News of things that don’t exist


I’m cheating a bit here. Dusseldorf does exist, but a British Airways plane left London bound for Dusseldorf and didn’t find it. Somehow or other the pilot had been given paperwork taking him to Edinburgh.

No one knew they had a problem until they landed. The pilot got on the intercom and welcomed the passengers to Edinburgh and the plane erupted.

Someone asked the passengers to raise their hands if they wanted to go to Dusseldorf. They all did. They weren’t asked to raise their hands if they wanted to go to the toilet, which was good because by the time they got the plane refeuled and turned around–and found the pilot a good therapist–the toilets were all blocked.

The passengers (and I’m assuming the crew, although I don’t really know that) did get to Dusseldorf, but they were five hours and twenty minutes behind schedule.

This all has something to do with British Airways using a German company to run the plane under something called a wet lease, which I gather involves someone drinking large amounts of alcohol before circulating the flight plans.

New Zealand

Ikea either was or still is selling a world map that doesn’t include New Zealand. This happens to New Zealand a lot, apparently. To pick another example at semi-random, a Smithsonian Museum world population map also forgot it. This happens often enough that the government website includes a New Zealandless map as a joke.

In an effort to be helpful, comedian John Oliver circulated a drawing of the country so that people could download it, print it, and stick it on maps wherever they believe it goes.

If you plan to do this, put in the Pacific Ocean–that’s the large expanse of blue that isn’t the Atlantic–somewhere to the right of Australia and down a bit. Don’t worry about getting it wrong. If it’s on the map at all, you’re ahead of the professionals.

Ikea has apologized and said it will phase out the map, after which it will phase New Zealand in by adding it one island at a time.

Irrelevant photo, since these do exist. Or did. Crocuses blooming in February.

Lord Google doesn’t translate corporate speak, but I’m reasonably sure phase out means We’ll get rid of this damn map as soon as we’ve sold the last copies. You don’t expect us to lose money voluntarily, do you?

Ikea plans to build its first New Zealand store soon. Which will really put the country on the map.

Sorry, I had to say that.


The British government has been, in a distracted sort of way, preparing for a no-deal Brexit and looking for ways to add to the chaos it’s created so efficiently, so some time ago it awarded a £13.8 million ferry contract to a startup company that had no ships, no background in shipping, and no written guarantee of financial backing.

Who said the country wasn’t ready to face the unknown? “Face it?” a government spokesperson didn’t say. “We create it every day. We have no idea what we’re going to do next. In fact, we’re not sure what we did yesterday.”

In case you haven’t kept up with the British or Eurpoean news for the past two years, Brexit is Britain exiting the European Union. By the time you read this, something may well have happened. No one has any idea what, though. Every day the news just gets weirder. Cross your fingers that someone will save us from ourselves.

The government later withdrew the ferry contract, saying it was okay because it hadn’t spent any public money on the deal. However (it didn’t mention), it had paid £800,000 to consultants to, um, consult on the project. In fairness they also consulted on two other projects for that money. Maybe the government got a three-for-two deal, making the ferry project a freebie. Supermarkets do it all the time. Generally with stuff that spoils before you get around to eating it.

Then the government agreed to an out-of-court settlement that left it owing the Eurotunnel company £33 million because the bidding process on the ferry contract was opaque and the Eurotunnel company wasn’t invited to bid even though it has actually run a ferry service and can identify the English Channel on a map.

Hint: It’s well to the right of Australia and up a long way.

Literary Merit

A company called Renaissance has developed a statistical approach that tells teachers what books will “provide an appropriate challenge” for their students. Or as they explaiin it themselves, students are tested “to determine their ‘Zone of Proximal Development.’ “

If that phrase didn’t provide you with an appropriate challenge, I can murkify the language a bit more for you, but basically what they’re saying–and this will surely be news to most teachers–is that if a book’s too hard the kid will sink and if it’s too easy the kid won’tbe challenged.

Because that’s a difficult concept for teachers to get their heads around, and because you can’t make money without a highly polished veneer of science, the company has found a way to measure the difficulty of books statistically and has informed the world (probably by accident, but I don’t really know) that John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is only a marginally more difficult read than the Roger Hargeaves’ Mr. Greedy, from the Mr. Men series.

They base that on sentence length, word length, and how difficult the words are.

Rather than search my oh-so-extensive but badly catalogued library for my well-thumbed copy of Mr. Greedy and my long-ignored copy of The Grapes of Wrath, I’m going to rely on the passages the Guardian chose to compare.

