What the world wants to know about Britain, part 18-ish


the ceremonial mace

Ah, yes, the ceremonial mace, the symbol of “royal authority without which neither House [that’s the Commons and the Lords] can meet or pass laws.” (That’s a quote from parliament’s official website.)

Why can’t they meet or pass laws without it? Because that’s how it’s done. Grab the thing and take it home with you and you bring business to a screeching halt. If Boris Johnson really wanted to stop parliament from meeting, he could’ve tried it. It worked for Cromwell. 

a dozen pubs in parliment

At least. Also two A’s. 

mps wearing ties

This at least gets us away from questions about MPs wearing stockings, which is a nice change. Yes, MPs who are of the male persuasion are expected to wear ties. It’s boring, but it’s true.

Irrelevant photo: One rose.

what is the robe that house speaker wears

It’s–um, it’s a robe. Not like a bathrobe type of robe but like–well, it’s called a gown, so a gown type of robe. The current speaker broke with tradition by dressing in an ordinary suit (and yes, a tie, and I’m sure shoes and undies and all that predictable stuff) with the gown over it. That’s instead of wearing what’s called court dress underneath, which is more formal and infinitely more absurd and which speakers before him wore. On high ceremonial occasions, he wears a gown with gold braid.

History, biology, geography

why was great britain created

Well, the mommy britain looked at the daddy britain and thought he was–not exactly handsome, you know, but interesting. And the daddy britain looked at the mommy britain and thought she was someone worth getting to know. Not beautiful exactly, but green and pleasant, and there was just something about her that he couldn’t get out of his mind. And that’s how great britain was created. At first it was called little britain because it followed the traditional pattern of being born small and slowly getting bigger, but as it got older it took after the mommy britain and grew up to be a green and pleasant land. And larger than both its parents. That could be because by then growth hormones were being fed to the cattle, but no one knows for sure.  

is there such a country called britain

Not exactly. The country’s called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, known to its friends as the U.K. The Great Britain part of that is that big island you’ll find floating around between Ireland and Europe. It includes Wales, Scotland, and England. And Cornwall if you care to count it separately. Those are nations but they’re not (at the moment–check with me later to be sure we stay up to date) countries. That nation thing is about separate cultures. The country thing about government.

As a political entity, Britain doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t keep politicians from talking as if they were governing it. 


brexit and metric

I’m sure someone out there is counting on a triumphant, patriotic return to imperial measures if we leave the E.U., but I doubt it’ll happen. First, changing over is expensive. Second, British businesses will still hope to export (once they wade through all the paperwork) to metric-speaking countries, and it’s easier to export when you share a set of measurements. 

Assuming, of course, that rational minds prevail. 

Stop laughing. It’s been known to happen.

metric except for

…the things that aren’t. Miles, for example. Beer. A random sampling of other stuff. Instead of repeating what I’ve said better elsewhere, allow me to refer you to myself

eveeything you need to know about brexit

Oops. I think I did make that claim, although I’m pretty sure I had another R in it somewhere. The thing is, we can’t take me seriously. No one knows everything we need to know about Brexit. Especially the people who said it would be simple.

So what’s Britain really like?

great in great britain

Yes, I am doing great here, and thanks for asking. Hope you’re doing great as well, wherever you may be.

why back roads in englane are so narrow

Because they’re back roads–the ones not a lot of people drive on. The ones that don’t need to be as wide as the main roads. 

percentage uk people fishn chips or tikka masala

This is, I’d guess, a question about what percent of the British public prefers which, and it drives me to comment not on the topic itself but on the nature of search questions–or of questions in general. Does liking one mean you don’t like the other? Can a country include people who love both or neither? If the answer to the first question is no and to the second is yes, then there’s no way to do a head count.

If, of course, anyone cared enough to bother.

But let’s assume they do care and rejigger the question: As a way of checking in on the great British eating machine, once we find a way not to make this an either/or question, we can’t give people only those two choices. We need to allow for the impact of sausage rolls (and lately, vegan sausage rolls) on the British culture. And pasties. Do we include sweet stuff? Breakfast food? Lunch? Supper/dinner/tea/confusingly named evening meal?

What are we trying to measure here, and what are we going to learn if we get an answer to our questions?

do women lawyers in wales wear wigs

They do. Which means the men lawyers do as well. Some political powers have been devolved to Wales, but their legal system’s still English. Why? Because history’s a messy beast. So if English lawyers of whatever gender wear wigs in court (not in the office; not in the bath; and not in bed–I assume–or on the train), so do the lawyers in Wales. 

In spite of devolution, I’m 99% sure that Scotland and Northern Ireland haven’t gotten rid of them. Maybe if Scotland leaves the U.K., it’ll reconsider. 

I had other wig-related questions to choose from, but I’m tired of wigs. Let’s talk about something else.

throwing of currant buns

That happens in Abingdon-on-Thames on royal-related occasions. Allow me (apologies) to refer you to myself again for what I used to know on the subject but forgot as soon as I published it. 

two finger up in britain

The plural of finger is fingers. If you’re using two of them, you need to topple from the singular into the plural. But I suspect that wasn’t the question.

What was the question?

are english public schools a good thing for education in this country


That was easy.

