What people want to know about Britain, part thirteen-ish

It’s time to dip into the search engine questions that lead unsuspecting souls to Notes from the U.K. and see what it is they want to know about this green and pleasant land. The questions are in boldface type and I’ve reproduced them in all their oddity. And because my goal in life is to enlighten the ignorant world, I’ve done my best to provide the information they wanted. Even though the people who asked the questions will never wander back to find the answers. It keeps me occupied and mostly out of trouble.

CULTURE & LANGUAGE

good manners of britain

Yes, Britain has good manners. So do other countries, but no one notices because we’ve all been trained since early childhood to think British manners are good manners and other countries’ manners are rude flaming ignorance. We’ve also been trained to think a British accent is classy and other accents need a bath. This is all rampant bullshit, of course, and a hand-me-down from the British empire, but good luck convincing anyone of it.

When I say “a British accent,” what I really mean is an accent the listener can identify as British, which won’t come anywhere close to the full range of British accents. And when I say “no one” and “we’ve all,” what I really mean is the group of people I happen to be thinking about. I’m not quite silly enough to think I’m talking about everyone

Irrelevant photo: Orange berries. What would you do without me to explain these thing to you?

why do americans say derby instead of ‘darby’

Because that’s how it’s spelled. D e r b y: derby. Americans are naive like that. In spite of all the evidence that points the other way–and, boy, does the English language point the other way–they still think that if a word’s spelled with an E it gets pronounced as if it had an E.

Silly people.

brits think americans are too loud

THEY DO? WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME?

swear words england vs american

If you have to look up swear words, they won’t work for  you. Swear words are very particular about who they’ll work for. Stick with the vocabulary you understand. It’ll have more impact. 

should word anglophile be capitaluzed?

Capitaluzed? No. Some people capitalize it, though. Others don’t. Because I’m retired (I used to be an editor; now I’m just an everyday fussbudget), I’m not going to chase down definitive sources. You’re probably safest capitalizing it, but you could defend either choice. 

Which isn’t much of an argument. People defend all kinds of stupidity. That doesn’t make it right.

POLITICS

should all male mps wear a jacket in the commons

Oh, absolutely. Otherwise British politics would degenerate into the kind of farce where people who support staying in the EU throw all their weight behind leaving because it keeps them in power for another twenty minutes; where people argue against a second referendum in the name of democracy; and where amateurs run the government. Heavens to Betsy, we wouldn’t want that.

stockings in the house of commons

It’s not smart to make guesses about anything as improbable as the British parliament, but I’m about to: I’m fairly sure Christmas stockings don’t play much of a role there. The MPs are too old to believe in Santa Claus, although a few still claim to. On top of which, they go home over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, so if Santy exists, he has to look for them there.   

mps are not allowed to wear armor

This is as shocking as it is true: They are not allowed to wear armor in the House of Commons, and it’s a stain on British democracy.

On the other hand, they (like everyone else in the land) are allowed to wear armor outside the House of Commons. On the train going home, say. At the corner store. It’s heavy, it’s expensive, and they’ll get some odd looks, but I’ve never heard of a law that  prevents it.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS

If search engine questions are a fair representation of what the world’s interested in, the world is obsessed with brussels sprouts. I could turn Notes into the leading (and only) brussels sprouts blog and make a real success of it. Depending, of course, on how we define success.

Here’s a sampling of the brussels sprouts questions.

why do we eat sprouts at christmas

To make sure we’re on Santa’s good list.

why do we have sprouts at christmas bbc

Good question, BBC. The world’s waiting to hear from you on this important topic. Why are you leaving it to amateurs like me to fabricate answers? This is the height of irresponsibility.

the tradition of why we eat spr54otes

The truly traditional Christmas dinner doesn’t involve spr54otes, it involves plain sprouts, of the brussels variety. The 54 was added in recent years as people became aware of how important fiber is to a healthy diet. And the U? It still feels bad about Americans having dropped it from so many words and it’s sitting out this round to make a point about how much it has to contribute.

why do cross a sprout

To get to the other side?

plumpudding brussel

No, people. There is a limit. Never put brussels sprouts in your plum pudding.

OTHER FOOD & DRINK

what percentage is american beer

That depends on what percentage of what. The world’s beer output?

what do they call brownies in england

Brownies.

SIZE

why are english roads so narrow / why are english streets so narrow

Because of the houses on either side, some of which were there before cars came along. Also because of the fields. And the hedges, and the stone walls. And because, you know, they’ve been that size for a long time and it works, so why mess with it? And incidentally because they take less space.

Isn’t it odd how people go to another country, full of excitement to see something different, and then judge if by the standards of the place they left. And find it failed to meet them.

why is britain called great britain when it is small

Because it has an inferiority complex and needs to puff itself up as much as possible. We try not to talk about it, okay?

TRADITIONS

yale door company knob throwing contest

You can find Yale locks in many American doors. And, according to a quick internet search, also in Australian, Indian, New Zealand (New Zealandish?), and British doors. If the company makes doors, as opposed to locks, they’re keeping the information off the internet. But doors have door knobs, and some door knobs have locks in them, and Yale does make those. So we have a connection here.

