Restoring a country’s greatness: bell ringers, royal yachts, and low self-esteem

Don’t stop me to ask what greatness means when it’s applied to a country. Don’t ask if restoring greatness is like restoring virginity, or if greatness has actually been lost, or who’d pay the price (monetary or otherwise) for restoring it assuming it could be restored. Do not under any circumstances approach this claim as if it made sense. The idea is for a politician to make it and run so fast that no one will stop to reason it all through.

Ready? We’re going to restore greatness today. To not one but two countries. Because anything a cynical politician can do, I can do better.

Let’s start in the U.K. with a move by a group inside the Conservative Party that will restore Britain’s greatness by bringing back the royal yacht. The New York Times describes the move as “strong.”

Completely relevant photo: Fast Eddie has never lost his greatness.

Completely relevant photo: Fast Eddie has never lost his greatness. He attributes that to his ability to sleep 27 hours a day and still hunt at night. He assures me he’s never killed anything that didn’t need killing. This doesn’t completely reassure me, but you know how hard it is to argue with greatness. Eddie reminds me to tell you that an interview with him appears at Adventures in Cheeseland. Sorry I didn’t do that earlier–it’s been a little crazed around here and I let myself get distracted from the important stuff.

The Times writes, “ ‘I think we have to ask ourselves what sort of Britain we want to live in and what we can do,’ Jake Berry, a lawmaker, said Tuesday in Parliament, ‘to make Britain great again.’ His answer? ‘If Brexit is going to mean successful Brexit, it should also mean the return of our royal yacht!’

“The Conservative benches loudly murmured their approval.”

For every difficult question—or so the saying goes—there’s always an answer that is simple, appealing, and wrong. I’m not sure how appealing this one actually is, but it is simple. And that was probably the Conservatives murmuring, not really the benches. I just thought we should be clear about that.

For those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while, I should mention that the royal yacht, before it was decommissioned, was not named Boaty McBoatface. The new one, if it ever gets commissioned, will probably not be called that either. But I did hear a news presenter on BBC’s Radio 4 promote an interview with Sir David Attenborough by saying that Boaty McBoatface was named after him.

I can only hope the man has a sense of humor. Or at least that he doesn’t want his greatness restored after being talked about that way. It’s expensive, all the greatness restoration.

Next we jump to the U.S. for the news that Donald Trump—who wants to restore American’s greatness by saying whatever comes into his head and, incidentally, by putting Hillary Clinton in prison—has accused Clinton of taking performance-enhancing drugs to prepare for the third debate.

If you work your way through the accusation, you may find yourself wishing Trump would take get-to-the-point-enhancing drugs. But surely you saw Clinton lift off the ground and fly around the stage during the third debate.

You didn’t? The networks probably cut that bit. You know how biased they can be. Anyway, you have to ask yourself, how’d she do that?

I can’t leave the topic without quoting an acquaintance of Wild Thing’s, who explained his support for Trump by saying that Clinton is corrupt and a liar and has low self-esteem. We should probably make that criminally low self-esteem.

No wonder he can’t vote for her.

But don’t worry. Performance-enhancing drugs can also restore your virginity–or anyone else’s, since we’re on the topic.

Having clarified that, we return to the U.K. and the volunteer bell ringers of York Minster, who have all been fired. They weren’t told why, but the letter firing was headed, “York Minster invites everyone to discover God’s love.”

That left them feeling deeply loved. So much so that they went public with the story. In an interview on Radio 4, the cathedral’s dean said the firing had to do with health and safety issues. She mentioned how heavy the bells are.

And they are. Heavy enough that the bell ringers are unlikely to haul them around. Historically speaking, bell ringers dropping bells hasn’t been a problem, and throwing them has been even less common.

A more recent article says York Minster regards one particular member as a safeguarding risk, but the others had “consistently challenged” the Minster’s governing body. Whether a safeguarding risk means the bell ringer is a risk or puts other people at risk is anyone’s guess.

The weight of the bells wasn’t mentioned.

What’s any of that got to do with restoring lost greatness? It’s at least as relevant as the royal yacht. The world, my friends, has officially gone insane and satire is dead. If you don’t find me particularly funny in this post, it’s only because reality has outstripped me.

But since no country can be truly great until an automated system recognizes its existence, let me tell you a tale about Wild Thing and the Netherlands, which desperately need their greatness restored.

Wild Thing’s traveling this week, and she’s making a stopover in Amsterdam. It’s only a couple of hours, but she wanted to make sure she could use her credit card. Just in case. So she called the phone number on the card and punched the buttons for Update Travel Plans.

An automated voice asked where she was going.

“The Netherlands.”

“Did you say Venezuela?”

“No. The Netherlands.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Did you say Senegal?”

Et cetera, through a couple of even more likely spots.

Wild Thing thought she’d try Holland.

“Is that Holland, Michigan?”

Cue the sound of breakables being thrown against the wall opposite Wild Thing’s computer.

“Amsterdam,” she said when she’d run out of breakables she was willing to sacrifice.

“Did you say Sri Lanka?”

I am increasingly worried about what’s going to happen with self-driving cars. Forget restoring a nation’s greatness. How are we going to restore the passengers who get whisked off to South Korea when they thought they were headed for Slough?

A Cornish mile and a Cornish saint

Chris White asked what a Cornish mile is, and since I’d never heard of it, I turned to Google and then asked around.

Let’s start with the asking around bit: According to J., it’s one of those flexible distances people use when a car stops and the driver rolls down the window and asks how far it is to Saint Whoosit.

Cornwall has lots of towns named Saint Whoosit, and Saint Whoosit is always a mile from wherever that car stops. At least that’s what J. tells me. Or else the turn to Saint Whoosit is a mile away, right by the bent tree (we have even more of those than we do of St. Whoosits), and St. Whoosit itself is a mile after that.

And ten minutes later, when the car still hasn’t gotten to St. Whoosit, the turn, the tree, or another person to ask? It’s traveled a Cornish mile.

Irrelevant (and out of season) photo: Flower from our back yard. The bee's blurred, but if you look closely you'll see where the snails hide--something I didn't know until I looked at this on the screen.

Irrelevant (and out of season) photo: A flower from our back yard. The bee’s blurred, but if you look closely you’ll see where the snails go to hide–something I didn’t know until I looked at this on the screen.

On the other hand, according to Wikipedia (never mind a link—the contents will have changed by now), the old Cornish mile measured 3.161etc. to nine decimal points miles. And in case you need to know this, a Cornish gallon was 10 pounds, but a Cornish apple gallon was 7 pounds.

How do you measure a gallon in pounds when you don’t know if it holds a gallon of water or a gallon of honey? It’s a unit of weight, not volume, that’s how. You have to admire the English language. It’s not only inventive, it’s downright hallucinatory. Maybe it was something in that honey they were weighing.

