Coffee mugs and vaccines: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

Let’s not go into the details of the government’s plan to jump-start the British economy. Let’s talk instead about the serious stuff: The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, presented his budget sitting at a desk the size of Ohio with a computer in front of him and rows of identically bound books behind him, looking at a printout, pen in hand as if he’s about to take three zeros away from a whole bunch of programs and add one to a bunch of other, worthier ones.

Have I built up enough suspense yet?

So there he is, presenting himself to the nation as the guy we can trust to save our asses from looming economic disaster, and what does he have on the corner of his desk? A mug. 

No big deal, you say? I’d have said the same thing, but some wiseacre spotted that it’s a £180 mug. The kind that keeps your beverage at exactly the temperature you set it to. 

“Our smart mug,” the copy on the mug’s website drones, “allows you to set an exact drinking temperature and keeps it there for up to three hours, so your coffee is never too hot, or too cold.”

And the promotional copy comes with a spare comma at no extra charge. Bonus points if you can spot it.

It’s good to be reminded that the country’s being led by people who understand how ordinary folks live.

The identically bound books? Did he buy them wholesale because they make an impressive backdrop? 

Nah, that’s too cynical even for me. I would never plant that thought in your head.

Irrelevant photo: a stone age monument.


Okay, I shouldn’t exaggerate. The mug doesn’t really cost £180. It costs £179.95, but by the time they add shipping and handling–hell, I figured we’d be somewhere in the neighborhood.


Drive-in comedy clubs have opened in London parking lots, allowing you to go to a live (sort of) show without risking the spread of the virus. You park, you tune your radio to whatever they tell you to tune it to, and you watch someone perform standup on a big screen. If you’d like to laugh, you honk your horn to set that tone of communal experience that’s so important in live theater. 

You’re welcome to laugh as well, but you’re less likely to want to, because something about hearing other people laugh makes us laugh. If other people are laughing, our bodies decide, we must be hearing something funny. We’re herd animals. It’s the same mechanism that sets whole fields full of cows laughing at the same time.

FYI: In British, a parking lot is a car park. In American, a car park is a parking lot. In the rest of the world, I’m out of my depth so I’ll shut up. 


The government missed another coronavirus testing target. Does anyone care anymore? Nah. We just tell each other, “Well, at least they’re still setting targets. That means they’re trying, right?”

The correct answer to that is, “Right.” It makes us feel so much better.

This target was about getting test results to people. By the end of June, 100% were supposed to get toe people in 24 hours. Or–why be misers?–possibly more than 100% Instead, they managed 54.9% by July 1. But hey, close enough. They both involve numbers. And months. So the will was there.


The government has finally extended testing to asymptomatic workers whose  jobs put them in contact with lots of people–folks like cab drivers, pharmacists, and cleaners. 

What took the government so long? Good question. Without testing asymptomatic people, we’re not likely to get ahead of this beast.

But I don’t really give you a full picture here. I focus on the fuckups and the bad decisions. That’s partly because they infuriate me and partly because they’re easy to make fun of. And the government makes so many of them. Wouldn’t I be ungrateful not to enjoy that bounty?

In spite of the incompetence this government’s so good at, cases are going down by somewhere between 2% and 5% a day. Assuming, of course, that anyone knows what the numbers are given how limited testing’s been. 


It looks like Britain will tell the European Union that it doesn’t want to be part of an EU corona virus vaccine-buying plan. According to a House of Commons committee, that’s because Britain refused to pay the EU some money this year. According to government ministers, though, it’s because Britain can get just as good a deal on its own. Besides, the EU plan would limit the number of doses it could get, would be slower than going it alone, and the grapes were sour anyway.

We’ll be fine.


Enough about Britain. Let’s hear from New York.

A Manhattan branch of the upscale (I think–I haven’t been there) food market Trader Joe’s has had long lines outside since the start of the pandemic, and people on the line do what people do these days when they have to wait: They talk on their phones. Loudly. Driving the people who live in the building (or possibly buildings, but we only know about one–and by we, of course, I mean me) behind them nuts, because let’s face it, most of those conversations are dull as ditchwater and even the ones that aren’t, you know, sometimes you just want to sleep in, or have your own conversation, or think your own thoughts.

So being New Yorkers, the people in one building took action: They copied down parts of the conversations they overheard, put them on signs, and hung them out their windows. 

“Stacey,” one read. “Shut up. No one cares you are getting more frozen berries for your epic smoothies.”

They change some of the names, but there’s no guarantee.

“You know what Jaclyn!? I think he IS cheating on you.”

“Hey Christopher, we can hear that Match, Tinder, Bumble and maybe Grindr have not been doing you justice in these times.”

You can find more on Instagram: @traderjoeslineUWS.

Has it make people shut up? Given how many signs there are, I’d guess not, but it’s made everyone who lives in the building happier.

