"I wouldn't wear it in public". Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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“You can ride a canoe, but can you ride a yacht?” The Apprentice blog: series 10, episode 2

It’s the second episode in a week of the new series of The Apprentice, meaning the producers have really given it 200 per cent.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching The Apprentice. Contains spoilers!

Read the episode 1 blog here.


As the drop-shadow WordArt title graphic for The Apprentice rolls onto our screens for the second episode this week, viewers may be asking themselves whether they really possess the endurance for this. Do they have what it takes? Are they just a lily-livered passenger, not up to the task, or will they demonstrate the ruthless stamina required for watching 19 people trying to figure out how to make a glorified Christmas jumper?

Yes folks, hold on to your skill-sets, it’s a design task.

Those with institutional Apprentice memory will remember such stand-out inventions from previous series as the inapplicable app “Slangatang”, sexless dating site “Friendship and Flowers”, the “Book-Ease” that made reading more difficult, the useless utility belt “Pooch Pouch”, the million “Splish-Splash” screens Amazon declined to buy… the list is an endless production line of ill-conceived inventions.

This episode, in an echo of the Today programme politely investigating the “pre-loading” phenomenon among Young People, The Apprentice decides it should go all techy on us, a few years too late, by asking its fresh batch of non-trepreneurs to design and sell a piece of “wearable technology” to retailers.

“Wearable technology” brings to mind those gaudy rubber watches with lots of functions that make you fitter, happier, more productive, only ever really championed by twenty-something media industry insiders and the Chancellor. But this flies way over the heads – probably at peak Shard level – of the candidates, as they look more towards the superfluous-LED-infested-garments market.

The teams remain divided up into boys and girls, the latter exchanging their initial team name “Decadence” (a play on “decade”, apparently) for something more suitable, “Tenacity” (a play on “ten”, maybe? Let it go, guys). They are all woken in the usual way – hustled into a fleet of cabs at the dead of morning to pointlessly stand in a tenuously-related London location. Lord Sugar turns up at Imperial College to command them to make some wearable tech for the three retailers he’s inevitably “laid on”. Of course he has.

He suggests Robert – the “arty farty” one who tried to make hotdogs “so Shoreditch” in yesterday’s episode – be project manager for the boys, because of his modish east London ways. Robert duly shirks the task, insisting he’s too “luxury” for such an ordeal. But who then? Which of the boys could possibly lead a task on inventing a piece of wearable technology? I mean, there is Scott. He was only oddly specifically prepped for such a task by having attended a conference on the very topic of wearable technology a fortnight ago, but go on then, he’ll have a go.

"All women are wearing jackets". Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

There is also reluctance among the women’s team to lead the task, as they each deploy their best hosiery- or scarf-based excuses for why they should avoid pioneering a fashion task. Eventually, marketing officer Nurun puts herself forward, only to insist later on in the heat of the boardroom that she was “coerced”, woefully lamenting that if the challenge had been to create “a burka that changes colours”, this would have been her remit. We all have our strengths, Nurun.

She proves unable to make any of the big decisions – like whether their jacket should have flashing lapels, a heat regulator, or a built-in pocket phone charger, so they go for all three. Why this garment in particular? “All women are wearing jackets,” is Lindsay’s explanatory – and only – contribution.

The jacket returns with some enormous plasticky epaulettes on each shoulder: solar panels. Wouldn’t they have worked hidden beneath the material, shielded from the sun, the team earnestly debates. “That’s one thing we didn’t ask,” their team leader sadly concedes. Karren Brady watches it all with her “I don’t have to deal with this shit in the House of Lords” face on.

A glorified Christmas jumper. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Sarah, the villain of episode 1 with her insistence on “females” being “more attractive”, does a sinister job of modelling the solar powered fairylight-cum-hotwater bottle invention in a pitch to a retailer, standing stock-still, hand on hip, as her pockets slowly warm up and lapels flicker with despair. “We can switch on a few lights, and help you attract someone that you like,” moots Ella Jade in her pitch, as civilisation shrivels up and dies.

The boys don’t do much better, shaking with suspense during Scott’s between-pitch pep talks. Jaw clenched, nostrils flaring, teeth grinding, in that harrowing bluish light reserved for gritty police dramas, he seethes “we’re gonna smash it”.

Like a convict psyching his fellow inmates up for a breakout, Scott sweats aggression into the whole task. “I’ve put my balls on the line,” he breathes. All this heartache for a creepy grey jumper with a spyhole and some Christmas lights on the front. “Privacy is history,” chirps Robert, merrily demonstrating the jumper’s attached camera as GCHQ softly places its orders.

Daniel clearly sees the product’s shortcomings during his pitch, as he admits to the retailer: “You wouldn’t go in a public place with it. No, you wouldn’t go out and about.” It’s a rare moment of honesty in the programme, which nearly costs the pub quiz director (yeah) a rich future of lies and obfuscation.

Scott's face twists in a chilling rage. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

But in the end, it’s Robert and Scott who get hit in a double firing. The former is dismissed prematurely as “dead wood” even before boardroom time – the Apprentice equivalent of detention without trial. Scott leaves in a more traditional firing, and by the wild look in his eyes probably goes on to punch a wall or hijack the black cab that picks him up and mow down the next wearable tech engineer he comes across.

I’ll leave you with Robert’s baffling last words: “You can ride a canoe, but can you ride a £250,000 super luxury yacht in the South of France, Cannes?” Well, to use a more traditional metaphor, you can’t sail anything when you’re up the creek without a credible business strategy.


Candidates to watch:


Her role model is Simon Cowell.

