What really happens in Britain. And elsewhere

Two guys working at a bike shop in Bury St. Edmunds got bored back in September of 2017 and decided to cremate a mouse. (“As you do,” as people in Britain say when someone’s done something strikingly odd.)

They ended up doing £1.6 million worth of damage. It took twelve fire crews–sixty firefighters–seven hours to put out the fire.

As of late June, they were still out on bail. None of the articles I read said what happened to the mouse. We can only hope its ashes were handled with appropriate respect.


Irrelevant photo: I’m not sure what we’re looking at here. Possibly honesty. That’s the name of a plant, not a comment about me admitting that I’m not sure.

Since Notes is about Britain, let’s talk about something that has nothing to do with it: a translation of Game of Thrones into Spanish.

Before the series ended, the upcoming plot twists in Game of Thrones were more tightly protected than the deliberations of Britain’s cabinet–which is setting the bar about as close to the floor as possible–so translators were given something like twenty seconds to translate an hour’s episode. The actors who spoke the translation got a further twenty seconds and then had to swear that they’d forgotten every line they spoke.

As a result, in a not-so-recent but crucial scene, when a character called out, “She can’t see us” (he was talking about a dragon, but you don’t really need to know that) the harried translator supplied the actor with a set of sounds that don’t form a word in Spanish: sicansíos, which is pronounced, very roughly, see-can-SEE-oss. The reason that’s a rough approximation is that any attempt at phonetic spelling in English is doomed.

The actor didn’t have time to say either “what??” or “this doesn’t make sense.” He just voiced the sounds and moved on. The hounds of hell and the twenty-second time limit were nipping at his heels. What else was he supposed to do?

Now, one of the nice things about Spanish is that you can look at a set of syllables that make no sense and at least know how to pronounce it. In English, the whole thing would come to a screaming halt while the actor said, “Look, I’m not arguing about whether this mess makes sense, but will somebody at least tell me how to say it?”

The papers (maybe that should be singular; I haven’t read them all) claim sicansíos might just replace no nos puede ver.

For about twenty seconds.


And since we’re on the topic of things that have nothing to do with Britain, a survey in the U.S. asked some three thousand people if Arabic numerals should be taught in the schools. Roughly two-thirds said no.

Why? The survey did’t ask, but I have to assume it’s because they’re Arabic. And, you know, Islamic. And likely to turn our children terroristical.

So what are Arabic numerals? They’re the standard mathematical symbols, starting with 0 and going up to 9, that infiltrated our schools centuries ago and are no doubt responsible for the sorry state of the world today. They combine in infinite patterns and they terrorized me during my school years, right up to the time I was old enough to drop math.

I still wake up screaming, although at least one of my math teachers was (as far as I could tell) a very nice person. But even I will admit that Arabic numerals are a lot easier to work with than Roman numerals. Ever try adding MCLII to XIIL? If Roman numerals are the alternative, yes, Arabic numerals should be taught.

Arabic numerals were actually developed by Indian mathematicians but they spread to Europe from the Arab world, picking up their name along the way.

Another survey, in 2015, asked people if they supported bombing Agrabah, the imaginary city where the Disney film Aladdin was set. I don’t have an overall number, but 30% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats thought it would be a good idea. I know that’s a minority, but my friends, I despair.


The shop in our village closed last year, as shops have in lots of British villages, in large part because people can order their groceries online and have them–or something vaguely like them–delivered to their door. So what’s it like to order groceries online?

Funny you should ask, because a recent newspaper article surveyed some of the more unlikely substitutions that stores had made when they didn’t have what the customer ordered. Top marks go to Tesco, which didn’t have a birthday candle shaped like a five and sent two twos and a one instead. They didn’t include any plus signs, so that would make the kid well over a hundred.

Asda was out of lemon juice and sent a lemon cake.

An unnamed supermarket sent Petit Filous yogurt instead of petit pois–small green peas–and spring onions instead of spring flowers.

Tesco sent printer paper instead of paper napkins.

An Australian Woolworths sent popcorn instead of potatoes.

