Thursday, October 27, 2011

Give me a home where the wallabies roam

Apologies again to any readers who headed down to Avon Street car park to see for themselves the evidence – in the shape of a large poster –  that Tesco was transporting the city of Bath 100 miles east to London.

Unfortunately events moved on: almost overnight, it seemed, a new poster advertising oven chips had gone up on the same site.

More grist to the conspiracy theorists’ mill, you may think. And you’d probably be right.

For now, though, Bath is still comfortably ensconced in its niche in the heart of North East Somerset.

Where, it appears, even stranger things are afoot. For reports have reached the Bath Chronicle newsroom from an impeccable source (one of the chaps in advertising) that wallabies have been seen roaming the rolling hills of Saltford.

Yes, you read that right. Wallabies. Australian marsupials. With pouches. Quite good at boxing. But not as good as kangaroos.

There should be a joke about that. “What’s the difference between a wallaby and a kangaroo?”

But there isn’t.

A joke, that is. Not a difference.

Funny, though. You can drive the winding lanes of B&NES for weeks on end without seeing anything more exotic than the occasional dead badger, and then all of a sudden, out hops an antipodean anomaly.

Start to do some research and you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. There are at least 44 species of wallaby, ranging in alphabetical order from the Agile Wallaby to the Yellow-Footed Rock-Wallaby by way of the Dusky Pademelon and the Gray Dorcopsis. Although those last two sound more like  impostors than proper macropods.

You couldn’t make this sort of thing up. Well you could, actually, and no-one would be any the wiser.

But it’s true, all true. Small mobs* of wallabies do indeed roam this green and pleasant land. They’ve been reported from as far afield as Loch Lomond, the Peak District and even the fields around Gatwick Airport.

They escape from zoos or are released from private collections, and have no trouble surviving in a climate very similar to that of their native Tasmania.

Dig deeper into the world of the wallaby and you’ll find companies that sell them as pets or as self-propelled lawnmowers.

One such firm will even supply  a trained reindeer (£1250, no VAT), with its own harness and sledge. But before you can buy one, you need to get a certificate from DEFRA confirming that you have far more money than sense.

The mind begins to boggle. How long can it be before clusters* of antelopes churn the hallowed turf below the Royal Crescent? How long before stands* of flamingoes circle the skies above the Pump Room before alighting pinkly and gracefully beside the Roman Baths? 

Surely it can only be a matter of time before Bath becomes one gigantic wildlife park.

Then again, maybe it already is.

* All collective nouns have been checked by the management.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Avon Street conspiracy

Sooner or later, like it or not, you have to go to Bristol.

Maybe you develop an uncontrollable urge to queue for half an hour or more to buy Swedish flat-pack furniture in a low-ceilinged warehouse that reeks of meatballs.

Maybe you want to test your cultural credentials by trying to spot a Banksy among all the other graffiti.

Or maybe you just took a wrong turning at the Hicks Gate roundabout and found yourself inexorably sucked in.

No matter. Whether it’s fate or fortune that draws you to the sprawling metropolis on Bath’s doorstep, once you’re there you know you’re there.

Because on every other billboard, it seems, is a poster advertising a well-known supermarket chain that doesn’t have a major outlet in Bath.

An advert which states, in no uncertain terms: “The Big Price Drop on Bristol’s Shopping List.”

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, when you see a poster like that you can be pretty much certain that you are. Indeed. In Bristol.

Struggle back to Bath with your Nordic kitchen units or your shattered dreams – or both – and all those certainties crumble to dust.

Because - or at least until yesterday - right next to the exit from Avon Street multi-storey car park was a similar poster advertising the same supermarket. But there’s one subtle difference. Because this poster said: “The Big Price Drop on London’s Shopping List.”

Tesco advert, October 19 2011

Now hang on a cotton-picking minute. London? London? What’s going on here?

Well, Tesco (oops) is certainly a powerful organisation.

But surely even Tesco (oops again) can’t have got its hands on some transdimensional wormhole generator that rips Avon Street car park, the jewel in Bath’s architectural crown, from its noble setting between a neglected river and a dreary coach park and drops it 100 miles east in The Big Smoke?

No, there’s more to it than that.

That poster was the visible tip of the iceberg, a deep and insidious conspiracy created by big business, the council and the powerful Heritage Lobby to confuse Bathonians, tourists and taxi drivers alike into believing that they’re not in Bath any more.

