From math to fried chicken: the news from Britain

Here we go again, cold off the press, the important stuff that’s happening in Britain:

We hear from the Ministry of Multiplication Tables

Eight- and nine-year-olds in England (as opposed to Wales or Scotland) are going to be tested on the multiplication tables. The test will itself be tested in a sampling of schools this year and then be introduced—unless, of course, it isn’t—in the whole country in 2020. In between those two dates, schools can introduce the test voluntarily, although why they’d want to is anyone’s guess.

What’s the point? That’s also anyone’s guess. (Don’t you love how neutral my reporting is?) Some standardized testing is about grading the school, some is about grading the student, and this, according to the noises being made by Nick Gibb, the school standards minister, is to “help teachers identify those pupils who require extra support.”

Because teachers don’t notice otherwise. Most only remember they have students when they get test results back. The rest of the time they think they’re talking to holograms.

Irrelevant photo: an azalea blossom. Spring is coming. Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case it isn’t. Or close to the equator, in which case (I assume) it’s as irrelevant as the photo.

Inevitably, when the good Mr. Gibb went on TV to talk about the new test, the interviewer asked him what eight times nine was. He refused to answer.

Okay, it wasn’t inevitable that the question would be eight times nine, only that someone would ask him one of the less obvious combinations.

“No eight-year-old or nine-year-old will be doing it on live television,” the Minister for Multiplication tables huffed.

Besides, the information’s classified. You want to government to give out the answers before the test is even introduced?

The government claims the tests will be designed to avoid causing additional stress for children and teachers. I haven’t been able to figure out what that “additional” is in addition to, but never mind. We’re dealing with the Minister for Multiplication Tables, not the Minister for Marvelous Writing, but if anyone wants to get in touch with either of them, you might mention that one of the Rules of Marvelous Writing is that if you’re using a comparative (bigger, better, more absurd, far more Marvelous, that kind of thing), it has no meaning unless it’s clear what you’re comparing it to—or in this case, adding it to.

You mght also want to recommend using fewer capital letters. Or was that me who tossed  in the caps?

Is anyone other than me old enough to remember cigarette ads? I’m relying on memory here, but didn’t they tell us cigarettes were smoother? Smoother than what? A cheese grater.

But back to multiplication tables: I’m an expert on not knowing them, so I’d like to testify that not learning them was stressful enough. Taking a standardized test designed not to cause me additional stress? Good luck designing that.

I can also testify that although it’s sometimes a pain in the calculator finger not to have them memorized, it’s entirely possible to get through life that way. Especially now that a carton of calculators is cheaper than a carton of cigarettes.


Then we hear from the Ministry of Procrastination

Trafford’s twelve libraries have abandoned fines for late book returns. Or maybe that’s Trafford’s thirteen libraries. It depends which article you read, so just to confuse the situation I found an online map and counted seventeen little red it’s-here symbols marking (I think) Trafford libraries. And if that doesn’t make the whole thing uncertain enough, only sixteen of them had book symbols inside. One had a circle instead. So one library lends circles, and there’s no fee for returning them late. Britain’s a strange country. I’ve lived here for eleven years and that’s only long enough for me to understand how much I don’t understand.

But we were talking about library fines, or we were trying to. If you’d stop interrupting, we’d get to the point much faster.

Starting in April, you can return your book late and not owe a penny. Which—. Gee. I hardly know what to say. Libraries and fines are so linked in my mind that they might as well have announced that they’re going out of the book-lending business. Especially since there’s that little red symbol with the circle inside.

On the other hand, getting rid of fines doesn’t mean you can build up your book collection for free. At some point (and I’m not sure anyone knows what that point it yet) a person who doesn’t return books won’t be allowed to borrow any more.

The Bookseller writes, “In a further move to encourage more people to read, the council [that’s the city government] will also provide every child whose birth is registered in the area with a library card and book start pack, after noting that ‘most learning of literacy happens in the first 11 years of a child’s life, as does the development of a person’s love of reading.’ “

For a bookish publication, that’s really sloppy writing. What does the “after” in “after noting” follow? Providing every child with a library card?


Then we don’t hear from the Ministry of Defense

A fitness tracker called Strava was publishing maps of the exercise paths its users followed. They’re called heatmaps and it was all very cool, very compare-yourself-with-the-rest-of-the-world, until somebody noticed that if you knew how to read them you could trace the exercise routes used by military personnel, not to mention the outline U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq.

I just returned from googling Strava. Predictive text offered Strava, Strava login, Strava app, and Strava heatmaps. I followed them all and was told that no results matched my search. It was all scorched earth in Stravaland.

