Thursday, June 25, 2009

The only good thing about tennis is the strawberries

Can you ever get sick of strawberries? This is probably the wrong time of the year to ask, given that we’re about halfway through “How far can a Brit get at Wimbledon?” fortnight, and that the most popular pastime for the spectators in SW19 is schnarfing down as many as they can in as short a time as possible.
And chez Dixon is also the wrong place to come out with a dislike of the shiny scarlet berries, because Mrs D’s allotment is in full fruit and they’ve been coming home, if not by the bucketful then at least by the large plastic boxful.
So far, no complaints, and some members of the family have even overcome their vegetable-
avoiding tendencies to the extent that they’ve started eating freshly shucked peas. Wonders will never cease: it’ll be curly kale next.
Tennis, though, is another matter. The relationship we Brits have with the game isn’t so much love-hate as love-ignore.
For two weeks in June and July we fret and fuss about why Great Britain can’t produce a Wimbledon champion of any gender or age. We race home early from work and slump in front of the Centre Court action on telly rather than getting out into the garden and enjoying the sunshine.
We wonder why half the women in this year’s first-round draw were from eastern Europe. There must be something in the air in the Balkans or the Urals, because even one of the few Brits to get through the first round, Elena Baltacha, has Ukrainian parents. Perhaps it’s the same stuff that helps them win all those Eurovision Song Contests.
But for the rest of the year we don’t really think much about tennis, except in its more surrogate forms. Chez Dixon, for example, we are strangers to the proper game, instead investing our energies either in the Wii Sports version or in swingball.
Wii Sports, you may or may not be interested to know, is the best-selling video game of all time. As well as tennis you can play virtual versions of bowling, boxing, baseball and golf.
The tennis element is the most dangerous, involving as it does swinging the motion-sensing Wii Remote around manically, hitting your lovely wife round the back of the legs, smashing a standard lamp to smithereens and volleying the cat through the sitting room window.
It is then decided that only people who can demonstrate a basic level of skill at it (the kids) are allowed to play. Game over.
Swingball isn’t much more successful or satisfying. The first challenge here is to drive the metal pole deep enough into the compacted clay in the back garden to stop it falling over as soon as you smite the ball. The next is to find the bats (calling them rackets would give rackets a bad name) in the DIY disaster zone of the garage. And the final challenge is to engage in a rally of more than three returns without tangling the string so inextricably round the pole that further play is impossible without a large pair of scissors. Andy Murray we are not.
One place they certainly won’t be playing tennis any time soon, though, is Beauford Square by the Theatre Royal. Here the lawn has been taken over by the Bath-Argentina Twinning Association and is being developed as a home from home for lonely gauchos pining for the pampas. Residents prone to hay fever are not so happy.
New balls, please.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How to show you love your dad

First, an enormous thank-you to everyone who visited Dixon Towers last Sunday as part of Weston Village Open Gardens day.
They sold 283 tickets in all, and our part of the event saw some 215 visitors treading the hallowed lawns. Thanks to the sterling efforts of the tea and cake volunteers, we raised nearly £200 towards a total of nearly £1,900 in aid of Dorothy House Hospice Care and other local charities.
All credit to Bernard Rymer and the committee for ensuring things went so smoothly, to Mrs D for making our own garden look lovely, and to those perspicacious visitors who realised that the funny-looking bloke sitting outside the gate wearing a straw hat and counting people off was none other than your humble columnist.
Anyway, onwards and upwards to much more serious stuff. Father’s Day. This Sunday. Whatcha gonna do?
Before we go any further, let’s be quite clear about one thing: this column isn’t supposed to be any sort of hint that the aforementioned bloke in a straw hat might be on the cadge for presents or anything like that.
Far from it: this is more by nature of a general Father’s Day warning: What Not To Buy For The Dad Who Doesn’t Quite Have Everything.
Let’s make a start with peripheral items of clothing. In other words socks. Now, there are two sorts of socks: socks that have been lost, and socks that have not been lost yet.
Within those two major categories lie a number of sub-divisions: for example socks which look black when worn with shoes, as is right and proper, but actually have candy-coloured stripes on the heels and toes (Why? Why?); socks with Homer Simpson on them; socks that are too thin; and socks that leave nasty red pressure marks as they cut off the blood supply to your carefully-
pedicured toes. Avoid all of these and you’ll do well.
Perhaps music would do the trick. The risk here is that you end up buying the same compilation CD you bought for Mother’s Day, only with different packaging. Yes, the ’60s were a period of burgeoning musical creativity, but there’s only so much Tom Jones you can listen to at any one time.
So how about a book? A visit to any bookseller will immediately prove that they’ve seen you coming: tome upon volume upon compendium, all stacked up on a special Father’s Day table and all thematically linked to what the vendor imagines to be your typical Dad’s literary interests: war, mayhem, criminality and golf.
If your Pa isn’t into any of those, well maybe a personal grooming product will fit the bill.
The only problem here is that whatever you give him carries with it a tacit and maybe unwelcome message: “You smell” (aftershave); “You look old” (gentleman’s moisturising products); or “You ought to do more exercise” (invigorating after-sport body gel).
Check in the bathroom cabinet before you buy any of these creamy unguents. If last year’s offerings are still on the shelf, you’ll be throwing good money after bad.
Gadgets aren’t a bad idea, but you must satisfy yourself before you buy that your paternal relative isn’t so cack-handed that he’ll either electrocute himself or slice off the tips of his fingers. Anything too dangerous and he may start to suspect that you’re making an early grab for the inheritance.
What inheritance?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Everything in our garden's lovely

It's been a long time coming, but this Sunday is officially Mrs D's Big Day.

