Britain cancels all news out of respect for the queen

In case you managed not to notice, the queen died, but that’s not today’s topic. Let’s talk about Britain’s response, which–depending on your point of view–has been either moving and full of pageantry or expensive and over the top. 

Let’s go straight to the over-the-top stuff. 

News outlets more or less abandoned real news, giving us day after day after day of queen-is-dead coverage, and journalists were driven to such extremes in their efforts to find new angles that on the day of the funeral I found a headline that read, “Viewers left shocked after spider crawls across queen’s coffin during funeral.”

Yes, whatever else you can say, the country’s papers know breaking news when they see it.

Irrelevant photo: Nicotiana–and if it looks like I photoshopped a frowny face into the center, I didn’t. The flower grew that all by its glorious self.

The award for worst managed respectful gesture

Centre Parcs–a chain of holiday villages–first announced that they’d have to kick everyone out on the night of the queen’s funeral because they were closing down. When that got bad publicity, they changed their minds (“We recognise leaving the village for one night is an inconvenience”) but told guests they’d have to stay in their lodges, because the place was still closed. 

That led some denizens of social media to call it a hostage situation, which should also get an over-the-top award but we’ve run out. Sorry. Still, it was thoughtful of them to join Centre Parcs in that over-the-top space so they wouldn’t be lonesome.

The company later re-clarified the situation: Guests could walk around but the facilities would be closed. They offered a 17% discount. 

Your guess about how they came up with that figure is as good as mine. Given that people go there for the facilities, I’d have thought a 100% refund would be more fitting, but after that the story dropped out of the news. 

 

Gestures that didn’t win awards

From there, the stories get more mundane, but British Cycling–the national body for a sport that I never knew had a national body, or needed one–recommended that no one use their bikes on the day of the funeral.   

Cue bikers threatening to cancel their memberships. Then cue the organization backing down. And apologizing. And clarifying that  “no domestic events should take place on the day of the State Funeral,” whatever that means.

“Any clubs planning rides on the day of the State Funeral may want to consider adjusting their route or ride timings so they do not clash with those of the funeral service and associated processions.

“However, they are under no obligation to do so.”

In other words, please ignore this letter. 

Not to be outdone, the Norwich City Council closed two bike racks from September 9 to September 23, “during the Royal period of Mourning.” 

The British are big on capital Letters.

After a flap, the original sign was taken down and replaced with one explaining that the area would be used for “floral tributes.” But the bike racks are still closed.

In London, the overwhelmed Royal Parks Whatever asked people to please stop leaving Paddington Bears and marmalade sandwiches as tributes. Ditto balloons and candles. Flowers were okay, but without the wrappings, please.

The bears and sandwiches come out of a filmed sketch involving the queen, played by herself, having tea with Paddington Bear, who rumor has it was played by an actor.

The supermarket chain Morrisons showed its respect by turning the beeps on their self-service checkout scanners so low that customers couldn’t hear them and couldn’t tell if their purchases had been scanned or not.

On the day of the funeral, most of the big shops shut for at least part of the day. Most movie theaters also closed,  although a few screened the funeral for free but as a sign of respect weren’t selling popcorn. Or candy, although it’d be funnier to stop at popcorn. 

Cafes and restaurants were mostly closed, but pubs were mostly open. Draw your own conclusions. And Heathrow Airport adjusted its flight patterns and schedule to ensure quiet skies for the funeral. 

 

What happens next? 

Most significantly, Heinz ketchup will have to change its label, and so will hundreds of other food and drink brands. Why? Because they’ve carried the queen’s coat of arms on their packaging, which they can only do if they have a royal warrant, but royal warrants die when a monarch does.

A royal warrant? That doesn’t mean anyone’s getting arrested. Companies who supply “goods and services to the royals” can apply for them. So now they all have to apply to the new monarch and prove that the royal household uses their products regularly. 

Anytime you feel the need to remember the queen was human, just think of her pouring ketchup on her fries. 

Or maybe she had someone to do that for her.

Bank notes will also have to be changed, since they carry an image of the reigning whoever. That’ll take a couple of years. And coins will have to change, along with postage stamps and some flags–the ones outside police stations and in a few other places–since they have the queen’s initials on them. 

The royal arms, which are on many a government building as well as on government stationery, may change, but that’s up to the new king. And since MPs and members of the House of Lords swore an oath to the queen in order to take their seats, they’ll have to swear a new one, to the king this time.

How much will all this (plus the pageantry and its attendant security) cost? You know the old saying, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it?” I’m asking, as are a fair number of other people. The country’s in a cost-of-living crisis–11 million people are behind on their bills and 5 million have gone without food in an effort to keep up with them–and the government’s made it  plain that it would cost too much to offer any serious level of support. Besides, it doesn’t believe in that sort of thing.

It’s funny that the things governments don’t want to do are always too expensive but they find a way to manage the things they consider important.

 

But not everyone’s a monarchist

Mostly, small-R republicans seem to have kept their heads down and waited out the storm. But a handful of people were arrested for publicly protesting the monarchy, some by shouting and some  by holding up signs. One was threatened with arrest for holding up a blank piece of cardboard.

In fairness, one protester was later dearrested.

No, I never heard of it either. And at a protest where a number of people held up blank signs, no one was arrested.

But the arrests that were made, what law was that uncer? A recent one that allows the police to limit protests that they think are, or will be, noisy or disruptive, even if they’re peaceful. You could fit a lot of dissent under that leaky umbrella.

The good news is that, although calling for the abolition of the monarchy is technically still treason and carries a life sentence, the law hasn’t been used since 1879.

What foods are native to Britain

Every so often, somebody starts a campaign to run some non-native plant out of Britain. With a few, that makes sense–when they got loose in this new climate they turned hazardous, choking out native growth, growing through the foundations of houses, running for parliament so they can run other non-native plants out of the country. But setting those few aside, the rest of it, I suspect, is about returning Britain to some imagined state of purity. 

But what really is native? For the sake of simplicity, let’s stick with food.

This comes with a warning: The further back in time we go, the sketchier the notes people left behind. So I can’t guarantee 600% accuracy. Take it–as is appropriate for food–with a grain of salt.

 

A rare relevant photo: St. John’s Wort, which isn’t used as a food but is traditionally medicinal. It’s native to Britain but a couple of varieties were introduced in the 17th century. So it’s native but also not. Nothing’s ever simple, is it?

Imports

The first chicken bones show up in the Bronze Age–around 800 B.C.E. That makes them–not to mention their eggs–foreigners.

The Romans (start counting in 43 C.E.) brought rabbits, pheasants, and brown hare (not to be confused with brown hair, which was already present). Also cabbages, leeks, onions, garlic, basil, thyme, turnips, walnuts, and grapes. And alexanders, which went wild. Foragers still eat them and everyone else pretty much ignores them. They’re sometimes called wild celery. 

Incomers, the lot of them.

