Thursday, June 24, 2010

Large Hadron Collider goes to Glastonbury

Have you ever had one of those mornings when inspiration refuses to come?

When words – never mind whole sentences –  flow from your brain to the tip of your typing finger with all the grace and alacrity of Emile Heskey chasing a through ball?

When ideas are as rare as English women tennis players after the first round at Wimbledon?

(And yes, we know the men won’t do much better either. So don’t bother writing in.)

When your vvv is as www as an xxx’s yyy in the middle of a zzz with two qqq’s? (Fill in gaps later.)

If you’ve ever tried to get words on to paper for a living, the chances are that you know the feeling.

So what do you do to get the creative juices flowing again, to lubricate the brain/paper interface, and to ensure that the remaining two legs of this week’s outpouring are at least half literate?

Well, whatever you might think after this week’s Budget from the Black Lagoon, the answer is not cider. Especially not at 9.15 in the morning, mister Osborne sir.

No, if you need a dose of inspiration, just look eastwards, to the Franco-Swiss border, under which runs the giant torus that is the Large Hadron Collider.

Yes, we’ve been there before. Usually when the good old LHC has inexplicably broken down because a pigeon has dropped a chunk of quantum baguette into its insides.

This time though, it’s different.

Because a radio news report earlier this week suggested that the boffins in charge of the LHC are trying to get it started on the road to musical superstardom by converting its heretofore silent subatomic womblings into sounds.

It’s rather like when you buy a new computer. It comes with all sorts of fancy toys that you never get round to using – film editing software, website creation tools, the first level of a game that stretches the graphics card to its limit and crashes just as you’re getting the hang of the controls.

Instead you use it as intended – for emails, web browsing and writing to the bank explaining how you’re going to pay back the money you borrowed to buy it in the first place.

But one lazy day your discover that hidden away under the bonnet is a full 32-track recording studio, with instrument samples, graphic equalizers, flangers and other  incomprehensible sonic effects.

A few minutes fiddling – a cowbell here, a horn stab there – and you’ve got a hit on your hands.

Or nor. What you’ve actually got is an out-take from Hot Chip.

But what does all this have to do with the LHC? Well, its everyday work (renormalising Higgs bosons, mixing quark-gluon plasma) was  getting a bit dull, and it needed its own creative outlet.

And now the LHC has found that outlet: the music within itself.

So be warned. If you’re at Glastonbury  this weekend, and 1,600 superconducting magnets appear on the Pyramid Stage, then you’re about to hear the sound of protons colliding at the speed of light.

A bit like Kraftwerk, by all accounts. But without the tunes.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bath Regency Detective: sneak preview

“City in line for own detective show” reads the headline in The Bath Chronicle. And what better sort of TV detective for Bath than one from the Regency period?

For it is, to paraphrase a novelist who stayed in Bath for a bit,  a truth universally acknowledged, that a city in possession of a gang of villains, must be in want of someone to give ’em a proper sorting.

Yes, coming soon to a screen near you is what can only be imagined as an Empire-line version of every hard-hitting Mockney detective series you’ve ever seen on TV.

Here’s a sneak preview:


A well-appointed  apartment in the Paragon. Miss Betty Smallpiece has met an unpleasant end. Her friend, the fashionable Miss Abigail Cavendish, is being grilled by Inspector Nasher, a rough diamond with greasy hair and yellow fingernails bitten to the quick. Sergeant Trotter, his sidekick, lurks menacingly at the back of the room.

MISS CAVENDISH: We have had a most delightful evening, an excellent ball.

NASHER: Shut it, slaaaaag!

MISS CAVENDISH: For shame, sir! Would you toy with my affections?

NASHER: Are you ’avin’ a laugh? You are, you’re ’avin’ a laugh, ain’tcha?

MISS CAVENDISH: Upon my word, you overstep the bounds of propriety.

NASHER: Give us a fag, love. I’ve got a mouth like a fireman’s boot.

MISS CAVENDISH: I most certainly will not. My father shall hear of this!

NASHER: That’s it, darlin’, you’re nicked. Cuff ’er, Trotter.


Nasher and Trotter peer in through the door of a cell at the headquarters of the Bath Watch. Filthy straw lines the cobbled floor. Miss Cavendish languishes in chains.

MISS CAVENDISH: I swoon, I swoon!

TROTTER: Is this some kind of fit-up, guvnor? You’re not tellin’ me it was her what done it?

NASHER: Nah, she’s ’ere for ’er own protection. If we ’adn’t ’ave brung ’er in  she’d ’ave woke up in Twerton with a chalk line round ’er.

TROTTER: You’re a sharp ’un guvnor and no mistake. Whadda we do now?

NASHER: We’re the Sweeney, son, and we ’aven’t ’ad any dinner!


Miss Cavendish has returned to her family lodgings with her betrothed, the dashing Mr Lower-Lansdown.  Nasher has uncomfortable news.

NASHER: That’s our villain. As soon as I laid eyes on the smarmy git I knew something weren’t right.

MISS CAVENDISH: But Inspector, Mr Lower-Lansdown is heir to a thousand acres in Hampshire. What possible desire could he have to do poor Betty to death?

NASHER: Search me, darlin’. But his prints was all over the blunderbuss. And his real name ain’t Lower-Lansdown. It’s Walcot. We’ve got ’im bang to rights.

