More news from Britain

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. 

Irrelevant photo: a poppy

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.

Chasing the gray lady

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.

Irrelevant photo: rhododendron

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.

Funding the Church of England

England has an official state church, called, imaginatively enough, the Church of England. Once upon a time, having an official church was serious business, and not belonging to it was even more serious. England has a history of trying to stamp out religious dissent, and that weighed heavily with the folks who wrote the U.S. constitution, which forbids the establishment of any state religion.

These days, it’s easy to float through English life and forget that there’s an established religion. Most people consider religion (or the lack of it) a private matter—not something to get passionate about in public and not something that should set public policy. Dissent isn’t so much tolerated as assumed. Or it looks that way to me, although you have to remember that I’m an outsider here.

But who funds the church? A while back, someone asked me if it’s funded by the taxpayer, but I’ve lost track of who that was. Apologies. My organizational skills are just a shade less than perfect. Let me know who you are, will you?

Semi-relevant photo (see below): What happens to a religious building the isn’t kept up. This was once a convent on Iona, in Scotland.

The C. of E., as it’s known, does have a few bucks to its name. Or a few quid, really, quid being British for buck, although the quid involves pounds, not dollars. According to the Daily Mail (sorry, I tried for a more reputable-sounding source but couldn’t find one), in 2013 its income was £1.37 billion, which sounds like enough to keep it in communion wafers for a week or three, although I’ve never bought communion wafers and for all I know they’re outrageously expensive.

The Mail doesn’t say a word about communion wafers. What it says instead is that £1.37 billion would pay for every Big Mac, McChicken Sandwich, and McFlurry sold in Britain that year. Which strikes me as a pretty strange point of comparison, but it does tell us that we’re spending a shocking amount of money on fast food. The paper didn’t say if anything would be left over for a cup of tea, although in England you’d have the right to expect tea with your McProcessed Chickfood.

But what about spending? According to Wikipedia, “In 2005 the Church of England had estimated total outgoings of around £900 million.”

Now, I’m terrible with numbers, but even I can see that the gap between those two leaves enough money for tea. I tried to find a comparable number for 2013—the year the Mail’s using—and I failed. However, I failed in an interesting way, so let’s spend a minute following my trail: Since WikiP calls that money outgoings, I thought, clever beast that I thought I was, I’d just google “Church of England outgoings 2013.”

What did I learn? That bishops were exhorting their members to be outgoing, gracious, and cooperative. And to drink tea. I’m sure it was all very effective and that the church is now full of better, more outgoing, and more cooperative tea-sodden worshipers.

Me, though? I had a cup of tea and gave up. If you want figures for matching years, go find them yourself. I never really expected the numbers to match up. They never do for me. 

But let’s go back to income. We were doing fairly well with that. Almost half of it was donated by churchgoers.

How many people are we talking about? It’s hard to say. The C. of E. does keep a church electoral roll, and adding your name to it allows you to vote on church matters, but not everyone who goes to C. of E. churches bothers, so the statistics I found also track things like how many people show up at least once a year, or at Easter, or on most Sundays.

By any of those measures, attendance is down and still sinking.  The Wikipedia entry puts C. of E. attendance at 1.4% of the population of England and Wales in 2014. It’s inconvenient that Wales is in there when we were talking about England, but we’ll add that our list of mis-matched figures and wobble onward.

Another source–and I’ve lost track of which one–says that U.K. (as opposed to English) church membership has declined from 10.6 million in 1930 to 5.5 million in 2010, “or as a percentage of the population; from about 30% to 11.2%. By 2013, this had declined further to 5.4 million (10.3%).”

That’s a major difference. It could be accounted for by the difference between church membership and attendance or by one of both organizations allowing someone like me to do the counting. I checked a few more sources without clarifying the picture at all. What’s clear is that membership and church attendance are shrinking.

On average, each church member contributed £700 per year in—oh, I think that was 2014. Close enough. In other words, per person donations are high. But an average is a deceptive measure. One gazillionaire making a huge donation will, when you average things out, make everyone look rich and generous. Still, the average donation is all we’re going to get.

