More news from Britain–and (as a bonus) New Zealand

This wasn’t supposed to post until next week, but what the hell, here it is: bonus.

It’s happening again: Ordinary people are weighing in on the great symbols of British culture in a struggle to reshape them to suit the modern world. The last time we followed one of these moments in any depth was when 124,000 people voted to name the UK’s newest, biggest, best, most advanced, and cleanest (since it hadn’t been used yet) polar research ship Boaty McBoatface.

They lost, as people who fight for good causes so often do, but at least something on the ship was named Boaty McBoatface. The name only gets italicized if it belongs to a boat or a ship and I can’t remember if the name was stuck on a small remotely operated sub or a mop and bucket (the mop being Boaty and the bucket McBoatface), so we’ll leave off the itals. I wouldn’t call it a win, but it was a gesture in the direction of justice.

We can blame the Natural Environment Research Council for asking what people wanted to name the ship and then ignoring the vote when they didn’t like the answer. They named the ship the Sir David Attenborough. As one headline put it, “Sir David Attenborough launches ‘Boaty’ polar ship.”

It’s got to be tough, being upstaged by something named Boaty McBoatface–and even worse when that isn’t the thing’s name.

Screamingly irrelevant photo: The white cliffs of–nope, not Dover. They’re in Dorset, near Swannage.

Having learned from that fiasco, the government isn’t asking whose face the Great British Public (GBP) wants to see on the forthcoming, horribly plasticated £50 bill. But that’s not stopping the GBP. Campaigns are underway. Give the GBP a silly cause and it will rise in its glorious thousands.

Small- and large-C conservatives are pushing for Maggie Thatcher’s image. Lefties are–typically, I suppose–pushing in several directions at once. I got a petition promoting Mary Seacole, a black Jamaican-born Briton who worked as a nurse during the Crimean War, even though Florence Nightingale wouldn’t have her. She came to be much loved, was known as Mother Seacole, and was awarded the Victoria Cross. Others are backing Noor Inayat Khan, a British spy in occupied France who died at Dachau and was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

So far, so sensible, but when I last checked the petition with the most signatures was for a picture of England defender Harry Maguire riding an inflatable unicorn and wearing not much at all. I tried to find out who Harry Maguire was and what about England he could defend on an inflatable unicorn, but the information came in a package marked, “May contain sports,” and I have a serious sports allergy so I didn’t open it. You’ll have to google him yourself. The unicorn, though? That’s a mythical beast that does not exist in the world we live in and never has. Making it all the more appropriate to grace something associated with finance.

Or at least its non-existence is true in the world where I live. The world’s weird enough that I don’t want to make assumptions about where you live or what you might be using by way of facts.

There’s also a suggestion that two stars from Only Fools and Horses should be on the bill (or note, if we’re talking British) dressed as Batman and Robin. 

That’s a sitcom reference and my allergy to sitcoms is milder than my allergy to sports, but I was too bored to open the box. You’re welcome to look inside if you want, but I’m voting for the unicorn.


I really meant to stop writing news posts, either permanently or for long enough to convince myself I’d given everyone a much-needed break, but the news has been too good lately, although not all of it has been British.

Point of clarification: By good, I don’t mean containing good news. I don’t think there’s enough good news out there to fill out a thousand-to-two-thousand-word post. I mean that the news has contained moments of lunacy that damn near lift the depression that settles over me when I open the newspaper. To wit:

New Zealand asked the Great New Zealand Public (GNZP) to vote on its bird of the year and it chose the kereru, a Maori word that’s pronounced with a light tap on the Rs and the accent on the first syllable. I hope you’re impressed that I know that and I hope to hell I got the accent in the right place.

A tap, in case you want to try this at home (it’s quite safe), is when you tap (surprise!) your tongue on the top of your mouth, just behind the front teeth. Do that and give it some air. It should work.

The kereru (which should have a long line above the U but I have no idea where to find one or not much of an inclination to look) is basically a wood pigeon on steroids–the kind of pigeon you wouldn’t want to meet late at night in a dark alley. It’s got huge shoulders, a big chest, and a little bitty head. It’s native to both the north and south islands and to rural areas, urban areas, and dark alleys.

