The news roundup from Britain

Good Cop: During July’s heatwave, police in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, rescued local ducks by setting up two paddling pools beside their pond, which was disappearing, and then keeping the pools topped up with good fresh water.

You’d think that would be an unmixed good deed, but the ducks report high levels of anxiety over when the bad cop’s due to show up.

Crime and Politics: It may not be the bad cop they should worry about. It could be the bad politician. Stephen Searle, a former councillor (that’s a member of a council, which is the local government, making him a local politician), was recently convicted of killing his wife. Not sordid enough for you? Some months before, he had an affair with their son’s partner–the mother of one of their grandchildren.

If that’s still not sordid enough, you’re out of my league and need to look elsewhere for your recreation.

Searle stood for office on the UKIP (U.K. Independence Party) ticket. UKIP is the party that brought us Brexit and it attracts such top talent that it’s had five leaders in slightly less than two years. The first four melted down in quick succession, each one finding his or her own unique route to political oblivion but none quite in Searle’s category.

In a display of deep thinking, fellow UKIP politician Bill Mountford said about the Searle case, “These things happen.”

Irrelevant photo: Leaves. But you probably guessed that.

Politics: You may remember Chris Chope–that’s Sir Christopher Chope to you–the MP who made his name not long ago by blocking a bill that would have criminalized upskirting, or taking a picture up a woman’s skirt without her knowledge and permission.

Everyone who writes about upskirting sooner or later has to use that phrase, “without her knowledge or permission.” I’m just askin’, but when did you or anyone you know last give permission for someone to take a picture up your or her or, in fairness, his skirt?

Never mind. Ol’ Chris is back in the news for having blocked a motion that would allow a Women MPs of the World conference to use the House of Commons’ chamber when the house isn’t in session.

This is not a conference of wild-eyed radicals like, for example–and I’m pulling an example from the air totally at random–me. It’s hard to get much more respectable. It’s organized by the Foreign Office, the Equalities Office, the Department of International Development, and the British Council. It will be so respectable that everyone attending will be asleep in their seats by 10 a.m.

You heard it here first.

The government swore blind it would have the bill back before Commons and passed the next day. And in fairness, it may have actually done that, but if it made the news I haven’t found it. It’s not half as much fun.

I’d like to thank Chris personally for doing his bit to add to the reputation politicians already struggle with.

Let’s change the subject.

Food and Outer Space: In July, St. Anselm’s School in Derbyshire launched a bakewell pudding in the general direction of space. You don’t need a compass or any real sense of direction to do this. You just point upward and hit Launch.

The school lost touch with the pudding at 52,500feet, or 16,000 meters if that works better for you.

This raises a question: If St. Anselm’s loses a pudding on its way to outer space, how well does it keep track of its students?

It also raises another question: How close did the pudding actually get to space. 

Compliments of Lord Google, I can answer that one. Space starts, very roughly, 100 kilometers above the earth. So how many kilometers in 16,000 meters? Nowhere near enough. Only 16.

How many lost-touch-with students were smoking in the toilets during the bakewell pudding launch? Nobody’s saying. What we do know is that the pudding was found–uneaten–almost a month later by a farmer walking his dog in an asparagus field in Lincolnshire.

Apparently I’m not the only creature who thinks bakewell puddings are better launched into space than eaten.

A bakewell pudding, in case you need to know this, is not the same as a bakewell tart. The bakewell tart is a standard British dessert. The bakewell pudding is regional, and bakeries and cafes in the town of Bakewell, Derbyshire (prounounced Darbyshire), spill a good bit of ink in the cause of educating visitors about the difference. 

Lord Google (or the snippet of WikiWhatsia that Lord G displayed for me) says there’s no evidence that either of them originated in Bakewell. Think of that as just one more mystery of the British Isles.

If you’re about to leave a comment telling me how wonderful either the bakewell tart or the bakewell pudding is and how ignorant I am not make unkind jokes about them, please do. I welcome spirited discussion on important issues. You’re even welcome to write, as a recent comment put it, that what I said is complete codswallop.

Codswallop? “Perhaps named after Hiram Codd, who invented a bottle for fizzy drinks (1875); the derivation remains unconfirmed.” Or so says Lord G, although it doesn’t explain much.

But back to our alleged topic: In 2016, a meat and potato pie was launched into space–or an area well short of space but in the general direction of space, which is to say, up. The people who launched it were hoping to get it 30 kilometers above the earth to see if molecular changes would mean it could be eaten more quickly.

Eaten by who? The articles don’t say. Probably by the launchers, because this happened just before the World Pie Eating Championship, and winning a pie eating contest, as I’m sure you’ll understand, takes some serious effort.

