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Disturbing news from the Japanese Grand Prix: “[Mark] Webber was suffering from food poisoning and vomited in his helmet during the first safety-car period.” Er, yuck?

<seamless segue> I have not been vomiting, but I have been shopping! The bonus of being a coward* is that you get entire Saturdays free to, like, buy stuff. Yesterday I had the mission of acquiring [edit: shopping list removed. Sorry, nearly forgot that blogs are not supposed to be boring].

My task was complicated by the fact that there was a festival in the town centre, which simultaneously increased the density of people and decreased the average perambulatory speed (known to scientists as the Spanish Language Student Phenomenon). This was no surprise, as Bonn is ALWAYS having festivals in the town centre. This one seemed to be a celebration of nothing more than the fact that all the shops will be open on a Sunday for once. Woo hoo! Still, the people of Bonn need no more excuse than that to have a good time. Here, body parts of children sausages are being grilled on some medieval rack:

sausages.jpg

Anyway, I was partly shopping for some new boots. Sigh. I would like to briefly comment on the relentless rubbishness of shoes. To wit: ALL the women’s shoes seemed to have been cobbled by the Brothers Grim. Example:

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Minging.

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Also minging. (There is a pattern here.)

Admittedly, I like wearing the kind of men’s shoes that might have been worn by a Victorian chimney sweep, so my tastes are not mainstream. But even a man who dresses up as a centaur every day of the week and wears slip-on cloven hooves would tell you that these are ugly items. Why do people buy them? Why do people DESIGN them? Thanks to these perpetuators of ugliness, finding some non-minging footwear is like finding a piece of meat in a bowl of workhouse gruel. I did find some perfect boots in the goth shop…

goth_boots.jpg

… but they were perfect in the sense that they had steel toe caps and didn’t fit, so I had to spend a couple more hours skulking in the men’s department like some reverse transvestite until I found some super cool shoes (Clarks and Josef Seibel (“Where fashion meets comfort”), since you ask).

I don’t want to get all feminist, but it is very striking that men’s shoes seem to have been designed to allow men to walk and run and stuff, while a lot of women’s shoes seem to have been designed to allow women to get pinched toes and hide in a cupboard through shame over the fact that they are wearing such momentously nasty footwear. I don’t know how women can feel safe in shoes they can’t run in. What if Godzilla comes? This is why ballet slippers and other flat shoes are A GOOD THING. Unless, of course, they are faux leopardskin ballet slippers, which I also saw yesterday but was too traumatised to photograph…

* I have not been back to the stables since my freak-out. I told my flatmate that I need Robert ‘Horse Whisperer’ Redford. He was confused, because he thought a horse whisperer helped the horse, not the rider. I reminded him that in the film, RR did sort out some horse but he also helped Scarlett Johansson overcome her fear of riding after having part of her leg amputated. He also slept with Scarlett’s mother, but I don’t think that is generally part of the horse whispering service.

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New owner: “Yes, we fell in love with it immediately. We both believe, Christina and I, that when it comes to architecture, pointed roofs, eaves and so forth are just unnecessary decoration.”

Visiting friend: “Oh, quite… especially on a garage!”

New owner: “Er, ah ha, yes! Now, let me show you the view from the windows. They let in so much light, it’s terrific. The shutters are electronic, so we can bring them up at the touch of a button.”

Visiting friend: “Presumably you do that from the car?”

New owner: “Er, no, from inside -”

Visiting friend: “I must say, this floor you’ve had put down is very swish. I can’t wait to see what you’ve done to the actual house!”

New owner: “What? No, this is our house.”

Visiting friend: “Really? But I thought… that house next door – it isn’t yours?”

New owner: “No.”

Visiting friend: “This isn’t the garage?”

New owner: “No. I don’t -”

Visiting friend: “You’re not temporarily living in the space above the garage?”

New owner: “No! This is our new house. Well, the garage is underneath, and we live on top. Didn’t you read our round robin email with the photographs?”

Visiting friend: “Oh! Ah. Sorry. Well, it’s certainly… very… roomy.” [thinks: ‘I did wonder why he needed three bedrooms and an en suite for storing his carpentry tools’]

Forget the saffron revolution. Forget Ban Ki-moon. Forget Jose Mourinho. Turn your eyes to this, the largest pretzel in the universe:

I hope I have photographed it the right way up. Apparently pretzels have significance in the Catholic church (“The oldest known picture of a pretzel may be seen in a manuscript from the fifth century in the Vatican”, allegedly), so maybe if you show a pretzel upside down it means the sign of the devil. Certainly it has an unfortunate turd-like quality from this angle.