As an aside, by the time we get to the medieval era, cabbage was peasants’ food and not fit for the upper classes. It was thought to cause melancholy and nightmares but also to cure drunkenness. 

According to one source the Saxon word for February was Sprout Kale–the month when the cabbages sprout. If you’re not a fan of kale, you can blame it on the Saxons. It won’t be fair, but it’ll keep your mind off worse things. (Another source says it was April, but it’s outvoted. Let’s go with February. It’s shorter, and I’m not a big fan of kale.)

You won’t find sugar until 1099–or at least you won’t find it mentioned until then–and for a long time it was the wildest of luxuries. From the 12th century through the 15th, you’ll find monasteries cultivating apples and pears. Or you’d find them if you could get back there. They would’ve been luxuries.

Turkeys and rice showed up in the Tudor period, and potatoes, corn, and tomatoes didn’t arrive until Europeans started bothering the New World. 

Beets–or as the British call them, beetroot–probably came from the Mediterranean. Broccoli showed up around 1700, chocolate bars around 1847, and baked beans in 1886.

Yes, I did switch from raw ingredients to processed food. You’ve got to keep an eye on me every minute. I’ll pull a fast one on you every time.

 

Native foods

Wild carrots do grow in Britain and as far as I can untangle things they’re native, but a foraging guide describes them as tough and stringy. You’d want to put these in stews, not eat them raw. The plant they come from is also called Queen Anne’s lace and looks a lot like hemlock, which is toxic, so I wouldn’t recommend munching your way through the hedgerows hoping to figure out which is which. 

Cultivated carrots seem to have wandered into England in Elizabethan times, so they’re not exactly native. Emphasis on seems. I got that from a site whose information appears to be solid but whose writing is murky. 

Peas? Probably native, although some people argue that the Romans brought them. 

Of course, someone out there would surely argue that the Romans brought Nintendo. I’d make the argument myself, but I’m trying to keep this brief. 

Cultivated peas are related to vetches, a category of wildflower that does well in Britain without human interference. The early ones would’ve been smaller than the peas we know, and probably bitterer. And if we’re to judge from that last adjective, harder to pronounce. The best thing to do with them would’ve been to put them in pottage–something eaten widely in medieval Britain and varied enough that if you think of it as anything that can be tossed in a pot and cooked with liquid, you won’t go too far wrong. 

It’s not until you get into Tudor times that peas become sweeter and the elite start eating them as a delicacy.

Oats, rye, wheat, and barley are all native. As is brewing alcohol from at least some of them and getting shitfaced. 

Native fruits would’ve been small purple plums, sloes, wild currants, brambles (that means blackberries), raspberries, wood strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, redberries (no idea what this is; they’re probably red), heather berries (Lord Google tells me they’re edible but nasty), elderberries, rowan berries (edible if cooked; toxic when raw), haws, and hips (that’s probably rose hips). To summarize, the native fruits ran the gamut from delicious to nasty.

The wild apple, crabapple, and cherry would might have been rare or absent, although the British apple seems to have predated the Romans. You notice how much of a workout the word probably is getting? Not as much as it should’, I expect. 

We haven’t talked about the nuts and leaves, but let’s skip them, okay? 

What people really want to know about Britain

How do I find out what people want to know about Britain? I scrape the floor of the search engine room and see what questions were stuck there. It’s completely scientific.

The questions appear in italics and in all their original oddity. The answers are in Roman type, which although almost no one knows it is the opposite of italic type. And in case you’re worried that I’m insulting the people who were kind enough to leave me their questions, I’m pretty sure they fled long ago, leaving me a free hand.

 

So what’s your country called anyway?

why is england named great britain

Have you ever noticed that when you start with the wrong question you end up with the wrong answer? Gravity’s to blame here. There’s no escaping it. 

I blame England for the confusion. Or possibly Britain or the United Kingdom. Or someone, because it’s important to have someone to blame. Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are innocent bystanders in this. They got pulled in by the gravity (see? I came back to that) of a larger neighbor.

In the interest of saving space: England’s part of Britain. Britain’s not really a country, that’s the United Kingdom. It’s just–well, think of Britain and the UK’s nickname. It’s all very confusing. The good news is that with Britain having left the European Union, the UK’s likely to come un-united, in which case the question of what to call it will be simplified.

Even if nothing else it.

hy are we called great britain

Hi. Yes, we are. 

Irrelevant photo: potted violas.

Important questions about British culture and history

Why are British roads so narrow?

It keeps out the riffraff.

did the tudors have chimneys

No, but some of their houses did. 

what does british understatement mean

It’s when you understate something. In Britain. Or elsewhere if you are British and like to carry a national stereotype (or characteristic; take your choice) around the world with you. 

I do hope that helps.

is uk beer stonger then american

This is such a regular question (although it usually comes with another R mashed in somewhere, and a few other spelling changes) that I’ve started to ignore it, but it’s time to say greet to an old friend again. This is what the world wants to know about Britain: How much beer do I have to pour down my throat before I get shitfaced?

I always did say that travel broadens the mind.

anglo saxon hunting

The Anglo-Saxons came, they stayed, they hunted. And did a few other things while they were at it, including contributing some lovely swear words to the language. Allegedly.

One important difference between the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans, who took the country from them, is that under the Normans hunting and fishing were tightly restricted. And these weren’t sports for most people but an important part of how they managed to eat. The Norman aristocracy not only owned the land but every wild beast and weed that grew, ran, or slithered thereupon. And also the water and its fish. Hunt the lord’s whatever and you could end up getting killed for it–quite legally. 

I’d love to know more about the Anglo-Saxon laws and traditions about hunting and land ownership. If anyone wants to point me at a good source, I’d be grateful.

in the times when people wore wigs did mice get into them

Contrary to popular opinion and in spite of how popular wigs were among the upper classes, the fashion was limited to humans, British mice never wore them. This supports the argument that they had better sense than the upper class humans.

emmit website cornwall prank

In Cornwall, emmits are tourists if you speak American and holidaymakers if you speak British. But they don’t call themselves emmits, because that’s Cornish. It means ants. So if they start a website, they’re not likely to call themselves emmits.

Presumably that’s where the prank part comes in.  

That’s an extended way of saying that I don’t know anything useful about this.

medieaval attitudes to male homosexuality the church

Short answer, they didn’t approve of it. Longer answer, they weren’t obsessed with it in the way that so many later churches were (and that some still are). Homosexuality was just one sin on a long list of thou-shalt-nots. And the idea that homosexuals formed a category? That doesn’t seem to have figured into the way people thought about either themselves or each other. 

 

Pandemic questions

will the uk go into a full lockdown

I’m late answering this. Sorry, but it does mean that I don’t have to speculate. Yes, we did, but we waited for the virus to get a head start. Never say that sportspersonship is dead. 

eek and kent varients

Eek indeed.

