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. 


Tumble dryers and Twitter: It’s the nonpandemic news from Britain

A university student near Hull got stuck in a tumble dryer that she’d climbed into on a dare. 

Why yes, she and everyone within three miles of her had been drinking. What made you ask?

Her housemates called the fire department and three firefighters worked her loose. Before they left they checked the washing machine. Just in case. To save themselves another trip. 

I was hoping to say that this is what students do when they’re in lockdown, but I don’t know that the University of Hull was in lockdown. What I can tell you is that the university webpage about keeping students safe while they’re on campus doesn’t mention either laundry or laundry-related hardware–an oversight that I’m sure they’ll remedy as soon as I bring this to their attention. I’d have called by now but I wanted to let you know first. 

The student herself admitted that she’d never done her own laundry before. That doesn’t strike me as entirely relevant, since everyone who washes clothes once did it for the first time. The first time I ever took that daring step, I don’t remember being overcome by an impulse to climb into the dryer. Admittedly, my mother talked me through it: See, she told me, this is the water. These are the dirty clothes. What you want to do is introduce one to the other in the presence of this detergent that’s all stuck together because the basement’s a little damp. Just chop some out with this measuring cup, trying not to spray it all over the floor.

But even so, I don’t remember for one second wanting to measure the dryer for size. In fact, thousands upon thousands of people do their own laundry for the first time every year without climbing into the dryer. 

Maybe we’re all repressing the impulse. If you repress it well enough, you can’t be sure it was ever there.


Irrelevant photo: a hellebore.

As long as we’re in the Hull area and visiting with firefighters, a nearby crematorium got carried away with its work and set itself on fire. It took eight hours to put out the blaze, which started just before a service, so someone just missed their chance to go out in a blaze of glory.

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself. It’s a genetic problem.


A tour group in Iceland lost a tour member and, when she didn’t show up after an hour, hit the panic button and set off a search involving mountain search teams and the rest of the tour party. 

At 3 a.m., a member of the tour realized that she was the person she was looking for. She’d gone back to the bus and changed her clothes, so the 5’2” Asian woman in dark clothes was now a 5’2” Asian woman in some other kind of clothes. 

Cue many headlines about going to Iceland to find yourself.


Gay men invaded the Twitter hashtag of the Proud Boys, a far right group (or neofascist, if we’re calling a fascist a fascist this week) that was mentioned approvingly by Donald Trump before Trump himself was mentioned approvingly by the Covid virus. 

The invasion consists of gay male couples posing proudly–with each other, with their kids, with a Canadian Army uniform and a partner.  

The claim that the Proud Boys changed their name to Leathermen to get away from the invasion is, sadly, a spoof, but funny enough that I was happy to believe it until someone challenged me. If you’re not familiar with leathermen, Twitter will introduce you to a bunch of muscular gay men looking very kinky.