Britain: money laundering, sandwiches, poisonous snakes

Because the British government’s taking a hard line on money laundering, it’s not easy to set up a bank account here. Banks and potential customers have to work their way through all sorts of requirements. And yet somehow or other, Britain’s a world money laundering capital.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

A year or three ago, Wild Thing had to set up a checking account for a small organization that had a treasury of less than £100. Probably a lot less, but I don’t remember. It took four trips to the bank with her passport, a utility bill, and a note from her mother, who is—inconveniently, although not surprisingly given Wild Thing’s age—dead. The note was hard to get and not entirely convincing.

The second person who was going to sign checks had to make two trips and the third had to make just one. Then Wild Thing had to drive back to the bank to pick up the checks.

Couldn’t they have just sent them? Don’t ask me. The bank’s roughly half an hour from our house. Why make things easy?

Irrelevant photo: The daffodils have been in bloom since late January. This one, as you can see, is not involved in money laundering.

At least one of those trips, I admit, was because Wild Thing hadn’t double checked that the name J.’s known by is her actual passport-authenticated, birth-certificate name, and it turned out not to be. But the others? They were part of business as usual.

But that was nothing. For a different organization, she tried to set up an account at a different bank and it took three months. Then the bank closed its branch in the town. We didn’t mourn.

I shouldn’t complain about this being so difficult, because in fact I have laundered money. I’ve also spin-dried it, but I don’t think I ever washed anything larger than a five dollar bill, and it may be in the interest of combating money laundering that the British government introduced its new plasticky five-pound note (no one but me calls them “bills” here) that can be run through the laundry but will shrivel up and die if is it’s run through the dryer. We don’t have a dryer, so however we manage to lose money, it won’t be that way.

But we’re small time money launderers at my house, so it’s—let’s say it’s mildly annoying to learn that in spite of our branch bank’s care in observing the anti-laundering protocols, Britain’s banks laundered £740 million for Russian criminals with links to the Russian government and the KGB.

Allegedly. I do need to say allegedly.

Deutsche Bank is also accused of laundering Russian money. And it lent $330 million to Trump, but it’s okay because the bank’s investigated itself and reports that there’s no link between those two acts. Which lifts a weight off my mind.

What else is happening here?

I’ve just learned that Britons eat a lot of sandwiches. I don’t know how British sandwich eating compares with other countries’, but the numbers–however meaningless they are without a point of comparison–sound impressive. Over the course of a lifetime, the average Briton will spend more than £48,000 on sandwiches. That’s a lot of money, in case you hadn’t noticed. It buys roughly 18,000 sandwiches. If you ever need to know what a lifetime supply of sandwiches consists of, there’s your number.

The typical eater will need eight mouthfuls and six minutes to finish a single sandwich and will prefer to have it cut on the diagonal. The list of favorite fillings is mostly boring, but number 12 is a chip butty–a butty being a sandwich and chips being what I grew up calling french fries, so bread stuffed with fried potatoes. Number 25 is mayonnaise and nothing else.

The list of “unusual” (for which you can read “disgusting” if you like, but far be it from me to push you in that direction) fillings includes mayonnaise and crisps (which I grew up calling potato chips); instant noodles (raw? cooked? six weeks old? I don’t know); lasagna; onion rings and ketchup; mashed potato and sweetcorn (which I grew up calling just plain ol’ corn); leftover carryout (called takeaway here: curry and Chinese food are mentioned); baked beans and cheese; cheese and chocolate spread.

I’m not sure why baked beans and cheese are considered unusual. Baked beans show up in everything except apple pie here, and the firm doing the research is, as far as I can tell, British. But while I’m going off on tangents. I feel the need to mention that British lasagna includes a heavy, pasty layer of white sauce, which I consider an insult to Italian cooking. Or maybe that’s Italian-American cooking. Or American cooking. I don’t really know–I’m not Italian and haven’t studied the evolution of lasagna. What I do know is that I grew up with a different kind of lasagna and consider the British stuff heresy.

Not that I’m stuck in my ways or anything. I just happen to know what’s right. I’ll come back to that below.

The press release spells it lasagne, not lasagna. That’s not enough to condemn an entire nation’s eating habits, but it does call its Italian credentials into question.

What else is in the news? The Western Morning News warns dog walkers that poisonous snakes are on the loose. I can’t find the story online, so you’ll have to take my word for it. But hey, would I lie to you without a good reason?