Most people will want to spell variant with an A, but language changes and maybe we’re looking, appropriately enough, at a variant spelling.

 

Why questions

why does sensus ask if someone has stayed overbight?

Because it’s useful to know about the dental health of the population. How many people in your household have an overbite? Did it stay or did it leave with a visitor?

why do cars look like they are going faster on narrow road

Because of the natural reaction of human beings, when watching a car drive too fast for the conditions, to think, Oh, shit, that doesn’t look good. Narrow road. Relatively high speed. Ergh. 

Why did I get this question? Because I wrote a couple of posts about narrow roads. I am now an expert. 

why do americans have post boxes

To hold our letters.

why don’t american houses have letterboxes

Our letters are free range. We sit around waiting for them to mosey down the street and lasso them as they come past. If we get a lot of them, we herd them into the corral. It brings neighbors together to exchange letters so that they get to the right houses. Sometimes they stampede, though, which can get dangerous.

Why do I get questions asking why we do and don’t do the same thing? Because a lot of people start with their conclusions and look for the evidence. This protects them, at least to an extent, from finding contradictory evidence. This is why the world continues spinning.

 

Questions I can’t explain, never mind answer

note all.siftay

Now this one was interesting. I referred the question to Lord Google, who referred me to an Urdu grammar site, a site that’s partially in Hebrew, an auction site (23% commission),  and a Board of Management meeting of Perth College.

Best guess? The meeting would be more interesting than your average management meeting. Or at least stranger.

brexit and good from ietnam

Lord Google and I both inserted a V into this, giving us Vietnam. Vietnam and Britain did reach a trade deal when the Brexit deadline was looming. Was this particularly good news for either of them? No idea.I don’t think either country is a major trading partner for the other. 

jenny mollica atemkurs

As should already be clear, I often ask Lord Google about questions I can’t make sense of, since it was Lord G. who sent the questions to me in the first place. Some turn out to be about a person I mentioned once and forgot. Checking allows me to pretend that I still remember them. Other times, the questions turn out to be about someone I never heard of, but at least I’m reassured that we’re all operating in consensual virtual reality. 

But when I typed in “Jenny Mollica Atemkurs,” Lord G. told me that there weren’t many great matches for my search. That’s a first. He’s never held out for great before, probably because he considers his suggestions wondrous, however strange they seem to me.

But not this time. The world may be full of Jennys, but he held out for the Mollica Atemkurs kind and found none.

Why the question ended up with me remains unknown.

 

The fill-in-the-blank challenge

this meant that rotten borough _____ represented a tiny number of people in ______.

Ooh, we’re playing MadLibs with somebody’s term paper. 

I’m not in love with my offering, but that’s okay, it’ll give you the satisfaction of being funnier: “This meant that rotten borough X represented a tiny number of people in Y.” Hand that to your algebra teacher. They’ll  be so impressed.

*

For those of you who enjoy the history posts: I will get back to them. In theory, I post something non-news related on Fridays. Ideally, it’s about English (or possibly British) history or culture (using an expansive definition of culture). But I got seduced by too much news this week, not to mention by some good weather, and didn’t leave myself enough time. Stay with me. I’ll get back to it. 

What people really want to know about Britain, part twenty-something

What search engine questions has Lord Google sent my way lately? Why, how convenient that you should ask. We have, right here before us, the best of them, along with my answers, since I can explain everything.

That’s not to say I can explain it all correctly, but an explanation’s an explanation, as any politician who’s faced an interviewer can tell you. And everything is everything. And circular answers are useful, as Theresa May discovered when she so helpfully explained, as prime minister, that Brexit means Brexit.

It meant nothing and explained nothing, but we can all admit it was an answer.

No egos were bruised–I hope–in the making of this post. Let’s not kid ourselves that the people who drifted here in the wake of these questions fell in love with Notes and stuck around. They came, they saw, they drifted on, and they washed up on some other internet shore.

 

Irrelevant photo: A flower. One I don’t know the name of.

British History

who is berwick at war with

It’s at war with rumor and commonly held belief, which formed an  alliance years ago, leaving  poor old Berwick fighting on two poorly defined fronts. 

Or maybe I have that back to front and rumor and commonly held belief are Berwick’s allies. That would mean reality’s the enemy. It’s hard to tell in this post-truth era.

Either way, Berwick isn’t (at least in the reality I inhabit) at war with anyone, but judging from the flow of search engine questions about who it is at war with, we’ll never convince the world of that. 

why couldnt the normans hunt in the forest

They could. 

But of course it’s not that simple.

After the Normans invaded England, they seized about a third of the country, announced that it was theirs, and restricted hunting on it. Poaching (which is hunting where you’re not supposed to–in other words, on someone else’s land) became, for a long time, the kind of crime that could get you mutilated or killed. Since it was overwhelmingly the Normans and their descendants who owned the land or could pay for the privilege of hunting on it, let’s keep things simple and say that the Normans could hunt in the forest.

list the efects of the enclosure movement 

I got two copies of this question. I didn’t notice whether they both had the same typo, but my best guess is that someone was doing their homework on the enclosure movement. Sorry, kid, go write your own paper. It’s a complicated process, but basically you find a source of information, you make a few notes, you–

No, I shouldn’t take anything for granted. You find that source of information–preferably a reliable one, because there’s a lot of nut stuff out there. Then you read it. All by yourself. And you write down a few things that belong on the list you were asked to create. 

See? That wasn’t too hard, was it?

I despair.

why is england called britain

For the same reason that a salad is called lettuce, even if it has tomatoes, red cabbage, and one lonely black olive. In other words, because people focus on one of the ingredients and snub the others. 

Olives have feelings too, you know.

In fairness, England has always been the dominant bit of the salad–and that might [sorry, we’re stepping outside of the metaphor for a second here] come back to bite it soon. Scotland shows all the signs of feeling like an olive lately. Which would make Wales and Northern Ireland the tomato and red cabbage, and I understand that I haven’t given them their due in my answer. That’s an ongoing historical problem with the British salad. I also understand that the metaphor’s breaking down and that it’s time for me to get out while I can.

why was suffragists not a turning point in the ‘votes for women’ campaign.

Who says it weren’t?

 

So what’s Britain really like?

has england incorporated the metric system

You had to ask, didn’t you? If the whole let’s-not-go-metric campaign starts up again, I’ll know who to  blame. But yes, it has, mostly. With some exceptions, the most noticeable of which involve highway miles and the pint glasses used in pubs.

pre metric measurements

Pre-metric measurements are the bests argument for no country ever abandoning the metric system. 

informal judge wig

When my partner and I went to court to convince the British government not to toss us out of the country, we were told that the hearing was informal. The definition of informal–or at least the part of it that I understood–was that the judge didn’t wear a wig.

Hope that helps.

why did they used to make a guy at guyfawkes and sit in the street

To get money for fireworks.

