What not to do on Twitter, and other news from Britain

Never underestimate the power of Boris Johnson’s government to get things wrong. It sent a message of congratulations to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and after it was posted on Twitter some wiseacre adjusted the color (don’t ask me–I’m electronically challenged) and noticed that Trump’s name had been replaced with Biden’s but was still lingering. Talk about you metaphors. The words second term had also been ineffectively deleted. 

Downing Street is harumphing about of course having had two messages ready to go, but why they couldn’t be bothered to have two separate messages instead of sending the president-elect a stained hand-me-down is a mystery we may never solve. 

Downing Street’s believed to be reluctant in its congratulations. Biden’s win complicates Johnson’s Brexit calculations–although saying that Johnson calculates is probably naive. Or just plain silly. Either way, the day after the election was called for Biden, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, was asked if he agreed with the statement that every vote should be counted in a democratic election and he managed not to commit himself.

Too controversial. 


Irrelevant photo: Crocuses, to remind those of us in the northern hemisphere that spring will come. These bloomed in February.

Some p.r. genius at the Royal Dutch Shell–the oil company–ran a Twitter poll asking, “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions? #EnergyDebate.” The choices were “offset emissions, stop flying, buy electric vehicle, renewable energy.” 

That last choice is missing a verb. Was it supposed to be “use renewable energy”? “Marginalize renewable energy”? “Crochet renewable energy”? 

Never mind. Back when I had a use in the real world, I was an editor. It left me unfit to wander the internet. Nobody, as far as I’ve found, picked up on that oddity in the question. They focused on the more important point: Here was an oil giant saying (in its follow-up tweet) that everybody had to do their part–as in, hey, don’t look at us. What are you doing to get us out of this mess?

Editor or not, I do mix the singular (everybody) with the plural (their). The alternative is to follow the logic of English grammar and assume 100% of the world population is male. But the mixture’s theirs in this case.

Never mind. Let’s talk about the response Shell got: 

Stanley with no last name wrote, “I commit to never buying Shell gasoline.” 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote, “I’m willing to hold you accountable for lying about climate change for 30 years when you secretly knew the entire time that fossil fuel emissions would destroy our planet.”

Scott Dooley wrote, “I’m willing to stop spilling 1,926 barrels of oil in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Will you match me?”

Greta Thunberg wrote, “I don’t know about you, but I sure am willing to call-out-the-fossil-fuel-companies-for-knowingly-destroying-future-living-conditions-for-countless-generations-for profit-and-then-trying-to-distract-people-and-prevent-real-systemic-change-through-endless greenwash-campaigns.” 

Daniel Nima Moattar posted a headline about Shell fueling violence in Nigeria by paying rival militant gangs and wrote, “Driving slower, shopping less, maybe cutting back on paramilitaries.”

Alexandria Villasenor got in what should be the last word but probably wasn’t: “This won’t age well.”


In another Twitter success story, Eric Trump tweeted, “Minnesota get out and vote!!!”

Unfortunately, it was a week after the election.


Enough social media. Ever wonder why Britain’s standing stones ended up where they did instead of in fifteen other spots? 

I didn’t either, but archeologists do, and some of them have come up with an answer for one set, the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis, in the Hebrides. They found a star-shaped pattern left by a lightning strike. It’s some 20 meters across and now buried in a peat bog that formed 3,000 years ago. A hidden stone circle lies under the peat with it. One theory is that the stone circle was built in response to what must have been a massive event at the time. 

The buried circle’s older than the peat bog and older than Stonehenge. 


The Department for International Trade is frantically trying to get trade agreements into Parliament in time for them to be approved before the Brexit bell tolls midnight, Boris’s shoe falls off, and the better-than-ever Brexit trade deals we were going to negotiate turn into pumpkins, which at this time of year have been sitting outside too long and been nibbled by squirrels.  

Have you ever wondered why everything in Cinderella’s life turned back to what it had been before it was enchanted except that lone, uncomfortable shoe the prince picked up? 

I’m off the topic, aren’t I?

