The news roundup from Britain

Good Cop: During July’s heatwave, police in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, rescued local ducks by setting up two paddling pools beside their pond, which was disappearing, and then keeping the pools topped up with good fresh water.

You’d think that would be an unmixed good deed, but the ducks report high levels of anxiety over when the bad cop’s due to show up.

Crime and Politics: It may not be the bad cop they should worry about. It could be the bad politician. Stephen Searle, a former councillor (that’s a member of a council, which is the local government, making him a local politician), was recently convicted of killing his wife. Not sordid enough for you? Some months before, he had an affair with their son’s partner–the mother of one of their grandchildren.

If that’s still not sordid enough, you’re out of my league and need to look elsewhere for your recreation.

Searle stood for office on the UKIP (U.K. Independence Party) ticket. UKIP is the party that brought us Brexit and it attracts such top talent that it’s had five leaders in slightly less than two years. The first four melted down in quick succession, each one finding his or her own unique route to political oblivion but none quite in Searle’s category.

In a display of deep thinking, fellow UKIP politician Bill Mountford said about the Searle case, “These things happen.”

Irrelevant photo: Leaves. But you probably guessed that.

Politics: You may remember Chris Chope–that’s Sir Christopher Chope to you–the MP who made his name not long ago by blocking a bill that would have criminalized upskirting, or taking a picture up a woman’s skirt without her knowledge and permission.

Everyone who writes about upskirting sooner or later has to use that phrase, “without her knowledge or permission.” I’m just askin’, but when did you or anyone you know last give permission for someone to take a picture up your or her or, in fairness, his skirt?

Never mind. Ol’ Chris is back in the news for having blocked a motion that would allow a Women MPs of the World conference to use the House of Commons’ chamber when the house isn’t in session.

This is not a conference of wild-eyed radicals like, for example–and I’m pulling an example from the air totally at random–me. It’s hard to get much more respectable. It’s organized by the Foreign Office, the Equalities Office, the Department of International Development, and the British Council. It will be so respectable that everyone attending will be asleep in their seats by 10 a.m.

You heard it here first.

The government swore blind it would have the bill back before Commons and passed the next day. And in fairness, it may have actually done that, but if it made the news I haven’t found it. It’s not half as much fun.

I’d like to thank Chris personally for doing his bit to add to the reputation politicians already struggle with.

Let’s change the subject.

Food and Outer Space: In July, St. Anselm’s School in Derbyshire launched a bakewell pudding in the general direction of space. You don’t need a compass or any real sense of direction to do this. You just point upward and hit Launch.

The school lost touch with the pudding at 52,500feet, or 16,000 meters if that works better for you.

This raises a question: If St. Anselm’s loses a pudding on its way to outer space, how well does it keep track of its students?

It also raises another question: How close did the pudding actually get to space. 

Compliments of Lord Google, I can answer that one. Space starts, very roughly, 100 kilometers above the earth. So how many kilometers in 16,000 meters? Nowhere near enough. Only 16.

How many lost-touch-with students were smoking in the toilets during the bakewell pudding launch? Nobody’s saying. What we do know is that the pudding was found–uneaten–almost a month later by a farmer walking his dog in an asparagus field in Lincolnshire.

Apparently I’m not the only creature who thinks bakewell puddings are better launched into space than eaten.

A bakewell pudding, in case you need to know this, is not the same as a bakewell tart. The bakewell tart is a standard British dessert. The bakewell pudding is regional, and bakeries and cafes in the town of Bakewell, Derbyshire (prounounced Darbyshire), spill a good bit of ink in the cause of educating visitors about the difference. 

Lord Google (or the snippet of WikiWhatsia that Lord G displayed for me) says there’s no evidence that either of them originated in Bakewell. Think of that as just one more mystery of the British Isles.

If you’re about to leave a comment telling me how wonderful either the bakewell tart or the bakewell pudding is and how ignorant I am not make unkind jokes about them, please do. I welcome spirited discussion on important issues. You’re even welcome to write, as a recent comment put it, that what I said is complete codswallop.

Codswallop? “Perhaps named after Hiram Codd, who invented a bottle for fizzy drinks (1875); the derivation remains unconfirmed.” Or so says Lord G, although it doesn’t explain much.

But back to our alleged topic: In 2016, a meat and potato pie was launched into space–or an area well short of space but in the general direction of space, which is to say, up. The people who launched it were hoping to get it 30 kilometers above the earth to see if molecular changes would mean it could be eaten more quickly.

Eaten by who? The articles don’t say. Probably by the launchers, because this happened just before the World Pie Eating Championship, and winning a pie eating contest, as I’m sure you’ll understand, takes some serious effort.

