What the world wants to know about Britain, part fourteenish

What you’re about to confront (should you choose to stick around for a few paragraphs) are search engines questions that lead people, poor unwary souls that they are, to Notes. I have preserved them in all their oddity, complete with typos, a lack of question marks, and an absence of capital letters. And in case I sound snotty about the caps and question marks, I don’t use them when I type search questions either.

The questions are in italics. I’m to blame for everything in roman type, which is (you learned something today) what non-italic fonts are called. Okay, there’s also gothic, a.k.a. blackletter, but that’s a side issue.

News and culture

what is the unfornunate news from britain

That we’re governed by either amateurs or professional incompetents. I’m still trying to figure out which.

I should clarify that. Professional incompetents are different from incompetent professionals. They’re people who make a living–and a good one from the sound of things–out of their incompetence. If that isn’t enough unfortunate news, it’s hard to get a decent bagel. Even more shockingly, where you can get them, they’re spelled beigels, which could account for why good ones are so hard to find.

How unfortunate did you want to get? I could talk about Brexit.

Irrelevant photo: hellebore.

sticking two fingers up

I’ve had a cluster of questions about the two-fingered salute lately.

A two-fingered salute is the rough equivalent of the one-fingered salute, but with an extra finger thrown in for bad luck. And yes, Britain recognizes the single-fingered one as well. The British are nondenominational that way. Or ambidextrous. Or as an American football player once put it, amphibious. (“I’ve always been amphibious,” he told an interviewer who’d asked about his ability to throw with either hand. I don’t remember the player’s name. I used the quote to see if Lord Google would remind me and I found any number of people claiming to be amphibious. Unlike the football player, though, they seemed to understand that amphibioiusness involves water, not hands or footballs. I’m guessing they also understand that it’s physically impossible for humans, but who am I to say what’s in another person’s head?)

But we were talking about sticking two fingers up. To do this, you use the index and middle fingers–the same ones you’d use for a peace or victory sign, but facing the other way. If you’re looking at the back of your hand, you’re okay. If you’re looking at the palm, you more or less told someone to fuck off.

All you non-Brits who are reading this: If you visit, keep your hands in your pockets if you want to order two beers. It’s the only way to keep yourself from holding two fingers up wrong way round, because your muscles will override your brain. Unless you come from a country where you start counting on the thumb, not the index finger, in which case you can wave your hands around any way you want.

And as far as I’ve been able to figure out, no one says, “Sticking up two fingers.” That raises the question of what you’re sticking them up. It’s “sticking two fingers up.” If you don’t think about it too much, it makes sense.

Anyway, having addressed the question in some post of other, I seem to have become an international expert on the of sticking two fingers up. I couldn’t be prouder. Clearly, no other website welcomes intellectual curiosity the way I do. So with however many fingers you have free, pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable. We’re happy to entertain bad manners here at Notes.

Within limits, of course.

What limits?

It’s hard to predict. Push them and you’ll find out.

And who’s this we I’m talking about? Me and the dead mouse Fast Eddie brought in this morning.

This should be clear from the context, but let’s not take anything for granted: Fast Eddie is the cat. My partner’s Ida and she does not bring in dead mice, but she’s very kind about picking up the ones Eddie brings us.

dress code for female parliament in uk

No tutus. No fairy dresses. No shorts. MPs can wear tee shirts but the speaker will disapprove so intensely that he’ll pretend they’re invisible and they won’t get called on if they want to say anything. I haven’t read this anywhere, but I’m pretty sure jeans are frowned on. It’s the only reason I haven’t run for office.

I suspect it would be very bad karma to dress up as the queen.

No nightgowns. No pjs.

But it’s not entirely a list of no’s. MPs are supposed to wear businesslike attire. What does that mean, though? I’d love to see what happens if one of the women shows up in men’s businesslike attire. Or, since what used to be considered strictly men’s clothing has crossed the gender divide somewhat but women’s clothes haven’t, what happens in one of the men shows up in women’s businesslike attire.