No, not a round-number birthday like 20 or 30 (must be careful here). Not the day when her ever-loving and devoted husband eventually gets round to taking her out for dinner without being plaintively hinted at or otherwise cajoled.

Nor indeed the day when the younger Dixons miraculously acquire the skills to cook their own meals and wash their own clothes, leaving their Mum to pursue the glittering showbiz career she denied herself to minister to their needs when they were babes in arms.

No, it's none of these things. Sunday is Weston Village Open Gardens day, and for the past six weeks Mrs D – along with the proprietors of eight other venues around the village – has been buffing up the begonias and organising tea rotas in preparation for her (and indeed our) role in this annual event, which raises funds for Dorothy House and for local voluntary groups.

The horticultural details are a little sketchy to this reporter, whose only endeavours in the field of cultivation lie in turning chilli seeds into insect-riddled twigs. But the disruption to the normally gentle flow of family life is plain to anyone who walks into the house.

First, the cat. Resident feline must be caught and groomed in order to present attractive appearance to paying visitors.

Cat does not mind being caught, and rather fancies the idea of chatting flirtatiously to a series of paying visitors who are as yet unaware of its essentially vicious nature; but objects vociferously and violently to application of comb to fluffy undercarriage. Normal fluff disposal, believes cat, is done by self-grooming and subsequent chucking up on sitting room mat.

Grooming operative (your humble columnist) dons thick leather gauntlets, manhandles cat to bottom of garden and makes with the comb.

Cat calls at top of voice to RSPCA, Cats Protection League, Blue Cross and everyone else in a 500-metre radius, pierces gloves with fangs and claws, and runs for cover under bush.

Cat 1, Columnist 0.

Next, the guinea pigs. Each, it has been decreed, must be individually photographed and labels made up so that the aforementioned paying visitors can identify which is which.

(Luckily, same idea does not apply to the plants, or we'd be here till Christmas. Mrs D is supposed to remember what they are, although she looks doubtful when asked about the botanical credentials of that big green one with all the leaves on it.)

Guinea pigs decline offer of free publicity and lurk under straw in darkest recesses of hutch. Paparazzi- style doorstepping brings unsatisfactory results: all pictures are identical, with cavy red-eye suggesting quite convincingly that the three fluffy creatures are actually the spawn of hell.

Finally, the family. Staff briefing at 10:00 hours sharp. Dixon Junior and Pa, one step forward. Man the gate, take money, repel boarders. Excellent maths revision opportunity for one. Excellent sunburn-on-bald-patch opportunity for other. Because it's bound to be warm and sunny.

Whatever the weather, Weston Village Open Garden Event runs from 1pm to 5pm on Sunday, June 4. Please come along: it's in a very good cause and it's a jolly afternoon out.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Talking rubbish again

Have you ever had the feeling that everyone around you has got something wrong, while you and you alone have got that very same something absolutely and completely right?

The warm feeling of self-assurance, nay schadenfreude, for example, as you walk to work in the morning and observe that everyone else in the road has put their recycling out when you know for a fact that B&NES’ Council’s much-trumpeted Waste Day Change means that your neighbours are two days early, and that they’ll have to bring all those bottles, tins and newspapers back inside, while yours (including an embarrassingly large number of empty stubbies) sit behind the garage waiting for the space-age everything-in-one-go-style rubbish classification and atomisation module to arrive outside your front door at 7am on the dot and automatically sort it for you before beaming it directly to a waste processing centre orbiting round Mars, to the everlasting benefit of your environment and the council’s finances?

And have you ever found that you were wrong? Horribly, smugly, over-confidently wrong?

Waste Day Change is next week, folks, not this week. It starts on June 9, not on June 2.
All of which means that one particular Bath household, which should have put out its recycling last Tuesday but didn’t, will be hanging on to the evidence of its boozy misdeeds for a lot longer than it actually needed to.

All of which also means that one particular Bath wife and mum has every right to smack one particular Bath husband and dad upside the head with a folded, and unrecycled, newspaper. Because he got it wrong.

So much for trying to be clever.

Every cloud has a silver lining, though. In one of the still-to-be-recycled newspapers (perused while lurking in the shed waiting for the righteous anger to subside) was one of the most extraordinary adverts ever to appear in print.

It was on page 2 of MediaGuardian on Monday, June 1. It was placed by Keep Britain Tidy. And it was for a “celebrity ambassador to help give England a facelift”.

Among other things, candidates must hate litter, be willing to give two days a year for free, and be “famous not infamous”. Previous incumbents have included Abba, Morecambe and Wise and the Queen Mum.

The mind reels. Does Keep Britain Tidy really think that the ideal celeb will read MediaGuardian? The job ads are for Media Sales Executives, Media Sales Professionals (there’s a difference, apparently) and Editors, Real-Time Analysis. The editorial is about Digital Britain and why you should be pulling your finger out.

Not the sort of thing your average Jordan, Posh’n’Becks or Susan Boyle would necessarily spend much time thumbing through, one imagines.

Anyway, the job spec is pretty restrictive. Especially that famous not infamous bit. Because let’s face it, you’re not a proper celebrity unless you’ve spent at least a fortnight in The Priory. Which more than likely means that you won’t have the squeaky-clean image that Keep Britain Tidy is looking for.

No, eco-friendliness and celebhood rarely go hand in hand. Unless, of course you’re Sting.
And the Stingmeister would definitely be up for the job. He could stroll up and down our street busking Roxanne and pointing out to the thickest resident (ie yours truly) that while you may not have to put on the red light, you do have to put out your recycling on the right day.


This was formerly the column known as my Bath Chronicle column.