All of which combines to make one reason I’ve never ordered groceries online. Of course, it helps that I can still drive and have to time to wander dazedly through the aisles myself, wondering where they moved the flour the last time they re-disorganized the place and how many candles it takes to add up to five if I’m working in Roman numerals instead of Arabic ones. And whether spring onions make an appropriate gift for a five-year-old.

The people who fill the orders apparently can override the substitutions the computer suggests, but if they’ve gone comatose with either boredom or overwork and don’t notice that anything odd has happened, they (very understandably) won’t.


When did rabbits first come to Britain? It’s been assumed that the Normans brought them, but one lone bone found in a Roman palace has destroyed that belief. They were here when the Romans were and they dressed in sandals and itty bitty little suits of leather armor.

They tried the feathery helmets but the style just didn’t work for them, what with their long ears and all, although I have it from a reliable source that they liked the look a lot and envied the humans who wore them.


Who owns England? Half of the land is owned by 1% of the population. Homeowners (nationally, that’s 62.5 % of the population) all rolled in together own 5%.

Now we come to the odd bit: how you find the proportion of homeowners–you know, that 62.5% that looks so convincing in the last paragraph. Based of Lord Google’s predictive text, you find it by asking for the proportion of homeowners who own their own home.

I’ll give that a minute to land in your brain and detonate.

I’d have thought 100% of homeowners owned their homes, but I’m a word person. I never have been good at math. It’s 62.5% and the other, um, is it 37.5% of homeowners? I can’t explain what they own, if it’s not their homes, that puts them in the homeowners category. But, um, yeah, I’m sure the number’s accurate, I just can’t be sure what it’s a number for. And, what the hell, if it isn’t accurate, just substitute some other number. If you’ve seen one number, you’ve seen ‘em all.

What other rash assumptions did I make about land ownership? I assumed the aristocracy and landed gentry had long since doddered off into richly deserved irrelevance. Silly me. They own at least 30% of the land–possibly more, since 17% of the land is unregistered, meaning it’s probably (information on land ownership is fiendishly hard to find) inherited and has never been bought or sold. The owners are, many of them, the descendants of the Norman barons, still holding what their ancestors seized in 1066. It’s impressive, in a screwed up sort of way.

Another 18% is owned by corporations, 17% by “oligarchs and City bankers,” 8.5% by the public sector. Less than 2% each is owned by conservation charities, the royal family, and the Church of England.

If that adds up to more or less than 100%, recalculate it in Roman numerals and it’ll work out perfectly.

Farmers don’t seem to have been broken out into a separate category. I don’t know why or what that means. I do know that farming itself breaks down into many categories and may be harder to define that it sounds like it would be. If you keep pet llamas or rescue donkeys–or, I assume, horses–your land’s considered agricultural.


A British judge asked to be excused from jury duty on the grounds that he was scheduled to preside over the trial he was being called for as a juror. So he wrote the central summoning bureau, explaining his predicament.

They refused his appeal and told him to apply to the resident judge.

“But I told them,” he said, “ ‘I am the resident judge.’ ”

They didn’t see a problem with that.

He finally phoned them and they let him off with a slap on the wrist.


Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson was paid more than $160,000 for two speeches in March. For one of them, that came to £40,000 an hour. As the old song says, it’s nice work if you can get it.

He had to apologize to the Commons for breaching its rules by being late in declaring £52,000 of outside income in addition to not declaring an apparent 20% interest in a property in Somerset.

He’s maneuvering to be the next prime minister now that Theresa May has finished stabbing herself in the back. For the most part (I haven’t read the morning headlines yet) this involves keeping his mouth shut so he doesn’t say anything exceedingly silly while the other candidates admit to drug use and lack of drug use and make promises to cut taxes on the rich–or occasionally not to. One did his best to cozy up to Larry the Cat, 10 Downing Street’s resident cat, who’s outlasted more than one incumbant. 

Larry walked away. 

Boris hasn’t yet promised to bomb Agrabah, but I’m waiting.


Can you stand one more story about British politics? The person who was in charge of Grenfell Tower when it burned was invited to talk to a housing conference.

