I’ll be back soon with something more sensible.
I’ll be back soon with something more sensible.
Britain is headed into the ice cream season and we’re nose to nose with a shortage of flakes.
No, not people who lock themselves out of their houses and get in by involving half the people they know, three neighbors, and half a dozen cops, then discover that they’d left a downstairs window open for the cat and could’ve climbed through.
Not that kind of flake. There’s no shortage of that kind anywhere. We’re talking about one of the basic food groups of British cuisine: Cadbury’s 99 Flakes, a folded chocolate stick that gets stuck into the top of a soft-serve ice cream cone. The manufacturer says the shortage is caused by a spike in demand.
reland reports that it’s facing the same crisis, and I can’t speak to how that affects Ireland but I won’t rule out the possibility that Britain will collapse without 99 Flakes, that civilization (such as it is) will end, or that rioting will break out everywhere an ice cream truck plays its prefabricated song.
So why’s the 99 Flake called a 99 Flake? No one knows. The maker has a theory, though:
“In the days of the monarchy in Italy, the King had a specially chosen guard consisting of 99 men, and subsequently anything really special or first class was known as ’99’ — and that is how ’99’ Flake came by its name.”
On the other hand, that could be total bullshit.
The obligatory cat story
In March, a London to Manchester train was delayed by a cat on the roof. The train was taken out of service, the passengers were–is decanted the right word?
Sure it is: The passengers were decanted onto a different train, which left for Manchester with all of them on board, because you know what humans are like once they get an idea into their heads, they just had to get to Manchester. And the cat–being a cat–stayed right where it was, thanks, and refused to comment on what it was doing or how it got there.
Someone created a makeshift platform for it and when it was damn well ready–some two and a half hours after it was spotted–it got down and left. Staff at Euston station described it as swaggering off.
In a massive public relations failure, no one offered to open a can of cat food for it.
The cat had been dangerously close to 25,000 volts of electricity (what other than electricity would there be 25,000 volts of?) running through the overhead lines, which is why no one got up there with it to convince it down.
And the obligatory lockdown story
A stationery store and workshop in London handed out blank postcards asking people to send their lockdown secrets in anonymously. When I last checked, some 1,200 people had sent in cards. It’s probably more by now.
A few excerpts:
“We got married in lockdown so we wouldn’t have to invite you.”
“I’m a bisexual woman and I haven’t told my friends or family.”
“I hide bars of chocolate in an old Oxo tin.”
“I haven’t had sex in seventeen months.”
“I haven’t worn a bra for three months.”
“He may be a Tory bastard but I can’t help but have a thing for Rishi.”
“I love my leg hair.”
“I take really long baths with snacks and a drink and maybe a movie. It’s the only room in the house with a lock.”
“It has been so long now literally everything turns me ooon.”
In 2018, Dean Nicholson was biking from Scotland to Thailand and on his way through Bosnia picked up a stray kitten who ran after him, miaowing. He fed her what he had on hand, some red pesto sauce. Where I come from, pesto’s green and doesn’t appeal to protein-addicted cats, but the cat was hungry and not about to argue. It was food. She ate it and fell in love.
If you’re British, you should understand that when I say he was biking we’re talking about a push bike. If you’re American, you have no idea what a push bike is. It’s a bike. If you’re neither American or British, you’re on your own because I can’t predict what you’ll understand well enough to translate for you.
The (push)biker asked the vet in the nearest town if anyone had lost a cat, and when no one had he installed her in his handlebar basket and headed for Montenegro. The kitten climbed up his arm to ride on his shoulders instead. That was the point where he fell in love.
They’ve been in more than twenty countries since then, he’s made a bed for her in the basket, and the cat, now named Nala, either sleeps there or rides with her paws hanging over the side so she can look out.
She has her own passport.
If you’re a sucker for cats, the photos are worth clicking through for.
They’d planned to go to Iran but tense politics and a ban on cats in hotel rooms meant they had to turn back. What choice did they have?
In Greece, the human worked as a kayak guide and the cat as a kayak mascot. Lockdowns kept them in Hungary for twelve weeks and closed borders in Austria have kept them from biking through Russia to Thailand, but in the meantime the human has published a book, Nala’s World: One Man, His Rescue Cat, and a Bike Ride around the Globe. I have no idea if it’s any good, but anybody who rescues a stray cat and bikes across a continent with her–and hopes to bike through a second continent as well–deserves a plug.
