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Young Apprentice 3: Smell the Roses

‘LEWIS! I meant Lewis should stay!’

Quote of the night from Zara: ‘You know what they say: there’s no ‘I’ in team.’

Yeah,  but there is in ‘bullshit’.
Welcome, welcome, welcome back to the only game in town, Young Apprentice. I would have blogged last week’s, but I came up against the problem that THERE ARE ONLY 24 HOURS IN A DAY. We saw the genius of the Comfy Curve, and Harris the Hippo, and Ben got canned because he hadn’t been given a chance to shine yet and wasn’t that sad? With time, and support, we got over it.
This week the announcer boomed that the flower industry was worth £1.5 billion every year, like it was the introductory props link for the Sunday night X-Factor guest stars (‘3 billion petals in Norfolk! Grown in half a million gardens in Sunderland!) Flowers. Industry. I’ll never look at a tulip again without thinking of a spreadsheet.
A 7am start, and Harry M was ready at the door with a camera team, as you do. ‘You stay here and see if there’s a message,’ he told Lewis in his plummy, commanding tone, ‘I’ll get the girls.’ And I thought, blimey Boris has competition, the cad. It was Sugar, of course, mixing the teams up into a flower arranging face-off. ‘This task is all about profit,’ he reassured us, in case we had forgotten that the purpose of capitalism is anything other than sucking the jelly from your grandmother’s corneas and selling it for a profit. Harry H was confused. ‘I can’t see why having the girls on the team will be good.’
You will, mate, you will, one day. It sounded like a quote from a Famous Five adventure.
Rich Mix embracing this week’s theme of ‘Canary Wharf Classic House’
Slippery Jim was up to his usual spiv tricks. ‘I just see these flowers as pound symbols,’ he said, confirming that the love of money is indeed the root of many evils, and the market place is where men cheat each other with oaths. Hannah took the lead of Team Atomic, with an unusual (for the Apprentice ) pitch: ‘I don’t overlook people becaue I’m overlooked myself,’ which was refreshingly modest and altruistic. But Hannah was a bunch of surprises, showing more teeth than the cameras have allowed her so far, especially later in the board room when she showed a distinct capacity to catch flack and catapult it back into the lap of her antagonists. Poor Haya got stuck with the arranging side of things because ‘she has a GCSE in Art’, which just goes to show that sometimes you want to hide your light under a bushel if you don’t want to get saddled with the donkey work.  Just as well she didn’t mention a BTEC in wiping arses.
One thing you can’t get past the Beeb on: their cinematography pisses on everyone else’s chips from a satellite in space. London looks like a futurist Turner painting in widescreen HD,  a utopian metropolis of steel, glass and light. Little Lewis thought so too, gazing in yokel admiration as the car sped past the postcard charms of Parliament embankment. ‘This is gorgeous,’ he cooed, oblivious to uberfrau Zara’s attempts to form a business plan. ‘I want one of the task to be boats,’ he added. You should last so long, chum.
Meanwhile  Slippery Jim wants to make something clear. ‘I hate flowers and nature and animals,’ he said. We know, mate, we know. You love MONEY. And it doesn’t grow on trees. Mind you, you wouldn’t have known his vegephobia from his pitch to the five star hotel. ‘We see this as an art,’ he solemnly told the staff. Yes, James, the art of LYING to people because you just told us you hate all that green shit. He displayed his impeccable business ethics later on when he announced the instant that they won the hotel contract, ‘Let’s make it out of cheap shite.’ Isn’t he lovely?
For a second I nearly got my coat and my thermos and headed off to St Paul’s to shake my spear at Adam Smith. He really is a charmer. Still, at least he was true to his word: having scored the deal, he then went on to show that his vision of the art of flower arranging was similar to Berlusconi’s approach to the art of governance: screw ‘em. Alas, the five star hotel had other ideas about his clownish approach to chic statement table pieces. ‘I suppose we can use them to wipe our arses,’ I like to imagine they were thinking.
(The music for this show is very good, isn’t it? Moody, not so muscular that it intrudes. That’s the Beeb again. I forgive you for My Family: you made Frozen Planet. Mind you, Einaudi and Nyman should sue. I liked Danse Macabre wafting around as they spoke to the staff at Ghost the musical, and I adored ‘Sixty Seconds…to what?’ from Morricone’s spaghetti epics. Prokofiev would approve of the company.)
‘Let’s make it out of cheap shite.’
You have to admire Zara’s cojones when it comes to sales. ‘Sell it at £80’ she was told. ‘We can do it for £100,’ she said. Which is a ploy, I suppose. Perhaps she was confused, like when Harry H gave her the cost price over the phone for the bouquets. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘But what’s the cost price for THEM?’ she said, somehow missing the point of the term cost price. Mind you, after episode one’s display of mathematical bone-headedness, we should be grateful they’re using the decimal system. James, in a moment of astonishing candour, told Surallun, ‘I’m not very good with numbers,’ and compounded his suicide note with, ‘There’s not a lot of numbers in economics,’ before our grizzly billionaire host could pick his jaw from the floor.
Fans of watching TV through their fingers weren’t disappointed tonight, as Lewis kamikazed through the pitch to the Daniel Galvin salon (motto: ‘Is your au pair going on holiday this year?’) with his phone betraying him mid-pitch. Client: ‘That’s really bad.’ Lewis: ‘It won’t happen again.’ Comic pause. Phone rings again. ‘I don’t know how to work it,’ said a now-sweating Lewis. It was probably the owners of Fail Café, wondering if he wanted two sugars or three in his latte when they saw him the next day.