If you try it and you’re desperate for a result of some kind, you can delete the VA and at least get a result for Stradivarius, but good luck tracking military personnel that way.

I also googled “Strava military personnel,” hoping to find an article I could link to, just to prove to you–not to mention myself–that I’m not hallucinating. Nothing matched my search, although predictive text offered me “Strava military discount,” which had also been deleted. But I swear to you, I have a newspaper clipping about this. It’s from the January 30 Guardian. Now that I’ve squeezed the juice out of it, I’m tossing it on the recycling pile (that’s the floor to the left of and partially behind my chair). The clipping may already be rare enough to qualify as a collector’s item. If anyone wants to dig it out, you’re welcome to it, but I warn you, squadrons of researchers have been lost down there.

The story appeared in several papers. I’d like to know, in all seriousness, why none of those stories are online anymore.


Enough ministries. A music festival bans potato peelers

The Parklife music festival in Manchester is banning potato peelers. Why? Because Liam Gallagher’s playing in 2018, of course.

I’m the wrong generation to understand that without an explanation (and I’m not doing all that well with one). If the name alone doesn’t explain the decision to you, you’re the wrong generation too, but it seems Liam’s brother, Noel, broke up a band they were both in and Liam didn’t take it well. Noel’s now in a different band and at one gig someone in his band played the scissors. How? No idea. I’m guessing badly, but that’s only because I’ve never heard anyone play the scissors well.

Or at all. I do know someone who plays the spoons, if that’a any help.

In a straight-faced effort to make sense of the background, the BBC explains that “Liam has referred to his brother as a ‘potato’ on a number of occasions.” In a tweet, he invited concert-goers to “peel some spuds live on stage” and later praised someone who more or less did that.

Yeah, I know, I thought it was supposed to be about the music. I’m old. Don’t listen to me. Listen to the potato peelers.

Parklife says it’s been inundated with requests to bring in potato peelers and in response has banned them. Because they could be used as offensive weapons.

Do I believe anyone actually asked if they could bring them in? Nope. The kind of scofflaw who’d bring a potato peeler to a concert doesn’t ask permission.


Windsor finds a new neighbor

Or an old one. Archeologists have found a 5,000-year-old ceremonial gathering place within sight of Windsor Castle. It’s called a causewayed enclosure and dates back to the earliest years of farming in Britain.

Fieldwork Director John Powell said, “This is an exciting find. These are the earliest peoples who are actually settling down in the landscape and leaving their mark.”

The site’s particularly important because archeologists expect to find the complete enclosure, not just bits of it.

The enclosure was found in a quarry whose planning permission depends on allowing archeologists to have access. The same condition applied to some sewage work outside a village near us—archeologists followed the route of a new sewage line as it was being dug and found flints (not native to Cornwall), burials, and if I remember right, a house that dissolved almost as quickly as it was uncovered.

Anywhere you put a shovel into the ground in this country, you’re likely to unearth a bit of history. We haven’t found anything in our yard yet, but a pair of Roman boxing gloves showed up at Hadrian’s Wall. They date from somewhere around 120 C.E. (that’s A.D. in case you still tell time that way). Hadrian’s Wall is nowhere near Windsor Castle but it’s the same country, so I thought I’d mention it.


. . . and abandons a plan to get rid of an existing one

The borough of Windsor had a plan to clean the place up in time for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding. How? By banning rough sleepers, which is what Britain calls the homeless.

Part of its “homelessness support strategy” was to fine them £100 for sleeping on the street, but they could get 50% off if they paid early. On the other hand, if they didn’t pay at all, the fine would escalate to £1,000.

What was the council going to do when they found out the homeless don’t have that kind of money–that being homeless has some mysterious connection to being broke? I’m not sure. Maybe Stage 2 was to put them in debtors’ prison.

Stage 3 was to reinstate debtors’ prisons. As part of a strategy to support debtors.

Anyway, the plan created such an uproar and the council backed down, but it still wants to ban urination and defecation in the town center. I don’t know any specifics about Windsor, but budget cuts around the country have meant that a lot public toilets have closed.

You don’t suppose there’s a connection in there somewhere, do you?

As for the wedding, the royal family is paying for it but the taxpayer will pick up the cost of security. I’m guessing it’ll be enough to keep any number of public toilets open.


Finally and most dramatically, the world ended on February 19

Okay, it didn’t actually end—not unless I’m writing this after the end of the world—but Kentucky Fried Chicken ran out of chicken and had to close 646 of its 900 outlets (so we call them stores? restaurants?). That’s pretty close to the same thing.