Snakes on the loose didn’t strike me as particularly funny when Wild Thing read me the headline, so she asked where else snakes would be.

Ah. Good point.

The story below the headline is that a dog walker saw an adder—the only poisonous snake native to Britain—and it reared up and hissed at him. So how did he deal with the threat? Why, he pulled out his phone and filmed it for five minutes.

Are you getting the sense that this wasn’t a life-or-death moment? I don’t particularly want to get bitten by an adder and I won’t shove either of our dogs or the cat in front of one, but adders aren’t generally lethal. Since 1876, there’ve been only 14 known human fatalities. Most dogs, being smaller than your average adult human, are more vulnerable, but the expert the Westy interviewed recommended getting a dog that’s been bitten to the vet asap—carrying it if possible, walking it slowly if necessary. Dogs, he said, generally make a full recovery.

But, guys, I don’t have all that many readers so you need to take care of yourselves out there, okay? I can’t spare you, and poisonous snakes are on the loose. During the winter it was safe enough. They stayed inside, drinking tea and nibbling digestive biscuits while they watched movies on TV. Now, though, the days are getting longer, they’re getting the itch to mate, and they’re outside. On the loose. Be careful, people. You’re not expendable.

And if you do get bitten, please recruit a substitute until you’ve recovered.

But let’s move on while you’re still well, because there’s more news to report.

Thousands of protestors—or maybe I should call them celebrators, or, well, people; let’s settle for people. Thousands of people in London marked the European Union’s birthday by showing their opposition to Brexit in—well, I wasn’t there, but it sounds like the most restrained demonstration ever. Signs included one saying “I’m quite cross” and another saying, “I’m British. I am on a march. Things must be bad.”  The article I read describes it as “not so much a march as a very patient and stubborn queue.”

A queue, in case you need a translation, is a line of people waiting patiently for something. Forget the Church of England; queuing is the national religion.

The march wasn’t all patience and good manners, though. A third sign said, “Buck Frexit.”

Onward.

I’ve been living in Britain so long now that I’m not sure how to call directory assistance in the U.S. anymore. When I was a kid and a young adult, it was free—and they’d give you the associated address as long as you asked for the phone number first. The phone company ran directory assistance, so it was only polite to pretend you wanted to call someone. Then later on, four calls were free. Then one. Then none—they’d started charging, but at least you didn’t need a calculator to figure out how much it would cost.

Britain, though, has a series of directory assistance numbers, and they’re allowed to charge a flat fee of up to £15.98 per call plus £7.99 per minute—and if they put your call through for you, they can go on charging for the every minute you talk. The average charge per call costs less than the maximum but it’s still absurd: £6.98. The services are heavily advertised and are used mostly by the elderly—or those among them (at, ahem, a mere 70, I clearly don’t qualify) who don’t use the internet.

This got into the paper because one 90-year-old was charged £501. No, I didn’t leave out a decimal point. That’s five hundred and one pounds for a single directory assistance call.

A spokesperson for Ofcom, which stands for We’re off meeting with someone powerful and important and don’t have time to communicate with you, said, “We are carefully monitoring the impact of the adoption of these new higher charges and are actively considering whether further action is justified.”

Yup. There’s a lot to consider here. You wouldn’t want to rush into it.

Next we come to a couple of stories about the brain. Only one involves Britain, but let’s not split hairs here.

The first is a New Yorker article that reports on research demonstrating that facts don’t change our minds. Given two sets of facts supporting opposing positions on, say, the death penalty, people will find the one they already agree with more convincing, better researched, and presented in a far superior typeface. The opposing one? It’s a piece of crap.

Appealing to people’s emotions may be a more effective way to change their minds. It doesn’t, unfortunately, guarantee a great decision-making process.

No, I don’t know what to do about it either, but if you’d like a name for it, it’s called confirmation bias. And I fall into the trap as easily as anyone else does, except that I’m right so it’s okay.

The second story is about a series of brain scans that document what we all suspected: that using a sat-nav (make that a GPS if you’re in the U.S.) turns off parts of your brain. This explains why people have been known to drive into the sea in an attempt to reach an island if a sat-nav told them to. It also explains the driver Wild Thing and I tried to convince not to drive up an unpaved, washed-out road a mile from our house. He kept pointing up the hill and repeating, “But the sat-nav says.”

Luckily for him, the road was muddy and he spun his wheels and had to back down before he got to the part that would’ve eaten an axle. Because poisonous snakes could well have been on the loose up there. You can never be sure.

