Lord mayors, tan-washing, green-washing, and Australia-washing. It’s the news from Britain

After a portrait hung in Paris’s central bank for a century, glorifying French history, its subject turned out not to be Louis XIV’s son but a London mayor from the seventeenth century. 

Sorry, make that a London lord mayor.  

How did anyone spot the problem? The pearl sword the man’s carrying is still in use today. Because, hey, you never know when a lord mayor will have a pressing need for a pearl-handled sword. And famous London landmarks are painted into the background. Plus the horse’s trappings (because what’s a lord mayor without a lord horse?) include a coat of lord arms, although the newspaper article I saw doesn’t say whose coat of arms it is. I’m going to take a wild and irresponsible guess and say it was the lord mayor’s own and that’s how they they picked the right lord mayor out of all the other good-lord mayors. 


Mary Beard’s latest BBC TV show, Shock of the Nude,  about the western tradition of painting the nude, came with a warning: “Contains some nudity.”

I can’t add anything to that. Believe me, I tried.


Irrelevant photo: primroses.

Boris Johnson’s top communications adviser, Lee Cain (who I never heard of before either) refused to let selected journalists into a government briefing in early February, dividing the journalists who showed up so that the good kids stood on one side of a rug and the bad kids stood on the other. Then he told the bad kids to leave. 

They did. And the good kids left with them. The briefing was canceled. 

The communications team had already banned ministers from appearing on the news shows they’re mad at and told them not to have lunch with political journalists.

Could they have breakfast? A cup of tea? Enough beers that they said something nicely indiscreet but it wasn’t really their fault? I’m going to assume all that’s been banned too, but they weren’t mentioned. 

Johnson’s brain, also known as Dominic Cummings, is said to have a network of spies, watching to see if any of them cheat.

There’s speculation that the government is hoping to bypass the press as much as possible. Recent hires include people with media production backgrounds.


It turns out that Beethoven didn’t go completely deaf. He lost a lot of his hearing and took to carrying blank books with him so that people could write anything they wanted him to know, but he did hear the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, at least partially.

That has nothing to do with Britain. It involves a German composer and an American academic who’s gone through Mr. B’s conversation books to establish it. But I did learn it from a British newspaper. 


Who’s the new ambassador for the British Asian Trust? Katy Perry, who’s neither British nor Asian. 

Why her? No idea. Maybe they couldn’t find any British Asians. Or anyone who was at least either British or Asian. If that doesn’t explain it, then we’ll just have to accept that it’s a mystery.


As long as we’re talking about diversity, let’s switch countries again. Barnes & Noble decided to celebrate Black History Month by tan-washing the covers of books by white writers about white people, so that (until you open the cover) they seem to be about dark-skinned people. The books included Romeo and Juliet, The Wizard of Oz, and Moby Dick, and that’s far from a complete list

I’ll admit that The Wizard of Oz does have a green witch, which would, technically speaking, make her nonwhite. Or maybe that’s only in the poster for a related play. But she could be green. Where is it written that she isn’t? And Moby Dick has a minor character who is, as I remember it (and it’s been a hundred or so years since I read the book, and that was under protest), described as a savage. We can’t spot any racism there, can we? Toward the end, he turns out to be noble, if I remember it right, but a deep and sensitive exploration of other-than-white-European cultures from the perspective of one of those cultures it ain’t. I read it too long ago to write a decent essay on it, and it bored me silly, so I won’t be going back to it, but I can tell you it didn’t pass the skin-crawl test. 

Hell, even the whale was white.


We’ve done tan-washing, so let’s do green-washing: At the UK-Africa summit, Boris Johnson announced that Britain would stop the funding for coal-fired power plants in Africa. It wasn’t a hard decision to make. Britain hasn’t funded any since 2002. It is, however pouring £2 billion (give or take a few pence) into oil and gas in Africa.

Don’t look at the man behind the curtain. He may not be as green as he sounds.


Back in the northern hemisphere, Johnson has proposed building a bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland. Or, I guess, the other way around. If it’s built, bridge will almost inevitably go both ways. It would be more than 20 miles long and cross water that’s over 1,000 feet (that’s 300 meters) deep in places. And traffic on it would have to deal with frequent high winds–the kind that regularly close British bridges to high-sided traffic. But that’s the least of it. It’ll be crossing waters where some million tons of World War II munitions were dumped. It’s not uncommon for them to wash up on beaches in the area, and they can explode when they dry out.

I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t find that funny but I can’t help myself.

And did I mention that there may also nuclear waste down there? And nerve agents and assorted other chemical weapons? Most of the more dangerous stuff was dumped further from shore, but sometimes folks got lazy. No one really knows where stuff is, or what condition it’s in, or even what exactly it is. A lot of records were destroyed, and the British government doesn’t monitor the site.

