For a post about a survivor of the not just the Crimean War but the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade, visit A Bit about Britain. It’ll take you another step in the direction of bringing the history to life–even if it does start in a graveyard. My thanks to Mike for sending it.
What you’re about to confront (should you choose to stick around for a few paragraphs) are search engines questions that lead people, poor unwary souls that they are, to Notes. I have preserved them in all their oddity, complete with typos, a lack of question marks, and an absence of capital letters. And in case I sound snotty about the caps and question marks, I don’t use them when I type search questions either.
The questions are in italics. I’m to blame for everything in roman type, which is (you learned something today) what non-italic fonts are called. Okay, there’s also gothic, a.k.a. blackletter, but that’s a side issue.
News and culture
what is the unfornunate news from britain
That we’re governed by either amateurs or professional incompetents. I’m still trying to figure out which.
I should clarify that. Professional incompetents are different from incompetent professionals. They’re people who make a living–and a good one from the sound of things–out of their incompetence. If that isn’t enough unfortunate news, it’s hard to get a decent bagel. Even more shockingly, where you can get them, they’re spelled beigels, which could account for why good ones are so hard to find.
How unfortunate did you want to get? I could talk about Brexit.
sticking two fingers up
I’ve had a cluster of questions about the two-fingered salute lately.
A two-fingered salute is the rough equivalent of the one-fingered salute, but with an extra finger thrown in for bad luck. And yes, Britain recognizes the single-fingered one as well. The British are nondenominational that way. Or ambidextrous. Or as an American football player once put it, amphibious. (“I’ve always been amphibious,” he told an interviewer who’d asked about his ability to throw with either hand. I don’t remember the player’s name. I used the quote to see if Lord Google would remind me and I found any number of people claiming to be amphibious. Unlike the football player, though, they seemed to understand that amphibioiusness involves water, not hands or footballs. I’m guessing they also understand that it’s physically impossible for humans, but who am I to say what’s in another person’s head?)
But we were talking about sticking two fingers up. To do this, you use the index and middle fingers–the same ones you’d use for a peace or victory sign, but facing the other way. If you’re looking at the back of your hand, you’re okay. If you’re looking at the palm, you more or less told someone to fuck off.
All you non-Brits who are reading this: If you visit, keep your hands in your pockets if you want to order two beers. It’s the only way to keep yourself from holding two fingers up wrong way round, because your muscles will override your brain. Unless you come from a country where you start counting on the thumb, not the index finger, in which case you can wave your hands around any way you want.
And as far as I’ve been able to figure out, no one says, “Sticking up two fingers.” That raises the question of what you’re sticking them up. It’s “sticking two fingers up.” If you don’t think about it too much, it makes sense.
Anyway, having addressed the question in some post of other, I seem to have become an international expert on the of sticking two fingers up. I couldn’t be prouder. Clearly, no other website welcomes intellectual curiosity the way I do. So with however many fingers you have free, pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable. We’re happy to entertain bad manners here at Notes.
Within limits, of course.
It’s hard to predict. Push them and you’ll find out.
And who’s this we I’m talking about? Me and the dead mouse Fast Eddie brought in this morning.
This should be clear from the context, but let’s not take anything for granted: Fast Eddie is the cat. My partner’s Ida and she does not bring in dead mice, but she’s very kind about picking up the ones Eddie brings us.
dress code for female parliament in uk
No tutus. No fairy dresses. No shorts. MPs can wear tee shirts but the speaker will disapprove so intensely that he’ll pretend they’re invisible and they won’t get called on if they want to say anything. I haven’t read this anywhere, but I’m pretty sure jeans are frowned on. It’s the only reason I haven’t run for office.
I suspect it would be very bad karma to dress up as the queen.
No nightgowns. No pjs.
But it’s not entirely a list of no’s. MPs are supposed to wear businesslike attire. What does that mean, though? I’d love to see what happens if one of the women shows up in men’s businesslike attire. Or, since what used to be considered strictly men’s clothing has crossed the gender divide somewhat but women’s clothes haven’t, what happens in one of the men shows up in women’s businesslike attire.
By way of answering the question fully, I should point out that the parliament, being a thing instead a creature and is neither female nor male. And doesn’t wear clothes.
who wears stockings in the house of commons
Theresa May. If she’s still there by the time you read this.
why arent more mp’s in the house for debate?
Ooh, good question. Because the debates aren’t about convincing anyone of anything, they’re about a bunch of people who suffer from the illusion that the world’s listening and are therefore making a statement to that world. What they say goes into a print record, called Hansard’s. Does anyone read it there? I have no idea.
