Saturday, November 23, 2013

Selfies, onesies and twerking

So, the votes have been cast and counted, the contenders sorted and sifted, and we have a winner.

Not, you'll be happy to hear, for the Most Preposterous Supermarket Food Advertised During a Single Episode of I'm a Celeb… (although Lidl's Three Fish Roast ought to win a prize for something, if only for being conceptually even less appealing than the Waitrose five-birder).

Nor indeed for the most unappetising snack served up on said Ant-and-Declathon. No, this prize is a literary one, whose previous winners include such lexicographical luminaries as "chav" (2004); "bovvered" (2006); "simples" (2009) and "omnishambles" (2012).

Yes, folks, it's the Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year Award, in which thesaurian hopefuls vie for the key to enter the hallowed precincts of verbal Valhalla, to scale the Mount Parnassus of grammatical glory...

All right Dixon, stop showing off. Just tell us the winner and we can crack on with the rest of our lives.

A selfie, yesterday. Too old for twerking.
OK. The 2013 Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year was (drum roll)…

Selfie (n): "A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone... and uploaded to a social media website."

Among the also-rans were Schmeat, Oinguito, Binge-watch and Twerk. And if you don't know what those mean, you'll have to look them up. Oh wait, you can't: these upstarts will wither on the vine of linguistic respectability and will never find a home in Dictionary Corner.

"I've never taken a selfie," said Mrs D reflectively when she heard the news. "And I've never worn a onesie either. What do you do when you want to go to the loo?"

Well may she ask. Fortunately though, this year's must-have fashion item didn't even make the shortlist so we shall probably never find out. Still, there's always next year. 

A sneaky peek at the early declarations gives us such gems as:

Unsurance (n): The feeling you get when you decide not to insure your offspring's student bus pass and, yes, he goes and loses it.
A dictionary, yesterday. Too old for selfies OR twerking

Cashmare (n): A very vivid dream in which you convince yourself that your wallet is stuffed with £10 notes. But when you wake up and look, it isn't.

Shrumper (n): Your purple pullover after it accidentally got mixed up in a hot wash.

That's enough nouns. Verbs, adjectives, adverbs and even conjunctions are in with a good chance too, so if you can think of a good one, let the Oxford people know.

Although Squerk (v): To jiggle lasciviously while sitting at your desk - is going to take some beating.

All of which proves, if nothing else, that the English language is a tough old bird (if you want tender, go for a five-bird roast) that is quite happy absorbing all the neologisms that new technology, party politics and celebrity culture can throw at it.

And if you're still not convinced, you can stick that in your pape and sploak it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Watch out for Comet Ison

Excitement is mounting among star-gazers all around the world, as what could be this year's big interplanetary event comes ever closer.

Comet Ison, or Comet C/2012 S1 to its friends, or Comet Nevski–Novichonok to its Russian friends, was hatched in the mysterious and distant Oort Cloud, and is currently hurtling towards the centre of the solar system.
Comet Ison, yesterday. Or possibly the day before

It will reach its closest point to the sun on November 28, zipping round behind and heading back outwards again for a close encounter with Earth some time on Boxing Day.

It's already visible from the UK if you have a good pair of binoculars and know where to look. It's a bit fuzzy, and has a slightly greenish tinge. But the big question is, will we get to see it with the naked eye?

Will it be as bright as the Great Comet of 1843, which had a stupendously long tail; or as dramatic as the equally Great Comet of 1882, which broke up into little bits and had a backward-pointing "anti-tail"; or as attention-seeking as the no less Great Comet of 1744, which was a proper show-off and boasted six separate tails?

Well, it all depends on who you believe.

If you take certain over-excitable newspaper columnists at their word, Comet Ison will be 15 times brighter than the moon and visible in broad daylight, will cast double shadows and will shine in through your bedroom window at night, keeping you and yours awake for the next three months.

Too flashy for its own good: the Great Comet of 1744
If you're of a more sceptical disposition, you'll more probably be of the opinion that it will be visible in the night sky but won't be as exciting as all that.

And if you're a complete and utter killjoy, you may well decide that Ison is fated to boil up as it goes round behind the sun and won't be here for Christmas.

The fact is, in the immortal words of Sir Patrick Moore, "we just don't know". But it's certainly something to look forward to.

There was a time, of course, when superstitious people thought that comets brought wars, plagues, famines, natural disasters, revolutions and the overthrow of governments in their wake.

In these days of rationalism, we're perfectly capable of organising most of those for ourselves without the help of an extraterrestrial chunk of ice.

But surely it's no coincidence that the papers right now are full of stories of mutant super-rats, of false widow spiders lurking under lavatory seats and leaping out to bite innocent bottoms, and of ghastly orange Spanish mega-slugs that threaten our native British gastropods?

(Mind you, if the Spanish slugs eat up the broccoli before Mrs D has a change to cook it, the can't be all bad, can they?)

Until Comet Ison fades back into the firmament next January, things can only get crazier.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Guinea pig heaven is a place on earth

OK. That's the whizzes, bangs and flashes out of the way for another year.

