I've been watching The X Factor from between my fingers. People's capacity for self-deception is breathtaking. OK so you're homely, three stone overweight and can't hold a tune. Oh, and truth to tell, you're not that interested in music. Which of these things do you chose to ignore when you're in the privacy of your bedroom gazing at yourself in the full-length, fitted wardrobe mirror thinking about whether you should go along to the auditions infront of a live audience of 4,000 people and a national TV audience of squillions? One, two or 'all of the above', on the grounds of "What-the-hell-I-deserve-to-be-famous"? I think it was The X Factor anyway. There was something about "living the dream" and "I don't want to go home when I've come this far" and "there's absolutely nothing else I want to do" and "I just hope they'll see how much I want this." There's a chance it was the Labour Party Conference.
Either way, I've a lot of sympathy with Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole since my own experience of being a judge last week. I did a reading at the Women's Institute (Cheviot Group). This involved my husband taking the kids to swimming and then onto football since I was driving round in circles trying to find the right village hall. I did my performing monkey bit feeling slightly nervous - as Tony Blair can tell you the WI can be a tough crowd. I certainly didn't think it was the time to tell them how as a young journalist sent to cover a WI meeting, an enthusiastic lady had explained to me how much she'd learned about preservation and conservation. I thought she meant history. She meant jam. Anyway after they fed me tea and cream meringues, they called me up from one of the long trestle tables framing the auditorium to judge three competitions.
The first: a picture of Northumberland contest for which the ladies had ransacked their walls for the nicest view of the county. I chose sheep milling on the Cheviots.
The second: the decorated stone contest involving large pebbles upon which were delicately painted posies, a thatched cottage and a slightly spooky baby girl's head complete with knitted bonnet and dummy. I definitely chose the cottage. Or the posy. I quite regret not chosing the baby.
The last: the savoury flan. There were at least 70 ladies in the hall. How many flans had they mustered between them? Two. Talk about pressure. I looked at the flans. They looked back. I tasted them. I tasted them again. I chose one and left quickly. I've another WI meeting in January - I'm asking to be paid in cake.