Do they sit around and listen to each other? Hell, no. They’re in the bars, in the pubs, getting haircuts, waiting for the bell to ring so they can hustle back and vote.
kett;e throwing contest
Okay, this got weird enough that even though I can’t tell you much about it I have to leave it in. Lord Google couldn’t find me any kettle-throwing contests. Given Britain’s gift for thinking up unlikely contests, this indicates a gap that some enterprising town or village could fill–profitably.
What I did find was a series of references to throwing a kettle over a pub.
Since there’s no logical order to any of this, I’ll drag you down the trail I followed. First, I stumbled into a site for people learning English. Someone wanted to know what throwing a kettle over a pub means because the phrase popped up in something they’d read. Assorted people explained that it’s a colloquial expression and that it isn’t a colloquial expression; that it’s used in dialogue on various TV shows and that it isn’t; and that it should be taken literally, as in (I assume) you shouldn’t try to read any deep meaning into it.
No one said it shouldn’t be taken literally, so at least they established something
Then I found something called NewsThump, which claimed that MP Nadine Dorries had tweeted that David Davis was the perfect guy to negotiate Brexit because he could throw a kettle over a pub.
I thought that explained a lot about the Brexit negotiations and how the negotiating team was selected. Davis did negotiate the Brexit deal. He then resigned because he couldn’t support it.
He did not throw a kettle over a pub. Or if he did, the House of Commons was empty because the MPs were all off drinking and getting their hair cut, so it went into Hansard’s but no one saw it.
If I kettle flies over a pub in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a political difference?
I’m not sure Theresa May can throw a kettle over a pub. I suspect not. She looks a little thready to me.
Maybe that’s the problem.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably say the NewsThump is a satirical site and that Nadine Dorries probably didn’t really tweet that, although it’s getting harder and harder to tell satire from reality these days. David Davis really did resign because he didn’t like the deal he’d negotiated. Theresa May really does look thready. I doubt I can throw a kettle over a pub either, but I haven’t tried yet, so don’t count me out.
I don’t say that to in any way excuse Theresa May.
I still don’t know whether throwing a kettle over a pub is an off-the-shelf British comparison–sort of like saying something is the size of Wales. It could also be some random collision of words that I’m running into improbably often. If it’s a standard issue comparison, I hope someone will let me know because I need to get one. Or two, really, one for me and one for Ida–you know, the person in my life who so very kindly picks up dead mice. (Oh, but she’s so much more than that.) We’ve lived here fourteen years now and I’m not sure how much longer people will put up with us operating without a full set of off-the-shelf comparisons.
Why did the question land here at Notes? I have no idea but I’m grateful. I learn a lot from these experiences.
do british tourists feel wary about pick pockerters in other countries
No, they’re perfectly comfortable about it all. They just speak louder, in English, to be sure the relationship’s proceeding as it should..
do the british observe april fools day
Do they ever. Beware of newspapers on April 1. The island of San Seriffe? The spaghetti harvest? April Fool’s Day stories.
Luces and maces age 2019
No idea. I googled that myself and the closest I came to anything sensible was a bunch of YouTube stuff uploaded by Lucas and Marcus, whoever they may be and whatever age (or ages) they turned (or will turn) in 2019. The question wandered in here because I wrote about the maces in Parliament. I don’t remember mentioning luces, but in case the information’s useful it’s the plural of lux, which is a unit of illumination.
I had to look that up, so there’s no chance I used it so casually that I forgot. It’s also the plural of luz, which is light in Spanish and which I also haven’t mentioned.
The internet is a very strange place.
What do they call brownies in britain
do they eat brownies in the uk
Yes, but only in secret. It’s illegal. After you’ve learned to call them by their first name, eating them seems barbaric.
do brits not like soft cookies
Of course they don’t. They cringe at the very thought of them. More to the point, why do people who write these questions think entire nations like and dislike the same things? Have you ever look at Quora? People ask things like, “Do the British like the color blue?” Of course they do. Every blue-besotted one of them. It’s because their skies so seldom turn that color.
weet-bix like muffets
Where do I start? Weet-Bix is sold in Australia and New Zealand. Weetabix is the British equivalent. Neither one is a muffet. Nothing is a muffet. Muffet is not a word.
Miss Muffet is someone in a nursery rhyme. She sat on a tuffet. Please don’t recite the rest of it. I may have to throw myself over a pub. I have a kettle but I use it to make tea and don’t want to wreck it. I’m also pretty sure that the only way to get it over the local pub would be to use air mail.
A muffetee is a scarf. I never heard of it either.
Weetabix and Weet-Bix are also not muffins or muppets. They’re cereals that go limp if they get within three yards of milk. Please do not bring either of them into my kitchen. I will attack them with my kettle.
