Brexit, cats, and smart doorbells

The Brexit uproar has been hard on Britain. We have a prime minister whose idea of negotiation is to say, “I’m so glad we can talk. Let me explain why I’m right.” We have a parliament that doesn’t like her version of Brexit but can’t find a majority for any alternative. We have two main parties that not only don’t agree with each other but also don’t agree with themselves.

On a more positive note, the Green Party’s parliamentary delegation hasn’t split over the issue. It only has one member, but we take our positive notes where we can find them these days.

Irrelevant photo: Bluebells at Lanhydrock in mid-April.

In April, water flooded into the House of Commons, filling–among other things–the light fixtures. Business continued as more or less usual for some ten minutes, then was suspended for the day. All the possible jokes about the flood’s metaphorical meaning have been made, so we’ll skip my versions and move on to another incident that interrupted the endless Brexit debate.

To call attention to the danger of ecological collapse, a dozen protestors from Extinction Rebellion took off most of their clothes and stood with their backsides pressed to the glass that divides the visitors gallery from the floor of the Commons. The Independent reports that two of them were wearing elephant masks and most were wearing knickers or underpants.

Not being British, I was thrown by that. I thought knickers were underpants, so I turned (as I do so often) to Lord Google, who explained that knickers are women’s underpants.

The guidelines for naked and semi-naked protests are complicated and I’m too damn old to understand them in depth. I did all of my protesting fully dressed, thanks. Except for that time when–

Nah. We’ll skip lightly over that. It was unplanned anyway.

Moving briskly along. I gather that if you’re not wearing anything else to speak of, people will notice whatever’s left, so it’s important to wear the right kind of underpants if that’s what’s left after you take everything else off. Once we’ve agreed about that, we can have a long and spiky conversation about what right means and what its social, cultural, and political implications are. It will go on as long as the Brexit debate and come to about as decisive a conclusion. Just to let you know in advance, I’ll defend anyone’s right to wear whatever kind they want and my own right to wear only the kind that are comfortable.

Some of the protestors glued their hands to the glass. 



An anti-Brexit group beamed an EU flag with an SOS message to the EU from the white cliffs of Dover. The group is called Led by Donkeys.


A recent poll conducted by Hawley’s Small and Unscientific Survey, Inc., reports that people are on the one hand worried about shortages if we have a no-deal Brexit but on the other hand are stockpiling in a completely whimsical way. A friend bought eight cans of tomatoes. Or maybe it was seven. Another friend has cans of tomato soup and baked beans stored in the shed. I’ve checked our cat food and dog food levels.

Let it rain, let it pour. Britain is prepared.

I am in no way claiming that this is representative. Or that it’s not.


Earlier this spring, before the EU granted the UK a Brexit reprieve, the British government was looking down the very short barrel of a no-deal Brexit and thought it might be a good idea if 6,000 civil servants did something Brexit-related instead of whatever it was that they normally do. Since the reprieve, they’ve been moved back to their original jobs, but another 4,500 people were hired to prepare for no-deal. I have no idea what’s happened to them.

The Guardian reports that it all cost £1.5 billion, which doesn’t include the cost of preparations various local governments had to make.

In total, some 16,000 civil servants are working on Brexit.

The government has also stocked warehouses with baked beans and pet food, not to mention medicines and toilet paper, which is to say everything we’d need for life to continue normally if the country crashed out of the EU and imports froze solid.

The Brexit reprieve expires on Halloween. All the possible jokes have already been made about that as well.


Switzerland’s supreme court did something that caught the attention of Britain’s Remain campaigners: It overturned a referendum on the grounds that when  it was held voters didn’t have enough information. The referendum was about whether married couples should pay the same taxes as unmarried couples who live together .

The court said the “incomplete detail and a lack of transparency . . . violated the freedom of the vote.”


But enough about Brexit. A far more scientific survey than the Hawley’s Small and Unscientific Survey, Inc., ever manages to crank out reports that the British are more likely to take drugs before having sex than either Americans, Canadians, Australians, or Europeans.