The idea is to approve a bunch of agreements that would let Britain continue trading with various non-European Union countries on the same terms as when it was part of the EU. If they don’t get approved, trade will default to the less advantageous World Trade Organization terms. The hitch is that international treaties have to sit around parliament for 21 days before they can be approved, but parliament’s going home for the holidays on December 17, which means that the bell doesn’t toll on January 1, when the Brexit transition period ends, it tolls on Thursday of this week. And it tolls for thee. 

Or for them. Or for all of us who live here.

Talks with fifteen countries are still incomplete. Representatives of other countries (sorry, I don’t know how many) say no talks have been conducted at all. The shadow international trade secretary said, ““Not a single additional continuity agreement was secured in the first eight months of 2020.” She mentioned the by now much overworked word shambles. And I’d love to tell you what that additional is in addition too, but I don’t know. 

A Department for International Trade spokesperson, however, said, “We are considering all possible options to maintain continuity of existing trade terms. It is misleading to say there’s a hard deadline on this.”

If you’ll allow me to translate that, it means, “Oh shit. How many days do you get in 21?”


A study of seagulls has established that they can tell time and that they know the days of the week.

Sort of. They know what time schoolkids will be out in the playground and dropping food. When it’s almost time, they perch on surrounding roofs. When the bell rings, they get to work. And they not only know what times the dumps, fish processing plants, and markets put out their best wares, they somehow know not to show up at the dump on weekends.

A cynical person might say they’re smarter than the Department for International Trade, and I did see one on the neighbor’s roof holding a man’s black dress shoe. It mumbled something about, “What does he think I want with this?” Then if dropped the shoe and flew off to the nearest school playground. 


Since we’re talking about birds, New Zealand is once again voting for its favorite native bird, and there’ve been accusations of vote rigging: 1,500 fraudulent votes for the kiwi pukupuku–the little spotted kiwi–were discovered and they all traced back to a single IP address. 

They’ve been deleted and calm and fair play have been restored, but the bird of the year election is a big thing in New Zealand and passions run high. An adult toy store is campaigning for the hihi on the grounds that it practices consensual polyamory and that the males have, proportionate to the bird’s size, the largest testicles of any bird in the world. 

Want to guess whether it’s a male or a female running that store?

The winner hasn’t been announced yet, but in 2018, the winner was the kereru, known for getting so drunk on fermented fruit that it falls out of trees. 


79 thoughts on “What not to do on Twitter, and other news from Britain

  1. If that bird vote were to be held in Australia, we’d adopt the kereru as our own (as we ritually do with successful New Zealanders, like Sam Neil, Russell Crowe etc) and make it our national bird. The general contempt here for the flightless emu is reflected in our penchant for eating them (and no, they don’t taste like chicken).

    Liked by 4 people

    • Oh, those bad kids.

      The Guardian, years ago, famously ran an April Fool’s story about the Italian spaghetti harvest. Spaghetti was new enough here that (I think, but don’t trust me on this) some people fell for it. British newspapers take April Fool’s Day seriously, and you have to watch your step as you work your way through. You want some caffeine in your system that morning before you face the task.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Over in the former colonies, pre-trumpxit the various departments are being loaded with witless loyalists even the Republican Senate refused to confirm the first time they were nominated. But now, like the rest of the departments except State and Justice, they can all be headed by “acting heads”. And not acting very well either, which is the point apparently.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I see a lot on Twitter about a coup, which I’m sure Trump would love but I’m not convinced he or the people around him have the wit to pull off. At this point, I’m hoping all the talk of a coup is hysteria, but the votes on that genuinely aren’t in yet.


  3. Oh, and I thought the US had been under a lot of stress! You had me rolling with laughter when I read “1,500 fraudulent votes for the kiwi pukupuku–the little spotted kiwi…” (so close to home.) Thank you so much for your talented writing and incredible sense of humor. What a gift! Hopefully we in the US can endeavor to scrape this barnacle off our backsides and begin to mend. Thanks again Ellen, love the wit with the absurdity!!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I know this is a minor point in the grand scheme of things, but… Actually, yes, I have always wondered why everything but Cinderella’s shoe (and, in some of the versions the partner to that shoe) reverted back to how it was before.