All that's left of the money you spent on fireworks is a sooty cardboard box in the garden and the sticks from a few spent rockets rattling around on the garage roof.

The lovingly carved pumpkins are turning to mush on the front doorstep, the trick or treat sweeties have coalesced into a sticky mess on the kids' bedroom floor.

And even more tellingly, style icon Samantha Cameron, who graced a number of newspaper front pages earlier this week all done up for Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, has reverted to a wardrobe in sensible shades of autumnal russet, cumulonimbus grey and crepuscular blue.

Probably. This blogger's grasp of what's in and out, fashion-wise, is shaky to say the least.

Everything, in other words, is back to normal. It's cold, it's raining and it's six weeks till Christmas. Or is it seven? In many ways the latter would be far, far preferable.

So what are we going to do to cheer ourselves up?

Twitter seems a good place to start. There's always something heart-warming on Twitter.

Take the tale, repeated and retweeted ad nauseam, of Sooty the randy guinea pig.

Sooty, from Pontypridd, tunnelled out of his cage, broke into another enclosure occupied by 24 female guinea pigs, had his wicked way with them and was found the next day exhausted but highly chuffed with his efforts.

This, according to Twitter, is the best story about a guinea pig you'll ever read in your entire life.

Maybe so, but no one seems to be worried that it's old news, and that South Wales's very own cavy Casanova made his great escape way back in the year 2000.

Or that Sooty, and his 43 direct offspring, and probably all his grand-piglets too, have long since departed to guinea pig Heaven.

Which brings us in a roundabout way to broccoli: one of those vegetables, along with sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale, on our eat-it-to-set-a-good-example-never-mind-if-you-like-or-not list.

The only possible excuse for avoiding it, up to now, has been the fact that it contains high levels of fructose, which in susceptible individuals can cause distressing symptoms of a gastric nature.

That one's unlikely to wash at Dixon Towers, but there is a small chink of light on the ever-more-wintry horizon: our very own guinea pig Heaven, right here on earth.

Because living at the back of the house are three of the cutest cavies ever to escape a Peruvian cooking pot. (No risk of any offspring – the vet put a stop to any Valley-style shenanigans round our house).

And as Mrs D let slip just the other day, they are very partial to a stalk or two of broccoli.

So here's the plan. Next time the evil brassica pops up on the menu, hide it away while it's still raw.

Make a small hole in the side of the guinea pig cage, paint some convincing-looking tracks from there to the kitchen, and say, when asked if we have any broccoli: "We did have, but the guinea pigs ate it."

Sooty would have been proud.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Boys keep swinging

“Heaven loves ya. The clouds part for ya. Nothing stands in your way, When you're a boy." So sang David Bowie in Boys Keep Swinging, his 1979 song about growing up, being cool and coming to terms with your own identity.

Strangely, though, in among buying a home of your own, wearing a uniform and getting your share, Bowie didn't think to mention that most boyish of boyish activities – taking things apart.

Female readers may want to stop here, because they'll probably find most of what follows utterly meaningless (in contrast to the well-reasoned homily that normally adorns this blog.)

But if you were ever a boy, you'll know what it's all about.

You acquire an alarm clock – a proper one, with springs, and cogs, and a ringer, and a key to wind it up. It works for a while, and after a fashion, inasmuch as it tells the time with a certain degree of accuracy.

But it never seems to help you wake up for school – it takes persistent shouting from your elders and betters to do that – and eventually you overwind it, it stops working completely, so you take it apart and see what makes it tick.

You remove the winders and adjusters and you prise off the back. You make a careful mental note of how everything fits together, and carefully start removing the tiny internal screws.

Plink. You drop one on the floor, and it rolls away under the chest of drawers. Never mind, you can always pick it up later.

Two or three more screws meet the same fate, and the shiny brass plate at the back of the mechanism is working looser and looser.

All of a sudden it comes free, and with a ghastly death rattle the big spring comes unsprung, the cogs fly in all directions, and your alarm clock is no more.

Two years later you try a similar tactic on an old valve radio that will only pick up distant echoes of the BBC Light Programme.

The results are similar, if slightly more pyrotechnic. Which is what being a boy is all about.

Several decades later, long after your boyish coolness has evaporated and the only uniform you wear is beige and comes from M&S, your kids expect you to mend their Nintendo Wii, which has suffered a rupture of the disc drive and is very much Off Games.

You take your tiniest electrical screwdriver and try to remove the shiny white plastic back.

You fail at the first attempt, because you need a special three-winged screwdriver, only available from special three-winged screwdriver shops.

Even equipped with said (costly) screwdriver you fail, so you attack the thing with a drill. And finally the back comes off, exposing the electronic innards.

You do a bit of judicious bending, you blow out seven years worth of dust, you plug it in, the disk spins for two seconds and stops again with the same sort of death rattle the alarm clock made all those years ago. Total failure.

Ah well, off to the second-hand shop for a replacement, thinking to yourself on the way that David Bowie was wrong.

Boys don't always work it out.