I’m not sure how many are still closed on February 22, the evening before the post goes live, when I’m updating this. The official count, I think, is lots.

What happened? KFC changed delivery companies. The GMB union says warned KFC the “the decision would have consequences” since the old distributor has a network of warehouses around the country and the new company has only one. “Now,” the union said—unable to stop itself—“the chickens are coming home to roost.”

It turns out that single warehouse hadn’t been licensed of inspected, and KFC said some chicken would have to be destroyed.

As a side note, GMB no longer stands for anything. The union started out in 1889 as the Gas Workers and General Union, but in the last century British unions merged with other unions, and in the last thirty years even more of the merged, and the GMB now represents a range of workers, including delivery drivers, and has abandoned every trace of its original name except the letters, which I just notice don’t stand for Gas Workers and General. Where they came from and what they once stood for is a mystery their web site doesn’t explain.

It must be another of those mysterious British things. I just love this country.

But back to our main story: What did the public do about the chicken crisis? Why, it called the police, of course.

The BBC quotes two tweets from police forces. From Tower Hamlets: “Please do not contact us about the #KFCCrisis – it is not a police matter if your favourite eatery is not serving the menu that you desire.” And from some other force—probably Manchester but I wouldn’t swear to it: “For those who contacted the Police about KFC being out of chicken … please STOP. Their website says the Prestwich store is now open if you want to follow the four police cars through the drive thru.”

If you have nothing better to do (and I clearly don’t), it’s worth browsing #KFCCrisis on Twitter. When I loooked, someone posting as Jesus Christ (I hope that doesn’t offend anyone; I’m pretty sure this isn’t the real one) wrote, “I am fully aware there is a in the UK… stop sending prayers! I’m trying to fix America and then I will get to you.” Someone else wrote, “ is in its second day and average life expectancy in the UK has gone up by 2 weeks.”

Quorn, a vegetarian meat substitute, tweeted an offer to supply KFC with some crispy Quorn nuggets. And since DHL (and to be fair, any number of other delivery companies) has a reputation for mis-delivering packages, a third tweet reads,”Have they checked DHL haven’t left the chicken with a neighbour or thrown it over the fence???”

All across the country, chickens were celebrating.

82 thoughts on “From math to fried chicken: the news from Britain

    • I hadn’t thought about the parallel there, but the libraries are in the wrong town. It’s a damn shame, but at least there’s some forgiveness loose in the world somewhere.

      Cornwall’s absurdly beautiful–have I said that before? I know in this age of climate change and etc. I shouldn’t be recommending travel, but I recommend it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I do my nine times tables on my 2 hands…it only works up to 9 x 10 obviously. So the answer was 91 but I guess it would not have looked cool for the minister to work it out using his fingers but at least he would have given an answer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Not a fan of KFC’s food but their PR dept has been impressive. As well as their Twitter account having been recently revealed to follow 11 men called Herb and some Spice Girls (geddit?) their ad to say sorry for the great ‘yes, we have no chicken’ episode is pretty honest too../

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a child, I refused to learn my multiplication tables on principle ( I was an oddly militant child…I also refused to get a paper round) at primary school we had to learn our tables, but I learned how to work out the answers without knowing them all off by heart…this seemed more efficient to me and learning my tables seemed like a waste of time…

    My opinion hasn’t changed…

    mind you this was in the olden days when teachers regularly used to say stuff like…you won’t have a calculator on you at all times will you? Which is now provably false as most people have on in their phone..

    I think KFC should stay closed…Bleugh!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • When the Neanderthals and I were in school (they were better at math than I was), calculator was a non-word–nothing you heard spoken, or even saw on paper. Which saved teachers a lot of arguing time.

      I admire your refusal. I got to the same place out of sheer incompetence.

      Liked by 2 people

      • To be honest, I was quite prepared to believe I wouldn’t have a calculator… it was the 80s mobile phones were bricks…
        I bet teachers these days have a harder time with the assertion!

        I don’t think not knowing my tables has harmed me…

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve never been able to separate not knowing the multiplication tables from my general incompetence with math, so it’s hard for me to know. It is an area where I’ve been able to find work-arounds, so it’s probably less of a nuisance than my habit, say, of doubling something and then, because I know I’m doubling it, doubling it a second time. Or because the number 2’s involved, cutting it in half.

