Britain’s great salad crisis, and other news from Britain

As I write this, the UK’s in the midst of a salad shortage. The critics are talking mostly about the tomatoes, but if you listen carefully (keep the noise down out there, will you?), you can hear the lettuces and all their salady friends singing backup.

What’s happening is that tomatoes are scarce, and if you find any on the store shelves they’re expensive. They’re also, as Hawley’s Small and Unscientific Survey informs us, sorry looking specifmens. 

How short are the shortages? Not long ago, I was in my local supermarket looking for what I call an eggplant and the British call an aubergine. When I couldn’t find it, I asked a guy stocking sliced meats nearby if I could ask him a fruit-and-veg question.

“We haven’t got any,” he said wearily.

Since the fruit and veg section wasn’t completely empty, I told him what I was looking for anyway and he pointed them out. He seemed to be relieved to get rid of me without hearing any more moaning about tomatoes.

Irrelevant photo: Lesser celandine–one of the first wildflowers of the season, currently appearing at the base of a hedgerow near you. Or if not near you, at least near me.

So where’d the tomatoes go? As usual, the answer depends on who you ask. Everyone agrees that cold weather in Spain and Morocco are part of the problem. Most will add that growers in Britain didn’t plant much–or anything–this season because at this time of year they have to grow the tender little beasts in heated greenhouses and high energy prices have made that somewhere in between not economically viable and too depressing to even hallucinate about. 

You could add, if you like, that climate change will be doing this sort of thing regularly and we might want to, ahem, think about that. Or you could skip that and ask the weary guy in the supermarket what’s happened to the tomatoes, hoping to get an answer you like better. 

UK growers will add that they’re being put off not only by high fuel prices but by the low prices that supermarkets are willing to pay them. Consumers will choke on their turnips and ask what low prices the growers have in mind, exactly, because prices have gone up to maybe-I’ll-make-you-a-salad-for-your-birthday levels.

Why am I talking about turnips? We’ll get to that.

Some people will add that Brexit has a lot to do with the shortages. It’s made the UK more difficult and more expensive to export to, so sellers move it to the back of the line (or queue if you’re British), and when a product is scarce guess who drops off. Reports from France say they have no shortages of salad veg, although the prices have gone up. 

But as any British news addict can tell you, Brexit was supposed to let the country negotiate more favorable trade deals than it had in the EU. What happened? My impression is that it hasn’t been a screaming success. The new deal with Morocco has apparently made us harder to trade with, not easier, again moving us to the back of the line. 

Sorry, I don’t know the details of the deal and don’t have the oomph it would take to chase them down, that’s why I dropped in a well-worn apparently. I trust they’re suitably absurd.

Since we’ve been having shortages of fairly random products for some time now (I work at our village shop and it makes me aware of how random they are, and how frequent), we could expand the question and add that the just-in-time business model means any hiccup in the supply chain (Covid, anyone?) will lead to shortages of all sorts of products.

It wouldn’t be hard to find people who’ll add that it’s not a viable long-term strategy to depend as heavily as the UK does on India, China, and other countries that produce goods cheaply and ship them long distances. 

But back to our salad crisis: The environment minister, Therese Coffey, is trying to guide us through it by encouraging us to eat less imported food and cherish our turnips, which grow locally in whatever ridiculous weather we throw at them. 

Are we cherishihng them? Well, the head of an organic vegetable box delivery company is all for eating locally but said, “Winter turnips are an abomination. . . . We don’t grow them. Wouldn’t want to inflict them on our customers.”

Coffey’s intervention hasn’t quieted the tomatoratti, but that’s okay, she didn’t expect to. The government strategy is to keep us making jokes about turnips until warmer weather comes, when the government will claim credit for the victorious return of salad. Any day now, they’ll point that the shortage started under Tony Blair and was Labour’s fault. 


To ease us through these trying times, the Guardian devoted a two-page spread to recipes that substitute everything short of socket wrenches for tomatoes. You can, it turns out, make a red pasta sauce out of carrots, celery, butternut squash, and beets–or as the British call them, beetroot. Add vinegar, olive oil, honey, onion, and garlic. Cook everything, blitz it, add fine herbs, and then, whatever you do, don’t serve it to me. I’d get as much joy out of cooking my spaghetti with red food coloring.

You could also forgo the redness and make a sauce involving butternut squash, egg yolks, and yogurt. Or one that uses onion, carrots, ground beef, toasted oats, and black pudding.

I know, I shouldn’t dismiss this stuff without trying it, but I’ve been cooking long enough and I’ve lived in Britain long enough to have learned–or to think I’ve learned–when to look a recipe in the eye and say, “Sorry, but the kitchen is closed for repairs.”

