Thursday, October 28, 2010

RIP Paul the psychic cephalopod

So, farewell then, Paul the Psychic Octopus. The eight-tentacled, three-hearted cephalopod – whose FIFA World Cup 2010 predictions entertained us last summer as Capello’s Heroes limped out of the competition at a much later stage than they deserved – has died and gone to invertebrate heaven.

Paul was born – or rather, hatched – in an aquarium in Weymouth, but his natural wanderlust soon took him further afield.

At an early age he moved to Oberhausen in Germany and found a berth in the Sea Life Centre.

There, Paul accurately predicted the outcome of several Euro 2008 football matches  by choosing which of two boxes, labelled with the flags of the competitors, to open first. Inside each box was a tasty mussel or oyster as a reward.

Paul really hit his stride with this year’s World Cup, though, when he correctly foretold the result of every single match of Germany’s World Cup campaign.

 The football establishment closed ranks against him and lesser pundits such as Lineker, Hansen, Shearer, Tyldesdley and co shook in their collective boots.

Paul’s predictive skills were questioned in academia as well as the world of sport. Chris Budd, Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Bath, was quoted by the BBC as saying that Paul’s success rate was no better than you’d get from tossing a coin.  “Mathematics can be spooky,” he said. You’re not wrong there, professor.

Be that as it may, all gritty rationalism got swept under the carpet when Paul hit the jackpot by predicting Spain’s triumph over the Netherlands in the final.

Paul was subsequently invited to make a victory tour of Spain, but his owners declined the offer, presumably fearing that the octopodophagous Spaniards might get carried away with the excitement of their win, and devour him in a stew of his own ink.

Not everyone was delighted with Paul’s predictions. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, claimed he was a tool of “western propaganda and superstition”.

And a hit squad from the Oxford English Dictionary was dispatched to Bath to deal with a certain blogger who was going round indiscriminately inventing words like “octopodophagous”.

Paul’s management team put him out to grass after the World Cup. But even now, before the mourning is over, conspiracy theorists are claiming that he actually died before the final in Soccer City, and that his last, most glorious, prediction was made by a double.

Why can’t they let the dead rest in peace? Paul was a true aristocrat among football pundits. (He had the blue blood to prove it – caused by haemocyanin, a copper-based respiratory protein, fact fans.) His memory should be left unsullied. De mortuis nil nisi bonum and that sort of thing.

Who now remembers Leon the porcupine, Mani the parakeet or Apfelsin the African red river hog, all of whom tried to emulate Paul’s predictive feats and failed?

No-one, that's who. Paul was the greatest. We shall never see his like again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eight Things You May Not Have Known About Paul the Psychic Octopus

  1. He was psychic.
  2. He is dead.
  3. He had EIGHT TENtacles. Spooky.
  4. I predicted his demise in July 2010.
  5. He was born in Weymouth, UK but emigrated to Germany.
  6. Actually, he wasn't born. He hatched.
  7. He had three hearts. One for everyday, one for Sundays, and one just in case another was broken by a lady octopus.
  8. He knew more about football than most of the telly pundits put together.
RIP Paul the Psychic Octopus. We'll miss you.

And an extra ninth thing: he was called "Paul" because of its phonetic similarity to "Poulpe", which is French for Octopus. Or Pulpo, which is Spanish for Octopus. (I have no evidence for this whatsoever, but it sounds convincing.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Golden chilli saffron vodka

I had a glut of chillis this year, mainly very hot Paper Lanterns - a sort of Habanero.

Some are drying, some have been chopped up, blitzed and frozen in the ice-making tray.

But this was a worthwhile experiment.


70cl bottle of vodka (I used Smirnoff Red Label rather than supermarket)

Three hot red chillis

Large pinch of saffron strands


  • Cut the stalks from the chillis, slice in half and remove the seeds. Be careful not to touch your face or other sensitive areas after cutting chillis - wearing rubber or latex gloves is a good precaution.
  • Open the vodka bottle and push the chilli pieces and saffron down inside.
  • Close the bottle and leave in a dark place for 3 weeks, giving it the occasional gentle shake. The vodka will take on a rich golden yellow colour - the more saffron, the more golden the finished product.
  • Strain the contents of the bottle into a jug through a piece of muslin. Discard the old saffron strands, and remove the chilli pieces from the bottle (I had to tease them out with a skewer).
  • Pour the golden vodka back into the bottle (use a funnel to avoid any wastage).
  • Freeze the bottle.
  • To serve: pour into small shot glasses and knock back in one. Throwing the shot glasses over your shoulder into the fireplace is entirely optional.

The colour is glorious, the taste is like honeyed rocket fuel with a vanilla finish.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Learn to stop worrying and love the CSR

So this is it. The party’s over, the fat lady has sung, Elvis has left the building and it’s time to clean up the mess and pay back the billions that have been borrowed in our collective names.

The cuts are coming, and they’re going to hit hard. We’ll soon find ourselves steering into what one newspaper terrifyingly described as “uncharted social and economic territory”.

The dark clouds of austerity are gathering on the horizon, and none of them has a silver lining. 24-carat lead, more like.

Life in the UK for the next few years doesn’t look as though it’s going to be that much fun.

So what are your options in this new world of enforced belt-tightening? We consulted a panel of experts and distilled their wisdom into your Official Guide to Surviving the Cuts, as first published in Ye 250-year-0lde Bath Chronicle.

Here are the highlights.

  •  Adopt the French position. Whatever the economic climate, our Gallic neighbours always seem to be enjoying themselves. If they’re not guzzling a four-course meal with a selection of fine wines and cheeses, they’re closing petrol stations, pouring milk down the Champs-Élysées and calling out the riot police. So follow their example: go on strike, and stay on strike.

  •  Adopt the Greek position. As above, but with retsina and halloumi.