          It does keep life from being predictable, though. I’ll say that for it.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Seven nines are sixty-three, or were when I was a girl. You can never tell, not these days. Back then, the GMB were General, Municipal and Boiler-makers Union, presumably formed by a merger between the union you mentioned and the Boilermakers. Will look into it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • General Municipal Chickens. If they do not recruit chickens it is an oversight. , almost every other group of workers seems eligible for membership. GMB is a big general union bringing together various disparate unions by mergers. “In 1982 the philosophies of general unionism and skilled craft unionism were brought together when the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Shipwrights, Blacksmiths and Structural Workers (ASBSBSW) joined the General and Municipal Workers’ Union to form the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union, (GMBATU).” Not sure when they lost the ATU. Will you be doing a blog about three letter acronyms in the UK (GMB, NHS and its new children CQC, STP, ACS – WTF?, SFA )? Though come to think of it, in the USA you have FBI, CIA & more . Perhaps it is just part of the human condition.

      Liked by 1 person

      • A post on three-letter acronyms is an inspired (and slightly batty, which is the same thing) idea, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough. My brain has a tendency to go AWOL when it sees more than two in a row. Thanks for the background, however. As it got into the spawn of the NHS, I became convinced that you’d skipped one: WTF?


  5. Thanks for the chuckle of the first news most of all – I wish to see his face! – and the last development should bring some peace too.

    The first made me remember how much I enjoyed the multiplication table assembly, which was done on a daily basis in our class as a race and I think I must have won every time. Later, when it was division’s turn, I thought it would be just as easy. I stopped paying attention. Dividing by two 2-digits remains a mystery to this day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dividing two by two digits? First you move the decimal point. Then you stare blankly at the wall and wonder what trick of fate deposited you here and how long you can stare before the teacher notices you’re not working. Then you stare at the paper and make vague gestures with you pencil, imitating writing.

      Repeat until the class ends.

      There. Problem solved.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have reoccurring math nightmares. I feel for those children. Also, believe it or not, I am a big fan of Liam Gallagher and his old band Oasis. As with many artists, it’s best not to know too much about their private lives. Yikes!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Cold off the press. That was a good one! And perhaps Britain is going to test the children to death like we do in America. You’re right that a teacher doesn’t need a test to know her/ his students.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They’re already testing them into oblivion. As far as I can figure out (and I’m not only not a teacher, I don’t have kids) secondary school is almost entirely focused on two major tests, the GCSEs and A-levels. A young friend reach part of a Dickens novel for his English GCSEs. Part of the damn thing. Forget education, forget enjoying literature, forget thinking, just read these chapters so you can write an essay. The real studying is about what you need to cover in the essay, because they’re marked by rote and mentioning X, Y, and Z in A, B, and C formats is considered proof of a good essay. I could scream.

      Liked by 2 people

    • British politicians have an obsession with controlling and testing the education curricula in the country’s schools. It was a significant factor in my sister’s decision to give up her teaching job in an infants school. The tests are all about wanting to raise (control) the quality of teaching, because politicians in power are obsessed with control – mainly because they are hardly able to control anything in reality (e.g. the weather, the economy, peoples health, peoples voting habits, people in general….). So the education game is: Take highly intelligent, educated people and give them intensive teacher training for up to four years. Then give them the fiendishly difficult job of teaching children according to a boring curriculum devised by bureaucrats who know nothing about child psychology and the learning process. Then test the teachers repeatedly via the children, because after all that training at great expense, the politicians don’t trust the teachers trained at great expense to do their job properly. The result? Bored children and burnt-out teachers. Job done.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. When they said “some chicken might have to be destroyed” were they referring to a particular chicken? I wonder if he had something to do with the snafu. These things often trace back to a disgruntled insider.

    When the city of Atlanta wanted to reduce the homeless population before the Olympics, they gave the bus tickets to Los Angels. I don’t guess you have any bus routes that go that far, but it’s s thought. Come to think of it, Atlanta is in Georgia which is where I think you guys used to send prisoners. A few more moves snd they might be back.

    Oh, and tell Mr Gibb that Siri says 8×9 is 72.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I can safely pass on Mr. Gibb’s thanks to Siri, although we’re really not on–well, we’re not even on a last-name basis, never mind first ones. As for the chickens, they’ve got good damn reasons to be disgruntled.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. In the US the other night (on either ABC or PBS) there was a news story that you can now be put in jail for not paying your credit card bills. So debtor’s prison IS making a comeback. The anchors then wondered how you would pay your bills if you were in jail. Charles Dickens could not be reached for comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Our library does seem to enforce late fees, but adds on a few days of ‘grace’ period before they enforce them. With online renewals (up to 3 times, unless someone has placed a hold), it’s pretty easy to stay within the confines of the due date. “Rough sleepers”… now there’s an interesting euphemism. At first I envisioned wool jammies. The Jesus tweet cracked me up. Far better and more original than anything I’ve read from Trump.
    ”Have they checked DHL haven’t left the chicken with a neighbour or thrown it over the fence???”
    Why is it we don’t have that sort of reporting over here in the States? I would pay for that sort of subscription.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Only a few days ago I told you that a career in procurement was too dull to mention and then the #KFCcrisis proves me wrong. The whole thing was caused by a bad procurement decision. It’s hard to imagine that KFC don’t check their suppliers or service providers properly, but that seems to be what happened.

