Brexit, Santa, and bad sex: it’s the news from Britain

As I write, Brexit talks are continuing. Competing headlines say that a deal is possible; that the European Union isn’t optimistic about reaching one; that a no-deal Brexit is likely, is very likely, is more than likely, is likelier than Santa Claus coming down Boris Johnson’s chimney; that even if Britain and the EU reach a deal there may not be time to approve it; and that the Scandinavian gods will descend from Mount Olympus (yes, the Greek gods did use to live there but they found it drafty and moved on. The Scandinavian gods, being from, you know, Scandinavia, think the weather’s great and following the example of the Czars use it as a winter palace.

That didn’t end well for the Czars, but you know what gods are like. They always know best. Won’t listen to anyone–

Where were we? That the Scandinavian gods will descend from Mount Olympus and whack a few heads, dictate a deal, and that’ll settle things. No one will be happy, but that’s the sign of a workable compromise.


The Scandinavian gods scenario is generally considered the least likely, but just in case I’m making a list of heads I think would be worth whacking. In case anyone asks.

I don’t want to give you multiple links for all the various scenarios, especially since the last one’s embarrassingly hard to document, so we’ll settle for this one.  

We’ve had days of news stories about what’s going to happen to shipping and production and supply lines and prices. The government’s sunk lots of money into building black holes for trucks to wait in while their paperwork–and everyone else’s paperwork–gets sorted out. And ports are already backed up, for reasons I don’t really understand although as a rule bad political decisions are a fair bet. Empty containers are sitting where they full ones need to be. Ships are landing on the continent because they can’t land in Britain.

And this is all before Brexit hits.

As for us, we’ve stocked up on dog and cat food; on bread flour, sunflower seeds, and tea; on laundry soap; on a few other random items. We have no idea what’s about to happen or what we should have stocked up on instead. And really, we have only the vaguest idea what we need for life to be manageable. If we continue to have electricity and water, and I’m reasonably sure we will, we’ll eat something and we’ll wash. 

No, I’m not really expecting a complete breakdown. It’s just that I feel like minor-league maniac stocking up this way. Making jokes seems to counterbalance that.

Sleep well, Minnie. The dog food stash has been topped up.

If anyone tells you they do know what’s about to happen, they’re (a) kidding you, (b) kidding themselves, (c) pretending to govern the country.


Let’s change moods and countries.

A couple of guys moved into an apartment on New York’s 22nd Street and discovered that it came with  a seasonal delivery of letters to Santa Claus. They seemed like an annoyance at first, but after a while one of the men, Jim Glaub, got into the spirit. He picked a letter writer that he could be Santa to and found other people who’d do the same with others. 

The most moving ones were from kids whose parents were broke. One kid wanted a bed so he wouldn’t have to sleep on the couch. Another wanted a blanket “for my mom to sleep warm this winter and gloves for my dad to work.” Also shoes for her brother and some art supplies and glitter for herself.

I hope someone gave her lots of glitter.

At some point, mysteriously, what had been a few dozen letters became hundreds–more than an informal network could handle–and Glaub started a charity, along with a webpage to match kids to people able to give. 

No one’s been able to explain why the letters come to that particular apartment. In the early stages, when they were still an annoyance, the men talked to the post office.

“Can’t help you,” it said. 

Yes, at Christmas inanimate objects can talk. Surprisingly coherently, even if not helpfully.


Britain’s National Accounting Office reports that £50 billion pounds in cash is–


–well, it’s somewhere but they don’t know where. I guess you could say it’s missing, although no one expects to know where the nation’s cash is at any given moment, so missing isn’t quite the right word. Where it’s not, though, is in circulation.

This isn’t money that’s gone missing from the budget or that disappeared due to any sort of creative accounting. People are holding onto cash–a lot of it, as it happens. And this isn’t just happening in Britain. It’s happening in the U.S. and Europe as well. 

What does it all mean? It’s hard to say, but speculation tends to involve criminal activity. The three currencies all have high denomination bills (or notes if you speak British) that make it easy to smuggle–or even just carry–large amounts of untraceable cash. 

In case you need to know that at some point in your life, you heard it here first.


In deference to how bad 2020’s been already, the Literary Review canceled the contest it sponsors, the Bad Sex in Fiction awards. The judges felt “the public had been subjected to too many bad things this year to justify exposing it to bad sex as well.” But they warned the writing world not to take that as a “license to write bad sex.”

Not that the writing world needs a license.

