Archive for March, 2006

the apprentice

I love The Apprentice. And I love The Armstrongs. And I love the fact that one follows the other on a Wednesday night, meaning I can get my entire weekly fix of terrestrial TV in a single ninety minute session.

What I don’t like about The Apprentice is that it’s only on once per week. I need more. I get restless waiting to discover what task awaits the teams, and lie in bed at night, unable to sleep, frantically wondering if the demented Robert Plant look-a-like Jo Cameron will finally face the axe, or if irrepressibly smug, puffed-up twerp Mani Sandher will get his long-deserved comeuppance.

I decide to set the contestants a task of my own. Most of the contenders have websites, and are contactable via them, so I write a series of e-mails on Monday night with a simple question: If a grizzly bear got into a fight with a gorilla, who do you think would win, and why?

The rules are simple. Syed Ahmed, Ben Stanberry and Mani Sandher are fired immediately for either not having websites (or at least for not having sites that Google could quickly rustle up), while the rest are given 48 hours to answer, the writer of the best response being declared the winner. Job done.

The first answer comes from Karen Bremner, who left the show at the end of episode three:

Both animals are quite aggressive but the bear is more obviously so. The gorilla takes a calmer approach to the whole thing until the last moment when he would show his aggression and power and, potentially, scare the bear away. I see it going like this:

Bear starts growling and showing his teeth to the gorilla who sits and watches this display with a look for quiet contemplation on his face. The bear is surprised by this as he is used to animals either cowering or runing away at the this point. The bear makes a run for the gorilla, again expecting an instant retreat. The gorilla stands his ground and looks straight into the bear’s eyes. The bear stops, he is less intelligent than the gorilla and, therefore, can’t really understand the game played by the gorilla. Just as the bear stops the gorilla rushes for the bear – catching him unawares and knocks him to the ground. He has no time for killing the bear simply for the pleasure so gives him a kick and walks away.


Well, I’m off to a brilliant start. I love the way Karen has played out the entire battle – she’s obviously thought about the various possible scenarios at length. And I like the fact that she ended her note with a sentence LAID OUT IN CAPS, as if to emphasise the authority of her wisdom. I have to admit that I’m impressed. She didn’t stand up for herself on the show, but she has done here. Could Sir Alan have been wrong?

Next up, Paul Tulip:

in answer to your question i have to assume that a win will be when one kills the other….not when one is knocked out…..

so….the survivor would be the grizzly bear….its got height….longer claws…and a greater killer instinct….i dont reckon a gorilla would be up for it to be honest…

Crikey. While I’m not sure about Paul’s use of the ellipses as a punctuation tool, I do admire his frank admission that the fight would be to the death. This clearly demonstrates the kind of unflinching mental toughness necessary to succeed in business. Food for thought.

Ansell Henry is the next contestant to join the fun.

Good question and it has got me thinking, but I am not answering it!

Thank you for your interest.

Hmmm. I’m not sure about this. Is Ansell dithering here, avoiding responsibility, passing the buck? Or has he realized that he’s being messed with for the sake of cheap online entertainment, and is fobbing me off in the most non-committal way he can? I figure he’s either a) clever, or b) stupid, or c) somewhere in-between. But I’m not sure yet.

Hot on the heals of Ansell’s strange contribution comes a far lengthier missive from Samuel Judah.

Firstly only humans are stupid enough to fight for no apparent reason. Bears and gorillas would need a good reason to fight e.g. threat to cubs, territorial etc. As gorillas are jungle dwelling, Africa and Grizzly bears are in North America I doubt there would be any boundary disputes! Also gorillas by all accounts are fairly passive creatures and would rarely attack without good reason, apart from the occasional banging on the chest to make a point, a bit like my little outburst on the show last week. Grizzly bears are probably similar and would prefer to avoid confrontation.

If they did fight by some bizarre circumstance, I’d give it to the bear. As gorillas are not meat eaters and bears are and so it’s tools of the trade are designed to do some pretty fatal damage. That’s not to say Gorillas are a push over they are probably smarter and a full grown male may have the advantage over a similarly sized bear which wouldn’t be an adult. Gorillas are also smart enough to use a tool/weapon and I’m not talking about a flick knife. Also depends on where this theoretical fight would happen. Who’s home turf? Anyway the bear has the edge for me, though even if they did encounter each other they probably just pass each other a glance and take the path of least resistance and go about their business. Guess us humans could learn a lot from this approach!