We’re not going to get too deeply into the American / Canadian thing right now, but briefly: Canada is in the Americas–on the northern continent, if we’re going into detail–but those clever Canadians thought of a name for their country that distinguished it from the countries it shares a set of continents with. The, um, Americans didn’t, so those of us who are from the US are stuck with a name that strews confusion everywhere it goes and pisses off our neighbors every time we try to identify ourselves.  

Sorry for all that, everybody, but if there’s a genuinely workable alternative in English, the people who found it are keeping it secret.

Where were we? Ah. Sex. No wonder I forgot.

In the U.K., 13% of the people surveyed used cocaine in conjunction with sex and 20% used MDMA–a.k.a. ecstasy. The European numbers were 8% and 15%. The American, Canadian, and Australian numbers weren’t mentioned in the articles I found. The most commonly used drugs were alcohol, MDMA, and cannabis, with alcohol being by far the most common.

Among the British, the most likely people to use them were young and had high incomes. If that messes with your stereotypes, hey, I’m only the reporter. If you want to object, go glue your hands to the glass somewhere.


Another bit of research compared bullshit rates among teenagers. Who tops the charts? Boys, those from “privileged backgrounds,” and North Americans (translation: from the U.S. and Canada, although Mexico’s also North American).

And if that reinforces every stereotype you ever held, that’s not my fault either. We’re in blame-other-people mode here at Notes this week.

The article I’ve linked to has an April Fool’s Day date, so I thought I’d better dig deeper: The story appeared somewhere else the day before. It’s safe.

I wouldn’t bullshit you. 

The study was limited to English-speaking countries, so we can’t do any far-reaching comparisons.

How’d they catch the little scamsters? They asked how familiar they were with sixteen mathematical concepts “ranging from polygons and vectors to quadratic functions and congruent figures. Hidden among the bona fide terms are three fakes: proper numbers, subjective scaling and declarative functions.”

Those names constitute a truly impressive bit of bullshitting.

The study’s co-author, Nikki Shure, said that “bullshitters express much higher levels of self-confidence in their skills than non-bullshitters, even when they are of equal academic ability. They are also much less likely to say that they give up easily when faced with a difficult problem and claim to have particularly high levels of perseverance when faced with challenging tasks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are also more likely to believe they are popular at school.”

And I’m sure they go out into the world of work and make more money than their classmates. Some of them run for president. Others lead the campaign for a no-deal Brexit.


And now we come to the important stuff: A Japanese study claims that cats know their names but can’t necessarily be bothered to respond to them. This has nothing to do with Britain, but the British do love their cats. 

Okay, it’s irrelevant, but I like cats, so let’s talk about it anyway.

Scientists from the University of Tokyo used a habituation-dishabituation paradigm to explore this. I’m sure that rolls off the tongue just as easily in Japanese as it does in English. What it means is that they played five recorded words to the cat and the last one was its name. The first four lulled the cat into–well, boredom: The cat became used to the recording and became less likely to respond to it, but in spite of that it responded more to its name than to the words that came before it, whether the recorded voice was the owner’s or someone else’s. Ears might twitch. Eyes might open a fraction of a percentage of a millimeter.

Would the cat go looking to see if someone was calling it? It would not.

End of experiment. Now it’s time to correct some of their assumptions:

First, there’s no need to ask whether cats know their names. Of course they do. The creatures who don’t know their names are their humans, who call them things like Fluffy and Cutsie-Woo and King Captain Spaceman.

Then the humans–those same people who never thought to ask the cat its real name–wonder why their cats don’t answer.

Because it’s embarrassing, that’s why.

Not that the cats would necessarily answer to their true names. Why bother? Humans can be such pests. What a cat would do is come to the surface enough to ask itself, What’s in this for me? This is a recording, not my person. It won’t offer food. It won’t pet me. Then it would go back to sleep.

Second, what’s all this about owners? Cats have people. They offer food and catnip and adoration. They open doors. They serve as animated hot-water bottles. They pick up dead mice. Owners? What delusions of grandeur humans have.