Mind you, Harry H and James went for the Pitch Fail silver medal when, in response to the manager’s pursed-lip insistence that the arrangements be small, chic and delicate, presented the Heliconia, an enormous triffid that could sit in the centre of the Wembley Arena and look comfortable. ‘We need a small, chic display.’ There you go mate, have a fucking six foot aspidistra. Job done!

It was East versus West, as Spitalfield and Westfield saw the stage set for the battle of the bouquets (or book-wets as Lewis put it. By this point, the hole in his keel was so large there’s no point even trying to pump water). Harry M performed magic by shifting the triffid onto a restauranteur who clearly had a thing for enormous walking plants and low sales; one of the customers even chipped in, ‘I’d eat more!’ which has to be the maddest condition for overconsumption I’ve ever heard in my life. They should sell Helliconias to mothers weening babies off the bottle. ‘Eat this or the triffid eats you.’
‘Ahhh, bugger.’

In the end, Lizzie’s team trumped Atomic by the kind of loose change you sometimes find in an old pair of trousers, and she and her crew were treated to what I can only describe as  posh tuck in Fortnum and Masons, every course a chocolate bonanza of delicacy. The ladies, because they are girls of taste, styled themselves up for the occasion marvellously. Slippery Jim, in a manner true to his business philosophy, threw any old shit on, presumably scraping the leftover chocolate-coated ants brains into his top pocket while no one was looking so that he could sell them to homeless people later on.

In the board room, Hannah (who was looking more and more like a young Louise Mensch) let Lewis off the hook because HE IS APPARENTLY CHARMED BY THE GODS LIKE ACHILLES. This, even though, when questioned by Sugar as to who was responsible for the failure of the task, he said, ‘Me, partially.’ You could see the old war horse, holding back a smile at the naivete of the kid, as if to say, ‘Christ, you won’t last long.’ Well he will, as long as Lakshmi the goddess of fortune apparently owes him a  favour. He could probably curl one out on the board room desk, and Sugar would say, ‘I’ll give you one more chance- but I’m watching you.’
Poison Ivy

The boardroom musical chairs were a predictable blood bath. Hannah showed guts, and I was sorry to see her go, but then she made the mistake of bringing back two Big Beasts into the ring: Harry H (a contender for the final) and Zara, the Amazonian woman-child. You can tell that those two have staying potential because of their power dressing. Despite Hannah’s efforts, the Taxi of Fail (which interestingly enough takes them home in the daylight for the junior apprentices; no doubt a sop to child safety) tolled for her. She was, I am delighted to say, mature and noble in defeat, suggesting that she has winning potential after all; fail; fail better next time. I often think that the one valuable life skill we usually neglect to teach our kids is the ability to lose; the skill of handling the inevitable losses and defeats that we will face as we flourish. Hannah had class and grace, and the competition was poorer for her absence.