I know, that only makes sense if you already understand the answer, so I’ll explain. Guy Fawkes and some friends tried to blow up Parliament. It was over religious issues, which were also political issues, and it must’ve seemed like a good idea at the time. They got caught before anything went ka-blooey, and every year on November 5 the country marks the occasion with bonfires and by burning a pretend version of Guy, now demoted to simply “the guy”–an effigy, sometimes of a very generic human being and sometimes an elaborate one of whatever political figure seems to need burning in effigy at the moment.  

Back in the day, kids hung out on the streets and asked passers-by to give them a penny for the guy. Then–or so my friend tells me–they’d buy fireworks with however much they had.

Parliament also marks the occasion by a thorough and ceremonious search of the cellars where Guy and his fireworks were hiding. Even though the cellars don’t exist anymore. Because it’s not right to let reality get in the way of a good tradition. 

 

Food and drink

what they call a can of beer in england

An American import? I don’t think they sell much canned beer here. It’s bottled or it’s on tap. I trust someone will correct me if I’m wrong here.

But where auxiliary verb go?

why do we eat red cabbage at xmas

Oooh, do we? I thought we (a category that excludes me, but never mind that) ate brussels sprouts at Christmas. 

when did brussel sprouts first come to the uk

Before the Home Office was created. The Home Office’s task is to defend Britain’s borders and deport people who (oops) often have every right to remain, destroying both their lives and Britain’s reputation. The Home Office would’ve taken one look at sprouts and sent back to their point of origin as undesirables. And what tradition would we be baffled by if we didn’t have them?

what do britiah call brownies

Brownies.

What do Britiah call themselves?

British.

What do Britiah call definite article?

Missing.

pandemic takeaway food success stories

for the most part, and we should grab our success stories where we can. I expect there are some of these, but I can’t say I know any. 

Stick with me, kids. I know how to do depressing. 

 

Inexplicable questions

however, _______________, i am going to spend most of the time today talking about why britain _____

I spent a fair bit of time filling in the blanks, convinced I could do something wondrous with this. I didn’t manage to make myself smile, never mind laugh. Gold stars to whoever can.

I have no idea why anyone would type this into a search engine, but if you’ve got nothing better to do I guess it would be interesting.

The Skeleton Army and the Salvation Army

The Salvation Army was founded as a London mission in 1865, offering food and shelter to the down-and-out, the poor, and the very, very drunk. The Skeleton Army was founded by people who enjoyed a good drink and a fight, and in the 1880s and 1890s it harassed the other army.

The Salvation Army came first, so let’s start with them: According to one account, its goal was to wage war on poverty and religious indifference, which testifies to humanity’s long and history of waging war on things that can’t be shot, slashed, or speared. 

And there I was thinking all that war against abstractions and inanimate objects started with the U.S. declaring war on drugs.

Never mind. The Sally wasn’t the first organization to fall in love with a bit of overblown rhetoric, and it quickly took on a military structure, complete with uniforms, recruits, ranks, and marching bands.

Irrelevant photo: An October seed pod. A friend thinks they’re from an iris, in which case I’ll guess a yellow flag, which grows wild.

The Sally’s own website doesn’t talk about warfare but about saving souls and relieving “the Victorian working classes from poverty. In Booth’s eyes [Booth being the founder], this involved morality, discipline, sobriety and employment.”

In other words, unlike the unions and proto-unions of the period, they didn’t see the causes of poverty as low pay and killingly long hours, they were immorality and drinking.

Not to mention gambling and salacious entertainment. 

Within the Salvation Army, women’s ranks–and this was radical for the period–were equal to men’s, and women played a powerful role in the organization. Although having said that, it was started by two people, Catherine and William Booth. I’ve put her name first because I’m like that, but I’m a minority of one in that. He’s credited as the founder and Catherine sometimes gets a mention–and not always by name but just as “his wife.” She may have played a secondary role–I’m not sure–but even if she didn’t, he was the Methodist minister in the family, and if that wasn’t enough he carried a Y chromosome, along with the physical oddities that follow from it, so he walked around with neon arrows pointing him out as the important half of the couple. 

Still, I’m writing that from a contemporary point of view. For the time, the organization was startlingly equal.

The world they campaigned in was a brutal one. Industrialization meant cities and towns had grown massively, and people’s hours, pay, and working conditions were, literally, killing. 

And in spite of the way the language is changing, literally there doesn’t mean figuratively. It means the hours, pay, and working conditions killed people. And crippled them.

Housing was overcrowded, germs hadn’t been so happy since the Crimean War, and beer and gin were cheap, so people drank. Sometimes that was all that got a person through one day and into the next.

Into that setup marched the Salvation Army, not to quietly establish soup kitchens and wait for people to come eat and get preached at but to march down the street, thumping the drum, playing the tuba, waving banners, and preaching against the evils of et cetera.

Et cetera can be extremely evil if left unchecked. 

This won them both recruits and enemies. Plenty of people wanted a drink and a dance and a fight. 

Along England’s south coast, this response coalesced into a group that called itself the Skeleton Army. Chris Hare, a historian from Worthing, one of the Skeleton hotspots, traces their origin to groups of Bonfire Boys–working class young men who raised hell on Bonfire Night, as well as on Mayday and any other occasion that gave them the opportunity. They didn’t bother with ranks or uniforms, but they did sometimes wear yellow ribbons in their caps or sunflowers in their buttonholes.

No, I don’t know how either. Maybe sunflowers were smaller back then, or buttonholes were tougher. 

They also took the Salvation Army’s songs and wrote rowdy lyrics to them. Fair enough. The Sally had taken popular secular songs and reworked the lyrics to suit their purposes, so they were only stealing what had already been stolen.

Skeleton mobs attacked the Salvation Army, throwing paint-filled eggs, dead animals, burning coals–whatever came to hand. Except for the eggs. Those took planning, because getting paint into an egg and keeping it there long enough to throw? That takes work. In fact, how you do it is a deeper mystery than anything the established religions have yet cooked up. But never mind, the eggs appear in more than one telling and seem to have been real. 

Where were the town’s respectable people while all this was going on? Unhappy not about the Skeleton Army but about the Sally. Individually, they wrote letters to the newspapers, worrying that the Salvation Army would give their towns a bad reputation and drive visitors away. 

As for the religious establishment, it preferred its religion inside the church, not bothering people on the street corner. And landowners and industrialists had an interest in keeping their workers drunk and if not happy at least not demanding higher pay and forming unions.

The Salvation Army was anything but revolutionary, but it offered enough prospect of change to worry the powers-that-were. 

Collectively, they were glad to look the other way when the Skeleton Army broke up Salvation Army events. 

To the extent that the police got involved, they were likely to blame the Salvation Army for any uproar. In Worthing, when one “Salvationist applied to the bench for a summons against those who had assaulted him,” he was told,” ‘You know what you do provokes others to interfere with you, and then you come to us for protection.’ ”

In Eastbourne, the mayor and the brewers endorsed the Skeleton Army. In Torquay, the local government banned marching music on a Sunday. It attracted troublemakers, so they arrested the marchers. 

