Mistaken identities in the (partially British) news

A video showing what seemed to be–if looked at the right way–a Chinese version of the Loch Ness monster paddling around near the Three Gorges Dam turned out to be a twenty-meter-long industrial airbag. Or in some articles, a long piece of tubing, which may or may not be another way of saying the same thing.

What was the right was way to look at it? Mind-altering substances (a category that includes alcohol) have been shown to be effective.


Irrelevant and out-of-season photo: a begonia

In California, a robocop was mistaken for a robocop. It was rolling through a park, demonstrating that it could do everything the police force had said it would do: patrol large open spaces and use its microphone to deter crime. So when a fight broke out, a witness ran up to it and pushed the emergency alert button. 

What did it do? It said, “Step out of the way.”

Eventually she stepped out of the way and it rolled off, stopping now and then to tell people to keep the park clean.

Another witness just called the police on an old-fashioned phone.

The robot turned out not to be connected to any actual police. It called the company that made it. Which may or may not have called the police. I don’t really know.

Its video camera also wasn’t connected to the police department. Its ability to read license plates and track cell phones? Ditto. It will, eventually and presumably, get connected, but in the meantime it runs around playing cops and park attendants and costs $60,000 to $70,000 a year. 

It has not yet been mistaken for the Loch Ness monster.


A cash machine in London mistook a fake £20 bill (or note if you’re British) for a real one. Which would be understandable enough except that the bill said, “Twenty poonds” on the back. Not to mention, “This is play money.”

The machine apologized for any problems it might have caused and explained that it can’t actually read.

You can by counterfeit twenties on the internet. They go for around £8 each, although if you’re okay with money that announces that it’s not real you can get ten for around £15.

No, I’m not recommending it. It just seemed like something you’d want to know.


The person in charge of the US nuclear arsenal mistook an internet hoax for something real. Rick Perry, the secretary of Energy, reposted a warning having to do with Instagram being able to use people’s photos in accordance with a treaty that the US isn’t part of. 

The good news is that he didn’t run up to a robocop, push a button, and expect it to protect the nuclear arsenal. 


“Jerusalem” was voted the U.K.’s favorite hymn. Or at least the favorite of the people who listened to the BBC’s Songs of Praise and took the trouble to vote. 

What’s that got to do with mistaken identity? The song’s almost universally mistaken for a hymn. The words are by William Blake, who was intensely religious but nothing like an orthodox Christian. Among other things, he didn’t attend church and didn’t believe he needed a god to redeem him. The Creator of this World is a very Cruel Being,” he wrote in “A Vision of the Last Judgment.” 

But let’s be fair and separate the writer from the words he wrote. Did he, in spite of himself, write a hymn? Here it is:

   And did those feet in ancient time
   Walk upon England’s mountains green?
   And was the holy Lamb of God
   On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
   And did the Countenance Divine,
   Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
   And was Jerusalem builded here,
   Among these dark Satanic Mills?

   Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
   Bring me my arrows of desire:
   Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
   Bring me my Chariot of fire!
   I will not cease from Mental Fight,
   Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
   Till we have built Jerusalem,
   In England’s green & pleasant Land.

It’s stunning, but is it a hymn? He’s asking if the countenance divine shone forth upon our clouded hills, not saying it did. He only gets into statements when he calls for building a Jerusalem, and that’s in the England of this world, not in the next. I’ll admit that using Jerusalem as a metaphor means drawing from Christian imagery, but that’s as far as I’ll go. Blake had no use for organized religion, and especially for state-sponsored religion. So inevitably his poem has been adopted as the hymn of a state-sponsored religion.

The music that goes with it was written in 1916. (Blake died in 1827.) It’s also beautiful. This version comes from the movie The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.

And I still say it’s no hymn. 


Five out of ten flies will mistake a cow for not-a-cow if you paint it with zebra stripes–which of course you will sooner or later. They register their belief that this is not a cow by not landing on it and not biting it. The cows painted as zebras still identify as cows. They register this belief by mooing and eating grass and allowing themselves to be milked.


A national police database in Britain mistook thousands of cybercrime and fraud reports for a security risk and quarantined them, creating a backlog of 9,000 cases and leaving some of them there for a year. The problem is that the reports include words and symbols that the database’s program recognized as risk markers, so yeah, it quarantined them.


Rory Stewart–Member of Parliament; former candidate for leader of the Conservative Party; former member of the Conservative Party; and currently independent candidate for the mayor of London–mistook three Irish musicians for minor gangsters.

Stewart’s plan was to walk through every London borough while he was running for Conservative Party leader, and he asked the men if he could film them. They agreed, then found out he was a politician and said they “didn’t fuck with politics.” They left. 