But the whole thing breaks down after that. The Dorset knob throwing contest isn’t about throwing door knobs, much less whole doors, it’s about throwing a biscuity thing called a knob, which is a bit sweet and, at least as I remember it, too light to throw well, but you shouldn’t take my word on that, you should go and find out for yourself. The next contest is on May 5, 2019.

Leave your door at home. Also your door knob. They’ll provide all the Dorset knobs you need.  

 

What people want to know about Britain, part twelveish

What do people want to know about Britain? The results of a highly skewed and unreliable survey, based on the search engine questions that mislead people to Notes, show that they want to know about the following issues. 

Please note: The questions have been reproduced here in all their oddity.

A rare relevant photo: This is Fast Eddie, our resident cat expert.

CATS

can cats eat sticky toffee pudding

Yes. No law of physics or biology prevents that. Will it be good for them? No, but that’s not what you asked.

Is sticky toffee pudding good for humans? Absolutely. It makes us fat and happy. And sticky, which reminds us to wash, which is good for our health if not done to excess. 

Will cats stick to the bowl if they do eat sticky toffee pudding? No. It doesn’t acti like a glue trap. It’s sticky only when compared to your average dessert. You won’t end up rushing your cat and its bowl to the emergency vet, hoping to get dessert detached from cat while one is still edible and the other doesn’t yet have PTSD.

Are cats interested in eating sticky toffee pudding? Not as far as I know, but we don’t have any around the house so I can’t get an opinion from our resident cat expert (and, incidentally, cat), Fast Eddie. But he’s never asked for any any. That’s got to mean something, because if the neighborhood cats were all talking about how good it is, he’d have come home wanting some.

Cats are protein eaters. Meat for breakfast, meat for dinner, and meat for dessert.

Me? I’m a vegetarian. And in case I don’t sound pure enough, I’m (very) gradually losing my taste for desserts. I do swear fluently, mostly to make sure I’m still part of the human race. 

cats mine myself sweet

It’s hard to know how to answer that. It’s hard to know if it’s even a question. Still, I’ll do what I can.

Fast Eddie–I repeat, in case you skipped the last answer, that he’s our resident cat–can be sweet. He can also kill things, and does. Whether that’s sweet or not very much depends on your point of view.

Eddie’s still pissed off about that mouse my partner threw away. Yesterday he accused her of eating it herself. So even if we don’t talk about the rodents and the occasional bird, he’s not all sweetness.

In contrast (and to address the rest of the alleged question), I me mine myself do (or possibly does) not, for the most part, kill things. I make a reluctant exception for slugs and some bugs. I am not, however,  sweet.

I am also not a cat, although I wouldn’t mind having fur.

I’m glad we got all that straightened out. I feel we know each other much better now.

FOOD

Most questions about food, especially as we approach Christmas each year, are from people struggling to understand the religious symbolism of brussels sprouts in the Christmas tradition.

They have so come to the wrong place.  

why do we have sprouts at christmas

Because Santa doesn’t like you.

+what year did brussel sprouts became a thanksgiving tradition

As far as I know, that year hasn’t gotten here yet, but then I haven’t lived in the U.S. for something like thirteen years and things have gotten pretty weird over there since I left. So someone tell me: Has everyone suddenly decided that brussels sprouts are a Thanksgiving tradition? Because traditions sometimes get pasted in retroactively. All of a sudden a nation decides that some small ball of green leaves always was part of a traditional meal and even though people remember that they didn’t eat them when they were kids, they can still believe that it’s a tradition because, you know, their families were a bit odd and everyone else probably ate them. So no one says anything and the next thing you know we all believe it.

But more to the point, when did the plus sign at the beginning of a question become a thing? This isn’t the only search engine question that’s wandered in sporting one.

when was did we start to eat brussels sprouts at christmas

Six pm, and everyone’s finished but you. Eat up or Santa will ask about that “when was did” and won’t let you have any Christmas pudding. 

QUESTIONABLE TASTE

We’re isolating these questions in their own category so they don’t contaminate the rest of the batch. And when I say we, of course, I mean me mine myself cats. Ready? Got a strong stomach and an ability to get disturbing images out of your mind? If not, just skip these.

You’re reading on, aren’t you? You don’t have to, you know.

breastaurant

How did this question find me? Lord Google has decided that anything too odd to go someplace else shall henceforth come to me. Some of that I appreciate but, Lord G., you’ve pushed your luck with this one and I will not leave the usual tribute of data at your portal. In the meantime, whoever sent this, either learn to type or go somewhere else. People can’t necessarily choose not to be over-interested in one or another body part, but they can learn not to pester the rest of us about it. 

sainsburys sex tots

I can only hope we’re talking about Tater Tots here. Speaking only for myself, I’ve never found frozen, shredded, prefabricated potatoes even remotely sexy, but I do understand that everyone’s tastes are different and as long as no one gets hurt, hell, go ahead. But, honest, most of us don’t want the details and there’s a thin line between enjoying your sexuality and inflicting it on other people, at which point it becomes harrassment. So keep the details for those specialty chat sites, okay? And if Sainsburys–that’s a supermarket, in case you’re not British–has a Facebook page, it’s not one of the sites I was suggesting.