By way of answering the question fully, I should point out that the parliament, being a thing instead a creature and is neither female nor male. And doesn’t wear clothes.

who wears stockings in the house of commons

Theresa May. If she’s still there by the time you read this.

why arent more mp’s in the house for debate?

Ooh, good question. Because the debates aren’t about convincing anyone of anything, they’re about a bunch of people who suffer from the illusion that the world’s listening and are therefore making a statement to that world. What they say goes into a print record, called Hansard’s. Does anyone read it there? I have no idea.

Do they sit around and listen to each other? Hell, no. They’re in the bars, in the pubs, getting haircuts, waiting for the bell to ring so they can hustle back and vote.

kett;e throwing contest

Okay, this got weird enough that even though I can’t tell you much about it I have to leave it in. Lord Google couldn’t find me any kettle-throwing contests. Given Britain’s gift for thinking up unlikely contests, this indicates a gap that some enterprising town or village could fill–profitably.

What I did find was a series of references to throwing a kettle over a pub.

Since there’s  no logical order to any of this, I’ll drag you down the trail I followed. First, I stumbled into a site for people learning English. Someone wanted to know what throwing a kettle over a pub means because the phrase popped up in something they’d read. Assorted people explained that it’s a colloquial expression and that it isn’t a colloquial expression; that it’s used in dialogue on various TV shows and that it isn’t; and that it should be taken literally, as in (I assume) you shouldn’t try to read any deep meaning into it.

No one said it shouldn’t be taken literally, so at least they established something

Then I found something called NewsThump, which claimed that MP Nadine Dorries had tweeted that David Davis was the perfect guy to negotiate Brexit because he could throw a kettle over a pub.

I thought that explained a lot about the Brexit negotiations and how the negotiating team was selected. Davis did negotiate the Brexit deal. He then resigned because he couldn’t support it.

He did not throw a kettle over a pub. Or if he did, the House of Commons was empty because the MPs were all off drinking and getting their hair cut, so it went into Hansard’s but no one saw it.

If I kettle flies over a pub in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a political difference?

I’m not sure Theresa May can throw a kettle over a pub. I suspect not. She looks a little thready to me.

Maybe that’s the problem.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably say the NewsThump is a satirical site and that Nadine Dorries probably didn’t really tweet that, although it’s getting harder and harder to tell satire from reality these days. David Davis really did resign because he didn’t like the deal he’d negotiated. Theresa May really does look thready. I doubt I can throw a kettle over a pub either, but I haven’t tried yet, so don’t count me out.

I don’t say that to in any way excuse Theresa May.

I still don’t know whether throwing a kettle over a pub is an off-the-shelf British comparison–sort of like saying something is the size of Wales. It could also be some random collision of words that I’m running into improbably often. If it’s a standard issue comparison, I hope someone will let me know because I need to get one. Or two, really, one for me and one for Ida–you know, the person in my life who so very kindly picks up dead mice. (Oh, but she’s so much more than that.) We’ve lived here fourteen years now and I’m not sure how much longer people will put up with us operating without a full set of off-the-shelf comparisons.

Why did the question land here at Notes? I have no idea but I’m grateful. I learn a lot from these experiences.

do british tourists feel wary about pick pockerters in other countries

No, they’re perfectly comfortable about it all. They just speak louder, in English, to be sure the relationship’s proceeding as it should..

do the british observe april fools day

Do they ever. Beware of newspapers on April 1. The island of San Seriffe? The spaghetti harvest? April Fool’s Day stories.

Luces and maces age 2019

No idea. I googled that myself and the closest I came to anything sensible was a bunch of YouTube stuff uploaded by Lucas and Marcus, whoever they may be and whatever age (or ages) they turned (or will turn) in 2019. The question wandered in here because I wrote about the maces in Parliament. I don’t remember mentioning luces, but in case the information’s useful it’s the plural of lux, which is a unit of illumination. 

I had to look that up, so there’s no chance I used it so casually that I forgot. It’s also the plural of luz, which is light in Spanish and which I also haven’t mentioned.

The internet is a very strange place.

