Friday, February 27, 2009

Don't stop the carnival

It has been a week of strangely named days. First off there was Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, or Mardi Gras, or Carnival, or (if you happen to be of an Icelandic persuasion) Bursting Day.

Why Bursting Day? Possibly because, it is alleged, this is the day when Icelanders stuff themselves with salt beef and peas. Mum's gone to Iceland, and she'll not be buying mini-pizzas.

In tropical climes they dress up in 20ft ostrich- feather plumes and cavort half-naked in the streets. Quite often James Bond runs around shooting people, which adds to the fun.

In Finland, apparently, they drill a hole in a hambone and make a whistling noise by whirling it around their heads.

At Chronicle Towers the sub-editors vie with each other to bring in the tastiest cakes.

And elsewhere in normally strait-laced England, we beat together eggs, flour, milk and water, fry them in a pan and throw the results at the ceiling. Who says we don't know how to have fun?

Hard on the heels of Shrove Tuesday (so called because it's when you're supposed to get shriven, fact fans) comes Ash Wednesday, which marks the end of the carnival (whatever the Alan Price Set may try to do about it) and involves the serious practice of feeling very sorry for yourself indeed.

Especially if a pancake falls off the ceiling and lands on your head when you come down for breakfast, and even more so if you indulged in the Polish practice of consuming pickled herring and lots of vodka the night before.

Even Monday, otherwise ordinary Monday, was the feast day of Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. But the only truly interesting thing about Polycarp is his name, and the celebrations passed unremarked in most households.

But now we're into Lent, and it's time to think about what to give up.

Some people choose to give up chocolate biscuits, some choose to do without beer.

But what better luxury to eschew, if you want to purge yourself of evil and prepare yourself spiritually and bodily for a better life to come, than Chris Tarrant's new game show: The Colour Of Money?

For anyone who had better things to do last Saturday night (how lucky you were), here's how it works.

Chris wants to give away some of his money – around £64,000 to each of two contestants. Not a totally life-changing sum, but enough to tide you over when times are tight.

Chris has divided his money in unequal amounts between several machines. Each machine has a different colour, from ordinary shades like red and blue to more exotic tones of pumpkin and khaki.

To win the wonga, each contestant has to choose a machine in turn, give a sentimental but ultimately unconvincing explanation of why they picked that particular colour, and then wait for as long as they dare while the machine spews out £1,000 every second.

Their task – which is down to luck and nerve and not a jot of skill – is to stop each machine before it runs out of dosh, and gradually build up their winnings. But if a machine runs out before they stop it, they don't get any of its money, and their target becomes all the more difficult to reach. And if they don't reach the target in 10 tries, they get nothing.

One contestant was a mum whose reservist husband had been recalled to Afghanistan. The other was a Brummie chancer who wanted to treat his girlfriend to the wedding of a lifetime. Guess who won?

The Colour Of Money is billed as the most stressful game show on TV, but it's hard to tell who suffers the most stress – the contestants or you.

Your fight-or-flight instinct tears you between smacking Chris Tarrant on the conk and turning off the telly and having a bath. But your horrified fascination with the sheer cupidity of the contestants keeps you glued, right to the very end.

Even the two young Dixons, who will normally watch anything, have made it their Lenten vow not to watch The Colour Of Money again.

Which leaves them free to schnarf up all the chocolate biscuits, while Dad will drink more beer. Result!

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