Friday, February 28, 2014

Chillies in a box

It’s a hard life being an amateur chilli grower, and February is the hardest month of all.

Because February, of course, is the month when the little darlings get planted. Or should it be March? Or even January? It depends a bit on which packet of seeds you read, but one thing’s for sure: chillies need both light and warmth.

Neither of which is much in evidence in the conservatory at Dixon Towers, which faces north west and lets in draughts like the Titanic let in water.

So what we need is a controlled environment. And that means a visit to IKEA to buy a chest, which we know before we set off is called an Apa. And it also means a conversation with a member of staff who isn’t keen to tell us where we might find said Apa in the flat-pack aisles at the end of the store, and who instead suggests we track it down in the children’s section.

Which, what with it being a Saturday afternoon, is knee-deep in tinies, hell-bent on obscuring the product from the paying customer.

So it’s back to the staff member, who is at last persuaded to look up the Apa on his terminal and divulge its hiding place among all the other flatpacks (what is it, some sort of trade secret?).

Home again to build the chest. Pause for  speculation about why IKEA Allen keys are never up to the job.

Finish chest with aid of electric screwdriver, stand back and admire.

OK, now for the heat. Place horticultural mat in bottom of chest. Drill hole for wire in end. Remove plug, pass wire through hole, re-attach plug.

Pause  to reminisce about the good old days when you had to buy a plug whenever you bought a new appliance.

Crack on with it, Dixon. We need light. Assemble fluorescent fitting and switch, in contravention of every wiring regulation known to man.

Fix gaffer tape to inside of lid. It doesn’t stick. Apply two coats of PVA glue to lid. Pause overnight while glue dries. Attach more gaffer tape to lid, fix light fitting to gaffer tape with double-sided tape. All seems well.

Place seed trays on mat, turn on mat and light, close lid and await results.

Important scientific discovery. Fluorescent light fittings give off heat. Seed trays give off water vapour. Gaffer tape does not stick to PVA-impregnated hardboard in warm damp environment.

Light fitting falls off, missing trays by a whisker.

Off to the DIY shop to buy industrial-strength pipe brackets. Drill holes in lid, attach brackets, dangle light fitting from same. Sorted.

By this stage the budget is so out of control that  if any chillies do emerge in August (or July, or October), the unit cost will be on a par with  expensive luxuries like saffron. Or even printer ink.

Then Mrs D  sucks her teeth judiciously and asks  “Don’t plants need air?”

Resist temptation to debate  transpiration with someone who clearly knows more about it than you do.

Open the lid a crack, leave the chillies to do their stuff.

They’ve had all the help they’re going to get.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hot. Cool. Yours. It's Winter Olympic meltdown!

So there we are, sitting on the sofa and catching our breath between multiple sessions on Netflix (we’re proper binge-watchers these days) when it hits us: the Winter Olympics are on!

As we watch, the Dixon drawing room fills with a sense of wonder. 

“I wonder how they do it?” says Mrs D, as a 15-year-old elf nonchalantly throws a single Salchow, a double Axel and a triple toe loop with bells on before landing gracefully in the arms of her swooping swain.

“I wonder if they get dizzy?” says young Miss D, practical as ever.

“I wonder when we can watch Breaking Bad?” mutters young Mr D, terminally unimpressed.

Another source of wonder is the ability of the BBC commentators at Sochi to tell at a glance the difference between an ollie, a stalefish and a McTwist 540.

All of which are genuine snowboarding tricks, fact fans. You really could not make them up.

And that’s when those very same commentators aren’t stretching the English language to breaking point by pressing innocent nouns into service as verbs.

As in: “The English hopeful had a chance of medalling but it was the Russian veteran who podiumed.” Doctor Johnson must be spinning in his grave.

Even more wonderful (in the sense of making you wonder what it’s all about) is the Sochi slogan.

According to the official Sochi website, this ringing phrase is “a universal solution successfully combining innovation and dynamism.”

According to yours truly, it’s even more daft than Wenlock and Mandeville. And who remembers them?

