Let’s start with basics: The queen in question is Elizabeth, and she’s been on the throne since 1066 or thereabouts. Surely that calls for a party, so here in Britain we’ve been handed a spare holiday, a dessert recipe so simple that can be prepared in two days by half a dozen trained snipers, and lots of encouragement to hold our own street parties, band concerts, and whatever else sets our suggestible little hearts a-racing.
It’s not easy, if you live in Britain right now, to ignore all that, but I had planned to until I realized how gloriously parts of it could go wrong.
Let’s start with Wincanton, in Somerset, which is holding the Wincanton Town Festival. That comes with a logo showing a be-jeweled crown on a purple background with, as Dorset Live puts it, “a diamond-encrusted WTF welded to the top.”
You know the acronym WTF: Wincanton Town Festival.
If you want to attend a WTF Jubilee (even I will give that a capital letter) garden party, it’s on June 3 so you’ll have to either hurry or time travel, but I’m sure you’ll be welcome.
Nothing could be more British. Just try to keep a straight face.
English Heritage, which manages the Stonehenge site, is celebrating by projecting color images of the queen onto the stones. The effect is–
The word bizarre doesn’t begin to capture it. There stand these rough, prehistoric stones, in all their timeless majesty, and they’re being used as a screen to show photos of an old woman dressed in the colors of toy Easter chicks.
I’m not disparaging her for being an old woman, mind you. I’m not what you’d call young myself. But you won’t find me on an ancient monument dressed like an Easter chick.
But English Heritage is proud of their decision, and since nothing that happens really happens unless it’s on social media, they tweeted a photo, with the predictable results. And just to prove I don’t make this stuff up (who could?), here’s the tweet.
A few of my favorite comments are:
“Pointless, outdated, ancient monument to a bygone era. Projected onto Stonehenge.”
“Things Stonehenge and the Monarchy have in common? How the fuck did this get here?”
“Something ancient and now pointless that we keep under the guise of tourism, projected onto stone henge”
But we’re not done yet. Boris Johnson–he’s our prime minister when he finds time between parties–wants to celebrate by bringing back imperial measures. Or at least letting shops use them if they’re in the mood.
Oh, c’mon, you know what imperial measures are. Generations of schoolkids sacrificed (cumulatively speaking) months of their lives memorizing that a foot is 12 inches long, a yard is 3 feet, and a mile is 1760 yards. Also that a cup holds 10 ounces if you’re in Britain but 8 if you’re in the US, and that a quart holds 4 cups while a gallon hold 4 quarts. In either country, although the cups won’t be the same size, so why should anything that follows from them?
Mind you, those ounces that make up the cup aren’t the same ounces that go into a pound. They’re liquid ounces and a pound is a measure of weight, so it uses different ounces. Unless that pound is measuring money, which it does as a second job. It doesn’t use ounces for that at all–it drops them off at home when it stops in for a quick bite to eat.
In case all that business with 4 cups and 4 quarts made you think the number 4 is magical when you work with liquid measures, a pint holds two cups. You can’t rely on anything.
We won’t get into hogsheads and firkins and bushels and furlongs, but oh, we could, my friends, and we’d have such fun. Still, it would be irresponsible to move on without telling you that a hundredweight is made up of 112 pounds and a pennyweight is 12 grains.
So you can see why imperial measures are simpler, more logical, easier to understand, and all-around better than the metric system: They keep out the riff-raff and the numerically challenged.
But silly as it may seem, Johnson’s proposal’s done wonders for my stats. An old post on Britain’s halfhearted adoption of the metric system and on the old system(s) of measuring has attracted some ridiculous number of hits lately.
That’s ridiculous given the scale I work on. We’re talking about hundreds, not thousands. If you want to read about rods and furlongs and apple gallons and Cornish miles, it’s all there. And if you think the past was a simpler place, I recommend it.
What else happens dring the jubilee? Why, the queen’s jubilee-themed tree-planting program. This encourages people to plant a tree for the jubilee, which not only rhymes (if it hadn’t, what would they have come up with?) but is promoted as a way to reforest the country.
It’s been busted for having sponsors with links to deforestation. But in other countries. Ones with more forest. And less power. So that’s okay.
According to a campaign group, the program’s platinum sponsors include McDonald’s, with beef linked to the deforestation of the Amazon, and the bank NatWest, with links to deforestation in Uruguay. And so forth.
