Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why our family is a load of losers

There was a young guy walking round Sainsbury’s last Sunday morning who added a touch of culture to the otherwise mundane commercial proceedings.

He was singing, very pleasantly, in a mellow baritone. And the song he sang was Amazing Grace.

As we struggled up and down the aisles in a fruitless search for Ainsley Harriott’s Creamy Vegetable Spelt (don’t ask), his song drifted in and out of earshot, at once uplifting and slightly unnerving.

Prophetic, too, with its references to “lost” and “found”. We’d better change the subject now,  before things get too deep and meaningful.

Especially because, over the last week, the Dixon household has become a veritable Bermuda Triangle of things disappearing and not showing up again.

First it was Mrs D’s reading glasses. She only bought them last Saturday morning, and by that same afternoon they had completely and utterly vanished.

Cue the old joke about needing your specs to find your specs. Or rather don’t, because it didn’t amuse Mrs D at all.

Especially when it transpired, two or three days later and after extensive floor-by-by-floor searches, that she’d dropped them down the front of her apron rather than putting them back into the case, and they’d been  in the pocket ever since.

There have been other episodes too – like the car keys found in a jacket that hadn’t been worn for weeks – but the worst has been the Mystery of the Disappearing Book.

The book in question is Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut. It was meant to complement our already extensive collection of the Vonnegut oeuvre , and it was sitting on the sideboard waiting to be read.

And then it wasn’t.

It had gone, completely and utterly. The searches we conducted for Mrs D’s glasses paled into insignificance compared with the root-and-branch upheaval the house went through looking for Gal├ípagos.

We still haven’t found it, and it looks like we never will. The only rational explanation seems to be that it got recycled with the papers. But with these disappearances becoming more and more irrational by the day, we probably need to look further afield for a reason.

And as regular readers of this column will know, this means blaming the Large Hadron Collider.

Boffins there announced last week that they have nearly found the Higgs Boson, or so-called God Particle. Nearly, but not quite.

Because it’s a well-known fact that the Large Hadron Collider has a mind of its own, and doesn’t want us to find the Higgs Boson, and sends out all sorts of coded warnings whenever anyone gets close.

This time, the warnings are plain for those who choose to read them. There’s a ghost in the machine, and if it wanted humanity to find the Higgs, it wouldn’t have hidden the book, or  the glasses, or the   keys.

Don't mess with the boson. Or, in the words of that hymn:  “The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, The sun forbear to shine”.

You have been warned.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Parents - and teachers - face end-of-term hell

You can always tell when it's the end of the school year.

In clothes shops, booksellers and stationers all over town, the posters start going up: "Back To School!"

Perhaps this is supposed to be some sort of ray of hope for parents already depressed at the prospect of keeping bored youngsters and stroppy teenagers from tearing each other's throats out for the next six weeks.

Because as we parents know, summer isn't the light at the end of the tunnel. It's the headlights of a speeding express train, and it's coming this way. Fast.

Of course, during those last few days of the summer term, schools still have to keep pupils under control and fully engaged in the learning process.

The provisions of the National Curriculum must be adhered to right up to the final ring of the school bell, or that nice Mr Gove will be knocking on the door wanting to know why.

So Religious Studies teachers reach for their trusty DVD of Monty Python's Life of Brian.

History lessons are made even more relevant with showings of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Philosophy teachers while away those last few hours with Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.

And biology teachers cross their fingers and hope they can get away with Mega Python vs Gatoroid on the somewhat flimsy basis that the film is a serious investigation of climate-related disruption to the ecosystem of the Florida Everglades.

PE teachers have another ploy: sports days. During which it inevitably rains, forcing a re-run of that old standby Marathon Man.

All right, it doesn't have Pythons in it. But it does contain those extended scenes of torture without which no PE lesson would be complete.

Primary school teachers have it a little bit easier ("No they don't," says Mrs D), and in fact on the last day of term they even get presents and cards.

"Deer Miz Hunnypott," reads one treasured example. "Fank u four beeing my teechur. i wil miss u wen i go to big school. Luv from Kyle."

