Stuff that happens in Britain

The VisitScotland website uses a Gaelic dictionary

The Danish concept of hygge–roughly translated as coziness; the promotion of well-being–has made a big impression on Britain, at least if you believe the newspapers and  marketers. I can’t say it’s had an impact on my life, but I won’t promote myself as typical of anything much, except possibly stubbornness.

Still, the publicity around hygge‘s drawn tourists to Denmark, so VisitScotland thought they might be able to cash in by adapting the idea. To Scotland, of course. So, quick, what’s the Scottish version of hygge?

Well, it’s not hygge, they knew that much, and they knew they needed more atmosphere than they could pull out of an English word. So someone ran to the nearest Gaelic dictionary and found the word còsagach. Which is pronounced a lot like còsagach, Sorry, I don’t know Gaelic. If the Scottish version of Gaelic’s anything like the Irish one, the letters don’t communicate much to an English speaker.

VisitScotland, apparently (and sadly), knows about as much Gaelic as I do. because experts say the word’s more likely to be used about wet moss or a wet, mossy place than about anything cozy. Unless you consider wet moss cozy.

It can also be used about fibrous ground or a place full of holes or crevices.

A very secondary definition is snug, warm, sheltered, etc., but that comes from a dictionary that’s some hundred years out of date.

So visit damp, cozy Scotland today. Spend money. Have a memorable experience. And stay away from out-of-date dictionaries for languages you don’t speak. They’re as dangerous as thesauruses. Or maybe that’s thesauri. I’d look it up but I’ve developed an irrational terror of dictionaries.

Irrelevant (but in season) photo: frost.

Amateurs run the country

Example 1. Starting in January, China banned the import of plastic waste, saying that a lot of it is too hazardous to process. (Anyone see a bit of irony there? I don’t. I’m just asking.) Since 2012, Britain’s shipped two-thirds of its total plastic waste exports to China—something along the lines of 2.7 million tons of the stuff.

So what’s Britain going to do with all the plastic its fleets of recycling trucks have been  collecting with such ecological fervor? Recycle it here? Ban plastic packaging? Use it to backfill Stonehenge?

Well, in December—which strikes me as kind of late to come up with a plan—someone asked the secretary of the environment, Michael Gove, about it and he said, “I don’t know what impact it will have. It is…something to which—I will be completely honest—I have not given it sufficient thought.”

So that’s our plan.

We’ll give him half a point for honesty. Then we’ll take it away for cluelessness.

Example 2. A slow-burning fuse of a story either exploded or fizzled out, but I can’t figure out which.

The government was under pressure from a parliamentary committee to publish its assessment of Brexit’s economic impact on Britain. (In case you need a translation, Brexit is Britain exiting the European Union. A lot of people are worried it’ll crash the British economy.) The government resisted. Sorry, it said, but the assessments were too sensitive to be seen by mere members of parliament.

More pressure.

Okay, MPs could read them, but first the government would have to bury them under six feet of plastic waste and the MPs could only read them after sundown, using a flashlight with a single, second-hand AA battery, and they mustn’t disturb the plastic waste because although the government still doesn’t know what to do with it, it might need to know which pieces were dumped first.

I exaggerate only slightly.

But David Davis, the secretary of state for exiting the European Union, assured the committee that the government had 58 studies that went into the question “in excruciating detail.”

Then in early December, Davis told the committee he didn’t have any detailed information to publish. At all. He never had. They’d misunderstood him.

What about an assessment of the economic impact of leaving the customs union? someone asked. Was one of those hanging around somewhere?

Um, no. “Not a formal, quantitative one.” The assessments didn’t “have numbers attached.”

I’d like, since this is a public forum, to let Dave know that it’s okay. If he’ll just write a general statement and I’ll make up some numbers. We can paste them in anywhere. Because after you’ve seen a few numbers, they all start to look alike.

A quick P.S.: A BBC Radio 4 news story quoted Davis as saying that he doesn’t have to be intelligent to be a good negotiator. He doesn’t even have to know much, he just has to stay calm. When I wrote this (I generally write these posts well ahead of time; it keeps me marginally sane), he was still doing an admirable job of staying calm. And, I’m reasonably sure, of knowing very little.

For the record, both Davis and Gove are long-time politicians, but somehow or other they’ve managed to bring a broad spectrum of amateur qualities to their current jobs.

Public statements are clear and to the point

Train fares went up on January 2. It was the biggest jump in five years, and since the fares are already high and follow a formula that sets a world standard for incomprehensibility, and since train service in many areas is godawful, passengers are ready to chew up the seats in frustration.

So how did the train companies defend the fare hike? An industry flak-catcher said it showed the industry was trying to keep down the cost of travel.

A reporter asked if the companies were taking any risk at all, since (to simplify slightly) funding comes from the government and profit goes to the companies. The flak-catcher said, “Rail companies operate under contract and they honour the terms of their contracts and provide for things to happen in different circumstances. That operator will continue to make payments until 2020 and then the new operator will continue to make payments.”

I don’t  know about you, but as long as they provide for things to happen in different circumstances, I’m happy.