‘I am immortal!’
Back to Lewis the lucky leprechaun, who flounced out of the winners’ lounge like Zsa Zsa Gabor when he saw that everyone’s chum, Rugby Harry had dodged the bullet. Maybe he was upset that Hannah took the hit. If he has any sense he’ll be sacrificing another house-goldfish to the great Satan in return for week 4 immunity.

Next week: ‘She’s sleek, she’s sophisticated, and she comes from Barcelona!’ I have NO IDEA what this means, but it’s a Saga task for the tweeny apprentices, which promises a late-Summer special of third-age inappropriacy of Olympian levels as our plucky kids try and sell something to people over the age of twenty-five. Coffins, knowing them.

Laissez les bontemps roulez!

Young Apprentice episode 1: enter the dragonflies

Sugar’s grimace: terrifying.
‘The Ice Cream Industry- worth a cool £1 billion a year.’ Did you see what the voice over did there. DID YOU SEE WHAT HE DID?
The Apprentice has rolled back into town in its early-years incarnation. I confess to my dependence on this series. As Nick Hewer, Surallun’s Deputy Dawg mused in a recent interview, ‘We have twenty weeks of Apprentice every year- but is it enough?’ NO, Nick, IT IS NOT THANK YOU FOR ASKING, SO SORT THAT SH*T OUT PLEASE. He fancies a geriatric version, where third-agers vie against each other to build up riches on Earth, possibly at a time when they should be building up riches in Heaven. Hope springs eternal. I’d love to see a contestant (sorry, aspiring apprentice) say to Surallun, ‘Shush your mouth, sonny, I knew your father.’
Until then, the Young Apprentice. In many ways, preferable to the 18 certificate version, if only because you don’t look at them with the same mixture of despair and weltschmertz as their older counterparts. On some level you can keep saying to yourself: they’re only kids. They can change.
‘Sweet on the tongue,’ apparently. Unlike Watermelon.
You know the drill: 12 contestants compete with each other for the prize: financial backing for their pet business idea, and guidance and advice from their grizzly benefactor. Like Trump on the American version, Sugar is the catalyst that makes this work: picture someone else and try to imagine the wet lettuce that would follow. He’s the enzyme: but the kids are the stars, and not always for the right reasons. By this point we’re unfamiliar with the contestants: we don’t have favourites or villains yet (actually I did, after about five minutes, but they canned him at the end- more on the legend that is Mahamed later), so at this stage we’re sorting the wheat from the chaff: the belligerent, psychopathic narcissists from…well the ones who didn’t apply.
Hayley: surprisingly sane
(Writing about kids raises ethical issues all by itself. When I write about Educating Essex I’m painfully aware that some of my targets are school kids, and I have an automatic default setting of protecting and nurturing them, because the whole point of being a kid is that you’re still learning, so I’ll cut them some slack and refrain from jumping in boots-first. But in contrast, no one asked these stalwarts to appear on national television: if they didn’t want exposure, or the high risk, high dividend tactic of appearing on a prime time quiz show then they can expect to be talked about. Still, I’ll be gentle. It takes, after all, stones (or if you’re Stuart ‘The brand’ Baggs, a complete lack of perspective and introspection approaching the aspergic) to do something like this. And already some of the kids seem interesting.)
One of the common complaints against a program like this is that it encourages the worst excesses of capitalism: material aspiration beyond all other concerns; the habit of rampant individualism; disparity of wealth; one big winner, lots of big losers, you know, the kind of stuff that people with flexible career aspirations are currently knocking themselves out over on the steps of St Paul’s (way to stick it the man, incidentally. We hate banks! Let’s camp in…er a church! Silly sausages). 
This complaint has merit; certainly the contestants that really stick out from the past are the most vile specimens of humanity: craven, sociopathic parasites who were born, apparently saying ‘Money’, who would, week after week, promise over 100% effort, in defiance of the laws of logic and physics. There was even one particular plum who promised 150%; the next week then promised 140%, and the next, 130%. As Dara O’Briain commented, ‘He’s losing productivity by ten % per week! Sack him!’
So it’s true; the joy of The Apprentice has often been schadenfreude; watching Nemesis lay waste to hubris, and those who offend the Gods. Be careful, Icarus, how high you care to climb, because your wings are made of wax. And chocolate gold. 