The entry also defines a Cornish lace, which is 18 square feet. Or 18 feet square. I can’t see why there’d be any difference between the two, but since I’m mathematically incompetent we shouldn’t trust me on the subject.

According to the Financial Dictionary, though, a Cornish mile is 1.5 miles. Why a financial dictionary’s defining an out-of-date measure of distance is beyond me, but it may tell us something about economists that its definition doesn’t match the other definitions. Not that everyone else’s agree, but they might want to report that other opinions exist. (I don’t seem to hold Wikipedia to that standard, which tells you something about my expectations.)

The two sources do agree on the Cornish gallon, in case that’s relevant.

The Cornish mile could also be (and sometimes is) taken to refer to any number of places in Cornwall where road signs tell you it’s, let’s say, 3.5 miles to Saint Whatsit and then a mile or so later you find another sign saying you have 3.5 miles left to go. Exactly what that tells us about the length of a Cornish mile isn’t clear, but it’s one of the things people talk about when the topic comes up. Some can even cite exact locations for the signs. I can’t, but I did find one when Wild Thing and I were on the way to Saint Whatsit last year.

On the VWT4 Forum (no, I have no idea), Lord of the T4s wrote, “At the junction at the top of Port Isaac, the village which is used for the Doc Martin TV series, there is a signpost on one side of the road which reads, “ ‘St. Teath 5 miles’ and ‘Wadebridge 9 miles.‘

“Don’t move from where you’re standing and look to the other side of the same junction, and another signpost indicates that it’s now 5 1/2 miles to St. Teath and 9 1/2 miles to Wadebridge.”

Two comments down, Maude explains it all. “It’s basically 9 1/2 miles to Wadebridge from there—but if you hurry you can do it in 9.”

Maude, whoever you are, I love you.

St. Teath, by the way, is pronounced teth, not teeth. She lived in the fifth century (and once again I’m drawing from Wikipedia) and was recognized as a saint in Cornwall and Wales. She was also known as Saint Tecla and Saint Tetha, as well as by a variety of other names (Tethe, Thecla, and so on to another nine decimal points). She was a virgin (why anybody had any business asking I don’t know, but folks back then did seem to be obsessed with a small and useless bit of the female anatomy) and one of the missionary companions of Saint Breaca, who jointly brought Christianity to Cornwall. She may have been the daughter of a Welsh king, which also says that she may not have been. Unlike some of her companions, she wasn’t martyred, and according to one theory her name was inserted into the list of companions by accident.


If you’re considered a saint but you got saintified by accident, are you still a saint?

Regardless, it’s still pronounced teth. And she got a town named after her. Take that, all you other companions of Saint Breaca.

What does this have to do with a Cornish mile? Not a thing, but I felt like I owed you a few more paragraphs. And now that you have them, I’m entertaining suggestions for topics you’d like me to write about. In a perfect world, they’d be related to life in the U.K. or U.S., but you never know what will get me going. If you expect anything sensible, don’t ask about physics, math, astronomy, or anything that looks like it might fall into that same category. I also wouldn’t suggesting asking about lace making, carpentry, fashion, hair, car repair, or raising children–especially that last one, because although people who don’t have kids offer lots advice it tends to be useless in real situations.

However, if you don’t expect anything sensible, it’s open season.

I don’t promise to write about your topic. Some things work and some don’t, and I don’t always know in advance which is which. I haven’t written about either stiles or tipping. I’ve tried, and they’re perfectly good topics, but so far they haven’t gone anywhere. I’ll give them a bit more thought and see what happens.

So ask me questions. Or make suggestions. I’ll address as many of them as I can. And I appreciate getting a push in whatever direction. As long as the train isn’t coming.


Exploring British profanity

Not long ago, someone in an online conversation said that as she gets older she has less “inclination to tolerate the presence of cockwombles.”

The presence of what?

The cockwomble in question was our local Member of Parliament, Scott Mann (the only people I name in this blog are public figures, but if you run for office, sorry, you’re fair game), so I went ahead hit Like. Then I headed for the internet to figure out what I’d agreed with.

According to the Register, “The origin of this very rude term is unclear, although it’s thought to have first surfaced on an online football forum. For those of you unfamiliar with the word, it has been summarised as someone ‘possessing properties of striking idiocy.’ “

The summary the Register’s quoting is on the b3ta dictionary. In case you need to know that.

Irrelevant photo: Tintagel Castle. Photo by Ida Swearingen.

Irrelevant photo: Tintagel Castle. Photo by Ida Swearingen.

But with something this absurd, no single definition is enough. And I wanted to know more about the word’s origin, so I followed a link that promised me the origins of nine “Great British” insults.

Just for the sake of unclarity, I should say that the site could have been promising great insults but could also have meant that they were mediocre insults from Great Britain. Its headline style capitalized most words—never mind which ones; it’s never quite as simple as it seems and you don’t really care, do you?—which meant that Great would get capitalized whichever meaning it had.

As it turned out, the site was a disappointment. Three of the insults were American as well as British (clodhopper; nincompoop; lummox), and cockwomble wasn’t one of the nine.

I love Google. It adds such a layer of pointlessness, to my life.

Anyway, I moved on and found a cycling forum (no, I have no idea; the tides of the internet sweep my intellectual raft to some very strange places) that had hosted (and not taken down) a discussion about the meaning of cockwomble. I came away convinced that no one can define it but that everyone will use it anyway.

Which leads me to ask: If no one can define an insult, is it possible to use it inaccurately? It’s too deep a question to go into here, but I raise it in case you want to give it some thought yourself. As an editor, I saw such gloriously misused words that I started a collection, and soon friends were adding to it. My favorite came from a college philosophy paper: “When we contemplate the obesity of the universe, we know there must be a god.”

After reading that, I understood our cats better. They weren’t lying around doing nothing; they were contemplating the obesity of the universe. I could never tell whether ornot they believed in god.

But back to the cycling forum. Highlights of the discussion include—.

Sorry, but I have to interrupt myself again. The contributors were coyly reluctant to swear but were convinced that if they substituted an asterisk for a U no one would know they were swearing.

Is U a bad letter or is something else going on here?

At the exact same time, they believed that everyone would understand what they meant, and these two beliefs cancel each other out so thoroughly that holding them both at the same time should make the believer’s head explode, but that must be a delayed effect, because once that happens you can’t post anymore. And these people were posting.

Anyway, the most vivid definitions were: “a less sweary f*ckMuppet,” “somebody in charge of a department of a local authority” (translation for those who need it: authority here means government), and “anyone who disagrees with you on an internet forum.”

