Cathedral cats, soy sauce, and highway signs: Its the news from Britain

Southwark Cathedral’s much-loved cat, Doorkins Magnificat, has died. 

Doorkins came to the cathedral as a stray and discovered that the vergers–the people who open the building in the morning and (I assume) close it at night–were good for a bowl of food and a pet or two if she was in the mood, so she stayed for twelve years, making herself at home on the warm pipe that runs under a stone seat, on a cushion, on a grating where warm air (I’m guessing here) does very little to take the chill off a cathedral’s huge open space but does a great deal to take the chill off a cat.

At Christmas, she liked to sleep in the manger display. Humans, I need you to move the kid over. The cat needs a nap.

That’s one way we can know Doorkins was a genuine cat. 

She wasn’t a fan of the bishop, she strolled through the most solemn of services, and she gave herself a good cleaning whenever the mood took her. When the queen visited–well, they say a cat can look at a queen, but a cat can also decide it’s not worth the trouble. Doorkins couldn’t be bothered. She opened one eye, didn’t see anything that impressed her, and shut it again. So we’ll amend the ancient wisdom: A cat can look at a queen, but only if she wants to.

What could be more relevant to a post that opens with a cat than a photo of birds? This is a murmuration of starlings. In the winter, they flock together to roost in the trees at the edge of the field–thousands upon thousands of them. They come in in separate flocks that merge, circle, form shifting patterns, and eventually condense onto the trees for the night.

She did lend her name and image to a range of tchotchkes that the cathedral sold to visitors–mouse pads, mugs, magnets, cards, eventually a kids’ book. She had her own Twitter account but left it to her humans to post stuff.

Tchotchkes? Sorry, that’s a bit of Yiddish. Or maybe it’s Yinglish.  Either way, it’s out of place in a conversation about a cathedral, which is probably why it wandered in, as disrespectful as a cat. Tchotchkes are little things that are basically useless but decorative and don’t we just love having them around?

After Doorkins died, the cathedral held a memorial service, although in keeping with Covid guidelines they limited it to thirty people. Her ashes are buried in the cathedral close.

A close? It’s, um, a closed space. In British, a dead-end street’s called a close. So is the enclosed area around a cathedral, even though the ones I’ve seen aren’t seriously enclosed, just marked with a low wall. I don’t usually let myself get publicly sentimental, but a cathedral close is a good spot for a cathedral cat with a following that won’t be ready to let her go. 

The dean of the cathedral said, “She did more to bring people to this place than I will ever do.”

*

A seventeen-year-old student working on a project to explore brand loyalty fooled mainstream online news outlets into thinking Woolworth’s was going to reopen in Britain. The store hasn’t been around for over ten years, but the MailOnline, the Star, the Metro, the Mirror, the Sun, and a fair number of others fell for a tweet saying the chain would be resurrected, even though Woolworth’s was spelled two different ways and the Twitter account linked to a nonexistent website. 

The student didn’t expect (or mean) the experiment to take off the way it did, but once news outlets picked it up it got away from them. Twitter took twelve hours to shut the account down.

*

With Brexit looming and the pandemic raging, the government needs whatever good news it can get, so it announced proudly that a new trade agreement with Japan will mean cheaper soy sauce for your average British soy sauce addict. Because you know how many pints of soy sauce a dedicated user can get through in an afternoon. 

The announcement from the Department of International Trade didn’t spell soy sauce more than one way, and the trade agreement with Japan is entirely real, but it turns out that the price of soy sauce won’t be going down. Under the EU trade agreement that we’re about to leave, the tariff on soy sauce is a whopping 0%. Unless someone pays us to take it, it’s hard to get cheaper than that. 

We would have gotten a bargain if as European Union members we’d been importing it on the basis of World Trade Organization rules, but we haven’t been. Those aren’t the rules the EU and Japan trade under. 

It also turns out that Britain doesn’t import much soy sauce from Japan. It comes from China.

Other than that, the announcement was entirely accurate. 

*

Two brothers are suing the London police for stopping, searching, and handcuffing them after they greeted each other with a fist bump. Both are–I’m sure this will surprise you–Black. At 29 and 30, they say that between them they’ve been stopped and searched more than 25 times, starting when they were as young as 12. The only explanation they were given for the search was that they fist-bumped each other and were in the Deptford high street.

It’s legal for the British police to stop and search someone if they have “reasonable grounds to suspect you’re carrying illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property, or something which could be used to commit a crime, such as a crowbar.”

