The news from Britain: gin, scotch, and the gender pay gap

With climate change threatening grain crops, researchers have isolated a gene in barley that will–thank all the gods you may or may not believe in–ensure that the world’s supply of scotch is safe for the foreseeable future. 

The gene is one of more than 39,000 and it helps barley survive drought. Or to be more accurate about it, “when it’s prominently expressed” the plants are better able to survive drought, so resistant crops can be planted in the future. Assuming that the extreme weather that barley-growing regions face will be drought, not flood, although a mix of the two isn’t out of the question.

The new plants will, presumably, also be good for the food supply, although that didn’t make it as far as the headlines.


Irrelevant photo: California poppies. Californians or not, they grow well in Cornwall and once you get a few going they’ll self-seed. Generally in places where you didn’t want them but they don’t object to being moved.

The pope got stuck in an elevator in the Vatican in September. Not for all of September, just 25 minutes of it. I hope I’m not the only person who finds that funny.


Unrelated to that (although I’m sure I could manage a very nice segue here if I cared enough), a Catholic school in Tennessee pulled all the Harry Potter books out of its library because “the curses and spells in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”

A group of parents wrote to a local radio station anonymously, questioning the ability of the priest responsible to “critically assess and discern fact from fiction.” They didn’t question his use of the semicolon, but they should  have. It’s diabolical. And also wrong.

As far as I can remember, J.K. doesn’t include a spell for removing a pope from an elevator (or a priest from a school). If she had, I’d write the pope (he’d be thrilled to hear from me) and recommend the books. 

There’s your segue, at the end instead of the beginning, but in troubled times like these, you take your segues where you can get them.


In all my coverage of Brexit, I haven’t mentioned the demonstrators–pro and anti–who gather outside parliament and make noise when the newscasters turn on their mics and try to explain the latest Brexity zigzags. At least one of the demonstrators plays bagpipes. Others bellow. And one–. I’m going to have to quote from the Guardian here, because it puts it gorgeously. It talks about “the largely inexplicable presence of a man with a glockenspiel playing the ‘Imperial March’ from Star Wars.”

Which is one way to get your voice heard, even if no one knows what your voice is trying to say.

Or maybe he’s just found a place to practice his glockenspiel where he won’t annoy his family, just the reporters.


A truck (that’s American for lorry) carrying 7,039 gallons of concentrated gin was in an accident in Cheshire in September. If you need that in liters, it’s 32,000, although I suspect someone’s rounded it up or down to the nearest something or other. Once you get past the first shot or six, you don’t really care, do you? 

Concentrated gin? It was news to me as well. According to the Langley Distillery, the distilling process produces something that’s “between 78%-82% ABV and cannot be used alone to make gin. We blend the concentrate with neutral alcohol, to create high strength gin that is reduced with water to bottling strength.” 

The missing 22%-18% in that first sentence is made up of adjectives that the distellery lovingly applies later in the description but we can’t afford them this late in the evening, so we’ll stagger home without ’em. 

ABV means alcohol by volume, so 82% should be enough to put us under the table nicely enough.

Neutral alcohol? Oh, hell, you don’t want to know. Or maybe you do but I don’t. It’s stuff you put in gin. What’s more interesting is that the concentrate is flammable, and the local fire and rescue folks spayed it with fire retardants to keep it from going whoosh. 

I had a moment of thinking I was living in a land flowing not with milk and honey but with gin and fire retardant–or gin and fire retardant and drunken, fire-proof fish–but no. Not all of those 7,039 gallons leaked out. They managed to control the leak and pump the remainder into another tanker. 

The BBC reported that people sat in their cars for up to four hours while police, fire fighters, and local drunks worked to clear up the spill. 


The head of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s social media team, Chloe Westley, defended someone or other against charges of misogyny by saying that young women have been “misled by feminists” into thinking they were being discriminated over pay. 

The full quote is, “Young women in Britain are being misled by feminists. Take the stories over the weekend based on ‘Equal Pay Day’. We’re told that there is a ‘gender pay gap’ between men and women, and that this is due to rampant discrimination. But this gap is simply a comparison of the average salaries of men and women: it’s not indicative of any kind of discrimination.” 