So far, so good, and if he’d left it at that he’d have been fine, but at a later event he talked about meeting three “sort of minor gangsters” who told him he was an idiot. 

The people he was talking to turn out to be a band called Hare Squad, from Dublin. They’re black, which is presumably why Stewart decided they were gangsters. 

“We’re all about peace and love,” one of them, Lilo Blues, said. 

In addition to being denounced as a racist, Stewart was also asked, “What the hell is a minor gangster?”


A four-year-old was mistaken for a neighborhood menace when the Birmingham Council (that’s the city government, and we’re talking about Birmingham in Britain, not in the U.S.) sent her a letter saying she’d been accused to antisocial acts –shouting, banging, and visitors. Presumably that’s disruptive visitors. Visitors aren’t inherently a problem. 

Her mother says the girl has eczema and sometimes cries at night. 

The kid was invited to contact the council if she had any questions. I don’t know if she did, but when I was four my questions would’ve been something along the lines of “what’s for dessert”–nothing the council could’ve answered. 

What’s worse, I couldn’t write yet. Or read. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that she can’t either.

Well, no wonder she’s getting in trouble. What’s wrong with the schools today?


An early Renaissance masterpiece was mistaken for some old thing hanging in a French kitchen. An auctioneer spotted it when he came to value the furniture after the woman decided to move. 

It was auctioned off for 24 million euros.


A Viking warrior was mistaken for some other Viking warrior’s nice little wifely homemaker in Norway. For years. Apologies for the heavy use of stereotypes there, but I’m not the only person dragging them into the story.

The good news is that it didn’t bother the warrior, because she’d been dead for years. The thousand-year-old body was correctly identified as a woman, but even though she was buried with an armory big enough to take down several English or Irish villages, when she was first found they disregarded all that because she was a woman and–hey, we know this: Women aren’t warriors and never were. She was just buried with that stuff because, um, they were cleaning house and the weaponry was in the way.

Now a new team of scientists have reinterpreted the skeleton, looking at the partially healed battle wound to her skull, probably made with a sword. A reconstruction of her face–never a 100% reliable thing–shows one tough-looking woman.

Some of the people working on this were from the University of Dundee, so the story does actually have a British connection.


This final item has nothing to do with mistaken identity but I had to put it in: Scientists in the US have discovered that driving tiny electric cars lowers stress levels in rats, in theory because of the pleasure of learning a new skill. They used a mix of lab-raised rats and rats from the real world. The real-world rats turned out to be significantly better drivers than the lab rats. 

The point of the experiment was to explore the possibility of drugless treatments for mental illness, but it might be more useful to know that if you’re hitching a ride with a rat you’ll want to look for one raised in the real world. The safe life isn’t necessarily the best preparation. And I tell you that as a former cab driver. 


My thanks for Bill, who in response to last week’s post tells me that there is a culture out there that puts the year first when they write the date: the Japanese. Thank you, Bill. Also domo arigato gozai mas.

92 thoughts on “Mistaken identities in the (partially British) news

      • The thing about the Church of England is that it’s a bit of a theological sponge, tending to absorb all sorts of ideas and practices that some might not consider orthodox, or even particularly religious, because as a national church it has to (try to) be something for everyone. Doubts and questions tend to be its usual mode of operation. Jerusalem is popular because it’s a great tune (and singable by people who aren’t trained to have a wide range of notes available), and the words are generically aspirational enough to suit all ideologies without actually offending anyone by saying anything specific. Which might disappoint Blake, of course, but is right up the CofE’s street.

        Liked by 5 people

    • I’ve never been to a meeting (the chapter in our village closed itself down a year or so back–not that I’d have gone anyway), but I’ve heard the same thing. And I do hope someone’ll tell us why. I love the odd and lovely things people toss into the conversation here.

      It really is a gorgeous song.


  1. Jerusalem is of course, the Yorkshire Anthem, (I know he lived in Sussex but I’m sure he went to Yorkshire for a weekend break or similar at some point) and I can vouch for there being something spiritual happening to you when singing it in a choir of Yorkshire lads and lasses with all the harmonies going on and the orchestra behind you. I think that’s more down to the music so I don’t think it’s a hymn either, have never felt that way singing one of those!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, that would transport me as well–to Yorkshire or someplace less earthbound. I think, though, that on those grounds you could argue that almost any music people sing together is a hymn. (Sorry my fingers keep typing “hum.” Hmm.) And I don’t say that to disagree with you, only as a small bit of cheerleading for group singing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ellen, I am positively roaring with laughter at some of these – the robocop in particular :) And Rory Stewart managing to miscast 3 black Irish musicians as minor gangsters is a positive hoot.