Moon. Jam. Varnish.

Clamp. Knee. Bedwear.

Take any three words, put them in a row and stick full stops after them. You know it makes sense, especially if you’re being paid for it.

Enough linguistic opprobrium, though. We’re off to the moguls (bumpy skiing to the uninitiated) where the commentary team are getting a teensy bit overwrought.

“The poles are working overtime!” screams one, somewhat ambiguously. “Those kneepads let the judges know exactly what’s going on below the waist!” yelps another, somewhat less ambiguously. “The British pair are going back to back!” yodels a third with as little ambiguity as it’s possible to muster before the 9pm watershed.

To be strictly accurate, the British pair were snowboarders. There wasn’t any room for us Brits on the moguls after the three Dufour-Lapointe sisters from Canada took to the slopes.

Which of course leads us to further wondering, this time about the quality of dinner-table conversation chez Dufour-Lapointe.

“Hi girls,” says Mum. “And what did you do today?” “Mogulling” says ChloĆ©. “Mogulling” says Justine. “Mogulled” says Maxime, who is soon to join the BBC.

The real trouble with the Winter Olympics, though, is that so many of the so-called sports are subjective. If it takes a judge to decide the winner, then is it really a sport?

Still, while our British curlers enjoy their brush with destiny, those of us left at home do at least get to play Spot-The-German-With-The-Rudest-Sounding-Surname.

Andreas. Ski-jump. Google.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Bristol crocodile blocks last route out of Bath

Typical, isn’t it? No sooner does one news story of weird animals threatening humanity get put to rest (last week, remember, it was mutant cannibal rats on a 21st-century Marie Celeste death ship) than another rears its ugly head.

Or to be absolutely precise, its scaly head. Because yes, gentle reader, a six-foot crocodile has been spotted sploshing around in the river Avon in Bristol.

It was first reported by a bus driver on Bedminster Bridge, which immediately raises two questions: (a) what was he on? and (b) where can we get some?

But that would be uncharitable, and the story must be true, because it’s been in all the papers, and the croc itself has not one but two Twitter accounts, and it’s been posting some fairly gruesome selfies all over the internet.

Indeed, no less a personage than Nick Gargan, chief constable of Avon and Somerset Constabulary, also took to Twitter (as you do) to advise his followers not to go water-skiing in the river.

Which could actually be a bit awkward, because over the last couple of weeks the Avon has become pretty much the only reliable route out of Bath. If the roads aren’t shut by design, for the fettlement of the sewage system or the installation of super-fast broadband, then it’s by accident.

Fallen branches, collapsed walls, rising tides and people driving the wrong way along motorways have all conspired to thwart any sort of escape from this fair city. Not that you’d necessarily want to leave, but if you did, it looks like the river is currently the only way out.

Or at least it was, until Chris the Crocodile came along and blocked the aquatic route too.

Help is at hand, though, in the shape of a press release cunningly disguised as junk email, received earlier this week at Chronicle Towers, promoting the benefits of a thing called the JetCard.

This “ultimate gift for the man or woman who has everything” (it says here) “buys world-class travel by private jet for time-strapped executives and HNWI’s who want a sense of private jet ownership without the costs and responsibilities.”

What’s a HNWI? Have Not (got the) Wildest Idea. But it sounds like a lot of fun. All you need is an airstrip and one of those cards, which comes in its own black box and is made of aviation-grade titanium, and you’re away.

But the real point of this spam (sorry, marketing communication) is to remind readers that Valentine’s Day is only just round the corner, and that if you’re the sort of HNWI who wants to surprise their significant other with a romantic gift on February 14, then prices start at a mere 4,320 Euros per hour of private flight.

For those of us who are more HMRO – Help (my) Money’s Running Out – than HNWI, the traditional Valentine’s Day profferings of chocolates, smellies and inexpensive pieces of jewellery will probably have to suffice.

Oops, that’s given the game away. If Mrs D was expecting a romantic river cruise with a bit of reptile-spotting at end of it, then she’s going to be sorely disappointed.