All the news that fits

Driving Hazards

A driver in Devon was found upside down in a ditch in February. To be clear, that’s both the driver and the car. The driver explained that he’d swerved to avoid an octopus.

The road’s five kilometers from the coast. Call that two and a half miles. You’ll be wrong if you do, but you’ll be within driving distance of the right answer.

The driver was arrested “on suspicion of driving while unfit through drugs or drink” and will have to attend a class on thinking up credible excuses and another one on enjoying your hallucinations.

He gets time off for trying to save the octopus.


The British Council has apologized to George Orwell for refusing the publish an essay on British food that it had commissioned from him. Several things make this odd. First, the council had paid him for the article, so whatever hard feelings they caused could have been much harder. Second, the rejection happened in 1946, which is by any standard a long time to delay an apology. Third and most important, Orwell died in 1950 and has nothing to gain from publication anymore.

But what the hell, let’s talk about it anyway.

Irrelevant photo: A violet–one of the first spring flowers. Or winter flowers if you believe my neighbors. If flowers bloom, I think it’s spring.

The article involved was supposed to convince Europeans that British food wasn’t as bad as they thought. Based on the quotes I’ve seen, the council had a good argument for not publishing it. The British, Orwell said, eat “a simple, rather heavy, perhaps slightly barbarous diet.” He also said the coffee was nasty and that vegetables seldom get the treatment they deserved.

In fairness, Britain was still rationing food in the wake of World War II, and his description was probably accurate but not what he was being paid to say.

And then there was his marmalade recipe. The council says, in hindsight, that it was wrong to reject the essay but that the marmalade recipe’s still wrong–too much sugar and too much water. “It would have turned out far too watery,” they said.

Did Orwell actually know anything about cooking or did he just beg or steal recipes from people who did and hope they weren’t messing with him? I don’t know. What I can tell you is that in addition to getting his marmalade wrong (and I’m going to have to take other people’s word that he did; I’ve never made the stuff), he also says crumpets are made “by a process that is known to very few people.”

If that’s true, I belong to an elite secret society. And if you’ll follow the link, so will you.


Translation Issues: Ariana Grande went to the tattoo store, as so many people do, meaning to pick up a simple tattoo–in this case, one with the title of her song “Seven Rings.” In Japanese.

Why Japanese? One of the unpredicted results of globalization is that people want tattoos in languages they don’t know but think are cool. It’s less harmful than a lot of the other, more predictable, results have been.

It (that’s the tattoo, not globalization) went wrong when she found out that the damned thing hurt and she asked the artist leave out some characters.

So what does it say? “Shichirin,” which is a small charcoal grill. An earthen one, in case that helps us understand the situation better.

Which wasn’t what she wanted, and since she’s a public figure folks started making fun of her, so she got it fixed. At last sighting (by me, and I make no effort to stay up to date with this stuff) it read, “Japanese barbecue finger.” Or maybe that’s “small earthen charcoal grill finger.” It’s up to you, because translation’s not an exact science. It leaves a good bit of room for interpretation.

I’m now going to give you some advice, because I think every last one of you needs to hear (or read) it: Do not get tattoos in languages you can’t read.

Language and Work: The Oxford English Dictionary is asking the public to tell them about professional jargon and work slang. You can submit your entries here.

The articles about this that I’ve seen give several examples of the kind of words or phrases they’re looking for but the one getting the most play is DTSO. When a vet uses it, it means dog smarter than owner.


Oops. A Scottish stone circle that was thought to be thousands of years old turns out to have been built in the 1990s.

Yeah, archeologists had noticed that it was unusual. The stones were small. The diameter was small. But stone circles are sneaky bastards, and they’re hard to date.

That’s not date as in going to a movie and get all romantic with but as in figure out how old they are.

Those aren’t unrelated, though. Before you get into that romantic stuff, you should know how old they are. Personally, I’ve gone to movies with people who made going out with stones look enticing.