I hope we’ve straightened that out.


Cambridge University just spent £1 million on a bust of Queen Victoria. Or as the BBC put it, Cambridge saved it for the nation, because it was about to leave for parts unknown, impoverishing the country’s cultural heritage.

I’ve written to the Prime Minister suggesting that we stockpile these in case of a no-deal Brexit. She just loves to hear from me.


You may have already read that Amazon staff listen in on a percentage of the interchanges humans have with Alexa, that automated spy in your home.

Or not in your home. I don’t listen in, so I don’t know if you’ve opened your door to her or not.

It turns out, though, that other digital magic is accomplished with the help of tiny humans embedded in the technology.

Or maybe I misunderstood that. Maybe they’re ordinary humans listening from a distance.

In 2017, Expensify admitted to using humans to copy some of the receipts its “smart scan technology” was supposed to have smartly scanned. Facebook’s personal assistant, M (I never heard of it either; it escaped from some James Bond movie and went back as soon as it found out what the real world was like), turned out to use a mix or human and programmed responses. And Amazon’s smart doorbells also involved humans.

What’s a smart doorbell? I have no idea. According to a site that evaluates them (and passes you on to sites that sell them, no doubt picking up a small fee somewhere along the way), they have “live video streaming, Wi-Fi-enabled apps, two-way communication, and home automation compatibility.”

So either that means you can stand outside your own house and watch movies on your doorbell or that you can see who just rang it. Or possibly both. Simultaneously. Which is simple because you’re already out there, watching the movie. All you have to do is turn your head.

When I was a kid, we called that a drive-in theater.

My point, though, is that Amazon’s Ring brand smart doorbells allowed its research and development team “virtually unfettered access . . . to every video created by every Ring camera around the world.”

Team members were found face-down at their desks, dead of boredom.


Another branch of the human evolutionary family has been found, this one on Luzon Island in the Philippines. They’ve been called Homo luzonensis, they lived 50,000 to 67,000 years ago, and they were about four feet tall (that’s 1.2 meters), with curved fingers and toes that would have allowed them to climb trees. If they’d survived, they might have made less of a mess of things than we have, but that’s highly unscientific speculation.

111 thoughts on “Brexit, cats, and smart doorbells

  1. I have two cats, Bingo knows his name and will look dismissively at me when I use it whereas Hattie (aka Fluff, Puss, Kitty) just ignores me unless food is involved in which case she thunders downstairs to the cat bowl. Actually, I don’t even call her as she can hear (or smell) a packet being opened from upstairs.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I had a cat that always answered to its name once. I had another at the same time who often swatted her across the head while giving her a disapproving look whenever she did things like that too. The cat doing the swatting tried desperately to teach the other cat that you don’t go running every time you hear your name, like a dog does, but the message never got through.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Cats really are singular creatures, aren’t they? Most of ours have answered to kitty (although in their own time), but only if you hit the right notes and offered treats when they deigned to show up.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve lived with cats who actively discouraged other cats from doing what both cats clearly understood I wanted the discouraged cats to do. The motive seemed to be that some cats do have some sense of a social hierarchy. The discouraging cats were (in some ways) more dominant ones whose bad influence on the other cats seemed to be about something like “Don’t go kissing up to that human–it’s MY pet.”

      But I have also lived with cats who actively taught their juniors to answer to their names and even a few simple commands.

      Currently Serena-cat seems to think it’s important for the kittens to know that she’s entitled to run inside every time a door’s opened and threaten to fight me for anything that might contain food, but she *has* gone down cellar to nudge a kitten, “Hey, the human’s trying to call you.”

