Cometh the hour, cometh the spin-off. As the darkness closes in, one light burns steady. It is the television screen, broadcasting Gogglesprogs (Channel 4) to an increasingly desperate and bewildered nation, who cling to it as drowning men do to driftwood.
There is no gloom, it turns out, that hearing children’s untrammelled thoughts on Simply Nigella cannot disperse. As the comely chef plates up her customary portion of breathy sighs of satisfaction and suggestive smiles, a high, nine-year-old voice cuts cleanly through the thickening air. “Why is she so happy? No one’s happy to cook.”
Nigella makes avocado on toast. The questions come thick and fast.
“Who does that?”
“What’s wrong with ’er?”
“How is this a cooking programme? She’s not even cooking.”
Nigella takes her first bite. “She sounds,” says one girl, a smidgen older than the others, “like she’s scratching a really nice itch.”
Leery, perhaps, of too much insight, the programme-makers switch them to Mary Poppins. This proves divisive in one household in Neath, south Wales, where 10-year-old Ashton, his sister Darcie and their cousin Cari are watching. “Unrealistic!” shouts Darcie. “Stupid,” agrees Cari. “It’s supposed to be,” Ashton explains, his entire being visibly suffused with delight, “magical.”
Questions again abound. The sincerely uttered “Do you think she was on drugs when she made this?” was my favourite. For what it’s worth, kid, yes, I think you’d have to be.
Most of the children align with Darcie and Cari in resisting the spell. “A spoonful? That’s a LOT of sugar.” “In reality, she would charge a lot of money.” Ashton, don’t listen. Brooke, at least, is with you. Well, she’s in Scotland with her sister Emma, but she’s with you in spirit. “Very beautiful, isn’t she, Emma?” she says, sighing with satisfaction. Emma nods, polite but unconvinced.
Jacob and Connor from Yorkshire are the Statler and Waldorf of the sofa. They watch a couple of the Made in Chelsea men sit with fishing rods by a lake, talking about women. “Do you think,” says Statler edgily, “they should be concentrating more on the fish?”
Boys, you are my driftwood. But Ashton – may you never lose the magic.