Monthly Archives: May 2010

British election update

No news! This is the slowest election coverage I’ve ever tried to watch! And they keep bringing up some poorly dressed person on the screen to read the detailed numbers for each district, “George Schnapps, Conservative candidate for Swyndholm and Leevers, 19,267 votes.” Really, just announce who won. And the thing where, during this announcement process, the candidates all stand on the stage wearing State Fair produce ribbons on their chests?

Apparently George Schnapps, the Conservative candidate for Swyndholm and Leevers, is also the 5th best cucumber presenting at the State Fair.

I went to an election results party, stupidly, at 10 pm. It was fun for a while. I asked many stupid questions of the locals. I gave up at nearly midnight. It was clear that this was an investment and that my having to actually work tomorrow (albeit in the afternoon most importantly, thus my being awake at this point just past midnight) meant that I could not afford to sit there until 3 am or later. I’m following it now, past midnight, but I’ll give up soon.

I admit, I love that this election campaign only took a month, I still managed to get tired of it but not nearly like an American election. I admit that. The result here is so close that anything could happen, and we know how well that works from history–it is usually a mess. I faced a number of jokes about ‘hanging chads’ even though I am not from Florida, and when I’ve voted the results were always computer-counted. So the voting methods here, involving paper ballots and actual counting of votes by people, seems quaint. But interesting.

A Florida-like outcome is likely, since there was a large turn-out and a number of people were turned away from voting. Lawsuits have already been mentioned. It all sounds very American. And no party appears likely to gain a majority, so things will be contentious for weeks or even months. The precedent has been set. And I’m going to bed with only a handful of seats decided and no clear outcome but a “hung parliament” likely. Things are interesting in Britain right now. The election and the economy are a mess. So goodnight.

British jobs?

More than once, in response to Gordon Brown’s comments about “British jobs for British workers” I’ve heard someone snarkily comment “exactly what IS a British job?” I came up with a few ideas of jobs for which I could not come up with a non-British direct equivalent , and I’d love it if readers came up with more. Anything left in the comments will be added to the updated post and attributed to the commenter (with blog links, etc.)

Not from around here’s list of uniquely British jobs:

  • Office tea cart lady
  • Contractor specializing in repair of Grade 2 listed buildings
  • NHS death panel member
  • A-level test administrator
  • Bedmaker/scout
  • League table compiler (pick any one, schools, universities, investment bankers)
  • Red-top tabloid writer
  • Page 3 girl casting agent
  • Shipping forecast radio reporter
  • Fascinator maker

There must be more … What are your suggestions?

Missing words on British signs

I was walking to work yesterday (sob!) when I noticed the following two signs in the same block:

“Hotel name not responsible for damage done to bicycles left against this gate”

“Apologise for inconvenience caused during these necessary repairs”

These are merely representative of something that I’ve noticed in the last few months. It’s not just me, right? There are words missing from these signs.

“Hotel name IS not responsible for damage done to bicycles left against this gate”

WE Apologise for inconvenience caused during these necessary repairs”

(Or anyone, really, it doesn’t have to be “we” just some subject.) So it’s a missing verb in one case, a missing subject in the other. Is this like the utterance (that I still can’t parse) “Big Issue, Big Issue Please” Missing a verb, maybe an article? “Big Issue, buy a Big Issue Please” ? or from the same post, “Can I help?” Or my other favorite, “Sale continues in store.” (Instore may be one word instead of two.) I’ll never know what the missing words are or why. But in the two cases that start out this post, in signs of those length, it’s hard to argue that they just dropped a two letter word for the purposes of space…

Life in Britain on a British Bank Holiday

6 am. Wake up. Know that it’s a British bank holiday but you have to work because, well, you just do. Have the sudden sinking feeling in your gut that you have to finish a presentation to give to a room to 70 people today (thus the working on the bank holiday) and spring from bed. Have a quick bath (this is England, you don’t have a shower) and sit at the computer from 7:something.

8:something am. Realize, as you are finishing your presentation slides, that you are supposed to hand out print copies of your slides to the assembled masses. Assume that if you have to work, and they all have to work, there must be someone manning the printing/reprographics staff office today.

9:something am. Finish presentation slides. Send them off to be photocopied. Feel pretty jubilant, as the speech is not until 2:something p.m.

10 am. Walk to the office after snagging a piece of toast.

10:something am. Realize that there is no one in the printing office and you are hosed.

11 am. Panicked phone call with boss, who points you to a printer/photocopier solution for 18 pages (9 double-sided) x 70 copies. Start the process.

12 noon. Unrelated meeting for an hour. Yes, another work thing scheduled for the bank holiday.

1 pm. Go from meeting to pick up 70 copies only to find that about 15 have been made.

1-1:30 pm. Stand in front of copier watching copies be made.

2 pm. deliver one hour lecture.