  • Become a hermit. Sell all your possessions, cash in what you can on the house and give the money to the poor (you won’t have much trouble finding them). Then wrap yourself in an old sack and find a nice damp cave. Be warned, though: long queues are already forming at Cheddar and Wookey Hole, so you may have to look further afield. Like Greenland.

  • Take your mind off the crisis by starting a time-consuming hobby. You’ll be using candles instead of electric light for most of next three years, so collect all the spent matches and use them to build a model of a well-known landmark – Bath Abbey or Pulteney Bridge, say, or even the Busometer if you fancy a real challenge. Faithfully reproducing all those curves and sticky-out metal bits should keep you going right past the end of this recession and well into the next one.(Picture: Kevin Bates, The Bath Chronicle)

  • Take a leaf out of ’70s chart-toppers Wizzard’s book: pretend it’s Christmas every day. It’s already happening in Bath: the lights started going up at the beginning of October, and they’re unlikely to come down until May 2011 at the earliest. By then it’ll only be five months until they’re due to put them up again, so why not just leave them where they are and let people enjoy a festive frisson every time they go to the shops? They won’t have any money to spend, mind you. But at least the streets will look pretty.

  •  Grin and bear it. Let’s face it, there’s not really any other option.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Double yellow peril

It started more than a year ago, with a circular from the council. There was a proposal to extend the parking restrictions up from the bottom of our road.

It was called the Various Roads, Outer Area, Bath: Prohibition & Restriction of Waiting Order 2009.

And as is right and proper in a democratic society, we were offered the chance to comment.

Which we did. And delivered our comments by hand to the wrong letterbox in Keynsham, two hours before the deadline. (Thanks, kind Keynsham person, for sending them on.)

The months passed, the council considered the views of objectors and supporters, and eventually ruled in favour of the original proposal. Not only was democracy done, but it was seen to be done. All very right and proper, even if our objections were overruled.

We sat down (metaphorically) to wait for the yellow lining lorries to arrive and lengthen the existing double yellows.

Then the winter came, and the snow, and the potholes. And still the yellow liners didn’t come.

Spring passed, and summer too. The potholes got worse, the yellow lines stayed the same length.

Then, in late summer, a second notice arrived from the council: the road was to be resurfaced. Regular readers will know all about that episode: casual browsers will be spared the gripping details.

Anyway, the road was resurfaced, and we waited for the double yellow lines to be replaced. In our naivety we thought that someone might do some joined-up thinking and implement the Various Roads Order.

They didn’t. Here’s what actually happened.

The coning people coned off an area which didn’t match the  order but did bear a vague resemblance to what had been there before.

On one side of the road, a driver parked their car at the top end of the  cones.

The lining folk came along  and painted a one-foot double yellow line behind the car, then left a car-length gap, then continued the lines down to the bottom of the road.

They painted more double yellows  further up the road, and then painted white Access Protection Markings parallel with them, so bits  of the road with dropped kerbs had two yellow lines and one white.

They left most of the opposite side of the road unlined. Drivers used the car-length gap as a parking space.

The coners came back and coned the gap and the opposite side. A driver parked among the new cones. (Can you guess what’s coming?)

The lining people came back and painted in the first gap and most of the opposite side, leaving a second car-length gap  opposite the place where the first one had been.

They covered up the white lines they’d painted a week previously with a thin layer of black gunge.

And then they went away, presumably feeling pleased with a job well done, and as of Wednesday morning they hadn’t come back.

Who said the circus had left town?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

One good thing about cold callers

First, the answers to the mini-quiz. The genuine dark red paint colour, as opposed to the fevered imaginings of a deadline-beset columnist, was Boot Red from Fired Earth.

Or Fried Earth, as Mrs D insists on calling them.

We’re not going to use it, mind. Opinion on the ultimate decorative finish for our bedroom walls has swung away from sombre reds and browns towards duskier shades like Smoked Trout and Poached Turbot.

This one will run and run. But for now there are bigger fish to fry.

How many times recently have you heard the phrase, “There’s nothing to worry about”? It seems to be the latest ploy of foot-in-the-door salespeople  and telephone cold callers.

Some genius of a sales trainer has probably worked out that the callers’ victims  need a bit of reassurance before they will part with their money.

We had a variation on the theme a couple of days ago. A greasy youth from one of the energy companies rang the doorbell, and fired off with the immortal line: “Evening sir, nothing to worry about, don’t get the boxing gloves out.”

Quite what sort of reassurance that was supposed to give is doubtful. The door was shut firmly but politely in his face.

And then there was the telephone marketer who started her spiel with “Don’t worry, Mr Dixon. This isn’t a sales call.” Yeah, right. And we’ve opted out through the Telephone Preference Service, so you can take us right off your so-called database.

The most offensive cold calls, of course, are the ones when the line goes dead for a couple of seconds, and then you’re asked if you’re the “named user of your computer system”.

The person calling doesn’t tell you not to worry. They tell you that there’s a problem with your computer, that they’re from some sort of service centre – or even from Microsoft – and they want to help you sort it out.

They don’t want to do anything of the sort.

They’re criminals, and they’re trying to plant viruses, bots or keyloggers on your system so that they can steal your personal information or otherwise subvert your PC. (It doesn’t work on Macs.)

Microsoft doesn’t ring people up out of the blue asking for information. Its staff have better things to do with their time, and they don’t have your phone number.

Now with most cold callers there’s always this residual urge to be polite. They’re only doing their job, after all, and not a very gratifying or rewarding one either.

But  if one of these cyber scum ring you up one evening, and you’ve have a bad day, and you need to release some stress, and you’ve got the gift of the gab, then no one’s going to mind if you take out your frustrations on them by being as rude as you damn well like.

It ain’t half therapeutic.