Of course I’m no expert.

I disagree Samuel! From the studied nature of your response, I think you are an expert! As Mrs Baines, my o-level biology teacher once told me, you shouldn’t hide your light under a bushel! Or something. I’m not quite sure what she meant, but I think it applies in these kinds of situations. Anyhow, I like Samuel’s theory very much. He’s introduced a few variables into the equation (the continental divide, and the gorilla’s ability to wield a weapon), and his logical, sound reasoning would be an asset in any workplace. Although people might get bored with the philosophy crap.

Things are hotting up now, and Alexa Tilley is next.

This question baffles me!

I think the gorilla would win….but not sure why!! Just gut instinct!

I am now doing after dinner speaking about my Apprentice Experience and business lessons learnt! I don’t suppose you know anyone who might need such a speaker do you?

Alexa can be contacted via her website, and I’m sure she would make a delightful after-dinner speaker, just as long as she’s not asked to talk at length about Gorilla vs. Grizzly battles.

Another reply arrives, from the beautifully named Ruth Badger. Ruth writes:

I think the gorilla, in my opinion more aggresive and more intelligent.

Thanks for your support.

This is a strange one. I get the feeling that Ruth sees herself in the gorilla, and views my battle question as an analogy for her entire Apprentice experience. She is at war, and should be feared for her strength, cunning, sharp teeth and glossy coat.

The last contestant to respond is series comedian Tuan Le:

In my professional opinion as a qualified vet, it would be the bear. Both have poseable thumbs, but bears have very sharp teeth and nails. A Gorilla will not draw blood and efficiently.

PS: I have fought both and II unleashed a heavy dose of Kung Fu action on their repsective mammals asses!

PPS: Chuck Norris would have them both.

PPPS: What’s brown and sticky?

A stick.

To be honest, I’m a little concerned about Tuan’s sanity. For a start, he’s not a qualified vet: he’s a financial adviser – any vet would know that the gorilla has opposable thumbs (not poseable), while of all the residents of the bear kingdom, only the koala and panda share this handy trait. Next, Tuan’s claim to have unleashed “a heavy dose of Kung Fu action” on both animals simply does not stand up to scrutiny – surely there would be a record of such a fight on his BBC profile? I mean, it’s not the kind of thing you’d want to conceal when vying for a job with the mighty Amstrad, is it? Finally, his theory that Chuck Norris would “have then both” is manifest nonsense, even were he to be armed with nunchucks – off the movie set, Norris is a born-again Christian and would not harm one of God’s creatures.

Tuan, you scare me. Please don’t come any closer. You’re fired.

By now I imagine that the contestants have started to compare notes. Perhaps they initially think that these e-mails are part of a bigger test, maybe sent at the behest of the show’s producers. Sayed is probably fretting because he hasn’t received one. Then, I like to think, one of them googles me (Samuel, probably), and decides that it’s some kind of prank. The rest fail to respond.

So, who else do I fire? The first few are easy, because they never write back. Jo Cameron? You’re fired. Michelle Dewbury? You’re fired. Nargis Ara? You’re fired, again. Sharon McAllister? Fired.

And then there are six, which I quickly whittle down by firing anyone who has given me a short answer. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being succinct, of course, but as a client I figure I deserve a more fully-formed presentation, with pie charts and venn diagrams and supporting evidence and the like. Alexa? You’re a lightweight: you’re fired. Paul? Fired. Ruth? Fired. Ansell? Fired.

Quite frankly, the tension is unbearable. I’ve reached the very climax of the series, and two contestants are left to battle it out. I really don’t know who to sack next. Karen’s answer is lovely, but I’m not sure how welcome her whimsical reasoning would be in the boardroom. On the other hand, she’s quite saucy, which gives her a distinct advantage over Samuel, despite his more considered, crafted approach. But I can’t make this decision based on Karen’s grace and slender figure, can I? That would be unethical.