Where did the other half of the church’s income wander if from? Historic endowments are a major source of income. These are gifts that were given to the church at some point in the past. (You don’t make a lot of money on gifts given in the future.) Way back when, if someone rich gave the church a gift, it was likely to be land, and the church once owned a lot of it, but it’s converted most of it, unromantically and unsentimentally, into stocks and bonds. These are managed by church commissioners and pay for “a range of non-parish expenses, including clergy pensions and the expenses of cathedrals and bishops’ houses. These funds amount to around £8 billion . . . around a fifth of the church’s overall income.” (We’re quoting WikiP here.)

The C. of E. has its own investment fund and in 2016 it generated an income of £230.7 million.

Does all this add up to 100%? It doesn’t look like it. Donations? Half. Stocks and bonds? A fifth. The investment fund? Sorry–that’s not a percentage and we’d be smart if we don’t trust me to turn it into one. Whatever the rest may be? I’m not sure. Parishes raise money in various ways. I have no idea how much that adds up to. Plus the church gets grants from English Heritage, and possibly other groups, to maintain buildings, and it also gets government money for the upkeep of the buildings.That’s where the taxpayer comes into it.

Those old buildings can absorb any amount of money you care to throw at them and still need more.

The National Secular Society argues that the church is sitting on a £4 billion surplus and should fix its own leaky roofs.

“In this week’s budget [sorry—I can’t tell you which week that was] the Government allocated a further £40 million funding to support “vital” roof repairs in Listed Places of Worship over the next two years.

“The lion’s share of this money will go to the Church of England as it is  responsible for maintaining 45% of the grade I listed buildings in the country and the majority of all parish churches are grade II or higher. [The grades refer to historic buildings that should be preserved.]

“Few would feel that our finest architectural heritage should fall into terminal disrepair. An inevitable consequence of the continuing decline in church attendance is that there are far fewer in the congregations to shoulder the repair burden. When they are unable to do so, who else should pay and under what circumstances?”  

So yes, taxpayer money goes to the church–not exactly to fund church activities but to maintain its historic buildings. Still, it is taxpayer money, it still flows to the church, and that does allow the church to use its own money for other purposes. Or to sit on it and let it accumulate. 

Apologies

Sorry–I just published a post too early, so I’ve done my best to un-publish it by marking it private. It’ll show up publicly at the end of the month.

I really can’t be trusted with the Update buttons.

Beneath London’s streets

Deep beneath the streets of London lurks a monster that knows how Londoners live today–what they eat, how they clean themselves, what gets them through the day. What will it do with the information? Either write a cheesy screenplay and make a fortune or come up through the plumbing and eat everyone it finds. Probably the first, because it’s eating well. It doesn’t need human flesh, which not only fights back but screams. Or at least it does in cheesy movies.

The monster’s called a fatberg, and in the best tradition of promos for cheesy movies, I’ve misrepresented it. The biggest one (roughly 750 meters long) has already been killed and autopsied. The ones still lurking underground are smaller, and although they’re growing, not one of them is alive. 

Fatbergs are made of solidified fat, sewage, and all-purpose gunk. And they’re clogging up the sewers not just in London but in other big cities around the country. So British TV being what it is, the big one was autopsied for our viewing pleasure.

This isn’t just an irrelevant photo, it’s stolen from an earlier post. I’m putting this post together on a toy typewriter and, what the hell, it’s available. Given the topic, we could do with a few flowers.

What do I mean about British TV being like it is? Well, it does a lot of nonfiction, which ranges from glorious to turn-the-channel. This one was somewhere in between. Beyond that, I’m not the best person to sum it up. I figured I was being vague enough that I could get away without having to explain what I meant, thanks. It may not have been enlightening, but at least it’s accurate.

Fatbergs form when a bit of cooking fat–or several gallons of the stuff–is poured down the drain and combines with the calcium it finds in the water to form a solid, which then sticks to a rough bit of sewer wall. Then a wet wipe comes along (wet wipes were the villains of the piece) and sticks to it. Then more fat sticks to that, and anything else that gets flushed down the toilet piles in on top, on the bottom, and on the sides, and while you’re still watching British TV, deep below you is 750 feet of solid crap–in the literal sense of the word– and other stuff blocking the sewer. Whatever gets flushed down the sewer, except the purest of liquids, can be part of a fatberg.

Isn’t your Friday getting off to a great start? Isn’t it just uplifting to read Notes?