British food

What do they call brownies in britain


do they eat brownies in the uk

Yes, but only in secret. It’s illegal. After you’ve learned to call them by their first name, eating them seems barbaric.

do brits not like soft cookies

Of course they don’t. They cringe at the very thought of them. More to the point, why do people who write these questions think entire nations like and dislike the same things? Have you ever look at Quora? People ask things like, “Do the British like the color blue?” Of course they do. Every blue-besotted one of them. It’s because their skies so seldom turn that color.

weet-bix like muffets

Where do I start? Weet-Bix is sold in Australia and New Zealand. Weetabix is the British equivalent. Neither one is a muffet. Nothing is a muffet. Muffet is not a word.

Miss Muffet is someone in a nursery rhyme. She sat on a tuffet. Please don’t recite the rest of it. I may have to throw myself over a pub. I have a kettle but I use it to make tea and don’t want to wreck it. I’m also pretty sure that the only way to get it over the local pub would be to use air mail.

A muffetee is a scarf. I never heard of it either.

Weetabix and Weet-Bix are also not muffins or muppets. They’re cereals that go limp if they get within three yards of milk. Please do not bring either of them into my kitchen. I will attack them with my kettle.

“british lasagna”

This is in quotation marks because–. Okay, it came with the quotation marks, but British lasagna isn’t really lasagna, so it deserves to be quarantined in quotation marks and never allowed out. It’s made with a paste-like white sauce and tastes like noodles overcooked with paste-like white sauce. The lasagna you find outside of quotation marks has red sauce–the stuff made with tomatoes. And taste. Lots of taste.

And no, I’m not in the least biased. I just happen to know what’s right.

It’s entirely possible that the stuff with the red sauce is American lasagna. If that’s not the way the Italians make it, they’re wrong too.

where does lemon drizzle cake originate from

The island nation of Limonaria, where it drizzles a lot.

when did brussel sprouts arrive in uk

7 pm. They were due in at 5 but the flight was delayed.

how many brussel sprouts are eaten in december world wide


british iconic easter eggs

I don’t know about iconic, but if you want overpriced I write about them every Easter. I can’t seem to stop myself.

The United States

do americans have letterboxes

No. The letter carriers just chuck our mail under the nearest bush. This is hard in built-up areas and in deserts, where bushes are scarce. Sometimes we have to walk long distances looking for our mail. 

103 thoughts on “What the world wants to know about Britain, part fourteenish

  1. I was going to be flip in response to the amphibious sportsman . Then I read the rest of the twaddle (oh! Christ! Someone will now ask the origin of that!) and now I’m not sure what I am. Harvey Smith to the lot of ’em.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lord Google informs me that it’s “late 18th century: alteration of earlier twattle, of unknown origin.” Which is helpul but at least puts an end to that thread of the conversation. But Harvey Smith? I just googled him (I thought maybe it was Cockney rhyming slang) but it didn’t give me enough background to enjoy the reference. Apologies.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, Harvey Smith. He was a British showjumper ages ago – possibly the 1970’s, my memory goes hazy after about 40 years worth of effort. He famously did the v sign somewhere to someone and got reported on the news. There, no danger of getting too much information from me.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. For throwing a kettle over a pub you need to have watched the exquisitely excruciating The Office written by Ricky Gervaise, the character of Finch is said to have done it. A fictional Yorkshire man and too horrid for words. I prefer Harvey.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I always thought the 2 finger salute a was a bit politer than the one-fingered one. That’s my reaction to Brexit too, these days. I have enjoyed not hearing about it lately (being in Ireland and away from the internet most of the time helped). Reading about in a newspaper written by sensible people (ie those people who think Britian has gone stark raving mad), helps too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. The truth is that when I find a good answer, I’m pretty pleased with myself. The bad news is that good search engine questions are getting harder and harder to find. We’ve done wigs and beer so often that I’m bored with them both, although if I find a way to combine them they might have a little life left.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello Ellen! I came across your blog on the Blogger’s Pit Stop. So glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed not only the post, but the comments that follow. It’s early and I’m not feeling particularly witty, so I don’t have much to add, but did want you to know you started my day with a smile. Thank you!