As long as we’re talking about animals and Thailand, the Mu Koh Lanta National Park there has appealed to the public to donate cone-shaped shells by either mail or courier service. The population of hermit crabs has expanded dramatically and the crabs aren’t finding enough empty shells to live in. (Hermit crabs don’t make their own shells.) Some are moving into bottle caps, glass bottles, and cans.
So far, 200 kilos of shells have been pledged and volunteers will distribute them at a Thai Father’s Day event on December 5.
It’s not clear why the hermit crab population has grown so. It could be the absence of tourists and the activities that go with them, but it could also be water currents, the weather, the availability of plankton, or other factors.
A court in Stoke-on-Trent (and here we get back to Britain) listed upcoming hearings for defendants Tinker Bell, Buzz Lightyear, Sleeping Beauty, Daphne Duck, Bugs Bunny, and a few other miscreants, including some real people who appeared by videolink from prison.
Guesswork explanations around the courthouse involved someone quitting their job and taking revenge before they headed out the door. Disappointingly, the names turned out to be a way to test the system after it was upgraded.
The system worked. Entirely too well.
I used to work with a typesetter (remember typesetters? Oh, you are getting old) who was hired to set some stickers for a meatpacking plant. You know: “turkey legs and thighs,” that kind of thing. She added one that read, “The Pope’s nose: the part of the turkey that went over the fence last.” She assumed the person who’d hired her would have a good laugh and pull it before it went to the printer.
She became the proud owner of several rolls of Pope’s nose stickers.
It could’ve been worse. A French radio station’s website (yes, we’ve left Britain again) ran the obituaries of a hundred people who hadn’t had the decency to die yet. They included Queen Elizabeth II, Brigitte Bardot, and Pele. Also Jimmy Carter, Yoko Ono, Clint Eastwood, Raul Castro, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
For one of them, Bernard Tapie–a French businessman and politician–this wasn’t the first time he’d been prematurely obituarized. It was the third. At 77 (which looks younger every year), he could live long enough to have it happen several more times.
The spam award of the month goes to one that I dug out of my very own WordPress spam folder: “I made over 6.4 million dollars this year using an online platform! And now, this is my main source of income!”
Which means he or she is sending out spam for a hobby.
Book lovers and readers who love independent bookshops and want to see them survive can buy from a new online shop that supports independent bookshops. The site operates in both the UK and the US and is set up to let the shops feature books they like, reproducing what they’d do in a physical shop by putting them on a table for browsers to find.
You can also use the site to look for a specific book or to see what’s available on, say, the history of Mediterranean countries in the fifteenth century (more than I thought, although after the first half dozen the algorithm got a little strange, picking up the fifteenth edition of a rail atlas of Britain and, making a connection I can’t follow, a book on crocheting).
One of the many reasons to support independent bookstores is that they can put books they love–books you might not find otherwise–out where you can find them. Online outfits generally do this by algorithm (yes, that book on crocheting); chains put out books they’re paid to put out. (Yes, really.)
The only thing that would make the site better would be if you could open the book and read a few paragraphs, the way you might in a store.
The son of a composer with dementia recorded his father, Paul Harvey, improvising on the piano one day and posted it on Twitter.
It started, the son said, because it “wasn’t a great day. I remembered this old party trick he used to do, where someone would give him four random notes and he’d compose something on the spot. . . . So I picked four notes out of the ether and Dad did exactly the same thing. And luckily, I filmed it.”
The elder Harvey said his memory’s fine when he’s playing the piano.
Twitter went nuts, as Twitter does sometimes, and the tune ended up on Radio 4, the BBC’s high-end talk radio station. From there it went to the BBC Philharmonic, where someone arranged it, and musicians recorded their parts from home. blending them into Harvey’s piano recording.
The BBC recording–and as part of it, a video of Harvey listening to it–is on YouTube and it’s well worth watching. At the end of the recording, Harvey tells his son, “I was just listening to a wonderful piece of music, and all of a sudden I said to meself, ‘I wrote that.’
“I won’t forget that.”
Go on. Watch it. Really.
Money from the recording is going to the Alzheimer’s Society and Music for Dementia.
June 22 was National Take Your Cat to Work Day. I’m not entirely clear what nation that applies to, but it’s probably the U.S., since no one involved seems to remember that other nations exist and might be running on a different schedule. I’m American, so I get to say this: We do tend to forget those things.