So much for the wisdom of bikers. Or cyclists, as I think people say here.

Collins English Dictionary defines a cockwomble it as a Scottish football administrator. (“Approval status: pending investigation.” Um, yeah, I’d say.)

My search (I only do this, folks, so you don’t have to) then led me to Buzzfeed. How did I get there? By following a come-on that said, “Know your bawbag from your wazzock.” Well, I didn’t know my bawbag from my wazzock, so I clicked through and learned that, being of the female persuasion, I don’t have a bawbag. I understand that many of the people who possess them can’t imagine life without them, but any number of us manage quite well without them.

Do I resent bawbag owners who can’t imagine that every random stranger they meet on the internet might not have one on hand? You bet your ass I do, but not enough to spend much time on it. Especially since bawbag might be used the way cunt is in Britain. In other words, it may be one of those miraculous and logic-defying insults that’s applies to any gender you can think of, even though it’s about as gender specific as you can get. In which case, I can use one as easily as the next guy, so maybe I do need to know it from my wazzock.

But this is all kind of academic since it’s Scottish and I’m not likely to hear it much down here in Cornwall. And if that makes me sound defensive, it’s because I don’t want to dent my reputation for the sparkling use of profanity. I’ve sworn ever since I understood the words. Or before I understood the words, if you want the truth. What I understood was their power. Now that I’m 603, though, I apparently look like someone who wouldn’t swear, which goes to show you how deceptive looks can be and adds an element of (a) hilarity or (b) shock to the exercise.Either one’s fine by me.

But I should stop bragging and tell you what a wazzock is. It’s a northern word for an idiot, so it’s not exactly swearing. We do have idiots in Cornwall, in roughly the same proportion as you’ll find them in the rest of the world, but we don’t seem to have wazzocks. Which is kind of a pity. It’s a great word.

So I learned something, but it wasn’t about cockwombles. They weren’t mentioned.

In a final burst of intellectual curiosity, I looked up womble, because I still wanted to understand the word’s origin. A womble, it turns out, is a furry, pointy-nosed creature that lives in a burrow and helps the environment by collecting rubbish and recycling it. In case it’s not already clear, wombles are fictional. They were created by Elisabeth Beresford and apparently escaped her books and took refuge on TV.

Maybe you need to have spent a few years watching the wombles to understand the insult.

Periodically, someone me asks why, after ten years in Britain, I still sound so American. My answer is usually that I don’t pick up accents in English, and that’s true as far as it goes. But it’s also true that if I did pick up accents, at my age the best I’d manage would be a kind of mid-Atlantic accent and vocabulary.

That means that if there’s a way to misuse cockwomble, I’d misuse it. And if there isn’t, I’d misuse some other word I’d just gotten hold of and wanted to show off. I’d contemplate the obesity of the universe. I’d mistake my nonexistent bawbag for my all-too-existent inner wazzock. Because swear words are rooted deeply in the culture. You can’t listen for ten minutes and get them right.

A belated note here for anyone who dislikes swearing. If you’ve gotten this far. I respect your feelings, but I don’t share them. For me, swearing’s an integral part of any language, and what’s considered to be swearing depends on each culture’s taboos. The whole subject is fascinating.

I can swear a bit in Spanish, and a bit less in French and Greek. (My Greek vocabulary consists of something like ten words, so you should be impressed that I know anything this useful, thanks.) But if I get the words wrong in a foreign language, or use them in an odd way, my accent will explain my absurdity and somebody will have a good laugh—and I’ll join in if I figure out what the joke is, which I probably won’t. But in English, my profanity has its roots in the U.S. of no-cockwombles A. I understand American swearing.

British swearing, though? Not really And you can’t use an insult unless you have a feel for its meaning, its context, its impact.

I’m not assimilated enough for that. So it is with great sadness that I report the following: I will not be calling our MP a cockwomble.

Asian hornets: an update

Remember me making fun of the hysteria over Asian hornets? Well, C. wrote to tell me that one had been found in Somerset, and since I got her email a nest has been found in Gloucestershire. It’s the size of a pumpkin. Or it was before it was destroyed.

That is, I admit, big enough to hold my attention. But the hornets themselves are not the size of lobsters. They’re smaller than British bees.

They really have crossed the channel, though, and they do pose a threat to bee colonies. C.’s husband is a beekeeper, which is why she knows about this, and why she could tell me how to protect a beehive: “I particularly like the suggested baits to put in traps,” she wrote. “As in France, ‘a dark beer, mixed with 25ml of strawberry syrup and 25ml of orange liqueur has proven to work well.’ “

You can set that out for the hornets or for the beekeeper, at your discretion.

The Independent, which reported on the newly found nest, quotes the Deputy Director for Plant and Bee Health as saying that the hornets “pose no greater risk to human health than a bee, though we recognise the damage they can cause to honey bee colonies. That’s why we are taking swift and robust action to identify and destroy any nests.”

So yes, they are a problem, but no, the world isn’t ending. Yet. And if you’re losing sleep over them, try the recipe above. It’s worked well in France.

Spanish slugs, Asian hornets, and the romance of Britain

Let’s talk about the romance of living in Britain, starting with slugs. Because nothing says romance like a creature that travels on a trail of its own slime, has no skeleton, and eats everything in your garden except the weeds and the lawnmower you left out.

I’m not much of a romantic myself, and that may be why British slugs shocked me when I moved here. Minnesota slugs are (in hindsight) shy little creatures that nibble but don’t gulp. They have no taste for garden furniture. Give them a saucer of beer and they’ll drown themselves, leaving your tomatoes in peace.

Irrelevant photo: hydrangeas

Irrelevant photo: hydrangeas

And if you don’t put out beer, they only eat the smallest bit. I could knock them off a tomato, cut around the hole they left, and tell myself that sharing is good and all nature’s creatures can live in harmony.

Unless of course I ignored the garden for a few days, in which case they’d eat half the tomato and the other half would rot, but whose fault was that? I should’ve taken my tomatoes in earlier.

British slugs, though? They don’t actually eat garden furniture. That was—by way of complete transparency—an exaggeration. But I’ve seen them eyeing it. They have plans. I know this.

That’s not what shocked me, though, because I didn’t know it when I was at that early, shockable stage. It was their size that threw me. They’re as big as buses. Or at least as my longest and rudest finger.

Even in that early stage, I got a sense of what we were dealing with: Wild Thing set out a tray of seedlings one night and by morning they’d mowed down the entire thing. All they left was the plastic, the soil, and a roughly crafted sign saying, “More.” If you set out beer for these beasts, when you come out in the morning you’ll find them sitting around the edge of the saucer, thumping their mugs on the bar, yelling for refills, and singing.

