More news from Britain

Plato takes over the Home Office, or else it’s the other way around

Britain’s Home Office–those charming folks in charge of (among other things) finding reasons to throw people out of the country–has outstripped my ability to absurdify the world. In mid-January, it refused asylum to a Pakistani asylum seeker because he couldn’t answer questions about Plato and Aristotle.

Hamza bin Walayat’s application was based on his having renounced Islam, integrated into secular British society, and formed a relationship with a non-Muslim–all those things the government (if you listen to the noises it makes) wants Muslim immigrants to do. I’ll skip over the right and wrong of that, otherwise I’ll start ranting, and focus on what I understand best, which is absurdity.

Walayat’s claiim was based on his having become a humanist, which could get him killed in Pakistan. H’d already received death threats from (among others) his family.

So the Home Office asked him about Greek philosophers, then turned his application down because he couldn’t name “any famous Greek philosophers who were humanistic.”

He would’ve had to name Plato and Aristotle to be approved, although there’s no guarantee that would’ve been enough. There might always have been some other reason to turn him down.

No, I don’t make this stuff up. And how do you satirize it?
Applicant: Here’s my request for asylum. I come from a country where non-believers are  frequently killed for their non-beliefs.
Home Office: Fine. Please summarize Aristotle’s arguments in Prior Analytics.
Applicant: Prior what?
Home Office: Sorry, that’s not good enough.
It’s not only not funny, it’s not much of an exaggeration.
Ten days later, 120 philosophers wrote the home secretary, Amber Rudd, asking her to reconsider his case and pointing out that “there’s no scholarly basis to think that Plato or Aristotle were humanist thinkers.” In fact, both made argument supporting belief in gods.
Do we get to deport the Home Office now?

No. They make the rules and they make up the answers. They don’t have to be right.

But even if Plato and Aristotle did qualify as humanists (however you want to define that; it’s hardly a unified belief system), how many genuinely irreligious people could state three facts about either of them? I can get as far as they were both Greek and they’re both dead.

Semi-relevant photo: Please see the next item, then make yourself a nice cup of tea. Or stop by and I’ll make one. You can even use my new cup if you like. It was a Christmas present but I’m happy to share.

Tea of coffee?

Every so often I write about tea and someone British writes in to say he or she drinks coffee. Only.

Are they telling the truth? Surely not. They’re only saying it to mess with me. Or possibly to bust up a stereotype.

I’d like all those people (okay: it might only be one person, but my memory comes with a built-in multiplier effect) to reconsider. Because it turns out home coffee machines attract cockroaches.

Why? Roaches like three things in life: dampness, darkness, and food. They don’t much care for classical music or abstract art or anything else along those lines. Coffee machines offer them everything they care about, at least if you consider coffee grounds food, and I gather roaches do. Or if they don’t, two out of three isn’t bad, especially when coffee machines are conveniently located near things that beyond question are food.

Extrapolating from the way roach populations multiply, I’m going to go out on a limb and say they also like other roaches. In a carnal sort of way, and especially in a damp, dark sort of place. With easy access to food for the little roachlets that follow from that sort of liking.

If you absolutely do have to drink coffee, either because you’re British and like to bust up stereotypes or because you’re American and feel patriotically compelled to, at least don’t invest in an expensive coffee machine. Use a press pot. Make instant. Resurrect that old percolator some family member stashed in the attic forty years ago and hasn’t thought about since. Spend a small fortune at a coffee shop. Do whatever it takes, but don’t buy a coffee machine.

Or reconsider and switch to tea. If you’re British, the Home Office–which doesn’t approve of much–might crack a hint of a smile. If you’re American, tell yourself tea’s classy, even though it’s not in Britain. Unless you’re doing the gourmet, one-tea-leaf-from-a-plant thing, tea’s just what you slug down to wake yourself up. Coffee’s the classy drink.

If you won’t listen to me and insist on boycotting tea, please memorize a list of Greek philosophers who drank coffee. It wasn’t introduced to Greece until the ninth century, give or take a few weeks, but the Home Office might ask and you’ll need to know the correct wrong answer.