And finally, to reward you for reading this far, I’d like to tell you that the last Friday in April is National Hairball Awareness Day. Break out the cat food. Refresh the kitty litter. We need to celebrate–even if you’re in the wrong nation. (The nation in question is the United States.)

My thanks for Flo for letting me know about this. How could I have lived so long and not found out about it before?

Singing buildings, smart condoms, immigration, and other stuff in the news

The Guardian printed a report on singing buildings recently.

Are singing buildings a sign that the world’s ending? As far as I know, no religious text says it is. Mind you, I haven’t read any religious book from end to end. I tried reading the bible once, when I was young and thought it was something I ought to at least crack the covers of. I got as far as the begats, which bored me into insensibility, before admitting to myself that (a) I didn’t get it and (b) I wasn’t getting anything out of the exercise. So I am officially no expert. But singing buildings do sound harmless: Apparently, when the winds are high enough—and I’m not sure how high that is—certain buildings get the urge to sing. I do some singing myself, so I understand how powerful the impulse can be.

The list of singing buildings include Manchester’s Beetham tower. Several fixes have been tried, and the architect has apologized, but the building sings on, hitting a note close to middle C. If anyone reading this is trying to fix the problem, better breath support should bring that note in right on key. Or so I’ve been told when I go a little flat.

The Cityspire building in Manhattan (who names these things?) used to sing but no longer does. Instead, it’s being treated for depression. That actually might herald the end of the world, and it could be that religious texts need to be updated as architecture and technology evolve.

I’d give you a link for all these claims—they do sound like something I made up—but the Guardian online is mad at me for using it too often and thinks I should subscribe. I would—it’s a fine paper, and I understand how difficult the business climate is for newspapers today—but Wild Thing and I already pay for the print edition and unless you have a tablet you can’t access the online edition based on a print subscription.

Or something along those lines. Google “the strange case of the singing buildings” and you should find it. And in case I wasn’t clear, I was talking about an electronic tablet, not a stone one.

Screamingly irrelevant photo: This is a whatsit plant. In our garden.

What else is happening in the world? Smart condoms are now for sale. How smart are they? Not smart enough to solve your relationship problems or even your (assuming you to be either male and equipped with the relevant organ or female and involved with a male equipped with etc.) sexual—we shouldn’t say “problems” in this context, should we? Issues, then. All it does report back—speed, frequency, girth, skin temperature, and so forth. All those things a thrilling lover needs to know.

Do I hear hysterical laughter from the alto and soprano sections?

The Guardian gave me access to that story. They understand what matters.

Smart condoms probably aren’t a sign that the world’s ending either, but they could evidence that it deserves to.

By the way, as far as I can figure out, they’re not actual condoms, they just work in the vicinity of the real ones. They won’t prevent either pregnancy or venereal disease. They may prevent relaxation and fun.

Moving on:

The CIA, Wikileaks announced, is spying on us through our smart TVs, smartphones, and antivirus software. At our house, we’re assuming some British agency does the same, since Britain helped develop the technology, and that they’ve been listening to everything we say in the living room. Wild Thing’s delighted.

“My opinion finally counts for something somewhere,” the spokesperson for our household said.

[Update: I just checked the link on that story, and (who knows how) I linked it to one of my own posts–about village life and chasing chickens. I’ve left it for the pure silliness of it–and because I thought it was a good, if irrelevant, post. For relevant information, try this link instead.]

What else is happening? A 99-year-old from the Dutch city of Nijmegen had herself arrested because—and I’m making an assumption here—she thought it would be fun. Apparently she’d always been a good girl and, as her niece explained it, she “wanted to experience this.”

O ye who have never sinned enough to be arrested, there is still time to repent. But I warn you: I was arrested in a civil rights demonstration a hundred or so years ago and I didn’t find it a whole lot of fun. Neither, to the best of my knowledge, did anyone I was arrested with. But maybe we went into it for the wrong reasons. Instead of trying to end racism, we should have been trying to have fun, fun, fun.

The tales from our court appearances were pretty funny, but I’ll need a different excuse to tell those.

The 99-year-old isn’t alone. A 102-year-old from Missouri had herself handcuffed and delivered to an event at her retirement home in a police car. It had been on her bucket list.

So let’s talk about bucket lists. I’m all for acknowledging our mortality, but a list of ridiculous things you want to experience before you die? Don’t we have anything better to do with our lives, and if not why are we bothering the planet with our presence here?