I’m not sure how much that explains–I’ve never been inside the mind of anyone who’s entered a pie eating contest–but it does at least set a context.

The pie landed in a field 38 miles away from the launch site, but I haven’t found an article that mentions what was growing in the field or if the farmer had a dog. If only the news reported the important stuff, the world would be a better place.

“First indications are that it did not reheat on entry,” an article in the Guardian reported with a straight face. 

In case you want to try a similar experiment, both launches used weather balloons, which means neithern of them really launched, they just kind of rose. You can use any kind of food you like, but if it’s too gooey you’re going to end up wearing it.

Food and History: This has nothing to do with Britain, but archeologists have managed to date the origin of bread back to before humans developed agriculture. Charred crumbs that have been identified as bread were found in two ancient fireplaces in Jordan. The fireplaces date back 14,000 years–at least 3,000 years before humans first cultivated plants.

The bread was made from foraged wild grain–probably wheat, oats, and (or possibly or) barley–and was found with an assortment of other wild plants. Bread wouldn’t have been a staple food yet. Foraging for wild grain would’ve been too labor intensive. Think of it as their version of chocolate–you don’t get much of it but damn it’s good. 

Modern-Day Foraging: Charging 5p for the plastic bags that stores hand out has reduced the use of plastic bags in Britain by 86 percent. If you’re American, 5p is 6.6 cents–or at least it was on August 1. The exchange rate will have changed by now. If you’re neither British or American, it’s not much money in comparison to what people are spending on the groceries or clothes or whatevers that would’ve once been put in those bags.

I’m not complaining. I’m happy to see fewer wind-shredded bags hanging from the local trees and hedges or slopping around in the ocean. But it’s an odd thing about humans. Tell us something’s free and we accept it and throw it away. Tell us it costs nothing much and we say, “Thanks all to hell and back, but I brought my own.”

Shopping and Teddy Bears: In July, a chain of stores that sells expensive, custom-made teddy bears announced a sale: For one day, customers could buy a bear for only £1 for every year of their child’s age. Since the bears can cost as much of £52, that sounded like a great idea to 110% of the population of the British Isles. Lines formed–or queues, as the British call them. Huge lines.

The British are generally good about queues. They join them at the back end and wait patiently until they get to the front end. Queueing runs deep in the culture. It’s soothing. It makes people feel right about the world. It means the stars are all where they’re meant to be, the bakewell pudding’s headed into space, and they themselves are occupying their proper place in the great scheme of things.

This time, though–and the trouble may have begun when the stores ran out of bears–fights broke out. Not between kids, who seem to have behaved well enough, with maybe some whining here and there. You have to expect that from kids in lines that last, as at least one did, five hours. No, it was the parents who started the fights. They’d promised Dear Little Whatsit a teddy bear. And not just any teddy bear, but a very upscale bear–the kind a kid can show to a friend and say, with all the charming innocence of childhood, “Bet you don’t have one this expensive.” So no, the parents couldn’t just drop into the pound store and see what was available. It had to come from the Build-A-Bear store, so that Dear Little Whatsit could pick out its furry little hide and I have no idea what else, then watch while it was filled with stuffing, had a cloth heart inserted, and got sewn up.

Then Dear Little Whatsit would be tempted by all sorts of extras–clothes, accessories, and probably little bitty teddy boarding schools and horseback riding lessons and the horse to go with them. Which would come to much more than her (I’m assuming gender here, and apologies if I get it wrong; pronouns are such a pain in the neck) age and could possibly equal her parents’ monthly rent or mortgage.

So kids were in tears, wailing, “But you promised.” Which is the kind of thing that can drive bear-buying parent to drastic action. Any action. In one store, a pregnant employee was punched in the stomach, and not by a kid. In other stores, employees were pulling down the shutters and disguising themselves as store fixtures and wailing children.

In another store, employees called the police, saying customers were getting violent. Which brings us to our next news snippet.

Police Emergencies: The Essex police recently publicized some a few of the stranger emergency calls they received. They suffer from the delusion that publicizing them will cause us to think seriously before we pick up the phone.

I doubt it will, but it gives us all something to read while the world goes to hell around us.

What are the latest calls? A woman called the emergency line because a pizza place delivered a mushroom pizza instead of a meat feast. And to make it worse, the pizza place insisted that she’d ordered mushroom even though she’s allergic to mushrooms.

And a man called because a sign on a fence said there was a bull in the field. He wanted to know if there really was a bull in the field or if the farmer “was just messing around.”

