There was an ominous caller at the door. Not The Grim Reaper, I reminded myself, having just listened to an old Elvis Costello album that helpfully pointed out that ‘Death wears a big hat, cos he’s a big bloke’. Lordalan had arrived in person to interrupt the candidates’ jolly relaxation capers (X-box rather than whiff-whaff this week, but still hardly ‘work hard, play hard’?). Apart from looking seriously over-staged, this also had the unusual affect for The Apprentice of showing him stood with others. A minus mark on presentation for the programme makers there: the point is to make everything look bigger and more important, surely?
Anyway, for those still sentient enough to care, the task. Streetfood. Or rather “high quality food from mobile units” in the “culinary capital of Scotland”. Despite not just the Edinburgh Festival but its larger Fringe and the innumerable other events of the Scottish capital (including at least one food festival), someone thinks this kind of thing is still ‘in its infancy’. Shoot that researcher.
Judging by Jenna’s worries about people talking Scottish at her, geography teaching is in its infancy further south. (Yes dear, they do speak differently in Edinburgh. It’s because they’re educated.) Or maybe she’s been prompted to say it so we all think this is 2012’s ’11 Go Mad Abroad’ episode. Still, a bonus mark for not inflicting this nonsense on Glasgow, where the candidates might have learned some short, sharp and possibly un-broadcastable lessons.
Many old sayings have tangled histories or ambiguous meanings that we often overlook. Is it “A friend in need is a friend in deed’, or should it end with ‘a friend indeed’? A subtle difference, you might say, or you might just snort and agree with Benny Hill that ‘a friend in need is a bloody nuisance’? One version of the phrase’s history suggests it came to us from the Latin ‘‘Amicu certus in re incerta cernitur‘, which translates rather less ambiguously as ‘a sure friend is known when in difficulty’ – it is not our ‘friend’ that is in need but us, and their friendship is revealed through their support.
It’s not the only phrase about friendship and relationships that has become a well-worn cliché. Another that springs to mind is “you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family”. And family can be a very loaded word: after all, family relationships are ones that we cannot distance ourselves from lightly, or abandon or move on from without emotional upset to at least one party. And views about the nature, meaning and importance of family are often tightly held and hotly contested.
Irony abounds, doesn’t it? Entrepreneurial gladiators woken from their pre-dawn slumber, sleeping three or four to a room behind the surface glamour of their Bayswater mansion when there’s a Travelodge within spitting distance. A judging process that isn’t only all about sales rather than investment potential, but which also assesses income while ignoring expenditure. An episode that might have inspired us with a few remarks about the importance of physical fitness for entrepreneurial success, but which encouraged us to sit on our bottoms for an hour, possibly swilling a low calorie vodka or two. Did I miss the round where they invent new bar games and someone comes up with ‘Loser Stays On’?
The location for this week’s surprisingly poetic briefing? York Hall, famous East End boxing club. There was a ‘locally’ missing there, I thought, as some of the contenders looked like they thought Bethnal Green was one of Farrow & Ball’s new seasonal emulsion colours. Thankfully, no-one said anything to the effect of ‘the gloves are off’ or ‘seconds out’. ‘Seconds’ in this context are slightly inferior versions you buy as cheap as possible and then flog vigorously. And the task? Designing a new exercise class to license to health club chains. Jog on, I thought quietly to myself …
Funny how radical propositions can be so old-fashioned when you peel back the rhetorical packaging and peer inside. There has been a hoo-hah recently about Michael Gove’s proposals to reform A-level examinations and to allow Universities to have a greater say in designing the courses and (to wheel out what has been the headline grabber) set the examination papers. It’s caused quite a media flurry and a rustling of newspaper editorial pages in staff rooms – partly, no doubt, because any change to the education system inevitably triggers a similar outburst.
Yet, as many commentators have pointed out (including Channel 4 News), universities – or examination boards very closely linked to them – did just that within living memory. It’s entirely possible that you can believe that there is a ‘return to a Golden Era’ agenda here, albeit not one as blatantly voiced as the Education Secretary’s view that children should learn Byron, Dickens, Hardy and other traditional greats from the literary canyon alongside ‘island history’. (Modesty aside, a few people have subsequently thrown some fine sentences together and are worth a read.) And it helps to remember that Mr Gove is a politician: alongside his aspirations for the education system sits a requirement to play to that part of the electorate most eager to see his party win a future Parliamentary majority.
It may be Olympics year in Boris Johnson’s London, but in Sugarland even whiff-whaff’s not sacred. Relaxing in some very tidily pressed casual wear during what the voiceover calls a day off, our plucky hopefuls are summoned to the phone. This is Business (possibly all in caps, with exclamation marks, maybe styled as a logo), and work-life balance isn’t one of the lessons on Lordalan’s curriculum. Mercifully, we’re spared the interjection of a talking head cameo from Michael Gove.