Whoever’s nation we’re talking about, though, we’re (as cab drivers liked to say back when I was one of them) a day late and a dollar short, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t celebrate anyway, wherever and whenever we may be. Take your cat to work, friends. Don’t tell him or her that it’s the wrong day. Cats don’t care what the calendar says.
Do it especially if you’re working from home. And if you’re not–well, we all know that cats don’t like to go anywhere they didn’t decide on themselves, so just bring your work home and offer up a few treats in honor of the holiday.
And have a wonderful Take Your Cat to Work Day. From all of us here at Notes from the U.K., which has a wide-ranging, multi-delusional staff of one.
And a cat.
The Brexit uproar has been hard on Britain. We have a prime minister whose idea of negotiation is to say, “I’m so glad we can talk. Let me explain why I’m right.” We have a parliament that doesn’t like her version of Brexit but can’t find a majority for any alternative. We have two main parties that not only don’t agree with each other but also don’t agree with themselves.
On a more positive note, the Green Party’s parliamentary delegation hasn’t split over the issue. It only has one member, but we take our positive notes where we can find them these days.
In April, water flooded into the House of Commons, filling–among other things–the light fixtures. Business continued as more or less usual for some ten minutes, then was suspended for the day. All the possible jokes about the flood’s metaphorical meaning have been made, so we’ll skip my versions and move on to another incident that interrupted the endless Brexit debate.
To call attention to the danger of ecological collapse, a dozen protestors from Extinction Rebellion took off most of their clothes and stood with their backsides pressed to the glass that divides the visitors gallery from the floor of the Commons. The Independent reports that two of them were wearing elephant masks and most were wearing knickers or underpants.
Not being British, I was thrown by that. I thought knickers were underpants, so I turned (as I do so often) to Lord Google, who explained that knickers are women’s underpants.
The guidelines for naked and semi-naked protests are complicated and I’m too damn old to understand them in depth. I did all of my protesting fully dressed, thanks. Except for that time when–
Nah. We’ll skip lightly over that. It was unplanned anyway.
Moving briskly along. I gather that if you’re not wearing anything else to speak of, people will notice whatever’s left, so it’s important to wear the right kind of underpants if that’s what’s left after you take everything else off. Once we’ve agreed about that, we can have a long and spiky conversation about what right means and what its social, cultural, and political implications are. It will go on as long as the Brexit debate and come to about as decisive a conclusion. Just to let you know in advance, I’ll defend anyone’s right to wear whatever kind they want and my own right to wear only the kind that are comfortable.
Some of the protestors glued their hands to the glass.
An anti-Brexit group beamed an EU flag with an SOS message to the EU from the white cliffs of Dover. The group is called Led by Donkeys.
A recent poll conducted by Hawley’s Small and Unscientific Survey, Inc., reports that people are on the one hand worried about shortages if we have a no-deal Brexit but on the other hand are stockpiling in a completely whimsical way. A friend bought eight cans of tomatoes. Or maybe it was seven. Another friend has cans of tomato soup and baked beans stored in the shed. I’ve checked our cat food and dog food levels.
Let it rain, let it pour. Britain is prepared.
I am in no way claiming that this is representative. Or that it’s not.
Earlier this spring, before the EU granted the UK a Brexit reprieve, the British government was looking down the very short barrel of a no-deal Brexit and thought it might be a good idea if 6,000 civil servants did something Brexit-related instead of whatever it was that they normally do. Since the reprieve, they’ve been moved back to their original jobs, but another 4,500 people were hired to prepare for no-deal. I have no idea what’s happened to them.
The Guardian reports that it all cost £1.5 billion, which doesn’t include the cost of preparations various local governments had to make.
In total, some 16,000 civil servants are working on Brexit.
The government has also stocked warehouses with baked beans and pet food, not to mention medicines and toilet paper, which is to say everything we’d need for life to continue normally if the country crashed out of the EU and imports froze solid.
The Brexit reprieve expires on Halloween. All the possible jokes have already been made about that as well.
Switzerland’s supreme court did something that caught the attention of Britain’s Remain campaigners: It overturned a referendum on the grounds that when it was held voters didn’t have enough information. The referendum was about whether married couples should pay the same taxes as unmarried couples who live together .
The court said the “incomplete detail and a lack of transparency . . . violated the freedom of the vote.”
But enough about Brexit. A far more scientific survey than the Hawley’s Small and Unscientific Survey, Inc., ever manages to crank out reports that the British are more likely to take drugs before having sex than either Americans, Canadians, Australians, or Europeans.