This is in quotation marks because–. Okay, it came with the quotation marks, but British lasagna isn’t really lasagna, so it deserves to be quarantined in quotation marks and never allowed out. It’s made with a paste-like white sauce and tastes like noodles overcooked with paste-like white sauce. The lasagna you find outside of quotation marks has red sauce–the stuff made with tomatoes. And taste. Lots of taste.
And no, I’m not in the least biased. I just happen to know what’s right.
It’s entirely possible that the stuff with the red sauce is American lasagna. If that’s not the way the Italians make it, they’re wrong too.
where does lemon drizzle cake originate from
The island nation of Limonaria, where it drizzles a lot.
when did brussel sprouts arrive in uk
7 pm. They were due in at 5 but the flight was delayed.
how many brussel sprouts are eaten in december world wide
british iconic easter eggs
I don’t know about iconic, but if you want overpriced I write about them every Easter. I can’t seem to stop myself.
The United States
do americans have letterboxes
No. The letter carriers just chuck our mail under the nearest bush. This is hard in built-up areas and in deserts, where bushes are scarce. Sometimes we have to walk long distances looking for our mail.
Unlike Whoopity Scoorie, whose origin is so uncertain that it might date back to the beginning of time but also might date back to the nineteenth century, whichever came first, the Honiton Hot Pennies celebration has a clear beginning: It started in the thirteenth century, when Honiton was given a royal charter.
What’s a royal charter? It’s the oldest form of incorporation in the U.K., according to the Chartered Insurance Institute, which is an institute with a charter, not an institute that deals with chartered insurance. Having a charter of its own, it’s in a position to explain what that means. And also to explain why you should be impressed with them.
Charters are given by the monarch on the advice of the privy council.
The privy council? That’s–actually it looks boring. Let’s say it’s a topic for another time, when I’ll see if I can’t find a bit of spice for it.
The point of a charter is to “create and define the privileges and purpose of a public or private corporation such as a town or city. Although still occasionally granted to cities, today new Charters are usually conferred on bodies such as professional institutions and charities that work in the public interest and which are able to demonstrate financial stability and permanence and pre-eminence in their field.”
You’ll notice (or you will now that I’m making a fuss of it) that the Chartered Insurance Institute capitalizes the word charter. It’s a British thing. You capitalize words you think are important. Especially Nouns. Charters are important. Because the institute has one. And because it’s explaining them.
That non-system of capitalization drives me Nuts.
The earliest royal charter in Britain dates back to 1066, which makes it sound like charters came over with the Norman hordes, but they didn’t. The first chartered town was in Scotland, which was cheerily Normanless in 1066 and remained so for some time to come.
The Normans? They invaded Anglo-Saxon England and became its rulers.
Oh, stop it. If you can’t find England on a map, go offer your soul to Lord Google and he’ll explain it.
The earliest charter in England was given to Cambridge University in the thirteenth century.
But I believe we were talking about hot pennies, which are not pennies that have been stolen but pennies that have been heated.
Why were they heated? Because it amused the hell out of the gentry to throw pennies to the peasants and watch them burn their hands trying to pick up as many as they could before someone else got them.
Desperation and poverty are so amusing.
By that way, that interpretation of the gentry’s motivation isn’t the product of my leftish mind twisting the available facts. It’s what the Honiton Town Council’s website says, although I’m responsible for “amused the hell out of.” The website says they “took great delight in seeing the peasants burn their fingers whilst collecting them.”
Whilst? It’s a British thing and completely apolitical. You’re not likely to find me using it.
These days, when we’ve all lost our sense of humor and become so fearful of being criticized, the pennies are warmed but not heated enough to burn anyone’s fingers.
Sad, isn’t it? That’s what political correctness brings us to.
The celebration is held on the first Tuesday after the 19th of July. Which is as convoluted a date as the one when the U.S. votes–the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
The Hot Pennies celebration also involves a glove being hoisted on a garlanded pole. The town cryer announces, ““No man may be arrested so long as this glove is up.” The idea was to make sure no one would stay away for fear of being arrested for their (or as stated, his) debts.
My thanks to Bear Humphreys for sending me a couple of links about the celebration, which I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
For another take on the English civil wars, this one taking in more of the Irish experience, you might want to follow this link.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England is asking people to help measure how dark England’s skies are. To participate, you look for the constellation Orion and see how many stars you can count inside it without using binoculars or a telescope. Only you have to do it sometime between this exact minute and February 23.
And if this exact minute happens to be noon? You wait till after 7 pm because night is when it gets dark.
Do I have to explain everything?
The best time to do this is the first week of February, when there’ll be less light from the moon. You also want to wait for a good clear night, otherwise the exercise is pointless. If you see ten or fewer stars (not counting the corner stars), you’re in a light-polluted area. Thirty or more is dark, dark, dark.