Anyway, I hope you can appreciate just how pretzernaturally doughnormous this pretzel is. To give you some idea, see how it dwarfs the ridiculously, annoyingly, could-quite-easily-get-lost-up-a-nostril-y small cent coin:

On further investigation I discover it is fatter than Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s head*…

… is easily bigger than Kate Moss…

… and is ALMOST as large as the Stern Review!

Truly a giant among baked goods.

During the course of my writing this blog entry, this freak show of a pretzel has sadly lost its appeal somewhat as a comestible, so I will never be able to report on whether it tastes a bit like chicken. But it is quite lucky I didn’t eat it, as it happens, because I have been invited to a masked ball this evening and hadn’t a clue what to wear. Here is a self-portrait from a minute ago:

Che bella!

* Property of** the National Maritime Museum, London.
** I mean the photo, not the head of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. That’s kept at Daventry Town Council Museum.

I found a story in a German newspaper this week that I could actually understand! It was about an illness in livestock spread by Mediterranean midges (Mücke) that have never travelled as far north as Germany before (millions of Algarve holidaymakers can sympathise).

The story obligingly provided simple vocabulary like ‘cow’, ‘farm’ and ‘moo’*, and the illness itself was called Blauzung — nice and easy for a German learner to translate (well, easier than Pferdeenzephalomyelitiden anyway). And now I read that bluetongue cases have been found in England too! Those midges must fly fast. It’s like the South is having its revenge: you give us global warming, we give you a few of our horrible diseases.

Farmers (in Europe, in Australia, in the American South West…) are paying some of the early costs of climate change — as you’d expect, given that climate change affects certain key farm-related things like, y’know, the weather. So I wonder, does the agricultural community have enough political influence or voter sympathy in any of those countries to force tougher policies on greenhouse gases? In Australia, for example, John Howard is struggling to raise his approval ratings and it seems his rubbish position on climate change is partly to blame, and I would like to investigate the role, if any, that drought-affected farmers are playing in his current position. Not that Howard has been a lone sceptic in a sea of climate change believers. In fact, many farmers in Australia still contest the science, including influential lobbyists Peter Kenny and Peter Pontikis, I read here. Still, at least some farming associations have got with the programme and formed the Agricultural Alliance on Climate Change, noting that

“Rural communities, and the businesses that support them, are at the front line of climate change impacts. With a changing climate and uncertainty about future government responses to the challenge, rural communities are vulnerable to both the physical and regulatory consequences of climate change.”

Aye, it’s an ill wind that shakes the barley.

But wait! More farming news! Another story in the paper that I understood, er, less well reported that agricultural communities from around the world are finding inspiration in a small village in Niedersachsen, where locals are providing their own energy source by harnessing something called Gülle from cattle and pigs. Without a dictionary, my idiotic guess was that Gülle meant methane, and I wondered how the villagers collected the gas and kept it from exploding. I was picturing nappies tied to each animal with tubes like catheters to siphon off the befarted methane, until sadly someone at work told me that Gülle means liquid manure, which is somewhat easier to collect (and presumably much more tasty in a protein smoothie).

From Mücke to muck spreading… (http://www.bioenergiedorf.de/con/cms/1/aktuell/bilder/)

I would like to visit the village, called Jühnde, immediately. Perhaps it’s also time to sign up to some agricultural newsletters to find out about farming and climate change and lobbying and stuff. As a bonus I might learn more about the epidemiology of Bluetongue disease, which is better than a lick in the face.

* Or ‘mmuuh’, as this awesome web resource of international animal noises informs me.

Aah, British folk music: Fairport Convention, June Tabor, All About Eve… The soundtrack to The Wicker Man. That Clannad song about Robin Hood. Wandering minstrels, fayres and other misspelled village events. Precious Bane. Sackcloth. Cheesecloth. Sundry other types of cloth. Sideburns. Roast suckling pig, crackling and apple sauce…

Sorry, I seem to have gone off-topic. Yes, folk music. I quite like it! I mention this because tonight I went to see Devonshire folk band du jour Show of Hands, who are vaguely famous for the single Roots (stirring/amusing video here). They were waffly good, but first came a less satisfactory singer-songwriter, who made a nice sound but was a bit… MOR. Not very moreish, ha ha. Lots of travelling-across-America-on-a-Greyhound* references, the obligatory nasty lyrics about George Bush, songs with a conscience, et cetera. He said, “We’re going to finish with a song about prejudice,” and I thought, of COURSE you are. If he had said,”We are going to finish with a song about custard creams” we might have pricked up our ears. As it was we Bonnites saved ourselves for the main event.