The task? Buying second-hand goods and reselling them in pop-up shops in Brick Lane. Brick Lane is presumably programme-maker shorthand for ‘cool’: too cool for some of the candidates, it seems, even if it’s a rather lazy symbol for some of the rest of us. (Neither is there any mention of the cost of using prime retail space, if only for a day, in a shopping strip that Time Out has been plugging for at least 15 years. Let’s just say ‘more than a market stall’.)
So, it’s basically Cash in the Attic meets Flog It! week, although when isn’t it? (The BBC? Upcycling?) The stentorian language that the ghostwriters give Lord Sugar for his intro fails to point out – or equally fails to hide – the fact that the episodes are always decided on the profit. The Apprentice isn’t so much about being back to basics as never really moving beyond them.
Rejoice people, for we have a new euphemism. Last Wednesday, Duane asked that most passionate, key, committed question: “Who’s feeling the chutney?” Perhaps in next week’s task, the remaining candidates must not only define it, but decide which colour it should be and who should do the voice-over. Or, in other words, here we go again … This week, it was all abaht … I’m sorry, all about condiments. You know … stuff. In bottles. For sploshing on stuff. Your local supermarket already offers a choice of thousands of varieties, so the market’s obviously ripe for something exciting and innovative, fresh from the back of a van.
As the population decline on the girls’ team was getting a little worrying, Duane and Nick got to bat for the other team this week, while the girls bid a tearful temporary farewell (well, ok …) to Katie. After the usual reversing into the spotlight, Duane was heralded as PM for Sterling, while Katie takes on the ‘honour’ for Pheonix, despite Adam voicing his concerns that breasts and ovaries might be some kind of impediment in a manner that made HP sauce look as modern as Tea-smoked Piquillo And Pimenton Relish. (Don’t all rush, I made that one up. Really, I should be a food critic.)
There was a time when the manner and timing of your arrival was your coup de grace moment. Not just movie stars, swishing out of limos in the frock that makes their peers spit with envy, but business peoples’ signing ceremonies featuring almost as prominently as those of famous footballers getting an eye-watering sum for wearing a different coloured shirt this season. But if a couple of recent articles getting considerable attention in online circles are any kind of indicator, the golden moment is now the departure. (One online forum I read refers to these dramatically announced departures as people’s “*flounce* <delete>” moments, although that adds a certain swish that the examples I’m thinking of have managed to avoid.)
The article that seems to have triggered it all was Greg Smith’s Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs: having your resignation statement published in the New York Times was always going to create a splash, even if the splash is well-written and mostly avoids melodrama. A day earlier, James Whittaker published a slightly less composed, slightly more aggressive article: Why I left Google. And then the gloves were off. As Yahoo News! was quick to cover, the parodies started to appear. They picked up on a delightful spoof via the Daily Mash by Darth Vader, titled “Why I Am Leaving the Empire.” They missed my favourite, by Tom Malinowski at Human Rights Watch, where even the following:
Tomorrow, I will send my resume to the firms of Patton Boggs, Qorvis, and White & Case, which have lobbied for dictatorships such as Qaddafi’s Libya, Mubarak’s Egypt, Bahrain, and Equatorial Guinea.”
left the author feeling obliged to point out that the piece was actually an April Fools prank.
OK, I missed Episode 1. No, I didn’t nod off: I was Down Under, 12 hours out of sync, and eating breakfast in a campervan. Whether muesli, banana and sunshine were better for me than another episode of this must remain a debate to be had elsewhere, but I didn’t have a sense of missing it. Having concluded, watching the last series, that the programme struggles to really be either a business lesson or an entertainment (we’ll return to that in a moment), watching Episode 2 in the throes of jetlag wasn’t a great idea. While the running metaphor of review the last series was Steve, sat on a sofa in Rotherham, the show’s ‘magic’ didn’t rub off on Dave, sat on a sofa in Milton Keynes. I drifted, more in the sense of Mae West’s oft-quoted remark than in the sense of any kind of reverie. And I wasn’t Snow White before I started, even without the capital letters.
It was the week of The Invention Task. “Aren’t they all?”, I mused woozily, in as much as every episode seems essentially to turn on the alchemic process of turning old rope into fivers by the magical application of egotism, backstabbing and a carefully edited sense of urgency. I’m sure the programme should be instilling some kind of appreciation of the virtues of the ideal businessperson, but the commentary I read over the weekend that most reminded me of the programme was actually an interview with Marianne Faithfull in The Guardian, where her answer to the splendid question “Which of the sins do you feel you have explored most fully?” was as follows:
I’ve had a go at most, but in this piece Brecht turns them all upside down, so that lust becomes love. Pride becomes pride in your work. Envy is actually the hardest sin to make positive.”