What’s new in Britain?

The news from Britain? Oh, you know, the usual. Somebody wants to nominate the queen for a Nobel peace prize. They wanted to nominate me, but I didn’t feel right about it so they moved on down the list. A replica of Francis Drake’s ship is up for sale. Friday’s the best night to hear gossip in the pub. A badger’s conquered a castle. (Okay, that’s clickbait, and about as accurate as most clickbait.)

Is any of this worth a post? Of course it is. And if you have to ask why, you’re probably right to but please don’t because I’ll only have to come up with an answer.

Let’s start with the queen. Not because she’s the queen. If I won’t give her a capital letter, you don’t think I’d let her jump the queue, do you?

Irrelevant–and out of season–photo. Cornwall in the snow. It snows every ten years, give or take a decade. First we all tell each other how beautiful it is and when it doesn’t go away within two hours we decide the world’s ending.

A brief interruption here for the sake of readers who aren’t British. Jumping the queue is the only real sin in Britain. It means pushing in at the front of the line, or as we called it when I was a kid, butting into line.

What line are we talking about? Any line. Britain’s full of lines. Not because things are in short supply, but because that’s how people here handle more-than-one-person-type situations. If people are waiting for a bus, a ticket, or the attention of the person behind the bar, they form a queue. It may be what Kate Fox, in her glorious and slightly mad Watching the English, calls a disorganized queue (you can’t see it but everyone involved knows about it, and knows where they are in it) or even a queue of one (I’m here first and if anyone else comes along, they’re after me), but it’s still a queue–a kind of implied queue.

I’m happy to make fun of queuing, but it does take the anxiety out of those situations. Not to mention the hostility. And I say that as a sharp-elbowed New Yorker who knows how to push with the best of them. It’s nice not to have to. And occasionally it’s annoying to know I can’t. But jumping the queue is an offense against public decency, the natural order of things, the secular religion, and everything your mother taught you, and you do it at your own risk, and possibly at risk of your mortal soul.

So, no, the queen doesn’t get to jump the queue here at Notes. The newspaper clipping mentioning her just happened to be at the top of the pile. And I’m as hesitant to mess with the order of my clippings as I am to jump the queue. No one but me would care about my clippings pile, but the prospect of picking that mess off the floor and putting it back in its original disorder makes me cautious.

But back to our story: “Senior political figures and ministers” want to nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her more than 60 years of service to the Commonwealth. She takes the Commonwealth seriously, and that’s a large part of what’s held it together. Or so they say. You shouldn’t take my word for it, though, because I’m having to take someone else’s.

What does the Commonwealth do? Good question, and I should write a post about it, if for no better reason than that I might find an answer, but in the meantime let’s quote Philip Murphy, the director of Commonwealth studies at the University of London, who can be presumed to know something on the subject and who recently published a long article about it. It’s in a different, equally fragile, pile of clippings, I can’t pull it out and read it through just now. A closer read will have to wait.

It’s online, you say? Don’t bother me. I have my excuses in order and the dog really did eat my homework.

For now, let’s grab a couple of pull quotes (those are those things in biggish type that publications use to fill the page when an article is, awkwardly, a couple of hundred words too short to reach the bottom).

“Many members of India’s policymaking elite see the Commonwealth as little more than a quaint relic of imperialism,” one says.

“If the Commonwealth really is the future, then we’re in even more trouble than I thought,” says another.

Oh, go on, let’s have one more: “For Britain’s administrative elite, the Commonwealth is a bit like a grandfather clock that has been in the family for generations. It hasn’t told the right time for decades, but no one has the heart to take such a treasured heirloom to the tip.”

The tip is the dump. The place where you throw things out. So if Phil’s right, the Commonwealth doesn’t do a hell of a lot.

The importance of this nomination is highlighted by how weird it got when I googled “queen nobel prize.” I found someone at Queen’s University who won a Nobel in physics and someone at Queen Mary University who won a Nobel in something else. I found Queen Latifah, who hosted the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in 2014. And I found a page from the official Nobel Prize website called “the Queen’s Gowns,” which is about a different queen, Silvia. As far as I can tell–and I didn’t stick around to be sure I had it right–it documents the gowns Queen Sil wore to the awards ceremony in every year since she was queenified in 1976. I’m sure the world’s a richer place now that the information is available to an eager public.

I mention all that in case you think “the queen” is a definitive description.

Will Liz get the award? As someone or other pointed out, the bar was set pretty low when Henry Kissinger won it, and it didn’t help that Barack Obama was awarded one before he’d had time to do anything. So it’s a definite maybe.

But enough of the queen. What about Drake’s ship? It was called the Golden Hind. Sort of. I’ll come back to that, but first, who was Drake?