CLOTHES

the origins of wig in britain

There is only one wig in Britain, and this creates real problems in the court system. You think it’s budget cuts that are throwing it into chaos? It’s not. It’s all the lawyers and judges waiting for that one damn wig to circulate. They can’t say a word in court till it’s planted on their head.

And its origins? It was made by that Stradivarius of wig makers, Anonymous, in February of 1751. All the other wigs in the country have been torched.  

And if you’re new here, please watch for statements that are too absurd to believe. You’re not supposed to believe them. And more than that, you’re not meant to quote them as fact. Ideally, you’re supposed to take them with a grain of salt and laugh, but inevitably they won’t all work.

what does an mp wear

A cluster of these questions came over a couple of days, so either that’s one person returning several times to a site that wasn’t much help to start with or it’s a class assignment and some poor kids landed here, copied out everything I said, handed the assignment in, and got an F. The world is unkind.

So why did the question landed here? I googled “MP clothes” and found an assortment of sites for clothing sold or made by companies with an M and a P in their names, including MissPap, which sells clothes that are about as sleazy as you’d expect from a fashion house named after a vaginal smear test. Since I spent ten or so seconds on the site, I’ll probably start seeing their ads on the side of the screen when I check my email.

As long as it’s not Tater Tots, I’ll be okay.

Then I changed tactics and googled the original question and I found some quite sensible information, which everyone whose question landed them here must have passed by in order to find their way to me.

So what do MPs (that’s members of parliament) wear? Clothes. They are known for not appearing in parliament naked.

What follows, by the way, is true. You can quote it safely.

MPs are expected to wear businesslike clothes. If they don’t, either the speaker pretends they’re invisible and won’t call on them to speak or someone complains and the speaker’s supposed to do something more active about it. Two women have gotten away with wearing tee shirts bearing feminist slogans, possibly because “businesslike” is less well defined for women than for men. Or possibly because they didn’t care if they got called on to speak since their shirts had already made their point.

A few men have been seen wearing the jackets and ties that are required but in eye-popping colors. Everyone pretends not to notice.

MPs are not allowed to wear hats or armor in the House of Commons. I assume exceptions can be made if anyone’s religion demands headgear but I don’t know that. It may not have come up yet. Or if their religion demands armor, although I’ve never heard of a religion that does. Armor’s awkward stuff, not to mention expensive. Even the Pastafarian Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn’t ask believers to wear armor, only colanders. 

You need a link for that. You know you do.

The only person who can carry a weapon into the chamber is the sergeant at arms, whose title is spelled serjeant. MPs are expected to hang their swords on the purple ribbons provided in the cloakroom.

No, really. I did not make any of that up. 

MPs are not allowed to bring in briefcases. Female MPs, however, are allowed to bring in a small handbag and at some point male MPs demanded the right to do the same. That news came under a headline about man bags, which I almost skipped thinking they involved a bit of the male anatomy that has never really interested me. But I’m here to enlighten, so I followed the link and learned that it has nothing to do with frozen potatoes. Men may now bring in small, butch-looking (or femmy ones if they’re brave enough) handbags but they still can’t bring in briefcases.

One of the wonderful things about Britain is that it not only has these insane traditions, it takes such pleasure in making fun of them. So let’s move on to a related subject.

TRADITIONS & HISTORY

why do we not call november 5 guy faulkes night anymore

Because no one cares about Guy Fawkes anymore. November 5 is when all the wigs got burned–except of course that one fabulous one.

Salt.

history of two fingers insult in british language

No one really knows where this came from. According to one story–

But wait. Not everyone knows what we’re talking about and that’s rude. In Britain, if you hold up your index and center finger with the knuckles facing out, you’ve just insulted someone. Even if what you meant to do was let the bartender know you wanted two beers. It’s a close relative of holding up the middle finger but involves a few extra muscles because, hey, the British are tough.

According to one story, the gesture came from the Battle of Agincourt, which was fought during the Hundred Years War. English and Welsh archers did so much damage to the French that if an archer was captured the French cut off the two fingers he needed to pull the string of his longbow. The theory goes that the remaining archers held up their two fingers to show the French that they still had them.

Great story. According to Oxford Reference, unfortunately, there’s no evidence of the gesture being around any earlier than the twentieth century and the Battle of Agincourt was in 1415.

Nice try, though.

If there’s any evidence of the French cutting off fingers, I haven’t found it.

LANGUAGE

+definition of tickety tonk

I googled this and landed someplace considerably more sensible than Notes. Tickety tonk is outdated, upper class slang, meaning goodbye. The queen mother ended a World War II-era letter by saying, “Tickety tonk old fruit and down with the Nazis.”

She also thought the Jeeves and Wooster novels were “so realistic.”

What can I tell you? This whole monarchy / aristocracy thing is surreal. Not to mention expensive.

what does it mean to tell someone your spiffing me off

It means you’ve gotten your outdated, upper-class slang wrong. And you’ve misspelled you’re

LANGUAGE & GEOGRAPHY

what the Country’s Called

That depends which country you’re asking about. The world’s full of countries. Ukraine used to be called The Ukraine. Now it’s just called Ukraine. You get used to it after a while. The United Kingdom is usually called Britain because it has fewer syllables. It’s also  less accurate, but what the hell. Its full name is the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland. It also answers to Hey, You.

why is britain called britain

Because.

great britain also called as

Great Britain’s called many things, but never As.

why is great britain called uk

It isn’t. Great Britain’s that biggest chunk of land you see on a map of the British Isles. The U.K. is that plus Northern Ireland.

why was britain known as superior

Ooh, you fell for it, didn’t you? Great doesn’t mean better, superior, smarter, or better dressed. It means bigger. Although, like many (possibly all) countries, it’s capable of getting a swelled head and acting superior. Just remind it that its MPs aren’t free to wear armor to work. That’ll let it know who’s who and what’s what. 

