What not to do on Twitter, and other news from Britain

Never underestimate the power of Boris Johnson’s government to get things wrong. It sent a message of congratulations to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and after it was posted on Twitter some wiseacre adjusted the color (don’t ask me–I’m electronically challenged) and noticed that Trump’s name had been replaced with Biden’s but was still lingering. Talk about you metaphors. The words second term had also been ineffectively deleted. 

Downing Street is harumphing about of course having had two messages ready to go, but why they couldn’t be bothered to have two separate messages instead of sending the president-elect a stained hand-me-down is a mystery we may never solve. 

Downing Street’s believed to be reluctant in its congratulations. Biden’s win complicates Johnson’s Brexit calculations–although saying that Johnson calculates is probably naive. Or just plain silly. Either way, the day after the election was called for Biden, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, was asked if he agreed with the statement that every vote should be counted in a democratic election and he managed not to commit himself.

Too controversial. 


Irrelevant photo: Crocuses, to remind those of us in the northern hemisphere that spring will come. These bloomed in February.

Some p.r. genius at the Royal Dutch Shell–the oil company–ran a Twitter poll asking, “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions? #EnergyDebate.” The choices were “offset emissions, stop flying, buy electric vehicle, renewable energy.” 

That last choice is missing a verb. Was it supposed to be “use renewable energy”? “Marginalize renewable energy”? “Crochet renewable energy”? 

Never mind. Back when I had a use in the real world, I was an editor. It left me unfit to wander the internet. Nobody, as far as I’ve found, picked up on that oddity in the question. They focused on the more important point: Here was an oil giant saying (in its follow-up tweet) that everybody had to do their part–as in, hey, don’t look at us. What are you doing to get us out of this mess?

Editor or not, I do mix the singular (everybody) with the plural (their). The alternative is to follow the logic of English grammar and assume 100% of the world population is male. But the mixture’s theirs in this case.

Never mind. Let’s talk about the response Shell got: 

Stanley with no last name wrote, “I commit to never buying Shell gasoline.” 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote, “I’m willing to hold you accountable for lying about climate change for 30 years when you secretly knew the entire time that fossil fuel emissions would destroy our planet.”

Scott Dooley wrote, “I’m willing to stop spilling 1,926 barrels of oil in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Will you match me?”

Greta Thunberg wrote, “I don’t know about you, but I sure am willing to call-out-the-fossil-fuel-companies-for-knowingly-destroying-future-living-conditions-for-countless-generations-for profit-and-then-trying-to-distract-people-and-prevent-real-systemic-change-through-endless greenwash-campaigns.” 

Daniel Nima Moattar posted a headline about Shell fueling violence in Nigeria by paying rival militant gangs and wrote, “Driving slower, shopping less, maybe cutting back on paramilitaries.”

Alexandria Villasenor got in what should be the last word but probably wasn’t: “This won’t age well.”


In another Twitter success story, Eric Trump tweeted, “Minnesota get out and vote!!!”

Unfortunately, it was a week after the election.


Enough social media. Ever wonder why Britain’s standing stones ended up where they did instead of in fifteen other spots? 

I didn’t either, but archeologists do, and some of them have come up with an answer for one set, the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis, in the Hebrides. They found a star-shaped pattern left by a lightning strike. It’s some 20 meters across and now buried in a peat bog that formed 3,000 years ago. A hidden stone circle lies under the peat with it. One theory is that the stone circle was built in response to what must have been a massive event at the time. 

The buried circle’s older than the peat bog and older than Stonehenge. 


The Department for International Trade is frantically trying to get trade agreements into Parliament in time for them to be approved before the Brexit bell tolls midnight, Boris’s shoe falls off, and the better-than-ever Brexit trade deals we were going to negotiate turn into pumpkins, which at this time of year have been sitting outside too long and been nibbled by squirrels.  

Have you ever wondered why everything in Cinderella’s life turned back to what it had been before it was enchanted except that lone, uncomfortable shoe the prince picked up? 

I’m off the topic, aren’t I?

The idea is to approve a bunch of agreements that would let Britain continue trading with various non-European Union countries on the same terms as when it was part of the EU. If they don’t get approved, trade will default to the less advantageous World Trade Organization terms. The hitch is that international treaties have to sit around parliament for 21 days before they can be approved, but parliament’s going home for the holidays on December 17, which means that the bell doesn’t toll on January 1, when the Brexit transition period ends, it tolls on Thursday of this week. And it tolls for thee. 

Or for them. Or for all of us who live here.

Talks with fifteen countries are still incomplete. Representatives of other countries (sorry, I don’t know how many) say no talks have been conducted at all. The shadow international trade secretary said, ““Not a single additional continuity agreement was secured in the first eight months of 2020.” She mentioned the by now much overworked word shambles. And I’d love to tell you what that additional is in addition too, but I don’t know. 

A Department for International Trade spokesperson, however, said, “We are considering all possible options to maintain continuity of existing trade terms. It is misleading to say there’s a hard deadline on this.”

If you’ll allow me to translate that, it means, “Oh shit. How many days do you get in 21?”


A study of seagulls has established that they can tell time and that they know the days of the week.

Sort of. They know what time schoolkids will be out in the playground and dropping food. When it’s almost time, they perch on surrounding roofs. When the bell rings, they get to work. And they not only know what times the dumps, fish processing plants, and markets put out their best wares, they somehow know not to show up at the dump on weekends.

A cynical person might say they’re smarter than the Department for International Trade, and I did see one on the neighbor’s roof holding a man’s black dress shoe. It mumbled something about, “What does he think I want with this?” Then if dropped the shoe and flew off to the nearest school playground. 