To find Orion, you read the article I linked to above, because there’s no point in me repeating it, then you take a look at the photo in this one, which gives you a better idea of what Orion looks like and where the corner stars are. Then you go back to the first site and report your findings.
The point of the exercise is to raise awareness of light pollution, which according the campaign interferes with sleep patterns in humans and messes with wildlife, and to get localities to modify their lighting as much as possible.
The point of me writing about this is that it’s good to know that someone cares, and that people can pitch in. Even though, I admit, it’s a long way from being the biggest problem we face.
Someone abandoned a box of Brazilian spiders in a parking lot in Derbyshire (which, irrelevantly, is pronounced Darbyshire, not that the spiders cared).
The were big spiders. Or at least they were baby spiders that will grow big enough to eat birds, something I know because they’re called Brazilian bird-eating spiders. If that isn’t enough to freeze the blood of an arachnophobe, they’re a kind of tarantula.
You can stop reading now if you’re going to have nightmares. If you’re not going to sleep at all, you can stop reading a couple of paragraphs ago.
The box was hit by a car, or “a vehicle” as the articles I’ve read put it, which could mean a car and could mean a truck, a tractor, a motorcycle, a kid’s scooter, or a skateboard. I think those last two are vehicles. Anyway, the box was hit by something with wheels and the driver told a woman in the parking lot that he thought he’d seen two bigger spiders scuttling away without a backward glance at their offspring.
Spiders aren’t particularly doting parents.
The woman called the RSPCA–the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals–which collected the spiders and brought them to a specialist, who when last heard from was keeping them warm in the hope that more eggs would hatch, even though (or possibly because) when he opened the little pots they came in one ran up his arm.
And where did mommy and daddy spider go? No one knows. The BBC (and everyone else who wrote about it) reports that “no bodies were found so it is assumed they may have escaped.”
They all seem to be rewording, and sometimes quoting wholesale from, the same press release.
Full grown, the spiders measure ten inches from non-existent toenail to non-existent toenail. That is, the papers and the BBC helpfully explain, the size of a dinner plate, although dinner plates vary in size, so you can’t count on them being a perfect fit for yours. In addition to small birds, they eat lizards, mice, and insects. But they like a warm, damp climate and were let loose in a warm, dry one (we’ve had a heatwave and a drought here lately; when that ends, if it ever does or if it has [I write this stuff well ahead of time], they’ll find themselves in a cold, damp climate, which will suit them equally badly), so they may not make it.
On the other hand, they may have crawled down to the foot of your bed and be waiting for you to snuggle in tonight.
Sorry. I could’ve gone all day and not typed that.
Imported species are a major issue in Britain. The place is an island. That means (do I have to explain everything?) that it’s surrounded by water, and often a lot of it. As a result, most non-native species need help to get here. That tempts people to think they can be controlled, but an awful lot of non-native species got all the help they needed a long time ago.
We’ll get to that. In the meantime, it’s now illegal to release non-native species into the wild, or to allow them to escape, and it has been since 1981. See above for how successful that’s been.
Okay, I don’t really know how successful it’s been. All learned when I tried to find out is that a group of Buddhists released 361 American lobsters and 35 Dungeness crabs as part of a religious ceremony and got hit, in what I can’t help thinking is a secular ceremony, with fines and compensation and victim surcharges that added up to £28,220. Or over £15,000, depending on which source you read.
The government does try to stay on top of this and maintains a Non-native Species Secretariat, whose list of non-native species includes everything from the American skunk cabbage to the Siberian chipmunk, not to mention the sacred ibis, the killer shrimp, and the rhododendron.
I’ve never seen–or heard of, until now–a sacred ibis. Maybe I don’t hang out at churches enough. But rhododendrons? At least in Cornwall, they’re everywhere, including my backyard. They were introduced into Britain from the Alps in the seventeenth century, and in the eighteenth century, a British collector sent 600 dried specimens home from China. I haven’t been able to find out whether anything grew from his samples or if they just sat around as non-growing curiosities. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that Britons began importing them from China in serious numbers.
That’s about the time that Britain went rhododendron mad, and as a result the gardens of many large estates have endless species of them. One not far from us, Lanhydrock, is now owned by the National Trust and has hillsides of them. They’re beautiful in the spring, and if you come in the back way you, perfectly legally, don’t have to pay the hefty admission price.
But those are the fancy ones. Some propagate themselves. A species from Armenia took to Britain well enough that some regions are “overrun” with it, according to an online history of the plant. I’m hoping you don’t need to know when the Armenian one was imported, because I have no idea. What matters here is that they’re not a native species but they settled into the landscape and claimed it as their own.