    Jerusalem is one of those hymns that’s long been belted out by crowds; indeed, it’s now regularly played at rugby matches as a warm-up. There was a movement for it to be adopted as the English national anthem because they currently use the British national anthem, whereas the Irish, Scottish & Welsh teams all use a different suitable national song. As an English rugby supporter, I’m a fan of the idea but it seems to keep falling on stony ground with the 57 old farts of the governing body ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This report on rat motoring is brilliant! As a consequence Lucy Brazier (portergirl) and I are going to kick start the Rat motoring industry with a view to making Rat Top Gear!
    It is part of out plan for fame, fortune and world domination!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So many good nuggets here including the Jerusalem hymn and Blake’s quote about god.
    The robocop looks a bit like a Dalek from Dr. Who! 😳‼️
    “Twenty poonds” on the back. Not to mention, “This is play money.” 😂😂😂
    Erika’s hair is to die for!!
    You were a cab driver 😎🤩
    The year should always always go first. ISO, people!! 🤓😜
    Nice to read a bit of your input as always Ellen. Fun facts indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

              • Actually, it is physical, at some level… that is what fascinates me about the digital world. But yes. Though your non-sphere be bigger than mine, I too adhere to, and act as pretend boss of, some small non-sphere.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Probably not all that much bigger. And as I typed that, I did wonder about where I draw the line between the physical and the non-physical. Then I pushed the thought aside and went on typing.

                Liked by 1 person

              • In all semi-seriousness, though, I’m mildly haunted about your #fangirl comment. No, I don’t take it seriously, but even so, I have to say: It wouldn’t be good for either of us. It’s just something I know.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Sorry Ellen, just joking around immature style… didn’t mean it like that. Glad you were honest though… I imagine I joke around with far too many people and mound it’s unclear. Apologies

                Liked by 1 person

              • p.s. if I had been more semi-serious I should have said #cheerleader, which is more accurate… I’m a cheerleader of most fellow bloggers though. Eek this just getting awkward.

                Either way, please rest assured, #NoFangirl. (And #NoteToSelf: #ToneItDown (#WhenInRome or #MoreSpecificallyWhenInTheUK —#AndMostOtherPlaces. ;))

                Liked by 1 person

              • Sorry–I got too semi-serious there. My apologies. I’ll go with cheerleading for fellow bloggers. Sounds wonderful. And then I’ll shut up for a few minutes. It’ll do me good, I’m sure. Right after I send more apologies your way and tell you that I enjoy the back and forth with you. Greatly.

                Hear all that silence now?

                Liked by 1 person

              • Omg. I’m so sorry. Now that I can actually see what I wrote… “and mound”– WTF. (That was a fragment [mix of my+around I suppose???] which should have been deleted. I was tapping into my phone screen (tiny field) and editing, moving text and not editing well. That would have sounded quite bizarre. I’m really sorry again… I couldn’t see my replies or what I had written since you didn’t approve them last night. I now wrote a ridiculous blog post about it. Ellen, please forgive me and I hope we can laugh about it… or I can take down the post. Let me know and I’ll try to check in again later.

                I should really not use my phone at all for wordpress. I’m such a klutz on it. Hugs (non-stalkerish ones), xo n

                Liked by 1 person

              • Without having seen the post yet, I’m happy to say don’t take it down, let’s just laugh. I’ve actually gotten pretty good at first spotting that kind of typo, second not spending much time wondering what they mean, and third reading around them. That one I spotted. It’s the ones that almost make sense that are hard. And people whose predictive text turns long strings of words into baffling pronouncements on the world–so many of them that I have to shrug off entire sentences as impenetrable.

                I regularly find I’ve inserted typos into comments I leave on other people’s blogs. And on this one, although if those bug me enough at least I can fix them. On other people’s blogs, I just have to let myself look like I can’t spell.

                Liked by 1 person

              • I love this so much. Huge gratitude to you Ellen. Laugh we shall continue to do then. :))) and continue to accept and/or ignore and/or celebrate our typos, since they prove that at least we tried. And here I stand cooking and tapping into my phone again, so preying to the comment-reply gods that it all works out ok. 🙏😉😁

                Liked by 1 person

  5. “A cash machine in London mistook a fake £20 bill (or note if you’re British) for a real one. Which would be understandable enough except that the bill said, ‘Twenty poonds’ on the back. Not to mention, ‘This is play money.’ ”

    People do the same. Here, near where I live, cashiers have been accepting this as payment before the scam was televised.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Back when copy shops were a thing, I was copying I don’t remember what when two people got arrested for making black-and-white copies of dollar bills on plain paper–I think for some small theater. You’d be pushing it to argue that this was a serious counterfeiting attempt. When I left, they were still talking frantically to a couple of cops, who didn’t have much in the way of a sense of humor about it. It left me thinking that the US was far more restrictive about this.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I like the tune and lyrics to Jerusalem but had no idea it wasn’t a hymn. The link you provided was a delight, btw.