I often argue with myself over which paper to link these snippets to. For this, though, the decision was simple: The Guardian’s article comes with a photo of the Reverend Richard Coles, in full reverent suit, reading at last year’s awards ceremony. Someone had fun picking that out of the archives.

The Brexit Update, 4 September 2019

By the time you read this, it’ll be out of date–British politics are moving at the speed of a slow-motion train wreck–but here’s what I can tell you as of 7 a.m., British summer time (which isn’t a season but the time Britain goes by in the summer):

Yesterday, one lone MP resigned from the Conservative Party and joined the Liberal Democrats, and that was enough to lose the Conservatives their majority and make Boris Johnson the leader of a minority government.

That happened not long after Johnson announced that he would boot out (okay, effectively boot out, but let’s not get into that) any Conservative MP who voted against him. Last night, twenty-one of them did. At that point he became the leader of a government with a significantly smaller minority.

What they voted against him on was–damn this is hard to explain sensibly. Normally, the government has the power to set the agenda for the House of Commons, but the Commons can occasionally seize control of the agenda, and that’s what it did. This will allow the Commons to debate a no-deal Brexit today. 

When he lost the vote, Johnson said he’d call for an early election, but he needs the backing of two-thirds of the MPs for that to happen. Since a majority of MPs would be happy to drown him in the Thames, why wouldn’t they support a new election? Because Parliament shuts down for twenty-five days before the election, and Johnson would get to choose the date of the new election. If he chose his timing well, he could lock Parliament in a broom closet, withdraw from the European Union, and hum “Rule Britannia” while they pound on the door and yell, “Let me out!”

So although Labour’s been screaming for an early election, they’re against this one unless a no-deal Brexit is ruled out–which it won’t be. 

There are two ways around the need for a two-thirds majority:

First, the government calls for an election using the words “notwithstanding the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.” Then they’d only need a simple majority.

Can they do that, announce that they’re going to call an election ignoring the law governing elections? Apparently so. Do we know how to have fun over here or what?

But, of course, they don’t have a simple majority either. And proposing an election that way would allow MPs to set the election date, so it would lose Johnson his maneuvering room. And the bill could be amended, so Commons could tack on anti-no-deal wording.

It would also have to pass the House of Lords, so it’s a slower process. 

Second, the government could call a vote of no confidence in itself. 

Yes, seriously. 

If it passed, Johnson would be expected to resign and the Commons would try to agree on a new prime minister, who could ask the EU to delay Brexit. If the Commons couldn’t choose a prime minister in fourteen days (there’s a lot of political arm wrestling, not to mention posturing and an ego or two, involved), that would trigger a new election.

The BBC article that I pulled all that from (it’s the link several paragraphs back) calls that a high-risk strategy for the government. It doesn’t say that the crucial word in all this is expected, as in Johnson would be expected to resign, but it’s not entirely clear that he would, or whether he’d have to. The law’s fairly new and contains a lot of unknowns.

But back to the Commons seizing control of its agenda. If an anti-no-deal bill passes the Commons, which it probably will, the next hurdle is shoving it through the House of Lords, where it will, inevitably, be filibustered and amended. There’s an attempt in the works to set a time limit on debate. We’ll see how that goes.

The Scottish National Party is saying that a fall election would be a great opportunity for Scotland to demand a second vote on independence.


That’s the headline stuff. In smaller print:

  • Scotland’s chief prosecutor has said he wants to intervene in two legal challenges to Johnson’s suspension of Parliament, saying that proroguing Parliament is it’s an abuse of power.
  • Speaking of abuses of power, Johnson’s special adviser, Dominic Cummings–the power, and possibly the brains, behind the throne–fired another special adviser, Sonia Khan, calling armed police to have her marched out of 10 Downing Street. He accused her of being the source of a leak–something she denies. The interesting thing here is that she didn’t work for him. She also didn’t work for Cummings’ boss, she worked for the chancellor, Sajid Javid. And Johnson wasn’t consulted about the firing. Read a few articles and you’ll find phrases like “mafia-style” and “reign of terror.” There are calls for an investigation into the firing.  
  • The government’s set aside £100 million for an information campaign to prepare people for Brexit, even though there are, apparently, questions about whether the government can manage to spend that much in two months. What do they want people to learn for all that money? That we should consult the government’s Brexit website, where they offer some fairly mild advice about travel, business, citizenship, and so forth. With apologies, I relied on a summary for that, not the website itself. The website wants to walk you through only what you need to know, and I bailed out at the point where it asked whether I’m a citizen. I am, but y’know, I just might want to know what happens to people who aren’t. But it’s all okay because the government has placed an order for mugs and T-shirts, so I feel better about it all.