46 thoughts on “Coffee mugs and vaccines: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

  1. Let’s see if my comments still end up in your spam 😊 Happy Saturday despite everything and thanks for the laughs even though I am not sure if it’s morally right to laugh about all the sh.. governments and people do these days. 🙄. Well, on the other hand, laughing might be the only way to get through…. 🙋‍♀️🐝

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had an envelope and a pen, so looked at the Chancellors mug numbers.
    Coffees made with one £5.00 pack (I’m going middle market here) of ground coffee (posh in some circles but instant isn’t worth drinking, hot, warm or otherwise) – about 25? (This is going along the lines of ‘he needs strongish coffee to stay awake, messing with all those numbers.) So 20p each?
    Cost of Chancellors fancy mug, less cost of just a normal mug = £178.00. (Being generous on the ‘normal mug’ here, could be £179.79 if he went to the right thrift shop and got the ‘chipped, but not in a strategically bad place’ option.)

    So, he needs to throw away and waste the cost of 890 ‘gone cold’ coffees in a normal mug to be able to say he’s broken even on the deal and the fancy mug is now saving him money.
    But I expect he already worked all that out, being Chancellor and all.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Trader Joe’s thing on Instagram went mostly over my head, which was still trying to get over the £180 coffee mug.

    In unrelated news this week I received half the flour that I ordered, yeast and eggs, so hurrah, I can bake some bread. What I didn’t receive was broccoli, which has confused me a little..

    Liked by 1 person

      • I have been into a supermarket that didn’t have it once, but I suspect it was probably back on the shelves shortly after I left. I’m finding it quite tricky judging what things are by their photographs. I bought what turned out to be a much smaller tin of golden syrup than I was expecting. If I’d seen it in person I might not have bought it. This week I managed to buy liquid soap without a pump. I don’t know why I didn’t notice that there wasn’t a pump in the photograph, but it would have been very obvious on a supermarket shelf. I can’t complain, though. Home delivery has probably saved the aged parent’s life.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. A smart mug? I cannot quite wrap my head around that idea. Beyond the cost of it, you need to constantly control the temperature of your beverage? That seems the height of anal retentive to me.

    Didn’t know about the lines at Trader Joe’s in Manhattan nor the fun/revenge account on Twitter, but I love it. Very passive-aggressive, most clever.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The mug that does everything but drink itself – wow – that’s truly how the other half (or quarter or eighth or sixteenth or thirtysecondth or 1% live). Well, I wouldn’t want a mug that smart anyway. It might start telling me what to do. I hate that.
    Wonder if Roger Stone shops at that Trader Joe in NYC? Nah. I doubt it, but I bet he has a smart mug to go with his smug face. I hate him, too.
    Lest I be too negative, bravo to the Brits for extended testing to asymptomatic folks who come in contact with lots of people.
    And top of the morning to one and all. Stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I’d hesitate about having a mug that’s smarter than me. And that drinks my tea for me. I’m greedy. I want the stuff myself. Top of the morning, though? That–as far as I know–is Irish. I don’t know if the Irish really say it, but folks act as if they do.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As a native New Yorker now living in self-imposed exile on the west coast, I loved this bit on the TJ sign-hangers — what a clever and New York-y response to something so irritating. I applaud their self-restraint in not hurling frozen berries at the folks below and hope they are using real names. No need to protect the guilty!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m a New Yorker myself. I had the same reaction: It’s such a New York thing to do. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of throwing a bucket of water from an upstairs window, but it’s a brownstone. You’d have to get it out quite a way to hit anyone.


  7. I had to look up that mug. They’re $99 here and there’s a $180 travel mug version. Wow. and there are jokes in my family of some potter-made mugs that cost $30 a piece… Trader Joe’s is not upscale. They have shrink-wrapped produce that goes off the next day and sell all sorts of stuff at cut prices. They do have good frozen h’ors d’oeuvres if you’re having a party (or pretending, for now), but for the most part the stuff is on the verge of going bad and they don’t have a good selection of actual groceries (they once told me baking powder was a seasonal item). I don’t know how people feed themselves for a week with the selection there. Well, the COVID thing, I just don’t know. We seem to be okay in northern Virginia, going slowly down, but it’s a bit nerve wracking. I just keep going to the garden. It helps.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. For awhile I worked at an antique store. People would come in looking for old books – and rarely -VERY rarely – someone would come in looking for matching sets of books to complement a room’s decor. Well, it was one way for those outdated sets of encyclopedias to find a more or less loving home. I don’t know about complementing a $180 mug.

    And what does t hat cryptic last line about Crackington Bude mean ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for asking about that last line. It’s where I live and I didn’t mean it to be there, so I’ll have to figure out how to turn it off.

      I have heard about designers buying books like that, although never to match a coffee cup. I’ve been in a pub that was decorated with shelves of books. It did look very homey, and it was also–well, they weren’t there to be read, so what a waste.


  9. About that mug. Does it let your drink cool to the perfect temperature or does it have to be at the perfect temperature when you put it in? (You don’t need a comma when the series is only two items – I think of you every time I make a conscious decision to break grammar rules for one of the animals in my blog)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d expect the drink can handle cooling to the perfect temperature by itself, without the intervention of technology, in this climate. But you know people who love tech–they’d intervene just because it’s possible. So, all told, I haven’t a clue. Now, about those commas. Very true: You don’t need one. But you can add one, and if you let a sentence get convoluted enough, sometimes it helps to keep everything separated.

      Apologies for being in your head. I don’t know how I got there.

      Liked by 1 person

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