Is it a cheap shot to make fun of British cooks and their recipes? Probably, but they do seem to get carried away with themselves. I mean, surely there are a hundred non-tomato ways to serve noodles without resorting to beets or black pudding. And I don’t say that to diminish Britain as a nation. It’s a wonderful country and I hope it survives the current government, but that doesn’t mean I have to retire my taste buds.

I’d love to give you a link to the article but I couldn’t find it online. Do you suppose someone thought better of it?


And since we’re talking about British politics…

I haven’t written about the Monster Raving Loony Party since early in my blogging non-career, when I had only three followers. Now that I’m up to four, one of which is a lawnmower company that subscribed but never hits Like, so I have to assume they don’t read the posts–

Where were we? Surely it’s time to detour back to that most British of political parties.

The Monster Raving Loonies were formed 40 years ago, in, um, whatever year that was (it’s 2023 now, in case that helps), when David Sutch ran in a Bermondsey by-election under the name Screaming Lord Sutch. 

He’d been running since the 1960s, primarily as a way to publicize his music, although you could probably say that his political non-career eclipsed his musical one. 

Or skip the “probably. Of course you could say it. The question is, would you be right? I haven’t a clue. The point is that this time it was different: He wasn’t running as one lone loony, he was at the forefront of an entire party of loonies.

In its 40 years, the party’s run candidates in 76 by-elections (they’re the off-schedule ones that happen when an incumbent dies or is convicted of larceny and needs to be replaced) and in every general election. Its candidates have included R. U. Seerius, the Flying Brick, Bananaman Owen, Mad Cow-Girl, Sir Oink A-Lot and Lady Lily The Pink. Not one of them has won and the party’s current leader, Howling Laud Hope, says that any candidate getting too many votes will be kicked out.

Embarrassingly, some of its policies have become law, including pet passports (adopted in 2000), a change to pub opening hours (adopted in 2005), and giving the vote to 16-year-olds (okay, only in some elections and only in Scotland and Wales, but still). The last change must’ve been too much for the party, because it’s now calling for 5-year-olds to be given the vote. 

The country’s current political state doesn’t make a good argument for adult competence, so I could be won over on this one. 

Howling Laud Hope now describes his party as the official think tank of Parliament.

It’s proposing a high-speed rail line to the Falkland Islands and “a year off from listening to our politicians.”

In 1985, the Conservative government tried to shoo the Loonies off the national stage by making candidates put up a deposit that they’d only get back if they won 5% of the vote. The Monster Raving Loonies coughed up the cash. 

How seriously should we take the party? In 2019, one perennial candidate announced that he wouldn’t be running this time because December was “a bloody stupid time for a general election.” On the other hand, John Major described Screaming Lord Sutch as by far his most intelligent opponent.

What’s the party’s future looks like? Screaming Lord Sutch died in 199 and the current chair is in his 80s (which I have to say looks younger all the time), so it might be time to talk about a replacement.

“We might just elect someone’s parrot,” Howling Laud Hope said.

News from the fringes of Britain’s election: a midweek bonus post

Elections are serious business, and this one is especially serious, so let’s take you on a tour of its crazier fringes. 

The most important fringe is unraveling in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, a London suburb where Boris Johnson, also known as Britain’s prime minister, is trying to keep his seat in parliament. At the last election, his majority was small–in the neighborhood of 5,000 votes. If he loses his seat but his party wins a majority in the Commons, it will have to find itself a new leader, he’ll have to find himself a new hobby, and the new leader will be the new prime minister. 

Johnson’s most serious challenge is from Labour, so we’ll skip that. We’ll also skip the Liberal Democrat, the Green Party candidate, and anyone else we’d have to take seriously.

The most interesting challenges come from Count Binface and Lord Buckethead. We’re looking at a particularly bitter fight there, because Count Binface used to be Lord Buckethead but had an unpleasant set-to on, as he put it, planet Copyright and had to reincarnate as Count Binface.  

Are you keeping up with this?

Neither am I. Lord Buckethead was–or, I guess, still is–a character in a 1984 movie, Hyperspace, that no one ever saw.  Or so says one newspaper. Another says he was a character in a 1980s Gremloids, another movie that no one ever saw.

Do we care which movie it was? No. Here at Notes, we’re completely nondenominational about bad movies. All we care about is that a comedian, Jon Harvey, appropriated the character.

Buckethead likes to run against prime ministers. He’s run against Theresa May, David Cameron, John Major, and Margaret Thatcher. I believe someone else was being Buckethead part that time, but do we really care about that? Probably not. 

This business of popping around the country to run against prime ministers is made possible by an election law that doesn’t demand that candidates live in the areas they hope to represent.   

The law also doesn’t make candidates use their real names in elections, and that’s a gift to those of us whose spirits need lifting in these dismal times. It doesn’t even make them define real. All they have to do is file papers and pay money. 

