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The English

Something gun salute

The boys are letting off the big guns in the park again. Not really quite sure what it\’s all about so I had a quick look at the "on this day in history" part of my diary.

"Britain declared war on France in 1778."

Worth celebrating, certainly.


Posh pubs

So, my flatmate says, try out the posh pub around the corner.

So I did.

Apparently a posh pub is one where the clientele are fat birds with pearls. With expensive beer.

Not really my kind of thing.

Ho hum.

Minor point

and from an NHS that swallowed the GDP of a small country

That got me thinking. Just what country should we compare the NHS to?

Equaiting spending on the NHS to GDP isn\’t really quite right. For GDP is value added, not value consumed (yes, of course, the NHS does produce things of value, but not necessarily to the same amount as what we spend upon it. Everyone, but everyone agrees on that point. Even those who love the NHS…for they say that it\’s the most just, fair, efficient etc etc system possible, so it produces more value than what it consumes. Others of course think it produces less. ). But leave that aside.

NHS spending is some £110 billion a I think? Roughly speaking? Call it $165 billion (at a 1:1.5 exchange rate)?


Err, that\’s Hungary. Or Israel. OK, both small countries so fair enough.

It\’s also more than Venezuela or Nigeria….both big countries I think?

Or ten Albanias. Or, if you really want to boggle, 43 Congos.

That\’s actually a pretty good measure of wealth and poverty actually. We 60 million odd Brits spend more on our health each year than 43 times what the roughly 60 million people of the Congo produce in total each year.

Lady Antonia Fraser

In a final interview conducted in at his North London home in late October, and published just a day after his death was announced, he reveals his passion for cricket.

He once famously described the game the "greatest thing that God created on earth" which was better than sex.

A nice present to leave your widow, eh?

Otis Ferry

Contrary to popular belief, prison life is not tough, and in this namby-pamby society we even get our own televisions, although I have quickly realised that watching it is quite a punishment in itself.

As Evelyn Waugh pointed out in Decline and Fall, after a British public school prison holds no terrors.

Mr. Ferry was educated at Marlborough and Eton.


A total of 30 million Brits have foreign ancestors, with 23 per cent originating from Ireland.

Given that Homo Sapiens originated in Africa it would be true to say that 100% of Britons have immigrant ancestors.


As Always

A woman was told to remove her Christmas lights by a housing association worker in case they offended non-Christian neighbours.

Turns out that the council doesn\’t mind, the non-Christian neighbours are all in favour of them and the only person who was even vaguely worried about them was the housing association worker.

A few too many courses on racial awareness perhaps?

xx gun salute

So we\’ve got the guns firing off in the park with a salute about the opening of Parliament.

I\’ve sort of lost count but it\’s at about 29 or 30 at the moment.

I thought the tippy toppy level was a 21 gun salute?

Dear Lord

Town hall staff have been banned from using the phrase \’singing from the same hymn sheet\’ because it could upset atheists.

Oddly, I\’ve just been reading one of Douglas Adams\’ essays, where he describes himself as a militant atheist. He also addresses the question of his use of religious imagery ("some bloke got nailed to a tree two thousand years ago" for example).

The point is that such images, certain phrases ("giving up the ghost" comes from the King James translation of Genesis) are in the very bones of the language and the culture. Any writer is going to use these as they reverberate, come laden with resonances.

I\’m sure we could find all sorts of bits and pieces from Polly T\’s columns where she uses such phrases and she\’s the President (or High Punkah Wallah, whatever title they use) of the National Secular Society. Dawkins I\’m sure also uses them.

This is inevitable as there are really only two works which created the English language. Yes, it\’s a delightful mongrel tongue, taking words from everywhere, but it\’s Shakespeare and the King James Bible that helped to codify it. In a way, the KJB is one of the founding documents of the written language and thus there are religious overtones to many well known phrases.

Something which a "militant atheist" like Adams was well aware of, indeed revelled in.


Women, eh?

The world\’s greatest pub crawl, 14,000 pubs and counting, and look what happens:

He said there have been up to twenty drinkers in their team but most have fallen by the wayside after getting married.

Why is British food so terrible?

Michelle Hanson and Jamie Oliver rather want to know.

The best explanation I\’ve ever come across was Paul Krugman\’s:

Maybe the first question is how English cooking got to be so bad in the first place. A good guess is that the country\’s early industrialization and urbanization was the culprit. Millions of people moved rapidly off the land and away from access to traditional ingredients. Worse, they did so at a time when the technology of urban food supply was still primitive: Victorian London already had well over a million people, but most of its food came in by horse- drawn barge. And so ordinary people, and even the middle classes, were forced into a cuisine based on canned goods (mushy peas!), preserved meats (hence those pies), and root vegetables that didn\’t need refrigeration (e.g. potatoes, which explain the chips). But why did the food stay so bad after refrigerated railroad cars and ships, frozen foods (better than canned, anyway), and eventually air-freight deliveries of fresh fish and vegetables had become available? Now we\’re talking about economics–and about the limits of conventional economic theory. For the answer is surely that by the time it became possible for urban Britons to eat decently, they no longer knew the difference. The appreciation of good food is, quite literally, an acquired taste–but because your typical Englishman, circa, say, 1975, had never had a really good meal, he didn\’t demand one. And because consumers didn\’t demand good food, they didn\’t get it. Even then there were surely some people who would have liked better, just not enough to provide a critical mass. And then things changed. Partly this may have been the result of immigration. (Although earlier waves of immigrants simply adapted to English standards–I remember visiting one fairly expensive London Italian restaurant in 1983 that advised diners to call in advance if they wanted their pasta freshly cooked.) Growing affluence and the overseas vacations it made possible may have been more important–how can you keep them eating bangers once they\’ve had foie gras? But at a certain point the process became self-reinforcing: Enough people knew what good food tasted like that stores and restaurants began providing it–and that allowed even more people to acquire civilized taste buds.

May or may not be true but I\’ve yet to see a better explanation.


Monolingual Brits

Well, yes:

I know what many will say: what\’s the use of learning another language when English has become a lingua franca? The knowledge of other languages, dear monolingual friends, is quite simply essential: life-enhancing, mind-blowing, even life-saving. It will make you richer; get you the girls or the lads of your dreams; spare you huge embarrassments; help you get out of tricky situations; and, most importantly of all, help you avoid being a laughing stock.

But then so will the study of economics make you rich, get you laid and enhance your life. With the added extra that it will also aid you in understanding when the politicians in your life try to rip you off.