All told, having multiple names wasn’t the U.K.’s best marketing decision. I could fill a very dull book with the questions that come in on the topic.

RANDOM OTHER STUFF

news from elsewhere

This makes an odd sort of sense. We all get tired of the same old news and gossip from wherever it is we live. The rest of the world looks more interesting. And larger. So without saying where here is, someone asked for news from places that weren’t their here. So far, so sensible. And as it happens, I posted something titled “News from Britain. And elsewhere.” So Lord G. sent the question to me.

Unless some silly person was actually looking for me. You never do know.

sample lettet to decline the award that is not deserved

“Dear Person Who Offered Me an Award,

“I am not worthy. I am so not worthy that I dare not accept this most flattering, important, and selective of awards. Thank you for thinking of me but something has got to be wrong with you that you even considered me.”

You’re welcome. See below for a note on self-respect.

bellringer for self respect

I’m not a fan of the theory that most of the world’s considerable stock of problems stem from people not having enough self-respect. Or the idea that they (that’s the problems, but it could just as easily be the people) can be fixed by surgically implanting self-respect in people who lack it. In fact,

Not that I’m discounting the idea of surgical implantation. I know some people who could do with a bit less self-respect. They could be donors. We could do transplants.

But set that aside, because no one asked for my opinion. This is about facts. Can bell ringing increase anyone’s self-respect? If you think you’re so insignificant that no one notices you, it might. Ring that damn bell, make some noise, wake the friggin’ village up at 2 a.m. There, they heard you that time.

In general, though? There’s probably some better way.

crotchetwor, minim workksheet

Oddly enough, I almost understand this. Where American music counts time in whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and so on until the fractions get so small they swallow themselves, British music uses crotchets, minims, quavers, semiquavers, hemidemisemiquavers, and other odd fragments of sound that humans call speech, although I’ve never heard of a crotchetwor and I’m pretty sure no one else has either.

After almost thirteen years of living here and messing around with various sorts of music, I should have learned to understand what they’re talking about by now. But no, my mind pretty much shuts down when someone says anything along the lines of, “That’s actually a crotchet.” I smile radiantly. I may even look like I understand what they’re saying. I don’t. I can get as far as knowing that it has to do with timing. If they’re telling me about it, it means I’ve gotten it wrong again, but I’m much more inclined to giggle than to feel bad about it.

Do I have a worksheet to offer? Absolutely not. And if I ever create one, I advise you not to use it. 

Christmas in Britain

brussels sprout-flavored crisps

Relevant photo: These are brussels sprouts flavored crisps. Or potato chips, if you’re American, which I mostly am. Notice that lovely seasonal package they come in?

Brussels sprouts are part of the traditional British Christmas dinner, but they’re not usually eaten in the form of potato chips–or crisps, as they’re called in Britain to distinguish them from what Americans call french fries, which are called chips.

Have I lost you yet? Oh, good.

This is the first year I’ve seen brussels sprout-flavored potato chips, and I don’t predict a great future for them, even as a seasonal oddity. I ate three out of I didn’t count how many in the package I bought: one to see what they tasted like, a second to make sure I hadn’t hallucinated the first, and the third to see if they might just possibly grow on me.

Boy, did they ever not.

I threw the rest away.

By way of background: I do like brussels sprouts, but only in their natural, vegetabilian form. And I don’t, as a habit, waste food, but for some things you have to make exceptions.

If you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a merry one. Please be careful what you buy if you’re tempted to grab something in nice-looking seasonal packaging.

And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I wish you a happy whatever you may or may not celebrate at this time of year. It should make you very happy that your tradition isn’t responsible for inventing brussels sprout-flavored crisps.

Only in Britain: What did I get for Christmas this year? Why, a lovely, hand-crocheted brussels sprout. With eyes. In real life (if that’s what I lead, given that I’m taking pictures of a crocheted brussels sprout with eyes), it’s green, not blue.

What the world wants to know about Britain, part I’ve forgotten what

It’s time to review what the world wants to know about Britain.

How do we measure that? Why, by looking at what leads people to the definitive voice on all things British, a.k.a. this blog. As usual, I’ve preserved the questions in all their original oddity, including the odd spelling and the lack of question marks and capital letters. Where I’ve gotten several related (but equally odd and therefore worthy) questions, I’ve combined them.

FOOD & DRINK

make cross in sprout religious; is there a religius reason we put crosses into sprouts; english eating brussel sprouts

As we edge closer to Christmas, the flow of questions about brussels sprouts gets heavier, but they form a steady drip throughout the year. I can only assume these come mostly from British people because who else knows that brussels sprouts are as essential to the British Christmas as two desserts and eight reindeer?

