My name is Tara Moore and I am an addict. There, I’ve taken the first step to recovery and confessed it. But my fix comes not from alcohol or drugs, shopping or over-eating (though I’m certainly borderline on the last two and possibly the first), but from Come Dine With Me, that TV programme where five perfect strangers take it in turns to host a dinner party. Whoever gets the most votes wins a thousand pounds. God, it’s delicious! I don’t mean the food, though I’m sad enough to have tried one or two of the recipes – goats’ testicles tartlets with Gruyère anyone? No, it’s the houses that fixate me and especially the kitchens. How do they do it? How does a shelf-stacker from Stockton-on-Fleas, Back of Beyond, manage to be in possession of my dream bespoke kitchen with a granite-topped centre island big enough to line dance on? How did she come by that double Butler sink? And, aaaagggh, an Aga! Not fair! I would give my right arm for an Aga, though I appreciate that might make operating it a bit difficult.
Smeg appliances! I ask you! These people have Smeg appliances. How come they have Smeg appliances? All chromey and shiny and desirable. How come I don’t! How come my retro fridge is the genuine article, an old banger with a faulty thermostat and an arthritic cough? How come theirs is stuffed full of Pâté de foie gras, fine French cheeses and Champagne and I’m just stuffed because mine has broken down again and my gone-off fish fingers are sticking themselves up at me two at a time?
My belief is truly beggared. And yet I can’t stop watching. And envying. And willing them to burn the bum off their confit de canard or accidentally catch their head in a food processor. Mind you, I think perhaps more than one did catch their head in a food processor or, at the very least, a combine harvester at some time or another. What else but a severe brain injury would prompt them to go on TV in front of millions of jeering, jealous people like me and show off their . . . gorgeous spotless kitchens? How come they are always spotless, with pristine tea-towels , matching crockery and every conceivable type of gadget? In a recent programme, one contestant had a machine that actually stripped the strings from her green beans – and it wasn’t even her husband. Another managed to cut her thumb off with a Henckel kitchen knife, which was really upsetting as those knives cost a fortune. She didn’t even bother to wash it before rushing off to the hospital with her digit squashed between two ice packs. Self! Self! Self! Some people are downright disgusting.
The whole thing makes me feel morally superior. Sneerily superior. It’s a Christians and lions thing, with the host of the night playing the Christian and the others gearing up to give him, or her, the mauling of a lifetime. I find myself talking to the TV, as the host removes the cat they cremated earlier from the Aga of my fantasies, scrapes off the burnt bit, lobs on a lump of cream and ‘artfully’ criss-crosses a couple of chives.
Then, at last, comes the bit, admit it, we’ve all been waiting for. The lions move in for the kill, sharpening their claws on the Henckel knives, baring long vicious teeth, between which can be seen the remnants of burnt canard de wotsit. The ambush is short and brutal and, when the smoke clears, the poor host, torn limb from limb, looks up with a big smile. ‘Well, I think that went really well.’ You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.
In my own kitchen, the fish fingers a la salmonella are still swearing at me. Come Dine With Me? Come die with me, more like.