If things that came from or made in britain were called “british,” something that came from or made in flanders were called ________________________


You’re welcome.

question is berwick upon tweed at war with russia

Answer: No. Sorry. But you could form an organization and push Berwick to declare war. Never underestimate the power that a small, committed group of people can have to make the world a better place. If the search engine questions that wander in here are any measure, a fair few of you are concerned about the issue.

who is berwick on tweed at war with

No one, but that could change any minute now.

what color are mailboxes in england

The same color as in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. And Cornwall, which is to say in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: red.



Why did this come to me? Because I am bigger than Amazon. And better.

74 thoughts on “What the world wants to know about Britain, part 18-ish

  1. “two finger up in britain… ”
    They might have been referring to getting a prostate exam. Another misspelling, should use ‘briton’ in that context. And probably ‘Eeek..’ at least.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. >>“two finger up in britain… ”
    They might have been referring to getting a prostate exam. <<

    Ouch. Presumably, it was someone who didn't know that, one way round, the "V-sign" was in WW2 used as the "Victory" sign in the UK, but the other way around it was already established as the equivalent of the American middle finger. There are pictures of Churchill doing it the "other way", but that (if my father is anything to go by) was taken as a naughty joke on his part.

    The Victorians came up with some fancy euphemistic tale that it originated with English archers at Agincourt taunting the French by showing that they still had the fingers needed to draw their lethal bows (where the French were said to have chopped them off any English archers they had caught). (I am not making this up).

    On the other hand, it has been used as part of a graphic reference to, shall we say, a sexual practice that is anything but a prostate exam. By extension, just waving the splayed fingers in an upward direction became a rudely dismissive gesture.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Public schools give children of rich parents a short-cut to the top jobs. That’s how most MPs, lawyers, judges and others in high offices have got to where they are now. They all went to the right schools. It sucks, but it’s true.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m vegan, but didn’t really like either fish or tikka masala before becoming first vegetarian and then vegan, so my answer would definitely be a firm, “Neither,” to that one. You know, in case the people who asked that one are interested enough to want to know. Wouldn’t mind some chips if they’re cooked in vegetable oil, and not in the same fryer as all the fish and sausages and stuff though. Just thought I’d point that out, in case the person is offering to buy us whichever we’d prefer. It’s unlikely, but you never know, and I can hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, and I was told by a history teacher once that the impolite version of the two-fingered salute was a gesture made by Welsh archers towards the English to show they still had the fingers they needed to use their bows to fire arrows at them. Don’t remember more than that, and not 100% certain if it’s true, or was the history teacher’s idea of a joke, because he was proud to be Welsh, and thought the Welsh were better archers than the English, or whatever. But I thought it sounded cool at the time, and it stuck with me all these years, so I figured I’d share it with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. All good questions. Happy to see the answers to things I wanted to know but never knew I wanted to know.

    In Georgia in the forties the Secretary State was at odds with the Governor (long story) so he hid the State Seal. Governor could not sign any laws or official documents as they were not valid without the state seal imbedded thereon. Their argument went to the state Supreme Court and they ruled in fair if Secretary of State side and kicked the acting governor (Herman Talmadge) out of office. (See three governors dispute on google if interested)

    Glad you pointed out the difference in country and nation. I keep mentioning that and stating that the US us a country composed of several nations.

    I thought Great Britain included Ireland and nearby island, as in the British Isles. Glad you pointed out that is not so.

    Hope your cold is getting better.

    Back to yesterday, did not think the PM would get the EU to agree to a plan. I am impressed that he did.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. All in the family (I’m Ellen’s brother). A devoted reader who sometimes sends email directly rather than post here; but I can resist. Ellen wrote: “If things that came from or made in britain were called “british,” something that came from or made in flanders were called ________________________


    Ah, what I love about this blog is that it is so outflandish. Big hugs….in Dad’s memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Ellen, I am trying to understand and learn more about Britain (and other parts of the world). I see what Marty meant by the “irrelevant photo.” Immediate smile. A great post for somewhat like me. I like the Coles notes and I realize information changes every minute. I think I have learned more about the United Kingdom of Great Britain in this one post, than I have my entire 60 years on the planet. I realize I could Google and read books, although this was a lot more fun:) Erica

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve never understood why the Brits call private schools “public schools”. Here, a public school is one funded by taxpayers. Although I suppose taxpayers fund all those politicians who graduated from the private ones…

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s true in the US as well. Until recently, I believed the British public schools were called that in contrast to the older tradition of the sons of the rich being tutored at home, but I’ve since read that they’re called public because they were run by charities–for which I’d substitute nonprofit groups–as opposed to private teachers, who made their livings by running small for-profit schools. The earliest public schools were set up to teach the sons of the poor, but they were considered good, so they were essentially taken over for the sons of the rich. That history helps explain why they still get massive tax breaks.

      Have you noticed that the world is insane?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Marty of Snakes brought me over here, and I’m glad he did. Great idea on the irrelevant photo, and I enjoy your irreverent humor. Plus, I learned lots about “your land.” I probably could use those asterisks you mention to Erica, but I’ll try to figure out facts from fiction best way I can. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry, I was unclear there. People’s individual mailboxes are whatever color they want, or can find or happen to have. The Royal Mail’s boxes–called post boxes, I think–are red. And are, awkwardly, almost the same shade of red as the dog boxes that some places put up to encourage dog walkers to do the right thing.


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