Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Very pleasant

What does it mean (if anything) if a medical consultant refers to you as a "very pleasant gentleman" in a letter to your GP?

I've been called this twice now by two completely different consultants (one gastro-enterology, one ENT) on two completely different occasions, separated by some five years.

Is it code? Is it a compliment? Is it a coincidence?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Man Flu

"January brings the snow," goes the nursery rhyme, and like so many ancient rhymes, it is downright wrong.

Because the only thing that January has brought to this neck of the woods, apart from shed-loads of rain, is evil and unmitigated disease.

Not, fortunately, the type of disease that makes your feet and fingers glow - that sort involves repeated exposure to nuclear waste, of which there isn't a great quantity around Chronicle Towers as far as we're aware - but the dreaded Man Flu.

A virulent plague of said malady has swept through the Towers, starting with the boss and working downwards, and threatening the very fabric of newspaper production as we know it.

After recent advances in medical science it is now recognised that there are several very different types of Man Flu.

Some practitioners describe a syndrome in which the sufferer calls in to work sick on Monday complaining of having the flu.

Recovery is swift and is generally brought about by the arrival of Tuesday, when the patient can normally be expected to be right as rain bar a few snuffles.

This form of the disease is also transmissible to children of school age, particularly those who haven't bothered to do their homework.

Its correct medical name is skivertitis, and it is definitely not what anyone has had around here.

The second identifiable strain of Man Flu is a far more serious affair. Or at least it is for those who have to put up with the patient.

In the early stages of the disease the man (it's always a man) displays all the symptoms of the common cold.

However, after a few hours he enters a delusional state in which he becomes unshakably convinced that his symptoms are those of influenza.

They aren't, but he takes to his bed and whimpers uncontrollably for lengthy periods, litters the floor with tissues and is of little or no use to man nor beast.

A gradual cure can be effected by the regular application of sympathy and mollycoddling, normally from the patient's mother or spouse.

But the speed of recovery is inversely proportional to the patient's skills at amateur dramatics, particularly in the field of moaning. The more convincing his performance, the longer the disease will take to run its course.

The old Latin name for this disease was hypochondria thespiana, but most doctors nowadays consider it as simply a mutated form of skivertitis.

Worryingly for the future, though, medical researchers have recently discovered a third and more virulent strain of Man Flu: one which affects women.

The medical symptoms are infinitely more severe (and more genuine) than those of Man Flu proper, and cannot be completely alleviated even by the introduction of small bunches of flowers and gentle cooing noises.

No-one yet understands how this type of Man Flu made the inter-species jump, but what is known is that the initial infection has severe knock-on effects on men who come into close proximity with the patient.

In a recent well-documented case, a man whose wife had succumbed to the virus felt obliged to take on domestic tasks which in normal circumstances would not have been entrusted to him.

And while his motives were honourable, he soon discovered that there is little point in loading up the tumble drier with damp laundry if you don't know which button you're supposed to press to start the thing.

Similarly, a weekly supermarket trip put him under such severe stress that he lost his ability to read shopping lists, interpreting the phrase "lots of bananas" as "two bags of bananas", a misunderstanding so grave that he has still not been allowed to forget it even after the patient's near-complete recovery.

Children are affected, too: they suddenly find themselves watching far more telly than usual, and complain that simple grilled bacon "tastes funny" because Mum hasn't cooked it.

No, January is a cruel month with nothing whatsoever to recommend it.

And not even the promise of February just around the corner is particularly enticing.

The ancient rhyme promises rain, which "thaws the frozen lake again". But we've already had two months' worth of precipitation in the first three weeks of the year, so what can be next?

Plagues of boils, most likely. They can't be any worse than the Man Flu.

This column was first published in The Bath Chronicle on January 24 2008. Copyright Bath News & Media 2008.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Wafted here from Paradise?

Last Friday morning conversation at Chronicle Towers took a turn for the nostalgic.

It was all prompted by the unwise decision of a couple of members of staff to sample some dusty and neglected bottles at the back of the bar of the pub where they just happened to find themselves the previous evening.

This serious scientific endeavour led not only to a much fuller understanding of why very few people drink Dubonnet these days, but also headaches all round for those who were foolish enough to partake.

All of which is a roundabout way of asking that age-old question: “Were you truly wafted here from Paradise?”