But we’re not here to talk about me. The stone circle was a good replica, and the guy who built it came forward when the stones were being tested, saving everyone involved any further embarrassment.

Roadworks: Archeologists exploring an area that’s being dug up for roadworks near Cambridge found what they think is the earliest evidence of beer brewing in Britain. What I love about this story isn’t that it involves beer (trust beer to steal the headline, though) but that it involves archeologists playing in the mud of construction zones.  

Large-scale British construction has to take the country’s historic environment into account, which often means that archeologists follow along and find all sorts of neat stuff. Here in Cornwall, they followed the digging for a new sewage line and found, among other things, some burials that combined early Christian burial style (laid out so the person could be resurrected with a view of the sunrise) with pre-Christian burial (with put the body in the ground with stuff they might want in the afterlife). Presumably, they were hedging their bets. The people who buried them hadn’t made up their minds about how things worked after death and wanted the person to prepared for anything.

How’d I find that out? The archeologists held a public meeting to talk about what they’d found and had a great turnout.  

The construction industry considers important archeological finds a risk–they hold up the work. Archeologists, I’m sure, have their own opinions of the construction industry, which is always pressing on them to hurry up so they can go ahead with what they consider the important stuff.

The 21-mile construction project that found the brewing site found remains dating from the neolithic period to the medieval–a stretch of 4,000 years.


Money and Coffee: A new company plans to roast coffee beans by shooting them into space in a spacecraft called the Coffee Roasting Capsule. It could be launched as early as next year. Or it could not, depending on multiple factors that you can make up as well as I can. The idea is that, outside of gravity, the beans will (a) float and (b) get heated by the capsule’s re-entry into earth’s atmosphere. Here on earth, inconveniently, beans tumble as they roast. They break apart. They scorch.

Gravity’s an inconsiderate beast.

I haven’t found any estimates on how much a cup of space-roasted coffee’s likely to cost. And the whole thing may never happen anyway. The article notes at the end that the company didn’t return the paper’s calls and emails. 

No, I won’t sink low enough to make the obvious pun about them being too spaced out to bother. 

Money and Money: The world’s 26 richest people own as much as the poorest 50%. There is nothing I can add to that.

Money and Cake: A British judge had to decide whether a health-food brownie is a cake or not a cake. If it is a cake, it can be sold without without VAT–a hefty sales tax. If it’s not a cake, then it would be considered confectionery (a fancy word for candy) and taxed.

Why the difference? Foods that are part of a healthy diet–foods like cake–don’t get taxed. Or if not exactly a healthy diet, a basic diet. Non-basic frivolities get taxed. 

So someone somewhere had to decide that cakes and biscuits (which if you’re American are cookies) are basics but candy (a.k.a. confectionery) isn’t. Unless the biscuits have chocolate on top, in which case they’re a luxury item and get taxed.

You didn’t really follow that, did you? Let’s give an example. It won’t help but it’ll make me feel like I’ve done my job.

A chocolate cake covered with chocolate is not taxed. Chocolate cake with frosting is an essential part of the basic diet that’s good enough for people whose spending we (let’s duck the issue of who “we” are for now) scrutinize, which is to say people who earn less than us and who we suspect are frivoling away their money on chocolate-covered biscuits when plain biscuits are good enough for the likes of them. 

They’re probably also wasting it on rent and laundry soap.

It cheers me up to know that someone somewhere is bringing rational thought to important questions like what low-income people are allowed to eat without (a) paying tax on it and (b) intruding tax-free on the baked goods of their betters.

No, no. I’m completely objective about this stuff. You should hear me when I have an opinion. 

When I got out my magnifying glass and looked between the lines of the newspaper articles about this, it sounded a lot like the judge had to taste not just the health-food brownie (made of dates, brown rice bran, and finely chopped Birkenstock sandals) but also a French Fancy (don’t ask for it at Victoria’s Secret; you’ll embarrass everyone involved, including yourself)), a vanilla slice, a chocolate eclair, and a slice of Victoria sponge.