The buddleia, or butterfly bush, did the same thing and now grows along railroad lines, in backyards, in (yes, in) walls, and pretty much anywhere people don’t pull it up. It’s a persistent little beast and it took me about five years to get rid of one that had planted itself in between two bits of paving in my backyard. It was introduced to Europe from China in the nineteenth century, and Defra–the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs–considers it invasive and in 2014 asked gardeners to clip the seedheads after it was done flowering to keep it from spreading any further. Since it will happily grow taller than me and my partner if I were standing on her shoulders, this is a lot to ask.
At the same time, it’s not an irrational thing to ask. It can “cause damage to buildings, such as crumbling brickwork – its tiny wind-blown seeds can germinate in decaying mortar.”
Who am I quoting from there? Sorry–I’ve lost the link. Someone who knows what they’re talking about. Possibly Defra.
Butterflies and bees love the plant, and they need all the help they can get these days, but even on conservation sites, where you’d think it would be valued, it can become a problem, squeezing out other plants that butterflies also need.
Enough about plants. Non-native birds and animals include the gray squirrel and the edible dormouse, which is more politely called the fat dormouse, because who likes to scurry through the world with edible as part of their name? The Romans introduced the fat dormouse to Britain, and ate them, but they don’t seem to have escaped into the wild until a century ago.
A certain number of humans (we are a difficult species, and you could construct a convincing argument that we’re not native to Britain either) get up in arms about the incomers, sometimes for good reason and sometimes just because they’re incomers.
What’s a good reason? The fat dormouse can chew through wiring in houses and strip the bark from trees. Mink that escaped from mink farms can force water voles out of areas where they were established. The Chinese mitten crab burrows into riverbanks and may undermine flood defenses. Himalayan balsam grows fast enough and spreads madly enough to smother other plants.
So basically, sometimes they throw off the balance of the ecosystem (whatever kept them in check in their home territories is absent here) and sometimes they annoy us.
The most annoying of the non-native plants is probably Japanese knotweed, which is so invasive that it can grow through walls, pipes, and pavement. It can damage foundations. It plays rock music at such a high volume that the walls of Jericho crumble. If you own a home and the stuff moves onto your property, the price of your home just bungee-jumped off a bridge, but not necessarily with the bungee attached. You may not be able to sell the place at all, because many companies won’t approve a mortgage if the stuff’s present.
Google “Japanese knotweed” and the first things that come up are offers to (a) get rid of the stuff and (b) sue someone for letting it get there or letting you buy the place to begin with. Which demonstrates that the U.S. didn’t copyright the idea of suing people as a way to solve your problems. You can’t copyright ideas, only their unique expression.
That’s probably why non-native species haven’t copyrighted the idea of annoying humans. Farmers (to generalize) blame the badger, which is native, for spreading bovine TB and for digging holes that their cattle break legs in. The government–after endless controversy about its effectiveness, never mind its humaneness–has backed a badger cull.
The native fox will kill lambs when it gets a chance. Nature is not sentimental.
But for some people, being non-native is a good enough reason to get rid of a species. Every so often, a newspaper opinion piece will call for the extirpation of a relatively benign non-native species like the rhododendron, so that Britain can return to the innocence and beauty it had back in [you can choose your century here, because introductions have been going on at least since the Romans ruled the place and probably well before that].
Tear up all the rhododendrons. Eliminate the gray squirrels. Get rid of the butterfly bushes. Off with their heads.
I probably hear those voices more loudly than they merit. It’s the paranoia that comes of living in an age when anti-immigrant sentiment is running wild. I can’t help thinking that this urge to return Britain to a time when it was free of non-native plants and animals is related to the myth that there once was, and could be again, a Britain free of non-native humans. At which point this non-native human would remind you that we’re all imports here, and we’re all mixed, and that waves of immigration started at the end of the last ice age and have been going on pretty much continually ever since.
Oddly enough, even the most strident voices aren’t calling for the elimination of onions and garlic, which are also non-native. Even though both grow wild. They’re quietly accepted as either British or close enough not to call any attention to themselves. They’ve been here so long that when they write they use a -que when they spell cheque.
Readers have sent in a few great links lately, and they’re good enough that I’ll bother you with them.
WeggieBoy sent a link to this surprisingly short, clear explanation of the British flag and how it came into being. As a bonus, if you stick around after it ends, you get a fast-talking explanation of the differences between England, Britain, the United Kingdom, the Crown Dependencies, and much more. You won’t remember it all, but some bits and pieces may stick to your brain. And if not–well, I’m going to assume that anyone who reads much Notes for long enjoys accurate confusion, so enjoy this. You have to love a country that can’t ever stop explaining what it’s called.