Anyone of a certain age (self included) will know the answer to that one.

But for those who need some background or are less than hem-hem-hem years old and don’t remember the ’70s, the question was first asked in an advert for Campari.

Campari was (and still is) a strange orangey-red alcoholic tincture which was mixed with soda water and sipped in sophisticated surroundings by men in safari suits.

It is also one of the few mysterious drinks we didn’t try last Thursday.

Anyway, in the ad itself, a suave young Lothario, played by an actor who might or might not be Nigel Havers, entertains a glamorous-looking young lady on the terrace of a stylish Mediterranean villa.

He mixes her a Campari and lemonade and then asks her the immortal question about wafting and Paradise.

And then comes the punchline.

For the glamorous seductee is none other than Lorraine Chase – later known as Stephanie Stokes out of Emmerdale – who replies, in a Cockney accent so strong you could jelly eels with it:
“Nah, Luton Airport.”

Now the printed word is a powerful instrument, but it can’t do justice to Lorraine’s Force Eight glottal stops. So if you want to hear them in full effect, either for the first time or to relive old memories, go to www.visit4info.com and search for Campari.

The advert spawned a hit single and a host of playground imitations.

It probably also put the mockers on future sales of Campari, whose makers were apparently trying to re-position it in the marketplace by broadening its appeal. It would seem that they failed.

Because, let’s face it, who drinks Campari these days, even in a spirit of scientific research?
If you do a bit of digging on Campari’s own website you’ll find that they don’t even have a UK home page, but that they do market Brazilian Liebfraumilch (another concoction we never got round to investigating) and that they also make Cinzano, the subject of another series of subversive ’70s telly adverts.

These featured the late, lamented comedy star Leonard Rossiter drenching Joan Collins with the herby beverage, against glamorous backdrops ranging from Spanish cocktail bars to first-class airline cabins.

In those days most people’s experience of life in the Med was on a par with that experienced by the merry travellers of Carry on Abroad, and in retrospect you wonder how many more bottles of the stuff were sold.

Those whacky advertising agency types are still trying it today, though.

If you’ve ever used public transport around Bath recently you can’t have helped but notice that most of it is run by First Bus. So why Stagecoach Bus is advertising here is a bit of mystery.
The ads are a spoof of Little Britain, with Tom Baker doing the voice-over as a number of characters make their journeys on what Stagecoach modestly calls “Bus of Britain”.

The night before last a would-be WAG called Tanya Brown (geddit?) took the bus to a tanning parlour and ended up all crinkly. Other ads feature Professor Harold Hooterson, who grows himself a pair of comedy boobs, and Gale Windybottom, a green campaigner whose sorry fate cannot be described in a family newspaper.

All right, they’re good for a chuckle, as were the Campari and Cinzano ads before them.

But they do leave you with the nagging suspicion that if you ever got on a Stagecoach bus you’d end up sitting next to an orange chav, a scatter-brained Frankenstein or a large and flatulent tree-hugger.

That’s the problem with subversive adverts: as soon as you start thinking too closely, the magic is broken.

Still, at least you know where you are with First Bus and a pint of best bitter.

This column was first published in The Bath Chronicle on January 17 2008. Copyright Bath News & Media 2008.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Points mean prizes

Almost every morning at Dixon Mansions a shower of paperwork flutters to the doormat.

And mingled with the red bills, disconcerting bank statements and admonitory letters from Nice Mister Access come tempting offers to spend the Dixon millions (well, tens) on labour-saving gadgets, industrial-strength cleaning products and a bewilderingly wide range of fleecy undergarments.

The latest of these invitations to land enticingly on the sisal was from top thermalwear purveyors Damart, and it was a classic of its kind.

Mrs D, it transpires, is recognised as having a “High Level of Recommendation”.

She has had a Customer Bonus agreed by no less a dignitary than G Hall, Head of Customer Services.

Moreover and to boot, she has been Authorised by the Finance Department and Approved by the Prize & Award Department.

So now she is a proud beneficiary of Damart’s Customer Awards scheme, with a grand total of 1,643 points to her name.

This, of course, entitles her to a Gift from Damart’s Audio-Visual Collection, which is where the fun really starts.

(Incidentally, it’s Damart chucking all those capital letters around, not some system malfunction at Chronicle Towers.)

Number One prize is a Philips 28-inch Widescreen TV, identical in almost every respect to the one currently doing service at the Mansions.

