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My local wine merchant won Team of the Year. I feel I had a hand in it

“Is this yours?” I ask, stupidly.

It has been a grim week. First, we edged a bit closer to nuclear war. Then Theresa May did you know what. People of intelligence and sensitivity like me have been staggering under the repeated hammer blows of political fortune for nearly a year now. So let me tell you a happy story.

As some of you already know, I have a happy and beneficial relationship with the branch of Majestic Wine down the road. The staff rotate, but slowly, like the crew aboard the International Space Station, so there is always time to get to know them. And, like with the astronauts manning the ISS, knowing that the boys are there (there used to be a very attractive girl, but she has gone now. Alas! More female staff, please, Majestic, pulchritude immaterial), even when one is not, contributes somehow to one’s peace of mind.

I once went in there and, seeing that there was: a) a queue and b) a bottle on the shelf from a case of six I’d paid for previously, I grabbed it and walked out, indicating to the Wine Guy behind the counter what I was doing, so he could cross it off my account. (I collect my wine this way now, as the cardboard boxes they come in by the half-dozen had started to crowd me out of the Hovel. When I removed the empty ones in the winter, the temperature dropped by 3° Centigrade.)

Wine Guy muttered as I walked out, “Yes, because you’re so important.”

The next day – because if I collect my wine by the bottle it always is the next day – I came in and he apologised. He was hassled; it had been a long, hard day.

“Don’t be silly,” I said. “I deserved that, and it was also hilarious. I should be the one apologising. In fact, I do so now.” (I forbore to mention that it took me some time to realise he was being a bit grumpy with me, rather than stating a simple truth.)

Anyway, cut to last week. I go in there and see a rather ugly but unambiguously celebratory trophy placed slap bang in the middle of the display shelf in front of the tills. It is far too big to ignore when one is anywhere in the shop, and it bears the legend “Team of the Year 2016-17”.

“Is this yours?” I ask, stupidly.

Wine Guy (the same one) breaks into a proud half-smile.

“It is indeed. Did you know,” he goes on, “that you can fit a whole bottle of wine into the cup bit of the trophy, without it overflowing?”

I peer in. It scarcely seems possible.

“Anyway – well done!” I say, and maybe shake his hand, take some wine, and go. A few steps down the street, I turn around and go back in.

“Do you mind if I take a picture of this and share it on a social medium?”

“Be our guest.”

The responses come in thick and fast. There is a general theme, summed up in my friend D—’s words: “Without you they would be nothing.”

This is a slight exaggeration, but one sees what she means. I have been drinking between a bottle and a bottle and a half a day of their cheapest drinkable wine, whatever it is, from that branch alone, for the past nine and seven-twelfth years. That adds up to rather a lot of wine. I think I’ve missed out on two to three weeks of those years through illness or travel, but it’s still plenty. Majestic Wine has over 200 branches in the United Kingdom, and of all those 200-plus branches, guess which one wins the trophy? The one with my boys in it. (And the one girl.) Coincidence? I think not.

I remember the time I went to Casa Becci, the excellent little local Italian restaurant, and the Majestic staff were all having a dinner in the back room, and when I walked past them to go to the loo they all cheered. They knew who had paid for it. Another Majestic employee recently made me a very good Bloody Mary when I walked in early one Sunday afternoon.

I went in there the other day. The trophy is still there, as it should be for the rest of the year.

“Do you want to come in when we fill this up with wine?” asks Wine Guy.

“Why, yes,” I say, blinking back the tears.

Evil walks abroad: it controls the world in its clammy, hideous hands. Its talons pierce the flesh, its breath reeks in our nostrils. But in one corner of Marylebone (and – who knows – 200-plus corners elsewhere, too?), there is also Truth and Beauty and Kindness. l

This article has been written without any assistance, financial or otherwise, from Majestic Wine

 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

Photo: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.