Magazine article The Spectator

Armchair Gardening

Magazine article The Spectator

Armchair Gardening

Article excerpt

Just as Delia's How To Cook demonstrates to even an absolute beginner how cooking is less fun than watching cookery programmes, so Alan Titchmarsh's How To Be A Gardener (BBC 2) is designed to turn us all into couch potatoes instead of potato growers. Gosh, it looks like hard work. There was old Titchmarsh, merrily digging trenches and, worse, bastard trenches, which apparently are twice as deep as trenches with married parents, smiling away, while we know well that he has teams of people toiling off-camera, doing his trenching for him. Do you imagine that Delia stones her own lychees? Or washes up? I'd like to know the last time Alan Titchmarsh mulched anything.

What this new series offers is the fantasy of being a gardener. (Naturally the book was a bestseller even before the programme started.) You lie on the sofa and think, goodness, if I were prepared to work every evening and all day weekends, I could have a gorgeous garden like Alan Titchmarsh. But I think I'll just watch the show instead.

This leaves the producers with a problem. Watching paint dry on, say, Changing Rooms, is as boring as watching paint dry anywhere else. As is digging trenches. So they need chirpy characters, mild, cheerful, inoffensive humour, wacky camera angles, perky background music - anything to hide the fact that, underneath it all, the events being described are terminally dull. This gives the show a faintly manic quality, like people who laugh too loud at things which aren't funny. The need for plants to get light was illustrated by Titchmarsh lying on a lounger making predictable `gosh-aren't-- I-the-lazy-one!' jokes, while, through the miracle of time-lapse photography, the sun whizzed round his garden in 30 seconds.

There was a lot of what I can only call soil-fondling; he seemed to stroke it as if it were a lover's thigh. The stuff looked so rich and thick that it seemed a waste of time to pass it through vegetables before eating it. We admired his grandfather's garden fork, inspected a trowel, and learned about the pH test for acid soil. In short, very little indeed happened, but it happened in an amiable, smiley, bouncy way which will keep millions of people seated happily indoors while their gardens turn to wilderness.

Two popular comedians returned this week. Dylan Moran had written the first in a new series of Black Books (Channel 4), the sitcom whose first series won lots of awards and which sometimes reached sublime heights. …

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