Category: Britain

Things I don’t like about Britain

By , 19 June 2009 5:25 pm

In last week’s blog I accentuated the positive and praised our noble isle; it is now time for me to be negative. However I find myself with a real problem. This morning in Iran, the supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused Britain of being particularly ‘evil’. (For some reason the United States of America escaped his wrath: perhaps under Obama you are no longer the Great Satan.) After a great deal of soul-searching I have decided to take the risk of providing the Ayatollah further proof of his case. (Actually your Grace/Highness/Ayatollahness, I really don’t mind you quoting me in your next rhetorical blast before ten thousand students: it wouldn’t half do wonders for the book sales.)

Anyway here goes:

  • The way that, although the British do political correctness as well as anybody else we still, deep down, believe that we are number one nation. The result is a degree of smugness and barely suppressed superiority. This leads to many other problems:
    • Our astonishing reluctance to learn any other language.
    • The general assumption that the only way to do things is our way and the sooner that the French, Chinese or Indians actually catch up with us the better they will be.
    • A quietly patronising view towards such people as Americans and frankly everybody else. We don’t like to publicly call them inferior but well……
  • A viewpoint that tends to think that cutting and hurtful sarcasm is the ultimate pinnacle of humour.
  • An attitude which greets any and every occurrence of patriotism, morality or self-sacrifice with a sneer.
  • The way we take our landscape and culture for granted and are only slightly and momentarily upset when they get trashed.
  • The appalling and overpriced British railway system.
  • The increasing prevalence of drunken behaviour. I suspect we always did have a considerable number of drunks but what seems to be abnormal is the astonishingly early hour of the day in which drunkenness can now occur and the fact that people now seem to be proud to be paralytic. By the way, a drunk in a British train is a horror squared.
  • The increasingly prevalent view that anyone who is in any way religious must be slightly damaged in the area of intelligence.
  • A ridiculous mawkish tendency to burst into tears when it comes to fluffy animals and dead princesses. It is not actually the emotion here that is to be blamed but the inconsistency. We don’t bat an eyelid about creating a shopping complex that wipes out an entire family of badgers because we have destroyed their habitat, but we get terribly upset when someone runs one over. And as for the dead princesses, well we probably hounded them to their grave.
  • The weather. I object to a continuous nine months of cold grey cloud and rain interspersed with brief moments of sunlight.
  • The utterly inconsistent British view of sex. The powers that be lament our appalling rates of teenage pregnancy and abortion while our popular media insist that the only way to have fun is to be horizontal with someone else.
  • The prevalence of the belief that someone who sits in an office doing nothing more than moving bits of paper around enriching one part of the world at the expense of another is somehow vastly superior to a man or woman who actually makes things for sale.
  • The ridiculous and frankly catastrophic view that you buy a house (or preferably several houses) as an investment. On this basis house prices going up is a good thing because it increases your investment; the fact that it harms society by creating a vast body of people who cannot ever afford to buy houses is conveniently overlooked.
  • The dreadful price of things in this country. This is largely due to the previous two ills. Because we have legitimised greed as honourable and because house prices are so expensive we all need to make as much money as we can. The only way of doing that is by such things as charging three pounds/ five dollars for a cup of coffee that tastes like mud.
  • I have a personal aversion to various products from United Kingdom that I think the world would be much better without: these include Benny Hill, Big Brother, most football stars and Jeremy Clarkson. The only saving grace of all of them is that they have contributed to the gross national product.
  • A view of history which attempts to explain many of the fine things about British culture (see last week for examples) as being somehow due to ‘Britishness’ (err, isn’t this racism?), rather than our nation’s long traditions of Christian ethics.

Well if you live somewhere other than in Britain in Britain and a stranger with a suitcase knocks on your door this week don’t be surprised. It’s me seeking political asylum. But as a concluding aside: why is it so much easier to say negative things about your country than positive ones?

What I like about Britain

By , 12 June 2009 6:30 pm

Much to everybody’s surprise the Prime Minister appears to have got off the hook despite pretty appalling European election results. The reality is that his party is in such trouble that no one particularly wants to take over given that they have to hold a general election within ten months or so.

Anyway by way of a change I thought I would run two-parter on a) What I like about Britain and b) What I don’t. Feel free to join in. What I like, in no particular order, are the following aspects of Britain.

  • No matter where you live in the UK you don’t really need air conditioning.
  • The fact that we are in hopeless confusion about what we called: Great Britain/British Isles/United Kingdom and whether we are British/English/Welsh/Scottish or whatever the Northern Irish call themselves.
  • We use a language which has a remarkable property of allowing sentences be comprehensible even when the words are put in all the wrong places.
  • We haven’t had a proper massacre on British soil for probably 400 years. (Some idea of how rare a proper massacre is can be seen when you look at the events of 16 August 1819 when cavalry with drawn sabres charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 which had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. The result was that 15 people were killed and the event became known to posterity as the ‘Peterloo Massacre’. I’ve known Lebanese family disputes with a higher death toll.)
  • Except when drunk (see next week) there is a tradition of agreeing to differ and a refusal to adopt a belligerent position. Typical English phrases include ‘I can see where you are coming from…’ and ‘Well, I suppose that’s a fair point but I would like to point out that…’
  • You have to work hard to get frostbite. (Although if you wear a swimming costume on a British beach on the average summer day something very similar seems to occur.)
  • There are no wild animals and our one poisonous snake species manages to kill two people a century or thereabouts.
  • To be an underachiever is absolutely normal. Indeed there is something wrong with your ambition if you do not want to be an underachiever. We are truly excellent at mediocrity.
  • BBC radio, BBC on the Internet and the BBC World Service. Not however the BBC television service.
  • The fact that we are now vaguely repentant and apologetic about having tried to conquer large parts of the world. We certainly have no idea of making another attempt.
  • The idea of the English pub in which over several hours people slowly drink a brown moderately alcoholic drink and politely discuss what’s wrong with the world. (Note that I said the idea: the reality is now often very different but that’s for next week.)
  • The fact that no one ever visits Britain and says (as they do in Belgium and Finland), ‘Say, did anybody famous ever come from here?’
  • The fact that the monarch is not a political appointee.
  • A national church which dogmatically holds only one belief: that it is wrong to hold dogmatic beliefs.
  • The fact that British police are generally unlikely to shoot you and when they do they are fearfully apologetic.
  • The way that we persistently and rather endearingly hold onto the belief (against all the evidence) that we really are good at some things such as comedy, car making, playing football and acting as a good moral influence on the United States and/or France.
  • We have some jolly fine museums mostly filled with splendid bits that we looted from all over the world when we were top dog.
  • The way we rejoice in our defeats (Dunkirk) and rarely get jingoistic about our triumphs.
  • Our penchant for finding the real world so distasteful that we must seek refuge in fantasy.
  • A widespread refusal to complain as in ‘Mustn’t grumble, must we?’ (This of course has the unfortunate repercussion that all manner of substandard things can persist in Britain because no one does protest about them. Just try the railways.)
  • Being nice to animals. (I was in the British Museum last weekend where there are some splendid Assyrian wall panels; listening to the bystanders it was clear that no one objected to the scenes of torture and humiliation of human beings but everyone was outraged at the scenes of lions being killed.)
  • We lead the world in fine funerals. Few people want to live as a Brit but most aspire to die like one.
  • The widespread view (unfortunately not held by newspaper proprietors from Australia) that it is unsporting to interfere with the press.

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