I saw the big boxes of sweets in Tesco the other day – the drums of Celebrations and Quality Street and Roses moved to the front of the shop to encourage you to start stocking up. What if contrary Uncle Colm drops in unannounced in three months' time looking for a Purple Hazelnut One and all you have on hand is a Strawberry Dream? Better load four or five tubs into the trolley.
“Too soon,” I whispered weakly, clutching at the very last of the end of summer cherries, “We’ve just accepted the Brown Thomas Christmas Shop back into our lives. Please, some respite before the avalanches of selection boxes. Please.”
It's the ultimate in cosy telly. Scandals are rare and when they do occur they're about custard, icing or baked Alaska
It’s a tired refrain, the idea that holidays and celebrations get “earlier every year”. It’s not even a surprise anymore to see Easter Eggs in January. We’re jaded by the commercial cycle and barely have it in us to complain about the inexorable tide of Christmas stockings for the cat, Valentine’s cards and six packs of Cadbury Creme Eggs and that overlap on the shelves. Even the sight of the first glittery scary witch costume for sale has diluted the lead up to Halloween because the scary witch costumes are out on hangers before the back-to-school stationery sets.
Instead, the job of heralding of the cosy autumnal season ahead has been given to another entity: The Great British Bake Off.
For the past 11 years the Bake Off has come to represent the beginning of autumn and the transition into contemplating turning the heating back on and promising yourself you’re going to get really into soup.
It's the ultimate in cosy telly. Scandals are rare and when they do occur they're about custard (cue the drama when Deborah "accidentally" used Howard's from-scratch custard for her trifle in series four), icing (who could forget Enwezor using shop-bought fondant in series five?) or baked Alaska (if you weren't there for the accusations of sabotage during Bingate 2014 then where were you exactly?!)
The most menacing aspect of the show is Paul Hollywood's tan and bootcut jeans combo and the greatest peril is watching a three-tier wedding cake trying to stay upright in the face of a hot tent and poor structural integrity of the carrot cake layer. Some contestants have spoken out about their experiences after the show has aired. Series four runner-up Ruby Tandoh famously called Paul Hollywood a "peacocking manchild" and others have complained about editing treachery but as reality shows go it seems like a bakewell-scented walk in the woods.
This year’s Great British Bake Off debuts on Channel 4 on Tuesday. It’s the second year in which the show will carry the extra responsibility of pandemic stress and lockdown trauma on its shoulders. If people used the Bake Off for escapism before, then they are now looking to it for a few sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy and a crash course in setting boundaries at work.
Everyone knows you can't watch Bake Off without a sweet treat close at hand
As the world hurtles back “to normal” without much meditation on what people have endured over the past 18 months it might be a bit much to expect pastry lamination challenges and perfecting the perfect traybake to heal all wounds, but at least it’s something to look forward to of a Tuesday evening.
We can expect the usual line up of amateur bakers. There's always a precocious 19-year-old who seems to have a preternatural talent for mille feuille. There's a know-it-all man in his 30s who thinks he can't possibly put too much brandy in his speciality brownies only to be immediately scolded by expert judge Prue Leith for putting too much brandy in his speciality brownies. Brownies don't need brandy, mate. You're messing with perfection.
There’s a self-professed housewife who’s baked for her kids and grandkids for 40 years and could make a perfect swiss roll with no cracks with her eyes closed. There’s an older widowed gentleman who misses baking raspberry scones for his beloved Beryl. “Do it for Beryl,” we’ll weep while eating the French Fancies purchased in Spar on the way home.
Everyone knows you can’t watch Bake Off without a sweet treat close at hand.
Along with a reliable line up, Tuesday's premiere will also no doubt see the return of the old reliable innuendos from the presenting duo of Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding. Lucas and Fielding will never recreate the brilliance of Mel and Sue from earlier BBC seasons of Bake Off, but they do their best to keep the chat about whopping loaves, creamy horns and airy bottoms going.
And look, relying on GBBO to heal all ills is like putting a plaster on the San Andreas Fault (which is surely due a rumble, the way things are going) but at least it brings a little bit of structure and joy. Add to that the fact that Bake Off’s cosy bedfellow Strictly Come Dancing returns this weekend, while Channel 4’s hilarious Taskmaster is back on Thursday, and the supermarkets can wheel out the fibre optic Santas for all I care.