I’m not sure how much that explains–I’ve never been inside the mind of anyone who’s entered a pie eating contest–but it does at least set a context.

The pie landed in a field 38 miles away from the launch site, but I haven’t found an article that mentions what was growing in the field or if the farmer had a dog. If only the news reported the important stuff, the world would be a better place.

“First indications are that it did not reheat on entry,” an article in the Guardian reported with a straight face. 

In case you want to try a similar experiment, both launches used weather balloons, which means neithern of them really launched, they just kind of rose. You can use any kind of food you like, but if it’s too gooey you’re going to end up wearing it.

Food and History: This has nothing to do with Britain, but archeologists have managed to date the origin of bread back to before humans developed agriculture. Charred crumbs that have been identified as bread were found in two ancient fireplaces in Jordan. The fireplaces date back 14,000 years–at least 3,000 years before humans first cultivated plants.

The bread was made from foraged wild grain–probably wheat, oats, and (or possibly or) barley–and was found with an assortment of other wild plants. Bread wouldn’t have been a staple food yet. Foraging for wild grain would’ve been too labor intensive. Think of it as their version of chocolate–you don’t get much of it but damn it’s good. 

Modern-Day Foraging: Charging 5p for the plastic bags that stores hand out has reduced the use of plastic bags in Britain by 86 percent. If you’re American, 5p is 6.6 cents–or at least it was on August 1. The exchange rate will have changed by now. If you’re neither British or American, it’s not much money in comparison to what people are spending on the groceries or clothes or whatevers that would’ve once been put in those bags.

I’m not complaining. I’m happy to see fewer wind-shredded bags hanging from the local trees and hedges or slopping around in the ocean. But it’s an odd thing about humans. Tell us something’s free and we accept it and throw it away. Tell us it costs nothing much and we say, “Thanks all to hell and back, but I brought my own.”

Shopping and Teddy Bears: In July, a chain of stores that sells expensive, custom-made teddy bears announced a sale: For one day, customers could buy a bear for only £1 for every year of their child’s age. Since the bears can cost as much of £52, that sounded like a great idea to 110% of the population of the British Isles. Lines formed–or queues, as the British call them. Huge lines.

The British are generally good about queues. They join them at the back end and wait patiently until they get to the front end. Queueing runs deep in the culture. It’s soothing. It makes people feel right about the world. It means the stars are all where they’re meant to be, the bakewell pudding’s headed into space, and they themselves are occupying their proper place in the great scheme of things.

This time, though–and the trouble may have begun when the stores ran out of bears–fights broke out. Not between kids, who seem to have behaved well enough, with maybe some whining here and there. You have to expect that from kids in lines that last, as at least one did, five hours. No, it was the parents who started the fights. They’d promised Dear Little Whatsit a teddy bear. And not just any teddy bear, but a very upscale bear–the kind a kid can show to a friend and say, with all the charming innocence of childhood, “Bet you don’t have one this expensive.” So no, the parents couldn’t just drop into the pound store and see what was available. It had to come from the Build-A-Bear store, so that Dear Little Whatsit could pick out its furry little hide and I have no idea what else, then watch while it was filled with stuffing, had a cloth heart inserted, and got sewn up.

Then Dear Little Whatsit would be tempted by all sorts of extras–clothes, accessories, and probably little bitty teddy boarding schools and horseback riding lessons and the horse to go with them. Which would come to much more than her (I’m assuming gender here, and apologies if I get it wrong; pronouns are such a pain in the neck) age and could possibly equal her parents’ monthly rent or mortgage.

So kids were in tears, wailing, “But you promised.” Which is the kind of thing that can drive bear-buying parent to drastic action. Any action. In one store, a pregnant employee was punched in the stomach, and not by a kid. In other stores, employees were pulling down the shutters and disguising themselves as store fixtures and wailing children.

In another store, employees called the police, saying customers were getting violent. Which brings us to our next news snippet.

Police Emergencies: The Essex police recently publicized some a few of the stranger emergency calls they received. They suffer from the delusion that publicizing them will cause us to think seriously before we pick up the phone.

I doubt it will, but it gives us all something to read while the world goes to hell around us.

What are the latest calls? A woman called the emergency line because a pizza place delivered a mushroom pizza instead of a meat feast. And to make it worse, the pizza place insisted that she’d ordered mushroom even though she’s allergic to mushrooms.

And a man called because a sign on a fence said there was a bull in the field. He wanted to know if there really was a bull in the field or if the farmer “was just messing around.”

