Friday, October 25, 2013

Attack of the Mint Chocolate Pringles

It’s been a weird sort of week. All sorts of oddities keep popping up, like mushrooms in the forest after an autumn shower of rain.

But somehow rather less natural, or appetising.

Take for instance the Case of the Odd-Flavoured Pringles. A highly reliable source (ie Twitter) has reported, with no little horror, that the curvaceous and scrunchy snack is now available in a limited edition Mint Chocolate flavour.

Imagine, if you can, a largish crisp that tastes of After Eights. Now try to stop imagining. You can’t, can you? Thanks, Pringles, you’ve really made our day.

What next? Raspberry-flavoured Marmite? Orange-infused fishpaste? Salted meringues?

No. Sweet is sweet, and savoury is savoury, and never the twain shall meet, not even in Heston Blumenthal’s darkest nightmares.

(Latest reports suggest that you can also get Sweet Cinnamon Pringles. A top Bath Chronicle fact-checker was sent out to investigate, but they haven’t come back yet, and don’t seem likely to. Who could blame them?)

If that wasn’t weird enough for you, the BBC reported earlier this week that the carcasses of two giant oarfish have been washed up on the coast of California.

Now, at up to 56 feet long, a giant oarfish is the longest fish alive but is generally peaceable, despite its resemblance to a sea serpent. According to that BBC report, it “hovers vertically in the ocean and grazes on passing proteins”.

Once again it’s time to crank up the imagination. Picture a school of oarfish, with an oarfish teacher showing her oarpupils how to spot the right kind of food. “Watch out, Class Nine,” says Teach. “Here comes some protein. Have a quick nibble, and if it doesn’t taste of Mint Chocolate Pringles then it’s good to eat – get grazing!”

The really worrying thing about beached oarfish is that they are believed to herald earthquakes. No fun if you’re in San Francisco, which has previous history.

But Post hoc non propter hoc, as they say in Latin. Just because thing A happened before thing B, it doesn’t mean that it caused it. That’s enough philosophy.

Meanwhile, closer to home, strange signs have been popping up in the roads around Weston Village. Round they are, with a blood red border, a spooky white background and the mystical number 20 in the middle.

Yes, newer, lower speed limits are coming in across Bath, and no bad thing if they help to prevent just one death or injury on our roads.

But for several days no-one got round to changing the white roundels in the roadways, which carried on reading 30.

So guess which limit most drivers were observing? That’s right, neither. Some, it appears, still believe they have an inalienable right to do 40mph on any urban road they like.

While the limit was still 30, your law-abiding columnist was recently overtaken doing a little bit less than that along Penn Hill Road. Which suggests there needs to be rather more enforcement.

Still, that’s enough odd things popping up for now. But do watch out for the poisonous spiders.

They’re popping up everywhere.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bad Day at Dead Woman's Bottom

Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your family. Like giving up your share of the tinned peaches, or using the wonky umbrella, or sitting on the hard chair to watch the telly – all in the interests of keeping your nearest and dearest happy and unrebellious.

Such a time was last Sunday, when Dixon Junior decided he wanted to cook a cosy lunch à deux for himself and his girlfriend. At our place. In private. And no one else was invited.

So in the interests of cosiness and privacy, it behoved the rest of us (Mrs D, young Miss D and self) to pack a picnic.

Now those of you who take note of such things will remember that last Sunday was remarkable for one thing: rain.

And those of you capable of even the teensiest bit of logical deduction will no doubt be thinking that rain and picnics go together like... well, soap and Marmite, or cheese and elephants, or gin and ginger ale.

But having given Dixon Junior detailed instructions on how not to burn the house down in our absence, we hit the road.

But where to? Wherever we went, we were going to end up sitting in the car, and even in the teeming rain we wanted to sit somewhere attractive.

“Why not near Frome?” said Mrs D in a flash of inspiration equalled only by  Newton’s discovery that apples don’t float away into the sky when they come off the tree. “It’s quite trendy these days.”

And why not indeed follow our picnic with a stroll round the bijou arcades and enchanting alleyways of Somerset’s answer to the Champs Elysées? Apart from the fact that it was still raining?

So Mrs D unfolded Ordnance Survey Explorer map 142, and we set course for the East Mendips.

Never let it be said that women can’t navigate. Even with a dodgy pair of contact lenses, she unerringly directed us to a quiet country lane with a babbling stream, a scenic wood, and a rustic ambience just suited to sitting in a steamed-up Peugeot and  munching on a corned beef sandwich.

It was then that we took a closer look at the map. And things took a turn for the scarier.

Just downstream was a bend in the river called Bedlam. Barely half a mile across the fields was a valley called Murder Combe. Further along the lane was a crossroads called Mary’s Grave. And between us and civilisation was a dark and winding hill.

Called Dead Woman’s Bottom.

Yes, these are all real places. And no, there wasn’t any phone signal.

The rain beat harder on the roof of the car. The babbling of the brook mutated to an eldritch cackle.

That thumping noise... was it someone – or something – trying to get into the car? Or just the sound of our pounding hearts?

This was clearly a place where people spent far too much of their spare time bumping each other off.

And it felt like we were next.

