Thursday, November 29, 2012

Man against the sewing machine

Lazy Sunday afternoon... a break in the rain... snoozing on the sofa... dreaming... Lottery... tropical islands... coconut palms... piña colada... don’t even like piña colada... glass of dry rosé would slip down nicely though...





“HUGH!!! Please can you mend the sewing machine?”

Probably not, if truth be told. For the sewing machine is a mighty beast, not to be trifled with by a half-asleep chap still shaking off his afternoon doze.

A black hand-cranked Singer 99 of 1927 vintage, with all the original filigree and a bentwood case, it looks more like one of those steam engines that pull trains full of disgruntled tourists up Welsh mountains than the sort of gadget a deft seamstress would use to knock up a ball-dress or a camisole.

Industrial archaeology. (Picture by Lloyd Ellington)

It has instructions that say things like: “Place spool of thread on spool pin. Raise take-up lever 5 to its highest point. Lead thread into thread guide 1, down and from right to left between tension discs 2, into the loop of the take-up spring 3, under the slack thread regulator 4 (not through the eye in the thread regulator).”

Which are enough to put even the most mechanically-minded of chaps right off his breakfast, but clearly held no fear for the genteel ladies at whom the Singer 99 was originally marketed.

It even has a shirrer and a ruffler. Whatever they are.

And it’s sticking.

This sounds like a job for the internet. You can diagnose any illness after five minutes on Google, so surely you can solve a Singer 99 malfunction with a quick blast of a search engine?

The first thing you find out is that you should never, ever, fiddle with the piece of red felt next to the bobbin. Point this out to Mrs D, who goes a bit quiet and admits that she did  have a tug at it because it looked like lint. It’s not. It a lubricating wick.

Slather with oil, loosen pull-rods, tighten reciprocating cams, turn crankwheel back and forth with increasing desperation. Still locked solid.

Remember when you were eight, and you took your alarm clock apart to see how it worked? And then you couldn’t put it back together again?

It’s like that, only five times worse.

Suddenly all becomes clear: the needle is jamming. Adjust needle alignment, spin handle, Singer 99 whirrs into action.

But there’s a nagging doubt: deep in the instruction manual, Mrs D has read the dire warning: “Under no circumstances must the screw EE be loosened.” It’s confession time: in the course of all that fiddling around in the bowels of the machine, screw EE did get loosened. But only for half a minute before it was tightened up again. Honest.

By now it’s nearly bed-time, and Weston’s answer to Kirstie Allsopp puts off her crafting to another day.

That day dawns, and with it a ghastly truth: the machine turns, but the bobbin won’t lift. The timing is out, the Singer won’t sew. And it’s beyond rescue by an amateur.

Thank heavens in Bath we have sewing machine shops who are prepared to have a look at it.

But spare a thought for the chap who has to carry it in for repair.

Because it weighs a flipping ton.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dachshunds, donkeys and why it's OK to pick your nose

Sooner or later, if you go to enough pub or charity quiz nights, the question is bound to arise: What is the derivation of the word “dachshund”?

Well, any quiz question is easy enough – as long as you know the answer. If you’re stuck on this one, though, dachshund means “badger hound”, from the German words “Dachs”, meaning badger, and “Hund”, meaning... well, you can probably guess that bit.

Fully-functioning dachshund sorts out a badger. In German
A previously crippled dachshund called Jasper leaped into the  headlines this week after undergoing a remarkable new medical procedure in which cells from his nasal cavity were injected into his spinal cord.

Although “leaped” is probably too strong a word, because Jasper actually trotted into the headlines.

On a treadmill, on which he was videoed, showing off his reacquired mobility for the delight of  TV and internet viewers across the world.

The power of the imagination whisks us to a Gothic laboratory at Cambridge University, where an experiment is getting under way.

“So, Igor,” says Doktor Victor Frankenstein. “Haben sie die olfactory ensheathing cells aus der nozen von dem kleinen Dachsenhunden extracten?”

“Ja, mein Doktor,” gurgles Igor.

“Gut,” says the Doktor. “Also preparen wir den allgemeinen Spinaltapsinjection...”

There’d be something rather ghoulish about all this re-animation if it wasn’t so heart-warming.

