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John Torode, don’t sneer at TV dinners, they can be the perfect tonic

Rebecca Nicholson
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

John Torode, the Australian chef and MasterChef presenter, ruffled the nation’s feathers when he said that he and his wife Lisa Faulkner would not dream of eating in front of the box. “We wouldn’t ever consume food in front of the television,” he said. “I don’t understand why people would want to sit with some food on their lap and dribble down their shirt and all over a clean sofa.”

Questionable eating habits aside – I can just about manage not to dribble all over my sofa these days, even if it’s spag bol – it is all right for him to say that. MasterChef is on at either 8pm or 9pm, far later than most people have dinner in this country. What are we, European? But he is throwing Celebrity Antiques Road Trip right under the bus.

Torode was backed up by his MasterChef co-host Gregg Wallace, who said that he comes home to “a family around the table with a bottle of wine”. This debate coincided with a third lockdown initiative in my house, an attempt to lift some of the dreary repetition of the winter that never ends.

We decided to stop the lockdown habit of automatically eating in front of the TV, and to start having evening meals at the table again. I am not saying that this is why my partner of many years turned to me one night and sighed, “Have we finally run out of things to say to each other?”, but, well, I’m not saying it isn’t, either.

Irritatingly, I don’t think Torode is wrong. It is lovely to sit down and eat together, and it is important, and it marks the transition from day to night, particularly in these shapeless times. Now that we’ve adjusted, most nights we have had conversations that we might not have had otherwise, had we still been watching three episodes of The Sopranos every evening. Owing to the pandemic, eating in this deliberate and leisurely way feels more possible than it once did. We are less busy, less constrained by other commitments.

But that’s OK for us. In this unsettled era, a lot of people are busy, some more so, particularly if they’re working and homeschooling, and the idea of making a ceremony out of dinner is just one more job to add to the list. In some of the small flats I have lived in, the dining table was the sofa, because a dining table wouldn’t fit. And sometimes, eating in front of the telly is simply a relaxing way to switch off at the end of another long day. Right now, if that is what is needed, then we should all feel free to munch our way through yet another repeat of You’ve Been Framed.

Lady Gaga: dognapping has taken a violent turn

At first glance, you wonder if celebrity news has lost it completely. The WTF headlines made it seem cartoonishly villainous: Lady Gaga’s dogs had been stolen by armed robbers, and a reward of half a million dollars was offered for their return; information of secondary order, it seemed, was that somebody had been shot.

You read on and realise that this is late-stage celebrity news, horrible and dystopian. In 2004, Paris Hilton’s chihuahua Tinkerbell mysteriously went missing and was returned after a reward of $5,000 was offered. In 2021, Ryan Fischer, the man who walks Gaga’s dogs, was shot in the chest, as two of her three French bulldogs were dognapped.

This is a grim, frightening affair, and has caused concern among LA’s dog walkers, who are said to be changing their routines, no longer walking after dark, learning self-defence, wearing bodycams and even arming themselves. Gaga is reported to be distraught. “It’s very appalling that someone would shoot somebody to steal some dogs,” Gaga’s father, Joe Germanotta, told CNN, with obvious incredulity.

In the UK, dognapping has been on the rise for months, more than doubling from 2019 to 2020, as thieves cash in on high demand for puppies during lockdown, exploiting people’s willingness to pay thousands for a companion whose faeces you will be putting in tiny plastic bags for the next decade. Our attachment to our pets is strong, and a theft like this is horrifying. Gaga’s dogs were eventually handed in, and Fischer is expected to make a full recovery.

Kelsey Grammer: he’s listening, but who to?

Kelsey Grammer.
Kelsey Grammer. Photograph: Toni Anne Barson/WireImage

Now that television has run out of original ideas, it makes sense that the beloved Frasier, which ended in 2004, would be next in line for a reboot.

The return of the series was officially announced last week, with confirmation that Kelsey Grammer would star and executive produce. I found myself Googling “is Eddie still alive?”, knowing in my heart what the answer would be. For anyone who hopes beyond hope that dogs live a long, human-length life, I am sorry to reveal that Moose, who played Eddie, would be 30 if he had lived to the present day; he passed away in 2006.

So Eddie won’t be back, and nor will Martin Crane, as the great John Mahoney died in 2018. There is no news on whether David Hyde Pierce will return as Niles, nor Jane Leeves as Daphne, one of the few English actors to sound as if she were an American actor faking an English accent for the role. Reports say that they are not “currently attached” to the project.

Another big revival, Roseanne, managed to survive, in the end, without Roseanne, and only time will tell, but I wonder if Frasier will really be Frasier if it’s only Frasier who is back.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist