Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to have your cake and eat it

What goes around comes around, they say, and nothing with more regularity than the annual Weston Village Flower Show.

It takes place this Saturday, September 1, at 2.30pm at the All Saints Centre, High Street, Weston.
And preparations around the Dixon household have been, shall we say, fervid.

Of course the trouble this year is that we’re just reaching the end of the Summer That Wasn’t, and things horticultural aren’t as far ahead as they might be.

Indeed, reports have reached us from other parts of the country of gardeners resorting to performance-enhancing skullduggery in an attempt as they struggle to bring their veggies up to scratch.

The case comes to mind of the woman from East Anglia whose tomatoes were so unripe on the night before a show that she whipped out the nail varnish and gave them a surreptitious coating of scarlet.

And then there was the Yorkshireman whose pumpkins were so flabby that he took a bicycle pump to them in a misguided attempt to inflate them  to regulation size. He ended up in Casualty, peppered with pips.

Of course there’ll be no such monkey business at Weston this weekend, and even for those who don’t aspire to high honours in the vegetable stakes, a quick glance down the list of classes in the programme offers all sorts of alternative challenges.

What’s this in the Homecraft section? “Class 9: MEN ONLY, a Victoria Sandwich baked in a seven-inch tin.”

Hang on a minute. MEN ONLY? Why isn’t there a WOMEN ONLY section? With classes like unblocking drains, sealing baths, strimming allotments and other tasks which might otherwise be considered the domain of us chaps?

There’s only one response to this reverse sexism: bake that cake.

First, it’s off to the supermarket to top up on self-raising flour, baking powder, eggs and caster sugar. Then it’s back to Dixon Towers for a practice run, only to be subjected to a well-meaning blast of back-seat cooking from Mrs D.

“Read the recipe before you start,” she says. “And warm up the oven while you’re mixing.”

So far, so flipping obvious.

Because this is easy. Weigh it out, mix it up, realise you should have beaten the eggs before you put them in, decide it doesn’t matter, slap the mixture into the tins, re-read the recipe for some light entertainment, realise you’ve forgotten to add the baking powder, decide it does matter, scoop the mixture back into the bowl and stir in the magic dust while Mrs D mutters dark imprecations about “not rising properly” (whatever that means), slap the mixture back in the tins and stick them in the cosy oven.

What emerges, after cooling, sandwiching with jam, sprinkling with sugar and inspecting for leaks, is tested by assembled family and friends and judged to be “All right.”

Which isn’t bad for a first attempt.

So the second attempt will be on display at the All Saints Centre Weston on Saturday afternoon.
Unless of course it’s rolled off the plate and smashed a seven-inch hole in the floor.

In which case we won’t be taking it home with us for tea.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Job in a million

“WANTED: Enthusiastic moped rider. Must be able to stay perfectly upright at gradually increasing speeds and keep self-composure while being followed closely by a horde of burly cyclists (male or female).

“Moped, white, will be provided, but the successful candidate must supply their own uniform of peaked black motorbike helmet and overalls. Ability to keep a straight face while looking like a total plonker would be a distinct advantage.

“Competitive package for the right candidate. Immediate start, two-week contract. Apply to LOCOG, c/o Lord Coe, Stratford, London, England GB.”

That, if there’s any justice in the world, is the advert that ought to have appeared in the specialist cycling press in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics.

While some people made sure that the stadia were built on time, some were topping up the water in the diving pool and others ordered truckloads of sand for the beach volleyball, it was one person’s responsibility to seek out the ideal candidate for that most challenging of Olympic tasks: the pacer in the Keirin.

What’s the Keirin, you may well ask, and why does it need a pacer?

Hush, grasshopper, and all will be revealed. The Keirin is a very unusual bike race in which the competitors follow a guy on a motorbike (the pacer) for several laps as he gets faster and faster before pulling off the track and letting the real cyclists sprint to glory over the last couple of laps.