    I was right the first time. I can’t be witty about procurement.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I reckon some manager in KFC’s UK headquarters is currently thinking about getting another job after screwing up the renegotiation of the distribution contract so badly. He/she probably thought they’d done a good deal to get the distribution outsourcing contract down to a lower price, but knowing little about logistics or what makes KFC’s business work, they’ve now realised there’s a bit more to it than they thought. (British understatement on my part there).

      Liked by 2 people

        • I wouldn’t have guessed that. In fact, I never thought enough about how these decisions get made to have not-guessed. All I know is that someone decided “cheaper is better,” and it all went downhill from there.


          • Sometimes cheaper is better, but you still have to do due diligence to make sure that you’re not fooling yourself. Based on my experience with (very) large companies, you have to write a report explaining why cheaper is better and get that signed off by, at least, the Chief Financial Officer. I could go on, but you probably don’t want an early night. Essentially, it’s not the decision of one person, or it shouldn’t be. More than one person should be looking for a new job.

            Liked by 1 person

  12. And that is quite a bit of news for a week in Britain. I saw the title for your post and came for the fried chicken…and there was no fried chicken. At least the KFC recipe still seems intact.

    I’ve tried the Strava app on my phone once. Found it clunky and deleted it. I wonder if they still kept a record of my mileage.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Multiplication tables? The stuff of nightmares for me, even decades later. And no, I have no idea how much 9 multiplied by 8 is. That’s too hard. Yet, I am surviving even despite my major Maths deficiency. It would’ve been nice to able to multiply in my head; but even better would be if they taught me how to do my taxes at school. Or any other life skill, for the matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. When I learned my multiplication table, in the third grade (What’s it now, 1st?) we had to collect train cars, Ones and Twos and so on, until when we got to 10’s, then when we passed all of them, we got to have our picture taken in a cardboard train set, with all the conductor garb and this was laminated to a certificate of a yellow sort. I was highly motivated and reflect fondly on that being the last time I enjoyed math.
    I loathe standardized testing being tied to teachers’ and schools’ funding. I find it abhorrent. Completely unacceptable and way too stressful for all parties.
    The only thing worse may be punishing the homeless. Fining them? FINING THEM?!? Madness. How about some public toilets and taps? How about thinking of them as people? No, no, the money’s best used to indulge the rich, hm?
    I’d like to ban peeling potatoes, but I do enjoy a creamy mash. Sorry, Liam or Noel, I can’t remember which.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We might even try housing the homeless so they’re not homeless anymore. Gee, what a leap of the imagination that took! I’m old enough to remember when the comfortable and smug talked proudly about cities renovating their city centers and neighborhoods and how much of an improvement it all was. Oddly enough, all this went along with a rise in homelessness. You don’t suppose there’s a link there, do you?

      What an inspired third grade teacher you must’ve had. I might even have learned them under those conditions. Emphasis on might.

      It’s a funny thing, but I can’t remember when I was supposed to have learned them. I’m convinced it was third grade, but the picture in my head that goes along with it was second grade. Actually, I don’t remember being taught them, just being supposed to learn them. If someone had said, “If you repeat this often enough, you’ll know it,” I might have tried. Instead, I just quietly sank.

      Oh, well. The traumas of grade school. I’m grateful they’re over.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Back in the Dark Ages when I was in grade school, we didn’t have calculators. So we did multiplication drills and competitions. And it was still stressful when there was a standardized test. Maybe Mr. Gibb could be transferred to chicken procurement and learn about stress

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m of the pre-calculator generation. I won’t try to argue that knowing the multiplication tables would’ve been a good thing but–well, life is possible without them.

      I read that KFC went back to their original distributor. Mr. Gibb can enjoy retirement.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Loved the KFC story, hahahahahahahaaaaaa, especially the tweets!

    And here’s an odd thing about Strava for you – my brother in another city in Canada uses it, but when he posts it to Facebook, Strava shows that his cycling route is in London.

    Liked by 1 person

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