There’s something about the intersection of Britain and booze that makes drunks sing, even when the drunks in question are slugs, which (in case it’s not entirely clear, and again in the interest of complete transparency) can’t actually speak.

Singers, do not try to learn your lyrics from slugs. It doesn’t work.

Why am I writing about this now? Because I was reminded recently that starting in 2012 the country was invaded by Spanish slugs. Yes, my friends, foreign slugs have made their way into this green and pleasant land, and they threaten to outcompete our good native slugs. They’re bigger. (Good god. How big can a slug get?) They reproduce faster. They eat more. According to the website Slugwatch (no I didn’t make that up; yes, you can spend your life watching slugs if you really, really want to; and yes, I’m sure there are far worse things to do with a life although none come to mind just now), they tolerate hotter, dryer environments (neither of which they’ve found here lately, but never mind; I’m sure it’ll be an advantage eventually), and they have an “extensive omnivorous diet.”

I have to interrupt myself here to talk about that diet being both extensive and omnivorous, because if omnivorous means that they eat everything (and it does; I’ve stacked the garden furniture inside to protect it, along with my supply of parentheses, which is why I can use them so freely in this post), then how much more extensive can an appetite get? They eat more than everything? And if our native slugs’ diet is less extensively omnivorous, wouldn’t that make them not omnivorous?

Former editors are terrible nitpickers, although if it makes you feel any better, I was worse before I retired. And I got paid for it.

But let’s get down to the specifics of that extensively omnivorous eating. Spanish slugs eat excrement and dead animals, Slugwatch says. In contrast, my own small and unscientific survey suggests that our good British slugs do exactly the same thing. (I told you this was going to be romantic, didn’t I?) From the time I moved here—and it was before 2012—if I wanted to slaughter some slugs, all I had to do was locate the cat shit. Or the last batch of slugs and snails I’d killed. There they’d be, chowing down happily.

And that’s not just my experience. When M. cleaned up her yard after the dog, if she found any slugs she’d just pick them up and toss them all in the trash together. She liked to think of it as sending them off with a packed lunch.

But change makes good headlines. So do threat and horror. Cannibalistic slugs attack Great Britain! Keep the children indoors!

In fairness, Slugwatch didn’t say that, but one or another of tomorrow’s papers may.

To continue with our romantic theme, though, let’s talk cold, hard politics. Because romanticizing a culture is lovely until, without much warning, it turns toxic, contrasting My Romantic and Wonderful Culture with your (note that we’ve shifted to lower case letters here, since your culture’s less important) lousy one which threatens to dilute Mine in one way or another.

So when some papers and people talk about immigration, whether the incomers are human or nonhuman, something that scares the hell out of me happens. If they see the immigrants as smarter and stronger and more omnivorous than either ourselves or our annoying native species, they complain about the incomers because they’ll outcompete us or ours. And if they see them as dumber, weaker, and less omnivorous? Well hell, that means they’re not as good as us or ours, so they deserve to be swamped. Unlike us and ours, who deserve to be protected.

I admit, I don’t favor the random transplantation of all species. I draw the line at Japanese knotweed, which can come up (or so they say) through the floor of a house and can only be destroyed by eradicating the entire planet, which would have serious consequences for our species—and problematic as we are, I kind of like our species. I’m not in favor of moving plants and beasts from one ecosystem to another, because the target ecosystem may not be able to cope with it.

But you can’t carry an extreme example over and apply it to everything. If Japanese knotweed’s a problem, that doesn’t mean humans should be locked into their native soil.

Hysteria, however, sells papers. And selling paper (did I mention that I used to be an editor?) is good.

Consider the Asian hornet. I heard a mention of it on the radio recently, so I went to my old and odd friend Google and found an article in Metro, which is accompanied by a picture of someone holding a hornet roughly the size of a small lobster. Or at least of a monstrously large hornet. The headline says, “Run for cover because these terrifying Asian hornets are heading to the UK.”

From under my bed, where I cowered with my laptop, I read the slogan beside Metro’s masthead: “News…but not as you know it.” I figured that meant, “We’re having way more fun than any reputable newspaper should.”

It was a rough translation, but it helped me put things in perspective and I went on to read the small type, where I learned that the hornets aren’t in Britain yet. I almost crawled out from under the bed. Then I read that deaths have been attributed to them in France.

Should I stay? Should I wiggle out?

I read that the deaths came from allergic reactions and looked for a comparison figure that would tell me how many people died of bee stings. I didn’t find it, but I figured this might be business as usual, so I crawled back to my desktop, where I read that up to 6,000 Asian hornets can live in a single hive.

By then, I was suspicious. I googled number of bees in a hive and learned that it’s 20,000 to 60,000. So I went to the Independent and learned that Asian hornets could come over from France, and it wouldn’t be good news since they can destroy honeybee colonies, but that they’re not the same as giant Asian hornets—they’re less dangerous, and fairly harmless to humans. Unless, of course, you’re allergic.

But hey, they’re foreign. So it seems only fair that Metro would assume that they’re up to no good. And I say that as a foreigner myself. I’m up to no good. Just look at what I’ve done with the idea of romance. And there may well be 6,000 of me living in my house. Who’d know? I’m not letting Pest Control past the front door.

What I will not be doing here in the secrecy of my hive is joining a society to defend the British slug from foreign incursions. Even if the foreign slug is more extensively omnivorous.

And so to all of you who dream of visiting Romantic Britain, and to you Brits who want foreigners like me to respect the romance of your lovely (and it really is lovely) native land, I say that I am. The romance is as great as ever, and this morning it left slime tracks on my driveway.

The things we call ourselves: British titles

One of the joys of living in Britain is seeing what titles that pop up when I fill out a form online. I’m not talking about book titles or album titles, but personal titles. In my former life in the U.S., I got to choose between Mr., Mrs., Miss, and Dr., usually in that order.

In Britain, though? I was using a web site a while back and on the Personal Details page I pulled down the Titles menu. They offered me:











Lady, and


None of the titles had periods after them. That may be a cost-saving measure. Those periods can get expensive, even when you buy in bulk.

Strangely relevant photo: This is a plant called lords and ladies.

Strangely relevant photo: This is a plant called lords and ladies.

Wild Thing and I argued about what Mre was. She favors Meals Ready to Eat, but I lean toward a misspelling of Madame: Mme. Exactly why a British web site needs to have French titles, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because someone imported it from another web site, which happened to be French.

These things happen. When I worked as a freelance writer, some real estate developer hired me to write a brochure, and I was told to basically copy it from some other company’s brochure. Why they needed a writer to do that I have no idea, but they were willing to pay me for it and it didn’t seem like a good time to argue.