    Oh, and our seagulls definitely know which day the rubbish bins go out, and you can count on them to be waiting (often perched on nearby cars) for people to put them out. You’d think that would be enough to make the council give us decent bins, but the closest they got was some kind of supposedly seagull-proof sack with a flap, which was essentially like putting out packed lunches for them as far as I could tell, since it sure didn’t stop ours from getting at the rubbish.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. It almost makes a person want to move to New Zealand :) Actually, if it wasn’t so far away and so darn difficult to get accepted … I’d be packing now. I can’t be the only person to have a crush on Jacinda Arden, can I?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. In my extensive experience of Stone circles of Britain and Ireland, Callanish is one of my favourite.

    I appreciate that that may sound sarcastic, it wasn’t it really is one of my favourites, it is lovely there. I am pretty taken with most of the Outer Hebrides mind you…

    I also think that stone circles are much more interesting than the incompetencies of the government. My spell check thinks incompetencies is not a word, it obviously hasn’t seen the job description for our government.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Seagulls are smarter than a lot of people, particularly many of those in government. Our national bird is technically the Gray Jay, but everyone knows the Canada Goose could kick its ass any day. They would have run Trump out of the White House by now.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Where do I begin to tell the story of how great…

    Boris, et. al., aren’t alone in getting things confused. Reagan was the first president to acquire Alzheimer’s while in office, Biden is the first president to have the disease when he was elected. In two debates he thought he was debating Bush. When he came here to campaign he said, “It’s great to be in Missouri!” Sadly, he was in Pennsylvania at the time.

    I feel for Shell Oil, rather than offering constructive suggestions they get a bunch of idiots (AOC included) who apparently have no ideas. Not surprising from a group of people who think solar cells and flourescent light bulbs are environementally friendly.

    I thought the stones were put there because that’s where Paul Bunyan’s friends left them after they finished playing domino’s, forgetting to tap the lead one so as to watch them all fall.

    Regarding Cinderalla’s legendary footwear, not off topic at all. I always wondered how she could run in glass slippers without getting her feet cut up by the shards as they broke. Also, why was she wearing slippers to a ball in the first place, shouldn’t she have worn high heels instead?

    As regards to seagulls telling time…they’re ahead of most U.S. children who, according to a recent study, aren’t able to tell time on a standard clock…but they do know their Roman Numerals, so the movie industry is safe, at least until MMXCIX.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I seriously doubt Biden is senile, but I doubt I’ll convince you. A journalist I knew was part of the press corps for I can’t remember which presidential campaign. At a certain point, they all lost track of where they were–they were in so many different places in sequence that they all looked alike. She was calling in a story (remember the days of phone booths?) and the person on the desk asked what city she was calling from. She hadn’t a clue.

      Whatever I insults I lob Boris Johnson’s way, I don’t claim that he’s getting senile. That’s not the problem we’re facing.

      But let’s move on to happier topics: slippers. I’m not sure at what point the word shifted meaning but it does seem to have meant a light shoe at some point way back there. Probably as opposed to a book or a patten, which was worn over a shoe to keep it out of the mud.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Okay, I broke down and looked it up. EtymologyOnline says, “type of loose, light indoor footwear, late 15c., agent noun from slip (v.), the notion being of a shoe that is ‘slipped’ onto the foot. Old English had slypescoh ‘slipper,’ literally ‘slip-shoe.'”

          My sense is that they had a thinner sole than an outdoor shoe, but having lived in the country for a while now I’m absolutely convinced that they also carried less mud.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Seagulls can tell the time – when I used to be a teacher, I remember them clearly hanging around the school yard just after lunch “hour” (it was nver an actual hour) had ended. For some reason thet were usually the teeanger sort of seagulls (the gangly sort with brown spotted plummage).

    Liked by 1 person

Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.