Attacks on the Salvationists–as the articles I’ve read call them–increased, and the women, especially the women in authority, were the primary targets. 

Are you surprised?

One woman, Sussanah Beaty, was killed.

There were riots in Exeter, Worthing, Guildford, and Hastings, and brawls in 67 towns and villages. From the 1880s to the early 1890s thousands of the Sally’s officers were injured. 

But by the early 1890s,  the police became more likely to arrest attackers. Opposition began to die down and the skeleton army faded away.

After that, the story isn’t half as interesting, so we’ll abandon it there.

 

Lockdown part two: it’s the pandemic news from Britain

England’s about to enter a month-long lockdown that includes pubs, restaurants (except takeaway), nonessential stores, and going in to work if you can work from home. The biggest exception involves schools and universities, and that loophole is big enough that we can move in the construction equipment and build a world-class germ exchange.

Five and a half weeks ago, the government’s own science advisory group suggested a two-week lockdown, but the government, in its wisdom, decided it would be too damaging to the economy. So now we have a longer lockdown in response to a higher number of infections and it will inevitably create a longer economic interruption. And of course it has that big honkin’ loophole I mentioned, so it may not work all that well, but we’re going to pretend that kids don’t spread the virus (which is possible but far from established) and that students, teachers, and staff don’t interact with anyone except each other. 

The emotional pitch for the new lockdown is that if we do this now, we can save Christmas. 

Someone’s been reading too much Dr. Seuss. 

Irrelevant photo. This, dear friends, is a flower.

The press conference where Boris Johnson announced the new lockdown started three hours behind schedule, and I would love to have eavesdropped on whatever was going on behind the scenes. So far, no one’s talking but I’m hoping for leaks. 

The delay left fans of a dance competition show, Strictly Come Dancing, frantic, and the BBC cut away a little early so they could start the show only a few minutes late, thus saving not Christmas but Strictly, which is important enough that the nation’s on first-name terms with it.

Only slightly less important than Strictly is a newly announced extension of the job furlough scheme–the one that pays people whose jobs haven’t gone up in smoke but instead have been shelved and may yet be unshelved. The furlough scheme is full of holes, but it’s better than nothing. 

But. When areas in the north of England were in local lockdowns, people who were eligible for the scheme got a smaller percentage of their usual pay. Now that the whole of England’s going into lockdown, people who are eligible will get a larger percentage. Because, um, yeah, basically the areas up north are up north somewhere, and they have these accents that don’t sound right in the hallowed halls of Parliament and–

Oh, hell, they’re a long way away. Who cares, right? 

That can’t be going down well up north. 

As recently as last week, a local government in West Yorkshire, which was moving into a local lockdown, was told there were no plans to make the lockdown national. I hate to sound naive, but I actually believe this. That’s the way Johnson’s government works: There were no plans. At a certain point, they just jumped. 

*

England–or Britain, if you prefer, because elements of this will overlap–isn’t alone in facing a second spike, but it does have its own particular causes, and an economist from the University of Warwick has traced one of them back to the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which offered half-price meals (up to a certain limit) to people who ate out at participating restaurants. 

Thiemo Fetzer traced three sets of data: the number of restaurants participating in the scheme in a given area, the days of the week the scheme ran, and the amount of rain that fell during lunch and dinner on those days. (Not as many people eat out when it’s raining hard.) Then he compared those to the number of known new infections in an area and concluded that the scheme “may be responsible for around 8% to 17% of all new detected Covid-19 clusters emerging in August and into early September.”

To which the Treasury Department said, “Bullshit.”

Okay. They said, “We do not recognize those figures.”

In early October, though, Boris Johnson said in an interview, “It was very important to keep [those two million hospitality] jobs going. Now, if it, insofar as that scheme may have helped to spread the virus, then obviously we need to counteract that […] I hope you understand the balance we’re trying to strike.”

If you’ll allow me to translate that, since it’s mildly incoherent, it means we knew it would spread the virus, but we had to balance that against getting people to spend their money.

Another swathe of infections can be traced back to a government effort to save the travel industry by opening “travel corridors”–arrangements that would let people travel to other countries withour having to go into quarantine when they came home. A Covid variant that originated in Spain is now widespread in the U.K.–and a lot of Europe, while we’re at it.

Spain was on Britain’s list of safe places to visit. Just bring your sunscreen and a bathing suit. Come home with some chorizo and a nice tan. The government cares about you and wants to make sure you can have your holiday–or vacation, if you’re speaking American, which no one was. It’ll all be fine.

The Covid variant, by the way, isn’t a particularly significant variation from the original. For a virus, Covid is surprisingly stable, but like all viruses it evolves and that means sometimes the origin of a cluster can be traced. In this case to Spain, and to a government policy that tried to save the travel industry. 

So here we are again, entering our second lockdown. Forgive me if I haven’t managed to be funny this time out. I support the lockdown, late and flawed as it is. Covid’s a dangerous disease, not only because of the deaths it causes and the way it overwhelms our hospitals but also because of the people it leaves disabled for no one knows how long, maybe for months, maybe for a lifetime. If you’re dealt a card out of the Covid deck, you can’t know in advance which one it will be. Will you be asymptomatic, have a bad week or two, become disabled, or die? 

And you don’t know who you’ll pass it on to, because people are infectious not just when they’re sick but before they have symptoms, or if they have no symptoms. So we gamble not just with our own lives but with the lives of people we love and of people we don’t know at all but share breathing space with. 

Stay safe, my friends. Be cautious. 

Wear a damn mask. They do make a difference.

 

What we’re not supposed to do: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

A whopping 13% of people in England say they fully understand the lockdown rules. In Wales and Scotland, they’re doing better: 15% are fully enlightened. No one in charge of the survey managed to locate Northern Ireland, so I don’t have any data from wherever it is today. 

No, I can’t explain its absence. I’m only somewhat British–I was adopted, and late in life at that–so I can’t be expected to understand how this stuff works, not to mention why. What I can tell you is that 51% of people in England, 62% in Wales, and 66% in Scotland say they understand the majority of the rules. 

Do they really? Maybe. Which also implies maybe not. It was a survey, not a test. 

*

Irrelevant photo: Virginia creeper.

Meanwhile, in response to a ban on social get-togethers, the police in Scotland have broken up hundreds of house parties since August. Or possibly thousands. The number I found was 3,000, but that was how many times they’d been called out, not how many gatherings they broke up. 

Let’s say lots and leave it at that.

What kind of get-togethers? A party involving 270 students at a dorm. A religious gathering of 20 people. The virus doesn’t care whether you’re praying or shouting, “Sweet Jesus, I’ve never been this drunk in my life.” 