The original brochure said the apartment complex had an indoor elevator. I copied that in, but at almost the last minute I asked the woman who’d hired me if that didn’t seem, um, strange. She looked at the original. She admitted that, yes, it did seem a bit odd since elevators had a habit of being indoors.

We changed it. We also changed the drawings and enough of the wording that we couldn’t get nailed for plagiarism. So I do understand how easy it is to import very odd stuff into unimaginative text.

That only makes me more curious about how those French titles ended up on the list.

But back to the actual list I pulled down: Prosaically, I checked my standard Ms. But it did remind me that we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Full disclosure: Wild Thing and I never were in Kansas. We were in Minnesota. Where they do get tornadoes but where Lord or Lady don’t show up in pull-down menus. Neither does Reverend, despite the U.S. being a more aggressively religious country than the U.K.

Further full disclosure: Although Wild Thing and I got married last summer—we both think it was in June but, romantics that we are, we’ve already managed to forget the date—neither of us goes by Mrs. We can’t see why women should be stamped with their marital status every time they fill out a form or open the mail. It’s a holdover from the days when a woman’s marital status determined her legal status and, hell, her entire life. Calling me Mrs. is a reliable way to make me bristle. I mention that in case making me bristle appeals to you.

For as many titles as Britain offers, Ms isn’t as commonly available as it is in the U.S. I’m sure it means something, although I don’t know what.

But let’s not get stuck on Ms. and Mrs. when we have so many other titles to play with.

I once took part in a letter-writing campaign to the House of Lords, which was considering a bill that has since made a complete hash of the National Health Service. As an American, I’m all too aware of what the alternative to the National Health Service looks like, so I was passionate about this. So passionate that I was willing to write to the members of an antiquated, expensive, and silly branch of government.

A government web page helpfully explains how to write to the lords who populate the House of Lords, because if you’re a lord you just might take the question of how you’re addressed very seriously. And if you’re not a lord but a letter writer trying to convince a lord of something, you don’t want to piss her or him off with your first line. So you read what the government writes and you don’t snark about it until later, when you get to write a blog post and can get as snarky as you want.

To the women lords, you say, “Dear Baroness Whoever,” but to the men you say, “Dear Lord Whoever.”

It’s interesting that you don’t say, “Dear Lady Whoever,” to the lady lords. I would have thought that lord and lady went together. You know: bacon and eggs, bread and butter, lord and lady. But lady must mean something different—probably the wife of a lord. Or—well, how would I know? I’m a barbarian and happy to remain so.

Somewhere deep in the convolutions of the British civil service is a department staffed with people who not only know all this stuff but care.

I was tempted to add a discreet touch of italics to my letters to the men, “Dear Lord,” hoping it would call up an image of my head drooping hopelessly onto a supporting hand, but diplomacy won out and I kept the whole line in respectful Roman type (which is what non-italics are called, so now 96% of you will have actually learned something from this post; an additional 3% already knew it; and the remaining whatever% stopped reading paragraphs ago).

All my discretion didn’t help a bit. The bill passed in spite of my Roman type, and the NHS has turned into organizational hash, which was the goal all along, because the American health companies are circling it like vultures around someone lost in the desert and barely able to crawl. But I won’t go on about that because I’m too angry to be funny.

One baroness did write me back, at length. That seemed like a hopeful sign. She didn’t even open her email, “Dear Plebian.”

So I wrote her back. And she wrote me back. And on we went for maybe half a dozen long emails on each side, and they got increasingly strange, because we seemed to be writing past each other rather than to each other. In other words, she wasn’t interested in what I was saying, so why was she taking her time? I was taking mine because she had some power, or at least the semblance thereof, and for quite a while I suffered from the delusion that I might convince her of something. Gradually, though, I began wanting to ask, “Don’t you have a country to run or something?”

I was grateful when at long last she stopped writing.

Her name later showed up on a list of lords who had financial interests in private health care companies, which should have disqualified them from voting on the bill but didn’t.

Dear lord.

I still want to know why she took the time to write me. Is she so at sea in the House of Lords that writing pointless letters to a random stranger gives her some feeling of purpose?

I notice that Baroness isn’t one of the choices on the pull-down Titles menu. If the baronesses use the site (and I have no idea at this point what the site actually was), They have to be either Lord or Lady. Or if they want to go slumming with the rest of us, Ms or Meals Ready to Eat.

How people find a blog, part 5ish

Bloggers are obsessed with how people find their blog, and how to get more of them to find it. So let’s take a sensible, sober look at how people use search engines to find Notes from the U.K. Because what, I ask you, is more important in your lives than my blog?

Why nothing, thanks for asking.

First, a few notes of explanation: 1, I know how people find Notes because in the administrative background of all WordPress blogs is a page that (among other things) lists the questions that lead people to it. Most questions appear as “unknown search terms,” which annoys the hell out of me because of the fun I might be missing out on. So what follow are some of the terms that aren’t unknown. 2, For some reason, almost no questions use capital letters. I did once find a cap hidden in the middle of a word, but otherwise you can’t have ‘em. I’ve followed that style here, although I’ve had to fight Word to keep it from capitalizing all sorts of things. But when something’s really unimportant, I’m relentless. 3, None of the questions have question marks. I’ve kept that style too. Just thought I’d explain, because it makes strange reading. 4. I feel compelled to answer some of these questions, since it’s only polite. Even though, yes, I know the people who wrote them aren’t likely to still be around.

Irrelevant, and by now out of season, photo: foxgloves.

Irrelevant, and by now out of season, photo: foxgloves.

Let’s approach this by topic:

Great Britain

My most common search question is why Great Britain’s called Great Britain. This comes in various forms. Here are a few: why is england called great britain (it’s not, dear; it’s called England; Great Britain is called Great Britain); when were we called great britain (we still are; it’s a geographical term, not a compliment and not a historical judgment).

I just plonked that into a search engine myself (it’s the easy way to find my original post so I can link back to it) and, holy shit, I’m above Wikipedia, although below Quora.

This time I also found a question about great British runners—a topic on which I’m stunningly ignorant and on which I’ve never written. But the search engine found great. It found Britain. Maybe in the same post I said I wasn’t running for office. I doubt it, but it’s true that I’m not. Close enough. Match made, the search engine said. I’m outta here. Whoever asked that, my apologies. Hope you tried again and found someone sensible.


The next most common question, although I admit this is guesswork since I haven’t bothered to count, is about the wigs British lawyers and judges wear in court, and these questions always come with an adjective. For example, why do brits wear those stupid wigs in court (only the judges and lawyers wear them; you need to know this; if you’re the defendant and turn up in one, no one will think you’re cute; except me, so let me know and I’ll be there taking notes) and why do british lawyers wear those dumb wigs (it’s only the barristers, and they have to).