We’re not going to get too deeply into the American / Canadian thing right now, but briefly: Canada is in the Americas–on the northern continent, if we’re going into detail–but those clever Canadians thought of a name for their country that distinguished it from the countries it shares a set of continents with. The, um, Americans didn’t, so those of us who are from the US are stuck with a name that strews confusion everywhere it goes and pisses off our neighbors every time we try to identify ourselves.
Sorry for all that, everybody, but if there’s a genuinely workable alternative in English, the people who found it are keeping it secret.
Where were we? Ah. Sex. No wonder I forgot.
In the U.K., 13% of the people surveyed used cocaine in conjunction with sex and 20% used MDMA–a.k.a. ecstasy. The European numbers were 8% and 15%. The American, Canadian, and Australian numbers weren’t mentioned in the articles I found. The most commonly used drugs were alcohol, MDMA, and cannabis, with alcohol being by far the most common.
Among the British, the most likely people to use them were young and had high incomes. If that messes with your stereotypes, hey, I’m only the reporter. If you want to object, go glue your hands to the glass somewhere.
Another bit of research compared bullshit rates among teenagers. Who tops the charts? Boys, those from “privileged backgrounds,” and North Americans (translation: from the U.S. and Canada, although Mexico’s also North American).
And if that reinforces every stereotype you ever held, that’s not my fault either. We’re in blame-other-people mode here at Notes this week.
The article I’ve linked to has an April Fool’s Day date, so I thought I’d better dig deeper: The story appeared somewhere else the day before. It’s safe.
I wouldn’t bullshit you.
The study was limited to English-speaking countries, so we can’t do any far-reaching comparisons.
How’d they catch the little scamsters? They asked how familiar they were with sixteen mathematical concepts “ranging from polygons and vectors to quadratic functions and congruent figures. Hidden among the bona fide terms are three fakes: proper numbers, subjective scaling and declarative functions.”
Those names constitute a truly impressive bit of bullshitting.
The study’s co-author, Nikki Shure, said that “bullshitters express much higher levels of self-confidence in their skills than non-bullshitters, even when they are of equal academic ability. They are also much less likely to say that they give up easily when faced with a difficult problem and claim to have particularly high levels of perseverance when faced with challenging tasks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are also more likely to believe they are popular at school.”
And I’m sure they go out into the world of work and make more money than their classmates. Some of them run for president. Others lead the campaign for a no-deal Brexit.
And now we come to the important stuff: A Japanese study claims that cats know their names but can’t necessarily be bothered to respond to them. This has nothing to do with Britain, but the British do love their cats.
Okay, it’s irrelevant, but I like cats, so let’s talk about it anyway.
Scientists from the University of Tokyo used a habituation-dishabituation paradigm to explore this. I’m sure that rolls off the tongue just as easily in Japanese as it does in English. What it means is that they played five recorded words to the cat and the last one was its name. The first four lulled the cat into–well, boredom: The cat became used to the recording and became less likely to respond to it, but in spite of that it responded more to its name than to the words that came before it, whether the recorded voice was the owner’s or someone else’s. Ears might twitch. Eyes might open a fraction of a percentage of a millimeter.
Would the cat go looking to see if someone was calling it? It would not.
End of experiment. Now it’s time to correct some of their assumptions:
First, there’s no need to ask whether cats know their names. Of course they do. The creatures who don’t know their names are their humans, who call them things like Fluffy and Cutsie-Woo and King Captain Spaceman.
Then the humans–those same people who never thought to ask the cat its real name–wonder why their cats don’t answer.
Because it’s embarrassing, that’s why.
Not that the cats would necessarily answer to their true names. Why bother? Humans can be such pests. What a cat would do is come to the surface enough to ask itself, What’s in this for me? This is a recording, not my person. It won’t offer food. It won’t pet me. Then it would go back to sleep.
Second, what’s all this about owners? Cats have people. They offer food and catnip and adoration. They open doors. They serve as animated hot-water bottles. They pick up dead mice. Owners? What delusions of grandeur humans have.
I hope we’ve straightened that out.
Cambridge University just spent £1 million on a bust of Queen Victoria. Or as the BBC put it, Cambridge saved it for the nation, because it was about to leave for parts unknown, impoverishing the country’s cultural heritage.
I’ve written to the Prime Minister suggesting that we stockpile these in case of a no-deal Brexit. She just loves to hear from me.
You may have already read that Amazon staff listen in on a percentage of the interchanges humans have with Alexa, that automated spy in your home.
