Thursday, January 30, 2014

Purple tomatoes, cannibal rats

It can hardly be a coincidence, in the week in which Mrs D sits down and starts to think seriously about ordering the entire contents of five separate seed catalogues, that the BBC should choose to stir up horticultural alarm and despondency.

“Genetically-modified purple tomatoes heading for shops,” screamed the headline, while the mind quietly boggled.

How much genetic modification are we talking about exactly? Have the Canadian growers bred sentience into these mauve solanaceae? Have they endowed them with little purple legs so they can trot their way to the shops? And little purple hands to hold their shopping bags?

Let's face it, we could be looking at a squirrel scenario here. You know how it goes: tough foreign breed is introduced to our shores and squeezes out native red variety, which only survives in niche habitats in the north of Scotland.

All right, our British red tomato isn’t really any more native than its Canadian GM clone. But it’s happened before, it could happen again. So why let the facts get in the way of a good scare story?

And speaking of scare stories, did you hear the one about the cannibal rat ghost ship? Now that really did make the skin prickle.

It started in the Sun, with a sobering headline: “SHIP OF GHOULS”; a well-balanced introduction: “A GHOST ship laden with cannibal RATS is sailing for our shores, experts fear — as nobody knows where it is!”; and a photo of the ill-starred cruise liner Lyubov Orlova looming out of a writhing mist of Photoshop.

Regional papers with circulation areas bordering on the Atlantic Ocean were quick to pick up on the tale. Step forward the Herald of Plymouth with “Ghost ship full of cannibal rats could be about to crash into Devon coast.” (Notice that phrase “could be”? Try replacing it with “not” and see if it changes the meaning.)

And it can only be a matter of time before our very own Bath Chronicle splashes (geddit?) on “DEATH ship packed to the GUNWALES with cannibal RATS with a taste for purple TOMATOES sighted at Saltford MARINA and heading up the Avon for BATH!!!”
MOLECULE: some anthocyanin, yesterday
PURPLE TOMATO MOLECULE: some anthocyanin, yesterday

At least it would make a change from all that fuss about bus gates.

In times of trouble, though, the BBC is quick to calm our fears. It pretty much ignored the cannibal rats, and instead concentrated (double geddit?) on the tomatoes.

It appears that they will be squished in their native Canada before embarking for our shores, and every last seed seived out to ensure there’s no chance of genetic contamination or cross-breeding.

And the purple pulp will contain enhanced levels of anthocyanin, which sounds nasty but is really an anti-oxidant that does all sorts of healthy things to you. Allegedly. You can get it from blueberries and cranberries too, but they don’t taste quite as good on pizza.

So mix yourself a stiff Bruised Mary and relax: when it comes to tomatoes, the boffins know best.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Yes, they have no bananas

Rather sad news reaches us from Bristol Zoo, where the monkeys are having bananas phased out of their diets.

The same thing is happening at Paignton Zoo, too. Recent research has shown that bananas grown for human consumption are too sugary for simians, and as a result the macaques,  marmosets and cherry-crowned mangabeys are becoming over-aggressive and prone to tooth decay and diabetes.

Instead, they’re being switched to a diet of fresh green vegetables and brown rice, as a result of which, according to the head keeper of mammals at Paignton, their coats are getting shinier and their outlook on life sunnier.

Now, skirting around the gloomy prospect for any living creature of a diet that could well include both broccoli and brussels sprouts, the main thing about all this no-bananas shenanigans is that it brings into sharp focus one of the biggest bugbears of modern life in January: the Enforced New Year’s Resolution.

Nobody asked the monkeys if they wanted to give up bananas. (Come to that, nobody asked them if they wanted to live in a zoo.)

And in the same way, no one asked if you wanted to give all the things that are bad for you and do a bit of exercise, on the flimsy pretext that it’s no longer 2013.

And you certainly didn’t ask a certain national newspaper to force-feed you a new supplement called Do Something. Because frankly there’s more than enough to do already, from cleaning the gunge off the bathroom tiles to rebuilding Mrs D’s raised beds, which have gone soggy in the rain.

Mind you, if you do fancy a new hobby, you could always start collecting partworks.

Back in the day these informative publications, which by some bizarre coincidence always seem to launch in early January, would help you learn carpentry, car maintenance, cross-stitch, egg-painting and any number of other useful household crafts, all for £1.99 for the first issue along with a free – yes FREE! – binder, then £4.99 each for the remaining 127 instalments as long as you place an advance order with your newsagent because it won’t be on the shelves come April.

Nowadays, as well as sharply priced instruction manuals, you can collect all the requisite bits for a Marvel Comics superhero-themed chess set (FREE board!), a Lancaster bomber (FREE Guy Gibson!) or even a Disney Pirates of the Caribbean Black Pearl Galleon™®© (FREE Johnny Depp!)

Although it’s hard to see the attraction of building up a model plane or sailing boat, rib by laborious rib, over the next two years of your already glamorous life. Or indeed of spending a sum not unadjacent to £250 on a chess set (£7.99 a pop), when you’ve got a perfectly good one already. Even if the Marvel variety is crafted from lead-free metallic resin, and yours is only made of plywood.

No, this year let’s stick to simple resolutions, like writing sentences with a proper verb. And not starting them with “And”.

Damn. That’s two broken already. Pass the bananas...