3 pm. Buy a Snickers bar and some Walkers crisps from a vending machine on way to 3 pm appointment. Arrive at appointment to find people waiting, beg for 2 minutes to snarf down vending machine snacks.

5 pm. Finish 3 pm appointment. Have one hour until 6 pm appointment (last of the day, fortunately).

6 pm. Nothing.

6:30 pm. 6 pm appointment people arrive. Conduct appointment for one hour with stomach starting to audibly complain.

7:30 pm. Obtain request for conference call with US. Oblige.

9 pm. Work done, although prep for tomorrow’s 8:30 am meeting not ready. Head to grocery store to try and find dinner.

9:01 pm. Grocery store closed. It’s a bank holiday.

9:02 pm. Head home and make sad mac-and-cheese type thing from fake sausages in the fridge with noodles and Sainsbury’s instant cheese sauce (just add boiling water!) Top with parmesan and stick in the oven.

10:something pm. Eat sad food. Go to bed. Contemplate ridiculousness of bank holiday. Fall asleep before any conclusions are reached.

On the election and things

I was happy not to have been living in America during the last presidential election, because it was so long and so relentlessly covered in the media. And apparently this is also true here in Britain. I’ve been suffering through the all-election-all-the-time month, leading up to the vote this coming week, and man am I tired of it. And not because it isn’t interesting. No one actually knows what is going to happen. But I’ll be happy when this week is over and we can go back to talking about something–anything–else.

It’s actually been a while since I’ve talked much about US-UK things, with all the China posts and things, so I’ve got a bunch of miscellany saved up. Here we go.

The New York Times featured a story on expats renouncing their citizenship because of the double taxation thing. Slate pointed out some flaws in the numbers, but that doesn’t change the basic idea. The fact that such a story could be plausible is deeply telling. It is dumb that we (Americans living abroad) get taxed in the US as well as in our country of residence. And it’s dumb that we can vote in the US (where we don’t live or pay taxes) and not in our country of residence (where we live and pay taxes). There’s a twitter hashtag now for “ThamesTeaParty” and a group of expats planning to meet up on Monday (Bank Holiday) to protest. I actually have to work and can’t go, but I love the idea. The model of citizenship and residency that we have pre-dates globalization, and this sort of problem is just going to keep on getting worse by affecting more people.

Meanwhile, I saw a hilarious tweet this week about how Americans were only upset about illegal immigration while the Brits were upset about legal immigration. And it’s true, as many commenters have pointed out, immigration was the one issue that came up in all three of the historic British electoral debates that have taken place in the last few weeks, and that’s interesting given that the debates were supposed to have different themes. I find it very strange and uncomfortable living in a place where a large fraction of the population thinks that the island should have impenetrable borders and no migration. Of course, I also find it very strange living in a country where the welfare system is so generous that people can exist who have never had a job in their life. I think that’s why this Gordon Brown rhetoric of British jobs for British workers is so asinine. For an interesting read on what Labour has and has not accomplished in the last 13 years, I recommend this at the Economist, which had this to say:

Another grave failure has been in welfare. When Labour took over, more than 5m working-age adults subsisted on state benefits. That scandalous figure has barely shifted. (The vast majority of the jobs created in Britain since 1997 have gone to foreign-born workers.) For all Mr Brown’s tinkering with the benefits system, a serious push to reform its misaligned incentives began only recently.

Don’t forget the total population of the country is about 60 million, of which about 40 million are working age. So 12.5% (5 million of 40 million) working age people are living on welfare? On the other hand hand, no wonder people are so antsy about immigration if job creation is being funneled directly to newcomers. Of course, we foreigners are here working hard and paying taxes to keep a huge number of British people on British benefits. Economics and politics are such funny things sometimes.

I had forgotten that BP stands for British Petroleum. So that big pile of oil that is continuing to leak into American waters and causing people to worry about fisheries and wildlife and all sorts of things is actually a British problem. I kind of chuckled when I saw this quote:

“They don’t learn their lessons, they are the most arrogant bunch of bastards I’ve ever dealt with,” said lawyer Brent Coon. “It’s like they just don’t care. At some point, we are going to have to put some of these executives in jail and withdraw their right to exploit our natural resources.”

It never ends, this bickering between the US and the UK. You would think the whole war of independence being almost 250 years ago would stop the “take your toys and go home” requests, but apparently not.

I don’t know quite how I stumbled on this ten year old Guardian piece but it made me laugh. The whole thing. The formal letters back and forth. The fact that it was an argument about supermarkets and whether or not they are inherently evil. The part where it talked about how bad life was before supermarkets (especially ironic given that the nice big stores are still only allowed to be open for 6 hours on Sundays and as such the panic at 4:30 pm in my local Sainsbury’s on a Sunday results in queues that look like those of Soviet Russia).