Or if you’re Black and bumping fists in Deptford. 

According to the government’s own figures, between April 2018 and March 2019, there were four stop and searches for every thousand White people, compared with thirty-eight for every thousand Black people.

*

Britain’s garbage dumps are under attack by zombie batteries, and if you live in some other country the odds are that your garbage dumps are in just as much danger. 

A zombie battery is one that’s tossed out with the household trash instead of being given the respectful end-of-life care it’s due. It then gets punctured or outright crushed and starts a fire.

Or–in the name of accuracy–it can start a fire, especially if it’s the lithium-ion type that run laptops, cell phones (aka mobile phones), e-cigarettes, and Bluetooth thingies. They can get worked up enough to explode. 

Zombie batteries are believed to have started 250 fires at waste processing sites in the year ending in March 2020, and Britain goes through 22,000 tons of batteries a year. Less than half of them are recycled properly. 

Beware. And my apologies for not posting that before Halloween. A zombie battery would make a great costume if you’re into obscure jokes.

*

In response to a directive from the Department for Transport, it looks like Highways England is rebranding itself as National Highways, although it still covers only England and the new name has managed to piss off the Welsh (or at least some of them). The Welsh political party Plaid Cymru called the new name “self-aggrandising and offensive.” Wales, like England, is a nation within the country that is the United Kingdom, and in Wales the roads are the responsibility of the Welsh government, not the English one.

It’ll also be expensive. It’ll cost something like £7 million to redesign and reprint brochures, signs explaining road works,  documents, departmental cars and trucks, and who knows what else. And if that isn’t absurd enough, the agency’s said to have just finished updating all of the above after a 2015 name change. 

However much they spend redesigning signs about road works, I predict that they’ll continue to be unreadable. Instead of saying something like, “Closed 8 pm to 8 am, 3 October to 5 October,” road closure signs say something along the lines of, “We’re terribly sorry for the inconvenience, but this road will be closed between 8 pm and 8 am from 3 October 2020 to 5 October 2020 while we conduct roadworks that will improve your driving experience. ”

And of course it’ll end with some sort of attribution to National Highways, or Highways England, or whoever they are. Not that most drivers read that far. We’re all panting to know who left us the sign, but by the time we’ve read as far as “driving experience” we’re in the ditch and not happy with how ours has gone. 

Either that or we zip past knowing only that the road will close at some point but sublimely ignorant of when.

Diversion signs, on the other hand, point us boldly through the first turn or two to take us around a road closure, then whoever set them out either ran out of signs or got bored. Either way, they abandon us on some back road. If we keep driving, though, and take a random number of rights and lefts, eventually we come out someplace else and can start over. 

*

In California, raccoons broke into a bank, prowled the halls, sat at a desk, and were shooed out before they could withdraw any cash, although they did get some almond cookies. 

They broke in sometime during the night and seem to have climbed a tree, crawled through the air ducts, and fallen through the ceiling tiles. In the morning, they were spotted through the windows by a guy heading to work on a construction site. He called the Humane Society.

No charges have been filed.

85 thoughts on “Cathedral cats, soy sauce, and highway signs: Its the news from Britain

  1. Yes, those closure signs annoy me too. It takes about three passes in the car to work out what’s going on, which is fine if it’s a couple of weeks away. I got caught out last year when part of the route to my tap class was closed. I’d half read the sign one week, then the road was closed the following week. And then I was in the diversion without being prepared for it in a place I only visited once a week. It wasn’t a great experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They really are absurd. I got caught in a diversion when they closed a bridge between Gunnislake and Tavistock–a five- or ten-minute drive. I ended up wandering through back roads for something approaching an hour (in fairness, it would’ve been twenty minutes or so to get to the next bridge) before I found a main road and figured out where I was. And with 20/20 hindsight, I can tell you that I did have a sat-nav in the car but I used the thing so seldom that it never crossed my mind to plug it in.