We were too unnerved to visit Frome. We headed back  through Vobster, thanking our stars we’d reached somewhere with a sensible place name before it was too late.

And when we got home...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Striking back at Bath's tourists

A curious factoid plonks onto the desk at Chronicle Towers: Bath’s digital creative industry, valued at £350m per year, is worth three times more to the city than tourism (a mere bagatelle at an annual £106m).

This raises a number of rather uncomfortable – and probably unanswerable – questions. 

First off, what exactly is a digital creative industry, and how would you know one if you saw one?

Second, given that this very blog is both digital (as in  typed with the fingers) and creative (as in made up on the spur of the moment) then where’s its share of the £350m?

Third and most important, though, is the question of what to do with all the tourists, now that they don’t matter nearly as much as they used to, finance-wise.

Just think of the fun we can have. We can stand on the pavement of the Circus as the coaches trundle round and round, their occupants soaking up the Georgian architectural splendours through smoked-glass windows from the comfort of their air-conditioned recliners.

We can peer back at them in a vaguely authoritarian manner, waving placards with slogans like “Get Out And Walk!”

And then when they do, we can wave another placard that says “Get Back On The Coach, You’re Bunging Up The Pavement!”

In seven different languages.

We can stand at the back of a walking tour, point at the guide and whisper subversively into the ear of an unsuspecting grockle: “She’s making it all up, you know.”

Or we can try to grab our own slice of that rather tempting £106m by setting up our own tourist trap.

Here’s an idea: why not find an historical figure and work out their Bath connection? Set up a museum in their honour, hire out pre-recorded audio guides, sell classy-looking souvenirs and generally rake it in.

It can’t be anyone literary: the market is already saturated by the bonneted, frilled and furbelowed spectre of Jane Austen.

Scientists are out too: William Herschel, the 18th century’s answer to Peter Higgs of boson fame, got there first.

(Little-known fact about William Herschel: he originally named his newly-discovered planet, Uranus, after King George III, thereby earning himself an entry in the first edition of Ye Guinneffe Booke of Recordes as the Biggest Creep in the Entire Universe. Try telling that to a tourist.)

Moor your frigate here
(Little-known fact about bosons: they’re named after Indian mathematician Satyendra Nath Bose, who apparently never got the recognition he truly deserved.)

Where were we? Ah yes, trying to get rich off the holidaymakers.

This is how. Find an obscure naval officer who convalesced in Bath after Trafalgar. Build a replica of his three-masted frigate, sail it up the Avon and moor it off Pulteney Bridge. Dress up in midshipman’s gear, stand by the gangplank and leer nautically at the approaching coachloads. Regale them with tales of rum and floggings. Sell them funny hats, feed them ship’s biscuits.

Ker-ching. Job’s a good’un!

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Married to the job

There are good points and bad points about being married to a teacher.

On the down side, you have to take your own holidays in the school holidays: a time when ferry operators, airlines, hoteliers and renters of cottages, to name but a few, rub their hands gleefully and connive to extract colossal sums of money from families with children – and families with teachers.

Then there’s the acorns. Mrs Teach has been out for an nature walk, liberated a few oak sprigs, and brought them home in triumph to create an autumnal display for her classroom.

But a note of caution has crept in. What if the little ones take a fancy to the acorns and eat them?
Could Bath & North East Somerset education department afford the compensation claims from the parents of all those poisoned tots?

Probably not, we reckoned, so the oak sprigs were arranged tastefully in a vase on the sideboard at Dixon Towers.

From where they shed acorns as fast as Premiership football teams shed managers, all over the floor.
And if you don’t know what it feels like to tread on an acorn as you stagger downstairs in your bare feet at six o’clock in the morning to make your beloved a cuppa, well it’s on a par with treading on a Lego brick.

But more quercine.

And that’s about it, as far as the bad points are concerned.

What about the good points?

Well, there’s the delight of sharing in the end-of-term booty, as grateful parents present your spouse with chocolates, biscuits, cakes and even the occasional bottle of wine along with the thankyou cards and handmade gifts from the little ones.

Then there’s the added insight you get into the political process, particularly with regard to the UK education system. Did you know, for instance, that the Secretary of State for Education is Mr Michael Gove MP? Well, you do now.

And do you know how many thankyou cards and boxes of Milk Tray Mr Gove gets at the end of every school term? Exactly.

The best bit of having a teacher for a wife, though, is getting to help out. No, not with the teaching. Best leave that to the professionals. But with the DIY.

Take last weekend. Mrs D had ordered a mighty metal boot rack, tinies’ multicoloured wellies for the storing of. And guess whose Saturday job it was to put it up?

Off to school, where there’s trouble at the gate: We’ve got the wrong keys. Back home, pick up right keys, back to school.

Assess disassembled boot rack. Hmmm. Thickly wrapped in industrial-strength clingfilm, no visible instructions.

Wrestle with clingfilm, find bag containing 12 bolts and an Allen key so flimsy even IKEA would be ashamed to hand it out with a flat-packed wardrobe. Still no instructions, visible or otherwise.

Home again home again, this time to pick up some serious tools. Use powers of logic  to construct the mighty rack. Stand back and bask in spousal thanks. Which, in the end, are the best thing about being married to a teacher.