Thursday, February 21, 2013

Enemies in the shrubbery

You know how it goes. It’s a cold but sunny Sunday afternoon, and you start getting the guilt.

Your other (most would say better) half is slaving away outside, lopping off dead branches, scooping up fallen leaves, scraping away alluvial mud while you – yes you – are lounging idly in the armchair.

There’s nothing for it but to join the fray. Out at the front is a grumpy looking shrub that was decorative in its infancy, but is now excluding 30 per cent of the natural light from the sitting room window. And it needs your immediate attention.

Some lubricant, yesterday
Wield the garden shears. The blades rattle suspiciously, rather than making that “ker-snick” noise that all good shears are supposed to make. Apply lashings of 3-in-1, attempt to tighten. Fail. Try again with WD-40. Fail. Wonder idly why lubricants have names like internet banking passwords rather than something meaningful like “Un-Sticko”.

Shears are past redemption. Grab shiny new long-handled pruner. Attack shrub with gusto. And the imagination starts to wander.

The knotty branches of shrubbus subwindowensis are the things you love to hate. Misplaced apostrophes. Snip. The word “iconic” as over-used by the BBC. Snip. The phrase “Methinks” in comments on websites. Snip. “It’s” when it should be “Its”. Snip. Vice versa. Snip

“Your” when it should be “You’re”. Snip. “There” when it should be “Their”, or “They’re”. Snip. Emails without subjects. Snip. And worse, and worse – unimaginably worse.
Those garden recycling bags in full

“Hugh!” The dream is shattered as Mrs D lugs a seventh recycling bag of gardening debris round from the back of the house. “You’re not killing that shrub, are you?”

This isn’t a shrub, darling. This is a viper’s nest of grammatical, orthographical and syntactical errors. And now it’s correction time.

Mrs D is not convinced. But where there’s life – or at least a few dispirited leaves clinging to the denuded stems – there’s hope. Nothing that a light dusting of fish, blood and bone meal won’t cure.

All is forgiven. The twigs are gathered up into an eighth and ninth recycling bag (Bath and North East Somerset Council made a killing out of us this week at £1.50 a pop), and as we relax in our lighter, airier sitting room, there’s just one fly in the ointment.

 “Hugh! That window needs cleaning.” Ah well – onwards and upwards.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Shiny new teeth

We Dixons are the sort of family that has almost every electronic gadget under the sun.

From set-top boxes to video streamers to three different breeds of games console; from phones to tablets, from laptops to phablets: if it's white and shiny and needs a charger, we've got it. You can play music in the loft and have the sound come out in the kitchen: it all works by wireless. Except when it doesn't.

And if Mrs D sends her obliging hubby out to the shops, but forgets to put organic spelt on the shopping list (so much more digestible than horsemeat, we find), then we have an app for it. Even if she is reluctant to use it and would rather phone up.

But don't get the impression that Mrs D is a technophobe. Only this week she came back from the dentist's with the last word in white, shiny, rechargeable gadgetry: an electric toothbrush.

Now electric toothbrushes are scary things. Inside the box, along with the handle, are heads, brushes and nozzles for every orthodontic eventuality. 

There's a half-size DVD that will roger the innards of any computer you try to play it on. And there's one of those instruction manuals that unfolds like a map of the world, and boasts almost as many languages.

In all of which, from Farsi to Erse, is a dire warning: Do Not Turn On Before Putting In Your Mouth.

Ignoring this basic rule will cause toothpaste to spatter all over the bathroom walls: not a good thing when yours truly has spent his weekend engaged in chemical warfare with the limescale , and would be most displeased to see said walls messed up again.

So there it sits, its charging light flashing an eerie shade of green. You grasp it in both hands (it's damn heavy), attach your personally colour-coded brush fitting, apply the toothpaste, position the brush at an angle to the gumline, and gingerly press the button. The whole concern shudders like a Saturn V rocket just before blast-off – anything this powerful must be doing you good.

And if you're in town this weekend and you see a family whose gnashers glow a radioactive shade of blue, don't be alarmed: it's only us, showing off our shiny new teeth.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Watch out, there's an asteroid coming

Unnerving news reaches us from astronomers at the La Sagra Observatory in the mountains of Andalusia: on Friday February 15 a 130,000-tonne 45-metre asteroid will pass within a whisker of the Earth.

An asteroid, yesterday. Not 2012 DA14 but you get the general idea.
Closer than some man-made satellites, almost close enough to reach out and touch, 2012 DA14 (for that is its name, rather than the much more Spanish and romantic Asteroide Gordo) will scoot just 17,200 miles from the surface of our planet before whisking off again on its odd-shaped near-Earth orbit.

All of which poses a very pertinent question. (And no, it doesn’t beg the question. That means something rather different, as will be illustrated later.)

It’s only a week until our close encounter, and the Corporal Joneses are conspicuous by their silence. So why exactly is no one panicking?

Well, to start with, the astronomers are pretty confident that it’ll be a near miss.

They don't like it up 'em!
Second, after all that nonsense about the Mayans a month or so back, the world has entered a state of apocalypse fatigue: in the last couple of years, we’ve heard so many predictions of the end of the world  that a 45-metre asteroid heading in our general direction isn’t worth getting worked up about.

Watch out if you’re still around in 2110, though, because on that return visit there is just a chance that 2012 DA14 will collide with the Earth. A chance of one in 7,692,308,000. Which is the same as winning the lottery three times in a row (this sounds about right, but please could some kindly mathematician check the sums for us?)

So don’t panic, carry on as normal, keep on taking the tablets. You won’t even be able to see asteroid 2012 DA14 pass by unless you happen to live in Eastern Europe and possess a very powerful telescope. It’s a tiny storm in a giant celestial teacup.

And if you do feel a thump on the back of your head on February 15, you can be sure it isn’t an asteroid fragment, much less Armageddon.

It’s your loved one, gently reminding you that you’re a day late with the flowers and chocolates.

So, to illustrate the correct use of the phrase “begging the question”: Why haven’t you done anything about Valentine’s Day yet? QED.