Thursday, January 28, 2010

Johnny Depp and the double dip

Two pieces of relatively good news this week, although both may stretch your imagination a little further than is normally comfortable.

First came the revelation that Johnny Depp isn’t dead. What, you say, Johnny Depp? The Johnny Depp who’s been in tons of films, mostly a bit weird? The Johnny Depp who’s been rumoured to live not unadjacent to a city in the west country that rhymes with “path”? But probably doesn’t?

Yes, that Johnny Depp. Over the weekend, messages started circulating on Twitter that he had been killed in a car crash in France.

“RIP Johnny Depp” became a trending topic, the Twitterverse went into overdrive with retweets and hashtags... And if none of that makes any sense to you, then you don’t know your @’s from your #ff’s, and you probably aren’t missing anything, really.

No, Mr Depp isn’t dead. It may have been a prank, or a misunderstanding, or a resurfacing of the 2006 rumour that he had died of a heart attack. Also in France. But it was just that: a rumour, over-hyped by the internet.

Johnny Depp is alive and as far as can be ascertained kicking, if not domiciled anywhere near Bath. Unless you know different.

Which is indeed good news. Because we’re all looking forward to Pirates of the Caribbean IV, V, VI and VII, and let’s face it they wouldn’t be the same with a Depp-shaped hole in them. Especially now Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom have cried off making any more sequels.

That second piece of good news? Well, Britain officially came out of recession in the last three months of 2009. It wasn’t by very much, and US financier Bill Gross said earlier this week that our economy is “lying on a bed of nitroglycerine”. Which is polite financier-speak for “Don’t touch the UK with a ten-foot bargepole.” Nice to be loved.

So perhaps it’s best not to feel too gung-ho about our prospects for recovery just yet. There’s talk of a double-dip recession, and if that makes even less sense to you than all that Twitter jargon,  you should be aware that a double-dip is not what you do when the Queen and the Prince of Wales walk past in quick succession. Or indeed some sort of fancy ice-cream cone.

Consider the letter W. It starts up high, it goes down low, it flips up again, then drops down once more before finally shooting up again.

At the moment, it is feared, our economy is in the middle of the W. We’ve had one dip, we’ve reached a peak, and soon we’ll be dipping down again.

(As well as being a profound and perceptive piece of economic analysis, this is also a useful aide-memoire for those of us who were absent on the day they taught handwriting.)

So hang on tight, people. We’re not off the rollercoaster yet.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

20 different words for snow

It’s a well-known fact (or at least it’s an oft-quoted factoid that may or may not be entirely true) that Eskimos have more than 20 different words for snow.

Actually, the precise figure may be just one, or 14, or even 372. It depends a bit on which structural linguist you happen to be talking to.

“What’s old Dixon on about?” you ask. “The snow’s all vanished. We’ve had our share and that’s it for another 30 years.”

Well maybe, and maybe not. At the time of writing (Deadline? What deadline? It’s only Wednesday morning...) we’ve just had another dollop land on us, and there’s more forecast for later in the day.

So just in case of emergencies, or if you need to explain to your boss why you couldn’t get to work for the fourth morning in a row, here’s your essential cut-out-and-keep guide to the Naming of Snow.

Proper snow: Or the white stuff, as it’s sometimes called. It falls quietly in the night, the skies clear by early morning and everyone awakes to a crispy, crunchy and brilliantly sunny winter wonderland. Snowball fights, snowmen, sledging: it’s the kind of snow that makes the world a better place. Until it turns to...

Snudge: Grey, icy and deeper than your stoutest boots. The stuff you think you can drive on safely, but discover too late that you can’t.

Snowball warning: Not to be confused with Global Warming.

Sneet: Gurt wet floppy flakes falling out of the sky. Only settles on the top of your car, then slides off onto your trousers when you try to get in. Alternatively known as Snail, Snush, and Strain.

Powder: Posh French snow, the kind they get in ski resorts like Meribel, Courchevel and Babibel. Far too fancy ever to make it to this side of the Channel.

Snarbage: The sort of snow that falls just before your weekly waste collection and stops it in its tracks. It fell on Weston and other areas of Bath for two weeks running. Those of us whose rubbish day is Thursday hadn't seen hide or hair of a dustcart since New Year’s Eve.

Never mind, though: it’s been so cold that nothing has got too offensively rancid, and the foxes, rats and badgers are all hibernating (aren’t they?) so they haven’t ripped the black bags open. Much.

We’ll just hang on to all our crud until things get back to normal. If they’d switched to fortnightly collections we probably wouldn’t even have noticed.

(And while we’re on the subject, have you noticed that the Christmas Tree Fairy hasn’t come round this year yet either? Every pavement you walk down is garnished with five or six discarded and dispirited-looking conifers waiting for her to wave her magic wand and turn them into thin air. Evidently lots of people believe in the Christmas Tree Fairy.)

Innaquitluk: Snow that has been walked through by a polar bear on the far side of a high mountain.