Crime, Politics, and Irony: A socialist bookstore in London was attacked by about a dozen masked protesters who turned over displays, yelled, threatened, and ripped up publications. So that accounts for the politics and the crime parts of the headline, but where’s the irony? Well, they appear to have spun off from a far-right protest held earlier that day, which was against censorship.

The Index on Censorship has since sent six books that have been banned or challenged in various places to three UKIP members who were charged with the attack, saying, “We hope the books will introduce them to different ideas.” The other attackers, as far as I’ve been able to make out, haven’t been identified.

The books are: The Handmaid’s Tale, The Color Purple, The Qur’an, His Dark Materials, Fahrenheit 451, and The Jungle.

UKIP suspended the three members and then reiinstated one. A party member said there was no evidence that she had been involved. The remaining attackers don’t seem to have been identified.

Crime, Farming, and Medieval Warfare: Theft from farms is on the rise, and Britain’s farmers are going medieval, according to news stories, using banks, ditches, and stockades to protect their equipment and livestock. They’re also using electrified gates. Did you know that medieval England pioneered the use of electrified gates?

To quote from a different article than the one I linked to, they’re also using “geese, llamas and dogs as low-tech alarm systems, much as landowners did hundreds of years ago.”

Medieval Britain did not have llamas. Llamas first came to Britain when Victoria was on the throne and the government hadn’t yet pulled down the shutters on immigration. (Llamas never have passports. Give a passport to a llama and it’ll eat the thing.) That was a while back, but not hundreds of years. And like so many immigrants, llamas have made a contribution to their adopted land, but they are not medieval.

The theives are after things like quad bikes, Land Rovers, and farm machinery, some of which seems to be stolen to order. A lot of it is shipped abroad to be sold, but heavy equipment has been used a few times to smash into local shops and steal cash machines. Which were also not present in medieval Britain.

*

 My thanks yet again to Deb for alerting me to the story about the ducks. What would I do without her to guide me to the weirder corners of British life?

I welcome links to odd bits of British news. And most other forms of communication. 

Crime in Britain, part 3: emergency calls

Ever wonder what it’s like handling emergency calls? You know, the pressure, the life-and-death situations, the idiot who calls because a parking meter ate his change?

Okay, I made up the parking meter, but the real stories are better. The Avon and Somerset Police took to Twitter in the hope that it would educate us about what the word emergency means. I’m not convinced it will, but it’s been fun.

For all I know, they weren’t hoping to change things but just wanted to keep themselves amused.

Anyway, since I’ve been writing about the serious side of crime lately, I thought I’d let you know what emergency calls are like before I move on to some other topic.

Let’s start with the man who reported being chased by a vicious badger. He dangled his keys at it and scared it away, he said, and he wasn’t sure where it had gone but he thought maybe someone ought to know about it. Just to put it on record, I guess, so in case it attacked again it would have a prior—well, not conviction exactly. Convictions are only possible if you’re human, so let’s just say something vaguely related to a prior conviction.

Relevant photo. I couldn't help myself. I had no idea what a badger looked like before I moved here, so I thought I ought to toss one in. This is from Wikimedia, taken by Prosthetic Head, and don't ask me what that means. I'm only repeating what the data says. It's scarier than the badger if you ask me.

Relevant photo. I couldn’t help myself. I had no idea what a badger looked like before I moved here, so I thought I ought to toss one in. This is from Wikimedia, taken by Prosthetic Head, and don’t ask me what that means. I’m only repeating what the data says. It’s scarier than the badger if you ask me.

He and the call handler agreed that he should maybe call animal control, and that got him out of her hair. Then the story was tweeted (and probably press released), and both the BBC and the Western Morning News picked it up, and even though I’m adding my miniature noise to the uproar I do kind of feel sorry for the guy.

Okay, moment of conscience over. What are the other calls like?

A man called because a gull stole his sandwich, and a woman called because a guest house owner refused to cook her a breakfast.

Let’s assume she was a guest there.

A caller asked to speak to the queen. Someone reported being splashed by a puddle. That makes it sound like the puddle was the active agent, which means I could safely insert vicious, as in splashed by a vicious puddle. Someone else complained that a taxi seat belt was too tight. A man found a melon on his doorstep, cut into slices. That’s the melon, not the doorstep. A woman reported that Mary Berry kidnapped her. Mary Berry, for those of you who don’t live in the U.K., is a TV presenter. She bakes, and she’s neither young nor threatening looking. If she kidnapped you, you could expect cake and a nice cup of tea. You might, however, have to wear an apron and learn to use a whisk. But I’m getting sidetracked. A drunk asked for a ride home.  A woman reported a wisp in her house. A man reported that his mobile phone provider was robbing him because he had no service.