Places rented on Airbnb have been used for a number of the parties, indicating that people aren’t in the awkward position of have 264 more friends show up at their house than they’d planned on, they’re going into it with malice aforethought. 

A police spokesperson said the gatherings weren’t limited to any one age group. 

*

A Spanish company, working together with a university, has come up with a machine that should be able to disinfect a room in minutes. It uses cold atmospheric plasma to clean surfaces and to kill 99% of viruses and bacteria in the air.

And if you’re not sure what atmospheric plasma is, what have you been doing with your life? It’s a deeply scientific-sounding phrase that I quoted in order to sound like I know more than you. 

Okay, haven’t a clue. I do understand cold, though. I used to live in Minnesota, which is close enough to Canadian border than the icicles that dangled from their roofs grew right past our windows.

Why don’t we go to a spokesperson, who can explain it all? 

Broadly speaking, we subject the surrounding air to a very strong electrical field, pulling electrons from the neutral particles in the air and forming ions. This system can generate up to 70 different types, from ultraviolet rays to peroxides, ozone, or nitrogen oxides. The synergies between these allow bacteria and viruses to be neutralized.”

Got it?

Me neither. What I do understand is that it’s the size of a laptop, it’s silent, and it can be used to clean either an empty room or one with people in it, recirculating the air. 

Let’s quote the article I stole that information from

“To do this, the system releases ions which, once disinfected, are reconnected in neutral particles.” 

They’re hoping to have it tested and certified by the end of the year. The snag? No one’s said–at least within my hearing–how much it’s going to cost. 

*

Staff at some universities complain that they’ve been pressured to stop working at home and show up on campus so that the schools can create a vibrant atmosphere. Because what could be more exciting, when you’re young and taking on a  debt the size of Wales, than having lots of people around you to participate in the Great Covid Lottery? And who’s more exciting to play it with than the back-office staff? 

One school, in explaining why it needed bodies behind desks, wrote that it was trying to keep students from asking to have their tuition refunded, which at least has the virtue of being honest.

*

The AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccine–one of the front runners in the race to make a massive viral load of money in the Covid vaccine market–reports that it’s sparked a good immune response in older adults as well as the young. Old codgers (and being one, I get to call us that) also have fewer side effects than the young. 

AstraZeneca says it will be available for limited use in the coming months.

Um, yes, and how fast, exactly, will those months be in coming? AZ says before the end of the year where countries approve its use. Britain’s health secretary says the first half of 2021 is more likely. But whenever it happens, it’s likely to be available to only a limited group at first. 

*

Which leads me neatly into my next item, a warning from scientists that the rush to adopt a vaccine may get in the way of finding the best vaccine. Once a vaccine’s in widespread use, it’ll be harder to prove the efficacy of a later vaccine, especially among particularly vulnerable groups. Some mechanism, they say, needs to be set up to compare them.

The vaccines that are ahead in the race are using new approaches, but it’s possible that the older approaches will yield a better result. It’s not necessary, but it is possible.

*

The US Centers for Disease Control has (or should that be have, since they insist on being multiple centers instead of a single one?) redefined what close contact means when we’re talking about exposure to Covid. The earlier guidance counted close contact as being within six feet of an infected person for fifteen minutes. Now the CDC reminds us that six feet isn’t a magic number, and neither is fifteen minutes. They’re rough estimates, and being around an infected person fifteen times in a day for a minute each time exposes you to as much virus as fifteen lovely, relaxed minutes in a single encounter.

That may seem obvious, but someone’s always ready to take these things literally. Some schools were moving students around at fourteen-minute intervals. Quick, kids, the virus is onto us! Everybody split up and move to different classrooms!

Basically, what they’re saying is that the more virus you’re exposed to, the greater your risk. Exposure isn’t something that happens all at once, like falling off a cliff. 

*

And finally, a bit of rumor control: Wales did not classify tampons and sanitary pads as nonessential items and ban their sale during its current lockdown. What happened was that someone tweeted to Tesco that a store had refused to sell her period pads. Tesco tweeted back that it was government policy.

Tesco then deleted the tweet and apologized. It turns out that the store had cordoned off an aisle because of a break-in. Had someone knocked a wall down? No. The police were investigating, and anyone who’s ever been on a British highway after an accident can testify that you don’t mess with the police when they’re investigating. Everything stops until they’re damn well done.

But by the time Tesco deleted its tweet, the rumor-horse was out of the social media barn and galloping happily toward the Severn–the river that divides Wales from England–reciting, “One if by land and two if by sea, and I spreading rumors of all sorts shall be.” 

Sorry. American poem that kids of my generation had to memorize if we hoped for lunch period to ever arrive. It’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” ever so slightly bastardized, and it’s totally irrelevant but we’re getting toward the end of the post here and headed not just for the Severn River but the Stream of Consciousness.

Should we go back to our point? Sanitary products are recognized as essential and are available for sale. The Welsh health minister added that stores can sell nonessential items to customers in “genuine need,” which is defined as I think it’s lunchtime and I’m leaving now, so define that for your own hair-splitting self.  

The Welsh government is meeting with retailers to review the regulations and guidelines, after which it will all make sense.

Politicians and hungry kids: it’s the pandemic news from Britain

After refusing to find common ground with Manchester’s political leadership over money to support workers and businesses devastated by a local lockdown, the government announced a new package of support for businesses and workers devastated by local lockdowns. 

Andy Burnham, Manchester’s mayor, said it was what he’d been pushing for all along

So why did the government let the talks blow up before agreeing to provide support? So it can say, “Nyah, nyah, we win.” The government can now claim that it was their idea all along and that they’ve forgotten where Manchester is anyway.

*

Irrelevant photo: Starlings in the neighbors’ tree. They gather in large flocks in the fall and winter. The Scandinavian starlings spend their winters here. The ones that spend the summer here head south in the winter. Go figure.

This might be an appropriate time to talk about sewage

No, that wasn’t an editorial comment. I am so politically neutral that I can’t even see myself in a mirror. 

Ninety sewage treatment sites in England, Wales, and Scotland are starting to test for Covid. A pilot program in Plymouth spotted an outbreak that was clustered around some asymptomatic cases well before the test and trace system spotted it.

Admittedly, the test and trace system couldn’t spot a Covid-infected camel if it crashed  through the Serco board room with a nickelodeon on its back playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” but the point is that the sewage folks spotted the outbreak at an early stage. They’d have no problem spotting a camel either. 

The nickelodeon might be more of a problem. It needs a different set of reagents and an entirely different testing protocol.

*

Having finally noticed that the test and trace system not only isn’t working but that the percentage of people it contacts has fallen, the government placed an ad for someone with a track record of “turning around failing call centres.” 

The job pays £2,000 a day. And as I often have to remind you, in a pinch a person can live on that.