Irrelevant (and out of season) photo: hydrangea

The crosses at the bottom? The religious justification as I heard it (and don’t ask where because by now I haven’t a clue) is that it was to let the devil out. Or the evil spirits. That may or may not be what anybody in the past actually believed. People have a habit of working backward to come up for a reason for something they see being done.

So why did people start doing it? Probably so the stems would cook as quickly as the leaves. I used to nick the stems but haven’t bothered in years. It doesn’t seem to make a difference and if I’ve eaten any evil spirits I’m none the worse for it. But then, I wasn’t very good to start with and I’m not a fussy cook, so you shouldn’t take my word for it.

But why do the English eat sprouts at Christmas? Because they do. And because they ripen at a time when not many other vegetables can be bothered to.

In 2015 I wrote a post about this and said, recklessly, that the British eat them at Christmas because the Druids worshiped the Great Brussels Sprout. I thought I was very funny and was convinced it was a ridiculous enough claim that no one would take me seriously. Then some blogger linked to it as if it was Truth with a capital R. I still thought I was funny but had just enough decency to also feel bad about it.

In late September of this year, someone else linked to it, this time treating it as Truth with a capital U. So I’ve now prefaced the post with a health and safety warning (the British are big on health and safety warnings; the Druids really did worship them) explaining that no one knows much about what the Druids did, that the article contains a slight exaggeration, and that the writer may contain nuts.

I also sent the other blogger an apology.

The worst of it is that I still think it’s funny. Although I continue to feel bad. I’m sure that makes it okay.

do they have peeps in the uk

That has to be from an American wondering if civilized life is possible outside the borders of the U.S. of A., because Peeps are the measure of civilized life.

Peeps are bright colored, over-sugared, marshmallowy things that have been extruded from some pipe in an industrial kitchen, which forms them into vaguely chickish shapes. At least they look like chicks if your eye’s been trained to see them as chicks. They’re known for giving nutritionists conniption fits. What’s a conniption fit? No idea, but I have it on good authority that you don’t want to have one.

Twenty seconds of research tells me that peeps are  sold in the U.S. and Canada. So yes, civilized life is possible outside of the U.S., but only in Canada.

Why did anybody look deeply enough into the question to read whatever I may have written on the subject? Because, people, Peeps matter.  

our American beers weaker; compare alcohol content budweiser uk and canada; beer alcolohol content uk vs isa; why does beer in england taste better than usa beer?

The strength of American and British beer occupies a large portion of the internet’s collective mind. And by the time that mind goes online to research alcohol content, it’s addled by all the hands-on research it did first. 

That explains the typos.

british peopme chocolate chips; leom drizzle where did it come from

These are what people want to know about once they’ve drunk all the beer in the house.

what do the british call baking-powder biscuits

For the most part, nothing: 97.6% of British citizens have never heard of them. And 93.7% of all statistics are made up. But gasp, wheeze anyway because the world contains people who never heard of baking powder biscuits. The thing is, people don’t just talk differently in different countries, they eat differently.

When I lived in the U.S., my partner and I just called them biscuits, but she’s Texan and we didn’t need to explain what we meant. Now that we live in Britain, we call them baking powder biscuits so that friends won’t expect them to be cookies, because what Americans call cookies the British call biscuits.  

WEATHER

londoner never talking about weather and how miserable (x2)

There are two  things the non-British think they know about Britain: 1. The place is wet, which means it’s miserable. 2. People talk about the weather and nothing else. Beyond that, I don’t know what the question means but someone does because I got it twice.

PLACE NAMES

why is worcester only 2 syllables

Given the oddities of English spelling and the even odder oddities of British place names, there’s only one possible answer: Because.

are we still called great britain

Yes, dear. It’s a geographical designation and no one’s sawed off a part of the country yet.

widemouth bay pronunciation   

Widmuth.    

how to pronounce river eye uk

I can’t even begin to guess, but I can tell you how to find out. First you have to locate it, which is going to be messy because there are two of them, one in Leicestershire (talk about pronunciation oddities) and the other in Scotland. The Scottish one is also called the Eye Water. And at its mouth is a town called Eyemouth.

You have to love this country. It’s weird enough to make your eyes water.  

Once you’ve figured out which river you want, you have to find someone local–preferably someone without a sense of humor–and ask how to pronounce the river. If at all possible, avoid trying to pronounce it when you ask, because you’ll get it wrong. Warning: If you’ve asked someone with a sense of humor, they’ll tell you it’s pronounced “brussels sprouts” and then spend the rest of the year giggling.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

No one without a strong local connection can be trusted to do anything more than guess at the pronunciation of anyplace in Britain. I recently got an automated message reminding me that I have an appointment coming up in Tavistock, which is pronounced TAVistock. The voice pronounced it tavISStock. And Tavistock’s one of the easy ones.

british place names that sound like clothes

Sorry, but I can’t think of any. If you want kitchen appliances, though, Towster is pronounced toaster. The kitchen appliance department is straight ahead, toward the back of the store. The clothing department is hauntingly empty and needs to be filled, so if you know of any pronounced like clothes (or, what the hell, other kitchen appliances or body parts or anything else particularly bizarre), do contribute to the general weirdness by leaving a comment. 