So we know for a fact that it’s so bulky it takes three people to lift it, that it was first on the market four years ago, and that it has since been made pretty much obsolete by today’s gorgeous pulsating flat-screen plasma LCD high-definition 1080p technology.

Which we are not buying at the moment. Until the price comes down. And we’ve finished paying for the old one...

With great consideration, Damart included with their letter a great big chunk of cardboard illustrating Mrs D’s potential prize, with arrows pointing up and down and marked TOP and BOTTOM in case there should be any confusion if we ever do get our hands on it. Very handy, that.

Next on the prize list is a Samsung Camcorder, which on closer inspection appears to be a Hi8 Camcorder.

Now Hi8 is an analogue recording format which, apart from being about as up-to-date as the crinoline, has one distinct disadvantage in this modern digital world: you need to buy extra wires and boxes full of electronic gubbins before you can transfer your movies to your computer for editing.

Spotting a picture here? Damart isn’t exactly giving away the Crown Jewels. And when you get to the small print it all gets much clearer.

Only one person will win each of these top prizes: most customers will receive a small portable radio, of which Damart are so proud that they’ve covered up its picture with a Post-It Note in their promotional literature.

Enough said. It’s the sort of marketing that Reader’s Digest used to excel at (and probably still do, if we weren’t the only family in Britain not to be on their mailing lists).

However, some people may read between the lines and wonder what Mrs D must have bought to rack up her Massive Total of 1,643 Status Points.

Was it, they might wonder, a nostalgic style, fully gathered Wincyette Nightdress in Aubergine Check?

Was it a Short Sleeved Massage Vest that took her fancy, or a Thermolactyl Classic? Or maybe a Shirred Jersey Blouse? Whatever “shirred” means.

Intriguing though these choices sound, the fact is that Mrs D isn’t really into all that Damart stuff, and as far as we can remember has never bought a single item of finery from them in all her life.

She’s simply a Recommended Customer: and if we ever find out who Recommended her we shall have words to say about it.

This column was first published in The Bath Chronicle on January 10 2008. Copyright Bath News & Media 2008.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Triumph of hope over experience

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” wrote top poet Alexander Pope, who clearly knew quite a bit about optimism.
But optimism always needs tempering with reality, and with that in mind we proudly present our Top Six Things To Hope For But Not To Expect In 2008.
Losing weight. Everyone’s new year resolution. How long will it last? Not past Twelfth Night, judging by A Certain Person’s impulse purchase of a gigantic Morrisons’ meat pie (“They were reduced”) and plying your portly columnist with same.
The pies may well have been reduced, but at this rate the waistline is not and never shall be. Looks like M&S will just have to invent a new size of trouser.
Same goes double for pork scratchings. Yes, they taste nice. No, they aren’t healthy. Please. Stop. Buying. Them.
Film stars act their age. India Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This year’s summer blockbuster, allegedly. Yes, Harrison Ford’s back, with his flipping great whip and floppy hat.
Now surely at 65 the Fordster is a little bit past it as an action hero.
Getting into tight scrapes with phobia-inducing creepy-crawlies is all very well when you’re in your prime but for goodness’ sake, he could be drawing his pension along with Sean Connery.
He can’t be doing it for the money, so who’s he trying to impress?
An end to all arguments (Part 1). Debate rages in the Chronicle’s letters pages and www.thisisbath.co.uk about the rights and wrongs of cycling on the pavement.
The cyclists accuse the pedestrians of hating cyclists. The pedestrians accuse the cyclists back. Everyone accuses car drivers of a string of heinous crimes, the least of which is the slaughter of the innocents.
We can’t stop it. There’s no point in asking people to see things from the other person’s point of view: the battle lines are entrenched and no one will give an inch.
But here are some facts. Cycling on the road is a life-threatening occupation. Cycling on the pavement is, strictly speaking, illegal. Pedestrians feel intimidated by pavement cyclists.
At the moment, cyclists are being forced into choosing whether or not to break the law for their own safety.
This is a bad thing, not only because in a rational society no one should have to choose which laws to obey, but also because the poor bloody pedestrian doesn’t have any choice about where to walk, short of scrambling through hedges and over walls to avoid the cyclists.
So what we need is a better system of cycle lanes, tighter controls on motor traffic, more tolerance all round.
Don’t hold your breath.
Traditional weather. What we could do with right now is a decent fall of snow, just to remind us that it’s winter. What we could do with in August is a nice bit of sunshine.
Will we get either? Unlikely, going by 2007’s miserable performance.
Watch this space for news of killer bees, orange frogs, mysterious malfunctionings of the air conditioning system at Chronicle Towers and general global-warming-related mallarkey.
(Actually, calling the air conditioning at the Towers a “system” is a bit like describing recent tactics of the England football team as “coherent”. Enough said.)
An end to all arguments (Part 2). Speaking of winter, a constant topic in the Dixon household is the starting and ending dates of the seasons.
One view (maintained stoutly by yours truly) is that winter begins at the winter solstice, spring is sprung at the vernal equinox, summer... You get the picture.
This leads to a certain amount of confusion about the status of Midsummer’s Day (which is actually when summer begins) but it’s a consistent and logically tenable position.
The other view (held firmly but not stoutly by the Other Half) is that spring begins when the leaves start sprouting, summer is when it’s hot (or not), autumn is when the leaves fall off the trees and winter is an indeterminate period stretching from early November until it’s time for spring again.
Answers on a postcard, please, before it comes to blows.
Bizarre newspaper stories involving animals. Mystery horses trampling our gardens? Golden pigs roaming the streets of Bath?
The year has started well, and can only get better. Now how’s that for optimism?
This column was first published in The Bath Chronicle on January 3 2008. Copyright Bath News & Media 200.