Or not in your home. I don’t listen in, so I don’t know if you’ve opened your door to her or not.
It turns out, though, that other digital magic is accomplished with the help of tiny humans embedded in the technology.
Or maybe I misunderstood that. Maybe they’re ordinary humans listening from a distance.
In 2017, Expensify admitted to using humans to copy some of the receipts its “smart scan technology” was supposed to have smartly scanned. Facebook’s personal assistant, M (I never heard of it either; it escaped from some James Bond movie and went back as soon as it found out what the real world was like), turned out to use a mix or human and programmed responses. And Amazon’s smart doorbells also involved humans.
What’s a smart doorbell? I have no idea. According to a site that evaluates them (and passes you on to sites that sell them, no doubt picking up a small fee somewhere along the way), they have “live video streaming, Wi-Fi-enabled apps, two-way communication, and home automation compatibility.”
So either that means you can stand outside your own house and watch movies on your doorbell or that you can see who just rang it. Or possibly both. Simultaneously. Which is simple because you’re already out there, watching the movie. All you have to do is turn your head.
When I was a kid, we called that a drive-in theater.
My point, though, is that Amazon’s Ring brand smart doorbells allowed its research and development team “virtually unfettered access . . . to every video created by every Ring camera around the world.”
Team members were found face-down at their desks, dead of boredom.
Another branch of the human evolutionary family has been found, this one on Luzon Island in the Philippines. They’ve been called Homo luzonensis, they lived 50,000 to 67,000 years ago, and they were about four feet tall (that’s 1.2 meters), with curved fingers and toes that would have allowed them to climb trees. If they’d survived, they might have made less of a mess of things than we have, but that’s highly unscientific speculation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
+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
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.
An Ig Nobel prize was awarded to Marc-Antoine Fardin for a paper proving that cats are both a solid and a liquid.
Go ahead and laugh if you want, but I live with a cat and I understand this. Put a cat in a shoebox—sorry, invite a cat into a shoebox—and it will become shoebox-shaped and fill the shoebox. Do the same experiment with a round casserole dish and it will become casserole dish-shaped. It’s a liquid. Try to pass your foot through it because you didn’t know it was there and it will trip you. It’s a solid.
In Fardin’s words:
“If you take a timelapse of a glacier on several years you will unmistakably see it flow down the mountain. For cats, the same principle holds. If you are observing a cat on a time larger than its relaxation time, it will be soft and adapt to its container, like a liquid would.”
A family in Coventry—that’s in the U.K., so the story’s legitimate blog fodder—called the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in a panic (or so the papers claimed) because they’d spotted a reptile under a bed. The creature hadn’t moved in about a week.
A week? If that’s a panic it’s such a slow-moving one and that it could, like a glacier, as easily be a solid as a liquid. But never mind. The RSPCA sent an animal collection officer, and she crept up on it.
“It was around seven inches long and two wide,” she said, and was “protruding from the edge of the bed.”
It turned out to be a pink striped sock.
Due to the officer’s intervention, the family was saved from a fate worse than moldy laundry.
Having posted about spam last Friday, I thought I’d better check my spam folder to make sure Pit hadn’t been sent to Siberia again. He hadn’t, but I found this gem:
“I dear nonsensical body fluid. think me, ally, I make out it, and outside of this blog I’m a political militant
“and do what I can–which is never enough.”
I’ll have to think about this a bit longer, but I might feel offended at being called a nonsensical body fluid. Although I’ll admit I’ve been called worse things, all of which I understood better. Which leads to to think that even if I do turn out to feel offended, I’ll live.
The minute I figure out what the rest of it means, I’ll let you know if I want to argue with it.
And with that I’m out of your hair for another week.
You know, you don’t really have to read this stuff.
The latest village uproar—or, to be more accurate, the latest our-small-section-of-the-village uproar—involves a white cat who breaks into other cats’ houses and sprays. And, of course, other cats’ houses means other people’s houses.
Okay, okay, it’s the latest uproar in our house. The neighbors have been putting up with him (reluctantly) for years. But before I tell you about it: all you city dwellers, listen up: We live in a small village. We take our scandals where we can get them. Y’know how in some place you have the Mafia? Well, we have the white cat.
And let me add that there is juicier gossip to be had, but I can’t repeat it. Because I’d like to stay here, thanks. So even if I knew who’d done what with (or to) who( or whom, if you prefer), I couldn’t post it.