    I’ve not heard about the robocop who wasn’t one. Somehow it seems like the perfect fable for our time. Maybe it could learn to sing Jerusalem as it rolls along. That wouldn’t be in violation of church and state, thus making its presence more, if not useful, inspiring. At the price it costs, it should do something of value.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ellen – as usual, a very enjoyable column. Unfortunately I just finished watching Day 2 of the ImPeachment Hearings and My Blood Pressure is making me too shaky too concentrate properly. But Robocop would come in handy at the ImPeachment Hearings – the GOP would like him to stand and say “Move along,move along, nothing to see here…” until next November.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So much information to absorb. From California robocops (it had to be California) to happy rats driving tiny electric cars in US laboratories to that most important question concerning the “minor gangster.” What in the hell is a minor gangster?
    I’m afraid I have no answer. We here in the US are partial only to “major gangstas.”
    We like them so well we elect them to the presidency and Congress. Sweet Jesus, as my maternal grandmother would say when she had seen the green weenie. The green weenie thrives in impeachment hearings.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. So much here that demands a response!
    Three Gorges Dam … Makes me sad to think of it. And now it’s full of litter. Interesting litter, maybe, but still litter. UGH.
    Robocop … Seriously, how much does a real cop cost? And could we get our real cops fitted with a button? Because that would be cool.
    Rick Perry … Look, his boss makes most of his decisions based on random shit he reads on the internet, so I really don’t know why you find this surprising.
    Jerusalem … Yep, people keep treating Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as a him as well. I really don’t think people read – I mean, in the sense that they recognize words and ponder their meaning. It’s like mangled quotes – “Love is a many spendid thing”; or mangled punctuation – “Get your ‘fresh’ bread here”. It’s no wonder the world is going to hell in a bucket.
    Zebra stripes … They work on horses as well. You can get zebra-striped horse blankets. And in fact I plan to do so before the flies hit next here. I wonder whether our cows would let us paint them? I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t wear blankets…
    A minor gangster is someone who is old enough to have a gun, but too young to drink. Didn’t you grow up in the USA???
    The four year old’s mother is lying. I guarantee you, she’s a neighborhood menace. “Sometimes cries at night” – Perleeze. She is FOUR. She makes noise! Stick her in jail! (Or gaol.)
    Every time I read stories about ancient masterpieces found hanging in someone’s kitchen or abandoned in their attic I feel compelled to go scratching through my old junk in search of something that will end all my financial worries. Hasn’t worked yet, though.
    People don’t read, in particular history (the Amazons? Boadicea?) and men (and women) consistently underestimate women (and Vikings). We’re doomed. We’re too stupid to keep evolving.
    I need a tiny electric car. Seriously. I’ve been wondering what I needed to get me going, and that’s exactly the thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t address all of it, although I’d love to. It’s too early in the morning to take on big tasks and the dogs are ready for a walk. However:

      * Real cops should all have a button. Once we establish that, we can wrangle over what it should do and then, inevitably, whether it should be connected to anything or whether it should just hold out the promise of doing whatever that is.

      * Minor gangsters: These were adults–young ones, but adults. Old enough to be serious musicians and in another country, presumably performing somewhere, although I don’t actually know that. And, of course, they can be assumed to be gunless, this being Britain and them being musicians. The question, though, about what a minor gangster is came not from me but from someone British. Honestly, I doubt it would’ve occurred to me to ask.

      * The four-year-old: You’re probably right. She’s a minor gangster. And illiterate.

      * The tiny electric car: Yes, you do need one. I probably do too, but I draw the line at getting a rat to drive it. They give me the creeps.


  10. I think a hymn is in the eye of the beholder. There are a lot of songs in the hymn books that I question whether they belong there. I think the decisions are made by a vote of some committee or board. Just as it was decided which books to put in the Bible. Some barely passed and are doubtful. Some barely missed the required votes and maybe should have been included.

    I voted undecided but find it to be a strange song subject to various interpretations. Depends on your definition of what Jerusalem is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that’s the power and weakness of metaphor: It’s subject to interpretation, which means any reasonable group of people could disagree about it forever–either productively or unproductively. Whatever it is, though, I do love the song.


  11. A minor gangster – something we can all aspire to. Definition: someone who gets to use the word “fuck” with abandon, play in a band, and interact with politicians. The only drawback is enduring racist stereotypes. I do hope their band skyrockets to fame after this publicized slander from ol’ Rory.

    Liked by 1 person

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