Thursday, September 27, 2012

Other people's junk mail


Wouldn’t it be nice just for once if the post that hits your doormat every morning (or is it afternoon these days?) was actually worth the bother of opening?

Even after you’ve tried to stem the flow of bad news by arranging paperless bills, paperless bank statements, paperless tax forms, the junk just keeps on coming.

Here’s a waste of trees from Sky, pleading with you to come back to their slower-than-the-one-you’ve-got-now internet connection.

Here’s the pulped remains of a small forest from Barclaycard, offering you the chance to stretch the pain of repayment even further into the future.

Here’s a tasteful square of pasteboard from Google, promising  riches beyond your wildest dreams if you follow some incomprehensible instructions and fill your blog with carefully targeted adverts.

Here’s one for Mrs D called Teacher Catalogue, which fortunately doesn’t offer her the opportunity to trade in her current spouse for a new model with freshly-brushed Hush Puppies, an elbow-patched corduroy jacket and horn-rimmed specs, but is in fact a sales brochure for textbooks and interactive CDs, pupils for the educating of.

And here’s a multi-coloured charity gatefold, reminding you that Christmas is only three months away and hadn’t you better be doing something about it now? No. Charity, in this case, begins in the dustbin.

Although it doesn’t really. Because being a security- and environment-conscious type person, you have to open every piece of junk mail, shred the sheet with your name and address on it and recycle the rest.

This is the 2st century, for heaven’s sake. By now we were supposed to be living in a better world, driving flying cars and sending messages by thought waves.

Oh, and eating plankton. Not everything about the future is good.

But here we sit, Canute-like, before an ever-rising tide of information we don’t want to read from companies we don’t want to do business with.

Just you wait, though, until you foolishly agree to receive forwarded mail from relatives who are spending a couple of years abroad. That’s when the fun really starts.

Thud on the doormat. Yachtie catalogue. Thud again. Yachtie lifestyle magazine, filled with pictures of unattainable tat. Thud the third. Yachtie price list. In which anything bigger than a bathtub will set you back a sum not unadjacent to £150,000. Plus VAT.

All right, said relatives are on their own yacht. But this is rubbing it in.

And then, with a fourth and final thud, arrives The Installer magazine. No connection with The Enforcer, or The Terminator, or The Predator, you understand, but (it says here) “essential reading for heating, plumbing and renewables professionals”.

Leaving moot the question of what a renewables professional does for a living, The Installer offers readers a tantalising glimpse into the world of integrated home automation systems, fan-assisted radiators and, if you want a laugh, DIY plumbing disasters that the professionals have been called in to sort out.

A bit too close to home, really, but it does answer one question.

Why can you never get a plumber when you want one? Because they’re all swanning around on their yachts.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

More of the same old garbage


One of the perks of churning out the column in the Bath Chronicle every week is writing the headline to go on the top of it.

Now headline writing is a noble and time-honoured skill, somewhere between an art and a craft.

The headline has to fit the width of the column neatly, without changing the font size or the spacing between the letters.

It has to be punchy, it has to make sense, and it has to make the reader want to read whatever follows.

Normally, the headline is the last thing to get committed to paper. But this week's was written before even a word of the column itself was penned (or word-processed, to be strictly accurate – there are some concessions to modernity at Chronicle Towers).

Because even before it was started, there was only one possible subject that could be aired this week: garbage.

Or, to be slightly more accurate, garbage disposal.

It's been hitting the headlines big time over the last couple of weeks.

First off, there's a suggestion doing the rounds that "civic chiefs" – or B&NES as we know them – could soon be issuing us all with gull-proof rubbish bags.

What a splendid idea. The sturdy receptacles are a hit in other towns where gulls plague the residents with endless squawking, aggressive behaviour and acidic poo.

The bags are woven from tough plastic and have a zip on top to dissuade even the most persistent scavengers.

You pop your black bin liners inside, stick them outside your front door on rubbish day, and the gulls fly off permanently in search of other fodder.

Or at least that's the theory. To be pessimistic for a moment, they'll probably fly back to Bath city centre, where they'll survive quite happily on left-over takeaways scattered across the pavements by weekend party people.

Which brings us to the second strand in this litter-picking Odyssey: solar powered bins.

Everywhere you turn a new one seems to have sprouted up, looking a little like a glorified speak-your-weight machine, with a panel on top to catch that solar energy, a flap in the front for drunken revellers to stuff their unwanted kebabs, and a compactor lurking inside to mash all the rubbish to pulp.

They do have a couple of drawbacks, though.

To start with, the way our climate's going we'll be lucky if we get enough sunshine in the next decade to evaporate a small puddle, let alone generate the necessary megawatts to power a townful of garbage-guzzling mechanoids.

Second, they're just not exciting enough. You open the flap, you put your rubbish in, you close the flap. So far, so dull.

What they should really do when we feed them is play us a merry tune, or spring up on a concealed telescopic pole and do a little dance, or dispense a packet of Haribos.

Something, anything, to reward us for using them.

Because whatever technological advances we may make in the field of urban waste disposal, at the end of the day it's our own responsibility not to make a mess in the first place.

It's just that sometimes, we do need a bit of encouragement.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What happened to Wenlock and Mandeville?

So there we are. Britain’s glorious summer of sport has finally drawn to a close.

