to think the whole ‘wine thing’ seems far too pretentious for me to really get into. I don’t need to obsess over the minutiae of grape-growing or go through a laboured Sideways-like tasting routine to give me something to feel important about around lesser mortals. I, very simply, very unpretentiously, enjoy drinking good wine with friends over dinner.

Oh. And getting drunk. I like that, too.

When I think about all of my friends, I’d estimate that at least 90% of them drink wine… and probably only 5% actually know anything about wine. I think the vast majority of people who buy wine are actually confounded by the whole ‘wine thing’ – myself included. Choosing wine, when you know nothing about it, is filled with stress. It’s fine when you’re in a shop because there tends not to be a time pressure to the whole ordeal, but when you’re in a restaurant and you lose that little game of ‘Wine List Hot Potato’, it feels like the whole evening’s enjoyment rests entirely on your blind decision.

And did you know that every time you choose the wrong wine at a restaurant, a little kitten somewhere in the world ‘gets it’ in way far too horrific to detail here? It’s true, you know.


The best thing about writing the Stormhoek blog is that I am finally able to tap into the wealth of knowledge you readers have. I’m going to skip over things like ‘what are the best years for South African wines?’ or ‘what are the ideal conditions in which to store wine?’ or ‘decanting or aerating- discuss’ and get to the real things I want to know about:

1. What is a good wine to take to a dinner party when you don’t know what’s being served?
2. If you don’t know the names of wines or vineyards, how do you choose what to drink at a restaurant?
3. What if you don’t finish the whole bottle? Can you keep it until the next day without it turning into vinegar?
4. How do you get red wine stains out of carpet/clothing?
5. Does that funny sucking/slurping way of tasting wine actually improve the flavour or do you just like looking silly?

So, if anyone has any answers to any of those questions, please feel free to fill me in – especially the last one ‘cos I can’t help but laugh when I see someone doing that…

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