From Mr. Greedy: “Over on the other side of the table stood the source of that delicious smell. A huge enormous gigantic colossal plate, and on the plate huge enormous gigantic colossal sausages the size of pillows, and huge enormous gigantic colossal potatoes the size of beach balls, and huge enormous gigantic colossal peas the size of cabbages.”

From The Grapes of Wrath: “In the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

I read The Grapes of Wrath when I was in my mid-teens and I remember that passage. I was impressed with it and it flew about six inches over my head. The reason it stayed with me is that I knew it held some meaning I wasn’t getting.

I did  not read Mr. Greedy that year. It hadn’t been written yet, and my education was that much poorer because of it.  

A Renaissance spokesperson said that the company’s reading levels “are not the only measures of the suitability of a given book for a particular student.” And I’m sure that’s true, but damn it, Steinbeck won a Nobel Prize for his writing and I’m nominating Hargeaves for one.

It’s only fair.

A garden footbridge

When Boris Johnson was London’s mayor, he was in love with the idea of building a garden footbridge across the Thames. That’s a bridge you can walk across that has stuff planted on it, turning it into a garden. Do I have to explain everything?

Then Sadiq Khan became mayor and he drove a stake through the project’s heart.

From the time the bridge project was introduced, a lot of people were skeptical about it. How much money was it going to cost? (More than you thought.) How public would it be? (It would be closed sometimes for private events, so sometimes it would be a public bridge and sometimes a roadblock.) Did the designer have enough bridge design experience? (He’d built one bridge before. Other designers who’d been under consideration had built multiple bridges.) Why was that designer picked? (Um, good question.)

A charitable trust was set up to see the project through and it managed to spend £53.5 million, £43 million of which was public money, without having connected a single rivet to a single beam. And without, as far as I can tell, having bought either the rivet or the beam.

Or whatever bridges are built out of these days. Spit and good wishes for all I know. Both of which are available for less than £43 million. I have a sizable store of them myself, and your’re welcome to bid on them.

Where’d the money go? The designer, the engineer, multiple lawyers, executive salaries, a survey of the riverbed, and a search for unexploded World War II bombs.

Unexploded bombs do still show up here and there, so don’t think I’m throwing that in to be funny. They’re awkward. And still dangerous.

The project’s website alone cost £161,000.

I also have a website. I haven’t added anything to it in a long time, but maybe I should go back and see what it would take to rack up that kind of a bill if I charge myself for my own labor.

The largest chunk of money went to the contractor, who was paid for gearing up for the project and then for winding down from not having done anything in the middle. Or at least, nothing that I can find out about.

Before the contract was signed, doubts were already being raised. Was the money in place? (No.) Who would be responsible for dismantling it if they couldn’t finish it? (Dunno.) Did anyone actually need a garden bridge across the Thames. (Yes. Boris Johnson.)

But you know how it is. Sometimes you try to read through a bunch of legalese for some project that’ll cost someone who doesn’t happen to be you £50 million or more and it’s all  boring and you can’t follow it anyway, so you say, “Oh, screw it, let’s just sign the damn thing and go out for lunch.”

An armed drone network

Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson wants the RAF–that’s the Royal Air Force–to have a networked squadrons of drones ready by the end of the year. They’re to be “capable of confusing and overwhelming enemy air defenses.”

The problem is, that doesn’t seem to be technically possible yet. Or so says  Chris Dole from Drone Wars UK, which tracks the use of armed drones. The technology needed for something like that, he said, is “very much at the concept stage” and he didn’t see a way the deadline could be met.

Gavin Williamson didn’t say that the drones had worked well in a comic book he read recently, but since we’re talking about things that don’t exist I don’t see any problem in quoting something the relevant person didn’t say.


Fox News host Pete Hegseth said he hadn’t washed his hands in ten years. “Germs are not a real thing,”he said. “I can’t see them; therefore, they’re not real.”

Later, he went on Twitter to say he’d been joking. Which may well be true, but you have to wonder if anyone’s shaken hands with him since.

The Stonehenge Bluestones

The bluestones at Stonehenge do exist, but archeologists have found the gaps they left behind when they were cut from a neolithic Welsh quarry.

Make that two neolithic Welsh quarries. And eighty stones that were cut from them.