If there was ever any doubt, it only took England’s deeply uninspiring draw against Ukraine on Tuesday, followed by a constant stream of drizzle on Wednesday, to remind us that we are now very much back to normal.

But as the victory parades march off into the sunset, and the medals are tucked away in their cabinets, it’s worth taking a moment or two to reflect on the fates of a pair of unsung heroes of the Olympic/Paralympic jamboree: Wenlock and Mandeville.

Remember them? The oddly-shaped one-eyed mascots? Of course you do.

Wenlock was named after Much Wenlock, the village in Shropshire where an early version of the Olympics, the Olympian Games, was founded in 1850.

Mandeville was named after Stoke Mandeville, the village in Buckinghamshire where yours truly had a girlfriend in the late 1970s.

Wenlock had a three-pronged head representing the three different Olympic medals. And a London taxi light, representing a London taxi.

Mandeville had a three-pronged helmet (oo-er missus) representing the three Paralympic colours. And a London taxi light, representing... yup, a London taxi.

The Cyclopean eyes weren’t really eyes but cameras, which according to the official description let them “record everything”.

What, everything? Really everything?

The entire population of the UK having its breakfast? A star exploding in galaxy SXDF-NB1006-2? A transparent prawn ploughing the depths of sub-glacial Antarctic lake Vostock?

With all that recording going on, anthropomorphic surveillance cameras Wenville and Mandelock would have needed some pretty hefty disk space tucked away inside.

But perhaps we’ll never know. Because as soon as the Olympics started, they went underground. Did you see Wanlock and Mendeville at the opening ceremony? No. Did you see them at the victory parades? No.

Apart from a brief appearance when they tried to photobomb Usain Bolt, the two mascots were conspicuous by their absence from almost every Olympic event.

All right, you can still pick up chocolate simulacra from the bargain bins in Tescos. And at Dixon Towers we have a couple of Wombat and Murgatroyd multi-coloured souvenir ball-point pens. You know, the sort of pen with a big fat barrel and sliders up the sides for all the different colours.

The sort of pen that won’t write properly, gets left in a drawer and dries out just when you really need it.

Which just about sums up our two Olympic mascots. We revelled in a summer of sport; they missed out.

What the future holds for them, only time will tell (© Clich├ęs R Us).

There’s apparently a campaign starting to get them nominated as joint BBC Sports Personalities of the Year.

The only problem there is that judged on personality, they wouldn’t even beat Andy Murray.

So maybe it’s best if they just fade quietly away into the background.

Farewell, Whiplash and Mandible, it was lovely knowing you.

Now what did you say your names were?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

All aboard the Victory Dive Bomber


You can always tell it’s autumn. For a start, the sun comes out, the temperature rockets above 17°C for the first time since March, and you get a chance to wear the shorts you bought back in July when you still optimistically thought you were in with a chance of a tan.

Other signs of the changing season are more subtle, but nonetheless telling.

A text arrives from a certain teenager on his first day of sixth form, asking what time school starts.

A certain dad wonders if there are evening classes in how to avoid becoming a helicopter parent.

An email arrives from the alma mater, reminding former students that Christmas is only four months away and that the college online store will soon be open for the sale of cards, souvenirs and other festive knick-knacks.

At least one former student nearly succumbs to the temptation to (a) dig the degree certificate out of bottom of the filing cabinet; (b) ceremonially burn it; and (c) post the ashes back to said alma mater without a stamp.

But logic and good reason prevail. It might still come in useful in the event of a career change. (Fat chance of that, mind you, this far into middle age. But you’ve got to be prepared for anything these days.)

On a jollier note, there’s a funfair in Victoria Park this weekend. And not your ordinary disco-blasting diesel-fume-belching type of funfair either.

No, this is a steam funfair, Carters by name, and it offers such nostalgic delights as the Yachts, the Chair-o-Planes and the Galloper.

Plus white-knuckle attractions like the Wall of Death, Carters Rock’n’Roll Dodgems and the Victory Dive Bomber.

Which comes complete with RAF roundels and a beautifully painted warning that  “pregnant ladies, customers under the influence of drink or drugs, people with weak hearts, or a nervous disposition should not attempt to ride”.

There’s the Mini Octopus for the tinies and the Sensational Giant Octopus for the not-so-tinies.

And if those don’t tickle your fancy then you could try the Lightning Skid, Jollity Farm or the Scenic Electric Dobbies.

They’re all original fairground rides, some dating back to the 1920s or even before, lovingly maintained and restored and full of nostalgic charm.

One of the payboxes that was going up in the park on Wednesday bears the legend “A Show for Young and Old that Never Fails to Please”. And if that doesn’t beat the autumn blues then nothing will.

Except perhaps the Dixon family’s showing at the Weston Flower Show.

If you read last week’s offering you may well be interested to know how the cake got on. If you didn’t, then you may not, but stick with us.

It won a Highly Commended, which isn’t bad for a second foray into the arcane world of sponge baking, although it was probably the inclusion of Mrs D’s strawberry jam that swung it.

 Her runner beans and sweet peas carried the day.

As did Miss D’s Animal Crossing knitted toy.

And then there was Herman, the comedy carrot who looked a bit like a hermit crab and who has since been fed to the guinea pigs.

You  had to be there, really.