A wood pigeon, in case you don’t live in wood pigeon territory, already looks like a pigeon on steroids, but a lower dose than the kereru.

Why does the GNZP love the kereru? Maybe because it’s known for eating fruit that’s so old that it’s fermented, getting itself drunk on the stuff and falling out of trees. [You’ll have to fill in the blank here, because I’m not sure who actually does this] scoops them up and takes them to wildlife centers where they can sober up.

The centers won’t release them until they participate in a two-step program (they tried a twelve-step program but birds just don’t have the concentration), then they go back out and do it all over again. The recovery rate is zero, but that doesn’t stop the centers from trying.

In its sober moments, the kereru also swallows (whole) the fruit of several native trees and then plants the seeds wherever the mood takes it, along with a carefully measured bit of fertilizer. Not many birds are big enough to do that, so drunks that they are, they play an important role in the ecosystem.


While we’re sort of on the subject of the Maori language, Coca Cola introduced a New Zealand ad campaign that–okay, I’m even more of an outsider than usual here but I think I can safely say they were looking to pick up a bit of cool by using the Maori language. So they wrote, “Kia ora, mate,” all over vending machines.

They were doing okay with kia ora, which means hello and is recognized by pretty much any New Zealander.

Mate, though? In Maori, it has two syllables and means death.

Hi, Death. Wanna Coke? 


Back in England, the city of York has been discovered. Not by Vikings this time but by hen and stag parties.

Old as I am, I wasn’t around for the Viking raids, but if you put together an argument that the hen and stag parties do more damage than the Vikings ever did, you’d stand a fighting chance of convincing me. It’d be bullshit, of course, but it’d be funny bullshit.

Hen and stag parties are known for staggering off the trains and heading into the walled city center, where they drink themselves witless, wave inflatable penises (that’s the hen parties), and pee in the streets (that’s not just the stags).

In the interest of promoting hysteria, a local paper and unnamed city leaders said the city center had become a no-go area on Saturdays. Even though crime isn’t actually up. It’s not about danger, it’s about inflatable penises and peeing in the street.

Ah, but there’s worse to come. The thing is that when the British get drunk, they sing, and to bring order back to the city center, York is trying to keep buskers–a British word for street performers–from handing their mics over to the drunks. Because there’s nothing a British drunk wants more than to sing into a microphone. Sloppily, badly, and publicly. Patrols are handing out laminated cards that performers can show the drunks saying, more or less, “Sorry, but if I hand you my mic the Vikings will attack and so will the neighbors, and it’ll all be your fault. Go home and sleep it off.”

And since it’s on a laminated card, of course the drunks will respect it.

Has it occurred to anyone other than me that hens and stags probably shouldn’t marry each other? I don’t like to think I’m narrow minded, but cross-species marriages have some inherent problems. Especially when they’re as far apart as a mammal and a bird. Maybe if instead of getting married, they just, you know, dated or something–.


In the interest of efficiency, Britain’s Royal Mail was partially privatized in 2013, and this year its incoming chief executive got a £5.8 million bonus for walking through the door efficiently. That would’ve been enough to hire 252 postpeople, whose starting pay is, according to one source, £23,000, although according to another the average (not the starting) pay is £22,500.

Or maybe the lower pay was for a different category of postal worker, but it’s close enough. We don’t need details to spot a small difference between the pay at the top and the pay at the bottom. 

The Communications Workers Union thought it might be worth knowing that postal workers’ pensions were cut just months before the bonus was agreed on because the Royal Mail absolutely, no fooling around, had to save money.

The outgoing CEO got a bonus of £774,000 plus twelve months’ salary, which was £547,500. For walking out the door efficiently.

Three quarters of its stockholders refused to back the incoming CEO’s bonus but it went through anyway because the vote’s only advisory. It can embarrass the company but that’s about it. Royal Mail promised to “reflect very carefully” on shareholder concerns and has admitted that it is indeed embarrassed over not having engaged with shareholders ahead of time.

You may have already guessed that “engage with shareholders” isn’t my choice of words. I stole them and I’d have loved to replace them with the kind of words that actual human beings on this planet use instead of the ones inflatable unicorns speak on some mythical planet, but I can’t think of anything a human being would say in that situation so I left them.