    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never heard the phrase “throw a kettle over a pub” but it sounds dodgy to me for two reasons: 1.We Brits are wed to our kettles, it was the shock go my life to discover they aren’t standard kitchen equipment here in the USA. So while we do travel with our kettles, we don’t usually take them to the pub.
    2. Throwing something over a pub sounds like it would involve being outside the pub, this is not a place pub goers like to be unless they are smoking or there is a beer garden. Kettle flinging would close down a beer garden pretty quickly for Health & Safety reasons and so would probably be discouraged.
    Or is this a kettle weight? In which case it is possibly a Scottish sport and as such should correctly be refered to as Scottish not British because you don’t want to upset people who can lift kettle weights, let alone throw them!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t know kettle weights were a Scottish thing. I thought they were just a gym thing. But no, I don’t want to upset anyone strong enough to take their kettle weights to the pub.

      However, I haven’t seen any indication that this is particularly Scottish. Or that this has any connection whatsoever with reality. Any reality. Anyway. But I do find my mind drifting off into the various problems that throwing a kettle over a pub presents–the cord being one of them if they’re electric. You’ve raised a few I hadn’t thought of, for which I’m grateful. I was getting tired of my own strange cast of mind.

      American kettles are hard to find and if they’re electric frustratingly slow. After one try, we went with the stovetop kind.


  7. Finally, something good has come from my habit of starting to count on my thumb. I might drive my wife crazy, but at least I won’t offend a British barman.

    I think the two fingers are stuck up because “Sticking up two fingers.” makes it sound like you’re sticking them up somewhere and that usually isn’t good. Hopefully I haven’t crossed the line of bad manners.

    “british lasagna” – I can’t, I just can’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I so enjoy these posts. The food questions always provide laugh out loud moments.

    I was thoroughly confused by the kettle section though. Unclear if we were talking about something along the lines of a tea kettle (an instrument used to heat water for tea or other beverages) or a kettle bell (a heavy weight with a handle used most often in exercise)?

    I realize that you know the difference between the two items, but in the interest of keeping in check any more odd google searches and queries that make no sense I went ahead and added definitions just in case some passerby reads this comment.

    You are most welcome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m going on the assumption that we’re talking about tea kettles. Their roots run deeper in the British culture than the kettle bell’s. I did spend some time thinking about whether the phrase is about electric or the old-fashioned type. I’m pretty sure it’s the old-fashioned kind, because when I think about the logistics of getting that cord over the pub–. On the other hand, you could use the cord to swing it around a few times and really get some momentum going.

      Of course, some electric kettles have a detachable bottom that carries the cord. Anyway, as you can tell, I’ve spent more time on this than it merits.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You may have amateurs and professional incompetents, but only the U.S. has a rabid orange baboon hell-bent on ruining the nation, whose communication consists of spewing out temper tantrums on Twitter. He’s a complete embarrassment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nothing I can add to that. Except that–well, yeah, actually, I could abuse a large number of our politicians who are using Brexit to push their own careers and egos. And then there’s the plain old evil of the Home Office, whose cynicism knows no bounds. And the destruction of what was a workable benefits (rough translation: welfare) system. And and and and ….


  10. To answer the football question, Charles Shackleford, a player from NC State, which could explain his lack of understanding of amphibious vs ambidextrous. The states been waterlogged a lot lately, so they’ve probably been amphibious with both hands.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for reinforcing the p[roper two-finger salute.Sometimes I can’t mute the news fast enough an my middle finger is getting cramped so I have begun using the British equivalent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perfect. The only two people who’ve come up with a name have come up with the same one. That’s promising.

      I’d find the MPs more amusing if they weren’t trying to run the country.


    • It’s widely believed but there’s no evidence to support it. And (if I remember right) it may predate the battle that it would’ve grown out of. In short, probably not.

      Brownies? I have no idea. It does seem like a strange thing to ask. I mean, of all the things you might want to know about a culture–.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Let's Google: inquiring minds want to know | So what? Now what?

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