It’s a dangerous world out there.

The police tweeted this kind of stuff for twenty-four hours at #ASP24, where you can still find it—or could last time I checked; I’m not sure how long these things hang around. There’s also some lovely insanity mixed into the general self-promotion if you go to @ASPoliceLIVE. I can’t put those in as links because Twitter links don’t work. Who knew that? Raise your hands please.

Even before I knew that, though, I knew they’d wreck the sentence.

And with that, I’ll wish you all a safe and happy weekend. Try not to call cops, the fire department, or an ambulance, no matter how vicious the puddles are where you live.

Crime in Britain

Let’s talk about crime in Britain.

On June 14, the newspaper carried two crime-related stories. The first took place on the Scilly (pronounced, yes, silly) Isles.

You have to understand that if Cornwall’s rural, the Scillies are not just rural but cut off by a whole lot of water. The only way to get there is to take a ferry or a small plane to the largest island. From there, you can take a boat to the smaller ones. None of the islands have much in the way of crime, so it made the news when someone slapped a phony parking ticket on a rented golf buggy and upset a tourist. I think a golf buggy is a golf cart in American, but I can’t swear to that because of my sports allergy, which is too severe for me to get near a golf course, never mind learn the vocabulary. Whatever it’s called, it was being used as transportation because forget bringing a car onto the islands. And it was parked, but not illegally.

Irrelevant photo by Ida Swearingen, who's a better photographer than I am.

Irrelevant photo by Ida Swearingen, who’s a better photographer than I am.

The police say they consider the ticket a malicious communication, which can lead to a six-month jail sentence.

First, though, they have to find the culprit.

What else have the local cops been up to? A seal pup had wandered onto the main street (that’s the high street if you read British). They let it go with a warning. They also broke up a drunken fight between two chefs. It was about whether rock salt was better than sea salt.

Tough neighborhood. If you visit, don’t leave your wallet in your back pocket.

Those of you who aren’t British and followed the link may have been struck by the hats. People who want to be cops in Britain have all sorts of personal reasons, but I’ve never understood how they could get past the hats. I know one serving and one former cop and I’d ask them but I can’t think of a diplomatic way to word the question.

But someone will tell me why the hats are great, and that’s what makes a horse race, so let’s move on.

In Islington, a man was arrested for charging his phone from a socket on the London Overground Trains. He was handcuffed, hauled off to a British Transport police station for abstracting electricity, and then also arrested for unacceptable behavior and becoming aggressive. I’m not sure if this second arrest involved a second set of handcuffs and if the additional charge won him a third set, but I’m fascinated by the idea that they didn’t just throw extra charges at him, they rearrested him—presumably before they’d let him go in the first place.

Abstracting electricity carries a maximum sentence of five years. It’s enough to make a person think the phone isn’t all that important, y’know?

The culprit—sorry, the alleged culprit was later de-arrested. Give me back all those handcuffs, you malefactor!

As far as I know, nobody here uses the word malefactor, but the police really, honestly do use the word villain. With a straight face. It’s just, y’know, what they say. So they arrested the villain for abstracting electricity.

And here we should pause and consider the word abstracting. I know you can’t see electricity, but it seems real enough to my untutored mind, not abstract or theoretical or anything. But I didn’t go to law school, so what do I know? I still get thank-you letters from the schools I might have applied to because my grades were good and they just might have had to accept me.

Well. I apologize for not giving you a link to this earth-shaking article, but I read it in the print edition and can’t find it online. If you rely on electronic media and you can spend your life in ignorance of the things that matter. And maybe that means it really is abstract.

In a different week I might have skipped over both articles, but not long before I read them an expat website sent me a survey about crime “where you live.” I think they meant Britain, but since I live out in the country I told them what it was like literally (and I’m using literally in the literal sense of the word) where I live. I don’t usually answer surveys—it’s hopeless; give me two choices and I’ll pick the third—but for some reason I answered this one.

I wrote that a lot of people in our area leave their doors unlocked. Not everyone, but more than a handful. I know people who leave their keys in the car. It keeps them from wondering where they left them. Them being the keys, not the cars, which are still there in the morning. Except for the time two people who shall remain nameless (especially since I’ve forgotten who it was) decided they were too drunk to walk home so they’d have to drive. They’d walked to the pub, but they knew someone nearby whose keys were always in the car. I won’t get into either the wisdom or the ethics of that—they’re too obvious to bother with. Everyone lived and the car was returned.

That’s not the full list of crimes in the village. I’ll write about them another time.