And why would they want to do that, you might ask? Well any number of reasons, really. But to go into them here would be to expose oneself to unwanted attention from the conspirators themselves.

Suffice to say that there’s more to that drilling project next to Thermae Bath Spa than meets the eye.

Chip advert, October 20 2011. Spooky.
Plus the fact that the original poster was replaced by an advert for chips on the very day this article originally appeared in the The Bath Chronicle.

Enough said: a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat.

If anyone has the slightest idea what’s going on down there at Avon Street, please keep it to yourself. Don’t write in, don’t email, don’t call. Because the less we know about it, the safer we’ll all be.

And if you’re one of those people who prefers to believe in cock-up rather than conspiracy (perhaps you think the poster is just a mistake), then sleep easily while you can.

But remember: truth will out.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Serious one. NAS want to start B&NES autism group

Email received from the National Autistic Society, slightly edited. I've left out email addresses to deter spammers:

  • The BANES Link and The National Autistic Society (NAS) have worked together to arrange an Autism Meeting for B&NES on 24th October 2011 at The Guildhall, Bath.  The meeting will be held between 2pm and 4pm and you are free to come and go within this time 
  • We want to listen to and gather the views and experiences of adults with Asperger/Autism Spectrum conditions, and their families and carers, who live in and/or use Health and Social Care Services in Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES).
  • The information will be recorded by NAS and put into a report and sent to the B&NES Adult Autism Partnership Group.  The information that you give will be used to provide feedback to the professionals and people who make decisions on planning for future services for people with Autism. 
  •  Alternatively, please write to:

  • Marina Parrett, The National Autistic Society, Church House, Church Road, Filton, Bristol BS34 7BD

  • NAS would also like to facilitate the setting up of a B&NES Autism Group to continue the work started at the October 24th Autism Meeting. 
  •  The aim of the group would be to discuss the views and experiences of people with Autism/Asperger syndrome and their families, living in the area, in order to develop appropriate Health and Adult Social Care services in response. 
  • If you are interested in being part of an ongoing group, please speak to Diana Elliott or Marina Parrett at the meeting or contact Diana Elliott on Tel: 07825 227026  or Marina Parrett on Tel: 01179 748425 or 07770 687009 

Sunday, sweary Sunday

A couple of weeks ago in his blog and in the Bath Chronicle, editor Sam Holliday asked a very pertinent question: Are you a Downton or a Spook?

Do you devote your Sunday evening TV viewing to the trials and tribulations of a family of English aristocrats as they tough it out through the First World War without mussing up their make-up; or do you settle down with a nice cup of cocoa and a spy-related plotline so complicated it makes Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy look like Janet and John – The Early Years?

Or indeed, are you one of those people who recognises that the whole toffs v spies debate represents a false dichotomy, and decides to watch Fry’s Planet Word instead?

If you plumped for Stephen Fry  last Sunday, you could well have ended up spluttering into your Horlicks. Because the programme was all about swearing.

Why we do it (if we do it), what effect it has on us, and whether it actually works.

There was some funny footage of Brian Blessed, swearmeister par excellence, sticking his hand in a tank full of iced water and turning the air blue.

And a clip of Malcolm Tucker from The Thick Of It going into four-letter meltdown at least showed that the BBC has its finger on the pulse of 21st-century discourse.

But Stephen Fry’s point, and it was a good one, was that the more you swear the less effective it becomes: the very occasional “Gadzooks” or “Odds Kittikins” dropped into one’s conversation is a heck of a lot more effective than an endless stream of filth if you really want to get your point across.

It’s all about communication, of course, and one problem today is choosing how to communicate, even with our nearest and dearest.

Picture if you will a blissful domestic scene: Mrs D is upstairs, doing something important on the computer.

Yours truly is in the kitchen, rustling up a light supper of toad in the hole with onion gravy.

Mrs D is starting to get hungry. But how should she best inquire about the arrival time of the sausage-and-battery comestibles?

By email, of course. The message is sent quickly and efficiently from the computer upstairs along BT’s sturdy copper wires (as long as  no one’s nicked them), off to a mail server somewhere in Arizona, then via satellite to a second mail server in downtown Buenos Aires, and back via undersea cable and fibre optic switchgear to its final destination: the mobile device in the Dixon kitchen.