The discovery points to two things: One, they were probably dragged to Wiltshire overland, not moved on waterways, and two, they might have been part of an earlier stone circle built closer to where they were quarried.

Why overland? Because the stones came from further north than archeologists originally thought, making that the simpler route.

And that bit about being used locally? There’s a gap of some 500 years between when the stones were quarried and when they were set up at Stonehenge. A local stone circle would explain what they were doing all that time. Unless, of course, eighty neolithic Welsh families used stones weighing roughly as much as a car (although that wouldn’t have been the point of comparison that came to their minds) as dining room tables, it’s the only thing that makes sense.

Why were they moved? We’re not likely to ever know. Maybe the people who set them up moved and wanted to take their stone circle with them. Maybe they were taken in a raid. Either one is possible. Either one is also, when you think about the weight of the things and the work involved, ridiculous. But then so’s everything else I can think of. 

Stonehenge is the only neolithic stone monument whose stones–okay, some of whose stones–traveled more than ten miles from where they were quarried.

Chimpanzees in Belfast. Briefly.

Admittedly, Belfast isn’t the first place you’d look for chimpanzees, but the zoo has some and when a storm brought some branches down into their enclosure the chimps broke them up, made a ladder, and skedaddled up it and out into the wider world.

Then they went back in. Because, with all due respect to Belfast, it’s not a chimpanzee-friendly city.


And now something that does exist: a $16 million penthouse in Manhattan, recently bought by the British government to house the civil servant whose job is to negotiate trade deals if and when Brexit goes through. It has a 74-foot living area (it’s New York; they measure in feet there; I’ve had friends in New York whose entire apartment buildings, if they were flattened out, could fit into that space), five bedrooms (not one but two of which are master bedrooms), and two staff rooms. One of the staff rooms is only slightly larger than the minimum size for a British prison cell. Both staff rooms are smaller than one of the walk-in closet in one of the bedrooms.

You’ll notice that staff rooms aren’t called bedrooms, although I’m going to be rash and guess that people are expected to sleep in them. They’re the places where certain people go to be staff.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office, which was responsible for buying the thing, said, “We have secured the best possible deal and value for money on a property that will help promote the UK in the commercial capital of our largest export merket and trading partner.”

So it’s all good. We’re actually saving money on this. They did promise us that Brexit would save money.

113 thoughts on “News of things that don’t exist

  1. I’m not sure why we need a statistical method to judge how challenging a text is. Most of my teachers managed that very well by themselves when I was at school. Of course, that means that they had read widely and knowledgeably. Are the people at Renaissance suggesting they no longer need to do that?

    Liked by 5 people

    • I can’t prove this, but my best guess is that underlying their work is the belief that teachers can be reduced to interchangeable parts. They’ll need less training, which ever so incidentally means they can be paid (even) less and Renaissance can be paid more. What a happy coincidence.

      Not that I’m cynical about this stuff or anything. But seriously, the push to standardize education, although you can in theory make a great defense for it promoting excellence everywhere, has leaned heavily in this direction. Just pour the data in the hopper and the machine will tell you how to teach the kid. I’d tear my hair out but I’m too busy tearing at it over Brexit.

      Liked by 5 people

  2. I am concerned about the concept that things Pete Hegseth cant see don’t exist.
    to the best of my knowledge he has never seen me?
    Do I still exist?
    I’d like to, but I might be a figment of someones imagination…

    maybe Dusseldorf doesn’t exist any more… has Pete Hegseth seen it?

    Liked by 4 people

    • Does Pete Hegseth exist? Maybe he’s a figment of his germs’ collective imagination. Maybe you’re a figment of your own imagination. That’s where the how-do-we-know-we’re-not-dreaming? theory leads, isn’t it?

      Liked by 4 people

      • I don’t think I have ever seen him so maybe he doesn’t exist…

        As a child I used to worry about how I knew I wasn’t dreaming quite a lot. Along with how I could know that everyone saw colour the same way…
        I was a strange child, although I’d probably have found grapes of wrath tricky at the age when I read Mr men books, which was probably about age 5 coincidentally at the same time I was worrying about dreams and colour…

        Liked by 3 people

        • Your mind had already gone way past the Mr. Men series by then.

          Because I grew up with the song “John Brown’s body” (“he is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored”), the phrase was familiar to me, but the concept was still hard to get my head around. It’s surprising how easy it is to hear–or at that age, sing–a phrase in a song without stopping to wonder what the hell it means. Grapes? Wrath? I gave it a good bit of thought, it just didn’t lead me anyplace sensible.

