Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Boldly Going Where No Man Has Gone Before

It’s comforting to know that when it comes to pondering the logistics of having a shit in zero gravity, Prince Phillip is just as curious as the average schoolchild.

Apparently, it's one of the most common questions asked by kids during trips to NASA, and also now, it seems, visiting dignitaries. On a recent trip to a space facility, he too wanted to know – just how do astronauts poo?

The hazards of having a dump in space are easily imaginable, as it’s not only unpleasant smells that might escape from the bathroom following a visit, (giving new meaning to the term “floater"). There’s the initial difficulty of actually staying put when you sat down - you could park yourself on the toilet, only to find, when you looked up from your newspaper, that you were in fact hovering over the bath. Upside down. Or something… Also, a traditional flush system would be unsuitable as the water would merely spray up into the air, filling the room with fragments of floating excrement. It’s a tricky problem.

Astronauts are busy people and it’s important that they’re able to concentrate on their daily business of waving to family members via satellite links and performing mid-air somersaults, without having to dodge an array of glistening logs recently crimped off by their fellow spaceman’s nipsy.

Luckily, the BBC was on-hand to provide the answer: apparently, the ‘visitor’ is strapped to a unit which provides a tight seal around the buns; a rapid flow of air is then used to whip the offending item away.

Aall liquid waste is jettisoned outside, though for some reason all solids are “compressed” and are kept on board for later disposal back on Earth. This has been the same for all missions (except, probably for those poor bastards on Apollo 13 who undoubtedly filled their spangly suits with theirs when they realised the tin-pot rocket they were in was drifting into the inky blackness of space).

An English Country Garden

Now that spring has sprung its last and summer is abundantly here, our garden is revealing all sorts of delights that just looked brown and dead when we moved into the house six months ago. One of these is a sizeable crop of poppies, leading me to assume that the previous occupants of our 1930s semi- were the head of some Wiltshire-based opium cartel.

Or maybe they just really liked red flowers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Twinned Town

There was a time in my youth when I thought, on glimpsing the road signs you often see when entering a town or village indicating it’s twinned with somewhere, that there existed a perfect replica of that village in France, or Germany or wherever the sign indicated.

I imagined the continental equivalent to have identical roads, houses, shops and local amenities; identical gardens, cars and even weather. In fact, the only difference would be the roadsigns (which would be in a different language) and the haircuts (unruly bouffants if twinned with somewhere in France, mullets if in Germany).

In my age and wisdom, I now know this not to be the case, as logistically, this would be almost impossible to set up, let alone maintain. The village I now live in is twinned with somewhere called Sully-Sur-Loire in France, and part of me feels a kinship with my European doppelgangers. I like to think of individuals, similar to myself, shouting “Merde!” and other obscenities on their way to work in the morning when trying to overtake a convoy of farm boys driving tractors at three miles an hour as I did today.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Apostrophe Atrocity

“All Make’s Serviced” said a roadside billboard advertising the MOT facility of a local garage the other day. “Fish & Chip’s”, said a similar sign round the corner in an effort to entice passers by into clogging up their arteries with delicious battered comestibles.

I’m no apostrophe Nazi (well, maybe a mild one), and I can forgive Mr Carmechanic and Mr Chipshopowner their faux pas on the basis that frying fish and tinkering with machinery are probably more their fields of expertise than punctuation. In the Bath branch of Mothercare later that afternoon however, a large colourful sign shouted “Lets play!”

How many approval rounds must the artwork have gone through before being sent for print and how many pairs of eyes must have been cast over it? Surely someone somewhere should have pointed out that it should be “Let’s”.

As if that wasn’t enough bad English for the day, the Pay & Display machine back at the car park gratefully displayed the message “Thank you. £5.00 payed” Aaargh! As my wonderwife said – “Schoolboy error…”

Nuclear Gardening

There’s an innate pleasure to be had in starting with something which looks like shit, and successfully employing effort and sweat to make it look much better. It’s the sort of satisfaction probably often experienced by furniture restorers, property developers or Caroline Quentin’s make-up artist, though on the weekend it was my turn, in a jungly garden with a hover mower.

“I am become death” said Oppenheimer when he witnessed the atomic bomb he’d created explode at Los Alamos, creating widespread devastation that no living creature could ever hope to survive.

I felt much the same, ploughing through bits of slug, worm, woodlouse and other miscellaneous examples of God’s garden-dwelling creatures, systematically mangling them to a pulp with the aid of a Flymo Compact 300. I’m sure though, had they lived to see the end result, that they would have agreed that the sacrifice was worthwhile. It looks smashing.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire (and carcinogenic toxins)

The streets outside pubs and are soon to be (even more) littered with fag butts as the no-smoking ban exiles cancer junkies from public places. From 1st July it will be illegal to spark up in a public place on the obvious grounds that doing so damages not only those people who find sucking on the non-fiery end of a stick of shredded tobacco encased in an attractive paper cylinder so appealing, but also those around them. And about time too.