Since we’re talking about birds, New Zealand is once again voting for its favorite native bird, and there’ve been accusations of vote rigging: 1,500 fraudulent votes for the kiwi pukupuku–the little spotted kiwi–were discovered and they all traced back to a single IP address. 

They’ve been deleted and calm and fair play have been restored, but the bird of the year election is a big thing in New Zealand and passions run high. An adult toy store is campaigning for the hihi on the grounds that it practices consensual polyamory and that the males have, proportionate to the bird’s size, the largest testicles of any bird in the world. 

Want to guess whether it’s a male or a female running that store?

The winner hasn’t been announced yet, but in 2018, the winner was the kereru, known for getting so drunk on fermented fruit that it falls out of trees. 


Britain gets a new cabinet: an update

Britain has a new prime minister, who even though he’s never been prime minister of anyplace before has the look of a second-hand car about him–the kind whose odometer broke when someone tried to set it back. So far, he’s told us that everything’s going to be wonderful with him in office. We’ll leave the E.U. by Halloween, with or (possibly preferably) without a deal, and this will make the country prosperous and united.

We’ll all have 100,000 fewer miles on our individual and national odometers.

In anticipation, the pound dropped against both the dollar and the euro.

More concretely, he’s appointed a new cabinet. So let’s check in on what a few of them have done in their limited time in government.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the new leader of the House of Commons and he’s banned metric measurements in his office. And if something comes into the office speaking metric and has to go back out in the same form? Presumably it will have to be translated into imperial units to be read and then translated back out of them before it rejoins the world. 

He’s also banned a series of words and phrases, including (but, oh, so not limited to) hopefully, very, due to, ongoing, equal, yourself, lot, got, pleased to learn, and unacceptable.

Equal? Yeah, it’s on the list. It will, hopefully, prevent staff members from saying, “Go fuck yourself,” when they’re told that asking for equal pay is unacceptable.

A couple of the entries (lot, got, and I am pleased to learn) have been reported but are unconfirmed. I mention that because this stuff is important and I want to be sure we get it right. I’m an immigrant here, so to a certain kind of person the way I use the language is always going to be suspect. Which makes me very much want to say, “Go fuck yourself.” Due to having an ongoing bad attitude.

Rees-Mogg’s staff has also been instructed to use a double space after a period–which in British is called a full stop, and I’m sure he’d insist on it being called that–and not to use a comma after an and

It is possible to use a comma after an and but it’s not easy. I’m not going to bother working up an example when I’ve got a lot of simpler ways to break the rules.

Staff members should also avoid using is too often. How often is too often? You’re on your own there. Do be careful, though, please. I care about you, and the world’s a dangerous place.

I is also on the list of banned words. Maybe, like the queen, he prefers one. One is–. Nope, can’t use is. One might be pleased to find a less awkward way to avoid its use.

Since he became an MP, R-M’s speeches have used words from the banned list 1,189 times. It may have gone up since that report, so let’s take that as a minimum, especially since uses of the word  I, mysteriously, weren’t included. And yes (ha! got the comma in after and), if you’re going to be such a public nit-picker, someone will sit down and count. Gleefully.

R-M also demands that any man who doesn’t have a title get the suffix Esq. added to his name. Women, presumably, are too unimportant to worry about. Or maybe the language doesn’t have an equivalent. I wouldn’t know.

Admittedly, the guidelines were established at his old office as a plain old MP and have been transferred wholesale to his new, elevated position as Micro-Manager-in-Chief, so presumably this hasn’t occupied all his time. That is, however, speculation.

He’s commonly known as the Honourable member for the 18th Century.

After that, anyone else is going to be a disappointment, but let’s go on.

Grant Shapps, the new transport secretary, has announced a two-page limit for briefings and says he will “pay attention to the font size and margins.”

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, has brought his favorite pink cup to his new office. As far as I know, it’s not a sippy cup. 

Oops. Did I just start a rumor?

Priti Patel, the new home secretary, has a £1,000-an-hour contract with a company that supplies products and services to the same government she works for. She also earns £45,000 a year for working 20 hours a month for an accounting software firm. If she cares about the spacing after a period, limits her intake of government documents to picture books, or drinks from a sippy cup, it’s not on record but it might be preferable. 

Now let’s go back to that business about a double space after a period. If WikiWhatsia is correct (and I’m not going any deeper into this than a WikiWhatsia article, earthshaking though the topic may be), a double space after a period is called English spacing. A single space is called French spacing. There are other differences between the two, but let’s stop there. We’re not setting type, just reporting on it. 

So far, it sounds clear, but the phrases are often used in exactly the opposite way, and WikiWhatsia gives a good solid list of examples without managing to help me understand why or how that happened.

Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, the trend in typesetting has been toward a single space after a period. It’s quicker and it’s cheaper, since in a book that small change can save a fair bit of paper. And many people think it looks better.

The U.S. seems to have made the shift to single spacing before the U.K., although even there high-end publishing stuck with the double space for a while. With the introduction of computers, designers and typographers have increasingly leaned toward the single space. In my experience, it dominates the publishing world.

So is R-M dedicated to the double space because he thinks it’s high end? Or because he thinks it’s English as opposed to French (and the English, if you’ll forgive a generalization, have a thing about the French)? Or because it was done that way in the eighteenth century and that’s his century? I can only ask, not answer. If he knew that in the early 1960s, when all girls with fingers were taught to type, no excuses accepted, I was taught that it was necessary, right, and moral to double space after a period. I was (partly deliberately, partly by nature) a monumentally bad typist, but for years I double-spaced after periods.

If that doesn’t take the shine off the double space, I don’t know what will.