Well, it depends who you ask. According to a website promoting visits to the ship, he was “the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, on an epic expedition of discovery and adventure.”

Sounds like a movie poster, probably from the fifties.

Drake’s purpose, it says, was “to intercept the gold and jewels, which the Spanish were removing from South America . . . and shipping back to Spain.” It adds that he made vital discoveries, etc., etc. Step right up, folks. Adult tickets are £7, kids and doddery old people get in for a fiver.

It’s okay, I’m old enough that I get to say “doddery.” If you’re under 65, you’ll just have to wait. Unless you want someone to say you’re making fun of the elderly..

On the other hand, if you read Wikipedia (and if no one’s changed the entry yet), Drake’s voyage was about privateering.

What’s that? An early form of privatization. The Mariners’ Museum defines a privateer as “any individual granted license by their government to attack shipping belonging to an enemy government, usually during a war. . . . They receive a Letter of Marque from their nation’s Admiralty, which grants them permission to raid enemy ships and keep a percentage of the spoils – so long as they pay a cut of that bounty back to the government.”

So basically Drake was operating as a licensed pirate, although according to WikiWhatsia Queen Elizabeth I’s support was unofficial, so he probably didn’t get his letter of marque. And it probably didn’t matter. If he’d been captured by the Spanish it wouldn’t have helped anyway.

In 1579, Drake captured a Spanish ship with so much treasure that it took six days to transfer it all to the Golden Hind. Liz’s share of the takings was enough to pay off the government’s entire annual debt and leave enough to invest in a new trading company operating in the Levant, which is roughly and not quite accurately the Middle East.

If you wonder how Britain got to be an imperial power, that’s as good a place as any to start unraveling the thread. If you want my opinion–and nobody asked but you’re too late to stop me–neither country was in the right. The Spanish were plundering their colonies in what’s now Latin America and the English were plundering the Spanish.

Step right up. Adult entry’s just £7.

The ship was originally called the Pelican but Drake renamed it in the middle of the voyage to flatter his patron, whose crest was a golden hind–a female red deer. How can you tell it’s a red deer if it’s gold? That’s too deep for me, but I’m sure there’s an answer out there somewhere. 

Why bother flattering his patron when he was in the middle of the ocean and his patron wouldn’t know a thing about it until he got back–if he got back? Because those long voyages got boring, and jigsaw puzzles weren’t invented until the 1760s.

Two replicas of the ship exist, one in London and one in Brixham, Devon, and it’s the second one that was up for sale, with a guide price at auction of £195,000. Presumably it’s been sold by now, but if not you can probably bargain them down a bit. It’s too big for the bathtub, but if you want a bit of British history in your front yard, it’d look great.

If you have a big enough front yard.

Moving back to modern days, researchers report that the best pub gossip can be heard on Friday nights.

How are they defining best? The newspapers don’t say, but the most common topics are, in order, old memories, something completely random, TV shows, funny stories, gossip, the news, film, music, jokes, and football.

Why’s football at the end of the list? I’m not sure but it may mean that the historic gender imbalance in pubs has been corrected.

What kind of category is “something completely random”? A garbage can category. Again, the papers don’t say what it means, or why, if it means anything else it’s not at the top of the list. I’m going to jump in with both feet and guess that this isn’t a well designed study, just something fun to report on.

One in five people in the study have been offered a chance to buy something odd while they were in the pub. How odd? A hundred dead pheasants. A broken snooker cue. Four packets of bacon.

Pubs are closing down all over the country. How the culture will survive without them, I don’t know.

In Scotland, a “very angry badger” was found in a tunnel in Craignethan Castle, in South Lanarkshire, and Historic Scotland has closed off the tunnel while it tries to lure it out using cat food and honey. I suspect that means tries to lure it into a trap, but it doesn’t sound as friendly when you put it that way. Let’s pretend it’s a little trail of cat food and honey, leading to the great outdoors.

The story’s undated, so I have no idea when this happened. It could have been centuries ago, during one of the many Scottish/English battles for all I know. When I was a kid, we told each other stories about Japanese soldiers hiding in caves on isolated islands who’d never heard that World War II was over. I suspect they were complete bullshit, but we believed each other. Maybe this is the Scottish/English equivalent: a Scottish nationalist badger still fighting to keep out the English, completely unaware that it’s actually fighting Scottish Heritage.

And now your bonus for getting this far in the post: The Mary River turtle, in Australia, can breathe through its–no, I don’t make this up–genitals. As a result, it can stay underwater for as much as three days, and I like to think it has a good time while it’s there. It also grows a punk haircut–a kind of green mohican. If you have nothing better to do with your life (and you’re reading this, aren’t you?), you should check out the photo.

Unfortunately, the turtle’s on the list of 100 most endangered reptiles.