What’s begun to fascinate me about these questions is that they’re mini-essays, every last opinionated one of them. People who want to know about the wigs just can’t help sounding off. They’re horrified (no one ever says those wonderful wigs) and they want the world and its search engines to know it.

And in case you landed here through one of those essaylets, whatever adjective you used, I agree with you.

Food and Drink

Most of these are about brussels sprouts. Really. The latest ones are boxing day/why brussels sprouts and how do british eat sprouts (with their feet while lying under the table, of course; I thought everyone knew that).

Now I’ll admit that this isn’t a full survey of what people want to know about British food. The only questions that lead to Notes are the ones about topics I’ve written on (with a few exceptions that will come up later), so that limits things, but I’ve also written about insanely expensive Easter eggs, Pancake Day and sticky toffee pudding. Is anyone interested? Nope. Either the search engines or the searchers themselves stare right past those. My best guess is that they’re not what the rest of the world thinks of when they think of British food.

The rest of the world, however, does think of beer when it thinks of Britain, and I get a steady trickle of questions about British beer and—getting right down to what matters—its alcohol content.

I also get a small group of questions about tea. Nothing fits the British national stereotype better than tea. This latest survey’s tea question is not actually a question. It’s a statement: i always ask for an extra pot of hot water with my pot of tea. Which is, in its odd way, charming. It’s a tiny snapshot from someone’s life. What’s it doing in a search engine? I have no idea. What did the writer hope to find? A kindred spirit? In case they did, if you always ask for an extra pot of hot water, please type me too into Google and see if you can connect. I’m just sure the spirit of the great googlemaster will be happy to connect you.

And since all the advice I usually ignore tells bloggers that they should link back to their old posts because the world is just panting to read more, more, more of them (and incidentally because if people clink onto another post they register as more page views), I’ll say here and now that I’ve written more about tea than anyone who doesn’t live in a tea-drinking nation will think is physically possible. Here’s one. If you want more, you’ll have to search. Because even though I’m tucking in an obnoxious number of back links this time, I really don’t kid myself that you want to spend your whole day here.

Intercultural Mayhem

Americans in particular want to know what the British think of them, and as far as I can tell what a lot of them are really asking is why the British hate them. There’s an interesting cultural/political lurking study lurking at the bottom of that if you’re in the mood to do it. In this latest group of search questions, the one that expressed this best was things that british hate about american tourists (oh, I dunno; maybe the assumption that they’ll all hate you?).

The flip side of that is the question what do tourists think of america (various things; it’ll depend on who they are and where they go and what thoughts they brought with them, not to mention where they’re from; it’s kind of like what tourists think of Britain; they don’t all get together and put their thoughts to a vote, then throw out the ones that don’t win).

That leads to the question what do the english talk about (the weather; all other topics are banned; it gets really boring around here sometimes).

No, that question deserves a fuller answer, which can’t fit inside parentheses. What people say here a lot (as janebasil of Making it Write reminded me at some, ahem, length in the comments section of my Absurdistan post) is either “thank you” or “sorry.” The problem is that these aren’t a topic. You can’t actually discuss them, all you can do is say them. Repeatedly. Many times during the course of a day. Or an hour. Or five minutes. Sorry to have taken your time with that, but thank you for reading it.

Someone else asked, why do the uk like narrow roads, and this is so tempting that I have to break out of parentheses to answer it. 1. The entire nation’s agoraphobic and gets anxious on wide roads. 2. Austerity. They used to be as wide as American roads but the government’s been selling off the margins in an attempt to balance the budget. Yellow lines are on sale this week. If you want one, you’d better hurry. And you get a further discount if you buy a pair. 3. It traces way back into their childhoods and would take several years of mass analysis to tease out.

Enough. I’d google why do people ask silly questions but I’m afraid I’d end up on some other bloggers list of silly questions if I click through to whatever Google suggests.

Another search term was the single word emmits. (Ooh, I’m at the top of the list here, above the Urban Dictionary. That’ll change my entire life.) To do a search on emmits, you have to either be Cornish or have spent some time here, because it’s the Cornish word for ants—and by extension for tourists from anywhere that isn’t Cornwall (not just, or even primarily, Americans). Like most words meaning people who aren’t us, it’s not a compliment.

Why did someone do a search on it, given that they already knew the word? It’s another one of the internet’s mysteries.

That leads neatly to a sensible question, what’s it like being an incomer in cornwall. By way of an answer, let me tell you a story that someone who moved here several decades ago told me: She mentioned to someone Cornish that she’d been warned the Cornish wouldn’t talk to her but that in here experience they’d had been friendly.

“Well,” he said, “you talk to us.”

Which does make a difference.

Someone else wanted to know about british class system foreigners. I don’t know what the answer there is, mostly because I’m not sure what the question in, but my sense is that as a foreigner I stand outside it. I’m happy there, but if your goal is to be an insider, I doubt it’ll work. See last week’s post about black shoes if you’re wondering how easy it is to break in.


inconsistency of american english, someone wrote. Inconsistent with what? British English? Itself? Nuclear physics? English is an inconsistent language, in all its varieties. Don’t expect anything else and you won’t be unhappy. Except, of course, if you’re studying for a spelling test. Or trying to memorize the grammar. Or trying to look literate in print, because English is always hiding some damn thing you aren’t sure of.

And don’t expect American English to act like British English. Or Australian. Or Liberian. Because It’s not British. Or Australian. Or Liberian.

Someone else wanted to know about british musical terminology and would be better off going someplace sensible, although I did once get dragged kicking a screaming into the thicket of crotchets, breves, semibreves, and hemisemidemiquavers that the musically competent Brits I know mention with the serene conviction that they can communicate with me. I understand that they communicate with each other perfectly well, in spite of using those words, and I have tried to make sense of them. Honestly I have. But if I inhale I get the giggles and go away knowing nothing more than when I started.

I’m not sure whether this last query goes under language or intercultural mayhem, but somebody typed in, yes tickety boo. Twice, either because they didn’t find what they wanted the first time and thought they’d try again with exactly the same phrase (and follow the same link that didn’t get them what they wanted) or because they liked what they found and wanted to go back to it. But what did they want? A world where everything’s tickety-boo? Maybe, because it means, basically, fine. As ways to improve the world go, typing that into a search engine strikes me as one of the less effective possible approaches. But who am I to criticize? We all do what we can.


One of my favorite queries in this batch is compartive of the weter. I’m going to cut this one some slack on the theory that it’s a second-language question, and you’d have to be a victim of my French to know how deeply uncritical I should be of second-language oddities. Or while we’re at it, my Italian. Even my Spanish, which isn’t bad given that Americans are, if you’ll forgive a generalization, godawful at languages, but it’s still a bit strange.