In response to the post about English hedges, Mick Canning sent a link to Atlas Obscura‘s entry on the 1,100-mile hedge that Britain built to divide India so it could impose a tax on salt. It’s a great tale of imperial over-reaching, complete with smugglers, fire, rats, and cats. It’s short and well worth a read.
And finally, Bill Roberts sent in some information about Cornish hedges that I’ve added to the hedge post, but if you read it when it first came out you will have missed it. So here it is–complete with a link, as promised in the title:
“There is a unique distinction between a Cornish hedge and a dry stone wall. Where the dry stone wall is as it says, a wall made of a single course of stones without mortar, usually seen in the northern counties of England, a Cornish hedge is completely different. It is built in two halves, with an earth core. It is wide at the base tapering as it rises to about 1.2 metres with a concave profile each side called a Batter. It supports the structure like an arch supports a bridge. The stones are laid sloping into the centre. The top of the structure is usually covered in earth and planted with hedging plants like blackthorn, or hawthorn to increase the height, which are ‘laid’ like a conventional hedge. There are examples still in use that date back to the bronze age, and Cornish hedges are supposedly the oldest man-made structures in the world still being used for their original purpose.”
For more information about Cornish hedges, see the Guild of Cornish Hedgers website.
What’s happening in Britain? Let’s start in Colyton, Devon, where a woman hung out her wash. Because people do that here. Dryers aren’t as common as they are in the U.S. If people get any sunny weather, out go the clothes.
So how is this news? Well, after this earthshaking action, she got an anonymous letter asking her “with kindness not to put your washing out at the front of your house” because visitors would see it. “Help us all keep Colyton a town we can all be proud of,” the letter said, and it suggested she “consider using a tumble dryer or hanging the washing indoors.”
The writer claimed to represent both local businesses and the entire neighborhood. Not to mention all of England and probably Jersey (that’s old, not New Jersey) as well.
This being modern (as opposed to Victorian or, say, Arthurian) Britain, the whole thing got splashed all over the town Facebook group and in no more time than it took to wash a load of laundry (I’m making that part up; I don’t know how long it took), neighbors had hung out their own washing. Underwear hung from artfully displayed laundry lines in shop windows. Laundry dangled out of windows. Someone hung pyjamas across the town square and ran a bra up the flagpole. I’m old enough to remember when boys thought it was harmless (or maybe didn’t care if it was harmless) to steal some girl’s bra and run it up a flagpole, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this one was put up by an individual of the female persuasion in the joyous spirit of take that, you old busybody.
There’s talk of it becoming an annual event.
So here’s to the anonymous letter writers of the world. Long may their efforts backfire.
Meanwhile, in sports news, 4,500 doughnuts were accidentally delivered to the Old Trafford cricket ground. Or maybe that’s the Old Trafford Cricket Ground. My sports allergy is bad enough that I don’t know if that’s the formal name and therefore capitalized or an informal name and therefore lower case. You probably–and wisely–don’t care. We’ll move on.
I haven’t been able to learn much about the incident except that the kitchen was left “reeling.”
A single doughnut has 425 calories. Give or take a few hundred, since we don’t know the size of the Old Trafford doughnuts or of the imaginary one whose estimated calories I googled, or whether either of them are frosted. But let’s go with 425. It’s a reliable looking number. That means the Old Trafford kitchen was (at least briefly) in possession of 1,912,500 calories’ worth of doughnuts.
I think. At my best, I’m a hazard around numbers, but I’m pretty sure I got that right. Even if I didn’t, though, we can agree that it’s over the recommended daily allowance for pretty much anybody. Even someone who’s simultaneously male, in training for a marathon, breastfeeding, and pregnant.
If anybody could figure out how much space 4,500 doughnuts take up, I’d love to know, because I assume the Old Trafford kitchen isn’t huge. You can arrange them in any pattern that suits you and measure them either metrically or in imperial measures. Or you can compare them to the size of a double-decker bus, a football field, a phone booth, or Wales. Or Delaware. Your choice, although I’m pretty sure Wales and Delaware are too big to be much use.
Since we’re talking about food, it must be time to mention that Britain was grappling with a shortage of carbon dioxide in late June and its largest wholesalers had begun rationing beer and cider–cider being a popular alcoholic drink here. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, this happened just when the country was in the grip of a twin drinking emergency caused by the conjunction of the World Cup and a heatwave.
At the end of June (which is when I’m writing this), the word was that supplies were expected (maybe) in early July, which would be just in time to prevent a complete national disaster. If, in fact, they come in as predicted.
The shortage also affected soft drinks and the production of dry ice. Not to mention the meat industry and some medical procedures.