WIGS

I probably get as many questions about wigs as I do about beer. Most of them repeat the ones I’ve already quoted, but every so often a new one comes in. Including this:

attorney living with wigs with you and orange on the bishop hat

Anyone who knows how to answer that, please oh please leave a comment. I can’t do this alone, people.   

BRITISH CULTURE

what do british people think of american accents

Oh, every last one of them thinks they’re fabulous. The British are known for all thinking the same thing. That’s why the two main political parties are so gloriously united.

show me a tricorn hat worn in the house of lords

I could, but it’s not nice to make fun of the sartorially challenged.

Oh, go on, then. You twisted my arm.

what does it mean when it says I hope your birthday is tickety-boo

It means someone sent you a birthday card that’s been around since the 1930s.

do british people say spifing

No. They might, just remotely, say spiffing, but you’ll go blue in the face if you hold your breath till someone does. I also get questions about spiffing. I am now Britain’s formost spiffing expert.  

in what way is folk music similar to christmas carols

Well, both are music and as such involve musical notes. They also involve words. Both can be sung either well or badly but you could say that about all songs. A large part of both can be sung by people without much musical background–that’s their beauty and their limitation. They come out of a tradition where people sang because they were having a good time, or at least because they were drunk. Some people were better at it than others, but no one–originally–was a professional. Both lean toward the idea that people will join in.

Christmas carols were originally a folk tradition and for a while were looked down on for it.

Sorry to get all serious on you. 

PROBLEMATIC ASSUMPTIONS

why was great britain named england in victorian times?

It happened back when the country was a teenager and had one of those identity crises that teenagers are prone to. The country thought England sounded better than Britain and hoped that would make it more popular. It changed its name back to Britain after Victoria died and it doesn’t like to talk about it now, so could we move on, please? Show a little respect here. We were all young once. And if you’re still young, you were once younger.

And no, please don’t link to that to explain how to unmuddle the names Britain, Great Britain, England, and the United Kingdom. Try this post instead. 

in england, the speaker of the house is not allowed to speak

Which is why he (and at the moment he is a he) is called the speaker.

photograph of cockwomble

A womble is a  creature invented for a BBC children’s show. You can hear the womble song here, and I’m sure you’ll be a better person if you have to fortitude to listen all the way to the end. I didn’t, but then I’m not a better person. It’s not, technically speaking, a photograph, since the creatures run around with tubas (have you ever tried running with a tuba while dressed in a womble suit?) and other stuff, but it’s close enough. 

The cockwomble was not invented by the BBC and if you’ve been called one you were not on the receiving end of a compliment. You won’t find a photo of one because it’s not an actual thing, as in it doesn’t exist, but you can find images for cockwombles here. My favorite is the ribbon for International Cockwomble Day. 

letterboxes invented in uk

Well, no, they don’t seem to have been invented in the U.K. They were introduced in Paris, in 1653. As far as I can tell, the first one in Britain was introduced in 1809. 

I haven’t dug into this very deeply, so I’m not 600% sure the dates are the absolute firsts. But the world–or at least the internet, which isn’t exactly the same thing but does exist within the world–contains a pretty large group of people interested in mailboxes. Or letterboxes, which are the same thing in a different place.

I’m not sure why the wording is that they were introduced, not invented but we’ll work with it.

what is causing all the problems with letter boxes in England

It’s true that British letterboxes have been gathering in city centers late at night to guzzle beer and sing Christmas carols. Residents report feeling too intimidated to ask them to keep it down and the police haven’t taken the situation seriously enough to intervene effectively. No one knows what’s causing it. And no one knows why I put this in the incorrect assumptions section.

Don’t link to this either.

CORRECT ASSUMPTIONS

england is not britain

It took a while, but we finally got that straightened out.

why is it wrong to say we all came from britian

Just off the top of my head, I’d say it’s because not all of us did. But credit for knowing something was wrong there.

ODD QUESTIONS

puffing pants; puffling pants

I was baffled by why the phrase was leading anyone here. Other than wearing a random selection, what do I know about clothes? But it turns out that back in 2016 (remember 2016? It came right before 2017) John Evans left a comment that said, “In the recent BBC4 comedy series about Shakespeare (Upstart Crow), there was an episode in which Shakespeare (brilliantly played by David Mitchell) encounters ‘puffling pants’. Ah, life would be so much more fun if everyone wore puffling pants.”

So that explains why questions about puffling pants find their way to me. It doesn’t explain why so many people care, but I got enough question about them, with a variety of spellings, to make me wonder if humanity really should survive.

For a while, I thought they were some current style. I’m dyslexic about fashion, so be a little kind about that, okay?

See what you’ve done, John?

saudi news

I’ve made no headway in figuring out why this one landed on my doorstep. Lord Google, explain thyself.

onterage goshen ny

Ditto. But that’s probably entourage.

what is hefeweizen

Wheat. In German. Lord Google helped me out with that one, because the only German I know is gesundheit, and by now that’s English.

but he prefers keeping his private life out of the media as much as possible

I can see why he’d feel that way. Whoever he is.

coke fabric yard

I get regular blasts of this question, and I can’t resist quoting it when I review the questions that lure people into my spider web. Unfortunately, quoting it reinforces the link between the phrase and Notes. In another couple of years, I’ll be the world’s foremost expert on whatever the hell it means.

best trader joe’s meats

I’m a vegetarian and probably the wrong person to ask about this.