And I’m not saying I don’t know. I’m just ducking the issue.
Don’t you just hate it when people go all discrete on you?
The white cat, though, doesn’t give a rip who says what about him, and besides, if my neighbors had to choose between me and him, even the ones who don’t like me would choose me. Because even at my worst, I do not spray in the house and never have.
We first heard about the white cat some years ago. One set of neighbors had two cats at the time, along with a cat flap, and the white cat would come in through the flap, then all three cats would go into a panic and try to escape through the flap at once.
All very funny if it’s not your house, and since we don’t have a cat flap I got all smug and thought we were immune. But we do have a window, which our current cat, Fast Eddie, and his predecessor, the mighty Smudge, have used instead of a cat flap. The smudge on the wall underneath it bears witness. They’ve braced their front paws there so many times of the way in on the way in that it’s become permanent. We do clean it every so often, just to pretend we’re the kind of people who clean big smudges off the wall, but it never completely disappears and it’s back to full smudgeliness in no time.
If you look at something like that long enough, it goes invisible.
It’s been demonstrated that if our cats can get in, so can others, but we didn’t give it much thought. When we first moved here, a different set of neighbors had a cat named Missy who went visiting by moonlight, and when Wild Thing was in the U.S. getting our cats and dog ready to ship over, I’d wake up in the night and find Missy in bed with me. I used to think I should rise up and say, “Excuse me, have we been introduced?” because I don’t know about you, but I like to know the names of the creatures I sleep with. But I’m not sharp enough in the middle of the night and the subtler the joke is, the more it’s wasted on cats.
Besides, we had been introduced.
I didn’t really mind her curling up with me, but she was noisier leaving than she was coming in, knocking over lamps and scrabbling against the wall, and after a couple of nights I closed the main windows and opened a little transom window to let some air in. That night I woke up to frantic scrambling and Missy dropping onto the bed triumphantly.
I closed the transom window until Wild Thing arrived with our cats, who explained in yowls of one syllable why Missy should go sleep in her own house.
Which is a long way of saying that I should’ve known we weren’t white-catproof but I didn’t and the other night I looked through the glass of the hall door and saw him ghosting along behind Fast Eddie, who hadn’t noticed the white cat because he was totally involved in scratching at the edge of the closed door and teasing Moose.
I opened the door and yelled, the white cat turned to leap for the window, Fast Eddie gave chase, and Wild Thing let the dogs out the back door. The dogs were ecstatic: Something to chase. Something that runs away. Wheee, pant, bark, pant, bark. We’re dogs, we’re dogs, we’re dogs. They ran around the corner of the house, barking as seriously as if they really were dogs, which being shih tzus they only kind of are.
So now we’re on high alert. We’re forming a militia made up of two armed dogs plus Fast Eddie to do recon and summon them when they’re needed. The white cat must not enter the house. No pasaran, if you know your Spanish Civil War history, although the verb there is plural and missing an accent mark and the white cat is singular and couldn’t be trusted with an accent mark and besides he almost certainly doesn’t speak Spanish. Why should he? He doesn’t speak English and he hears a hell of a lot more of that than he does Spanish around here.
There’s a lot of complaining about him on the village Facebook page. Some of the neighbors, Wild Thing tells me, are talking about catching the cat and getting him neutered, but the owner doesn’t want it done and no matter what they say, nobody’s likely to do it. That’s a British thing, I’m told: talking to anyone except the right person about what needs to be done so that it never happens. (If you’re interested in this as a cultural phenomenon, look in the index of Watching the English under “moaning.”
From what little I know about cats and spraying, neutering wouldn’t help anyway. Once they start, they continue, vet or no vet.
So that’s the latest uproar here in romantic Cornwall. We live an exciting life
Let no one say I hide from the tough topics. I asked what you wanted to hear about and I got questions about budget cuts (destructive), mental health services (needed more than ever given the budget cuts), British television (mixed but I’m not much of a TV watcher these days), and what the British think of Americans (long story). So let’s start with the heavy-duty stuff and talk about the British and their pets. This is justified because Sandy Sue wrote, “I’d love to hear about Brits and their pets. In one post you said they don’t holler for their animals like we do–I loved that. More!”