It wasn’t just a British problem but a European one, and it was caused by a combination of high demand and routine maintenance shutdowns. But the price has been low, so in spite of the looming meltdown, manufacturers haven’t had a big incentive to get production up and going again.
What kind of plants produce carbon dioxide? Ammonia and bioethanol plants. Which makes me realize how little I know about how those little bubbles get inside the water.
There’s a certain irony in having a carbon dioxide shortage when the world’s facing global warming caused by too much of the stuff, but it comes from having too much in the wrong places and not enough locked away inside those cans and bottles. The drink manufacturers have done their best to hire people who’ll pick it out of the air, but with Brexit looming there’s already a shortage of people to harvest strawberries, so where are they going to find anyone willing to pick carbon dioxide bubbles?
In case you think this is funny, the shortage also affected the nation’s crumpet supply.
The British Beer and Pub Association, which knows how to address a crisis, called on the government to increase its “storage capacity . . . to ensure this does not happen again.”
By the time you read this, enough carbon dioxide to keep the nation guzzling may well have fizzed its way through the supply chain, but if you’ve been reading about an increase in the suicide and homicide rate, you know the cause.
In other news, a mugger in Crawley robbed a man but left behind a plastic bag with 123 candy bars.
Was the candy worth more than the money he got? A quick and highly inaccurate survey of candy prices tells me that bars range from £.50 (note the decimal point–that’s half a pound, not fifty pounds) to £1. So should we say, fairly randomly, that he’d have to have taken in more than £85 to come out even?
The closest I can get to how much money he got is that it was “a small amount.” So he lost money on the deal.
The police checked with local stores but none of them reported that many candy bars missing.
A hundred and twenty-three candy bars is not enough to cover an area the size of Wales. Or even a football field or a double-decker bus. It is enough to fill one plastic bag, although we don’t know the size of the bag, which is why it’s not one of the standard size comparisons that newspapers use.
Unlike the guy in Crawley, the writer Ian McEwan got mugged by a standardized test. He’s well enough established that one of his books is assigned as part of the national curriculum. You’d think that’d be great, wouldn’t you? Well, it has its problems–ones I wouldn’t mind having, but problems all the same.
McEwan’s son (let’s call him McE 2.0) read McE 1.0’s book for his A-levels, which is the standardized test I just mentioned. So before the test, McE 1.0 spent some time going over the novel with McE 2.0, discussing points he could make in his essay.
McE 2.0 got a C plus. Because what does the author know about the book he wrote?
Meanwhile, whoever wrote the English literature questions for a lower-level standardized test, the GCSE, mugged him- or herself, along with some 14,000 students, by mixing up the Montagues and the Capulets in a question about Romeo and Juliet. The question assigned Tybalt to the wrong one of two feuding families and ended up asking an unanswerable–not to mention nonsensical–question.
You could, in theory, answer the question by tearing it apart, but that would be a good way to flunk the test since the standardized marking doesn’t create a lot of latitude for creative thinking.
This marks the introduction of the new, tougher GCSEs. So far, they’ve been a stunning success. Slip in an unanswerable question and you can really thin the herd.
The exam board has apologized but to date it hasn’t fallen on its sword.
From there, let’s move on–not to the recent wedding of Megan and Whatshisname but to the people who pontificated on it. Or one of them, anyway.
Thomas J. Mace-Archer-Mills, Esq., appeared regularly in TV interviews during the uproar. He’s described as having “a posh British accent, traditional attire, and a sense of authority on all things royal.” He’s also “the founder of the British Monarchist Society and Foundation.” But it turns out that his name is actually Thomas “Tommy” Muscatello and he’s from Bolton Landing, New York.
He got the Britishness bug when he was cast in a school production of Oliver Twist and apparently learned an upper-class British accent for the role. You can believe that if you want to, but I’ve heard too many Americans who think they learned a British accent. They’re embarrassing. The best I can say for his accent is that none of the articles about him say that he got it wrong.
They also don’t say that he got it right.
As far as I can tell from the articles I’ve seen, no British media outlet interviewed him. I’m going to take a rash guess and say they picked up some whiff of phoniness. Possibly a strong one.
Since I mentioned at the beginning that we had a heat wave, let’s end by acknowledging that Britain doesn’t have any official definition of what a heatwave is, but the Met Office is working on one.
The Met Office? That’s Britain’s weather service and it’s not to be confused with the Met, which is London’s police department. And if you have trouble with that, it gets worse: Scroll down far enough through Lord Google’s offerings and you’ll find the Met Office offering the police weather forecast.
Do the police have different weather from the rest of us? Possibly, but to make the whole thing even more mysterious, the page I found offered me the police weather for Poland, although it was–I checked twice–from the British weather service.