Predictably, this hasn’t gone down too well with those stalwart individuals who relish filling their lungs with tar and hacking up black mucous. Judging by a recent BBC news report, it seems a high percentage of these individuals can be found in bingo halls across the land, many of which face closure due to predicted dwindling numbers.

Five aggrieved and excessively purple-rinsed examples of this clique, each with nicotine-stained faces like screwed-up paper bags, sat grumbling at the audacity of the government to introduce the ban. “They’ve taken away our Bingo” scowled one demented old harridan to the collective nodding and mutterings of the rest of the assembled wrinklies in the way that only old women of a certain age can do.

No they haven’t ladies, I think you’ll find the bingo hall is still there. You’re just not allowed to slowly kill people in it any more.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Electric Legs (and Arms)

Like most people I’ve had a few regrets, but then again they’ve been too few to mention.

One that is mentionable though is realising that I can dance just as well/badly as everyone else almost before it was too late. Once this realisation descended on me I found myself able to fling limbs around with reckless abandon, though sadly, by that time, my dancing days were already numbered.

Now, being in my early 30’s and finding myself in the glorious circumstance of fatherhood, my dancefloor escapades are likely to be confined to weddings, in which I’ll dutifully embarrass the kids in the traditional manner.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to indulge in any body-popping (as these days the only thing “popping” would most likely be my ball joints out of their sockets) or don spangly unflattering leotards and smile toothily, pirouetting around to rapturous applause. Even the simple act of getting out of bed in the morning causes a multitude of joints to click, so any attempt at tripping the light fantastic would probably sound like gunfire (or ironically, applause).

So for all self-conscious individuals of a reasonably youthful age who spend evenings stuck to the walls around the periphery of a dancefloor like barnacles on the hull of Hagar’s longboat, I’d urge you to venture into the throng, no matter how much courage or alcohol you need. You’ll never look back (apart from to see if someone’s nicked your pint).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Howard's End

Fame is a fickle beast, and has the power to both make and break people, to both create and destroy careers as well as individuals.

One person at the arse end of the Fame spectrum who I’d gladly wish imminent destruction upon is Howard from the Halifax ads – a spectacularly unspectacular individual devoid of any notable features other than a pair of comedy glasses and a perpetual smile.

He joins a certain category of soulless celebrity who are famous just for being famous. As a viewer, I’ll decide who’s famous and who isn’t, and just because someone happens to be on telly thrice hourly doesn’t automatically mean they are thankyouverymuch.

Despite his fame, Howard is not going to live forever, nor is he going to learn how to fly. I suspect he’ll spend the rest of his days being pointed at in the street and will turn up on one of those “Where are they now?” type nostalgia programmes in twenty years’ time.

Already his role as being the sole figurehead of Halifax is under threat as he’s forced to share the limelight with some stupendously-thighed nobody miming to an Aretha Franklin song. It’s debateable whether there’s enough limelight to share though.

Big- (and small-) Headed Rock Stars

Watching Travis perform their latest dreary little single on telly the other day I was immediately struck by the tiny size of singer Fran Healy’s head. A man of slender build, his stringy body is topped off by a head which is still disproportionately small. It looks like someone’s trying to balance a small hairy egg on their finger. I can only assume he has enormous difficulty buying hats, or he’s forced to get them from Adams.

At the other end of the scale is tinkly-tonkly indie tunesmith Ed Harcourt (who seems to have disappeared into obscurity, but was fab for a year or two) who has to be the owner of the biggest head (again literally, not figuratively) in music. He didn’t help matters by crowning his sizeable cranium with an impressive and unruly bouffant, though even this didn’t detract from the underlying magnitude. It was huge. When he wobbled on stage, it looked like a bear riding a weather balloon.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Gormley Standing Proud

In one of “London's most ambitious public art commissions”, the sculptor Anthony Gormley has created 31 identical statues to be placed strategically throughout the capital, standing atop such landmarks as Waterloo Bridge, King's College, Imperial College and Freemasons' Hall.

Inspired by the fact that over half of the world’s population now inhabit urban areas, Gormley has cast these life-sized bronze statues from his own naked body. Collectively they stand like silent sentinels across the skyline, blending seamlessly with the architecture around them and encourage the viewer to contemplate his own position in the urban landscape.

Like most of Gormley’s work, the exhibition has been received well by critics and offers a fascinating insight into what it means for mankind to willingly detach himself from nature.

Also, as my wonderwife mused last night. “Everyone will know how big his nob is now…”