It’s a tough job but someone had to do it.

This isn’t the first time judges have had to make this kind of distinction. Courts have based previous judgements on important issues like whether the item’s eaten with a fork and whether it would be out of place on a plate of cakes “at a cricket or sporting tea.” Because looking at home on a plate of cake at a cricket or sporting tea is the measure of a basic diet. Or else a sporting tea is located at the outermost limit of the way judges imagine the world to work. 

Dressing for Winter

Last January 14 was the tenth annual No Trousers on the Tube Day.

I need to stop here and do the usual translations: The tube is London’s underground rail system–what I’d call a subway (you never quite stop being from New York, or I don’t anyway) but in Britain a subway’s a tunnel for pedestrians, not for trains. And trousers are what Americans call pants. Pants are what the British call underwear. So the participants did wear underwear but didn’t wear anything over it.

If you, dear reader, are neither American or British, I’d love to offer a helpful translation but I’m at the limit of my knowledge here and don’t want to lead you astray. You’ll have to do that on your own.

Why have a No Trousers on the Tube Day? Basically, why not? Organizer Farhan Rasheed said, “There is no point to it, we are not campaigning or raising awareness of anything…. It’s a bit of a nonsense day out. It’s London and London is used to this stuff, they take it in their stride and get back to their book.”

The group caught an assortment of trains. On the Picadilly Line, the crowds were thick enough that the participants had trouble finding space to take off their trousers.

It was organized by the Stiff Upper Lip Society, which recommended avoiding “thongs/budgie-smugglers/anything see-through . . . as we aim to amuse, not offend, fellow Underground users.”

105 thoughts on “All the news that fits

  1. Since most people who travel on the tube do their utmost not to look at other tube users, I doubt anyone noticed that they weren’t wearing trousers. They could have worn skirts, though. I think that counts as not wearing trousers.

    Liked by 3 people

        • Not that I know of, but isn’t it odd that what used to be men’s clothing is now unisex, so sitting here in my jeans and sweater I’m not cross dressing, but women’s clothes are still women’s, so if a man wears them he’s cross dressing.

          That has nothing to do with anything, but it’s interesting.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Man years ago I once asked a transvestite (he was a straight man who liked to wear women’s clothes on a night out) why he wore long wig, high heels, skirts etc when lots of women (like you and me) liked to wear doc martens, jeans and a t-shirt. He just said because he wanted to express his femone side and that version of female dress did that for him, but jeans & t-shirt did not.

            Liked by 1 person

            • My mind’s been circling around the same thought for years: That the drag queen/transvestite version of the female is one I rejected long ago. Which says we’re dancing here at the intersection of the cultural and the biological. Because there doesn’t seem to be any question that being drawn to cross-sexual (or cross-gender, more accurately) roles isn’t something a person necessarily chooses, but the expression of it is surely cultural. Sort of like schizophrenia (to make a risky and easily misunderstood comparison)–the thing itself is biological but the expression of it is cultural.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I had to read that twice. It’s a bit of a mine-field. Germaine Greer unset a lot of people by saying you could not be a real woman unless you had a womb, (she likes to upset people, I think) and yes, when I have been in the midst of period pain. I think putting up with this is an essential part of what it is to be a woman, yet women are not permamently having periods (thank god) and some of us have stopped having them altogether! I think I am more than a monthly biological event!!

                Liked by 1 person

              • My partner’s had a hysterectomy. To mangle Sojourner Truth’s question a bit, aint’ she a woman? Germaine Greer’s getting to seem silly–or reductive, if we’re going to be polite about it. I do wish we could all, as a culture, back off enough to have a serious conversation about what it means to be male and female, what it means to be human, and where the lines are between biology and culture. Preferably without yelling at each other.