Which reminds me to point out an important life skill, because you, my lovely readers, matter to me: If you have to take a standardized test of any kind, don’t worry about being right. Worry about what whoever wrote the test thinks is right. Tell ’em what they want to hear, then go home, take a shower, and feel an odd mix of icky and superior.

 Plymouth wants to dress up its cab drivers

The city of Plymouth is pondering the wisdom of telling cab drivers they can’t go to work in jeans, hoodies, running shoes (which are called trainers over here), or shirts with logos or graphics that might offend (might offend who? no idea; the article I read only said “might offend”), or that have political messages (regardless, apparently, of whether they’d offend some unnamed person). Or jeans, which we all know are politically motivated, although to date I haven’t figured out what their politics are. I’ve asked mine. We’re well acquainted. I’ve had some of my pairs since Marie Antoinette was in charge of the Home Office. But we still don’t know each other well enough for them to come out in the open with their beliefs.

Drivers would also be banned from wearing flip-flops, swimming trunks, or high heels,

Or tutus. Or pajamas.

What can they wear? Shirts with collars. Knee-length tailored shorts. (Someone define “tailored” for me, please. Does it mean that to go to work you need someone with a tape measure around their neck to make the shirt just for you?) Knee-length skirts or dresses. “Smart” long-legged trousers, which in American are pants. In British, you just have to assume they’re wearing pants, because not many people want to check and those who do shouldn’t. They’re underwear.

I’m guessing they could also wear tuxedos. Ball gowns would be too long and might encourage the driver to wear high heels, so sorry, they’re out. What’s allowed makes a short and boring list, and it doesn’t make room for clothes from other cultures, because the city government doesn’t know about them, didn’t think of them, doesn’t approve of them, or can’t spell them. So no sarongs and no shalwar kameezes.

Why does anyone care what cab drivers wear? My best guess is that when everything’s falling apart, people want to make rules. Preferably for someone other than themselves. I don’t know what’s falling apart in Plymouth, but on the basis of this evidence I’m convinced something is.

I can’t give you a link for that story because it’s from the Western Morning News and I never can find their stories online. So instead, I’ll tell you (irrelevantly) that when I drove cab, I never wore a bathing suit or a ball gown. I did wear sneakers (or sometimes boots) and jeans, and I had a plaid woolen shirt that I wore as a jacket in the winter. It had breast pockets that I could stuff money into without taking off my seat belt. I’m not sure which side of the Plymouth rules it would’ve fallen on. On the one hand, it had a collar. On the other, it wasn’t smart, but then I don’t ask my clothes to pass Home Office tests so I wouldn’t have thought that mattered.

It seems like somebody’s always trying to clean up cab drivers. The problem is that even when they get their way, they’re still not happy, because whatever cab drivers wear, they have a way of still being cab drivers.

Long may it be so.

Tinky Winky dies

Simon Barnes, the actor who played Tinky Winky on the Teletubbies, died in January.

Tinky Winky had a moment of fame when the evangelist Jerry Falwell claimed he was a gay role model who would damage children’s something or other. Moral development, I think.

“He is purple–the gay pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle–the gay pride symbol,” Falwell wrote, in all seriousness, about Tinky Winky. He might have added that Tinky Winky carried a handbag, but he didn’t, which is a shame because it might’ve led people to ask if Tinky Winky was, in fact, a he. I’m guessing that possibility never crossed Falwell’s mind.

I wasn’t a Teletubbies fan, but I must’ve seen at least half an unbroken minute of the show, and nothing I saw told me whether the creatures were male or female. They were a kind of rorschach test. Do you see a male or a female? A symbol of homosexuality or a show that rakes in a lot of money?

Maybe Falwell figured they had to be male because they didn’t wear skirts. He might have easily extrapolated from the symbols that mark women’s public toilets that women all wear skirts. All the time. I don’t know what it means that he didn’t consider other possibilities. Maybe he was one of those men who consider everything male unless it specifically announces itself as female. Maybe he thought  more about men than about women.