So the man who used to be Lord Buckethead is now running as Count Binface, but someone else is running–also in Uxbridge and et cetera–as Lord Buckethead. Count B. has said he looks forward to a “receptacle to receptacle debate” with him.

As Count B. (writing on Twitter as @CountBinface) explained, “At a time when political precedent is being broken all over the place, I find myself effectively standing against not just (current) Prime Minister @BorisJohnson but also myself. I think that’s a first.”

In a separate tweet, he explained that he’d renounced his peerage because in an earlier campaign he’d promised to abolish the House of Lords. 

The current Lord Buckethead is running on the Monster Raving Loony Party ticket.

Guys, I don’t make this stuff up. I only wish I had the sort of mind that could.

Another candidate running against Boris Johnson in Uxbridge and Wherever is William Tobin, who announced that he doesn’t want anyone’s vote, he’s only running because as a long-term British resident in the European Union he’s no longer eligible to vote, although he is eligible to run for office. He wants to raise the profile of 7 million disenfranchised voters who will be affected by Brexit but get no say in British politics. 

I haven’t confirmed that number. Can we agree that there are a lot of them, though?

Enough for Uxbridge and So Forth. In other constituencies, the most interesting fringes I’ve found belong to the Monster Raving Loony Party, whose candidates include: the Incredible Flying Brick, Earl Elvis of Outwell, Howling Laud Hope, Citizen Skwith, and the Baron and the Dame, who must have found a way to run jointly, because they’re quite clearly two people. I struggle to recognize people, but even I can manage to tell them apart: One’s shorter and the other has a long, scraggly beard. They’re both male. One of them being called the Dame is a British thing and has to do with pantos, which are–oh, never mind. It’s too complicated to explain in a short space but but it’s not about trannies or queens. It’s a recognized theatrical form, and a strange one. 

The Monster Raving Loony manifesto includes a proposal to “reduce the national debt by selling the castles back to the French. (Buyer dismantles.)” 

Wish us luck, world. We need it right now.

The British sense of humor

Do you stay up nights worrying that the British have lost their sense of humor? Put those fears to rest, folks, because it’s alive and well and utterly bizarre. Let’s start (and mostly stay) with the political landscape. What other country boasts an Official Monster Raving Loony Party, a Church of the Militant Elvis Party, and a yogic flying party (which isn’t its official name and the party doesn’t think it’s funny, but we’ll get to that)?

Let’s start with the Monster Raving Loony Party, which was founded by Screaming Lord Sutch and someone with a less interesting name so never mind him. Sutch ran in 41 elections as a candidate for various parties. One of the early ones was the Go to Blazes Party, but then he perfected the art of party-naming and remained a Monster Raving Loony for the rest of his life. The highest number of votes he ever got was 1,114. He’s now gone to that great election campaign in the sky, where I’m sure he’s getting all the votes he deserves (I have no idea how many that would be), and the current leader is Howling Laud Hope.

Irrelevant photo: Birds nesting in postal box, by D.L. Keur. Some of you will have already seem this--I posted a link last week. But D.L. was kind enough to email me the photo so no one can escape. Thanks, D.L. Much appreciated.

Irrelevant photo: Birds nesting in postal box, by D.L. Keur. Some of you will have already seen this, since I posted a link last week. But D.L. was kind enough to email me the photo so no one can escape. Thanks, D.L. The world’s just a smidgen better because a few extra people get to see this.

The party’s policies include fitting air bags to the stock exchange in preparation for the next crash and marking any puddle deeper than 3 inches with a yellow plastic duck. I can’t find it on their web site, probably because I didn’t look closely enough, but I read somewhere else that they want to address global warming by fitting air conditioners to the outside of buildings.

Folks, this is what the world needs: A realistic approach to global warming and the instability of the economy. With yellow plastic ducks.

I can’t explain why the party’s made Official part of its name. Did someone start an unofficial one? Was there a split, with both sides accusing each other of not being true to the party’s principles? Did some part of the membership hold that only puddles deeper than six inches needed to be marked with plastic ducks, or that the ducks didn’t need to be yellow? Until someone goes to a convention and reports back (or on a lower level of commitment, contacts them and asks), the mystery will remain. If I had a shred of respect for myself as a journalist, I’d do email them, but the truth is that I’m no journalist.

Remind me: What do you get out of reading this blog?

Moving on, the Church of the Militant Elvis Party is led by David Bishop, whose name can’t compete with the leaders of the Monster Raving Loony Party. Maybe that’s why he’s also registered several Elvis-themed campaign groups, including the Bus-pass Elvis Party, the Elvis Defence League, and the Elvis and the Yeti Himalayan Preservation Party. I’m not sure what the difference is, in this context, between a political party and a campaign group, and I seriously doubt it matters.

In 2005, the party ran a candidate in Erewash, which is a real place and, sadly, not pronounced Earwash. Based on the usual Google search I do when something’s this earthshaking (hey, I go all out for this blog), I learned that “most people” around there pronounce it Errywash—like ferrywash, but without the F.