For reasons known only to its algorithm, the Guardian gave me access to this story.

From there, we go to immigration. Britain, having held a referendum in which we voted to jump off a cliff of unknown height in a fog so thick that we can’t see what’s at the bottom—this is known as the Brexit referendum, in case you’re not getting the allusion—is now pretending that what we voted for wasn’t to leave the EU but to  get rid of foreigners. As many as possible, and for any reason.

Why?

Well because they’re foreign, silly.

Did I say “they”? Sorry. Slip of the tongue. I’m a foreigner here myself, and citizen or not, I always will be.

So who are they getting rid of? For one, a grandmother who lost her indefinite leave to remain because she spent too much time outside the country caring for her dying parents. You can see why she’d be dangerous. She was held in a detention center for a month and was given no chance to say goodbye to her British husband of 27 years, her two sons, or her granddaughter before being hustled through the airport by the arms and tossed on a plane to Singapore. She had £12 in her pocket and the clothes on her back. That happened on a Sunday, presumably to keep her family from getting hold of a lawyer.

For the government, it’s all about numbers. The more immigrants they throw out, the better the politicians (with rare, brave exceptions) think they look. They’re like people with anorexia—they look in the mirror and never think they’re thin enough.

It turns out that being a citizen is less protection than Wild Thing and I thought when we took citizenship. The home secretary can revoke the citizenship people who weren’t born here if it’s not “conducive to the public good.” No court has to approve it and the person doesn’t have to have been of—or even charged with—a crime. When our current prime minister was in charge of the Home Office, 70 people lost their citizenship that way.

I’d make a joke about that, but I’m afraid I’d suddenly find myself in Singapore. So let’s move on.

The town of Rochdale plans to ban swearing. Also begging, unauthorized collections for charity, loitering, antisocial parking, loud music, drinking in public, and skateboarding. Not to mention bad temper, bad attitudes, bad hairdos, and stupid laws. It’s already made a difference. Asked by a reporter what he thought about it, a resident said, “It’s a load of bullshit.”

Onward. The most hated household chore in Britain is ironing. That’s why I live here. Ironing is against my religion and people don’t laugh when I explain that.

A dog swallowed a toy train and was rushed to the vet for emergency surgery. I believe it was a Thomas the Tank Engine. I am grateful for the existence of a free and fearless press.

Former chancellor George Osborne, who’s still an MP, has been moonlighting at BlackRock, a fund management company. He declared a salary of £650,000. For working four days a month. And then there’s the £800,000 he made in speaking fees.

You know, in a pinch, a person could live on that.

The National Trust has started charging for parking near the Levant mine, in West Cornwall, which has become popular because of the BBC’s Poldark series. The mine was the site of a 1919 disaster in which 31 miners died. The National Trust’s pay-and-display machinery had already been ripped out of the ground once. This time, the coin slots were filled with expanding foam.

I know I’m not supposed to think that’s funny, but I can’t help myself. Expanding foam in the coin slot. Haven’t you ever wanted to do that yourself?

Cornwall’s St. Piran’s flag—a white cross on a black background—was painted onto the information board, just in case the Trust didn’t get the message.

*

And finally, as a reward for slogging through the parts of this that weren’t funny, here’s a comment I just dug out of my spam folder: “Attractive portijon of content. I simply stumblled upon your web site and in accession capital to assert that I get in fact enjoyed account your bpog posts. Anyy way I wiull be subscribingg to your augment or even I achievemewnt you get entry to constantly rapidly.”

Yes. Finally. I aim to establish my bpog as a portijon of content and I’m flattered all to hell that someone noticed.

What, you ask, is a portijon? It’s what you get when you cross a portable toilet with a demijohn. And I—thank you for the applause—have cornered the market.

Paddling in the shallows of the news

Is it possible to dip a toe into the news these days and not drown in sorrow? It is. I’ve been exploring the shallows of the (mostly) British news. Come on in. The water’s silly.

One of our local papers, the Western Morning News, reports that a driver passed PC Mark Freshwater on Tavistock Road while eating pasta “off his lap with a fork.” PC Freshwater gave him “words of advice which he took on board.”

But what really matters here—and you can trust the Westie to focus right in on this—is that “the container appeared to be Tupperware.”

The Westie is a true model of local journalism. No article about a murder, explosion, or other form of violence is complete without a quote from a neighbor, who’s either shocked or horrified or both shocked and horrified. PC Freshwater doesn’t seem to have expressed either emotion, but then this wasn’t a violent crime, and he’s a professional, not a neighbor, so he was able to focus on what mattered, which was the Tupperware. And, I guess, the fork, although it was the Tupperware that sent me over the edge.

