Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why mauve is the new purple

It's getting better all the time. The long, dark, turgid slog that was January is behind us, there's a chink of light in the sky at 6.40 in the morning, there's a hint of spring in the air, England have seen off the indomitable cricketers of the Netherlands. And just like the glossy cherry on the frosty icing of an especially moist cake, along comes London Fashion Week to cheer us up even more.

Ah, London Fashion Week. Regimes may crumble, earthquakes may rumble, but the show must go on. The glitterati hobnob with the fashionistas. Velvet flirts with velour, denim disses diamante. Electric blue clashes with strawberry pink. And loses.

And everyone who isn't directly involved pulls a sheet over their heads and wonders what it's all about.

What it's all about, of course, is the transmogrification of art into money. The often outlandish creations you see sashaying down the catwalk this week will soon be stripped down to become the off-the-peg stuff you'll be buying in the shops in a few months' time.
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So what are the top stories at this year's extravaganza of style? What's hot to trot, what's too cool for school? We asked Chronicle style guru Aramintha Tyghte-Pringle for her tips for 2011.

First and most important, says Aramintha, is colour. And this season, that colour is mauve. "Forget taupe, darling. Forget aubergine. Apricot is so last October. Mauve is bold, mauve makes a statement. Mauve says: 'I am me; you are you'. Mauve is the new purple."

The signature look this spring, says Aramintha, is the hat. Think big, think brash, think that wedding (Minty's already got her invite! She's so made up about it!).

But this year the hat comes with a twist. "Darling, the big word is basketwork," breathes Aramintha. "Jasper, Vivienne, Issey, Stella: everyone who is anyone has gone for that open-weave look."

Hardly practical, though, is it Minty? Surely the main point of wearing a hat is to keep the weather off? And surely the holes in an open-weave basketwork hat would do exactly the opposite?

"Are you quite mad, darling?" squeaks Aramintha. "The girl who wears this kind of hat doesn't go outside! She so doesn't care about the weather! She gets a taxi! Everywhere!"

OK, Minty, we'll take your word for it. The world of fashion is a mysterious one, and it is not for us mere mortals to question its ways.

Finally, though, the question everyone's asking: are hemlines going up or coming down?

Aramintha fixes us with a steely eye. "Down, darling. Definitely down. Hemlines follow the markets, and times are getting tight. Why, Daddy's even had to let two of the gardeners go.

"But like he says, we're all in it together. That's why he's stopped buying Champers. And by June, my skirt will be right down around my ankles."

  • Aramintha Tyghte-Pringle is currently at the Priory recovering from a fit of the italics.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I'm not growing ganja

Halfway up a hill on the outskirts of Bath, something is stirring.

Walk past one particular house late at night or in the early hours of the morning, and you may see from the conservatory an eerie pinkish glow. Passers-by of a nervous disposition may even imagine they detect flickerings, groans and noxious gases emerging from this otherwise ordinary suburban semi.

“What can it be?” you may ask. “What unnatural experiment are the inhabitants conducting within? Can they be harnessing the forces of nature to engender some foul and ghastly new life form?”

Steel your nerves, dear reader, and you will learn.

The house, as you may already have guessed, is Dixon Towers. And no, the pinkish glow is not an early Valentine’s Day lurve gift but, well, something of an experiment.

For a few years now the Dixon conservatory has produced a small but steady flow of chilli peppers – enough to keep us in pizza toppings, Saturday night curries and interestingly-flavoured vodka throughout the year.

But this year it was decided by the chief chilli-grower (yours truly) that we needed something a bit more challenging than your run-of-the-mill Cayenne. So we’re going for the Naga Jolokia, officially recognised as The World’s Strongest Chilli.

Or at least, that’s what it says on the seed packet. Where it also says that Naga Jolokias have a long growing season, and need to be sown in early February at the very latest to give you any hope of a crop by September.

But early February in the Dixon conservatory is traditionally a time when there’s very little natural light. So what we needed was a bit of illuminative oomph.

Now your typical greenhouse lighting system requires ventilating, ballasting, all sorts of complicated stuff. Stuff that doesn’t sit well in a conservatory that doubles as a home for three lively guinea pigs, 27 half-finished Airfix models and a ten-foot pile of choral music (don’t ask).

What was needed was a compact light source: hence the eerie glow.

Because what we ended up with was a new-fangled bank of LED grow lights. Pure blue and red illumination. No heat, low power, easily suspended above the plant pots using a length of old plank, three feet of string and a couple of lengths of angle iron.

The initial set-up caused some merriment among the younger generation (“Dad, are you growing ganja?”) And some of the instructions are a tad over-dramatic (“Shut off the power when there may have thunderbolt to avoid being damaged by the high pressure.”)

But we got there in the end. In a week or two, the Naga Jolokias will realise that they’re in an environment that approximates to their natural home in the Khyber Pass, and start to sprout.

Bathed in a magenta glow for 18 hours a day, the seedlings will burgeon into sturdy plants, and by September we’ll be feasting on blistering pods with a Scoville rating of a million or more. We hope.

And what of the flickerings, groans and gases? Don’t worry: they’re just the after-effects of last year’s crop.