I didn’t find any mention of how not-most people around there pronounce it, but it does make a person wonder.

The same search taught me that I can get the wax micro-suctioned out of my ear for just £25—or £35 if I’d rather have it done in the privacy of my own home, because I might feel a little, you know, private about my ears, even though I do walk around with them hanging out for all the world to see. Whoever’s offering that price doesn’t know where I live or they’d charge more.

I’m not usually followed around the internet by earwax ads, so I couldn’t help wondering if the great googlemaster thinks I don’t know how to spell ear or if the great googlemaster just has a sense of humor.

But we were talking about the Church of the Militant Elvis Party. Bishop ran on a promise to (among other things) go to the North Pole and yell at the icebergs to stop melting. He campaigned in a red cat suit, claimed he was heckled—I can’t think why—and got 116 votes. In 2010, his platform included digging moats around houses. No, he didn’t volunteer to dig them. It’s only by following the implications of his campaign promise that I got to the verb dig, and I may be assuming too much. What I read actually said he wanted to introduce them. House, meet moat. Moat, meet house.

Job done. It’s quick, it’s cheap, and it keeps the campaign promise.

Finally we come to the Natural Law Party, which grew out of the transcendental meditation organization. If I remember correctly, some decades ago they trademarked their name and insisted that it be spelled with initial caps and followed by the letters TM, not because that’s an abbreviation of transcendental meditation but to mark that the name was trademarked. I was working as an editor at the time and I wrestled bare-handed with issues of this sort on a daily basis. And lived to tell the tale. So what could I say but, “Oh, yeah? How you gonna make me?”

I said that to myself, mind you, since no one else cared. But that sort of thing mattered to me. And it still does—enough for me to lower case the organization’s name even though capping it would make sense. It is an organization. That is its name. Names are capitalized. But hey, if it matters that much to them, I’m happy to do the opposite.

It’s a good thing I’m writing about political parties instead of running for office. Power goes right to my head.

The Natural Law Party seems to take itself seriously. As well it should. According to the BBC article I linked to just above, “It promised in 1997 to create an ‘ideal quality of life – prosperity, creativity and happiness [for all]’, crime would be reduced by creating coherence in national consciousness, and defence would depend on an integrated national consciousness to make Britain invincible.”

The logic of that sounds as shaky as the grammar, but apparently that would all happen through meditation and yogic flying.

“Yogic what???” you ask.

Why yogic flying, silly, which if you watch the video you’ll learn consists of bouncing around on a mattress with your legs pretzeled across each other like the Buddha’s.

I’m not an expert on the Buddha, but I’m quite sure he didn’t bounce around on a mattress. I don’t think anyone had gotten around to inventing bouncy mattresses back then.

When the Natural Law Party withdrew from the electoral process, it blamed the negativity and cynicism of the electorate. The BBC kinda thought it might have had something to do with how much money it cost them to run each campaign. But hey, that’s cynicism for you.

Enough politics. A final note, to prove the British sense of humor extends from politics into real life: I took a load of brush clippings to the dump the other day (that’s the tip if you’re British), and a guy who worked there helped me empty the car. They do that there if they have the time. It’s very nice, and they’re very nice, and even I managed to be nice. After we’d tossed the last bits of greenery, I found a snail in the back seat.

“Want a snail?” I said for no reason I can quite explain, although I’ll offer a few alternatives. Pick the one you like: It was there. Thanks didn’t seem like enough and I hadn’t thought to bring brownies. I’m a wise-ass and my mouth doesn’t always consult my brain.

“Thanks,” he said after only the smallest hint of hesitation, “but I’m trying to give them up.”

While we’re (marginally) on the subject of thanks, I owe many of them to—argh: someone for suggesting this topic, sending me a couple of initial links, and telling me about the Church of the Militant Elvis Party, thereby enriching my life significantly. (I already knew a bit about the other two but hadn’t thought of writing about them.) We exchanged several comments and I enjoyed the conversation. You’d think I’d know who it was, wouldn’t you? It’s really rude not to remember but I thought (a) that wouldn’t happen and (b) if it did (I know what my memory’s like and I never completely trust it) I could just pick it up from the comments section.

Yes, indeed I could, but which post were we exchanging comments at the end of? None of the ones I checked, and I zipped through a lot of them. So whoever you are, forgive me. And let me know who you are. Please. I’d meant to post a link to your blog, if only I’d been bright enough to leave myself a trail of virtual breadcrumbs, and I can still do that in a follow-up post.

Finally, if anyone wants to push me in the direction of a topic, please do. I don’t promise to write about it–some topics work for me and some just don’t, and I still haven’t found a way to predict which ones will set me going. But I love getting suggestions. It’s the Comments section that makes this so much fun to write.