And with that, I think I’ve enlightened you enough for one week. Stay out of trouble if you can. It’s a very strange world out there.

That was your health and safety warning. Be healthy. And safe.

Brussels sprouts at Christmas: a crisis update

What’s the latest crisis in Britain? A super-pest, the diamondback moth, attacked this year’s British brussels sprout crop and supermarkets are struggling to keep their shelves stocked with this all-important Christmas vegetable.

What will become of us all, my friends?

And this isn’t only a Christmas issue. It seems people have taken to using brussels sprouts out of season by adding them to smoothies and salads and stir fries. Next year, we’ll start seeing them in cakes and cookies. And as a nice green layer in a trifle. They’ll taste terrible, but won’t they be pretty? And hey, they’re good for you. Mmmm. Eat your dessert, kids, and you can have some main dish.

If you’re not British enough to know what a trifle is, it involves whipped cream and custard and fruit and something cakey and something else alcoholish. Unless all the ingredients except the whipped cream have been replaced with other things, such as jelly, which is Jello, instead of the custard and orange juice instead of the alcohol and brussels sprouts instead of fruit. Once you start all that, you might as well replace the whipped cream with shaving cream. I mean, why not? It’s cheaper. I think. I haven’t done a price comparison. Anyway, in its natural state, trifle is sublime. When you start swapping ingredients, you start to lose sublimity. Or is that sublimosity?

I confess, I actually like brussels sprouts. But that’s not the point, is it? (she said, following the British tradition of making a question out of a statement by asking listeners who know less about the topic if it’s accurate.) Liking brussels sprouts doesn’t mean I’d like them as a smoothie ingredient anymore than it means I’d want to make them into a tee shirt.

For several years running, I took part in a parade that included a small group of people dressed entirely in kale. And, I’d guess, a few hidden bits of string. Or glue. The year it was hot enough to wilt the kale, it was touch and go which would last longer, the kale or the parade.

Yes, I have had an interesting life.

If you can’t think why this shortage of brussels sprouts constitutes a crisis, I’ll have to refer you to an older post on the role of brussels sprouts in the traditional British Christmas meal. And since this is all so important, to another one of the same topic. Bizarrely enough, they’re among my most popular posts.

Whatever you celebrate or don’t celebrate, I wish you a good one. And I’ll stop adding short extra posts any day now. I know you have real lives calling to you. It’s just that this was too important to skip.

British Christmas traditions: the brussels sprout

Health and Safety Warning: This post contains exaggerations that may be detrimental to your mental health. Or your credibility if you take them literally when linking to the post. The Druids did not actually worship brussels sprouts. No one knows much about what the Druids did. And with that out of the way, do read on.

 

What is it about the British and brussels sprouts at Christmas? I address this topic because judging from my search engine queries it’s what people want to know. Or at least what one very determined person wants to know. Within a few days, I had at least five variations on the question Why do the British eat brussels sprouts at Christmas? It may have been more. I lost track in there somewhere. Why the person kept coming back if I hadn’t already managed to answer the question I don’t know. Determination shading into obsession?

Anyway, the question matters, and I’ve addressed it before but I don’t feel I did it justice. Because I sidestepped several crucial facts.

Irrelevant photo: gorse (that's the yellow stuff) and heather (that's the purple)

Irrelevant photo: Gorse (that’s the yellow stuff) and heather (that’s the purple). And grass (that’s the green and the tan.)

First, if Google is to be trusted (it’s not) you can spell the vegetable with or without an S: brussel sprouts or brussels sprouts. The first spelling matches our pronunciation (we just can’t make the double S audible unless we say it while standing on our heads and gargling salt water). Besides which, it’s easier to type without the extra S. The second spelling replicates the name of the city where they didn’t originate. According to Brussels Sprouts Info (everything important has its own web site these days), they’re believed to have been grown in Italy as far back as Roman times and began to be grown on a large scale in Belgium as far back as the sixteenth century before spreading outward from there.

The more common spelling seems to keep the extra S.

Second, you can either capitalize the B or not, depending on whether you capitalize the F in french fries. I don’t, but Word does and gives me bad marks every time I go back and un-cap it. It’s easier to use a cap, which is probably why I don’t. It’s a small and pointless way to fight the monopolies that are taking over our spelling. Not to mention our lives, economy, and politics. Take that, monopolies: I’m using a lower case F and a lower case B. That sound you hear? It’s Microsoft crumbling in the face of my defiance.

Third, the world contains more than 110 varieties of brussels sprouts and I bet you can’t tell any one of them from the other more than 109.

You notice how vague they are on the actual number? It’s probably because someone’s out there devising a new variety even as I type.

So far so uncontroversial, but now we come to:

Fourth, the real reason they’re eaten in Britain at Christmas is a tightly held secret and I’m going to reveal it to you and only you because, hey, it’s just us here, right? No one else is listening. I’d get into serious trouble otherwise. So here’s the truth: The Church of England may be the official and established church in this country, but it’s a thin and brittle overlay. Underneath lies the country’s deeper religion, worship of the Great Brussels Sprout. (And here, yes, it’s capitalized. Even by me. It’s a god and all. You want to show a little respect.)