So why does this happen? Why, women’s choices, of course. Silly creatures that they are, they chose to have biological equipment that allows them to get pregnant, and a significant number of them use it. Then instead of putting the kids in a dresser drawer till they get home from work, they stay home to keep the little creatures alive. Or they pay startling amounts of money so someone else can keep them alive and go back to work, but when the kids get sick what do they do? They stay home with them. Why? That dresser drawer’s still available. 

No wonder they get paid less. If men carried on like that, I ask you, where would the human race be?


Jacob Leeks-Mogg” took second place in a vegetable characters competition. It’s a spoof of Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons and now famous for lounging on the Commons benches during a Brexit debate, more or less as seen here. 

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“Jacob Leeks-Mogg.” Thanks to Deb Croxford for sending me a link to this deathless piece of art, which has either wilted or been eaten by now.


Meanwhile, in the U.S., two scientists in New Jersey found a baby two-headed rattlesnake. Since both scientists are named Dave, they named the snake Double Dave and took it into protective custody. Two heads, it turns out, are not better than one. They make the snake slow, and since they both operate independently they sometimes fight over food, not understanding that it doesn’t matter who swallows the food, it goes into a shared digestive system.

There’s a moral in there somewhere, for all of us.

The snake wouldn’t be likely to survive in the wild.


And since we’re dropping in on other countries, a cult theory holds that Bielefeld, Germany’s twentieth-largest city, doesn’t exist. Don’t ask me to explain how this started, but the joke’s been going for twenty-five years and the city is now running a contest, offering a million euros to anyone who can prove that it doesn’t exist. 

Bielefeld climate change activists are offering the same amount to anyone who can prove climate change isn’t happening.


In France, a court ruled that a rooster named Maurice can keep crowing. A couple–retired farmers, ironically–had complained about Maurice, and the case has been working its way through the courts for two years, sparking a social media I am Maurice campaign.

Other complaints about rural noises have targeted frogs, cicadas, ducks, and geese. 

Humans are a difficult species.


Before we leave, let’s go back to Britain for a feel-good story. Bradford was once home to a bustling Jewish community, but the 2011 census records only 299 residents who identify themselves as Jewish. (It’s hard to know what that means, since the question might have been about religion or it might have been about ethnicity. But never mind–that’s a side issue.) Bradford’s lone synagogue was down to 45 members and almost shut down in 2013, when the cost of fixing the roof outran the outran the money it could raise. (Forgive me for even bothering to say this, but some people still need to hear it: Whatever you’ve been told, not all Jews are rich. We cover the full economic spectrum. And, oddly enough, we don’t run the world.)

What happened next was that the Muslim community (129,041 in the 2011 census) stepped in and raised the money, which led to a lottery grant that covered other repairs.

The connection was made by a Muslim self-taught photographer, Nudrat Afza, a Pakistani immigrant who became friends with the synagogue’s 93-year-old chairman, Rudi Leavor, who came to Bradford as a refugee from Nazi Germany.

You can see a few of her photographs of the synagogue here and other photos here. She’s good. And she’s been made an honorary member of the synagogue.

And that story should echo out into a small and perfect silence. Hold it in your heart.

72 thoughts on “The news from Britain: gin, scotch, and the gender pay gap

  1. Never could drink gin. Didn’t understand his other people did. I ordered vodka Martinis. Didn’t really like them much better but I liked to pretend I was James Bondish. I was not even close.

    I have three daughters so I know something about the gender pay gap, and I am against it. So are my daughters. It really does exist. One daughter is in management and we have long discussions about what she can do to get respect when men she manages try to go over her head to her boss. It s a constant struggle. She is smarter than they are so with my help based in forty years of experience is staying ahead of the game. Secrete is to form alliances and din’t even think about playing fair.

