Thursday, September 26, 2013

Is there life on Mars?

Somewhat disappointing news reaches us from the planet Mars, where NASA’s Curiosity Rover, having pootled around on the surface for the last year or so, taking samples and generally being curious, has reported back that it can’t find any methane.

Disappointing because it means that the chances of finding life on the Red Planet are vanishingly slim.

Red planet: Mars, yesterday
“It’s not a good sign,” Canadian astrobiologist Lyle Whyte told ABC News. “We have a problem.”

Hang on...

The last time anyone said that in a space-related context was when Apollo 13 blew a gasket and nearly blasted Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton into icy oblivion.

This sounds serious.

Meanwhile, even more disappointing news comes in from another corner of space. (Can space have corners? Ask your father.) Cosmologists say they are  confident that the earth will end in 1.75 billion years, when it finally gets swallowed up by the ever-aging, and ever-expanding, sun.

That’s if us uppity humans haven’t already blown up our home planet, or melted it, or swamped it with plastic pop bottles. And even if we haven’t, we’ll probably have evolved into telekinetic gasesous entities, and will be even less bothered than we appear to be now.

Every cloud, though, has a silver lining.

A third report, this time in  the New Scientist, is headlined “Death by Higgs rids cosmos of space brain threat.” If you understand that then you’re – well, the sort of person who understands headlines in the New Scientist.

But it can only be good news.

Methane delivery system
And the stuff about no methane on Mars is actually quite good news too, when you start to think about it. What makes methane? Cows. And if there’s no methane on Mars, then there are no cows either. And if there are no cows, then there won’t be any of those ghastly agricultural pongs that have been wafting across Bath for the last two weeks.

So when the sun starts expanding and the smell gets bad, we’ll know what to do. We’ll ride a trail of Higgs Bosons to the fourth rock from the Sun, settle down in odour-free bliss, and live out our days singing David Bowie songs. Sounds like a plan.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Every one's a winner

Anyone who happened to be lurking outside the kitchen window at the back of Dixon Towers last Friday night would have been (a) trespassing and (b) mystified.

For what would the putative lurker have made of the sight of the householder, on his knees with one of those strap-on torches on his head, peering through the murky glass door of the oven (cleaned by Mrs D only four short weeks ago), and conducting a close inspection of the interior?

Enough riddles – the answer is obvious. Having rashly decided to enter the scone-baking competition at the Weston Village Flower Show the following day, and having never baked a scone his life, the bloke with the torch was doing a trial bake.

And it wasn't going well.

Mrs D had gathered together her vegetable crop ready for the next day's competition, and was standing by with helpful advice. "Read the recipe twice before you start," she said. 

No time for that, we're on a deadline.

"Ten minutes to make, ten minutes to bake," she said, recalling the wisdom of a long-retired Domestic Science mistress."Knead it gently," she said. But how can you when it's thrashing around on the worktop like a disgruntled moray eel?

We eventually counted the first batch in, counted them out, and decided they were "All right".

Scones. Or Scowns. Or Sconns. In a tea towel. Last Friday
Although whether "All right" would be enough to compete with the doughty bakers of the assembled TGs and WIs remained to be seen.

Saturday dawned, and with it a second round of scone-baking, even more stressful than the first. You know how scones are supposed to be flat on top? Well these went in flat all right, but came out slanting.

We displayed our produce in the village hall that morning, and stood by for the results.

Mrs D swept the board with her veggies, and is now the proud holder of the Nelson Wiltshire Memorial Trophy (the gardener's equivalent of the World Cup). Not unsurprisingly, the scones came nowhere.

There was some consolation. Yours truly won the guess-the-name-of-the-teddy competition. He's called Merlin. He's brown and fluffy. And he's a lot more cuddly than a scone.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Glut feeling

So here are again. Back from the hols with little more to show for it than a couple of fading mosquito bites and that warm feeling you get when you know you’ve helped pay off a significant portion of the French national debt.

All we have to do now is avoid reading depressing features on the BBC website with titles like The Ten Worst Things About Post-Holiday Blues, keep our heads down and wait for the bills to start rolling in.
Of course, September does have its good points: mists and mellow fruitfulness, yours truly’s birthday, kids off the video games and back into what is apparently known these days as a “learning environment”. What’s not to like?

Plus the added annual excitement of the Weston Village Flower Show, for which entries had to be in just a couple of days after we got back from foreign fields, thus causing a flurry of activity around the allotment as Mrs D and self tried to find six straight runner beans, an unfeasibly long stick of rhubarb and three matching onions.

The chum who had kindly volunteered to keep things watered while we were away had done a sterling job, but she obviously didn’t have much of a taste for courgettes.

Because there, among the burgeoning sweetcorn, the rampant pumpkins and the glistening tomatoes were two of the biggest specimens ever to miss out on being made into soup. Or omelette, or ratatouille, or zucchini surprise, or any of the many delicacies you can make out of said squash.

Imagine if you will (or even if you won’t) a pair of monster courgettes, each as long as your arm and exuding dark green vegetable malevolence from every pore. Hold that thought and you’ll have a fraction of an idea of what these courgettes were like.

Unfortunately there isn’t a prize for the biggest courgette in the entire universe at this Saturday’s show (September 7, 2.30pm, All Saints Centre, Weston, Bath). And a big courgette is an inedible courgette. So our two beauties had to go  into the compost –  ready to feed next year’s crop.