35 thoughts on “More news from Britain–and (as a bonus) New Zealand

  1. Don’t stop writing the news. I enjoy reading it. My ancestors have been all out of England for two or three hundred years but I still feel connected. Blame that on my parents who thought they were still English. Who knows what my DNA would say I was from.

    English seem to act sillier than anyone else. Is that DNA or from something in the water over there.

    Engaged with shareholders. Phrase with an emEnglush tone if I ever heard one.

    Thanks for the bonus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome, although I was massively pissed off that I posted it early. I’ve been trying to build up a buffer of several weeks so I can think about other things for a while and then I—grrrr—go and post one midweek for no better reason than that I can screw up anything involving numbers.

      Anyway: 1. It’s the water, and there’s lots of water. 2. Engaging with shareholders is, I’m pretty sure, corporatese–a language spoken by no actual human beings on this planet, although some have learned to write it, mostly by rote. The phrase that makes me really want to scream is consulting stakeholders. It’s bureaucratese. It means holding a meeting, pretending to take notes, and then doing whatever the hell you were going to do anyway. I have an image of showing up at one of those meetings holding a wooden stake. I’ll stop short of driving it through anyone’s heart, but I might just drip a bit of red paint on the end.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmmm…talked to the owners? Consulted the investors? Income inequality is everywhere. It’s nice to read something embarrassing from another country, given the general tone of our own news. I’d go with the unicorn, but without the naked guy. I saw some other suggestions on Twitter that included current celebrities (whom I now can’t remember) but a mythical beast seems appropriate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Given the complete mayhem that the Brexit referendum kicked off over here (I could come up with other examples, but let’s stop there), we’re just full of cheerfully embarrassing news. Cheerful, that is, for people from other countries who’d like to take their minds off their own governments.

      Actually, Britain does embarrassing news with such a flair that I, at least, have developed a real taste for it. It helps when you dress it up with the occasional ermine robe or a pair of garters. And a mace. Never forget the mace.

      Anyway, I’ve never seen a £50 bill, so they may be as mythical as the unicorns, although everyone seems quite serioius about them and until now I haven’t thought to question their existence. The man on the inflatable unicorn was, I’m pretty sure, wearing some small scrap of cloth.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The drunken kereru image has been overstated to grab headlines. All those I’ve met were stone cold sober and an impressive sight. Obviously the drunks are getting wingless at hen and stag parties but I can honestly say, in their defence, that I’ve never seen one sing into a microphone or pee in the street.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think we’re more forgiving of birds peeing in the street than we are of humans doing the same thing. Funny things, these double standards. We hardly notice them.

      If I’ve slandered the kereru, I apologize. It may be a seasonal thing–they have to wait for the brew to brew before they can drink it. Or else I’ve been misled. It’s happened before.


      • You’re right, it’s a seasonal glut. So many berries, too little time, and they’re probably half rotten before the birds get to them. But you can’t waste good food, right? I’ve also heard they’ve been known to eat so much they can’t take off. Mental picture of fat birds lying on their backs, groaning, with their feet in the air.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Maybe you could get the folks in New Zealand (is there a Zealand, somewhere?) to pick up the drunk hens and chicks. On the other hand, how about an album of Christmas caroles, recorded live on the streets of London? I know, Jewish atheist, but still, how many opportunities to design an album cover with large inflatable penises do you get?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gee, not many. That’s strange, isn’t it? You’d think approaching someone with no noticeable artistic talent to create an album cover for a holiday that’s not part of her assigned tradition (I grew up celebrating it, but then we cheated) would be an obvious move for an industry in which I have no contacts. Right? I didn’t work religiously offesive imagery into that sentence because I thought I’d better end it before I forgot what we were talking about, but it really does belong there.

      Did I miss anything?

