More than three years ago I landed in this great nation and discovered there was a show you’re all obsessed with where people just…bake?
I didn’t get it.
Being from Australia, I was all over MasterChef, what with its blistering challenges, hardcore judges who abuse more than they hand out fluffy handshakes, steaming pots flying around and hardly a string of twee bunting in sight.
With the UK version apparently not as good as the one back home (your words, not mine) I instead figured I’d see what all the fuss was with the Great British Bake Off, which had just switched over to Channel 4.
But when I tuned in I was met with no blistering critiques of puff pastry, nor tear-inducing insults directed at someone’s marzipan. It was all cheerful quips, innuendo about dough rising, and more yeast puns than you can poke a stick at (and I do not encourage poking yeast with anything).
Don’t even get me started on the delightful little illustrations where the host reads out whatever dazzlingly extensive bake the contestant is trying to put together, to the backing of a whimsical chime.
But despite fighting the urge to enjoy its creamy filling ever since I clocked its existence, it’s only now I’ve become a fan of Bake Off – and all it took was global catastrophe and Noel Fielding in an array of colourful sweaters. Funny that.
I’ve always been a fan of Noel, my quirky love, lapping up the weirdness of The Mighty Boosh down under (that sounded much less suspicious in my head) but I almost refused to tune into Bake Off just because I couldn’t stomach the thought of seeing my beloved Vince Noir make some joke about Battenburgs.
Of course, and understandably, I was scolded for abusing the very way of life in Great Britain. Was I even a human being if I didn’t enjoy the sweet tales that wafted from the Bake Off tent?
So I laughed along to the memes, even though I deliberately avoided Twitter on a Tuesday night to dodge the hours of no-context repartee about the latest episode and whatever cake exploded or something like that. I nodded when colleagues spoke about how so-and-so was totally robbed and their showstopper was the most stopper show they’d ever showstopped. Heck, I even lead shifts where we pumped out some super well-performing Bake Off stories for this here website if I do say so myself, without being sucked into the vortex that is Bake Off.
And I was proud of it.
Then we were plunged into the global pandemic that shall not be named.
One night I found myself on Instagram before bed, stress-scrolling through the discovery page where before me a long list of clips showing various cakes being decorated presented itself.
I clicked on one, I clicked on another, I soon sought out #cakedecorating videos, finding the smooth piping bags and rolled out icing so soothing and anxiety busting.
When I didn’t want to engage in the day’s news anymore, you know, outside of, like, doing my job, I would bust out some clips and let the spinning turntable of the cake trays ease my worries and create a level of calm I’d not yet found outside CBD oil and weekly therapy sessions.
Soon, I, too, joined the nation in baking. Oh, how I baked. Banana bread (I assumed that was a compulsory requirement in order to remain in the UK during the pandemic?), lemon drizzle cakes, more banana bread, Victoria sponges, biscuits, banana bread and cookies.
I took an avid interest in the difference between self-raising flour, bread flour, and plain flour and what ingredients to use should you be lacking in one of the above. I ‘liked’ mates’ attempts at cooking that were posted on social media and I really did, truly, sincerely like them as well, I promise. I even became such a ‘baker’ I had enough ingredients constantly in the cupboard to whack something together on a whim like some put-together adult I’d always envied from afar.
In order to even pick up some ruddy flour in the depths of a pandemic that stripped the shelves, I’d go between the local Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Co-op and Waitrose each day to see if they’d replenished stocks to feed this new addiction. (I eventually managed to pick up a measly bag – that set me back an outrageous £4 – from my local off-license.)
So when the current season of Bake Off hit screens in September I was adamant I was now ready to enjoy it and appreciate it for what it was (I clearly wasn’t alone in this, either, with a record-breaking 7.9million others tuning in to the series premiere).
And what a world I’d been denying myself all these years. I’d read about Noel’s wardrobe, but until you see those mind-bending, blouses of wonder yourself you really can’t appreciate them fully. Like a psychedelic trip, his technicolour sweaters had opened up a new world.
Rather shockingly, I soon found myself defending the series to my partner, who had reluctantly agreed to watch it with me, perhaps hoping it, too, may elicit some feeling of wholesome goodness in a year that hasn’t provided much in that area.
‘I don’t get it,’ he said in the first ad break, clearly a tougher nut to crack than I. ‘It’s a show about nothing. There’s not enough baking for it to be a cooking show and there aren’t enough life stories for it to be about the contestants.’
He really didn’t get it.
Evidently, it took a global pandemic for me to realise that we don’t need anything more than some cute, little, fluffy moments of love and laughter on the telly, all based around a love of baked goods, to be entertained right now.
Who gives a flying cupcake if there’s no Gordon Ramsay-esque shouting match to bring a sense of bloodsport to reality TV? Why couldn’t I be content with watching people enjoy making delicious things, and cheer on one another when their cakes go to s**t?
I truly think the whole vibe of Bake Off has not only really upped my banana bread game, but it made me slow down and just…chill.
In the world’s worst simile, I’m like a cake straight out of the oven that needs to cool before icing. Where before I’d rush through life and just makes a mess of things, now I know to enjoy the tranquility of just being.
Even deeper than that, in a year where we’ve been confronted with so much negativity and malaise, I’m glad I’ve finally found something that is so shockingly inoffensive; a show that doesn’t have a ‘villain’ or constructed drama to titliate.
So stick a fork in me, I’m done.