Having survived 40 Minnesota winters, I can get snobbish about the British weather, but recently 61 people got trapped in at a pub by a 9-foot-high snow drift and downed power lines, so I’m now prepared to admit that British weather can, very occasionally, be extreme.
That happened during Storm Arwen (Britain names its storms these days). Even in Minnesota, we would have classed it as more than a nuisance snow. Most of the people were stuck there for three nights and they spent the time playing board games, singing karaoke, and doing pub quizzes. Two stayed an extra night, working up the courage to leave.
Pub quizzes? They’re a big thing in British pubs and people love them. Don’t ask me to explain that. I’m a foreigner. I was glad to be done with quizzes when I left school. A single day of quizzes, board games, and karaoke would’ve sent me out into the snow drift. If I could’ve gotten the door open.
The pub fed everyone for free but–wisely–charged for booze.
Elsewhere, Storm Arwen was less fun. Thousands of people lost power, and with it heat, for, as I write this, more than a week. Why it’s taking the power companies so long to patch the network back together is anyone’s guess. There’ll be an investigation eventually, but in the meantime we’ve got some people who are too damn cold to think that far ahead.
The army and navy were finally called out to help. That would’ve happened sooner, but it took a while for anyone to remind the government that people up north do actually vote.
Storm Arwen was followed closely by Storm Barra, and Storm Barra was preceded by wind and snow warnings. Since storm news uses a traffic light system and warnings are yellow, we’ve been treated to yellow snow warnings.
Maybe you have to have lived in the US to find that funny–or disgusting–but Minnesotans consider it the height of humor to advise each other not to eat yellow snow, and here we are with warnings about the stuff falling out the sky. How the dogs managed to get near it before it hit the ground is anyone’s guess.
You have no idea how many things will change when you drop yourself in a new country.
Reviving a cat story
This happened it 2015, but it resurfaced recently and since I missed it last time around, I’m willing to bet someone else out there did too: A man in Yorkshire called 999–Britain’s police, fire, and ambulance emergency number–because his girlfriend let the cat eat his bacon.
Yes, and what, the operator asked, did he want done about it?
Well, he wanted to press charges, of course.
Against the girlfriend or the cat?
Against both of them.
“Right, sir,” the operator said. “it’s not a criminal offense to let a cat eat your bacon. And we don’t arrest cats. I’m very sorry.”
No word on what happened to the relationship, but I wouldn’t bet on him living happily ever after. With either the girlfriend or the cat.
My gratitude to CatLadyMac for pushing me in the direction of this story.
Neolithic mince pies
Archeologists at Stonehenge have been derailed by enough Christmas cheer that they’re claiming the monument’s builders invented the mince pie. Or at least that they ate something very much like mince pies, involving meat fat, nuts, and fruit. And possibly grain for a crust.
Or possibly not. They’re making a huge leap from what was available to what they might’ve done with it., and I’ve made enough questionable pies to tell you that you can’t draw a straight line from having the right ingredients to turning out a pie. Especially if you’ve never seen a pie before.
In the interest of accuracy, let’s say that it’s probably not the archeologists making that leap from they had the ingredients to they made mince pies. That comes from English Heritage, which funnels visitors through Stonehenge, and sells them stuff–including, at this time of year no doubt, mince pies, since they’re a hazard of every British Christmas. English Heritage has made a “neolithic mince pie recipe” available.
Those people you see standing on the sidelines rolling their eyes and silently mouthing, “Don’t blame me”? Those are the archeologists.
In Italy, a man tried to get his vaccination certificate while still avoiding vaccination by presenting a fake arm. Because who’d notice, right?
Colorwise, the arm was a pretty good match for the rest of him, but it was made of silicon and the rest of him was made of muscle, bone, and all those other things that are found in animate creatures. So yes, someone noticed, probably well before jabbing a needle into the arm.
I can’t help wondering whether he just handed the arm over or attached it in more or less the area where a real arm would normally grow. Either way, he didn’t get his proof of vaccination and he did get some attention from the local police.
And the press.
From the start of the Covid pandemic, a substantial number of people have told us that viruses inevitably get milder as time goes on. Didn’t that happen with the 1917 flu epidemic? Didn’t the Black Death eventually disappear? The conversation around that has gained in intensity with the arrival of the Omicron variant, which on early and incomplete reports appears to be more transmissible and maybe, possibly, hopefully milder.
With the emphasis on maybe. The experts, though–spoilsports that they are–are holding out for actual evidence before they commit themselves.
But do viruses inevitably become milder? Not according to Alan McNally, the director of the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham.
I know. Another spoilsport. The world’s full of them. He calls it “one of the most baffling misinformation myths peddled during the pandemic.”
He’s joined by spoilsport Brian Ferguson, an immunologist at the University of Cambridge. “It’s really unpredictable what will happen to the evolution of the host or the virus. You can pick out examples of things going one way or the other depending on what point you want to make.”
One argument trotted out to defend the belief that viruses evolve toward being kinder is that indisputable fact that dead people don’t walk around much. This, the argument goes, limits their ability to spread any disease that may have killed them.
I’ll confess to having trotted out that argument myself. Oops. I did mention that I’m not an expert, right?
The problems with it include Covid’s ability to spread before people know they have it, including people who never become sick and never know they were carrying the disease to spread it anyway.
And if that isn’t enough, a disease can be serious, both to individuals and to the society they live in, even if the people who get it don’t die.
We have no way of predicting what direction this mess will go in.
How’s the vaccination campaign going? Well, the Sicilian village of Monte delle Rosse (population 2,100) has a vaccination rate of 104%. And they accomplished that without vaccinating either the dead or any silicon arms. Here’s how it happened:
Italy calculates the vaccination rate by comparing the number of residents and the number of people vaccinated. So when people came in from the surrounding villages for their vaccines, they put little Monte delle Rosse on the map.
The take-up there was particularly good because before the vaccines were available, the area had a bad Covid outbreak, started by a nun and a priest who came to town not knowing they were Covid positive.
That sounds like the start of a bad joke, doesn’t it? Although they usually walk into a bar, not a Sicillian town. Sorry I can’t supply a punchline, but-you’re welcome to leave one in the Comments section. In the meantime, the outbreak really did start that way, and when a vaccination team arrived, word of mouth brought people flooding in.
The village mayor said, “There was almost an air of celebration at the vaccination hubs. It was like being at a popular town festival. People understood that, with vaccines, they were creating a shield that would protect their community, safeguarding the very survival of the village.”
It also helped that someone set up a What’s App group that responded “to fake news and reassured people about vaccine safety. I am convinced that, if we had spread the wrong information about the dangers of jabs, today we would be here to tell you another story–that of dozens of deaths from Covid that would have risked halving the inhabitants of this village.”
A follow-up on what makes a British city a city
How do they justify that? The boosters cite things like its wonderful people, its community spirit, its history, and its beauty. Not to mention its clock tower and the possibility that it’s the oldest chartered town in Britain. Or that, if it isn’t, it’s among the oldest.
“Size is not important,” said a town councillor, who may or may not have understood what he was saying.
I’m working on a proposal to make my living room a city. It has a human population of two and a remarkable number of resident animals, along with stunning drifts of dog and cat fur. .