      Of course I did. There is a Zealand. In fact, just to make sure nothing’s too simple, there are two. One’s an island in Denmark and we’re going to ignore that one; the other’s in the Netherlands (it’s spelled Zeeland and is Dutch for sea-land). It’s the second one that New Zealand was named for. The first European to stumble on the place was Abel Tasman (Tasmania was named after him) and he called it Staten Landt, thinking it connected to what Lord G. called a landmass at the southern tip of South America. I’d never heard of it, so–I can’t help myself–I looked that up and found not a landmass, really, but an Argentinian island off Tierra del Fuego called Isla de Estados. We’ll come back to the connection, but you need to read the next paragraph before we do:

      Since I love side tracks, I looked for a translation of staten and found “state, condition, status, polity, estate, posture, plight, insolvency, fig.” That’s the goddamn strangest collection of meanings I rememer seeing for a single word, but there you go. Figland. Insolvencyland. Postureland. Conditionland.

      Now we come back to the island off Argentina’s coast: The Spanish name translates to State Island. Or Island of States. Neither one makes any sense to me, but you can’t grow figs that far south. So even though none of this makes sense, it does all connect up.

      Dutch cartographers decided, wisely, to rename the place and settled on Nova Zeelandia. The British explorer James Cook (who also wandered through in those early days) anglicized the cartographers’ choice, although why he thought changing that second E to an A was a good idea is anyone’s guess. Maybe he thought that if the spelling didn’t reflect the pronunciation it would be more English. If so, he was surely right.

      The Maori call it Aotearoa–Island of the Long White Cloud.

      Aren’t you glad you asked?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yup. Me too. It’s one of those idiot moments where someone thinks–or doesn’t even bother to think, they’re so sure–we can do this without consulting anyone who speaks (or, horrors, is) Maori. We know what we’re doing.

      And then they do it. And fall on their face publicly,, causing great glee, so maybe in the long run it’s worth it.


      • Now this may not be entirely correct, but I remember reading somewhere a good few years ago about a certain Japanese motor manufacturer who produced a new SUV. They gave it a trendy Spanish name that was supposed to mean “straw carrier” or something like that, the idea being that the name would to emphasise the ability of the vehicle to transport all sorts of cargoes across rough terrain. However in some Spanish-speaking parts of the world – notably South and Central America, the name didn’t mean “straw carrier” at all, but had various slang connotations, like “liar” and (even better) “wanker”. Needless to say, the manufacturers soon rebranded the vehicle for sale in those countries!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sounds entirely possible. The Chevy Nova was greeted in Mexico (and I’m sure other Spanish-speaking countries) with hysterical laughter. Turn that into two words, no va, and it means “it doesn’t go.” And Nescafe? People liked to joke that it “no es cafe”–it isn’t coffee. (Apologies for the lack of accents–I know they’re hidden somewhere in the depths of some computer program but I don’t want to spend four hours looking for them.)


  5. Pingback: More news from Britain–and (as a bonus) New Zealand — Notes from the U.K. –

  6. About your note, how about The Doctor? At current count you could issue a new one every time the Doctor changes? Or, have a note with 13 faces on it?

    Coke isn’t the only American company that doesn’t do good research. When the film industry tried to introduce China to American films one was Batman…unfortunately, the Chinese word they chose translated into “flying mouse”, not the fear they were trying to strike.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love it. One of my favorite translation–shall we call them issues? Anyway, it comes from an ad campaign in Taiwan, decades ago, when the slogan was “Come alive, you’re in the Pepsi generation.” It ended up with billboards all over the island saying, “Pepsi Cola brings your ancestors back from the grave.”

      I’m so glad I don’t have the responsibilities of translation.

      About The Doctor on a new £50 bill: I like it. I suggest 13 plus one blank–just a kind of outline–to save money, so they don’t have to reissue it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I did not realize that the CEO to worker pay ratio is as bad in Britain as it is here in the US. (Or at least bears a strong resemblance to it.) For some reason, I thought that Maggie Thatcher had faded into memory there. (btw – the unicorns are in Cheeseland hiding from the nonbelievers)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very wise of the uniorns. We may all decide to join them soon. We’ve had eight or ten years of what the Conservatives call austerity and which out-Thatchers Thatcher. It’s torn the infrastructure to shreds, and in a country where they didn’t use to have foodbanks because they didn’t need them, they now have them. Three cheers for progress.

      Liked by 1 person

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