As mentioned, Show of Hands were duly excellent (and impressed at least one member of the audience for bringing TEN stringed instruments on to the stage). When I hear music that I really like, I feel full up and sad at the same time. Do you know what I mean?

I’m ashamed to write, readers, that I imagined myself, very briefly, as a groupie. I wondered what it would be like to watch your loved one on stage night after night. Would you get bored listening to their songs again and again? What if they made a really stupid face when they played the violin? It seems a shame that more people don’t have jobs where you can be regarded and admired while in full flow at work by friends and strangers alike. I suppose there are a few such careers: defence lawyer, stripper, window cleaner… But imagine a crowd of people watching a man on a stage interrogating an Access database and a woman saying proudly, “That’s my husband up there.” Wouldn’t that be nice?

Super-cool cycle ride home through the dark empty streets with no lights.

* I mean the bus, of course, not the dog. But imagine if you could travel across America on a whippet! David Lynch could make a film about it, as a sequel to his film about the dude who travels through Iowa on a lawnmower. It would have to be an unusually large-boned greyhound. Or a very small person.

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A list of some of the worst things to hear uttered in the English language:

“We’ve been dropped by the record label.”
“There’s a ticket to Cats with your name on it!”
“Would you like to try something different with your hair today?”
“It’s black tie.”
“Um, a few of us in the office have noticed that sometimes you smell like wee.”
“There’s a typo on the cover.”
“What are you staring at, bitch?”
“I need you to tell the police you were with me last night.”
“Don’t move, but there’s a spider in your hair.”
“My son can see angels.”

Spotted in a shop window: the same plates and bowls that we had when I was a child.

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Spooky.

I hope this means I will also see Enid Blyton books, a working Soda Stream and my farm knickers* for sale in Bonn.

* My farm knickers were frankly awesome girl pants that depicted an entire farming milieu against rolling fields, and probably are the sole cause of my obsession with Germandinavian landscape and pre-industrialisation Nostalgie. I think I vividly remember wearing them but they may be nothing more than a fabric-fabrication.

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Possibly the best phrases ever uttered in the English language:

“Don’t worry about the washing up.”
“A ceasefire has been declared in…”
“Excuse me, is this your wallet?”
“I don’t like the soft centres – take them all!”
“Extraordinary: it has been in your family for 400 years and you never realised it was a Titian?”
“Terrence Malick is working on a new film.”
“We very much enjoyed reading your manuscript…”
“Have you ever thought of modelling?”

The email software that they use where I work allows you to pick a clip-art icon that is displayed alongside your name in each email that you send. The icons are pretty bland: an eighties-style squiggle, a purple conch shell, a Doric column (why?), a picture of Planet Earth (natch)…

So I am toying with the idea of importing a completely inappropriate icon and using that instead. Would anyone notice? Here are my three favourites so far:

  1. turd1.jpg

  2. pinup1.jpg

  3. mj.jpg

I think #1, no?

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Bonn is flat. Except for the hilly bits. Have I mentioned this before?

This weekend had a horse-shaped hole in it, so to keep myself busy I went to the following event:

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Yuk, not really. I didn’t actually fancy getting into an erotic mess with mustachoied Germans, so I found an awesome lecture happening at the university instead, in which members of the physics department demonstrated the laws of the universe by floating bowling balls in water, freezing apples in liquid hydrogen, filling balloons with helium and generally geeking out. I hope I am conveying how excellent this was. It was just like Look Around You.

Here, the presenters are cooking a sausage by running an electrical current through it:

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There was also an experiment that played on a joke between quarks, the quite small things, and Quark, the cheese everyone eats here (the Quark was splatted by some particle accelerator or something). I am SO down with German now; I even understand their in-jokes.

By the way, note how packed the auditorium was; I was expecting a lecture with six other people, but half of Bonn turned up. Still, there’s nothing else to do on a Sunday. All the streets look like this:

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Perhaps they were all at the Erotic Mess?