Illustration by Paul O’Connor

Illustration by Paul O’Connor

Dear Mary Berry, I Love You

Let the world go to hell in a handbasket. With The Great British Bake Off, I’ve found a dream world of royal icing and buttery biscuits.

Published in April 2017, Magenta

You know the feeling. It’s the early side of midnight on a Friday night during the waning weeks of winter, when the days feel cold and sour and long. You’re waiting for the delinquent F train after too many shots of who-knows-what. You just want to be home, swaddled in sweats, spending time with Mary Berry, Mel and Sue, that male judge, and a big batch of pastry-making fools.

This, of course, is the cast of The Great British Bake Off. They are also the characters that have brought calm and order to my life. All day I help make the internet, and all night I watch a bunch of Brits gently banter while doing alchemy with flour and sugar.

Sometimes what I need from TV is dulcet descriptions of self-saucing puddings and classical background music.

It’s a confection of a show, and unlike any other competitive show on television. If you haven’t seen it, the premise is simple: A dozen or so amateur bakers from across the UK gather in a hermetically sealed biodome in the middle of a verdant lawn to — you guessed it — bake. The absence of technology adds a timeless glaze to the proceedings; if it weren’t for the HD cameras and fashion choices, it could be 1915. The bakers don’t live together, they don’t give up their day jobs, and they definitely don’t hook up. In fact, it seems like they actually are there to make friends.

Weekend by weekend, the group is whittled down until one baker is left holding the standing mixer, but there’s no prize … no million pounds, no Food & Wine cover story, no crockery sponsorship. None of them are even plotting to springboard a TV appearance into starting their own bakery. I suppose the bakers are actually playing for pride. They just want to be given top marks by two British baking juggernauts. How sweet.

I don’t need to tell you about the pleasure of binge-watching, or liken the addictiveness of processed treats to the extended narratives of streaming TV. What I want to impart, instead, is the truly unique elation that is possible from tuning in to programming that is unabashedly benign. GBBO is my ASMR video. Because I work at a digital agency, where most hours are spent building the latest and greatest digital experience to fight for a slice of the consumer pie, I find the lack of guile in these homespun dreamers soothing.

I love brooding British procedurals as much as the next Broadchurch fan, but sometimes what I need from TV is dulcet descriptions of self-saucing puddings and classical background music that is never more intense than the soundtrack to a Victorian costume drama. (You know, the kind where the climax is an intense chase through a hedge maze.) This, coupled with the never-changing episodic recipe, lulls me into a meditative state where my brain can shake out its wrinkles. And sure, it’s a bit sad when someone gets kicked off the show, but what have they lost?

“Come here and have a massive sandwich. Like a big, big, Mel and Sue sandwich. Oh, you’ll be very missed, luv. You’re a real cracker, you are,” says Mel, delivering a soft send off in one episode.

“I’m going to have to come and give you just a giant, slightly porky Susan hug,” says Sue in another episode. Real-life rejection is never this gentle.

And as we get older, there are fewer opportunities to do something solely for the sake of fun. Our hours are limited. Our money, our careers, even our side hustles are at stake if we dedicate too much time to achieving a passable meringue peak. Which is why it’s easiest to avoid the whole mess and let Mary Berry and crew guide us gently through a saccharine reality where even the bad stuff is sweet.