Polish police didn’t seem to be expecting a heatwave. Unless of course they define it differently there.
However you define a heatwave, though, Britain isn’t good at heat. Train tracks were buckling in 30 degree centigrade heat. What’s that on the other side of the Atlantic? It’s 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Which is hot but on the normal side of normal in a Minnsota summer.
I never heard of train tracks buckling in the heat in the U.S. The rails are laid with a small bit of expansion room between one section and the next. Britain’s rails don’t seem to be, presumably because 86 degrees is a heatwave. I can understand why no one wants to pull them all up and lay them down differently, but if this is the new normal we’re going to have problems.
Blogging has its hazards. In a comment on one of my posts, Cat 9984 wrote, “Britain is a very mysterious place sometimes. I asked a woman what the difference was between a grey lady and a ghost. She said there isn’t any.”
I don’t know what Cat 9984 expected me to say something in response–I didn’t think to ask. Maybe nothing. Maybe she just wanted me to join appreciate of the mystery that is Britain with her. But since I pass myself off as a close and baffled observer of the country, I expected myself to sound informed, in my usual uninformed way.
The problem was that I had no idea what we were talking about, so I turned to the internet, hoping it would save my hash, and punched “grey lady, define” into Google.
What did I learn?
The first definition told me that the gray (as opposed to grey) lady is the New York Times. Which I knew, I’m American and I grew up in New York. It’s the paper Donald Trump calls “the failing New York Times.” Every time he says it, the paper’s circulation goes up.
Keep talking, Don.
You might want to note (since it will be on the test) that when the color gray crosses the Atlantic, the E changes to an A. Or the A changes to an E. It depends on whether the color’s headed east or west.
What does this have to do with ghosts or with Britain? Nothing, so I moved on.
Merriam-Webster defined a gray lady as “a volunteer worker of the American Red Cross who provides nonprofessional care and services for the sick and convalescent usually in hospitals.” Which is also an American definition and so no help to us, since we’re supposed to be talking about Britain.
It’s also short a comma. When I’m done typing, I’ll send M-W a handful with a request to sprinkle them around randomly. One of them should land in the right place.
GoogleDocs, by the way, disagrees with M-W’s spelling of nonprofessional. It takes some nerve to disagree with a dictionary on spelling. GD probably does it to distract M-W While it sells M-W‘s data to Cambridge Analytica, or whatever its successor company’s called.
Before I left, M-W offered me a chance to sign up for the word of the day. My days already have lots of words, so I passed.
Next I learned that there was a grey lady in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Who was she? Helena Ravenclaw. And who was she? Oh, hell, I forget. It’s not on the test, so we can move on.
The link after that took me to the Urban Dictionary, which is where it got truly weird. One definition was, “A grey ghost of a lady that every primary (at least in my area) had. Usually found in the lads or girls toilets (depending on if you’re a lad or a girl). Appears at night or when someone says ‘grey lady’ three times and switches the light off. No primary school kid dared try it and if they did they left before she could appear (apparently).”
This is the only definition that was even remotely relevant to Cat’s question, but by this time the search had overtaken the reason I was searching, so I kept on.
The next definition was, “1. A nickname for a submarine. 2. Also, a person who drops a depth charge and farts in an area to be occupied by an unsuspecting victim.”
Aren’t you glad you asked, Cat?
Just under that was an ad suggesting that I buy a Grey Lady mug for my father-in-law, Jerry. This seemed oddly personalized, except that I don’t have a father-in-law. My partner and I couldn’t get married back when her father was alive, and his name was Wendell anyway. He would’ve just hated being my father-in-law. He did his best with the situation, but it was hard enough being my father-out-law.
Even if all that hadn’t gotten in the way, however, a mug that said “Grey Lady” doesn’t strike me as something he would have wanted, even if he was still alive and even if he’d have wanted a present from me.
Who do you suppose sold the data that said I had a father-in-law named Jerry?
Wikipedia mentioned an American catamaran ferry and a couple of movies, and then moved on to folklore, listing a series of ghosts said to haunt houses in England, Scotland, New Zealand, Malta, and the U.S. (specifically, North Dakota). Then it mentioned “The Grey Lady, the given name of the retired British Shorthair champion cat residing in New York City. However, the cat prefers the name Chicken.”
Since this was in the folklore section of the definition, maybe we have to accept being told what the cat liked to be called, although I’m not convinced of it. Personally, I wouldn’t dare call my cat Chicken, although he will accept being called Kitty if the word’s accompanied by food.
What have we learned about British culture from this excursion? Not bloody much. Some weeks are like that. If you’ve got a more sensible topic to suggest, jump in. I may not be able to do anything with it, but if I can I will.