Simon Hoggart

Sweet and sour

Lewis Carroll invented the word ‘mimsy’, probably soldering it from ‘miserable’ and ‘flimsy’.

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Lewis Carroll invented the word ‘mimsy’, probably soldering it from ‘miserable’ and ‘flimsy’.

Lewis Carroll invented the word ‘mimsy’, probably soldering it from ‘miserable’ and ‘flimsy’. Since then mimsy has taken on a separate life. Chambers defines it as ‘prim, demure, prudish’ and Oxford as ‘feeble and prim’, though I think modern usage would imply a certain self-conscious prettiness, like sprigged pillowcases, tiny pens with floral designs and anything by Cath Kidston.

Anyhow, The Delicious Miss Dahl (BBC2, Tuesday) was mimsy from the opening credits — all spindly drawings in pastel colours. It was nominally a cookery show, and a lot of cookery went on, but it was principally meant to show off Sophie Dahl’s apparently all-mimsy lifestyle. When not cooking, she sat in the garden reading poetry from a mimsy book, or trotting off to an antiques shop to look for mimsy artefacts, such as Art Deco cocktail shakers.

The whole programme was billed a day of shameless self-indulgence and, between moments of mimsiness, she tucked away enough food to stop an elephant’s arteries. Miss Dahl has, she told us, been ‘round as a Rubens, and a little slip shadow of a creature’, but I suspect Rubens himself would have been startled to see anybody wolf quite so much in a day.

Breakfast was an omelette Arnold Bennett (‘You have to be a diva to have a dish named after you. I have a bra named after me...’ she said, from the bumper book of mimsical facts). It — the dish, not the bra — consisted of three eggs, lots of crème fraiche, cheese and a large quantity of haddock. That would keep most of us going all day, but she was back at lunch with a massive hunk of bread, enough buffalo mozzarella to play volleyball with, set off by a mimsy salad made of courgettes, fennel, mint and ‘fronds’.

The gap before dinner yawned, but it was happily filled with fudge cakes made from butter, peanut butter and much of the EU sugar mountain. Then, at last, time for dinner and a weapons-grade vodkatini, plus a big halibut steak, a pile of sweet-potato fries and a cream-sodden sauce, followed by alcohol-rich cherries at the bottom of a rich choccy pudding. How she got up the stairs to bed, I cannot imagine.

The comparison is being drawn between Sophie and Nigella, but Nigella looks more at home in the kitchen, and her finger-licking voluptuousness is, I suspect, aimed mainly at men. Ms Dahl is for women with Laura Ashley tastes and appetites like racehorses. I was not surprised to see that a large majority of the production team were female.

Michael Portillo: Power to the People (BBC2, Sunday) was a bold experiment. Michael Portillo would tour the country without once discussing death or examining a corpse. He did meet the directly elected Mayor of Doncaster, who would like to bring back capital punishment, but didn’t even ask him what method of execution he would prefer. What’s the point of that? It’s like signing Davina McCall without having her gurning at the camera.

So instead Portillo asked, do we want mayors who are first answerable to us, schools set up by parents and elected police chiefs? Not if they’re like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, who operates a ferocious penal regime and gets re-elected every time, at the cost of alienating the substantial local Hispanic population. Suppose we got a BNP chief constable? As Portillo pointed out, ‘Saying people can’t have choice because they might pick the wrong kind of person is an argument against democracy itself.’ True, but why do the Tories spend half their time praising local choices for local people and the other half denouncing petty local tyrants, who just happen to have been elected by the local people?

I fear that Indian Premier League cricket (ITV4) may be the horrible future of the sport. Not only is the commentary grotesquely over the top, but the relentless sponsorship makes you want to gag like a cream, cheese, butter and chocolate pudding made by Sophie Dahl. And the sponsors have actually added their names to ordinary cricketing terms, so it’s not a ‘six’ but a ‘DLF maximum’. Players don’t do well, but have a ‘Citi moment of success’, after Citibank, which has had precious little success itself lately. Imagine John Arlott having to growl ‘and that’s another HBOS wicket for Broad...’