Modern munitions are stable, because they have to be primed or fused, but earlier ones are liable to explode if they’re kicked around. The British Geographic Survey recorded 47 underwater explosions in the area between 1992 and 2004. Lifting them out of the water probably isn’t a good idea either. An attempt to salvage a wrecked munitions ship led to an explosion that registered 4.5 on the Richter scale.

Engineers are said to be, um, skeptical about the bridge. One called it “socially admirable but technically clueless.” 

When he was mayor of London (presumably with access to that pearl-handled sword), Johnson managed to spend £53.5 million (or in another report, £40 million, but what’s £13.5 million between friends?) on a garden bridge across the Thames without a single shovelful of dirt ever being moved. The project was canceled by the next mayor.

[Update: For an explanation of why he doesn’t have access to the pearl-handled sword, take a look at Autolycus’s comment below. Because, people, this stuff matters.]

He–and this is Johnson, not the next mayor–also proposed a new airport outside London. It got a fair bit of press coverage, mostly centered on whether it was technically feasible, before the idea was quietly shelved.

He did manage to get a cable car built across the Thames for £560 million. It was supposed to be a “a much needed new connection” across the river. In 2015, a Londonist article reported that it has next to no regular users. And by way of full disclosure, “next to no regular users” is my interpretation of a shitload of complications and variables, complete with charts and explanations. You’re welcome to wade through them and give me grief about my interpretation if you’re in the mood. 

Unionists in Northern Ireland are said to be supportive of the bridge, but Scotland’s less than thrilled. So maybe they can build one end up of but not the other.


In the meantime, a Dutch government scientist has proposed building two dykes that would enclose the North Sea, protecting something along the lines of 25 million people from flooding as sea levels rise. The two segments of the project would be 300 and 100 miles long. If you’re interested in water depths and technical possibilities, follow the link. It’s not complicated, but it’s more detail than I want to get into. The cost is estimated at £210 billion to £410 billion.


Far be it from me to go out of my way to make fun of a government, but when one gives me so much to work with I’d be rude to ignore it. 

Both Boris Johnson and one of his ministers have said that the UK will pursue an Australian-type trade deal in negotiations with the European Union. The problem is that the EU doesn’t have a trade deal with Australia. 

The EU trade commissioner called it a “code for no deal.” 


A hoard of Bronze Age tools were found in a London quarry–some 100 pounds (or 45 kilograms, if you want to be like that) of them. It includes 453 swords, axes, knives, chisels, sickles, razors, ingots, bracelets, and assorted goodies, many of them broken. They date from somewhere between 900 and 800 B.C.E., which translates to Before the Common Era, or B.C. if you take your historical dates with sugar. Some of the finds are typical of work found in what’s now France and what were, even then, the Alps, although they’d have been called something different. The point is that Britain wasn’t isolated from Europe, but part of a larger culture. 

Archeologists are busy speculating on what it all means. Was all this stuff an offering to the gods? Did the shift from the bronze to iron mean they’d lost their value? Was someone trying to control the amount of Bronze in circulation? Was it a storage site, and if so why wasn’t the stuff un-stored?

The definitive answer is that no one knows. 

The hoard will be in the Museum of London Docklands from April 3 to November 1.


When an Italian citizen living in London applied for permission to stay in Britain after the Brexit transition period ends, the Home Office app wanted his parents to confirm that he was who he claimed to be. The problem is that Giovanni Palmiero is 101. His parents weren’t available.

The app decided he’d been born in 2019, not 1919, because it doesn’t recognize ages with more than two digits. It took the volunteer who was helping him half an hour and two phone calls before anyone accepted that the app was the problem, not him.


And finally, just when the European Union announces that it’s going to clamp down on its 82 free ports because they make it easy to finance terrorism, launder money, traffic in drugs and people, avoid taxes, and generally promote mayhem, Britain has announced that, since we’re leaving the EU, it will create 10 new ones. 

Not that Britain couldn’t have done that when it was in the EU. It had 7 free ports between “1984 and 2012, when the UK legislation that established their use was not renewed,” according to the Institute for Government.

A free port, it turns out, doesn’t have to be a port. It can be landlocked if it has an airport. What matters is that “normal tax and customs rules do not apply. . . . Imports can enter with simplified customs documentation and without paying tariffs.” If the goods are then moved out of the zone into the rest of the country, all the tariffs and paperwork apply, but if they’re sent out of the country again, they don’t.

48 thoughts on “Lord mayors, tan-washing, green-washing, and Australia-washing. It’s the news from Britain

  1. You have a beautiful mind Ellen. It’s a lot for a mind like mine to absorb, but I like following threads out of the weave.

    That thing about Barnes and Noble and Black History Month – just OM freaking G. Insane. I clicked the link and saw the covers. Beyond belief. As L.L. McKinney is quoted as saying, in the article, “There are so many ways to get this right, they had to look for a way to get this wrong.” Glad they are retracting, by the sounds of it.