No need for shouting: the internet can take the strain. And anyway, you can’t hurry a toad in the hole.

Similarly when it’s time to call the kids to lay the table: rather than yelling up at them through a couple of floors, texting them in their bedrooms is so much more effective.

Soon there will come a time when all communication is electronic: we’ll  have iPhones surgically implanted into our brains, and no one will speak face-to-face any more.

A nice thought, perhaps. But it won’t stop the swearing when you burn the toad in the hole.

How I updated my iPad to iOS 5

This is how I updated my iPad (original 32Gb wifi 3G) to iOS 5 with an iMac 24" early 2008.

It took quite a long time.

First I backed up my Mac to an external drive.

Then I updated iTunes to 10.5. I did the Lion updates to 10.7.2 at the same time, just to keep things tidy.

Then I connected the iPad to the iMac.

Then I launched iTunes and started the update. Depending on your broadband connection, just the download could take an hour or more. If you're on cable or fibre optic, lucky you.

Next, the iPad backs up to your Mac. Depending on how much you have in the way of music, videos, apps and pictures on your iPad, it could take 15 minutes or more.

Then, the iPad verifies the backup with Apple. This is where things seem to have been failing for a lot of people: Apple's servers are being hammered by everyone from night owls in the UK to bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Californians.

If it fails here, you have to backup again. Every time it fails with an "Internal error", you have to back up again and verify the restore.

Patience is a virtue: eventually you'll get the connection. A progress bar will show on your iPad and the software will extract and update. Then the firmware will update. Then you'll be able to set up the iPad for wifi, location services etc. It'll even ask if you want to set it up for iCloud. (I'd hang on.)

That took another 20 minutes or so.

But don't disconnect the iPad. Because it'll still be copying over your apps. And then your music. And then it'll resync your photos.

From successful verification of the iPad backup to a fully restored iPad running iOS5 took the best part of an hour and a half.

Now, what does this puppy do?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The facts about wife-carrying races (well, some of them)

Uplifting news reaches Chronicle Towers from the rolling heights of Lansdown: Bath Racecourse is to organise a wife-carrying contest.

It all sounds quite simple: you grab your spouse using any one of a number of  grips or handholds, lug her bodily over a 100-yard course (that’s a couple of lengths less than half a furlong if you’re a horse) and, assuming you win, claim the top prize of you and your partner’s combined weight in beer.

Actually, the rider doesn’t even have to be your wife: it can be anyone who’s female, over 17, and willing to climb onto your back and into the starting gate.

And there are no particularly strict rules about riding styles, either: piggybacks and fireman’s lifts are fine, and more adventurous competitors can even try the Estonian Technique, which sees the jockey/wife dangling upside-down with her legs wrapped around her steed/husband’s neck and her face squashed into the small of his back.

But despite looking like a rather advanced illustration from a very naughty book, the Estonian position does have one big advantage: it doesn’t get the jockey pregnant.

The event originates in Finland, a country otherwise known for having a language related to Hungarian, despite the two countries being separated by the best part of 1,000 miles.

(They have about 200 words in common, 55 of them to do with fishing. Now, where were we?)

According to one theory, a Finnish bandit called Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen and his band of merry men used to descend on unsuspecting villages and relieve them not just of their wealth but of their womenfolk as well.

Over the course of time, this unsavoury practice turned into an official sport with its own peculiar code of conduct, just like football turned into rugby in 19th-century England.

The official rules of eukonkanto, as the Finns call it, boggle the mind: “The wife may be your own, the neighbour’s, or you may have found her further afield”; “If she is less than 49 kg, she will be burdened with additional weight”; “The most entertaining couple, the best costume and the strongest carrier will win a special prize.”

Say what you like about the Finns, but they sure know how to have fun.

The politically correct brigade are up in arms: surely, they say, in the interests of equality we ought to have a husband-carrying event too.

A moment’s reflection will reveal the logical flaw here. Based on personal experience, the few times when Mrs D has tried to lift your sturdy columnist have ended up with her going purple in the face and collapsing underneath him in an undignified heap.

No, husbands are too big even to be picked by wives, let alone to be carried by them half a furlong over the sticks at Bath Racecourse.

The big race starts at 3.45pm on Sunday, October 16. And where it will end is anyone’s guess.