Anything else you’d like to know?

The police have a quiet word with Jesus

The police in Exeter had a quiet word with a man who was running around dressed as Jesus. That is, he was dressed as Jesus except for his hind end, which either wasn’t dressed at all or wasn’t dressed enough to make an unnamed member of the public happy.

This raises a number of questions. One is what you have to wear to be dressed as Jesus. This particular guy was wearing a sheet. How did anyone know he wasn’t dressed as a ghost? Or one of the apostles, who would’ve dressed roughly the same way as Jesus?

Another question is what a quiet word is. It’s a very English thing, that’s what it is. Or possibly a British one. I lose my way in some of this stuff. It’s the solution to any sort of public awkwardness, and it may or may not be effective. If it’s not, it doesn’t matter, because the next public awkwardness will be handled the same way.

The final question is why I don’t give you a link. It’s because the story was in the Western Morning News and although they do publish online I can never find their stories.

One of the cops involved said the incident had scarred him “for about an hour.”

Everyone loves a feel-good story

A ten-year-old left his waterproof video camera on a beach in Yorkshire and the tide carried it 500 miles across the North Sea to the German island of Suderoog,

There’s an umlaut over the U–they like umlauts on islands in Germany–but we’re in the middle of an umlaut shortage here so we’ll have to do without one. Just make your pronunciation umlautish if you can.

No, an umlaut isn’t something from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s two dots that go over a U in German for reasons I don’t understand since I never learned German. I’m sure that has something to do with the umlaut shortage. It’s hard to study German without them.

The island is a bird reserve with either one family or only two people living there (I read several stories and ended up knowing less than if I’d read one). Either way, I’m guessing they don’t have a lot to do in the evenings, so they took a look at what was on the camera and found some people fooling around on the beach and then the first few minutes of the camera’s trip—water, basically.

They posted something about the camera on the bird reserve’s Facebook page and eventually located the kid’s father. The camera’s owners have been invited to come pick it up, but they can only get there by boat from the mainland and they can’t stay overnight. And they have to bring their own umlauts.

At least one artist takes his metaphor seriously

This happened in Belgium, not Britain, but it’s a good story. And both countries start with a B. It’ll do.

A—well, I guess we’ll have to call him a performance artist chained himself to block of marble to demonstrate the inescapable burden of history, including the history of art, which he was trying to free himself from by chiseling away at the stone.

After nineteen days, he had to be cut free.

Every fascinating moment was live-streamed. I’m happy to say, I didn’t watch it and I haven’t looked for a link. If you want to watch all nineteen days of it, I figure you’ve got the patience to find it yourself.

The story led me to realize that one nice thing about writing as opposed to performance art is that when you get trapped by your own metaphors it’s not quite as embarrassing.

At least one non-artist takes YouTube seriously

Someone from Wolverhampton decided to put his head in the microwave and have his friends fill it with cement. It being the microwave, not the head, in case that needs clarification. When they realized he was having trouble breathing (no, apparently this didn’t occur to any of them ahead of time), they poked an air tube in.

How? No idea. Every way I try to imagine doing this ends up with the breathing tube clogged with cement. Lucky thing I’m not one of his friends.

The BBC story mentions that the microwave wasn’t plugged in. I mention that in case you decide to try this and it’s not in the instruction book.

Why’d they do this? It wasn’t performance art and no metaphors were harmed in the process. They wanted to post the video on YouTube.

It took five firefighters an hour to get him loose, and they needed help from their technical rescue team to get the microwave apart.

Some people have trouble letting their pets go

Okay, this one’s pretty grotesque and I wrestled with what passes for my conscience over whether to use it.

My conscience lost.

Someone from Dundee offered to sell a rug she’d had made from her dead dog because her new dog kept trying to hump it. I’m not sure this tells you anything about British culture, but it did happen.

People are very polite 

The British really are very polite. Until they’re not. Because that’s the thing about polite people: When they lose it, they don’t have a wide range of back-up  behaviors. You know, things like saying, “Hey, asshole, don’t push.” Which isn’t polite but is well short of bloodshed.

Some people are so polite they’d find it hard to say, “Excuse me, but would you stop pushing, please?”

So in October, either two or three people on a train near London got into an argument over a phone call. One man was talking one the phone loudly, one man was complaining about that, and the third man–well, I don’t know if he did anything other than just sit there, but he was a friend of Guy #1’s, so he had a kind of peripheral involvement, so when an argument broke out, Guy #2 leaned over and bit Guy #3’s ear.

Job done. Guy #2 went back to his seat. Quite possibly with a real sense of having done the right thing.

What did Guy #1, the guy on the phone, do? No idea.

47 thoughts on “Stuff that happens in Britain

    • Thanks for that. It’s particularly nice to hear after a couple of readers didn’t find me at all funny when I wrote about British food. I remind myself that I can’t please everyone, but again, it’s nice to hear that I pleased someone. Thanks for saying so.