So what did the autopsy tell us about how folks live in London? Well, they use cocaine, ibuprofen, caffeine, syringes and needles, paracetamol, morphine, heroin, condoms, magic mushrooms, steroids and gym supplements, tampons, amphetamines, sweetcorn, and hair tonic.

It’s the hair tonic that does the damage.

You didn’t think anyone has used hair tonic since the 1950s? Or maybe that was the 1920s? I didn’t either. I suspect they mean–to use a technical phrase–is hair goop. Or what the British call products. Not even hair products, just products. As if nothing else gets produced in the country.

A word about paracetemol: When my partner, Wild Thing, and I first moved to Britain, we figured it was some strange oracle the British consulted about aches and pains. Every country has its superstitions. As an outsider, you learn to live with them and not make funny faces. It turns out, though, that it’s what Americans know by the brand name Tylenol.

It’s not that Americans are more heavily oriented to brand names than the British. The British call vacuum cleaners hoovers, and using one to clean the floor is hoovering. Presumably Hoover made the first vacuum cleaners to hit the market here. The thing is, the British and Americans choose different things to call by brand names, making us sound eccentric to each other. But that’s a different post. Let’s go back to the fatberg.

So, Londoners use paracetemol. They also eat out a lot, because restaurants are the source of a lot of that cooking oil. The pattern is use, cool (presumably), pour down drain. Of course, home cooks contribute their share. From each according to their deep fat fryer…

And our bodies contribute whatever we put into them. The residue from prescription medicines, including antibiotics and estrogen. All those lovely bugs that cause digestive disasters–e coli, campylobacter, listeria. And antibiotic-resistant bacteria, although those may not come directly from us but from the uncontrolled combination of antibiotics and biota. I don’t know that. I’m guessing.

The things we drink out of also makes a contribution. Plasticisers from cups and plastic bottles can  mimic estrogens, and they’re in there too. The ones that don’t get trapped in fatbergs make their way into the rivers and oceans, doing some very weird stuff to the fish.   

The folks whose job it is to free up the sewers do it the modern way: by hand. They suit up, drop down into the sewers with shovels, and chop pieces off, which their buddies up top winch to street level. They manage not to pass out from the smell, or even complain about it. The only high-tech part of the job (and we’re relying on my memory here, which is an iffy proposition) is the gizmo (I love high-tech words) that beeps when it finds a toxic gas buildup.

On screen, they were not only good humored but very funny. In short, they’re heroes.

What can we learn from this? That image tourists have of historic Britain? It’s not the whole picture.

The ducks of Britain

What’s life like for the ducks of Britain? I can’t speak for all of them, but–. Okay, I can’t speak for any of them, but I can guess that it’s not bad for this group.  Apologies for having to send you on a wild duck chase if you want to see the photo. I still haven’t figured out how to snatch photos from news stories. What the hell, they copyrighted anyway. It’s worth a click.

My thanks to Deb for sending me the link, which I’d have missed without her.

Celebrating April Fool’s Day in Britain

How do the British celebrate April Fool’s Day?
Dangerously. The newspapers–or at least some of them–sneak in a fake story and wait like giggling ten-year-olds to see if anyone spots it.
Late in the day on April 1–some good long time after I’d read the paper–I remembered the date and realized I hadn’t spotted any obvious April Fool’s joke. That made me nervous. What had I fallen for? That the school funding crisis could swing the election against the Conservatives? Nope. I’ve followed that story. It’s real. That the candy company Ferrero says Britain leaving the customs union and the single market when it leaves the E.U. “could affect an array of chocolate products, leading to shortages, delays, higher prices, limited ranges and merchandise going stale in warehouses.”
Good candidate. It’s not going to send anyone into a War-of-the-Worlds type panic. Or maybe a few people, but not many. Still, it’s not far enough out there for a prank story.

Irrelevant photo: Yet another whatsit plant, in bloom. We grow a lot of them and they have a surprising range of blossoms.

Full disclosure:I’m doing a small bit of lying for the sake of verisimilitude. And I’m using long words for the sake of impressing you. I didn’t actually go back over the headlines to see what I’d fallen for. When I started writing this post, I called up the headlines from the Observer, the Guardian‘s sister paper, to remind myself what they were that day. My memory, sadly, is more decorative than functional.