                And my apologies. That earlier comment wasn’t the clearest piece of writing I’ve ever been responsible for. I had to read it twice myself, just to see why you had to read it twice.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Germain Greer has always had a tendency to say something really sensible followed by something really stupid! Yes, being a human being is tough enough, without trying to divide us all with these labels. I think we have had enough division, lately!

                Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the Dr’s I used to work with would quite often write in patients consultation notes- ‘suffering from oscillating plumbi’. Which was his version of ‘swinging the lead’. Hopefully you have that phrase in Americanese. I think the no trousers day was appropriated by London as they have been doing it in New York for a few years now. And of course, British Octopuses/Octopi are amphibious so they like a little hike into the countryside now and again.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Another enjoyable ramble through the vagaries of British news, proving yet again what a strange lot we are. I’d have loved to see your take on my favourite Tube story of the week, though: the one about the lady who draped herself across four seats and proceeded to enjoy her own company, to excess. I’d imagine the only response she got was a few tuts about occupying so many seats.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The legislature in Connecticut is debating extending our Sales Tax to “sugary beverages” applied to ounces of beverage. They claim that it’s for health reasons, and point to the fact that water and diet soda (the health benefits of which are questionable) will remain exempt. apparently the money to be raised is an ancillary benefit. I’m guessing they haven’t heard about taxing hallucinations or making it a crime to hit an octopus. They want to consider expanding the tax to certain food items that are not to be considered groceries, because taxing groceries would be unfair to the poor. Perhaps I should send them a link to this post.

    I think I’m going to go to the park and build a stone wall. Or, maybe I’ll go to the boarder whit Mexico. They might let me build one there.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Taxing hallucinations is an inspired idea. The problem is that we’re going to have to rely on what people report:

      Sir, how many octopi was that?

      Just one, officer.

      Are you sure? I wouldn’t have been a big one and a small one, now, would it?

      Nope, just the one. I’m on a tight budget. I can’t afford two.

      Let’s not get into the wall. I’m depressed enough already.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. Cakes & VAT. The famous ruling is of course when Jaffa Cakes were finally classed as cakes (VAT-free) and not chocolate biscuits (VAT-rated).
    And for readers not from the UK: Jaffa cakes are much-loved (by some British people), oookie-like round things that have a sponge base, an orange-flavour jelly filling, and a chocolate top. The “Jaffa” in the name is a type of orange from Israel that’s been sold in the UK for many years, named after the city of Jaffa.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ooh, thank you for the link. I’d heard bits and pieces about that but haven’t paid enough attention.

      I don’t really have an opinion on Crossrail. I haven’t paid enough attention to that either. What do you think of it?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s good advice not to get a tattoo in a language you are not fluent in. Of course the Japanese do the same thing with translations that we do. Some of the signs, t-shirts etc around japan that are in English have some pretty funny translations on the. A couple of my adult kids are fluent in Japanese and always pointing out the funny mistakes made in the USA while attempting to use the characters. We once had a five year old show up for a Christian camp with a t-shirt on which her mother had made. The young child’s shirt was emblazoned the Japanese characters that declared her daughter to be sexually deviant. Whoever her online translator was must have been a troll.
    We have weird rules for what those receiving food assistance can purchase here too. I was behind a woman in line who was told that she could not purchase flour, cornmeal, bakers yeast etc because “they are not food items”. She argued with the cashier saying that she could make better quality bread with her ingredients than what she could buy ready made but the cashier just told her the computer said no and that’s the end to it. I paid for her baking supplies. Stupid system.
    Ars Technica says that your space coffee would cost about $200 US to make and would likely retail at about $500 US. That article is here =

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I have spent too much time on Tube journeys crammed into some commuter’s sweaty oxter that I am glad I never travelled on a no trouser day so that I could get uncomfortably close to someone’s glistening buttocks. I bet there are more chuckles on those days though. I feel like there is constantly an adjudication about whether something is a cake or a biscuit or something other treat. I remember a big kerfuffle over jaffa cakes a few years ago but not the eventual outcome.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Wouldn’t “DTSO” stand for “Dog Than Smarter Owner”?

