Helen Martin: Dinner parties are reassuringly bad

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COME Dine With Me, the TV dinner party programme with the pithy voice-over and endless supply of participants who must by now surely know what they’re in for, has been credited with transforming the way students live.

Apparently, although Delia fell on deaf ears, Jamie was ignored and Nigel’s suppers fell flat, a recent survey says the bunch of hapless amateurs competing for £1000 have lured The Young Ones away from plastic pizzas and takeaway kebabs.

Students have now begun shopping together, taking turns to cook at home and eating together. Perhaps the programme has, by thrusting four or five strangers together and allowing them all to rifle through each other’s underwear drawers, changed the dinner party from a staid, middle-aged event to the kind of night where anything can happen and usually does. Whatever the magic ingredient, it’s certainly not the food.

I’m also addicted to CDWM. And like Himself if a particularly important match is on TV, I have to shout at the players although I use a sort of female Victor Meldrew voice frequently interspersed with “I don’t believe it!”.

Inevitably there is one diner who has an absolute hatred of multiple staple foodstuffs and expresses astonishment that they keep turning up on everyone else’s menus. “Oh no, not fish again. I can’t eat fish . . . and we had it last night too.” “Peas as well? Peas make me sick.” “Main course? Oh don’t tell me it’s duck, I won’t be able to touch that.” All of which wouldn’t be so bad if when their turn came around, they didn’t serve a prawn mousse followed by confit of duck with minted peas.

Some go to the other extreme. There was one who planned his winning menu around liver and black pudding. “They’ll love this,” he said confidently. “Who doesn’t like black pudding?”

My favourites are the ones who launch into a complex recipe cheerfully telling the camera: “I’ve never made this before . . . it can’t be that difficult” before looking crestfallen over a bowl of goo asking: “Why does it look like sick?”.

As for the guests, at least 50 per cent of them hold their knives and forks like pencils and some demand ketchup with everything. There’s always one who doesn’t like dogs or cats or whatever kind of pet the host owns, and behaves as if they’ve been asked to eat in a rat-infested sewer, screwing up their face and complaining that: “It’s not ’ygeinic ’avin animals in a ’ouse.”

So why do I like the show to such an extent that I’ve seen the Irish version, the Australian version and get terrifically excited when an 
Edinburgh night’s billed?

It’s classic reassurance, Scottish style. There’s aye someone worse off than yersel when it comes to throwing a dinner party. Their guests are worse, more demanding and cantankerous. Their food is worse – sometimes. Maybe their house is a tip. It’s self affirming, albeit in a slightly bad way while at the same time exposing harsh realities . . . nice, fair people don’t always win, some folk cheat but never get caught, and there really isn’t any point in crying over spilt milk.

Jealousy is strong incentive for mums

OXFORD University experts have discovered children in day care centres or at a child-minder’s home are more likely to have behavioural issues and peer problems than those looked after in their own home, even by a nanny.

I opted for the nanny, but I recognised other mothers at the time had reasons apart from finances,

for preferring


Most importantly, they were jealous of another woman taking their place all day – no research can counter that.

Naive viewers should accept reality of scripts

A COOKING programme – even one based as loosely on culinary ability as CDWM – is easier on the nerves than Downton Abbey or Doc Martin, both of which have been accused of sensation-seeking after a below stairs rape in Downton and Doc Martin’s missus being unexpectedly hit by a car. Some viewers complained that despite post-watershed scheduling, children watched both and thus the plots were over the top.

I think we all know below stairs rape, either by a master or a higher ranking servant, was a common occurrence back in the day, just as a lady getting hit by a car and breaking her collarbone isn’t exactly wild fantasy today. That’s life.

It is ridiculous to expect scriptwriters of peak series to follow In the Night Garden guidelines for the sake of a few kids who should be in bed anyway.

We’re turning into nation of basket cases

ACCUSED by unionists of being committed to the SNP, let me point out I am still “floating”. The SNP Government thinks it should share data from supermarket till receipts to track our purchases of booze and fags . . . what next – fatty foods, condoms, sweets? I thought Scots were supposed to be “mature and capable enough to run our own affairs”. Butt out of my shopping basket!


“SCOTLAND good shops – cheap!” said my Polish friend, whose visiting family went on a spree and sent home seven packing boxes of toys, furniture, clothes, lamps and stuff. . . all from charity shops. How spoiled are we?