By then, the real fake story was making small headlines, because a pair of BBC presenters had broadcast it. It was a story claiming that an Italian tech firm had created emojis for the opposing sides of the Brexit debate, and it quoted members of parliament who were outraged by how divisive they were. One emoji was called the Brexit Bulldog and the other Starry Blue, which picked up on the European Union flag. I mention that because I can’t remember knowing what the E.U. flag looked like before I moved to Britain. Or possibly before the Brexit debate.
When the BBC presenters were told what they’d just stepped into, they did two things: One, admitted it to their listeners (“sheepishly,” according to the story I read; bravely, in my opinion), and two, said, “Oh my goodness.”
Or one of them said that. Surely no two people would actually say “oh my goodness.” It’s improbable enough that one of them did.
But the Observer wasn’t the only media outlet playing April Fool’s gags. A different BBC show ran a story on a kraken, a legenadary sea monster said to live off the coast of Norway and Greenland, being spotted on the Thames. The Mail said Prince Harry’s stag party would involve laverbread smoothies and chakra realignment.
A few companies piled in as well. Coca-Cola announced that it was releasing avocado-flavored Coke. Burger King swore it would be selling a flame-grilled chocolate patty with raspberry syrup and vanilla frosting. Plus candied oranges and a bun made of cake. And Heinz was coming out with chocolate mayonniase.
The West Yorkshire Police announced that they now have a police rabbit. It wears a little blue police harness and looks fearsome.
Historically, my favorite spoof is from 1977, when the Guardian ran not just a story but an entire seven-page supplement on the island of San Seriffe, commemorating the tenth anniversary of its independence from I’m not sure who. Wikipedia–that most reliable of sources (actually, it doesn’t do badly)–says it was one of the most successful recent hoaxes. If you consider 1977 recent, which, being 103, I do.
San Seriffe was revived in 1978, 1980 and 1999.
The name, in case you don’t live and breathe this stuff, refers to a kind of typeface. Typefaces come in two flavors, serif, which kind of melts outward at the bottom, as if the pavement’s too hot, and sans serif, which runs downward in a straight line and could be driven into the ground if you had a tiny little mallet.The S is silent. Or if you like it better, blends into the S of the next word.
April Fool’s Day had passed when I read the Wikipedia entry, but I do wonder about that seven-page supplement. I’ve never worked in newspaper publishing, but every kind of publication I had anything to do with was printed in multiples of four. You could, if you really had to, cut a four-page sheet in half and get two pages–one sheet of paper printed on both side–but since paper inherently has two sides–. You see the problem, right? I suppose you could run a page of ads and call that not-part-of-the-supplement but I feel this pull on one of my legs when I so much as think about it.
I could be out of date–I’ve been gone for eleven years now–but when I was still living in the U.S., all an adult had to watch out for on April Fool’s Day was silly phone messages. You know: Please call Mr Bear, followed by the phone number of the nearest zoo. Or kids switching those unpeeled hard-boiled eggs you’d left in the refrigerator for the uncooked ones.
What’s the history of April Fool’s Day? According to the Metro, there’s an ambiguous reference to April Fool’s Day in Chaucer (1390s), and then no written reference for the next 300 years, when in 1686 there’s a reference to “Foole’s holy day.”
Thirteen years after that, “On April 1, 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to ‘see the Lions washed’, which was perhaps the first large-scale April Fool in British history.”
The Metro also says Scotland celebrates April 1 with Hunt the Gowk Day. “The pranker asks the prankee to deliver an envelope requesting help, but instead the message inside reads: ‘Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile.’ The recipient, upon reading it, will explain they can only help by contacting another person, and sends the victim to this next person with an identical message, producing the same result. And if that’s not enough, they also celebrate Taily Day on April 1, which involves “trying to put ‘kick me’ signs on people’s backs, plus plenty of posterior-based jokes.”
I was inclined to think this was all an elaborate joke, but I find enough references to both to think they’re probably real.
April Fool’s Day isn’t specifically British. Lord Google tells me that some version of it is celebrated–if that’s the right word, which I suspect it isn’t–throughout Europe and in Iran, India, Lebanon, the Phillipines, many Spanish-speaking countries, and the U.S. I can testify that it’s celebrated in the U.S. Beyond that, on this subject I’m not taking anybody’s word for anything.