*

When I was looking for details on the program to support workers and businesses devastated by etc., I thought I could save myself a few keystrokes by just typing in the chancellor’s last name, Sunak. Auto-complete took what I’d written and supplied “flip-flops.” I was delighted: Sunak and Johnson had both flip-flopped on support for etc, and here Lord Google was writing an editorial for me. 

I followed Lord G.’s editorial to pictures of physical flip-flops–those plastic sandals you can slip your feet into without having to fasten anything. Turns out I’d flip-flopped a couple of letters and typed “Sanuk,” a brand of flip-flop that cost anywhere between £20 and £55. 

I remember when flip-flops were cheap. Of course, I remember when gas (or petrol if you speak British) was $0.29 a gallon. I also remember when I was nineteen, and it was a shockingly long time ago. 

*

After rising for seven weeks, the number of Covid cases in England looks like it’s stopped rising. Hospitalizations always tag along behind, kind of like a pesky younger brother, so they’re still going up.

*

An Australian company is working on a Covid test based on saliva–no swabs involved–that reports back in fifteen minutes and uses a hand-held device. That doesn’t necessarily mean the device is cheap–the article didn’t say what it costs–but it does mean you don’t need an entire lab for the test, so there ought to be some savings in there somewhere.

Of course, in Britain, we’ll have to contract with an outsourcing company to bring it into the country, and that should add a few million to the cost, if they get it here at all. But hey, what’s a few million pounds between friends? After all, Parliament just voted not to give low-income families £15 per kid over the school holidays so the kids wouldn’t go hungry. We might as well spend that money somewhere. 

The tests themselves work out to about $25 each, although to get a more exact figure I expect you’d have to do some sort of mathematical gymnastics involving the cost of the hand-held gizmo and the number of tests you’re going to do on each one. 

The bad news is that the system’s still being tested, but the hope is that it’ll detect the virus when people haven’t  yet shown any symptoms but are already contagious. The current tests are most effective after symptoms have started, meaning they give a lot of false negatives.

*

After Parliament voted not to give families that £15 per low-income kid over the school holidays, cafes, restaurants, and local governments stepped in to help fill the gap.

The issue of kids going hungry was raised by a football player, Marcus Rashford, who learned enough about hunger as a kid to qualify as an expert. He shamed the government into creating a program over the summer, but the thing about eating is that having done it once doesn’t keep you from needing to do it again.

Reacting to businesses stepping in to help, Rashford said, “Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell.

“I couldn’t be more proud to call myself British tonight.”

Boris Johnson, on the other hand, “declined to welcome the offers of assistance,” as one paper put it. I assume some reporter gave him the opportunity just to see if he would. But hell, if these kids wanted to eat over the holidays, they should’ve had the foresight to get themselves born into better-off families, the way he did.

Arguing against spending the money on kids, MP Brendan Clarke-Smith said, “I do not believe in nationalising children.

“Instead, we need to get back to the idea of taking responsibility and this means less virtue-signalling on Twitter by proxy and more action to tackle the real causes of child poverty.”

Like low pay, possibly? Or a lack of jobs? 

Nah, it’s got to be personal irresponsibility.

The government’s decision is particularly grotesque since it spent over £522 million on a summer program to tempt people back into cafes and restaurants, but only if they could afford to pay half the cost. And MPs are expected to get a £3,000 raise.

The pandemic news from Britain, for at least the next 20 minutes

Unless you took too long to get around to reading this, here’s the Covid situation in Britain at this very minute: Wales is in a circuit breaker lockdown, which they’re calling a firebreak in order to distinguish it from the circuit breaker the British government’s refusing to impose on all of England, even though its experts say it should.

A brief interruption, just so we’re clear: Both of those are short lockdowns. And just so we’re even clearer, the British government doesn’t govern Britain as far as lockdowns are concerned. It governs England, which is part but not all of Britain. And when I say England, of course, I also mean Cornwall, because Cornwall’s governed by English law. 

It’s so simple I’m almost embarrassed to explain it.

Irrelevant photo: Cylamen, one of those magical British plants that bloom in the winter.

Scotland’s lockdown will have five tiers, and Northern Ireland’s will be northern. And also Irish, although let’s be honest, I don’t understand what happens up there. They’re across some water, I don’t swim well, and if I say too much I’ll expose my ignorance. They were the first part of the UK to impose a circuit-breaker lockdown. And I have a link to back that up.

None of the lockdowns sound as complete as the lockdown we all went through in March to keep the Covid horse from getting out of the barn, although by then the horse hadn’t just left the barn, it had gone to the pub for a drink and decided to move to a bigger barn. 

Are you still with me? By now, the horse has invested in a whole series of barns, because what’s the point of getting stuck in one barn when you can become a developer? In other words, since the metaphor’s also left the barn, the country locked down too late to control the virus the first time around and is now looking at the second wave and wondering if maybe it shouldn’t take some sort of action in case the wave turns out to be full of swimming horses. 

Stop me, someone.

What the British government’s trying to do where it has some power–in other words in England–is to on one hand lower the number of Covid cases but on the other avoid locking down the whole country. Hence the idea of local lockdowns where the virus is concentrated.

It sounds sensible until you put it into practice, at which point it gets messy. The earliest local lockdowns don’t seem to have worked well, but the emphasis there is on seem. The most authoritative assessment I’ve found is that it’s hard to say whether they’re working. That’s balanced but it’s not reassuring.

The local lockdown that’s getting the most press is Manchester’s, where the mayor, backed by local politicians, including some from Boris Johnson’s own party, wouldn’t agree to go into the most restrictive category because the government refused to give them enough money to cover the losses to workers and businesses. A lot of public snarling followed until Johnson said, “It’s my ball, so I get to make the rules,” and imposed the lockdown anyway. It will take effect on Friday.

One of the major issues they fought over is that people who can’t work during the lockdown will get less than they did during the national lockdown. 

Why? 

Because.

What’re they supposed to live on?

The government doesn’t much care. 

How do I know that? 

I’m channeling them. I hear them in my head, and if you think that’s fun, I invite you to play host to a bunch of overprivileged ex-Etonians. Especially when you thought the wine on sale at the supermarket would be fine.

Eton? That’s a public school, which in British means it’s a private school–a place where parents with too much privilege pay too much money to have their darling boys taught how to be part of the ruling class. 

No, I’m not exaggerating.

*

Universities–which in the US would be called colleges, but that has a whole ‘nother meaning here–are trying frantically to deal with their own localized Covid outbreaks. 

In Bristol, 900 students and staff have tested positive, and both they and the people who’ve been in contact with them are having to self-isolate. Hundreds of students who live in university housing have signed up to a rent strike that’s due to start at the end of the week. They’ve been locked down twenty-four hours a day and want to be released from their rental contracts if they move out or have their rent reduced if they stay. They also want people who test negative to have access to the outdoors, and they’re unhappy with the food boxes that are delivered to them (since they can’t go out), which they say don’t have enough food, don’t work for all diets, and sometimes don’t include essentials like cleaning products or sanitary products. 

