Thursday, September 30, 2010

Just like watching paint dry

Decisions, decisions. The moment has come at Dixon Towers when we can prevaricate, procrastinate, shilly-shally and vacillate no longer.

Although we can’t do it tonight because it’s the cat’s birthday. And tomorrow we’ve got to do the weekly shop. And then it’s the feast day of Saint Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, Apostle of the Franks. And you know what that means?

Exactly. No windows in our family calendar for at least another week.

Anyway, once we’ve got that little lot out of the way it will definitely be time to decide.

On what, you may ask. What decision can be so important, yet so avoidable? Out with it, Dixon.

It’s time to come clean. The master bedroom at Dixon Towers is in dire need of redecoration. The once pristine cream on the walls is now a murky shade of yoghurt. The woodwork is flaking. There’s still a horrible patch of bare plaster from when we had the loft conversion done six years ago. Hey, we don’t rush things at Dixon Towers. But we can put it off no longer.

The brief is for dark red, but Mrs D’s conditions are strict: not too dark, and not too red. And thick enough to cover up aforementioned plaster in no more than three coats, seeing as how she’ll be doing most of the painting.

Yours truly’s conditions are less taxing. Nothing that will require a second mortgage to buy. And nothing that looks too much like Germolene.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Germolene in its place, you understand. It’s just that it has an unnerving resemblance to dead salmon, and it smells far too much like Doctor Pepper. Or maybe Dr P smells like Germolene. What was that about procrastination?

Tally ho for Homebase, where your columnist has been dispatched to pick up some test pots.

Where to begin? Well, the paint counter, obviously. But there’s one paint counter for the fancy stuff, and another for the Eezy-Klene Wun-Cote common-or-garden household emulsion.

Let’s split the difference: four from the posh aisle, four from the cheap zone. And from there on in it’s a lucky dip, because the names don’t offer much of a clue.

Burnt Raspberry. Carmine Blush. Deepest Scarlet. Vicar’s Crimson. Boot Red. Fox’s Bloodstain.

(Only one of these is a real paint. Any guesses which?)

A sharp intake of breath as you realise that just shelling out for the test pots will set you back almost as much as what you’ll end up paying to cover the walls, and then it’s home with your spoils.

From a first glance at the lids, Mrs D is not convinced. All too dark, all too red, in her judgment. Except for the Ruptured Salmon, which looks too much like the well-known ointment. And smells worse.

Never mind. The Dixon bedroom is now festooned with sheets of lining paper painted with squares of the samples. Unfortunately, though, they all look exactly alike, barring the nasty accident with the fish.

So we still can’t make up our minds, and next week it’s the memorial day of St Denis of Paris and his companions the martyrs. The painting will just have to wait.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wild, wild Weston

High noon in the Badlands. Small white empty clouds float motionless in a steel-blue sky. A harsh sun beats down on a dried-out gulch. Not even the tumbleweed stirs as the long hand of the town clock ticks, ticks, ticks towards 12.

A curtain twitches and a face appears briefly at the window, casts a worried glance towards town, then vanishes. The curtain flicks back and the dusty street is still once more. They’re coming. And they mean business.

Actually, if you believe anything you’ve read in the last 80 words or so, you’re the victim of what is known in the trade as journalistic licence. It’s time for a reality check.

We’re not in the Badlands of South Dakota: we’re in leafy Weston Village, Bath on Sunday lunchtime. It’s not a baking hot day: it’s about average for the middle of September. And it’s not even high noon: it’s one in the afternoon. Although strictly speaking it would be midday if we were on GMT and not BST. Let’s not lose track, though...

Because last Sunday, they were definitely coming, and they certainly did mean business.

“They” in this case meaning the road re-surfacers.

Ever since the cold snap last winter, our road has suffered from a bad case of the potholes. Driving down the hill has subjected the Dixonmobile (and every other  vehicle) to the suburban equivalent of a spin round the tank training grounds on Salisbury Plain.

Suspensions have twanged, shock absorbers have boinged, passengers have bounced and unrestrained parcels have flown through  windows every time a car went by.

But all the time, the promise has been there: “One day,” the handouts from the council have assured us, “we’ll come and mend your road.”

So at last the contractors arrived. All the parked cars mysteriously vanished (except for one), and a sweeper lorry trundled up and down clearing away the early autumn leaves while purposeful looking blokes in reflective jackets taped over the ironwork.

And everyone on the street came out to have a look. The excitement was palpable, we all had a  chat, and waves of community spirit drifted upwards into the September air.

At last the big moment arrived and a gigantic machine started spreading the micro-asphalt.

(Which, for the non-technically-minded, is a combination of aggregate and bitumen emulsion that restores skid resistance quickly and with minimal disruption to the carriageway user. Or so it says in this leaflet. What it doesn’t say is how to get the bits off your carpet.)

First the machine did our side. Then it did the middle. And then it went away, along with the road-sweeper and all the yellow jackets.