      The kitten in question unfortunately shows a more typical cat-attitude: “They think they’re giving me a name? Why? If *I* want to be fed or petted I can always *tell* them!” He does show a facial response to the name I tacked on him in desperation, but he’s never answered to or seemed to like a name.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If the House of Commons floods regularly that could be handy. For a brief few days after the Notre Dame fire everyone remebered that the Place of Westminster is a total fire hazard. Firewardens patrol every night making sure everything is unplugged and switched off. Urgent work to the building has been put aside ( like everything else ) while Brexit is discussed.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Good question. I suspect the answer is, different things. Maybe the comparison should be to someone with multiple personalities. (Experts I know argue about whether multiple personality disorder’s a real thing, but let’s not get into that.) Personality A wants a hard Brexit. Personality B wants no Brexit and a roast beef sandwich at midnight. Personality C thinks personality A and B are likely to get into open warfare if someone can’t find a compromise and is a vegetarian who wakes up in the morning with shreds of beef in her teeth. And so forth. I don’t know what’s going to happen here, it’s all so crazy.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I don’t have a cat but I do provide toilet facilities to the one from next door. He seems quite responsive to any number of names that you use, even complicated ones like ‘Fuckoffgerroutohereyoushittingbastard..’

    Liked by 4 people

  5. “We’ll skip lightly over that.”

    I hope you’ll lightly skip back to write about your naked protest at some point?

    I just finished viewing a short Netflix series “Monty Python’s Best Bits (Mostly”) – doesn’t hold a candle to this post. We are absurd animals. I cannot imagine how cats can tolerate us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My theory is that they tolerate us because we have opposable thumbs and can open cat food containers of all sorts. For the rest, they just close their eyes and think sublime thoughts.

      As for the protest, um, well, I’ll think about it, okay? Mercifully, there are no photos.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ellen, so many things to comment on here, but I’ll go with the cats. I went through a tired phase when I would have the cat on my lap for an hour in the early afternoon. He got used to it, surprise surprise, and now he insists on it. He just stares at me with a disgruntled expression when I carry on with whatever I’m doing instead of providing a lap for him.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Fun as usual. Thank you, Ellen. I agree with you that humans that listen in to what happens in my house would be so bored. Although they might appreciate me playing Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “So Far.”

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I think our founders lacked imagination when they named the country. USA. I don’t like us being called Americans either and try not to use it. I usually say US citizens. Generally dropping the A. I have seen some people use the term USians. I think I have spelled it right. But since it is a made up word, how could it be spelled wrong. People from the Confederate States of America were called confederates. Maybe people from the US could be called Uniterates. Or Uniters. Or Statesmen. More work needs to be done to resolve this issue.
    By the way, where did the name Canada come from? No idea. Was the country named after the Canadian Geese?

    Good luck with leaving the EU. Or not leaving it. Whatever is decided. I am sure the Brits will muddle in, as they say. This could be their finest hour.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Wow. This has been a lot of information to digest. My question will indicate how much I understood. If I press my naked self up against the Ring Doorbell of Parliament, is that considered a protest?

    Our cats know their names, but they never respond unless one is picking a fight with the other one.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Assuming that it only takes pictures when people ring it. Maybe it watches you mow the lawn (assuming that you have a lawn, and that you mow it). Maybe you’ll have to sneak in your back door to keep your business to yourself.


  10. Your opening paragraph struck me especially that when your PM explains why she is right, she does it with a modicum of politeness…unlike over here.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There’s no end of odd corners of the language that I’m not familiar with. In hindsight, yes, that’s the only context I ever heard them in, but it wasn’t obvious at the time. I wonder what the origin of the word is.


  11. I believe the rule about the right kind of underwear is, “Anything, so long as it’s black.”
    Also, re jokes about Brexit ending on Halloween … are you sure they’ve all been made? Including all the ones involving the entire population of the island being forced to subsist on baked beans?
    Lastly, re the doorbell … You don’t mention whether or not it lets anyone know there’s someone at the door…

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I have fond memories of knicker-bockers in the eighties. The perfect pants (Canadian/USian “pants” i.e. trousers, not British “pants” i.e. underpants) — covered knees exposing the calfs. Ellen, I don’t think I can let you get away with this: “Except for that time when– Nah. We’ll skip lightly over that. It was unplanned anyway.” Out with it then. We’re all ears or should I say eyes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Okay, you’re the second person to push that particular limit. Let’s just say it was a hot day, I wasn’t alone, we were near a lake, and it was entirely unplanned. And brief.