    In other notes, via that same article I found out that the author of my husband’s favourite, or at least most-often-reread book (The Count of Montecristo – which I have to admit to not yet having read), Alexandre Dumas, had a slave ancestor (his paternal grandmother, if I read his Wikipedia entry right, just now).

    Dumas was the only author of colour that was featured in the original Barnes and Noble campaign. I’m really interested to read this book now. The title and cover never grabbed my attention really, all seeming very “not my bag,” in the literary department, but perhaps one can’t always judge a book by its cover.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hadn’t thought, until your last line, how completely this escapade demonstrates that saying about not judging a book by its cover. I wish I’d thought of it while I was writing, but thanks for tossing it into the salad now. Whenever it goes in, it’s welcome.

      Interesting about the way Dumas’ history changes your view of the book. If you get a chance, I’d love to know what you think of it, reading it through that lens.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well, you brought me to the cover thing. So the credit rests with you, or with process, or with the Universe. :))

        I know right, about my views? We all have our prides and prejudices. I don’t think we can help them, except by becoming more aware of them, and working from there.

        I hope I will read it. I’m in the middle of 10 others at the moment. Beginning to think I need a WP book club, to keep me on track!!!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I know how you feel. I’ve been picking up novels that I don’t finish lately–they’re just not grabbing me and I don’t see the point in slogging through them. Mostly I’m reading history lately. Just finished re-reading Ruth Goodman’s How to Be a Tudor. Look for upcoming posts on Tudor life.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry to nitpick (no I’m not, let’s be honest, it’s one of life’s minor pleasures), but The Johnson would have had nothing to do with a pearl-encrusted sword: he was only the johnny-come-lately US-style executive mayor of the Greater London Authority, while all the pomp and ceremonial goes with the Lord Mayor of the (mediaeval) Corporation of London that governs the mediaeval City (a.k.a. the corporate, guild-based financial/business district).

    And do they ever cling on to that historic status! The sword is symbolic of their traditional autonomy, in relation to, well, just about any other authority: on certain ceremonial state occasions, if the monarch wants to process through the old City, s/he has to stop and wait for the various civic dignitaries, all done up in their ceremonial robes, to bring out the sword for the monarch to touch as a sign of confirming the City’s powers and status. Which all is all done with the straightest of faces.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Aha! That’s important nitpicking and explains a lot. And adds a level of silliness to the proceedings that I appreciate deeply. Thank you. I had a sense that a couple pieces weren’t meeting up the way they should and didn’t stop to chase down the reasons why. I’ll add a note referring to your comment.


  3. Ah Katy Perry is already a Unicef ambassador so has ambassadorial experience, plus Prince Charles likes her so gave her the job. She will be finding ways to end child trafficking apparently. As you do when you’re a popplette.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I looked up a list if the longest bridges in the world . There are a few much longer than this proposal, but I don’t think they cross such deep water. That sounds like a real engineering problem. Not to mention being blown up in the process. Boris does not have a record for sound judgment at least in engineering issues .

    I read Moby Dick as a teenager. parts if it in describing how to butcher dead whales was terribly boring. The other parts were very interesting. Descriptions of the action in the small boats, the mysteries of the savage and the motivations if the captain were captivating got a teenage boy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even as a kid, the whole “savage” thing set my skin crawling with its arrogance and ignorance. I know it has to be read in the context of the times, but it also has to be read in the context of our times, and of humanity in general. Plus I found the captain–although I wouldn’t have had the language to put it this way at the time–unconvincing: a kind of writer’s convenience to keep the plot creaking along.

      I think we can agree that I wasn’t the target audience.

      If anyone tries to build that bridge over all those munitions, I’m sure it’ll create plenty of excitement for teenage boys everywhere.


  5. I tried to read Moby Dick, once. It spent the first few chapters waffling on about the narrator staying in an inn or something. No mention of a Whale or Captain Ahab (is that his name?) so I gave up. I pity you beng made to read it. Why do adults force such dreadful books on children, I wonder?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. If Scotland leaves the UK and the bridge is built, you will have have another Eu/non-EU border. By the way, your post didn’t appear in my email. Nor was it in either my WP or regular spam. My settings were OK too. I only found it when I looked for your blog to inquire if you were OK. I think my computer may have a Boris Johnson filter when I was looking for one for Trump

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, hell, I have no idea what went wrong there. You might try re-subscribing and see if that connects you, then if you get it twice, drop one. Or subscribe a few dozen times. It’ll do wonders for my stats. If it doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll see if WP can figure it out, because I have no other idea what to do about it.

      If the bridge is built without anyone blowing up, it’ll be nothing short of a miracle.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Is it me? Why do I keep wondering when I entered the lunatic asylum? Or was I committed? Can you please ask the director of the facility, Dr Fether, and the Medical director, Prof. Tarr, whether I can be let out on my own volition?

    Liked by 2 people

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