What did the Druids worship? The Great Brussels Sprout. They painted themselves blue and cultivated the sacred plant. And they were nekkid when they did it.

How’d they cultivate it if brussels sprouts didn’t yet grow in the British Isles? I did say Google couldn’t be trusted. Its sources are giving you the official history. You can only find the truth by going into the dark web, where danger lurks behind every pixel, so I don’t dare give you any links. Folks, I’ll take the risk myself but I can’t be responsible for your safety. You’ll have to find it on your own or trust my report: The truth is that the Romans quietly exported the brussels sprout from Britain to Italy, and once it was established there they claimed to have developed all more than 110 varieties themselves.

Back in Britain, the Romans suppressed both the Druids and all outward forms of sprout cultivation and worship, but the belief ran deep in the population, and it survived, waiting from the sprout’s return.

How’d it do that when the pre-Roman British tribes (the Iceni, the Caledones, the Parisi, the Cornovii…) were overrun by the Angles and the Saxons and the Vikings and the Normans, making for a choppy history and a messy but interesting language? Because knowledge of the Great Brussels Sprout is planted deep in the soil. You don’t have to learn it from your community. If you get yourself a shovel and start digging, it works its way into your bloodstream. You feel a compulsion to worship something green and brassican. Rumor has it that they made do with cabbages until the brussels sprout was re-imported and jogged their memories of what the Great God really looked like. These were agricultural people, remember. They had lots of shovels. So when Christianity became the dominant religion, the best it could do was drive sprout worship deep underground, and from there it rises, godlike, every year.

Do I consider it strange, you ask (or at least you should ask), that people eat the sprout they worship? Isn’t that a bit, um, grotesque? Not at all. The Great Sprout is the essence of all sprouts and is itself inedible. The sprouts people eat at Christmas are merely its representation. And those among us who claim the ones on the plate are also inedible? They’re closest to the holy nature of the Great Brussels Sprout and everybody should back off and stop giving them a hard time.

Fifth (we were counting, remember?), the brussels sprout ripens around Christmas time. How many other vegetables are willing to do that? So of course people eat it.

*

And on a marginally sensible note, last week I forgot to link back to Laura, at A PIct in PA, who first used to word tickety boo, giving me a great excuse for another important post. She’s a Scot living and raising her kids in Pennsylvania, and she keeps a fine blog with lots of nifty artwork.

A foreigner’s guide to Christmas in Britain

You can say anything you want about the meaning of Christmas, but I’ll tell you what the meaning is here: brussels sprouts.

What? you ask.

At Christmas dinner, you eat brussels sprouts. Even if you don’t touch them for another 364 days, you put one on your plate and chop it into pieces and poke at it so it looks like some part of it entered your stomach and is becoming one with your body. It doesn’t seem to be a law, but it’s a very powerful cultural imperative. And when someone uses a fancy phrase like cultural imperative, you’d damn well better do it.

Christmas pudding with flaming brandy. Photo by James Scott-Brown, on Wikimedia.

Christmas pudding with flaming brandy. Photo by James Scott-Brown, on Wikimedia.

The brussels sprout is so completely symbolic of Christmas that D. and D. just gave us a box of chocolate brussels sprouts for a Christmas present. Rest easy, though, because they’re purely symbolic. No vegetables were harmed in the making of the candy.

Why is a round green vegetable synonymous with Christmas? Because they grow through the fall and by Christmas they’re ready to eat. And if you’ve got a vegetable so cooperative that you can harvest it in the winter, you’d better include it in the holiday meal. Even if you hate it.

Christmas also involves crackers. Not the crumbly kind you eat with cheese, but rolls of shiny paper and cardboard with bad jokes and riddles, a little plastic present of some kind (about what you used to find in a box of Cracker Jacks, if you’ve ever seen those), and a tissue-paper crown inside. The way to open these is to pick yours up when everyone else does, cross your arms so you can simultaneously offer yours to the person on one side and seize the one the person on the other side is offering you. Then, in unison, everyone pulls and the crackers tear open and spill out their giftlets.  Inevitably, someone ends up with two short ends and no goodies, and if you’re over the age of five you redistribute the riches and everyone ends up with, at the very least, a silly paper crown to put on his or her head. Then everyone who can’t avoid it (and I usually can) reads the jokes and riddles out loud.

In the spirit of Nothing Exceeds like Excess, Christmas demands two desserts: a Christmas pudding and a Christmas cake. The cake is a heavy fruitcake that’s been soaked in brandy for two months and coated in not one layer of icing but two, one of marzipan and another made with egg whites and sugar. The double dose of icing is enough to send even a non-diabetic into a diabetic coma, and that’s without the cake. The pudding, again, has dried fruit and alcohol, but this time with suet and spices and a bunch of other stuff—you’ll have to look up the recipe online if you’re interested, because I’ve never made one—and then it’s steamed (this is why I’ve never made it: I can’t be arsed, as our much-missed friend B. used to say) and soaked in yet more alcohol for a month or so. If you need a bit more in the way of excess, you can serve it with rum or brandy sauce, or with custard, and you can also serve it with flaming brandy if you promise not to set the house on fire.