An eerie hush descended and we all started to wonder: whose was that car at the bottom of the hill? Would the asphalteers ever come back and finish what they’d started?

Of course they did, on Monday, and we now have a lovely new road.

It may not be the wild, wild west. But it certainly livened up Weston.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Karrottenstein will rise from the grave

Readers slavering in anticipation after last week’s mention of comedy vegetables will be delighted to know that our preposterous carrot won first prize at Weston Flower Show last weekend.

An in-depth trawl through Mrs D’s carrot patch produced a specimen of such ugly weirdness (or indeed weird ugliness – there’s not a lot of difference between the two) that it didn’t take much imagination to come up with a winner.

The carrot in question was broad and sturdy. It already had a knobbly protuberance that would make a passable nose, and markings suggestive of a mouth. We rifled one of the children’s old craft kits for a couple of googly eyes, and stuck them on with Evo-Stik. We grabbed a pair of spare stainless steel coach screws from the stainless steel coach screw cupboard and drove them into the sides of his neck.

A jubilee clip for a collar and a brass curtain ring round one of his carroty ears completed the ensemble.

(Money spent on DIY is money well spent. QED.)

Then we simply connected some electrodes to the carriage screws, awaited a passing thunderstorm, and faster than you can say “Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley”, Karrotenstein was born.

To quote unashamedly and at length from our inspiration, Mrs S:

 “I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.”

Scary stuff. And Mary Shelley could just as easily have been writing about the Dixon kitchen on the night before the show as about Frankenstein’s gloomy laboratory at the University of Ingolstadt.

On reflection, “born” is the wrong word to describe the arrival of Karrottenstein. His roots are in the ground (or they were until Mrs D pulled him up). Maybe it would be better to say that he was propagated.

Be that as it may, The Big K presented a frightening prospect to his creators, the latter-day Victor and Igor.

We did take some pictures, and offered them to the editor of The Bath Chronicle for publication. But he felt that they were a little too disturbing to see the light of day in a family newspaper.

If you have a strong stomach, though, and a stronger internet connection, you can see Karrottenstein's picture here.

Like Frankenstein’s monster before him, Karrottenstein met an early and unnatural fate. Following his triumph in the humorous vegetable stakes, the only way was down. None of us fancied eating a carrot covered in glue, so we removed the screws, the clips and the rest of the metalwork and consigned him to the compost heap.

But don’t sleep easy: his vital force lives on among the potato peelings.

Be warned, gentle reader: Karrottenstein will rise from the grave, and walk the earth once more.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

When vegetables go get weird

So that’s it then. No more bank holidays between now and Christmas. A three-and-a-half-month desert of work, weekend, work, weekend, work…

Meanwhile, of course, the clouds have parted, the wind has dropped, the sun is shining and it’s summer at last, just in time for the kids to go back to school.

You get the picture. We need something to cheer us up. Now and every weekend between until the festive season.

Well, we can start with the Weston Village Flower Show. It’s this Saturday, and it should provide enough fun and jollity to get us through the first week of the Long Hard Slog Through Autumn.

Wallace and Gromit fans will remember the climactic scene in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Rotten cad and all-round bounder Victor Quartermaine chases Wallace, who has been transmogrified into a gigantic and voracious rabbit, through the village fruit and vegetable show. Quartermaine has armed himself with an ancient blunderbuss, loaded it with golden bullets supplied by the vicar, and is out for bunny flesh.

Meanwhile, in the skies above the show another chase is going on. Gromit and his arch enemy, Quartermaine’s slavering hound Philip, are slugging it out in an aerial dogfight (geddit?) in planes untethered from a fairground ride.

It’s not spoiling the story too much, if you’re one of the few people who don’t know it already, to reveal that the good end happily, the bad unhappily.

Don’t imagine for a minute that anything quite as dramatic as that will be happening in Weston on Saturday. The show is a generally calm affair, with more than 100 classes for produce, crafts, cooking and art.

With one exception: the Humorous Vegetable competition.

Quite possibly this part of the show was inspired by Blackadder II. (Remember the turnip that looked like a thingy?) It may equally well have its historical roots in the odd-looking produce that were such a memorable feature of That’s Life.

Be that as it may, if you want to see contorted carrots and preposterous potatoes in abundance, Weston All Saints Centre is the place to be this Saturday afternoon.

Mrs D was going to enter her secret weapon: a tromboncino. For those who don’t know – and there’s no reason why you should –  a tromboncino is a monstrously mutated cousin of the courgette, with a curved body and a club-shaped blobby bit at the business end.

The specimen that Mrs D has nurtured lovingly from seed is now more than 120cm from nose to tail, and threw a system error when we tried to weight it on the electronic kitchen scales.

It also causes spontaneous and uncontrollable laughter in all who see it, and is quite rude into the bargain. We don’t really feel we can take it out of the house during daylight hours without causing a breach of the peace. So for now we’ll just stick with a comedy carrot.

Weston Village Flower Show, Saturday September 3, 2.30pm in the All Saints Centre, Weston High Street, Bath.