Your initial reaction when you see a Keirin race is that the chap out in front must be cheating: he’s using a motor while all the others are only allowed to pedal.

But then you realise that this is all some inscrutable oriental ritual – the Keirin does, after all, originate in Japan – and that the race is a fascinating combination of tactics and chance.

And then, in the blink of an eye, it’s all over. Did it really happen? Did a moped-rider looking like a extra from Thomas the Tank Engine really lead a cluster of aerodynamic-helmeted, Lycra-shorted athletes round and round the Velodrome?

Yes, he really did. But then the Olympics was always a magnet for the bonkers and the bizarre.

In the 1908 London Olympics (yes, the ones when GB won even more medals than this year) they had motor-boat racing. Five British boats with sturdy-sounding names like Gyrinus, Quicksilver and Sea Dog battled it out with one French entrant, the rather less sturdy-sounding Camille.

And of course we won, even though the Wolseley-Siddely ran aground in a gale.

Even today we have such oddities as dressage (otherwise known as horse disco) and synchronised swimming (otherwise known as treading water with style).

But of course the most bizarre – and heartening – thing about the Olympics for us Dixons was that we made it to Cardiff for the men’s football match between Team GB and South Korea, watched our local heroes go out in a performance that only occasionally went beyond the lacklustre, and still had the most amazing Olympic experience a family could ever enjoy.

If only there could be a next time...

Friday, August 03, 2012

Off to the Olympics

You can’t beat ’em so you might as well join ’em.
Those Olympians, that is. They get everywhere. Sculling across your TV screen, swimming out of the front page of your daily newspaper, lobbing heavy metal balls into your muesli bowl, running round and round the dining table...
Hang on a minute. Suffering from an overdose of beach volleyball here. Must have a little lie-down.
That’s better. Now let’s take these Olympics seriously.
It all started last Friday night, when James Bond and the Queen jumped out of a helicopter, narrowly missed Mister Bean and lit the Olympic tulip. Or something like that. Details are a little hazy because this blogger found himself regularly having to wipe away tears of laughter – big boys don’t cry, so it wasn’t unbridled emotion – at the sheer chutzpah of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony.
Give that man a knighthood, ma’am. Once you’ve recovered from the helicopter ride.
And so much has happened since then. Bath has laid claim to every rower, swimmer, rider, runner and beach volleyballist under the sun, although if you visit Penzance you’ll discover that they think they own Helen Glover, and Llanelli has a pretty strong claim on Dai Greene, seeing as he was born there.
Never mind, though: no-one can take away our Amy.
Olympic fever struck Dixon Towers big time on Saturday. We stapled our trusty Union Flag to the lintel of the garage door, checked to make sure the garage was still standing, Mrs D laid down the law about yours truly’s attempts to grow a pair of Earl-Bradley-of-Wiggins-style sideburns, and all outstanding DIY projects were mercifully put on hold as we finally decided it was time to buy our very own Olympic tickets.
Leaving it rather late, you might think? Not a bit of it. No ballots for us, we just went online and bought four tickets to the quarter-finals of the men’s football at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff without any trouble at all.
But if getting the tickets was a doddle, getting to the game may be more of a challenge. Driving isn’t really an option as they’ll be closing all the car parks round the stadium, and the last train from Cardiff back to Bath looks eminently missable.
So we’re looking at a quick trip round the Bristol ring road to Parkway, a train under the Severn, a queue to pick up the tickets, the minor detail of watching the game and then the whole journey in reverse at 10 o’clock at night.
Hannibal could have learned a lot about logistics from us when he took his elephants across the Alps.
And he didn’t have to worry about what to do if there’s extra time.
Team GB beat Uruguay on Wednesday night so we’ll be watching our own local heroes, including Bath boy Scott Sinclair, taking on the might of Korea.
And if you’re in Bath on Saturday night, you’ll hear the cheering from right across the Bristol Channel.