Crime, Politics, and Irony: A socialist bookstore in London was attacked by about a dozen masked protesters who turned over displays, yelled, threatened, and ripped up publications. So that accounts for the politics and the crime parts of the headline, but where’s the irony? Well, they appear to have spun off from a far-right protest held earlier that day, which was against censorship.

The Index on Censorship has since sent six books that have been banned or challenged in various places to three UKIP members who were charged with the attack, saying, “We hope the books will introduce them to different ideas.” The other attackers, as far as I’ve been able to make out, haven’t been identified.

The books are: The Handmaid’s Tale, The Color Purple, The Qur’an, His Dark Materials, Fahrenheit 451, and The Jungle.

UKIP suspended the three members and then reiinstated one. A party member said there was no evidence that she had been involved. The remaining attackers don’t seem to have been identified.

Crime, Farming, and Medieval Warfare: Theft from farms is on the rise, and Britain’s farmers are going medieval, according to news stories, using banks, ditches, and stockades to protect their equipment and livestock. They’re also using electrified gates. Did you know that medieval England pioneered the use of electrified gates?

To quote from a different article than the one I linked to, they’re also using “geese, llamas and dogs as low-tech alarm systems, much as landowners did hundreds of years ago.”

Medieval Britain did not have llamas. Llamas first came to Britain when Victoria was on the throne and the government hadn’t yet pulled down the shutters on immigration. (Llamas never have passports. Give a passport to a llama and it’ll eat the thing.) That was a while back, but not hundreds of years. And like so many immigrants, llamas have made a contribution to their adopted land, but they are not medieval.

The theives are after things like quad bikes, Land Rovers, and farm machinery, some of which seems to be stolen to order. A lot of it is shipped abroad to be sold, but heavy equipment has been used a few times to smash into local shops and steal cash machines. Which were also not present in medieval Britain.


 My thanks yet again to Deb for alerting me to the story about the ducks. What would I do without her to guide me to the weirder corners of British life?

I welcome links to odd bits of British news. And most other forms of communication. 

94 thoughts on “The news roundup from Britain

      • It’s even more weird to be here while it’s happening. The first thing we do in the mornings is turn on the tv to see what the latest inane tweets or press statements say. As we sink lower and lower into an world of unreality and words lose their meaning. Truth is not truth, according to the president’s lawyer. How did we teach this point is my reply.

        Liked by 1 person

          • I am reading a book by a professor from Duke who claims to have the answer. One third through. She makes some good points and it is scary. Lots of money and effort according to her. Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean. She far she sees a movements by the top one per cent toward oligarchy.

            But who knows I have over half the book to go . She may have a surprise ending.

            Sorry to get away from humor and get serious. Is that allowed.

            Chatting about falling pudding is more fun.

            Beware of fallen rocks? Someone spent our money to change the signs? I always wondered what you would do if you saw a rock coming toward you. Do you need a sign to tell you to move? So we have a sign saying don’t run into a rock in the road. I thought we all knew not to do that already.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I wondered the same thing about the falling rocks signs and was a mix of disappointed and relieved when they changed to fallen rocks. You know–one of your childhood questions answered but the answer’s so disappointing.

              Seriousness is completely allowed. I struggle not to drop into it myself. She does seem to be right about the trend toward oligarchy. If her answer convinces you, I’d be interested to know what it is.

              Liked by 1 person

              • She talked about how Charles Koch and friends are spending a lot of mone to elect conservatives and pass laws to suppress voters who would vote for liberals.
                She had dis over that very wealthy people want to control government and society.
                Didn’t we already know that. But she named names.

                Rather think about falling pudding and fallen rocks. And people hanging their underwear out to dry. Important stuff that matters.

                One question I have. Why do people from Enhlznd call those atrocious dishes puddings. Puddings are sweet and delicious things made out of sugar, eggs butter and milk and other good things. At least here in the States.

                Liked by 1 person

              • I’ve got to admit that what I’ve been doing with this blog isn’t contributing much to stopping the spread of oligarchy, the upward redistribution of wealth, or the resurgence of open racism and nationalism. In the rest of my life, I do my (all too small) part. It’s never enough, which is depressing as hell and one reason I look for a place to be silly. I only wish someone could locate the lever to change all this.

                Now, puddings: I’m still trying to figure out what a British pudding is. On the one hand, it’s pretty much any dessert, as in “what’s for pudding?” On the other hand, it’s also something that isn’t sweet at all but that involves suet (or some other kind of fat, I assume) and flour, such as steak and kidney pudding.

                Gack. I ate kidneys once. That was back when I ate meat. It’s an experience I hope not to repeat.

                On the third hand, I’ve heard people make a distinction between a pudding and a cake. Think of it as one more mystery of these ancient, foggy isles.