      Great moments in navigation. I didn’t find the Americas and think I’d found India, but I came away with a new respect for how that can happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love murmurations, I have seen Starlings doing it, and also Lapwings, which was fairly spectacular!
    I also love the word murmuration, wordpress doesn’t believe it is real however, which goes to show it should get out more and watch some birds!
    I also like susurration.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Given that tchotchkes are defined as ‘small toys, gewgaws, knickknacks, baubles, or trinkets’ I’m having trouble separating them from kitsch, inasmuch as their possessors mutually seem to have had any semblance of taste and discernment cauterised with a hot iron at an early age. However thank you for enlightening me on the need for zombies to be battery-driven, which tends to suggest the term ‘undead’ is an oxymoron (not to be confused with an unintelligent welder).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Those road guys have given me much to read during my many years of sitting in traffic queues. My favourite was a huge sign on the North Circular Road in London, which I passed – very slowly – every morning on the work commute. The roadworks were extensive, and one day I noticed that the ‘due for completion autumn 1994’ had been amended with a bit of paint to read ‘autumn 1995.’ With such informative signs, how can we exist without them?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tchochkes, knick-knacks, set-arounds, gew-gaws, figurines. Dust-collectors, at the moment, best describes my bits of glass, wood and resin junk. During this pandemic, though, I packed away most of them. Felt the need, somehow, for order.
    Love the story of Doorkins Magnificat. And the phenomenon of birds flying in unison and that wonderfully descriptive word, murmuration.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right: knick-knacks, gew-gaws. I never heard set-arounds. I like it. It’s exactly what people do with them. None of those came to mind, for some reason. I think tchotchkes elbowed them out of my mind.

      Like

  6. It’s legal for the British police to stop and search someone if they have “reasonable grounds to suspect you’re carrying illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property, or something which could be used to commit a crime, such as a crowbar.”

    Nice to see someone has dumber rules than America, it takes a lot to do that.

    In California, raccoons broke into a bank, prowled the halls, sat at a desk, and were shooed out before they could withdraw any cash, although they did get some almond cookies.

    That will teach them not to return, won’t find anything good to eat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, no, no, you’ve got the raccoons all wrong and so did I. See Dan Antion’s comment for an explanation of what really happened. I’m at a loss to explain how he found out, but find out he did.

      Like

  7. Little do they know that the raccoons opened a Visa account, stole a cell phone and are happily stocking up for winter before the first statement arrived. When by the police go to investigate the deliveries, they will find road signs indicating they the road is closed for construction. The critters have always gotten a bum wrap because they look like thieves.

    Sorry to hear about Doorkins.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I loved the animal tales that bookended this post. Your tribute to Doorkin was especially uplifting. Maybe those raccoons can figure out a way to get into the White House and drive our president out. I can hardly believe the incidents of black men being harassed by police that continue unabated the world over. It boggles the mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a wonderfully informative piece! It was so good I’m afraid I’ll have to take a look in my Funk & Wagnall’s dictionary to identify several words including murmurations which of course was new to me.
    Keep up the good work, have a great weekend and try to stay ahead of zombies and starlings.
    Bravo.

    Like

    • Starlings don’t scare me. Now zombies–

      Okay, if they’re batteries have run down, they’re no threat to anyone. It’s just one of those things modern life teaches us. They should never have trusted themselves to the technology.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The item about the Fist-Bump Brothers being detained gives a new dimension Lovecraft never imagined to his story “The Deptford Horror.”

    Yes, Starlings in the US DO behave that way. Every fall, but going on til you are sure they aren’t doing it to fly south, but just to reune. When you don’t see them but just hear them first take flight in the fall it jars you til you remember what it is.

    The Queen didn’t seem upset at being ignored by Doorkins, but one of the Church higher-ups condemned the rites for the cat. That lead to the Dean’s retort about Doorkins bringing in way more people than he ever could. Or the higher-ups either.

    Knowing how the raccoons around here operate, I’m sure that they transferred all their previous credit card balances over with no interest for for 90 days and will soon break into another bank to do it all again, thus avoiding any interest penalties.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t even begin to imagine how the queen’s mind works, but I can speculate that with everybody being deferential and creepy, it might be a relief to be ignored by a cat. That much, at least, she could count on as being real.

      Thanks for the info about American starlings, and I’m sure you’re right as well about the behavior of the raccoons. Those clever devils.

      Like

  11. I loved your description of seeing the birds and the sound of them. Amazing. And for some reason, the zombie batteries and the idea of fires at the dump had me giggling. But I WILL pay attention to how I dispose of batteries from now on. What better place for a zombie than a burning dump? I almost bought a coat pin last year that was a red dumpster with a fire in it…passed it up, but it’s been a dumpster fire of a year. At least it’s been leavened by criminal raccoons…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. 2 or 3 years ago, Southwark Cathedral ran a photography event. Sadly it was fully booked when I learned of it, but I wonder how much Doorkins featured in the photographs from that evening. Maybe a new cat will move in now there’s a vacancy.

    Liked by 1 person

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