Once we accept trade, and proceed from barter to currency economies, we have to concede the role of the entrepreneur. There’s a lot wrong with capitalism, believe me. But as Milton Friedman, the American liberal economist famously said, ‘Show me a system that works better.’ I have some sympathy for that. The Free Market is famously cruel; the bonded collectivism of the socialist is tyrannical, and enables totalitarianism. The best we have so far are systems that attempt to combine the best of both worlds. We’re still working on it, human nature being what it is.
(I’m not sure that every blog about the Apprentice needs to start with a justification of capitalism, but it seems fashionable to mount a soapbox about it, given that, you know, apparently capitalism is broken, or something. I don’t know, I’ve been busy blogging about Jamie Oliver and Essex).
I look at this and think ‘success.’
This year’s candidates were the usual mixture of the great and the ghoulish; man-children and frighteningly precocious Amazons, all power heels and Cruella de Ville lippy. At the start they all seem variously foetal and amorphous. Their characters are revealed slowly, like a brass rubbing. Some of course, stand out more than others, depending on the editor’s hand.
Did you see them pick their team names? DID YOU SEE? The first flag up the pole was ‘Team Future,’ because, ‘We’re the future.’ And already we can relax: this series is going to be brilliant. They settled on ‘Atomic,’ because in the words of one, ‘You hear the word atomic, you think of speed.’ No mate, you think Fukushima and cancer, but we’ll let that slide. On the girls’ gang, the name Sixth Sense was suggested, and it was like, man, who farted? They went for Team Core, because the Sun has, like a core. This naming ritual is hilarious. It’s like they race each other to the bottom of the barrel as quickly as they can, hoping presumably to burst through to the other side into new dimensions of awfulness. Could it get any worse?
Yes: the leader-selection ritual. As usual, no one wanted to go first, the yellow rats. Lewis, charmingly, said, ‘I don’t think I’m strong enough to lead a team I don’t know,’ which was great, although it was a bit early to be so honest about being sh*t. 
So: design an ice cream flavour: deck out a marketing strategy; sell. A nice package task: business in microcosm. So, so many points where our young adventurers could f*ck up royally. They didn’t disappoint. 
The boys came up with a pirate theme. Pirates. That’s an odd genre, when you think of it: they’re not really cuddly, are they? I suppose ‘rapists’ would have been a bit of a risky pitch. You certainly don’t see many of them at fancy dress parties, unless you work for the IMF. So, pirates it was, and BOY did the ownership of that idea cause a riot in the boardroom. Mahamed, who had the potential to be my breakout star, came up with the idea to paint the ice cream trolley like a treasure chest. Not sure how many treasure chests pirates use these days; more high speed assault vessels and prow-mounted automatic weaponry, but never mind the reality. Pirates! Arrr!
James decided, perhaps unwisely, that he would become a character: Captain Vanilla. Unfortunately that name is already taken on some of the more exotic nightclub scenes, but he wasn’t to know that.
Actually, Mahamed also took to the pirate theme like a tiny torpedo, leaping out at customers at the seaside like a prowler. ‘Ice cream!’ he shouted at them, as they scurried away, terrified. He was like a Jack Russell. A Jack Russell scaring people and shouting ‘Ice Cream!’ His peer James, tried to rein him in (although frankly, he wasn’t much cop at the whole charm offensive either. It appears to be on the application form). Then the group leader, Harry M had a beach wave: ice cream delivery on the beach. Perfect. Would you buy an ice cream as you sunbathed if someone (admittedly one dressed as a pirate) offered to do so. YOU BET YOU WOULD. It would be ICE CREAM TIME if that thing were to happen. 
Back to the dishes, mate.
Over in camp Core, they had a grasp of mathematics that was a woeful joy to behold (or not behold). Honestly they were so bad, I thought that one of them was going to tell Surallun that she would give him -34% of her effort in the next task. These girls had GCSEs in maths, and Mr Gove, if that doesn’t make your duodenum undulate with terror, nothing will. Fix this. Fortunately they had a strategy to cost out their production. ‘F*ck it, take as much as they can make in, er…..five minutes. Or something.’ That, my friends, is how we put men on the Moon.