The question here is, What made a search engine decide that I knew something about this? I do use the word of. And the. Frequently. Beyond that, though, I can’t claim much expertise.

Someone else wanted to know about lupine leaf curl treatment and should really have been directed to a sensible site. I grow lupines, or I did before I stopped slaughtering slugs for about a month this summer and the horrors chewed through the leaves like a horde of locusts. I think I’m going to have to replant. But before all that happened, I took and posted a photo. And the caption used the word lupine. That’s all it takes to become an expert.

Two questions came through on topics I do know about: how to decline an award nomination and spidery corners, although the person who typed that second one may have been looking for advice about spiders, not this blog, which is about the spidery corners of British culture–or so I claimed when I set it up. But I do have spiders in the corners of our house, and I’m damned if I know how to get them out. If anyone has advice, I’d be grateful.

And there we are for another week. Now go to Google and have some fun. You’ll baffle a blogger somewhere.

How to control world finance

Did you ever wonder how the 1% keeps control of the world—or at least of the world’s money? The answer just leaked out in a government study of social mobility: They do it by wearing black shoes.

Yes, folks. Forget your intricate conspiracy theories, because it’s that simple. Anyone who wears brown shoes to a job interview in what’s known in Britain as the City (more about that in a moment) is instantly marked as Not Our Kind and is quietly dumped in the Not-Our-Kind file, also known as the trash.

Or maybe trash is an Americanism. I forget. They may not do trash in the City. Like my not-black shoes, my vocabulary may be tipping people off to my origins.

Irrelevant photo: Montbretia, which is pronounced, as far as I can figure it out, mombretia. It's as invasive as it is beautiful.

Irrelevant photo: Montbretia, which is pronounced, as far as I can figure it out, mombresha. It’s as invasive as it is beautiful. Run. It’s coming for you.

But I need to fill in some background before I go on, in case you don’t know the shorthand. Which, by the way, is as bad as wearing brown shoes to an interview. So here you go:

The City is London’s financial district.  It’s also the original city, dating back to Roman and medieval times, and it maintains its status as both a city and a county within the much larger city of London. Are you confused yet? If not, you don’t understand what I’m telling you. Just hold onto the idea that it’s one of the world’s major financial centers and don’t worry about the rest.

The City is capitalized. The city of London isn’t. The City is also called the square mile because it doesn’t measure a square mile. In fairness, it’s close enough to remind the casual observer of one. Which tells you how few people it takes to run a substantial amount of the world. Not the entire world—there are other financial power centers, but the people who work in them could probably be condensed into similarly small areas. And that includes space for all the people who don’t run the world but clean things up and deliver the mail and tap the computer keys and cook and serve the food and do whatever else needs doing. So the people who do the actual world-running? They’d fit in a shoe box.

Which brings us, ever so subtly, back to our topic: shoes. Apparently they’re not the only way the elite identify their own. Interviewees have to look comfortable in a suit and wear the right kind of tie. And of course the suit also has to be the right kind. The world contains so many wrong kinds and so few right ones. Which is, of course, why all this works.

In a separate article on all this, Paul Mason estimates that the right kind of suit would set you pack £6,000. He doesn’t get bogged down in the shoes. He goes into haircuts and accents and unpaid internships and all sorts of lovely detail. It’s worth a read.

The interviewees also have to have two hard-to-define qualities, polish and an aura. No, not the kind of aura that people who keep crystals on their bookshelves see. This kind comes from generations of upper-classiness. It’s the kind of aura that only people who have one can spot.

The article I read talks about graduates with “first-class degrees from elite universities” being locked out if they fail the dress test. (First-class degree needs translation if you’re not British—or at least it does if you are American. The people who have them graduated with top grades, so you’re supposed to be impressed.) In other words, the article’s talking about people who get top grades at elite universities but still aren’t good enough to run the world’s finances because they don’t know the dress code.

Well, of course they’re not right for the job. You wouldn’t trust the world’s finances to some guy in a loud tie and brown shoes, would you? I mean, think if the damage he could do. Remember the crash of 2008? That was probably somebody in the wrong tie.

Shoes get top billing in the first article I linked to above, but if you read further you’ll find—and this shouldn’t be a surprise—that this isn’t about shoes, it’s about where you went to school. If you went to one of the top public schools (those are private schools and that’s as confusing as the city and the City, but never mind, what you need to know is that the top schools are where the British elite replicate themselves; it’s not actually done in bed)—.

Where were we? You shouldn’t let yourself get distracted every time beds are mentioned.

If you went to one of the top schools, and from there to one of the top universities, the interview is a formality, because going to the top schools indicates that you’re the right kind of person. Unless you show up in brown shoes and someone from the same background wears black ones, in which case the job goes to the black shoes. But the assumption is that if you went to the right schools you’ll know better than to wear the wrong shoes. Because that’s the kind of thing you learn in the top schools. Or maybe you learn it in the kind of families that send their kids to the top schools. I wouldn’t know, and I thank all the forces that organize the universe into the messy wonder it is that I don’t.

All this is comes to light to show us that social mobility is being undermined, but I’ve always been suspicious about social mobility. It’s fine for the people who mobil their way upwards, and I’m grateful that they can, but what about the people who don’t? Are they just the unhappy background that’s necessary for the fairy tale to satisfy its listeners? Or does society owe them something too—like maybe decent pay, decent working conditions, a basic guide to acceptable ties so the economy doesn’t crash again?

Speaking of ties, as far as I can tell from the pictures and the text, most of this applies only to men. Which will come as no surprise to some of you—especially those of you who are yourselves not men. I’m sure a few women are hired these days, but it must be hard when the dress code is about ties and you can’t wear without falling foul of the dress code.

However, if you’re intent on breaking into the top levels of British finance, you heard it here first: What matters is either an upper-class background or a flawless imitation of it. And black shoes.

As for me, I wear running shoes. I’m not particular about the color as long as it’s not too hideous—or pink, which is pretty much the same thing. It’s hard enough to find a shoe my foot will put up with; color sits pretty far down the list of things I worry about. Besides, I’ve always been dyslexic about fashion. It came as a great relief when I stopped trying to understand, never mind follow, the rules. But I’m not applying for a job in the City, and that’s for oh so many reasons. If nominated for one I will not run. If elected I will not serve. If drafted I will stay in bed and pull the blankets over my head, during which time I will have to hide my not-black shoes in the entryway with the door closed so the dog won’t drag them around.

In the interest of upward mobility, if you have your heart set of crashing into the top levels of finance, what the hell, go for it. But keep an eye on the economy, will you? It hasn’t been well lately, and I don’t know that all those expensive suits are helping.