      I heard about knickerbockers from my father (born in 1901). Boys wore them until they were old enough for long pants (as used in Canadian/U.S.-style English), and he hated them.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Ellen.
    Here is an unsolicited suggestion for you to research and write about (just ignore if not interested!). Greggs Vegan sausage rolls, so as not to give any spoilers I’ll just do headings: their advertising and launch campaign; their Twitter response to critics; Piers Morgan; the ‘anti vegan sausage roll demonstration’ outside Greggs; and fight in Greggs ‘over the last vegan sausage roll.’ These last two stories came with misinformation and possible misinformation. Anyway we heard about the vegan sausage roll when we were in SE Asia and since returning to UK have been surprised about all the arguing re vegan sausage rolls. I love them very much though!
    Anyway would love to hear your take on it and would a similar story happen in US or are people much more live and let live there?
    PS I loved your Easter Egg post although I was astonished re prices etc! I was amazed enough in Aldi, faced with a huge white egg for £15!
    All the best,

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think it would happen in the U.S. Not because we’re more tolerant but because our intolerane runs in different directions. And just to check my response against what passes for reality at our house, I asked my partner what she thought. Taking the question entirely too literally, she said, “Well, we don’t have sausage rolls.”

      Which is as true as it is irrelevant.

      I don’t know if that’s in the least bit helpful. I do remember the flap over the vegan sausage rolls, and I remember thinking it’d be worth writing about but somehow it didn’t pull together. Some things don’t. I’ll never be able to explain why. Thanks for suggesting it, though. I’m always happy to have ideas thrown at me. Some of them have worked out beautifully.

      Liked by 1 person

    • You’re saying it’s genetic? That means we have to get into the whole nature/nurture debate–not to mention arguing about whether politics has DNA. It’s going to get messy.

      I probably shouldn’t get all serious on you, but I think the not-quite-(but close)worldwide trend toward populism and misdirected anger–not to mention outright racism–has more to do with it. I’m deeply worried about where we’re all headed.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Canadians don’t take drugs before sex–they drink maple syrup and eat a Tim Horton’s donut:-) Also, my cat definitely knew her name and came when I called her about 90% of the time (I miss that).

    Liked by 2 people

      • There’s wide variation among US cats…Founding Queen Black Magic would sprint a quarter-mile if she’d got that far from me and I called her name. Her successor Minnie answered to “Minnie Mouse” until she was spayed, then so far as I know never answered to a human who appeared to be calling her again.

        As to the sex bit…my late husband just *postponed taking* Procardia.

        Liked by 1 person

          • I wonder whether all of them do, if we paid attention? Magic didn’t seem to blame me but seemed to turn against males of all species, possibly blaming the tomcat who’d been visiting just before I thought “She’s too young and small to have kittens” and called the vet.

            Minnie’s sister Pepper, on the other hand…Minnie was a tough, sassy, greedy cat who would put on excess weight if not watched, and Pepper was a slim, dainty, languid cat who would let Minnie eat her food. I thought Pepper had a healthier appetite and possibly more regular digestion after they were spayed. I’ve wondered whether she had some sort of hormone imbalance and felt better when that was corrected.

            Liked by 1 person

  15. I love that country road…live on a similar one, and there’s a clearing across it that gets partial sunshine and becomes a flash of flowers in spring, but never quite as lush as those bluebells.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This has been a particularly good year for bluebells, I think, and the photo was taken in woods belonging to a National Trust property, which means they probably have a lot of help in looking that gorgeous.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Interesting quirky article, I like your sshhhtyle. I have kept out of the Brexit thing, I think it happened by accident and everything after this is political realism to the techniques of Nicolo Machievelli to subvert and coerce us back in. It’s all a distraction.

    However, and the white house is a giant owl if you look on Google map too, look at Brussels from above….

    Liked by 1 person

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