Dogs played an important part in introducing us to the village. Wild Thing has a gift for starting conversations with pretty much anyone, and if she sees someone with a dog she stops to talk if she can. In any country. In Kate Fox’s book Watching the English, I read that dogs are an accepted conversation starter. A bit like the weather. They’re a nice neutral topic that allows shy people to connect, and Fox writes about the English as a publicly shy people. The national assumption is that each person goes into the public sphere surrounded by an invisible privacy bubble and it would be rude to break in. Commuters who see each other morning after morning may, after a year or so, go all out and nod to each other. Which is why they need pre-programmed topics—the weather, the dog, the whatever—in order to break out and enjoy a bit of human companionship.
Lucky us that Wild Thing’s quirks fit so well with the country’s. Our acquaintances and then friendships in the village grew out of Ida’s habit of talking about dogs. When we first came here as visitors, we met a few dogs, and through them a few people, and through them a few more people, and here we are, all these years later, still pestering them.
One of the first things Wild Thing noticed was that if you asked people about their dogs, a certain number of them would tell you entire tales: She’s a rescue dog and she’s settled in wonderfully but she’s still afraid of people with hats. Oh, he’s had a difficult day—he saw the vet this morning. Last week she was stung by a bee and it’s been very traumatic. These weren’t just dogs we were hearing about. Each one was the central character in a novel.
I don’t know if more people adopt abandoned dogs in the U.K. than in the U.S., but I do know we hear about it more often. Stop to admire a dog and if it’s a rescue dog that’s the first thing you’ll learn. Which leads me to wonder not only if more people adopt rescue dogs here but if more people abandon them. Or is it that more of them find a home? Or do we just hear about it more because people need the outlet of talking about their dogs?
Dogs are welcome in more public places here than in—well, it’s hard to generalize about the U.S., but certainly than in Minnesota. Lots of cafes and pubs welcome them. If we’re not sure and don’t see a sign in the window, we’ve learned to poke our heads through the door and ask. A few even offer dog biscuits. Some set water bowls outside the door, whether or not dogs are welcome inside. At singers night in the nearby pub, dogs are a regular part of the mix. Every so often one will add a well-timed howl and be welcomed with general hysteria. One of the organizers has a small repertoire of dog songs that he’ll sing at times like that. Mostly, though, the dogs are content to listen and hope someone will drop a sandwich.
As a result of being taken more places (or I’m guessing it’s a result), dogs are generally more relaxed in public than a small and unscientific survey leads me to believe they are in the U.S. I do hear and read about aggressive dogs, but so far our experience has been good. A bit of growling now and then, the occasional pup who’s too big and enthusiastic its brain, but mostly they get along peaceably and behave well. Even if one or another of them howls at a song. We’ve all wanted to once in a while, haven’t we?
We’ve usually warned away from snappish ones by their owners.
In Minnesota, state law governed where dogs could and couldn’t be taken. A coffee shop near our old house let dogs in because they couldn’t see a reason not to, and it worked well until they got caught by an inspector from the Minnesota Department of Dog Fur and General Bad Behavior and received a couple of stern warnings. They still couldn’t bear to kick dogs out but we took pity on them and stopped bringing ours in. Other dog-owning regulars did the same. Then the state passed a law that made it illegal to tie a dog outside while you went in for coffee. No, it didn’t specify coffee. It could have been shampoo or a bottle of milk. But it limited what people could do with their dogs. We could walk them and take them back home. We could keep them at home, and we could let them out in the yard if we had a way to keep them inside it. But we couldn’t integrate them into our lives the way we can here.
Because I live in the country, people keep other pets and semi-pets. On the other side of the valley, B. keeps peacocks. Come spring we hear them yelling something that sounds like “Help! Help!” The peahens want nothing more out of their lives than to lead their chicks onto the road and wander up and down it, and I’ve learned to slow down near B.’s house. The peacocks like the road as well. One year I saw the local half-size bus herding a peacock down the road toward me at maybe half a mile per hour. As the bird walked, he threw his feet forward—not quite in a goosestep but it was close enough to make me understand why they named the step after a bird. He had his fan spread and was yelling furiously for help, or for reinforcements. When he got to the house and no reinforcements had come, he stepped aside and let the bus through.
I didn’t have a camera.
Any number of people keep chickens and a few keep geese. Some of these are just chickens and geese and some are pets. One year two of M.’s chickens died, leaving her with just one, which was so lonely she’d follow M. from place to place as she worked in the garden and would sit on the windowsill when M. went in. Eventually M. got another hen or two and the chicken went back to acting like a chicken.
M.’s hens are battery hens that aren’t laying as heavily as they used to and would otherwise be slaughtered. They come to her practically featherless and in terrible shape, hardly knowing what to do with the great outdoors. Then before long they feather out and start pecking.