That’s the kind of training a cop gets here in Britain. By the time they’re turned loose on the street, they know what matters.

As an aside, I might as well say that I’m both shocked and horrified that the driver was using only a fork, not a knife and fork, as any proper British eater will. And no, anonymous driver, driving is no excuse for bad table manners. Neither is not being at a table. I may be American, and I may have bad table manners, but I do know that much.

I’d give you a link but I couldn’t find the article online. I read my newspapers in print. Screw it, I’m old. If I want to be old fashioned, I’ve earned the right. And if I read all my news online, I’d have missed this and we’d all have been the poorer. I did google “driver eating pasta” and was offered several articles about drivers eating cereal and one about a driver eating pasta, but that was in a different city and a different year. Plus the driver was a different sex. And wasn’t using Tupperware.

Irrelevant photo: This was in bloom in December.

Irrelevant photo: This was in bloom outside our bedroom window in December. December. Don’t let anyone kid you about the British having terrible weather. After 40 years in Minnesota, I’m prepared to swear that this is the tropics.

It is with regret that we now leave PC Freshwater and wade on over to see what’s happening in government security. In December, an article reported that least 1,000 government laptops, computers, and data sticks had been reported missing or stolen since the general election in May of 2015. From the Ministry of Defense alone, the average loss was one item a day. And that’s just from the departments that actually reported their losses. Many managed not to.

When Wild Thing and I first moved to Britain, we regularly saw news stories about secret government documents and computer disks being left on trains. Why did other countries waste their money on spies? we asked each other, when all they needed to do was have their people ride the trains and see what fell into their hands–free and legally.

Then at some point the articles stopped. We missed them but thought maybe the government had gotten better at this stuff. I’m heartened to know that the incompetence continues.

What’s the news from the war on drugs? Antwerp has overtaken London to become the cocaine capital of Europe. But only on weekends. On weekdays, London leads the list.

Go, London.

How does anyone know? You have to test the concentration of cocaine in the sewers. Then you account for how long cocaine takes to work its way through the system and you count backward.

Who’s using all that cocaine? A separate study identifies them as people with household incomes of £50,000 or more.

What’s happening in international relations? In December, in a live TV interview, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was asked to name France’s foreign minister and happily identified him as “mon ami” whatever his name is. Then he was asked to name South Korea’s foreign minister and stormed off in a huff. The game was more fun, apparently, when he knew the answers.

The huff was drawn by four milk-white steeds wearing bells.

Does it mean anything that this item follows the cocaine report? Absolutely not. But PC Pasta recommends Tupperware for all your storage needs.

But let’s move now to the U.S., where unnamed White House sources report that Trump believes female staffers should “dress like women.” Sounds simple, doesn’t i?

I am, or so I’ve been told all my life, a woman, and I’ve never had any reason to question that. As I type this, I’m wearing jeans, a turtleneck, a fuzzy pullover-type thing that probably has a name but I have fashion dyslexia and don’t know it. I’m also wearing slippers. And–forgive me if I shock you–a variety of undergarments and two socks, one on each foot.

Am I dressed like a woman? It’s not a trick question, but it’s not a simple one either.

Predictably, people of various sexes (but mostly women) have cut loose on Twitter, using the hashtag #DressLikeAWoman.

Enough confusion. Let’s check in on the religious front, because that’s where you find eternal truths, right? A theological college connected to the Church of England held a GLBT (that’s gay, lesbian, bacon, and tomato, in case you’re not in the know) service where people had entirely too much fun and everybody involved has had to explain that they’re very, very sorry and that when they referred to god as “the Duchess” it was–they really are so very sorry–a typo. And when Psalm 19’s line “Oh Lord, my strength” appeared as “O Duchess, my butchness,” it was an extended typo.

Guys, it could happen to any of us. And in case I haven’t mentioned it, they really are very, very sorry.

And finally, former British chancellor George Osborne has explained that yes, he did earn something in the neighborhood of £600,000 from speaking fees and work as an advisor to a fund management company while he was a Member of Parliament, but it was only because he was sure it would improve the country. By, um, well, you know. When money moves from one bank account to another, the GDP goes up. And computers are employed to make the transfers, which helps keep their little silicon families in fed and clothed.

Thanks, George. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say we appreciate what you’re doing for us.