A quick visit to Absurdistan

Our times are so rich in absurdity that it’s almost embarrassing. Not because public figures embarrass me when they’re being ridiculous. I love that. It’s the embarrassment of being given too much good stuff. You know—this can’t all be for me.

Some historian (don’t ask who; I almost never know who I’m quoting) said that revolutions happen when countries become ungovernable. I heard this back in (I’d guess) the early sixties, which were really an extension of the late fifties. I was not only living in the U.S., it had never occurred to me that I’d live anywhere else. Life looked infinitely stable and my imagination couldn’t stretch far enough to understand how a country could be ungovernable.

Now though? No problem. Neither of my home countries is at that point yet, but I have no trouble imagining it.

Irrelevant photo: hydrangea.

Irrelevant photo: hydrangea–an apparently stable one.

So, what’s falling apart?

Let’s start with the Labour Party, which is in the middle of a highly public nervous breakdown and recently kicked out a member—no one prominent; just a member—over a Facebook post.

What did the member write? “I fucking love the Foo Fighters.”

She also posted something about animal-free cosmetics and veganism, but the Foo Fighters quote gets top mention in everything I’ve read about it, so apparently that was her real transgression.

Since I’m a thousand years old and not only never listened to the Foo Fighters but don’t even feel bad about it, I went to YouTube and—well, you know what it’s like when your expectations are set by a band’s name? I mean, what’s foo anyway? A weapon? An ideal? If it’s an ideal, are they for foo or against it?

What does it all mean, bartender?

Anyway, I figured that if they were fighting with, for, or against foo, they’d scream a lot, and I hate screamy bands. But they don’t scream. At least not compared to punk or new wave, both of which I survived, although I didn’t listen to any more of either one than I absolutely had to.

The Foo song I listened to (most of) starts with a single guitar, and it’s not even over-amped. True, the lyrics do mention an arsonists’ choir, the chorus does use the word fuck—a lyrical word if there ever was one—and by the time the other guitars and the drums get to work it does all get kind of loud, but are our sensibilities really so delicate that somebody should be thrown out of a political party over it? Or was the problem not that the member loved the band but that she fucking loved it?

I’m old enough to have worked on an underground newspaper, back in the late sixties, that lost a printer because one article used the word fuck. But that was a long time ago. Surely times have changed.

By now, of course, I’m wondering how many readers I’ll lose over using the word fuck so much here. Be strong, folks. It’s just a word. We’re not even talking about sex.

What’s behind this member getting the heave-ho? If you’re not British, you need some background: The Labour Party used to be leftist. Then it went centrist under Tony Blair’s leadership. Or center-left, but most definitely center. (There are nuances to all this that I’m skipping over and/or don’t know. It’s a quick summary, so don’t worry about them. Unless, of course, you want to comment about them, which would be wonderful.) By the time Blair moved on, the party machinery and most of its Members of Parliament were solidly rooted centrists. Then a bunch of stuff happened and I’ll skip over it or this would go on forever but at the end of it all Jeremy Corbyn—a leftist—was elected the new head of the party. If you’re American, you can think of him as Bernie Sanders, but with a beard and an accent you won’t hear in American election battles.

To people who feel disenfranchised or disengaged—okay, to some of them—this was exciting stuff and the party picked up a raft of new members. Some are my age and left the party over the Iraq War, but others are young and new to politics. Still others are—oh, never mind. We’ll toss them in with the nuances and the stuff that would take too much time to go into.

Parties usually like having members, but this batch threatens to bring change, and the MPs and party bureaucrats are furious—at Corbyn, at the new members, and probably at Bernie Sanders for being a point of comparison. Or for quite possibly liking the Foo Fighters. Or for not having a beard. Who knows. They’re not in a good mood and this isn’t the best time to ask. So they set up an election that was supposed to force Corbyn out but Hawley’s Small and Unscientific Survey of British Political Opinion reports they’re going to lose. Massively. Even though they’ve kept a whole bunch of new members—presumably Corbynistas and possibly even Foo Fighteristas, but who can tell since no one’s asked?—from voting.

So throwing someone out for posting that she fucking loves the Foo Fighters? Hell yes. It won’t tip the election, but you have to know it felt good to whoever made the decision. Before, that is, it got into all the papers and made the party look incredibly silly.

Without getting heavily ranty here, I want to say that I don’t fucking love the Foo Fighters, but I don’t hate them either and I do swear a lot and if anyone would like to throw me out of the party for saying so, I’d just love it. I can’t think of anything more entertaining. And if you’re going to toss me out for any of that, let’s do it as publicly as possible, okay?

But it’s not just the Labour Party, or even just the left, that’s having a nervous breakdown. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation is also turning on itself, although it’s not clear what the fight’s about.

This being a gun organization, one person has “been accused of saying” (notice how wishy-washy that wording is; everyone involved denies saying everything) that “the only thing that cunt wants is a bullet between the eyes.”

Another “is said to have said,” “I swear I will kill you, you cunt.”

I’d like to point out that both threats are grammatically correct. Grammar’s important when you’re threatening people. You could add a comma after “I swear,” but the rules of punctuation have loosened up in these degenerate days of ours and it’s not strictly necessary. Besides, they were spoken threats, so that’s some reporter doing the punctuation.

In addition, the threats are either sexist or extremely sexist. There’s a certain type of man who thinks that possessing female body parts is inherently humiliating, and although in my experience people who are called cunts tend to be female, since—. I don’t really need to explain that, do I?

I didn’t think so. Anyway, as far as I can figure out the British are happy to call both men and women twats. That may carry over to calling people cunts. I’m not sure and I look forward to someone enlightening me on the subject. The point is that the article I read is worded so that I can’t be sure if the target’s male or female. Or, now that I think of it, even if it’s one person or two.

It’s an odd thing, but calling a man a cunt is offensive whereas calling a woman a cunt is considerably more offensive, at least if my reactions are anything to go by.

Back to our story, though: All this is happening in a country with minimal gun crime and strict gun laws, where shootings are genuinely rare. But it’s okay, kids, because guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

The lone moderate in the fight is quoted as saying—sorry, as allegedly saying—“You will live to regret this.” I have no idea what the this is, but someone is said to have “breached fiduciary duty.” In other words, money’s involved.

Money’s almost always involved, isn’t it?

Just to clarify things, a staff member (who very sensibly didn’t want to be named and who may be male, female, both, or neither) said it’s not clear who’s resigned and who’s been suspended but that the situation’s toxic and anyone who questions “them” gets a threatening letter.

Who’s them? No one’s named in the paper and we might just want to stay out of this fight.

Anyway, the BASC says its primary aim is to foster “a strong and unified voice for shooting.” That’s good, because I can’t think what they’d be like if they weren’t unified.