And that really is enough snow. Please – Ed.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Goodbye Mario, hello XBox

Once upon a time there was a plumber called Mario. He was Italian, he was slightly plump and he had a bushy moustache.

He wore blue dungarees, a red shirt, white gloves and a red hat with an “M” on it.

He spent most of his working life jumping in and out of pipes, trying to rescue a princess (variously known as Pauline, Peach, or Daisy) from a malevolent fire-breathing lizard who answered to the name of Bowser.

Mario had a younger, slightly slimmer brother called Luigi, who dressed in green rather than red. They lived together in the Mushroom Kingdom, and away from their princess-rescuing duties they enjoyed go-karting, tennis, winter sports and pinball. They were all-round good guys, and Mario always got the girl in the end.

Now, as you probably already know, Mario wasn’t a real person.

And as you’ll certainly be aware if you’ve been anywhere near a video games shop in the last 25 years or so, he was (and still is) the best-selling game character ever, having shifted more than 210 million units for creators Nintendo.

In one respect video games aren’t kids’ stuff. They make more money than Hollywood movies, they outsell DVDs and CDs, and they bring millions of pounds into the UK economy every year.

You can read any number of  newspaper articles about how they deserve the same media coverage as books, plays and first-run movies.

Written, one suspects, by journalists who would like to get hold of a few more review copies.

But just like Tom and Jerry, Top Cat or any Disney character you care to mention, video games are a part of modern childhood.

Our children have grown up with Mario, helped him on his adventures, persevered through their frustration as they guided him through the twists and jumps of his surreal, multi-coloured world.

And as parents we’ve enjoyed his company too: harmless, cartoonish, endlessly witty and, yes, mildly addictive. He never swore, he despatched his enemies by bouncing off their heads, and even when he died he didn’t leave a nasty mess on the virtual floor.

But now it may be time to say farewell to Mario in his many incarnations. Kids get older and turn into teenagers, but Mario, a bit like Peter Pan, never grows up.

Before Christmas, Dixon Junior decided that he was of an age where an XBox 360 would be better suited to his gaming needs than our Wii. It has better graphics (if you like brown), it has more exciting games, it’s  cooler (and more violent) than Nintendo’s generally family-oriented offerings.

To his credit, he saved up for one himself with his Christmas money and his allowance.

But now, as the house resounds to the Third Russian Shock Army advancing on Berlin, it does feel rather as if we’ve lost a friend.

So long, Mario. We’ll miss you.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The day the postie got a hernia

A deafening thud resounds up the stairs of Dixon Manor as something large and very heavy lands on the doormat.

Could it be the snow, falling inwards and crushing an incautious child as it opens the front door en route to a sledging expedition?

Could it be a daily newspaper, packed from start to finish with such glories of the sub-editor’s art as  “Snow joke!”, “The white stuff!”, “It’s a white-out!”, “Continental drift!” or “Why oh why is our public transport so flaky? (Geddit?)”?

Well, if truth be told the almighty thump occurred a couple of days before the perfect storm hit Bath and its environs in all its scrunchy whiteness.

No, this was the sound of Mrs D’s vegetable seed catalogues hitting the floor, bringing her the promise of natural abundance come the summer at the cost of little more than a few pennies and a springtime of unceasing labour.

And leaving the postie with a small hernia.

There was a time when January was holiday brochure month. That was in the days when people could afford more than three nights in a chilly guesthouse in Frinton-on-Sea for their annual getaway.

These days, we don’t get junk mail from Thomson Holidays: it  comes from Thompson & Morgan.

Come to think of it, they may be the same people, even if they're not quite spelled the same way.

Picture if you will the scene in the boardroom of Thomson and Thompson Conglomerates Inc.

Young Mr Thomson – 82 years in the business, white hair and a palsied hand – is at his wits’ end.

“What are we to do?” he quavers. “No one’s going abroad, no one can afford euros, the world’s going to hell in a handbasket!”

“We need to diversify, Dad,” says Mr Thompson Junior, chairman-in-waiting at 54, and still considered too hot-headed for corporate responsibility.

“People these days are into growing things,” he adds. “They want a sense of achievement out of their lives, not just two weeks on a beach in the Med.”

(Actually it’d be nice to have both, but we’ll let that pass.)

“Well, maybe you’re right,” says Young Mr T. “Tell Blenkinsop in Publicity to print up some envelopes with tomatoes on the front, and we’ll give it a whirl.”

Meanwhile Marshall’s, D.T. Brown, Edwin Tucker and a host of others have jumped on the bandwagon.

Each one more glossy than the next, their catalogues promise infinite vegetable variety.

They vie with each other with Boothby’s Blonde (a small white cucumber) and with Flamboyant Sabina (a radish). They tussle with Minipop, with Yellow Moon, with Bullnose Red, and with The Sutton (you’ll have to guess).

There’s so much horticultural choice, and so much culinary promise, that Mrs D’s eyes glaze over and she has to go for a little lie-down.

Have no fear, Messrs Thompson and the rest. Your shareholders’ future is safe with us.