          It’s a metaphor for my life.

          Liked by 3 people

        • As a child I knew, by the things she bought from her favorite charity stores, that my favorite aunt did not see colors the same way I did. Science has since confirmed that this is true. Some of us have four kinds of cone cells rather than three. We don’t see a fourth primary color, so the difference seems to involve memory for colors and recognition of undertones.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Clearly my zone of proximal development wasn’t fertilized properly because I was out of breath by the time I reached the Belfast chimpanzees’ escape and subsequent decision to return.
    I might add that chances are slim I would be likely to shake hands with any of the Fox hosts should I happen to be unfortunate enough to meet one of them in a well lit alley. I would prefer facing an armed drone army funded by the latest version of Brexit.
    Brilliant post.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. U.K. must be awash in money to buy a sixteen million apartment in New York to help with trade relations with the US. To use to entertain and throw parties? I don’t understand trade relationships between counties. I would have rented offices with conference rooms for business. And rented ball toons in hotels to entertain.

    I think a garden over the Thames is a good idea. The famous Garden Over the Thames. What a lovely place for a stroll. A royal could appear there often. Think of the tourists. Now they will all stay an extra day to see Garden Over Thames. With the income from the increase in tourism the government can pay for the sixteen million dollar apartment in New York.

    Enjoyed the post. Have a good week.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank, OG. One problem with the bridge, in my jaundiced opinion (other than that it was costing enough money to buy several unnecessary New York apartments without anything having gotten done yet, which is, now that I think of it a good description of Brexit) is that if you really, really wanted to see it, you’d have to check with the Garden Bridge Authorities and make sure someone more important than you hadn’t rented it for a private function, leaving you standing at the gate. And if what you wanted was just to cross the river, ditto. Sounds like a good was to infuriate any number of people.

      A good week to you as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Happy Glorious Brexit Day!!
    Oh, wait, that doesn’t exist either now. Maybe later. Maybe not. One thing I am sure doesn’t exist is any form of proficiency, efficiency, compassion or common sense, in our travesty of a government.
    The story of the ‘plane to Dusseldorf via Edinburgh tickled me :)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I really did miss a trick by leaving Brexit Day off the list. And efficiency, common sense, compasion. Did we mention competence?

      On the Dusseldorf theme, there’s a flat rooftop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the planes fly low to land at the airport, where someone’s written, in huge letters, “Welcome to Madison.” Or maybe it was Madison and Chicago. Or Nashville. Or–well, the cities don’t matter; it’s the thought that counts.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Ikea either was or still is selling a world map that doesn’t include New Zealand.

    Say…. there is the kernel of a golden idea there.

    How about giving places the option of being included or not?

    I mean like….there are a lot of Minnesotans who would love to be taken off world maps, and I know for a fact that a lot of neglected places in the Dakotas, Eastern Montana and Wyoming would prefer to make that neglect official.

    Think how cool it would be for Madison Wisconsin to snuggle right up to Seattle!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m pretty sure they’d have mentioned it if it was in Trump Tower, so I’m going to say no. And my heart was with yours on wanting the chimps to keep going. It probably speaks to how unappealing the outside world was. And is.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Perfect, and thanks. I’ll follow the link in a bit.

      I suspect the idea of a garden bridge came from New York’s High Line, which was originally an elevated train line and has been turned into a walkway, complete with garden. It happened long after I left New York, but from what I’ve read people love it. On the other hand, it was already built and ready to transform. And as far as I know, it doesn’t close.


  7. I must admit I did laugh when I heard the BA story on the news. Imagine sitting on a plane thinking you’ve landed at your destination, but instead you’ve ended up somewhere else! A Keystone Cops moment I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It never ceased to amaze me how many people we met never knew where NZ was in the world!!! Somewhere in Australia!! Though I’m sure they will now. An amusing post to read with my first cuppa of the day, cheers Ellen.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Believe it or not, the story of the Edinburgh-Dusseldorf snafu was in the daily newspaper in Akron, Ohio (“The Akron Beacon Journal” Honest.) At least the plane didn’t crash.