Whatever. I’m a card-carrying female and I’m prepared to testify that women have legs. They start at the hip and their placement is very much the same as men’s.

Except for the purse, the Teletubbies didn’t look to me like they were wearing clothes of any sort, but if anyone was a better student of the show than I was I’ll yield the floor to them.

After Falwell went public with his take on the Teletubbies, Barnes was often asked about Tinky Winky’s sexuality.

“The character is supposed to be a three-year-old,” he said.

Good point. Not many three-year-olds have defined their sexuality yet.

Barnes replaced an earlier actor, Dave Thompson, whose “interpretation of the role was not acceptable,” according to the letter that told him he was being canned after the first 70 episodes.

What can an actor could do in one of those costumes that would make his interpretation of the role unacceptable? After thirty seconds of watching, I really don’t qualify as an expert , but it didn’t strike me as a role that challenged an actor’s interpretive skills.

Thompson wasn’t sure what they were talking about but thought it might have been his voice.

“The other Teletubbies use their own voices, but mine was dubbed over. At first they asked me to do a high voice and then they changed their minds just before we started filming.”

After he left the show, he went on to play a lion and then an assortment of other roles, and he does stand-up. His web site asks readers to swear they’re over eighteen before they go past the otherwise blank opening page. Once you swear, you learn that he considers “my greatest achievement to be my novel ‘The sex life of a comedian,’ a free sample of which is available on this site. Please don’t read it if you’re under eighteen, or easily shocked.”

I’m not easily shocked. On the other hand, I’m not easily interested, so I didn’t read the sample. But if you insist on knowing about Tinky Winky’s sex life, this is probably as close as you’ll get.

I said I’m not easily shocked. That’s not entirely true. Assuming The sex life of a comedian is his only book, as it seems to be, there’s a misplaced comma in Thompson’s quote. If he’d kindly move the one before “or” so that it follows “novel,” my delicate sensibilities would be ever so grateful. He might also want to italicize the title of his book instead of putting it in quotes.

I feel much better now, thank you.

An apology

It’s been a long couple of weeks around here, We lost a week to the flu, or if it wasn’t the flu it was something fluish, and the house is still on its ear. What’s worse, my backlog of blog posts is gone and I suspect I’ve been posting too many of these news roundups lately, but this is my third effort to fill the Friday gap and the first two didn’t pull together, so it’s this or nothing. Let’s hope I’m in better form soon.

73 thoughts on “More news from Britain

  1. If you can be this productive while you’re ill, just imagine what we’ll find in our inboxes when you’re flushed with rude health.

    Why do we say ‘rude’ health. Is it a lot different than polite health?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good question. And the definitive answer (from someone who pulls this stuff right out of her warped little brain without checking in with reality first) is that polite health is wan and pale and entirely too well behaved for its own good. Rude health though? It’s strong and has mud on its shoes. And doesn’t that just say a lot about the class structure in Britain? (The phrase, by the way, isn’t used in the U.S.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 😆(This is my wee laughing-my-head-off face) Yet another fabulous post, Ellen. No apology needed. I can’t get my head around those cabby dress-code rules. Who has anything tailored these days? Reminds me of stupid school uniform rules we had to bend to many years ago. Poor Tinky Winky. I remember him/her well. We even have a cuddly toy version up in the attic. I can’t say I remember much more about the four of them except the song (which I am singing now). I must ask my born-in-the-nineties Telly Tubbies-mad daughters what they remember and if they were perturbed by that triangular antenna and handbag. Don’t think so… PS I love your mug.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a wonderful mug. It’s friend will make an appearance here soon. It’s been such miserable weather that I haven’t been out taking pictures of anything and the mugs are, blissfully, indoors.