    There was an DJ in Atlanta years ago who had a running joke about Montana did not exist. He was good with it and got some milage out of it for a while. Then he got fired. Tough job and turnover is high here. A the time my wife was working with the first woman to have graduated from Notre Dame. She was from Montana and was athletic and liked to ski. Maybe that can be a trivial question you can use to stump your friends if you get annoyed and bored with them some night.

    Glad the synagogue got repaired. Good to see that people can sometimes work uogether.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dear Ellen, our recent holiday totally changed my perception of the British. Why is it that people from the UK make such horrible tourists? (I knew there was somewhat of a stereotype about that … until I saw it with my own eyes. Oh boy … )

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh my goodness! A gin lake!
    Lucy Brazier has been predicting a gin lake along with the breakdown of Britain, and Boris Johnson being put in the Tower…

    I also think that the pope getting stuck in a lift for 25 minutes is funny… maybe he should be sent some gin…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m wondering if the priest thinking good ‘ole HP is real black magic had been given some of the gin, if he would have mellowed or gotten crazier😉. Seems worth a try, at least. If nothing else, it would give him an excuse for his egregious use of a semicolon.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Given that the gin was heavily laced with fire retardant–well, I’m not sure how to finish that sentence. At the very least, it would be hard to predict its effect on anyone. But you’re right, given his use of the semicolon, using him as a guinea pig is surely justifiable.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. While I prefer to know which side of an issue someone is on, anyone who can irritate with a glockenspiel is clever beyond the measure. I almost don’t care about his politics, enamored as I am of his simple annoying behavior. Brilliant.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I completely understand. I used to live across the street from a parking lot where the Shriners’ Band practiced. Have you ever heard the glockenspiel interlude from “When the Saints Go Marching In” ? After the first month or two, I lost my sense of humor. Up till then, though, it was hysterically funny.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. My head is reeling from the diverse subjects covered in your post today, but my heart will hold unto the mental image of the Muslim Pakistani immigrant photographer and the 93-year-old chairman of the Jewish synagogue who became friends. That’s my definition of hope.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Y’know, I’m less convinced about the existence of antisemitism in the Labour Party than a lot of people seem to be. Some exists, yes. How could it not? It’s baked deep into the culture. But is it any more prevalent in the Labour Party than in the Conservatives or the Lib Dems? I’m not sure. What is more prevalent is disagreement with Israel, which (listen, I’m Jewish; I get to say this without worrying about how it’ll sound) is not the same as antisemitism. Some people who are anti-Zionist blur the line between them, but then so does Israel, to its shame.

      I think the issue of antisemitism has been weaponized neatly.


    • I do understand. The good thing about the chaos in Britain is that it’s dressed up in amazing absurdities. Or maybe it’s only that as an outsider I see them more clearly than I see them in the US.


  7. researchers have isolated a gene in barley that will…ensure that the world’s supply of scotch is safe for the foreseeable future.

    Brits must view things different, genetically modified barley would never sell here, and those against it would protest its use so that no one would be able to partake. I read that there is also a wheat crop being made here that would be a perennial crop so farmers would not have to plant every year. It takes three years for it to grow to production height, so farmers need some encouragement to give up two years of production to give the new crop time to grow. As an annual they would not have to replant every year, the crop would be more weed resistant, and it would require less water. However, it is a genetically modified seed, so I’m sure the protests will shut it down.

    Bielefeld climate change activists are offering the same amount to anyone who can prove climate change isn’t happening.

    I can do that. Until those at the top of the climate change food chain start living like climate change is real I will continue to deny it. If they’re not willing to make lifestyle changes, why should I?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Britain’s actually much more anti-GMO than the US. It’s not something I’ve read much on, but my shallow understanding is that we humans don’t have a great track record when it comes to modifying our environment. So modified crops? We read about the benefits, but there’s often an unexpected element that comes along a bites us in the ass.

      As for climate change, I just flew to New York in response to a death in the family. I’m deeply aware of all the reasons I shouldn’t be doing that, and I do have friends who’ve stopped flying completely. I won’t argue that what they’re doing has no impact–it may well–but what needs to be done can only be effective on a much larger scale. Don’t dismiss the message because the messenger isn’t pure.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just about everything we consume is genetically modified. Originally corn (maze) looked like wheat, we modified it to make it what we currently consume. Fowl have been modified to have larger breast meat, sheep to produce more wool than it/was normal. There have always been side effects, we’ve just grown to accept them.

