Thursday, May 30, 2013

Stuffed toys in space!

The internet can take you into some weird and wonderful places.

There you are, idly browsing through your Twitter feed (there's not much else to do on a wet Tuesday evening at Dixon Towers) when there's a message from NASA.

Not, unfortunately, a personal invitation to ride a Saturn V to the moon – although that would be rather fun – but a general announcement that the launch of the next Soyuz capsule will be live online in about five minutes time.

Well, it's got to be better than watching another of our 37 pre-recorded episodes of Time Team. There's only so many postholes a chap can stand, even on this aforementioned wet Tuesday.

So let's crank up the broadband, shove another log on the wifi router and stand by for blast-off.

Oh dear. Oh deary deary deary dear. What a terrible shock.

Into space on Soyuz TMA-09M (Picture: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
In the good old days, astronauts had The Right Stuff. Those of us wrinkly enough to remember the original moon landings still cherish an idealised picture of square-jawed American heroes, blasting into the unknown on a flaming trail of glory.

But the live camera inside Soyuz TMA-09M tells a different story. Because dangling from the roof on elastic strings are not one, but two, stuffed cuddly toys.

One of them might be a lion. The other, according to that reliable source "a quick search on Google", was a present to commander Fyodor Yurchikhin when he was a boy, and is a dog. Or maybe a hippopotamus. Google isn't quite sure on that one.

The animals don't appear to enjoy the flight. At first stage separation they jiggle up and down like thrill-seekers at some cosmic funfair. At second stage they lurch drunkenly around the cabin, bashing the crew on the head. At third stage they disappear into a hole in the roof.

Also on board is a tank of guppy-like fishes, science for the advancement of. But we don't see them. Perhaps they're camera-shy.

Six hours later, the capsule docks with the International Space Station, where stuffed toys, crew and guppies disembark safely.

Meanwhile, though, here on earth, childhood illusions lie in tatters.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A heron

This post was originally a test to see if the phrase "Local man arrested for twatting a heron" could be found on Google.

It pops up from time to time on Twitter in a photo of a newspaper sales bill for The Evening News.

But try as you might, you won't find the original story.

And that's because there is no story - the photo is fake.

Funny, yes. Genuine, no.

Look closely and there are clues. How many local papers would actually use the word "local" in their bills? How many UK evening papers still have "Late Prices"? (Most "evening" papers these days are produced overnight, and many have dropped the word "Evening" from their name.)

As far as I can tell, there are three papers called the Evening News still going in the UK - in Manchester, Edinburgh and Norwich. None of them uses the font Bodoni Bold Italic for their titlepiece.

When the original picture was posted, mid-May 2013, searching for the phrase "local man arrested for twatting a heron" returned nothing. After my original post about it (now heavily edited), this blog was the only link returned by the search.

There are quite a few other links now, but still no story.

This post now has the highest number of clicks on my blog, having overtaken the ever-popular Jane Austen Spreads Her Tentacles. Which is a bit galling when I come to think of it. I've written much better stuff than this. I even won an award once.

Anyway, just to be absolutely clear, I have nothing to do with the original picture. I wrote about it in my blog because I was curious, and because so many people on Twitter seemed to take it at face value.

Local man arrested for twatting a heron. Hmmm.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sorting the slugs from the scumbags

This is a public service announcement. Slugs, for the identifying, capture and disposal of.

There are two kinds of slug known to science. They are quite different, and need treating in completely separate ways.

The first kind is slithery, slimy, and brown, black, or grey, sometimes with a tinge of yellow round the edges.

It hides in your flower and vegetable beds, making midnight forays amongst the tender sprouts, which it munches with cavalier disregard for their ownership or intended destination in your finest vase or serving dish.

How to get rid of it without lacing the environment with a cocktail of unpleasant chemicals is a problem that has vexed conscientious gardeners for years, not least Mrs D.

This year she has invested in a gritty sort of porridge with which to dress her sweet peas, in beer traps to entice the little ones to a foamy alcoholic doom, and in a bag of clippings from the fleece of a particularly foul-smelling sheep, which are about as organic as you can get without straddling the console in Bath Abbey.

Results so far are promising, especially from the traps. Although they do seem a bit of a waste of beer.

The other kind of slug is much larger and uglier, and has a passing resemblance to a human being.

It breaks into your allotment at night, forcing a large metal gate off its hinges, and makes off with water butts, composters, storage boxes and wheelbarrows – anything that isn’t locked up and it can easily sell.

It happened to us and our fellow allotmenteers last weekend. The police know about it, but there’s not much they can do because none of the stolen equipment was marked.

So this is the second part of the public service announcement. Do what we did last Sunday: buy a tin of red paint and a small paintbrush, and mark your portable garden property with name, phone number, postcode – anything that will help you identify it if some scumbag nicks it.

Not only that, but it should also cause said scumbag to stop and think twice before nicking it at all.

Because with slugs of every kind, prevention is better than cure.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Coping with the comfrey

Springtime at Dixon Towers, and the unexpected bank holiday heatwave is over.

The barbecue has been put back under its cover, pending a warmer and drier day. Some time in mid-September, most probably.

Slugs and snails do a war-dance up the garden path. Slowly, slimily, hungrily.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, leaving unwanted bits of tree scattered all over the lawn.

But whatever nature may throw at us, the growing season has started, as witness the four propagators steaming away in the conservatory, pumping warmth into the roots of tender seedlings and causing no little strain on the National Grid.

It is breakfast time, and Mrs D looks up from the pages of her gardening magazine.

Yes, here at Dixon Towers we do indeed read at breakfast. At every other meal the conversation positively scintillates.

(“Have a good day, dear?”


But at breakfast, silence is golden. Until now.

Comfrey!” says Mrs D.

Comfrey? Comfrey? And what, pray, is that supposed to mean? You might as well say “Gerund!”, or “Cassock!”, or “Architrave!”, and expect your dopey husband to make sense of it.

“There’s lots of it growing at the bottom of the garden,” she goes on, clearly confusing said husband with someone who knows what comfrey looks like. Truth, though, will out.

It appears that this particularly stylish gardening magazine is touting the benefits of a particularly stylish plant food maker.

You pack the stylish infusion chamber with comfrey (nettles will do, if they haven’t already been made into soup). You fill the stylish outer infuser bucket, crafted of the finest stainless steel, with water. You plunge the chamber into the infuser and leave to stand. And just a couple of weeks later, you’ve got eight litres of plant food.

Mrs D is dismissive. You can do it just as well with an ordinary plastic bucket, she says, and the whole process is pretty smelly too.

She turns the page, to feast her eyes on leather-lined wellington boots. At £199 the pair. With a full-length gusset...

Mmm... Gusset...

Spring has most definitely sprung.