    Given what little I know about SpaceFlight, and all the precautions used to make sure the crew returns safely to Earth, I don’t think the capsule, on reentry would reach a temperature high enough to roast coffee beans. I suspect the coffee company is mad that the civet-cat-coffee-poop people got there first.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The Liberal Party, which in Australia is not liberal but quite conservative, wanted to introduce a GST (ie VAT) way back when. The whole idea got rolled when the leader of the party couldn’t answer a question about the amount of GST we would pay on a birthday cake. There was something about it being with or without icing, or candles, or something. Unfortunately it was introduced a few years later, and I guess they sorted out the birthday cake issue. These cakes are obviously tricky things!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, they’re devious little bastards, these cakes, and you’d be wise to keep a careful eye on them. And sales taxes are no better. They’re one of the more regressive taxes anyone’s come up with, which is probably why they pass so easily. There’s enough money backing them that they start to look like a perfectly reasonable solution to a country’s financial problems. Even without candles.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. “DTSO. When a vet uses it, it means dog smarter than owner.”

    Typo, right? Should be DSTO? Or I better leave it to my dog to solve. :D I’m tempted to finish my posts this way now.

    As for the last news, I’ve heard of it before but still find it hard to imagine. Looks freezing. Shouldn’t they move the event a bit more into spring? Or would the point be lost since then everybody is half naked anyway? But the real question is have you taken part in it yet and why not. :D We want first person coverage!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • If you want coverage of this first person, I’m going to have to leave my clothes on.

      The real problem is that we don’t have a tube here. We used to have a train, but it was a branch line (meaning, not one of the main ones) and most of them were shut down in the, um, I think sixties. We have a bus, but just barely. So this would take more commitment than I’m willing to give it. Especially in cold weather. What are they thinking??

      Thanks for spotting the typo. Someone else did as well and kindly and incorrectly assumed it wasn’t my mistake. It was. Dog smarter than blogger.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Nope. I just checked and rescued someone else from it, but you’re not in there. I also found someone who started off a long (long, long) comment by saying, “I want to use this opportunity to say thank you to mother Sunlight for bringing back my separated husband i once lost over a fight..” Since I’m not Mother Sunlight, I figured she’d sent it to the wrong address and deleted it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mother Sunlight is not a bad thing to be called. I must tell you that I have been saving the most wicked spam comments for a post, inspired by you. Will come once I have enough.

        I didn’t see my previous comment immediately after posting it but it was just my computer playing tricks.

        Liked by 1 person

        • It may not have been your computer. I think (although I wouldn’t swear to it) that I set this mess up so I have to approve comments. No particular reason for that–it’s not like I’m fussy about what people say–but it seemed like a good idea at the time and I can’t be bothered to go back, see if I’m right, and change it.

          As for Mother Sunlight, it’s not bad but it’s so not me. But I’ve been called worse thing. By, I’m sure, better people, so I suppose it’s okay.

          Send me a link when you do the spam post, will you? You remind me that I haven’t done one in an age.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Buying Hobnobs used to be such an easy task. Well, getting them where I live in America requires a trip to a specialty store, but beyond that, the actual choice was always easy. I knew I was buying junk food. Now the task will be immeasurably harder: Chocolate (junk food) or plain (health food)?? I wonder if the decision-making stress will negate the benefits of making the healthy choice…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can solve this: Buy one of each. If that’s outside the budget, put off buying any until you can buy two. Your blood pressure will drop, your cholesterol will soar but be happy, and your hair will grow longer and shinier.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Second, the rejection happened in 1946, which is by any standard a long time to delay an apology.