Because Jasper is clearly a happy little chap, and very pleased to be back on his feet again.

And parents  everywhere will  have to stop telling off  their children for picking their noses.

Because it IS good for you after all.

Speaking of heartwarming, and kids, and as exclusively revealed on the front of last week’s The Bath Chronicle, it’s Christmas. Yes, really.

And Christmas (pursuing the  tenuous animal connection) means donkeys in Mrs D’s nativity play, and donkeys  mean buying coconuts to make clippety-cloppety noises.

So it’s off to Waitrose, Mrs D’s shopping list in hand. Here it quickly becomes apparent  that self-checkouts and coconuts don’t mix. They won’t scan, and no amount of option-button pushing has any effect.

One assistant says he can put them through at £1 each, which seems a bit pricey. But another, who’s clearly dealt with this sort of situation before, has a coconut barcode stuck into her notebook. The price comes down to 69p for each soon-to-be-pair of donkey hooves, which seems a lot more reasonable. Back at home, though, things get really difficult.

Hammer several holes through entry points at end of coconut. Turn coconut upside down over bowl. Tiny squidge of coconut milk. Shake coconut. Huge spurt of coconut milk all over kitchen floor. Leave nut to drain, find mop. Wonder how Robinson Crusoe contrived to hold out for 28 years on a desert island.

Trawl garage for implement to grip husk tightly enough to saw it but not crush it. Extract flesh from severed halves with dangerous knife. Rinse and repeat. And relax.

So that’s Christmas sorted. Never mind present-buying, card-sending, tree-putting-up, carol-singing: as long as the sound effects are organised, everything else is bound to come right in the end.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Would you put your head in this?

At the beginning of Stanley Kubrick’s epic science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a mysterious black monolith appears before a group of pre-human apes.

It inspires our early ancestors to reach for the stars, and from there human history develops.

Sit yourself down, dear reader. Take a deep breath, and a sip of something restorative. Because the same thing is happening again.

Right now. In Bath.

A monolith, yesterday
Half-way along James Street West, in the vast expanse of the public realm known as the St James Rampire, an equally mysterious object has appeared.

To describe its physical appearance does not do justice to its awesome and disturbing immanence, its being, its pure Isness.  But let us try.

It is about four feet high. In plan it is about one foot square. It is constructed of two oblong blocks, one on top of the other, their corners rounded to give a waisted effect where they meet.

The lower block is devoid of any decoration. The upper block is pierced right through with a circular hole, about nine inches in diameter, lined with blue plastic.

Below the hole, on one face of the upper oblong, is a small, round stainless steel button.

And at the bottom of the large hole is a fine metal grille.

If any further proof were needed that this object is of alien origin, consider this: it is not made of Bath stone, but of concrete.

Well may you shudder, gentle reader.

Well may you take another hasty sip of that restorative beverage.
A proper water fountain, yesterday

Well may you pretend to yourself that this is nothing but a  water fountain.

But water fountains are not like this. Water fountains are Victorian outflowings of temperance and paternalism, and come with enlightening messages like “WATER IS BEST”. Just like the one outside Bath Abbey.

And the object that has appeared on the Rampire is none of those.

Stand and observe it for a few minutes from a safe distance, and you will see that it generates an eerie, impelling force.

People don’t walk past it: they walk around it, forced into patterns like iron filings round the poles of a magnet.

Stand there a little longer and maybe a group of schoolboys will approach it, laughing and chattering as schoolboys will.
Do not put your head in here

One of them, a little braver than the others, puts his face to the hole in the upper oblong and presses the button below it.

A second later he steps back, no longer laughing. A strange light glows in his eyes, the first sign of a deeper understanding, a maturity past his years. The Rampire Monolith has spoken to him, and it will speak again to others.

Only this week, the lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary announced their new Word of the Year: Omnishambles, meaning a dog’s dinner, something shambolic from every possible angle. Rather like our kitchen when yours truly has been making toad in the hole.

But the monolith, which can only be defined by what it is not, is the antithesis of an omnishambles: it is a unithority. Or a symbol of one.

And we ignore it at our peril.

UPDATE: 1 July 2013. The thing has been removed. Or possibly departed of its own accord.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Incomprehensible instructions - the New Power Omnipotence Charger

This morning I bought an external phone battery charger. The guy in the shop showed me how to use it, which was just as well.

