Monday, 4 July 2011

Entire and Whole and (Im)Perfect

Britain is a beautiful place. I will never stop loving it. When I'm away, in fact, I sometimes think I might want to live there again. But then I go back and I'm amazed anew by the way that its inhabitants seem to have fashioned things so as to make their own lives more difficult, more frustrating and more uncomfortable than they need to be. A perverse delight in doing the opposite of what is sensible and in thwarting those who are supposed to be served seems to have become a deeply ingrained element of British national life. Just a glance at the newspapers while I was there the other day produced a multitude of examples of the kinds of things I mean.

1) 'Households will be forced to put food scraps in slop buckets after councils refused to bring back weekly collections' - are councils the servants or the masters? I love our compost heap, but what are you supposed to do if you don't have a garden?
 2) Staff at a pet shop refused to allow a man to carry a fish on his bicycle, because of fears for its safety - would he have been likely to pay good money for a fish and then endanger it? What on earth made them feel they were better judges than he about fish transportation?
 3) Despite paying among the world's highest taxes, British citizens have not bought the right to carry fish on their bicycles or have their rubbish taken away as often as they wish.
 4) When a council does recognise its duty to its constituency and turns down a project, national government overturns the desire of the local people in order to pursue its own environmental agenda. Once again, as with the rubbish issue, voters' wishes are ignored.
 5) What annoys me here is not that the beaches are dirty - I don't believe they are. What annoys me is the culture of endless inspecting and testing and terrifying the populace with findings about health dangers.
 6) This is just absurd.
7) This would be good news, except that I think the war will not be won - and it reminds me of the existence of that terrible British phenomenon, the jobsworth.
 8) I have two opposing objections to this - a) I think the award itself is typical of the trivialisation of public life in Britain and b) I think the apology shows a craven fear of media reaction: Bruce probably only accepted the thing in a spirit of light-heartedness; now she has been panicked into grovelling about a bit of silly humour.
 9) This shocks me - it looks like evidence of police corruption, which was one thing I thought Britain lacked

10) This is maddening - it is the job of Mr Huhne and his ilk to stand up for their constituents; telling those people for whom he is supposed to work that they should engage in what will be a frustrating and, almost certainly, ultimately pointless fight is an abdication of his duty.
11) How can such mismanagement - particularly given the cost to taxpayers of the Games - be forgiven?
 12) More craziness and waste.
 13) Yet more topsy turvy nonsense.
 14) If it were an isolated incident it would be bad, but it is not unusual for such things to happen in UK hospitals.
 15) Insanity.
 16) More insanity.
 17) And yet more (although I've just realised this is Portland, Oregon, not Portland, Dorset, so I leave it hear as an example of madness, but not British madness).
 18) See Mr Huhne's advice above and understand how wrong he is.
 19) More bin muddle.
 20) Poor Britain - what has become of you? You were once so wise and brave.
 21) Sorry, this is just a personal dislike of mine, not a comment on a nation.
 22) This man is entirely right (apart from the bow tie); he is trying to run a clean hospital; he is made to look like the one in the wrong.
23) The recent exams fiasco made me feel so sorry for the children who were subjected to papers containing errors. They knew their university places depended on doing well; they looked at the questions and wondered if they'd lost their minds; they are too young to be introduced to feelings of panic and despair. Yet this kind of incompetence (see the ticket muddle above) is all too regular an occurrence in today's UK.
 24) Oh England, how did it come to this?
 25) One should be thankful this person was cleared, but however did things get to the point where such a charge could be brought?
 26) And what produces people like this (although I suppose depravity can happen anywhere)?
 27) And isn't this nuts as well?


  1. First, the reservoir incident happened in the United States, about a third of the way around the world from England.

    Second (and irrelevantly) the bicycle bit reminds me of the poster or tee shirt one used to see in the US: "A Woman Without a Man is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle."

  2. Yes, I just turned on the computer to correct the Oregon one, after reading coverage of the story in The Week and realising my dimness. I also had vague memories of that bit of graffiti (never saw it on a shirt) when I read that report. I still think it must have been really maddening to experience.

  3. All our newspapers in the UK like to toe a particular editorial line. We natives all know that the Daily Telegraph enjoys terrifying its mostly older, conservative, readership with shrill tales of bungling incompetence in local government, health and safety gone mad and a general feeling of the country having gone to the dogs. Just alternate the Telegraph with the Guardian and you will soon begin to realise that both newspapers represent things as being either very black or very white. The truth tends to lie, rather boringly, somewhere in the middle.

  4. Now I'm depressed. And I have to read these every day. I want cheerful news!

  5. Sophie - It is true what you say, although I don't imagine the Telegraph actually makes these things up (the bits of wood one looked very much on the feeble side of the spectrum though, I admit). Also, my experience of daily life in Britain has been that all too often you do come up against incompetence that ought not to be accepted with a shrug and also, far too regularly, restrictions put in place for no good reason other than pettiness and pleasure in thwarting. Annoyingly, I did have a couple from the Guardian even - and one from the Independent - but in my muddle of photographs I have not yet found them, which probably means I never will.
    Hello, Madame, I am sorry - would you like a birthday subscription to the Beano? Even it's a bit violent though.

  6. In my experience, you can very often call the bluff of most of the incompetents who stand in your way for no good reason. To my husband, a peaked cap or a high-visiblity tabard is like a red rag to a bull. I find myself cringeing as he cuts through the bluster and demands that these people either explain themselves fully or get out of the way. It mostly seems to work.

  7. Your husband sounds very like mine - I find myself full of cringeing admiration for his behaviour, but I thought his bravery was because he was full-blood Australian, whereas my Australian half is tempered by a meek mustn't grumble UK half.