  1. I enjoy reading all your quirky stories about the U.K., but lately I especially appreciate learning about questionable politics and politicians. It reminds me that America is not alone in this regard. Now, I think I’ll go read some of the Australian blogs I follow. That should cheer me up immensely.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad I read your email first this morning. I’m all relaxed now from laughing and almost ready to tackle the NY & LA Times to read about the latest antics of The Chief Narcissist and his thugs who are plaguing our world. Especially loved the bear queue story. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know. In the Saturday paper, I have to start with the food section before I work up the nerve to tackle actual news.

      I write most of these posts far enough in advance that I don’t often remember all the details, so I read your comment and thought, “Bear queues? Are bears standing in line now? How very British of them.” Then I wondered if you were using predictive text, which does some very odd stuff to the process of translating thought into words. So I went back and loooked. Oh! Bear queues! Of course. Right. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Farmers should object to puddings falling onto their fields. Has no one thought about the damage from falling food? Someone should look into this. What if the pudding hits a cow? Or a duck. The duck would really have anxiety that could last for years. Some one should do something. I just hope this behavior does not spread. Falling pudding shelters would have to be built and would pop up everywhere. School children would have to hold falling pudding drills. Down with the falling pudding. We should all do our part to stem the tide of falling puddings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And all those “Beward of falling rocks” signs that have been replaced with “Beware of fallen rocks” signs will have to be replaced with “Beware of falling puddings” signs. This is going to be very expensive.


  4. Now you’ve made me want to go searching for a bakewell tart or pudding, neither of which seem well-known here in The States—but then I’ve never encountered them when in the UK either. If the latter is a meat-and-potato pie I imagine you haven’t gotten up close with one of those yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Do those pudding launchers ever think of the effect their pudding returning to earth may have? I will be more than a wee upset if it had landed on my head. But on the other hand, the saying “Egg on the face” could be modernized by “Pudding on the head”. Let me stop before I start to sound pudding-brained. Enjoy your posts, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Is it a crime to ask a woman (or a man) if you can take a picture up their skirt? I have no desire to do either, ask or photo, but I wonder. I think in some parts of the U.S. that would be a type of speech that could get you arrested.

    There’s a certain irony in banning “Fahrenheit 451” – burning it would be even better (in terms of irony).

    This is the news you just don’t see in the mainstream publications…unless you look hard enough, but that’s why we come here.

    Have a great weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Somewhere near the beginning, for some reason, my mind wandered and I had the idea of launching the Bakewell products into the refugee camps where the current administration of the US of A has misplaced all those immigrant children.( Reports suggest the children are not being terribly well-treated, and the Bakewell products would probably be at least a change in the menu for them.)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t even know where to start… this was beyond a hoot and half…. except, well, seriously, who would ask a woman (or man) if it would be ayt to take a picture of her (his) skivvies from beneath the skirt? And I have trouble picturing anyone giving said permission… though today’s “Yutes” (think My Cousin Vinny) are dumb enough to.

    We Canadians have been charging 5 cents per plastic bag for years… Most of us now bring our requisite canvas or whatever type the store is also selling…

    I am not touching the political part because, guess what? They are ALL NUTS! Yes, our handsome PM is too…

    Liked by 1 person

    • True. It seems like every day-after-Thanksgiving the news carries stories about people mobbing a store, trying to get that bargain. For the British to break queue etiquette it takes something momentous. Like a teddy bear.


  9. “Swindon here. We are monitoring… we have a …a… is that a pudding? Swindon here, we have a pudding? that seems launched illegally.”

    “Is it a Bakewell pudding?”

    “I thought it was Bakewell tarts?!

    “Does Bakewell even have pudding?”

    “Who launches Bakewell pudding without us?”

    “Only we can launch puddings, Bakewell or not!”

    “They’re obviously bastards”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Haha.. Great read.. the Police Emergencies reminded me of a time we were listening to our police scanner.. Detroit Police had a number of calls ranging from armed robbery to car jackings. We flipped over to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and heard “We’re going to McDonald’s, do you want anything?”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Not British, but it might fit in: This morning I read that PETA wants to erect a giant headstone for all the lobsters killed and eaten. I’m not sure why the lobsters are getting special treatment.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Launching food into space–maybe someone can do that with kale. Your Build-A-Bear story reminds me of the news reports we get every year from the States about Black Friday, where people riot over flat screen TVs–scary stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve come to expect that kind of mob scene on the day after Thanksgiving in the US, but in Britain, the home of the orderly queue? That’s a man-bites-dog story.

      I can’t say my diet would change if all the kale got launched into space.

      Liked by 1 person

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