These are the instructions, in pure Chinglish, printed on the side of the box in tiny (like 3pt) condensed type.

I've tried to get this version as close as possible to the original, but some of it is almost impossible to read, especially the bits printed over the darker grey banding.

All of it is impossible to understand.

Reference of New Power Omnipotence Charger

Usage step

1. First adjust well the shrapnel according to positive and negative plate of battery, patting into the battery and make battery pole sliee get in touch well with the shrapnel. Then press the "TEST" button, if conlight turnbright, the pole is right; if not, press the "switch" to change the polarity. Then press "TEST" button until the lightumom.

2. Plug into the power source (no batlery, light turn bright, power designatio light is bright), place the battery, "PUL" light pur out, "CH" lightflashworkstart.

3. Whenfill with the electricity, the FUL light become bright gradelly until the "CH" light put on all the "FUL" lights on, first electricize completely. It is best to continue thetiny flows for 1~2 hours if no urgect use to guarantee the best results.

Warning: forbidden electricize the battery without electrification function,

  • It is suitable to lithium phone battery that capaliry below 200mAh, and inside is high ionction swneh powersources, the voltage orientation scope is wide, Alternate Current 100.200v.
  • Micro-computer sliee control the process of electrification and turn onle clriticy high speed and efficiency. When finishitshut down anto malionreally and safety is edpendable.
  • The shape is agile, take convenience, operation simple, fit to the majotity lithium ioncellular phone battety.
At least it seems to work.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Scrabbling for the right word

Dramatic news reaches us from the world of board games, where the UK national Scrabble championship has just been won by Paul Gallen, an unassuming-looking 26-year-old solicitor from Belfast.

"LORD", you might say in your excitement at these glad tidings. Or "HURRA". Or "VEEP". Or even "DOWP". But then again you might not, because you might not have a clue what half of them meant.

These were just a few of the words that were placed on the winning board in the final.

And to be perfectly frank, most of them don't make a lot of sense.

All right, AX might just be a transatlantic variant of AXE. And among the weirder chunks of arcane vocabulary there are a few gems that you might occasionally drop into your everyday discourse. Words like ENTER, and TIE, and WED.

But QAID? PULLI? ICTIC? " VAUNTIER? What kind of person knows these words? Indeed, what kind of person uses them?

Or COOF. You couldn't, as they say, make it up. Especially not in Scrabble, because in Scrabble, making up words is cheating.

And if you need proof that neither Mr Gallen or his opponent in the final, Waly Fashina, were cheating, then you need look no further than the spell-checker on the steam-powered computer system that pumps out the pages of The Bath Chronicle every week.

It has the disconcerting habit of putting a red squiggle under any words that don't reach its high standards of lexicographical exactitude.

And up to this point, the only words it balked at when we ran this blog through it were the names of the finalists themselves. Which does have a certain irony.

It's always rather tempting to try and beat the system, though. So we chucked another couple of winning words into the slavering maw of the spell-checker and see what it thinks.

GOEY. KEB. ZARI. Nothing. Not a tremble, not a hint of a red squiggle. Believe it or not, they're real words.

So how do Messrs Gallen and Fashina, and others of their ilk, pick up all this fancy vocabulary that has passed the rest of us by?

Well, in the era before children, and video games, and iPads, we Dixons weren't averse to whiling away the long winter evenings with a game or two of Scrabble. And we've hung on to a relic of those halcyon days in the library at Dixon Towers: Chambers Words.

This handy tome – "a shortcut to inspiration", it says on the cover – lists thousands of words, without meanings from shortest (AA), through middle-sized (STELLION) to longest. Which is... deep breath...


Maybe you knew them. And amazingly, the spell-checker hasn't thrown a wobbly, although by this stage there was a disturbing creaking noise coming from under the computer room door.

So if you want to be a champion Scrabbler, it appears, you have to sit down and learn Chambers Words by rote. Well UG, and NOG, and POUPE to that. Life's too short, especially when you could be SQUEGGING. Actually that isn't a real word. But SQUEG is, and SQUEGGER too.

What they mean is anyone's guess, and to a Scrabble player, it doesn't really matter. It's that triple-word score that counts.