A few years back, someone not far from the village adopted a lamb with a broken leg that she found on the moor. She located the farmer and told him about it and the farmer offered to shoot it, so she loaded the lamb in the car, got its leg set, and raised it until it became a ram and a bit of a handful, when she found someone with a smallholding who was willing to take it. By that time, it didn’t consider itself a sheep anymore and didn’t settle in well with the other sheep. Eventually it made itself a home with the horses.
And then, of course, there are cats.
When the stray we adopted, Big Guy, disappeared a couple of weeks ago, we put a note on the village Facebook page, which is all you have to do to activate the village network. For a while, the comments were all about I hope you find him and next time try putting butter on his feet the first time you let him out. Then last Saturday night we got a phone call: The Big Guy had showed up outside S.’s house, yelling his head off, and they were feeding him. They’d heard he was ours. The kids wanted to adopt him and the parents were being won over. They said he was shy about coming inside but they’d made him a space on the porch, where the boiler is, so it’s warm. Their house is just downhill from where he was first found. Apparently that’s where he wants to live. It’s got a beautiful view and I guess he likes it. Wild Thing told them that he didn’t seem happy here, so if they were willing to keep him that would be great.
I stopped by on Sunday morning to bring them some cat food left when Moggy died. Fast Eddie still eats kitten food. And dog food. He plans to be a dog when he grows up. Anyway, I stopped by and there was the Big Guy, cuddling with one of the kids. He was happy to see me but not as if he’d been lost and I’d found him. He was indeed a bit shy about coming into the house but when he saw a bowl of cat food he decided he’d take the risk. It’s hard to know whether he’ll stay, but he does seem to like the neighborhood, they’re treating him well, and I think he’s found a home. Even if they do call him Marvin—Starvin’ Marvin.
While I was down there, Wild Thing got a call from S.’s neighbors, who reported that the Big Guy had been trying to get into their house. Then A. called. She thought she’d seen the Big Guy at yet another house in the neighborhood and she’d gone to ask if he was their cat but they don’t have a cat.
Oh, and W. thought he’d seen the Big Guy running across a back road nearby.
It takes a village to find a cat. And in Big Guy’s case, to house one. For the moment, though, he’s housed and fed, which is good because it’s been raining a lot and the wind has been so strong that during some of the gusts I couldn’t walk into it.
How is this any different from the U.S.? People in our old neighborhood people also put themselves out to care for cats. One of ours, the much-loved Big Ol’ Red Cat, was a stray who was taken in initially by our neighbor, D. But she couldn’t keep him because the cat she already had was pounding on him, so she brought him to us and he settled in happily. The underlying feeling about cats was the same. But in a city a cat can fall off the radar without wandering far. Just like a person can. Living in the city, you end up with a series of short stories. In a village, you hear the entire novel.
Cats: Our oldest cat, Moggy, died a couple of weeks back. She was 18 or 19. Or maybe 20. She was a rescue cat, so we never really knew her age and she didn’t much care so we never got a sensible answer out of her on the subject. She’s much missed, but we figured it was time to let Fast Eddie be the only cat.
Ha. M. and J. had a very friendly stray desperate for a home and yelling bloody murder outside their house and since J.’s allergic the cat’s now at our house and settling in nicely, thanks. We call him the Big Guy.
He’s not thrilled that we have a dog, but he’s likes the food bowl and the amount of attention he’s getting. We’re checking around to see if we can find his original owner. He’s a lovely cat and somebody somewhere misses him. The going theory is that he jumped in a delivery van and ended up here.
The dog? All she wants to do is knock him down, stand on him, and clean his ears. Which she considers a friendly gesture. We kept them separate for a few days and she had a hard time with it.
At this point, we can leave them in the same room together as long as we’re there to keep the peace. He and Fast Eddie doing fine. I’ll add some new Fast Eddie photos to the Kitten, cat, and dog page for you cat-picture addicts. So there you have the dog and cat update. It’s totally irrelevant to the blog’s topic.
Questions: Actually, that’s only one question: Do you have a topic you’d like me to address, either about the U.S. or Britain? Let me know what it is and—well, if you’ve been around for a while you know what I’m like. If it grabs me I’ll write about it. I may even be informative—you never know. So give me a push and let’s see what direction we head in. And yes, I’m ending a sentence with a preposition. Because in English it just makes sense.