Their sales strategy was also brilliant, if demonic: charge something horribly high, and then pile the pricey upsell options onto the cone before they got a chance to object. And they CHARGED FOR THE CONE. Yes, you heard me. You might have thought that this kind of thing was factored into the ticket price. Not a bit of it. I’m surprised they didn’t say, ‘Fifty pence for us NOT to sh*t in it.’
My absolute favourite evil manoeuvre was when the tiny, cute kid was ‘buying’ an ice cream from the stall, and Hannah just kept piling the extras on as the kiddy agreed with gusto to every upsell imaginable. Because she was a child. The Mum’s eyes nearly popped out as she realised her darling had been robbed- and there’s no other word for it- into buying the world’s most expensive ice-cream. Plus cone. If you thought there were ethical issues intrinsic to writing about the under-eighteens, I suspect there are rather more issues dripping off that kind of child exploitation. And THAT, my friends, is why we need unions, because of these tiny business minds can resort to crookery so easily and innocently, you can see how big business strip mines virgin primary forest and goes, ‘What?’ when someone tells them off for it. It’s in our natures as much as kindness is. Possibly more.
Vanilla Ice. NO JOKE.
Back at Boot camp- sorry, Surallun’s office (which of course it isn’t- Surallun has a base in Loughton that makes a Soviet saucepan factory look glamorous; this is a hired set to convey the opulence and dizzying, vast minimalist excesses of capital) the boys were found to be wanting, all down to costings, apparently, although a kinder heart might question the fact that they were selling in different locations, with different customers, so inevitably the competition was far from played on a level field. Whatever.
It seemed a cruel loss for them, when, apart from some aggressive pirating from Mahamed, they ticked all the boxes of diligence, team work, and getting shit done. The girls hadn’t got shit done; they had done what, depressingly, they seem primed to do in these series, i.e. tear each other apart as soon as possible (see my blog on Educating Essex 5). The team leader, Hayley, gave clear instructions for their resources team to buy x number of bananas and Mangos. But Gbemi decided to get half as much; so her team leader told her to buy more. Gbemi told her to stick it up her arse. ‘We’re on our way to an important meeting. Can’t you do it?’ she told her nominal boss. Stick. It. Up. Your. Arse. One to watch, that Gbemi. Comedy Gold. And, apparently, a ticking time bomb.
So, the bizarrely victorious Core ended up Zorbing themselves sick, and the Atomic Boys sat with their lemonades (in some ways watching the Young Apprentice is like watching Bugsy Malone) at the Bridge Cafe of Fail. They should put a sign outside: ‘Breakfast of Losers!’
But not as much as Mohammed, who bounced about in his huge seat like a flea, claiming all the glory and cutting everyone down as best he could. I’m sure that, in real life, he is a lovely young man, and an installer of quality satellite dishes, a business he no doubt runs with perfect probity. In this show, he came across as an angry, vainglorious little braggart, as desperate and cynical as any of his adult contemporaries. Sugar crushed his ambitions with the finger of Doom. ‘Blah, blah, blah,… my bleedin’ Aunt Fanny, you’re fired,etc…’ said Baron Sugar of Hackney, or words to that effect, as Nick pursed his lips like a man sucking the skin from a bullet. 
But if Mahamed was crushed, he kept it hidden. In the famous Taxi of Fail, he was adamant. ‘It’s going to be Lord Sugar who regrets it,’ he said, with a pantomime trace of villainy and threat hanging in the air. There’s a pirate in their somewhere. Sorry, somewherrrrre. Sugar better not take any cruises soon.
And I wonder how often that driver gets tipped? Not very, I imagine.
Do NOT cross this woman. She will chin you.
The child becomes the man. Life is a generational story, of course. Episode one was a beautiful start to a long relationship between me and my sofa every Monday for the next few months.  Will Rugby Harry break Sugar’s no fackin’ toffs policy? Will Gbemi chin someone? We’ll find out next week in episode 2.
Or, as the girls would say, episode 15 ½ .
Other highlights:
  • Harry H: ‘He was Heavenly to work with…I’ve had perfect time to reflect.’ What is this, Downton Abbey? 
  • Mystic Mahamed: ‘Watermelon- no one’s gonna buy that. But honey is sweet on the tongue.’
  • Nick: ‘He snatches at the facts.’ You fact-snatcher. Great insult.
  • Sugar to slippery James de Griz: ‘Watch it, OK? Watch it.’ *James nods, sweating*
  • Harry H, talking about the boardroom scrap: ‘It was like the Battle of the Somme.’
  • Lewis, talking about the same thing: ‘It was like Pass the Parcel!’