  1. I just ordered a book on that concept of Danish coziness, mostly because I felt compelled by my paternal history of hard-working Danes who must have included some cozy aspects among their strengths.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a tendency to be suspicious of anything trendy, so I’m hygge-less, but I did just see a passing reference to how it’s pronounced, and I think it was something along the lines of hoo-guh. (Emphasis on “think” and “something along the lines of.”)

      I understand the communications in early Europe weren’t great, but I do wish that all the people who took the Latin alphabet and put it to work writing down the local languages had all gotten together in a single room and agreed on what each letter meant–at least vaguely.

      Although if they’d tried, they’d probably still be meeting and in the meantime we’d all be illiterate. Never mind. I’ll try to come up with some more useful suggestion to improve the world retroactively.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. :D Love this post. I cannot abide Davis and Gove, (and actually most MP’s, but those two and Boris are my pet hates) how do they get away with it all? Selling rugs made from your dead pets isn’t British Culture per se, but I see the story comes from Dundee which makes it specifically Scottish Culture. I’m not sure about the Welsh or N.Irish but we English bury ours in the garden with full ceremony and plant a rose bush over the site. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wonder if “cosagach” translates that Irish word–not sure of the spelling–that sounds like
    “lawh” and translates as “soft” and is used to describe damp, humid weather?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Given what little I know about Gaelic spelling, I’m prepared to believe they’re pronounced the same way. Back when I hosted a radio talk show, I had two Irish guests with Gaelic names. I looked at the written names. I listened to the sounds I was given. I couldn’t see any way to get from one to the other and threw away my notes as a danger to what little credibility I had, then rewrote the name phonetically.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. About the pet souvenirs…I think I was the first to review a book by Kendall Crolius that explains how to craft souvenirs of the coat of a living pet. (Crolius knitted, but you can weave, crochet, or embroider with thread that has your pet’s shed inner hairs spun into it.)

    I’ve knitted bits of cats’ coats into heavy shawls or blankets, together with some gray or beige cotton or acrylic for stability. The cats enjoyed having the extra fuzz combed away in spring and liked having their human draped in something that smelled like them. One reason why pets run to cuddle up to us after we’ve bathed and/or changed clothes is that they want other animals to be able to smell that we belong to them.

    Then again, I once embroidered a representation of a pet chicken onto a dress pocket. (I was in grade three at the time.) When I proudly showed the dress to the bird, he tried to attack his picture…at least he recognized that it was meant to be a chicken!

    So I find it easy to imagine a dog having inappropriate feelings for a souvenir of another dog’s coat. He just *really* wanted to have met that other dog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We used to have a long-haired cat who needed combing–lots of combing–and I remember thinking that if I saved the fur for a month or two I could make an extra cat out of it. I don’t know how Cat A would have felt about Cat A2, since I never did try. I also didn’t try spinning, weaving, or crocheting with the fur, although there would’ve been plenty.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ah Ellen, strangeness abounds–the Neolithic Brits (aka Pretanni/Prydanni) often buried their dead kin under their hearths or doorsills–true at Skara Brae (ca 4,000 bce); at the 500 y.o. manor house on the estate where the lost village was uncovered by a storm, the owner doing some remodelling similarly found a skeleton buried under an interior kitchen door! No judgement of foul play, just apparently keeping them near and dear.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Microwave guy and his knuckle-grazing chums were definitely in contention for the Darwin Awards with that stunt. I wonder if they felt mortified and guilty for sucking up emergency resources or if they just recorded the rescue for uploading to YouTube. And then there is the woman with the dog rug. I have to admit, that one made me chuckle. The visual image was just too overwhelming for me not to. As for the quiet word, my husband would probably think of it as being peaceful and calm while delivering some constructive criticism whereas my version of a “quiet word” is to barely hiss words through my teeth while being intimidating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I’ve been wondering about the content of those quiet words. I’ve also wondered if I’d recognize one if it was aimed at me–as, now that I think about it, any number of them surely have been. And no, I didn’t know it. Clearly, you’ve got to consider the audience. Noisy words are more effective with me, although hissed intimidating ones would probably get through.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So much to comment on here, but I’ll limit myself. Having a quiet word is an English thing. Some Victorians with more sentimentality than sense had their pets stuffed, but this is the first time I’ve heard of someone making a rug out of Fido.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Given the results of the rug experiment, I can see why it hasn’t caught on. But that business about a quiet word: It’s interesting that you say it’s English as opposed to British. I still struggle to sort out what to attribute to which.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The stories about the guy who turned his dead dog into a rug and the other guys who helped their friend stuff his head into a microwave are incredible. I had no idea people would actually do that, and it certainly makes for nice trivia if nothing else. (And now I know what an umlaut is!)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, wonderful weblog structure! How long have you ever been running a blog for? you made running a blog glance easy. The total glance of your web site is excellent, as well as the content!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m so glad your conscience didn’t keep you from telling us about the dead dog rug’s romance! I’m still laughing! You do manage to find some of the most absurd bits, but always good for a healthy laugh! Thanks!

    I’m just glad I wasn’t drinking something when I read it (the dog rug thing)!

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. Pingback: Stuff that happens in Britain — Notes from the U.K. – My Blog http//www.mypublishedbooks.blogspot

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