    Welcome to America, where politicians apologize for everything, regardless of when it happened. We’ve apologized to Native Americans for things that happened before the United States existed, we’ve apologized to Japan for dropping a bomb that saved far more lives than it took, one politician even suggested that we apologize to animal for putting them into slavery by buying and selling them (I think that’s why we now adopt them).

    If you think cake vs brownie is silly, consider that the US Supreme Court pronounced the tomato a vegetable (to the ire of botanists) because fruits were not subject to import tariffs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m going to have to argue with you there–not about the tomato, which is gleefully nondenominational but about apologies. Silly as they can get, they’re a very small half step better than the way the culture’s treated historical abominations up till now, either treating them as if they didn’t matter or as if they were justified, necessary, and seven other words that mean the same thing. Admittedly, they tend to be like the apologies I offered my mother when I was a kid, which were nothing more than words to make her stop being mad at me. (They never did seem to work. She was so onto me. I thought I’d found the magic formula and it took me years to figure out why it didn’t work.) Still, they may turn us a fraction of a degree in the right direction.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Considering all the articles written by Orwell that DID get published, I’m surprised this one got rejected. I think my favourite Orwell piece is still “Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali”, where he just tears Dali a new one. Brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never read that one–or seen it referred to. It’d be fun to see an icon get a bit of a shredding.

      I assume the apology was aimed more at themselves–or themselves in a previous incarnation, since none of the people who made the decision would still be there. So they get to say, without the faintest hint of personal embarrassment, Gee , we were jerks back then. And they get a headline and, they hope, a bit of credit for being so much more enlightened than they were back in the day.

      As a former editor, I’d say that if, for whatever reason, I really needed a puff piece on British food I’d have turned it down too. No matter who wrote it.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I imagine that most nations on earth have as many loopy habits, customs, traditions and legal loopholes as we do here. If I had to travel on the London Underground every day, anything that raises a smile may well be a distraction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You could be right, although I think the British kind of glory in their loopiness–a quality I admire greatly, since I’m a fan of loopiness. The thing is, not everyone can see the loopiness. Being an outsider helps. I’ve lived in places where it was invisible to me.


  15. I wonder how we will get coffee from space when in a very short time we will not be able to import anything from anywhere, and there will be an apocalypse which will resemble 1984 with the government watching our every move, limiting our food to terrible coffee and terrible gin and subjection us to torture if we disagree with them.

    There is no hope for me when you consider my addiction to coffee…

    Mind you George Orwell was wrong about coffee, lets hope he is wrong about the rest…

    I am sure this answer had more of a point…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, it does. If we have a hard Brexit, the only way to import food will be to hurl it from satellites. This is going to involve some careful calculations or it will all end up in the water. We’re not even going to discuss who it’s going to hit when it lands on land. They–we–will just be collateral damage. Coffee drinkers will all have to go back to instant, which is the stuff Orwell was talking about.

      Sure I can’t offer you a nice cup of tea?

      Liked by 1 person

    • I used to work as an editor, and it’s bad enough to have your mistakes go out in print. But to have them walking around on someone’s arm in a form that’s very hard to erase? That’d keep me up nights.


  16. Your section on language and work reminds me a teacher I used to work with who would walk up to her students and say “oh my little pita” (pain in the ass)! Cracked me up every time! Thanks for sharing with us at The Blogger’s Pit Stop!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I love reading these posts of yours. You make news so much more fun.

    Did anyone take the time to check with the nearest Octopus colony to check if one of them had gone off on an adventure? Maybe they’re like hobits, and don’t usually go far from their natural habitat, but one got it in his head to do so? The driver could be a victim of circumstance.

    Also, where can I apply to be part of the group checking to see whether cakes and biscuits should be taxed?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, the people who are responsible for the cake and biscuit tax decisions limit that information to a very small circle of people. I’m forbidden to say more than that.

      I’m not sure whether anyone checked the octopus colony. You’d think it’s the first thing anyone would think of, but no, they were too busy giving the driver a hard time.


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