Then I have a brainwave. I’ll turn to someone else, someone who’s already climbed the mountain, who’s already found the pot of gold. I’ll turn to the Armstrongs, and ask them the same question. Perhaps it’ll help me make my decision. And so I do. And John Armstrong responds.

good question. I don’t think the two animals are likely to meet in coming from totally different continents.

but lets ignore that i would say the gorilla easily because as we have ignored the fact they will never meet ,also lets ignore the fact that maybe a gorilla from the panet of the apes tv series could travel back in time and kill that bear dead with its gorilla made rifle.

planet of the apes is on itv 4 sundays 6pm i just knew watching it would be for a purpose

Brilliant! John not only introduces the concept of time-travel into the equation, but gives the gorilla an actual weapon! A gorilla-made rifle! This is a staggering development, and demonstrates a breadth of lateral thinking that the Apprentice contestants can only dream of. Genius! This is why John is the head of a multi-million pound concern, while the others are nervously playing footsie with koala-headed Sir Alan.

Samuel? You’re fired. Karen? You’re fired.

John Armstrong, I salute you. You’re hired.

cute overload

It’s been a terribly exciting time on the kitten front. This week we agreed a UK publishing deal with the fine people at Hodder & Stoughton, which places us in very good company indeed, sharing shelf-space with such literary giants as Stephen King, the Dalai Lama, Louise Wener and yep, you guessed it, the mighty H&*h F#@^$#%y-Whittingst*ll. Serendipity all round.

What’s interesting is that people are now taking my fascination with animal cuteness a great deal more seriously than they ever did before: get a book deal, become an expert. Three examples:

1. I get a phone call, out of the blue. Someone has just read a piece about panda bears in the Daily Telegraph. Would I like them to scan a copy and put it in the mail?

2. I receive at e-mail, out of the blue. Someone’s cat is just about to give birth. Can I offer any advice to make the process a little easier for all concerned? Yours, Tammy, aged eight and three quarters.

3. Another phone call, out of the blue. Someone has just taken in an abandoned kitten. Before they call the animal protection league, would I be interested in offering the little fella a home? It’s the loveliest kitten ever, no really.

This is all very nice, of course, and I don’t mind one little bit. I’m just a little concerned that my reputation will become infused with such grotesque levels of fluffiness that I’ll find it impossible to find a home for my next project, in which I travel the World cooking outsize food for the crazed, despotic leaders of widely reviled regimes. Accompanied by a penguin.

the good news

OK. I think it’s about time I finally revealed what’s been keeping me awake at night: Tom (my partner in kittenwar crime) and I have agreed to write a book based on the website. We’re signing up to a very respectable American publishing house, and are currently considering UK offers. Perhaps most thrillingly, we share a UK literary agent with H*** F******y W**********l, meaning that my stalking of the great man can continue unhindered, camouflaged beneath a cloak of professional fellowship.

One thing I guarantee: I will remain unaffected by this good fortune, despite the dream I had the other night, in which I appeared on the David Letterman show, arms outstretched in a crucifix pose, loudly proclaiming “I AM A KITTEN JESUS!” for the benefit of the studio audience, while kittens clambered gleefully over my torso.

Perhaps I just need to see a psychiatrist.

And the bad news? There is *no* bad news.

pig’s feet

It must be great to work with me. Apart from the professional pleasure one must surely derive from sharing oxygen with one of the UK’s most minor web celebrities, one gets to play guinea pig for my exploits in the kitchen. This week it was Golden Apple and Raspberry Streusel Tart, last week saw my colleagues chow down on Chocolate Mocha and Baileys Pie, while the previous Monday my Sweet Potato Cheesecake made its debut. How they must love me.

Yesterday, one of them decided to demonstrate this love with the gift of food, and bought in some pig’s trotters for me to road test. What’s more, he’d already prepared these porky prizes, glazing them in the manner suggested by our old friend Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his recipe for oh-so-sticky spare ribs.

My colleague reports:

The recipe is taken from ‘Meat’, except I didn’t use ribs and sauteed in butter instead of oil. Whilst the trotters took 2 1/2 hours, the sauce took another 3-4. Hugh’s watch is broken perhaps – this is not the first time I’ve ended up cooking into the night because of his dreamy estimates.

Cut the trotters in half length-ways, at the joints and once at the bone. The idea is to make bite-size pieces you can roll around in your mouth. Wield a very big cleaver (wear goggles to enhance the effect) or have your butcher do it. Rinse & dry trotters to remove bone fragments.

That’s it!

And the taste? Despite being reheated in the microwave (sadly, our office kitchenette lacks an Aga hob), these porcine parcels were a delight; succulent, fatty and dripping with glorious, gummy goodness. Highly recommended, and well worth the hours spent in preparation.

If anyone else would like to cook up some kind of magnificent food and have me review the results, please get in touch. I’ll be here all week.