Complaints about the food delivered to students who are expected to self-isolate are widespread, and I don’t think this is a case of kids complaining that they’re not getting quail under glass but that a week of instant noodles and energy bars doesn’t make a workable diet. Also that delivering pork products to Muslim students doesn’t communicate cultural sensitivity.

Of course, the kids who put “Send Beer” posters in their windows aren’t doing the cause a whole lot of good, although they are at least finding a way to pass the time that doesn’t involve either property damage or self-harm.

Rent strikes are already going on at Glasgow and Cambridge.

*

Arts organizations have been struggling during the pandemic and lobbying hard for some help, so when some got rescue grants from the government and were told to pour a bit of public praise on the campaign, they (at least mostly) did.

“Welcome this funding on your social media accounts . . . on your websites . . . and in your newsletters,” they were told. “In receiving this funding, you are agreeing to acknowledge this funding publicly by crediting the government’s Culture Recovery Fund.” 

And so on. 

Recipients obediently went online and sang the praises of their glorious leaders, who are also our glorious leaders. 

I used to work for an arts organization and it made my flesh crawl to watch how some of the staff members fluttered around when large donors appeared, but at least the donors had the good grace not to dictate their own thank-you letters.

*

In an unexpected side effect of the pandemic, Britain may be facing a shortage of tracksuit bottoms, leggings, and running shoes. Think of it as the Zoom meeting effect. Only half of you needs to look respectable. 

There’s a more serious side to it, though. A lot of clothing factories in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Bangladesh closed in response to the pandemic. Sorry to chuck that in, but it is part of the story.

*

And now a feel-good story as a reward for having gotten this far: 

Football teams (and if you’re American, please understand that in Britain football teams play soccer) have been playing to empty stadiums in the pandemic and making money by broadcasting the games on pay-per-view TV. The cost is £14.95 a game.

Earlier in the pandemic, the games were shown free. And since fans–or many of them, anyway–have already paid for subscriptions to the stations carrying the games, the extra fee didn’t sit well. 

Newcastle United Supporters urged a boycott and raised £19,000 for local food bank instead.

*

The UK will be the first country to deliberately expose volunteers to Covid in order to test the effectiveness of vaccines. They’re called challeng trials, and there’ve been debates about the ethics of doing that with a life-threatening disease that we have no cure for, but it’s a lot faster than injecting people with the vaccine, then winding them up, letting them go about their ordinary business, and waiting to find out if they get the virus.

The volunteers are between 18 and 30, and they’re healthy, so they’re in a relatively low risk group. They’re also, given the dangers that long Covid presents to people in all age groups, incredibly brave.

 

How to choose a new career, courtesy of the British government

With 300,000 job cuts planned back in June and July (sorry–statistics lag behind reality) and more cuts hitting the headlines every day or three, with the possibility that unemployment among young people will hit 17% later this year, never let it be said that the government isn’t trying to help the least among us. 

And believe me, they think we’re all the least. 

What are they doing for us? Why, they’ve created a quiz to help us figure out what jobs we’d be good at if our old careers have crashed and burned, or if we never had a career but our jobs are now cinders, or if we graduated to find the job market in flames and the fire department at half mast due to a decade of austerity budgets, or–

Well, you get the picture.

Ever anxious to help people (that was one of the questions on the test), I’ve taken the quiz so that you don’t have to trouble yourself. And by way of full disclosure, I should tell you that this is a test version of the test, so I’m sure–

I’m sure of nothing. Never mind. It’s a test version. We’ll leave it there.

Irrelevant photo: A flower I’ve forgotten the name of–and a butterfly. If someone would remind me, I’d be grateful (for whatever use that is). A friend once called it “that tall, ethereal thing” and it knocked the real name right out of my head.

What the test asks you to do is agree or disagree with a series of statements, and with each question you go deeper into the essence of who you are and what you’re capable of. Then an algorithm compares that with every available shred of information about the job market and spits out your own personal economic self-improvement plan.

How scientific a portrait of you does it build up? Oh, very. Especially when you pick the “it depends” box. 

The questions include: 

I am comfortable telling people what to do. (I am, but I sometimes need to wait until they’ve pissed me off. Then I’m very good at it.)

I make decisions quickly. (I had to switch to a different tab and type that question up for your benefit, so even though I claimed to make decisions quickly, I took my own sweet time with the question. I don’t think I was penalized for it, but they don’t really tell you.)

I take control of situations. (It depends. On what? Oh, lots of things.) 

I like taking responsibility for other people. (It depends. On what? Time, place, and circumstance, mostly.)

I set myself targets and usually meet them. (I accidentally left that one blank and tried to go on. The test sent me back and I said that yes, of course I meet my own targets. But filling out the test correctly was never one of them.) 

I think I am a competitive person. (I think I am? If they don’t trust me to know this about myself, why would they think I’m non-delusional about the others?)

I set myself goals in life. (You asked me this once already. Standardized tests often do that to see if you come up with the same answer when the questions come in different forms, but most of them are subtle enough not to hit you on the head with it.)

Doing well in a career motivates me. (Geez, no. What could be less interesting?)

I try to think differently to others. (I don’t try, sweetie. This is the brain I was issued. This is how it works. Yes, it can be interesting in here at times.)

And so on. 

At about the halfway mark, I started hitting “It depends” on most of the questions. Because I was bored. Because I wanted to see what they’d do with someone in the absence of any discernible personality. And, of course, because it does depend. Everything depends. It depends on how we’re going to interpret the question. It depends on whether I want to make a good impression on myself. It depends on whether I want to play the game fairly. 

Basically, yes, I cheated by not representing my real self, so I don’t claim that the careers scientifically chosen for me are entirely tailored for my oddities, but it turns out that I’d make a good soldier or a good cake decorator.

Also a nursery worker (to translate that, it means working in a preschool; you can see why someone who’d be a good soldier is a natural fit there), a judge (my lack of a law degree doesn’t seem to be a problem), or a dance teacher (the startling number of left feet that were included in the package when I was born present no problem).

And since the travel industry’s thriving right now, I could also retrain as a travel agency manager, a tourist guide, or hotel room attendant. That last one is career-guidance speak for a cleaner. 

An assortment of other people who took the test report that they’d be good boxers, lock keepers, or movie projectionists. Lord Google left me with the impression that lock keeping’s a volunteer job. With time and dedication, you can progress up the ladder to be a volunteer coordinator, but probably still as a volunteer. And one of the big movie chains just closed its doors. 

Reality has also closed its doors. Movie projectionists are looking to retrain as lock keepers.

That leaves boxing. I’d make a good boxer, competing in the overage runt category. But when they asked if I was competitive I said, “It depends,” so they didn’t suggest it for me.

If you’ll excuse me now, I have a couple of cakes to shoot.  I don’t like doing this, but orders are orders.