Perhaps Kyle would have been even more grateful if Miss Honeypot had taught him how to spell. Big school may present something of a steep learning curve to the poor wee mite.

As an experienced toiler at the chalkface, our very own Mrs D has been there and done that (although she's actually pretty good at teaching spelling, before you get any ideas to the contrary).

And the one thing she finds odd, not to say annoying, about the end of term gift-fest is the cruel disparity between the presents given to male and female teachers.

Miss usually gets flowers, or chocolates, or dainty pieces of tableware.

Sir usually gets booze.

Now don't think for a minute that gifts of any kind aren't welcome. But whether your child's teacher is male or female, please remember when you're out buying presents for them: it's the end of term, and everyone – not least the teachers – needs a very stiff drink.

  • All names have been changed to protect the innocent (Kyle) and the overworked (Miss Honeypot).

Thursday, July 07, 2011

How Bath survived the killer bees

July is upon us, and with it comes the start of the silly season. As newspaper staff pack their bags and jet away for their customary six-week Caribbean holidays, only skeleton crews are left behind to keep the public informed and entertained.

Bizarre and only partially credible tales pad out pages that in colder months would be filled with hard news.

And by honoured tradition, at least 75 per cent of these stories will be about unusual animal behaviour.

Even in normally level-headed Bath, something has been stirring. Or rather buzzing. Because at the weekend, the city came under attack from a swarm of bees. Or possibly two swarms. Or maybe even three.

The first reports came on Twitter, accompanied by hastily-snatched pictures of the apian horde taking up residence on a bicycle seat.

Then there was a video, clearly shot at some risk to the cinematographer, of the same swarm (or maybe a different one, it’s hard to tell with swarms) getting up close and personal with a floral display in Milsom Street. (Thanks to MusicalTeeth on YouTube for permission to use this video. Have a read of MusicalTeeth's blog.)

It’s all vaguely reminiscent of that rubbishy Michael Caine disaster film The Swarm, in which gigantic venomous killer bees from South America head north for the summer and threaten an all-star cast that includes Richard Widmark, Olivia de Havilland and Henry Fonda. A B movie if ever there was one. (Don’t worry, there’s worse to come.)

In the end, it was down to intrepid reporter Siobhan Of The Chronicle to bring a little sanity to the situation.

The Bath bees weren’t killer bees, they were just ordinary bees looking for a new home. And they’d just stuffed themselves full of honey, so they were fairly placid.

All in all, these bees were on their best bee-haviour. (Told you.)

There’s an old nursery rhyme which gives us a little more insight into the life of the bees and their keepers.

It goes:

“A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay.

“A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon. 

“A swarm of bees in July isn’t worth a fly.”

Which is a roundabout way of saying that swarms at this time of year are two-a-penny, and nothing to be really surprised about.

But the silly season needs more ammunition if it’s going to last until September, when the real news starts up again.

So bring on the Loch Ness Monster, which is reportedly camping out in the duck pond in Royal Victoria Park.

Bring on Sharktopus, a hybrid shark/octopus who makes Jaws look like a superannuated halibut, and who pops up regularly as the eponymous hero of a film on Syfy.

Or at least, he does when they’re not showing Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, or Mega Python vs Gatoroid, or Mega Piranha, which doesn’t have any natural enemies except the entire human race.

They’re all real films, and they’re all so bad that they’re not good, they’re really, really bad.

But if you do see one or more of these creatures swimming up the Avon, drop us a line. Because in the summer, all news is good news.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Brain of Bath update

It just wasn't meant to be. Team Bath Chronicle came a disappointing 10th in Brain of Bath 2011.

The winners were solicitors Thrings, who as far as anyone can make out got almost every question right. Well done them.

Higher up the rankings than Team Chron came those stalwart chaps from The St James Wine Vaults, whose interpretation of the phrase "friendly rivalry" can best be described as loose.

Meanwhile, for those who like that sort of thing, here's a snap of me sniffing one of those plastic pots.

There's always next year...