        I don’t dismiss the message, but I do question the claims of the leaders. Climate “experts” fly all around the world for symposiums, haven’t they heard of Skype? The company I worked for, world-wide, banned all travel that wasn’t absolutely necessary, we Skyped all of our meetings. Images of these “experts” showing up at meetings always have them in giant SUV’s or limo’s. We whine about the burning of thousands of acres of rainforest, yet we think little of doing even more damage by cutting down thousands of acres of woods annually to build new homes. Locally, thanks to Obama, we’ve cut down hundreds of acres of forests to replace them with windmills since coal and nuclear plants have been forced to shut down. All of that carbon-neutralizing vegetation replace by asphalt and grass (which does little to clean the air) just because he and his protege were heavily invested in green technologies. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t wash with me. Also, as a scientist myself, I find the research questionable, not questioning the global warming, just the research and conclusions because the science itself is/was bad.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Of course humans have modified crops and animals over the eons that we’ve been farming. But what’s happening now is like comparing fire with the blast furnace. It’s a matter of scale. On this scale, the side effects could be huge. One objection that comes to mind is that so many are hybrids that don’t allow the farmer to use his or her own seed, which ties them to the seed companies. For big farmers, that may or may not be an issue. For subsistence farmers, it is.

          As for wind farms, I don’t know where they’ve been sited in the US, but in Britain they’re where the wind is–open land. It’s certainly always easier to tell our neighbors not to cut down their forests than to protect and replant our own, but that’s exactly my point: Until we act as nations, as a world, we’re not going to mobilize on the scale that’s needed.


          • I have a friend who is a geneticist, if you’ve taken any vaccines (polio, MMR, smallpox, flu) you’ve had a genetically modified organism injected into you.

            Food? Here are foods that are currently genetically modified to be resistant to pests so as not to need herbicides, we’ve been using them for years, some for decades: Corn (field & sweet), soybeans, cotton, Canola, Alfalfa, Sugar Beets, Papaya.

            I live in a mountainous region, they’re clearing the trees at the tops for the windmills, along with clearing land for roads to get to them. More land is cleared fo a single windmill farm than an entire nuclear facility.

            We need to act as people before nations. It is people who drive the clearing of forests to create new homes. We have more homes in existence than we have a need for, they just need remodeled or renovated. Farmers are the cause of the fires in the rainforest, not nations, driven by people who demand the crops they are planting, many of which will end up in the trash heap because people (not nations) won’t eat a banana with spots, a tomato that isn’t perfectly round. McDonalds use to make claims as to how many burgers were served (billions), but the count was the number they sold to the restaurants, didn’t reduce it by the number thrown away because they sat around too long. My wife works in fast food, they throw away tons of potatoes because people want them “fresh” not sitting under a heat lamp for a couple minutes (this is during lunch and dinner when potatoes move faster then she can keep up with them). People need to change before governments will.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. ‘…this gap is simply a comparison of the average salaries of men and women…’ ** blinks several times and waits for this to make sense and the idiot sprouting it to implode** … still waiting.

    Lovely story to finish on. :D

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have a feeling, and some hope, that on the ground the stories like the synagogue one outnumber all the rest of them by a comfortable factor… but that wouldn’t suit the divisive agendas of big money media owners would it? These small acts of kindness and compassionate human interaction are what happens every day, the other stuff is what everyone reads, sees and hears later. It’s a drip feed poison.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The old saying is that if man bites dog, it’s news. If dog bites man, it’s not. So all the small kindnesses? Not news. Unless one of them happens to be a damn good photographer with an exhibit just opening. That helps.


  10. This is a brilliant compendium. It makes me feel that I only need to read you to be abreast with humanity. Funnily, I have heard a similar story about Molise, Italy’s youngest region. There are doubts that it exists. (But you know this because you read Fabrizio.)

    Liked by 1 person

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