The future is another country: they do things differently there

December 27. It’s all over, bar the fat lady singing. But sadly for the little ones, the visit to the panto will have to wait until the coffers are a bit fuller.
There’s no point dwelling in the past. Nice Mister Access will be writing us a letter about that in a week or two, reminding us of exactly how much we shouldn’t have spent on all those goodies that now lie smashed and scattered all over the sitting room floor.
No, these dog days between Christmas and New Year are best spent forgetting the past and preparing for the future.
And what better crystal ball than Olde Dixonne’s Almanacke, a True and Accurate Prognosticationne of Eventes to Comme in the Yeare of Oure Lorde 2008, Includyngge Tide Tables, Racyngge Forme and Completionne Dates for Sundrye Publicke Edifices in the Citye of Batthe in the Countye of Somersetteshyre.
(That last bit was supposed to be printed in Olde Englysshe type but the management wouldn’t stump up for it. So you’ll have to use your imagination.)
Now not a million miles away from this column is that written by Mr Holliday, who is quite proud of his predictions from the end of 2006 for the year that is now grinding to a halt. But come on: Gordon Brown Prime Minister by June; Bath City get promoted; change of council for Bath? Those were easy. Olde Dixonne has bigger fish to fry:
New Year sales. Safe bet, stick with it.
Snow! It’s pitching! At least half an inch of it! Schools close early so that teachers can make snowmen. Trains and buses mysteriously cease to exist.
The afternoon of the fifth, to be precise: it’s the Grand National. This one’s an dead cert: it’s been checked on the internet. Who’s going to win? Haven’t got a clue, ask the bookies.
You will meet a tall, dark stranger. Or perhaps not. Only time will tell.
Responding to criticism of artistic elitism, the Bath Festivals Trust organises a weekend of free beer in Royal Victoria Park. Result!
Cancelled due to mass hangover.
Fathers across the country rack their wits to work out how to afford a holiday while they’re still paying for last year’s.
All drivers parking in Homebase car park actually go shopping in Homebase. Homebase shares rocket. Homebase floor collapses from the strain.
Did we do the tall, dark stranger? Damn.
Contractors working on SouthGate in Bath halt excavation when they discover not an unexploded bomb, not a new hot spring, but...
...a pirate chest full of buried treasure, abandoned when the notorious Jack ‘Three Fingers’ Trelawney took a wrong turning up the Avon at Bristol.
The builders realise they’ll get a better profit from selling the treasure than they ever would out of developing shopping centres, and dance off into the sunset, leaving Bathonians wondering how to fill a giant crater.
After a disaster with the beetroot soup, columnist’s spouse sets fire to cookbook and fills house with smoke.
No, wait, that was this year. It could never happen again.
Or could it...?
This column was first published in The Bath Chronicle on December 27 2007. Copyright Bath News & Media 2007.