      I’m glad you mentioned that there were four Teletubbies. I had the impression that there were only three. Maybe the fourth one had ducked into the loo during the thirty seconds I was watching. You might want to take a look at the link and comment (probably below but possibly above; don’t ask me about technicalities), sent by Ubi Dubium, of an actor in one of the costumes. It’s strange to see a real, full size person inside one.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ahh, I’d never guess your poor form this post! Chuckles and hackles (that should be something you do when you’re angry but also applauding) and snorts have been had reading this. Keep holding it together, the kingdom, United. Sometimes it feels you’re the one doing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reminded of two jokes from my (British) youth. The first is said said to originate from New York “So tel me, what is the difference between a Stoic and a Cynic?” “well a stoic is what brings the babies, and a cynic is where you wash ’em up afterwards.” The second, along similar lines is Irish and dates from the days when the Irish were assumed to be illiterate Paddies working on building sites “So now then Pat, could ye tell me the difference between a joist and a girder?” “Yes, Joyce wrote Ulysses but Goethe he wrote Faust. ” Both are in the oral tradition, try them aloud in your best imitation stereotyped accents. But they were jokes, not reasons to deport. I am a Humanist card carrying. I do not see my belief as having anything to do with either Plato or Aristotle. I do not have a holy book or a Creed or a Catechism. That is sort of the point.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Must be something in the stars. It certainly has been a long January in Maine, too. I’ve lost track of how many ice storms we’ve had, and the blather from Washington,DC, has reached a deafening pitch. Maybe I should make a cup of tea, read some Plato, and then unwind by watching a few episodes of “Teletubbies.” (Alas, I remember all too well the flapdoodle over Tinky Winky.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Falwell missed the real thing about Teletubbies that he should have been objecting to. Here were four “people”, with different body colors, different facial colors, different antenna shapes, different hobbies, and maybe even different sexual orientations, and yet they all lived together happily. They all got along, and played together and danced together, and nobody ganged up on anybody else. Falwell couldn’t have that, now, could he.

    The most disconcerting thing for me about the Teletubbies was their size. They looked small, but Tinky-Winky was actually about 10 feet tall, to fit a normal size actor in the costume. Everything else about their world was scaled up accordingly to match, including the biggest rabbits ever. Here’s a photo showing the real size:

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m sure you’re right, but my understanding (and I haven’t compared my understanding to reality) is that it is, at least, about the American political system. The British one (the standard one, not when the Home office interviews an asylum seeker) asks about batty stuff. I was asked about television licenses.


  7. I’d like to leave a nice comment but I have to go check in, under and around the coffee maker. Please don’t make me get rid of that. I swear, my wife tosses the grounds while they’re still wet, wipes up all the spills, washes the carafe and cleans the whole thing with vinegar every 3,000 miles.

    I find it hard to understand when workers are showing up for work with their underwear (pants) showing, questionable choices above the waist and all manner of shoes, why anyone would give a rat’s ass about the cab driver who brung them. Do those same rules apply to Uber drivers? If not, you have another nail in the traditional cabbie’s coffin.

    Thanks for keeping my Friday on track.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Always a pleasure, Dan.

      I’m such an old-school cab driver that I didn’t stop to think about Uber drivers. And I’ll bet Plymouth didn’t think about them either because you don’t see them hanging out on the street corners the way cab drivers do. I spent a lot of time hanging out on them myself. To the best of my knowledge, my underwear was not on public view.

      Keep that vinegar flowing.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m sorry you’ve been poorly. There is, as they say, a lot of it about.

    If I ever need to get a cab in Plymouth, I shall be very happy to know that the driver isn’t wearing flip-flops or high heels. I don’t care much about the other stuff, but I want to know that his/her feet are secure on the pedals.

    The Home Office’ test reminds me of a crossword I often do where the answers rarely relate directly to the clues. They seem to be set by someone whose first language is not English, or who has a small and perverse vocabulary.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I wonder if the Home Office would be open to a cheat sheet with a brief explanation of all the world’s major belief/thought traditions. (If we had such a thing, the government would take years to put it together, then file it.)

    Liked by 2 people

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