Thursday, April 13, 2006


Navel Glazing

TV schedulers at it again. Tonight, for the second week running, I was faced with the choice of 'The Apprentice' or 'Grand Designs.' For the second week running, I plumped for the latter - well, after all, if we middle classes can't watch aspirational property programmes, then what can we watch?

I haven't yet seen any of this series of 'The Apprentice'. Anyone know if it's any good? I loved what I saw of the last series, though I can't remember it very well, but the timings of this series have conspired against me.

What I have been watching, on afterwards, is 'The Armstrongs'. What a fantastic programme. I never saw the programme from which they sprang, but I have watched almost all the episodes of this series, sadly finished tonight. For those who don't know, it follows the exploits of the husband and wife team managing Coventry's third largest double glazing company. Oh, and it definitely isn't a fake - which is probably reasonable, when you think about it; it's too just too bizarre to have been imagined.

John Armstrong is quoted by the Guardian as saying:

'"Our creed is making money," says John, pumping ketchup onto a Ginsters Peppered Steak Slice.'

'"Shocked? Let me put it this way. Would you be surprised if you took loads of Eskimos and put them in the zoo and they shot all the seals through the fucking head? No? Exactly. We're the Armstrongs and if there's an opportunity, we'll get fucking money out of it. That's what Thatcher's done to me, the bitch. She's brainwashed me. Do you think I want to be in double-glazing? I love it. I LOVE IT. But do I want be doing it for the next 16 years of my fucking life?"'

It's hard to know what to say to that, isn't it? Rob Lyons drew a parallel between the Armstongs and Neil and Christine Hamilton in this column, and there is a similarity there, both couples being apparently utterly devoid of self-awareness.

John, in particular, clearly loves being forthright. The series was full of staff walk-outs, disagreements, and the memorable decision by the management to cancel the Christmas party at the last minute. John didn't appear too bothered about what his staff thought of him, but the cause is there for all to see. To quote the Guardian again:

'What do they think of their staff? "Twats," says John. All of them? "They're all equal in terms of twattishness." Surely some have been likable? "We like them. But you can like ice cream and it'll still make you fat. Do you like being fat? I don't," he says, grabbing his stomach with both packed antechamber throbs the hands [sic sic sic sic sic sic!]. "But I love ice cream."'

It's been a bizarre viewing experience. I have spent as much time watching through my hands, or shouting 'You twat! How could you possibly think that's a good idea?' as I have being forced by John to pontificate on the weightier issues the programme, perhaps inadvertantly, raises. Just tonight, the humour quotient was high indeed. They set up a sign-making business, which consisted of luminescent paints being back-lit by blacklight - not a bad idea, as these things go. They decided to take it to an exhibition in Las Vegas. Quite apart from their side-splittingly funny decision to both wear turquoise shoes, John was employing yet more bafflingly inappropriate business analogies.

'It's like turning up at King Arthur's court with a napalm bomb', he enthused. Almost nobody had shown any interest in their stall. 'It's like going to medieval jousting with a machine-gun, and they all put down their broadswords, 'cos I've got a machine-gun.' Or something like that, anyway. Later, he compared himself to Attila the Hun. Actually, given the way John treats his staff, that comparison might not be too far wide of the mark.

I particularly like the way the programme was filmed. In between scenes, we were constantly given shots of the grim, wet, hopeless Coventry skyline, or close-ups of fag butts in the car park. 'The Armstrongs' captures the post-industrial Midlands perfectly. Even the staff looked the epitome of hopelessness, especially in the dental hygiene department. John can treat his staff like crap, and still they will stay, because where else can they go? The workers there would have been working in the car plants years ago, but they are gone, in the case of Jaguar, and going, in the case of Peugeot.

I don't know whether we shall see the Armstrongs again. I certainly hope so, although now, according to the Guardian article, they are made people, moving at least part time to the south of France. Let's leave the final words to John, shall we?

'"I want to make pop videos. I want to be in Heat. I want to get into politics and bee-keeping. I want to touch bees. Bond with them. I'm going to write a poem about an old man who keeps bees. He dies. The bees are devastated."'

What else is there to say?

As my mate would put it, 'mad as toast.'

The Armstrongs is awe inspriring television... you sit open-mouthed trying to comprehend how stupid the man is... the analogies, metophors and simalies that just don't fit.. all hilarious. It's scary cos this man has made more than any of us ever will, with our uni degrees and such. So strangely i say fair play to him!

But, i ask again IS is Michael the weirdo from the sales team a World champion Othello player? Someone please clear this up!!

The Apprentice is the shit- love it... excellent telly, and Syed's still there! The kind of bloke i would punch in an instant but he makes excellent viewing.
Well, both The Sun and The Guardian claim that he was. Sadly, the only actual official looking URL I could find didn't work. I think we're going to have to assume that he was.
Is "Grand Design" one of those "look at how the rich bastards live" shows?
I hate those. Piss me off.
Here I am, thinking I'm doing well enough for myself. I feel guilt at my moderate income as I can't for the life of me see why it is worth the salary I take home.

When I see these rich fuckers, I get angry at their ability to assume that level of oppulance with aplomb.
Well, they are all wealthy, as they need to be to finance building their own houses from scratch, but quite a lot of the delight comes from seeing them screw up, to be honest.

Obviously, the couples differ from week to week. Some weeks I love 'em, and want nothing but the best, and coo and cheer at their magnificent homes, and some weeks I hate 'em, and hope their barn conversions fall down around their ears.
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