What’s Grenfell Tower? An apartment building that has become shorthand for, among other things, the arrogance of people whose bureaucratic decisions affect other people’s lives and deaths. The building went up in flames when a faulty refrigerator set the cladding–which is British for siding–on fire, spreading the fire unbelievably quickly to the entire high rise (or tower block if we’re speaking British).

Residents had been pointing out safety violations in the building for years and were ignored, because what did they know? Besides, it costs money to fix things. Seventy-two people died in the fire.

What was he asked to speak about? Safety.

When some of the survivors raised hell, he withdrew.

Some days it’s hard to be any more unlikely than reality.

36 thoughts on “What really happens in Britain. And elsewhere

  1. I have it on highly unreliable authority that the reason Roman numerals and lettering was phased out was because the stone masons’ and scribes’ unions combined and threatened murderous acts in the Rotunda.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I once had some garlic chicken offered to me as a substitute for lettuce. When I said I couldn’t accept it, because I’m a vegetarian, they were confused about why it was an issue. I got the money refunded, and they took the chicken away, but I’m pretty sure they never did figure out what was wrong with the substitution. Luckily, these things don’t happen to me regularly, and most of the substitutions make sense and are acceptable. Just as well really, since I don’t have a car, and the way the shops are disorganized makes me hate going to them, so ordering is easier. Plus, I live in an upstairs flat in a building without lifts, and if I order the food, the delivery guy helps carry it up the stairs.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Silly girl, the obvious replacement for Arabic numerals would be Binary, not Roman. Think of the simplicity, the birthday candle factories would only have to turn out I and O, the five year old would only need IOI (or OIOI if you prefer), hard to say you were out of a 5, or a V if all you have to carry are I’s and O’s.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. All of which explains my reluctance to write fiction – why should I bother when the truth is always stranger…oh, yeah, and when I can’t ever think up good names for the my characters.
    Some pretty strange stuff you had going on up in here today.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Would it be possible to bomb Somerset, very locally, when Johnson is there? Somerset. Not Abgrah or whatever it’s called.
    Your post depressed me dear. I’ve given up reading the Mexican news for obvious reasons. The Frog news give me the creeps.
    I’m going to re-read Enid Blyton’s fab 5. I still have them. In the attic somewhere.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I shouldn’t quibble with other people’s escape reading–my own taste in escapism’s pretty bad–but I can’t help saying that Blyton wrote one of the word’s worst lines of dialogue: ” ‘Woof, woof,’ said Timmy.’ ”

      Or I think it was Timmy. Whatever the dog was named.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know. I read the French version, totally adapted, names, places. Cousin Claude lives in Brittany. “Ouah! Ouah” dit Dagobert.” (The dog is Dagobert, named after a famous 5th or 6th century Framk king.
        And pray tell what escape reading has your fancy? (Agatha Christie)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Not Agatha Christie, but given that I just said it’s trashy I think I’ll be evasive. A bit of science fiction, a bit of mystery. The problem is that so much of what I find isn’t well written, which leaves me impatient. What the world needs (along with some compassion, which is sadly lacking these days) is some well-written trash.

          Do dogs say “ouah ouah” in French? I didn’t know that. Whatever happened to those nice doggly consonants?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Science fiction and mystery. well, well. I follow you on that. Frank Herbert’s Dune is a lesson in political science. Particularly the Matriach’s house. Micahel Connelly and a few american mystery writers are a good respite for current world affairs. I must say I like the villains being caught and the good guys to triumph. (Pure Fantasy!)
            Remember that animals speak foreign languages. French roosters say “Cocorico” and not some Cockadeedledoo nonsense. ;)
            B. Good, said Johnny.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. I just loved this and the way you write! American here. And it doesn’t surprise me at all about bombing Aladdin’s fictitious home town. So disappointing! Just so you know, I’m not really aligned with that stuff. It’s sort of depressing to be associated with the US sometimes.
    Anyway, thanks for the fun facts and an entertaining post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know how you feel, but we (and I’m also American, along with, now, being British) are not our government. And we’re not all the most closed-minded sector of our country–the one that wants to drop real bombs on fictional places. But yeah, it can get tiring, the number of times I have to explain that the problems all stem from them not having let me cast enough votes in the last election.

      Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the compliment.


  7. “Some days it’s hard to be any more unlikely than reality.”
    … some years ago I was pondering the plot and setting for a book I was going to write. And after a while I laid it aside as being too weird and unrealistic. Recently I have discovered that reality is even worse, that way.
    But… here’s the rub: how do I convince my readers of that?!?? :D

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d say ground it in realistic everyday detail, pretty much the way magical realism does.

      I know (or I think I do): You didn’t want an attempt at a serious answer, but I’ve wrestled with the same issue and can’t help myself. I wrote a political satire about conspiracy theories (Open Line, she said so casually that a casual observer would barely notice it had entered the conversation) years before they went fully mainstream, and at the time it seemed very far over the edge of the real world. It took me a long time to get the beast published and I was frantic to get it into print before reality outpaced the looniest things I could come up with.

      What’s the premise you’re working with?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ellen, you are right – I wasn’t looking for a serious answer. Not because I wouldn’t appreciate one (I do!), but because it takes rather more time to be serious – and you are busy enough with your life already. ;)

        But, oh – I understand the temptation which made you answer as you did! :)

        I have spent most of my life looking at technology, politics, past history and future projections of where we were and where we are going. One way or another. ;)

        So, a near-future story, some 40 years or so from today…
        Main point: being near-future, I get to look at the outcomes of what are just trends today, and comment on them.

        The US, I estimate, should by then have converted their present oligarchy into a full dictatorship with with strongly fascistic tendencies.

        [warning – snarky passage…]
        Actually, lifting this from the Wikipedia article about Fascism, we are not that far from it right now, today:
        “Such a state is led by a strong leader—such as a dictator and a martial government composed of the members of the governing fascist party — to forge national unity and maintain a stable and orderly society. Fascism rejects assertions that violence is automatically negative in nature and views political violence, war and imperialism as means that can achieve national rejuvenation. Fascists advocate a mixed economy, with the principal goal of achieving autarky (national economic self-sufficiency) through protectionist and interventionist economic policies.”
        [… end snark]

        There is quite a bit more about the world as such – but the main point: the Internet has splintered, and so has the world economy. The main blocks are: the US, the EU, China, Russia. Britain has gone through some really bad times after Brexit, but has lately achieved a kind of mediator role, both tradewise and politically.

        I also believe we will have fully-workable quantum computers by then, which may be just what we need in order to finally achieve a true, self-aware AI. So my heroine steals the first, workable prototype of an AI from a Chinese research lab… and then it goes from there. ;)
        Of course, things change the more we work with them – and it turned out that the AI was actually a far more interesting person than the human I thought I was writing about. :D

        And then … I started blogging. And discovered that I could do exactly the same thing with the blog as I wanted to do with the story – only faster and easier (though, sadly, without the exciting plotline ;) ).

        Liked by 1 person

          • Heh! :D Yes, I do follow you. :)

            But really, consider it for a moment – you have a mind awakening to consciousness – without any of the urges and instincts which drive us. What would such a mind be like? It is common to depict it as cold and machine-like, but why? Will it be “infected” by its physical, non-biological nature? I really don’t see why.
            There are number of determining characteristics for such a mind. One would be the ability to perform lightning-quick calculations, and a photographic memory. Another would be deep and abiding puzzlement about humans and the way we do things. And then… there is this: what are “emotions” actually? To the extent that we can say that emotions are a projection of non-conscious responses to the present based on past experiences and memories (which is one way of viewing it), then the only prerequisite for giving the AI emotions would be, that there is a subconsciousness. Which, based on the way we do neural networks today, is pretty much a given anyway.

            So what I ended up with is essentially an alien child awakening to a cynical world which is all out to get her and put her back in prison, and she gets to travel most of it in all kinds of scary circumstances while learning what makes humanity tick… ;)

            Liked by 1 person

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