    Unfortunately, a lot more people know where New Zealand is now than they did a couple of weeks ago,

    Over here, people from the state of New Mexico are frequently asked for their passports. (Not to mention the fubar over spending on hurricane aid for the US Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.,,)

    Is Cornwall ready to exit the UK ? I am worried about my ancestral areas of Ireland and Scotland.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hardly know where to start. I’ll nod and shake my head despairingly over the first three points and answer about Cornwall: There are some Cornish nationalists who’d like devolved powers, along the lines of Scotland, Wales, and–well, not exactly Northern Ireland since it hasn’t managed to pull a governement together for an age now. And that predates Brexit.

      You’ll probably find someone willing to take bets on whether Scotland will leave, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. So glad I found your blog! This is my first time here, but will definitely not be my last. The idea of starting our for Dusseldorf and winding up in Edinborough is, for some reason, kind of appealing to me. Just think of the discoveries you could make by being set down in an unexpected location. Of course, families waiting in Germany, business meetings having to be rescheduled, and connecting flights would be problems. I wonder if Christopher Columbus ever encountered such difficulties?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of course he did. Unfortunately, the loudspeaker hadn’t been invented yet, so that voice that says “Welcome to the West Indies, which you call Where Am I? Your luggage has been put on a small sailing ship to the East Indies.” You know–that voice? No one heard it, so the confusion went on for longer than it would toady.


  11. A multitude of amusing gaffes! Although I’m pretty sure the people on the plane didn’t find it terribly amusing. The crocuses are quite beautiful for something that doesn’t exist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I should probably have been clearer that the crocuses are entirely real. Or they were. They’ve faded now. At no time were they in Edinburgh. Or Dusseldorf.

      Whew. I’m glad we cleared that up. I feel much better.


    • Oh, yes. Throw tons of money at a bridge that doesn’t exist and no one needs. Cut spending on schools, social care, health, children. Fun, fun, fun.

      Sorry. I didn’t mean to sound sour. As you might have guessed, I enjoy absurdity–especially the political kind–as much as the next person, but really it’s gotten out of hand. We’re overstocked. Or maybe we’re stockpiling because of Brexit. If we crash out, we could have a shortage.

      Okay. I’ll stop complaining now that I have an explanation. These little talks help so much. Thanks for listening.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Now that’s a scary thought: a flight plan to a place they can’t remember to put on the map.

      Thanks–I know, I’ve said it before but it still holds–for all the work you do to keep the pit stop up and running.


  12. I’m late coming to this one, but then Brexit is late as well! I was actually looking forward to the garden bridge..
    I live near another thing that doesn’t exist. The Boscombe Surf Reef. A few sand bags under the water, copied from an idea that didn’t work in that country that doesn’t exist, New Zealand. I think the public expected a giant wave machine… and instead we got a great refurbishment of the sea front and new places for coffee and surfers carried on surfing on the other side of the pier.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a great idea! Copy an idea that doesn’t work from a country that doesn’t exist. Except for the not existing part, it sounds like the academies plan, It didn’t work in–was it Finland where it was first tried? Anyway, it was showing the early signs of falling apart there when we introduced it here and look what joy it’s brought us. Without even creating a couple of new coffee places.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. The world map that doesn’t include New Zealand: this seems to be a trend (led by lazy graphic designers who work for advertising agencies?) Apparently the good people of the island of Anglesey in north west Wales (last refuge of the druids) are becoming increasingly pissed off at maps of the UK that omit said island. What annoys them even more is that the Isle of Man is rarely omitted, yet Anglesey is 25% bigger than the Isle of Man.
    Then of course there’s the problem, recently revealed to us on Have I Got News For You, of the TV weather presenters who stand to the left of the map of Britain and completely obscure Cornwall with their gesticulating left arm throughout the whole presentation. Complaints have been made!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cornwall? I’v been thinking about complaining about the weather reports where the clouds obscure all of Britain. Is this a mapmaker problem or are we dealing with something deeper?


        • In other words, fill out a complaint form in triplicate, take it to the nearest window, sit down and wait for your number to be called, and notice that everyone else in the waiting room has been there long enough to turn to a skeleton. Gotcha. I’ll just learn to live with the problem if that’s okay with you.


  14. My son has a British steamship line’s map from the early 1920’s. New Zealand is on there twice (left and right edges). Maybe they stole one of the ones missing from the other maps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Or maybe the ones I wrote about are trying to make up for a historical injustice. I’m glad I wasn’t a passenger on that line headed to New Zealand. Who knows which one they’d have delivered me to. There my family’d be, waiting for me at the dock in the wrong New Zealand.

      Liked by 1 person

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