LOWER-LANSDOWN: You’ll never take me, copper. I can’t do time again.

NASHER: Yeah, right. Take ’im down the nick, Trotter. And if you ’ave  to ’urt ’im, don’t mark ’im.

MISS CAVENDISH: How can I  thank you enough, Inspector? Maybe we will meet again at the Assembly Rooms next Friday forenoon?

NASHER (TO HIMSELF): I hate this place. It’s a holiday camp for thieves and weirdoes. All the rubbish...


Next week: Jamie’s Regency Dinners

Friday, June 11, 2010

Waiting for the fur to fly

 The appearance of last week’s ramblings got yours truly into a certain amount of trouble.

Some colleagues felt that the shameless and extended plug for a certain Open Garden event in Weston this Sunday was in some way an abuse of its writer’s position.

And a female member of the Dixon household was, perhaps justifiably, a little bit miffed that her gentle and forbearing nature had been misrepresented both in print and online. Misrepresented to such a degree that, she contends, it amounts to defamation of character.

Yes, our cat is suing The Bath Chronicle for libel. With particular reference to the suggestion that she regularly lurks in the flower beds waiting to sink her claws into unsuspecting passers-by.

Now any hack worth his or her salt will have more than a passing acquaintance with McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists.

The current, 20th, edition covers such essential topics as court reporting, copyright, protection of sources and defamation.

But nowhere in its 570 pages does it suggest that a moggy may take her owner – or indeed her owner’s employer – to court. And even if she could, we’d have – courtesy of McNae’s – any number of defences.

Take your pick from justification, innocent dissemination, fair comment, privilege, qualified privilege and “other”. The cat hasn’t got a leg to stand on, litigation-wise.

 She can roll on her back and look cute all she likes, but at the end of the day we know she’s a lean, mean, ludicrously fluffy biting machine.

And rather than wasting her time and money dragging us through the courts, she’d be far better off going to the assistance of some of her larger feline cousins.

The San Francisco Fudge Factory, in Church Street, near Bath Abbey, is one of the sponsors of the Lions Of Bath 2010 project.

Their lion sculpture, The King of Fudge, took pride of place (geddit?) on the roof above the shop. The work of artist Gareth Sayers, The King is one of the simplest and most distinctive of the sculptures appearing across the city: a shiny chocolate head revealed by a peeled-back “mane” of gold foil.

He looks regally distinguished and good enough to eat, both at the same time.

Or at least he did, until some scumbag pushed him off his perch last Saturday night.

You wouldn’t really want to get inside the mind of the peasant who did it. It must be a rather dank, sweaty and unpleasant place if its owner’s idea of a good time is going to the trouble of climbing onto a roof and vandalising an attractive and valuable work of art. Enough said – anger is bad for the heart.

King of Fudge has been taken back to Lions’ Den central for repairs.

And let’s just hope the culprit doesn’t have a midnight encounter with the man-eater outside the Cork Vaults in James Street West. Because our cat would be more than happy to lend a paw.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Everything in the garden's lovely. Well, it will be...

It's shameless and gratuitous plug time. It comes round every year with monotonous regularity, and we make no apology for returning to the subject once again.
On Sunday week, 11 keen gardeners in Weston village – including Mrs D – will be opening up to the public in aid of Dorothy House Hospice Care and voluntary groups in Weston and Newbridge.
Last year the event raised £1,900, and gave visitors the chance to enjoy a glimpse behind the garden wall and maybe gain some inspiration for their own plots.
The great news is that because of this year's cold winter and slow spring, everything in our back patch is only just coming to fruition and, according to the Head Gardener – Mrs D, and she's got one of those mugs that say so – will be in perfect nick on the day.
(On the subject of mugs, yours truly is considering getting one that says Under Gardener. Hopefully it won't be taken too literally.)
Anyway, if you do decide to come along, we can promise a horticultural treat at least as thrilling as any Chelsea Flower Show. Here are just a few of the treats in store:

  • THRILL to the burbling of our incredible solar-powered fountain. The bloke in the shop knocked £30 off the original asking price; he said he was fed up with staring at the boxes on the shelf. *
  • GUZZLE the lollies and ice-creams sold for a minimal fee by the willing band of "volunteers" press-ganged by Mrs D for the occasion.
  • GASP as the cat, apparently comatose under the foxgloves, leaps into action and takes a swipe at anyone foolhardy enough to stick their hand in her general direction.
  • WONDER at the extraordinary medieval doo-dah

    which Mrs D lugged home from the Chelsea for hanging lavender from, and which yours truly was ordered to suspend from the kitchen ceiling at considerable risk to his person.
There are some lovely flowers, too. And that's just our place. Who knows what other wonders will await you as you stroll around the streets of Weston? Do come along – it's a very worthy cause.
Weston Village Open Garden Event is on Sunday, June 13. It runs from 1pm to 5pm. Admission is by programme, which costs £5 on the day or £4 in advance from Kit Johnson estate agents and Weston Fruit Stores, both in Weston High Street. A full list of  Weston open gardens is available online.

* Potential visitors please note: fountain only works in full sunlight. Anyone found obstructing the solar panel will be asked to move. Fountain is not directly comparable with similar installations at Versailles, Blenheim Palace or the Trevi in Rome. Your statutory rights are not affected. Not a flying toy.