Everyone involved says they have no links to deforestation or are committed to doing better or have planted a tree at midnight in a neighbor’s yard and we should all go mind our own business, thank you very much, so we’ll move on.
Because that’s not all the queen’s doing. She’s giving Britain eight new cities.
No, not like that. She doesn’t build them herself. What she does is wave her magic feather over someplace that already exists and declare that what used to be a town is now a city. This doesn’t make it any larger, although some research suggests that it may make it richer, since (and I’m quoting the BBC here, which doesn’t explain the mix of singular and plural but does give me someone to blame it on) “it put them on the international map as a place to do business.” Presumably, businesses ask Lord Google about a place, find out it’s a city, and get so excited they’d push little old ladies out of the way in their rush to do business there. Even little old ladies dressed like Easter chicks.
Listen, don’t ask me. I’m not the one making the argument. The survey seems to be based on a sample of one, the former town/now a city of Perth (it’s in Scotland), which for all we know grew richer for other reasons. But never mind, we can’t rule out the queen’s magic feather.
I should mention, in case you don’t already know this, that in Britain a town doesn’t become a city by democratic consensus–you know, by people noticing how big it is and calling it a city. It happens by decree and has precious little to do with size. The smallest British city has 1,600 residents. For all I know, the queen could make herself a city. Or make you one. You wouldn’t be any larger, and neither would she.
But speaking of democracy…
…jackdaws decide when to leave the roost in the most democratic possible way. Each bird literally has a voice.
In the winter, jackdaws roost together overnight, and in the morning they take to the air in a mass. When a bird thinks it’s time to leave, it calls out, and each call is a vote. The noise level and the speed at which it increases both influence the flock’s decision to take off.
As many as 40,000 of them can roost–and lift off–together. They don’t care if you call it a city or not.
Will everyone who isn’t Banksy please stand up?
We’re still talking politics here. William Gannon, a town councillor in Pembroke Dock, Wales, resigned in an attempt to squish a rumor that he’s the anonymous street artist Banksy. The rumor, he believes, was started by someone who wants his seat on the town council and, he said, it was “undermining my ability to do the work. . . . [People were] asking me to prove who I am not and that’s almost impossible to do.”
Gannon is an artist and does make street art, which his website describes as “Banksy-esque, not intentionally,” but that’s not the same thing as him being Banksy, and to prove that he’s handing out buttons saying “I am NOT Banksy.” He wears one himself, but then, as many people have pointed out, that’s exactly the sort of thing Banksy would do.
You can’t win this game.
And in unrelated clashes with the law…
…a pair of herring gulls have nested on a police car in Dorset and can’t be moved off because they’re members of a protected species. The car’s out of use until the chicks fledge. In the meantime, the adult birds are helping the police with their inquiries.
This one stayed out of court, but…
…the Star Inn at Vogue, which is in Vogue, Cornwall and known locally as the Vogue, was threatened with a lawsuit by the owners of Vogue magazine for using its name. The pub owners found that hilarious and wrote back to say the pub had been in place, under that name, for hundreds of years.
“I presume,” Mark Graham wrote, “that at the time when you chose the name Vogue in the capitalised version you didn’t seek permission from the villagers of the real Vogue. I also presume that Madonna did not seek your permission to use the word Vogue (again the capitalised version) for her 1990s song of the same name.”
The magazine wrote back with an apology, which is now framed and on display.
And finally, leaving the UK behind
A year ago, a two-day promotion by a restaurant chain in Taiwan offered free sushi–on an all-you-can-eat basis–to anyone with the Chinese characters for salmon in their name, and also to the people they brought with them. That led 331 people to change their names. It doesn’t cost much, at least when compared to the price of a tableful of sushi. So the country suddenly acquired a bunch of people named things like Salmon Dream and Dancing Salmon. Some of them built a social media following on that basis. (There’s no explaining social media.) Others started small (and short-lived) businesses, charging people to go out for sushi with them.
It was called Salmon chaos, and the government was not amused by the administrative cost of it all.
Most people changed their names back as soon as the promotion ended, but a few got trapped, because the government only allows a person to change their name three times. Last I heard, the government was debating a change in the law, but in the meantime a few salmon were still trapped as salmon.