Quite quiet for the duration of the task, she popped up at the end to sternly insist the solar shoulder pads could be styled out as a stripy design, rather than the visible and cumbersome energy devices they really were. A positive thinker?



“Del Boy’s my nickname.”

This yappy yuppie was highly unpleasant and shouty during the entire task, giving the mild, bespectacled tech developer a bit of a fright when they met during a design meeting. He’ll start to get on everyone’s nerves in future tasks.



Is he... ok?


I'll be blogging The Apprentice each week. Click here to follow it. Read my blog on the previous episode here. The show will air weekly on Wednesday evenings at 9pm on BBC One. Check back for the next instalments every Thursday morning.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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The conflict in Yemen is a civil war by numbers

Amid the battles, a generation starves.

Ten thousand dead – a conservative estimate at best. Three million internally displaced. Twenty million in need of aid. Two hundred thousand besieged for over a year. Thirty-four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia. More than 140 mourners killed in a double-tap strike on a funeral. These are just some of the numerical subscripts of the war in Yemen.

The British government would probably prefer to draw attention to the money being spent on aid in Yemen – £37m extra, according to figures released by the Department for International Development in September – rather than the £3.3bn worth of arms that the UK licensed for sale to Saudi Arabia in the first year of the kingdom’s bombing campaign against one of the poorest nations in the Middle East.

Yet, on the ground, the numbers are meaningless. What they do not show is how the conflict is tearing Yemeni society apart. Nor do they account for the deaths from disease and starvation caused by the hindering of food imports and medical supplies – siege tactics used by both sides – and for the appropriation of aid for financial gain.

Since the war began in March 2015 I have travelled more than 2,500 miles across Yemen, criss-crossing the front lines in and out of territories controlled by Houthi rebels, or by their opponents, the Saudi-backed resistance forces, or through vast stretches of land held by al-Qaeda. On those journeys, what struck me most was the deepening resentment expressed by so many people towards their fellow Yemenis.

The object of that loathing can change in the space of a few hundred metres. The soundtrack to this hatred emanates from smartphones resting on rusting oil drums, protruding from the breast pockets of military fatigues, or lying on chairs under makeshift awnings where flags denote the beginning of the dead ground of no-man’s-land. The rabble-rousing propaganda songs preach to the watchful gunmen about a feeble and irreligious enemy backed by foreign powers. Down the road, an almost identical scene awaits, only the flag is different and the song, though echoing the same sentiment, chants of an opponent altogether different from the one decried barely out of earshot in the dust behind you.

“We hate them. They hate us. We kill each other. Who wins?” mused a fellow passenger on one of my trips as he pressed green leaves of the mildly narcotic khat plant into his mouth.

Mohammed was a friend of a friend who helped to smuggle me – dressed in the all-black, face-covering garb of a Yemeni woman – across front lines into the besieged enclave of Taiz. “We lose everything,” he said. “They win. They always win.” He gesticulated as he spoke of these invisible yet omnipresent powers: Yemen’s political elite and the foreign states entangled in his country’s conflict.

This promotion of hatred, creating what are likely to be irreversible divisions, is necessary for the war’s belligerents in order to incite tens of thousands to fight. It is essential to perpetuate the cycle of revenge unleashed by the territorial advances in 2014 and 2015 by Houthi rebels and the forces of their patron, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. This demand for retribution is matched by those who are now seeking vengeance for the lives lost in a UK-supported, Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign.

More than 25 years after the two states of North and South Yemen united, the gulf between them has never been wider. The political south, now controlled by forces aligned with the Saudi-led coalition, is logistically as well as politically severed from the north-western territories under the command of the Houthi rebels and Saleh loyalists. Caught in the middle is the city of Taiz, which is steadily being reduced to rubble after a year-long siege imposed by the Houthi-Saleh forces.

Revenge nourishes the violence, but it cannot feed those who are dying from malnutrition. Blowing in the sandy wind on roadsides up and down the country are tattered tents that hundreds of thousands of displaced families now call home. Others have fled from the cities and towns affected by the conflict to remote but safer village areas. There, food and medical care are scarce.

The acute child malnutrition reported in urban hospitals remains largely hidden in these isolated villages, far from tarmac roads, beyond the reach of international aid agencies. On my road trips across Yemen, a journey that would normally take 45 minutes on asphalt could take five hours on tracks across scrubland and rock, climbing mountainsides and descending into valleys where bridges stand useless, snapped in half by air strikes.

Among the other statistics are the missing millions needed by the state – the country’s largest employer. Workers haven’t been paid in months, amid fears of an economic collapse. This is apparently a deliberate tactic of fiscal strangulation by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government-in-exile. The recent relocation of the central bank from the Houthi-controlled capital, Sana’a, to the southern city of Aden is so far proving symbolic, given that the institution remains devoid of funds. The workforce on both sides of the conflict has taken to the streets to protest against salaries being overdue.

Following the deaths of more than 140 people in Saudi-led air strikes on a funeral hall on 8 October, Saleh and the Houthi leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, called for yet more revenge. Within hours, ballistic missiles were fired from within Houthi territory, reaching up to 350 miles into Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, in the Red Sea, Houthi missile attacks on US warships resulted in retaliation, sucking the US further into the mire. Hours later, Iran announced its intention to deploy naval vessels in the area.

Vengeance continues to drive the violence in Yemen, which is being drawn ever closer to proxy conflicts being fought elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet the impact on Yemeni society and the consequences for the population’s health for generations to come are unlikely to appear to the outside world, not even as annotated numbers in the brief glimpses we get of this war. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood