Category Archives: eclectic shocks

Britannia ruled the waves

How many people does it take to arrange a picnic on a beach?

300, apparently, if the beach is in the Western Isles of Scotland, if the people having the picnic were the Royal Family, and if they got there using the Royal Yacht Britannia.

I was brought up by royalists; my great grandmother wouldn’t let taxis take her down the Cromwell Road. But logic and atheism pull me towards republicanism these days, more-so now than ever after visiting HMY Britannia yesterday. I should have taken photographs, sorry about that.

Bedrooms and bunk beds

The strongest images I took away were of the stark comparisons between the bedrooms of the Queen and Prince Philip, looking like rooms in a rather old fashioned country house hotel, but palatial compared with the grey below-decks quarters of the “yoties”, folding bunks stacked three high in dormitories sleeping dozen or so men who had no more than a locker each for their possessions…. well it made me feel very republican, so it did.  And apparently they slept in hammocks up until 1973.

The Queen's bedroom on HMY Britannia - © Copyright Alan Findlay and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Queen’s bedroom on HMY Britannia – © Copyright Alan Findlay and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

That said, yachtsmen volunteered. they were members of the navy or the marines, and some served for up to 20 years on Britannia, one for 34 years, so no-one was coerced. But even so.

There were rules to ease social awkwardness

The crew were to be as unobtrusive as possible, and if a Yachtsman did encounter a member of the Royal Family, he had to stand still and look straight ahead until they had passed. – Britannia: Life below decks

This was common in aristocratic households where servants were required to turn to face the wall if they were seen by a member of the Family. It serves to enforce the hierarchy of course, but it also saves all that awkward social interaction too, preserving the illusion of privacy.

Quite extraordinary.

The argument was that Britannia acted as a floating embassy.

State rooms in the Royal Yacht Britannia © Copyright Alan Findlay and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

State rooms in the Royal Yacht Britannia © Copyright Alan Findlay and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

But it only needed the state rooms for that, not the Royal Family’s bed rooms, sitting rooms, sun lounge and private sun deck.

Whose money?

Britannia was paid for out of the defence budget, and when members of the Royal Family were aboard it was accompanied by ships of the line. While Blair’s act in pulling the financial plug can be read as spiteful, it was rational and it wasn’t petty. Britannia cost £11m a year to run, and a new ship would have been hundreds of millions to build. I’ve no objection to the Royal Family paying for their own floating palace, I do object to them free-loading with the defense budget though.

What’s she for, exactly?

We are always told soothingly that the Queen is a constitutional monarch and has no real power, all she does is sign bills into law. In which case why does she need such fancy bedrooms, palaces and such? What is in those Red Boxes we are told she works so hard on every day? What the hell are we paying her for?

Maybe it’s because she does exercise real power. And this raises the real question: by what right does she exercise that power? Who elected her?

Paula and Peaches, Peaches and Paula


Paula Yates always irritated me.

She was just enough older than me for that to be annoying in its own right, and then there was the way that she always mentioned she was a size 6. Every. Single. Time. She. Wrote. An. Article.  And then she gave her daughters those ridiculous names: Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom, Little Pixie and Heavenly Hiraani, which almost seemed a form of child abuse in its own right.

Then it turned out she was Hughie Green’s daughter,  which creeped me out rather. And then the poor bitch died aged 41.

I may not be a size 6, but I am not dead. And so I felt sorry for her.

And now Peaches Honeyblossom has died aged 24, poor girl.

“I remember the day my mother died, and it’s still hard to talk about it,” Peaches told Elle in 2012.

“I just blocked it out. I went to school the next day because my father’s mentality was ‘keep calm and carry on’,” she said.

“So we all went to school and tried to act as if nothing had happened. But it had happened. I didn’t grieve. I didn’t cry at her funeral. I couldn’t express anything because I was just numb to it all. I didn’t start grieving for my mother properly until I was maybe 16.”

Katherine Whitehorn wrote that Exodus 20:5 is an observation, not a curse. It says:

I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation

And here we see it playing out once again.

Larkin of course summed it up perfectly, though one summer about ten years ago I flipped his famous poem around. His original is here. Here’s my version. Both seem sadly appropriate now.

They fuck you up, your darling kids.
They may not mean to, but it’s true
that by the time they’re on the skids
you find there’s sod all you can do.

And so it goes from bad to worse
they have the faults their parents had.
Nothing’s learned and that’s the curse
of little shades of mum and dad.

Man hands on misery to man,
and every effort comes to grief.
You do the very best you can
and then they kick you in the teeth.

Peaches Geldof's last Instagram

Peaches Geldof’s last Instagram

Poor women. Both of them. They should have died hereafter.

A tax on decency

These folk are collecting in Tescos South Queensferry this weekend and of course I bought tinned spuds, pasta sauce, UHT milk, tinned fruit and jelly as requested. But the regular donations page of their website is broken so the momentum built up by this weekend’s outreach cannot be turned into regular donations.

Besides which. What the actual fuck?

This is Cameron’s Big Society – it imposes a voluntary “decency tax”. This tax is paid only by those of us who think “there but for great good luck go I” and pay out in the hope that our tins of potatoes and suspended coffees will make any kind of a blind bit of difference, and in the sickening awareness that no, they really don’t.

I should not be giving tinned food to Foodbanks, I should be paying taxes which fund benefits that enable people to buy their own food.  I should not be buying suspended coffees, I should be paying taxes that fund housing benefits for the houses people actually live in, not the non-existent theoretical houses that don’t exist so they selfishly and fecklessly end up on the streets. No-one should be forced into the desperation that makes them beg for charity from strangers, they should be claiming the support that they are entitled to from any half decent society, and that society should give them the helping hand they need to get up and out of poverty.

And yes, I know the argument that benefits breed a culture of entitlement. But who is really displaying entitlement here? The person terminally ill with cancer who is “fit for work”? Or the trust-fund Tory who stashes their money offshore? The CEO paid tens of millions of pounds, building up enough wealth to keep their grandchildren in coke and botox all their trashy lives? Or the poor fools forced to work for them for free because it’s “experience” and “without experience they won’t get a job”? The Energy Company bosses making millions? Or the people freezing to death because they cannot afford heat and food?

People freeze to death in their homes. In a western country. Just because it is winter.  Which comes around once a year.

This is what the Tories do – they make taxation optional. Only pay to help others if you want.  If you don’t want, no problem. That’s fine.  Really.

Yeah, right.

But yes, I do want. So yes, I handed over the tinned spuds, pasta source, UHT milk, tinned fruit and jelly in the knowledge it’s a band-aid stuck down on top of gangrene.

But I really shouldn’t have had to.

The day we noticed the world had changed

This post is a response to my friend Ash Pryce’s post: Living History: a Look Back on 9/11

I remember 9/11 very well because I wasn’t working that day and I watched from about 15 minutes after it started to be shown on the UK news. So I watched the second plane go in and the towers go down.

One of my strongest memories is of being aware that no-one knew what was happening, no-one knew what would happen next, how many were killed (40,000 people worked in the twin towers, so the final figure of 3,000, published days later, seemed like a merciful escape). The tv pundits didn’t have any briefing notes, there weren’t any alliterative sound-bytes from Alistair Campbell. We were suddenly, disorientingly off-script. Anything could happen that morning.

I knew that the world had irrevocably changed. Of course it actually changed a while before: 9/11 was the symptom, the part of the plant above ground, the final signal that we could see. But I knew that the world was about to become darker, nastier, less predictable, less trustable, less secure and less safe. That it would never be the same again.

You are right, ten years is an interesting time-span. It’s long enough for children to turn into adults – five years doesn’t do that – but short enough for adults to feel it was just the other day. And as you point out, twelve years or more is a recognisably long period of time.

So, ten or twelve years on – yes, the Americans and their allies took war to Afghanistan, to Iraq and (hush, don’t mention it) to parts of Pakistan. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay radicalised young men who would otherwise have just spent their teenage years playing street cricket on waste-grounds in Bradford or Finsbury Park.

The other kicker though is the electronic supervision we all live with; with every connection observed, every interaction noted. Orwell, Gibson and Stephenson are overheard in a bar. This is inextricably mixed in with the Randian neo-conservatism that combines a vicious sense of personal entitlement and malign greed and a willful rejection of science and the vindication of a monotheistic faith. It’s an evil mix, and it is bringing about the downfall of the US with the rest of the West tumbling after.

So in the short term, by say 2006, not much had changed much. But the world we live in now, and the world it is shaping to be, is a fuller realisation of dystopian post-democratic, techno-totalitarianism that even I imagined, cynical and fearful as I am, cynical and fearful as I was twelve years ago.

Not by bread alone. Or at all, ideally.

I really do find some foods addictive.

These are foods that are “moreish” – if I start eating them, then I won’t stop until I am over-full. But if I don’t start, then they have as much relevance in my life as the contestants in The Voice – they’re out there somewhere, on tv stations I don’t watch and in magazines I don’t read, they’re a topic for other people’s conversations. But they might as well be tractor parts for all I notice or care.

So the good news is that if I eat ridiculous amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables during a day (and this is a delight at this time of year) then manufactured foods full of sugar, salt and fat relegate themselves to the category of “not food”. They mean nothing to me, oh Vienna. Or ‘oh Viennetta’ perhaps.

The flipside of course is if I do end up hungry and in a hurry, then the choices in this obesogenic world are all designed to bypass my cognitive functions and hit me straight in the serotonin receptors. And ye gods, but they do. Again and again and again. I only have the chance to say “no” to the first one. Which of course is why there are only two aisles of expensive fruit and veg in most supermarkets, and eight or twelve aisles of fat, sugar and salt (full of creamy mouth appeal) keeping the senior management of Unilever, Kraft and Nestle in bonuses.  Sometime in the nineties or noughties manufactured food became cheaper than the real thing.  And the food manufacturers now are as cynically vampiric as cigarette manufacturers.  And they know it.  And so, if we think about it, do we.

The problem of Stuff

My problem is not acquiring too many things. My problem is to do with getting rid of the things I already have.  As a result I am surrounded by Stuff which fails William Morris’s test that I either know it to be useful or believe it to be beautiful.  I keep stuff only because I find it too agitating to throw it away.

The one I share my hoard with bought a copy of this book the other day and we read it with separate feelings of awkwardness and unease.

My particular epiphany was that I feel an obligation to dispose of things responsibly.  I cannot blithely throw something away unless it is useless and biodegradable.  I have to reuse, reduce recycle, in every way I can.  

This is inhibiting.  Yesterday in an effort of self-liberation I threw away a perfectly reusable jiffy bag. (I have boxes of the buggers upstairs on a shelf, waiting for the moment I need them).  I don’t mind throwing away the bio-degradeable kraft paper outer, but the bubble-wrap inner makes me feel uneasy. Why can’t jiffy bags be filled with paper waste any more?  Note the tense of that sentence: it makes me feel uneasy now, even though I threw it away yesterday.  Yes, it was worse at the time, but the agitation remains. We should not fill landfill with plastic bubble-wrap.  We certainly should not fill our seas with things that we use once and which then bob around for hundreds of years, killing marine animals for generations to come.

Although this is not quite a compulsion for me, it’s more than a moral imperative which I can comfortably ignore.  Every time I went to a beach the last time we were on holiday, I ended up filling  bin bags with rubbish.  I am shocked and horrified by the amount of trash blowing in the wind.

But it’s not just about preferring recycling to landfill. It’s avoiding waste in the first place.  My Grandmother could Not Abide Waste. She and my Ma raised me, and both were adults during WWII and both had a pack-rat sense of scarcity. Both kept things “in case they were useful”, like the jiffy bag. And both would be horrified by the idea that two people can fill one wheelie bin in a week.

So the only way I can dispose of something in good working order is by making sure someone else gets to use it.  Freecycle saved my sanity the last time I moved house.   Before Freecycle I had a “jumble sale box”.  (I remember picking over it once to make sure any erotica I was giving to the Village Hall did not have my name in it. Small village, small world). I take things to Charity Shops, give them to friends, give them to volunteer groups and charities.  Plastic toys upset me hugely; why can’t they still be made of wood? I’ve had three bags of  toys in my shed for four months waiting for me to take them to a charity which cleans them and gives them to impoverished children.

I do feel a sense of relief having read the book. I stand by my logic (we should be far more careful with plastics, we shouldn’t waste landfill on things that still work), but I now know my agitation is unusual.  It’s helped me throw things away rather than keep them, like the jiffy bag, and it is energising my attempt to find new owners for the things that are too good to bin.

The next thing is to strengthen my resolve to get rid of family things and things I’ve been given.  Not sapphires.  I am keeping those.

Hiding disability

When you do a google images search for Stella McCartney and Team GB you find a dozen or so images which exclude our para-olympians for every one that includes them.

Stella McCartney TeamGB

Stella McCartney TeamGB

This upsets me for many reasons, the least of which is that I am neither fit nor sporty and I find athletes unnerving and rather frightening, but I find disabled athletes inspiring.

Hobnob’s choice

There is altogether too much choice in this world and it induces stress. Stress is bad. Limited choice is good. Let me show and tell.

The first thing to acknowledge is if you’ve made a choice and aren’t allowed to have it, then that induces far worse stress. But that’s limited freedom, not limited choice. What I am complaining about is being forced to make a choice when I don’t have, want or need to.

I am talking about:

  • Supermarkets that have 15 kinds of extra-virgin olive oil.
    • I just want to choose between olive, sunflower, vegetable and lard, thanks. Oh, fuckkit, I’ll go to Morrisons, ta.
  • Doctors making me choose between a dozen indistinguisable triptanes to treat migraine.
    • You’re the one with the medical degree, pal, you choose.
  • The restaurant that says “oh, you want a vegetarian meal, tell us what you’d like and the chef will make it”.
    • Yeah, but how do I know what veg you’ve got in fresh today?

Consumer choice

There is a difference between variety and product range. Variety is something new once in a while. A wide product range is a whole aisle of shampoo. That is one of the many reasons I like Aldi – they maintain a limited core product base and introduce wierd shit every now and again. (The other three reasons are antipasti for a quid, their chocolate brioche which is dangerous, and their tribute brands which deserve a post of their own).   The supermarket problem’s easy enough to deal with – I only go to Sainsburys for prescriptions, petrol and clothes. (I go to Tesco local instead, so there is no health in me. Oh, and the veg and cheese stalls in the market, so maybe there is a bit.)

The situation with professionals is harder because the government insists that the people want a fully informed choice. There are three words that are the problem, “choice”, “informed” and “fully”. How often do people suffer from nocebo side-effects? How much better to say “if anything changes that you don’t like, let me know”. You see, you pay a professional NOT to tell you stuff: you don’t pay for an hour of their time. You pay them to shut the fuckup about the 9,999 hours they have spent leading up to your appointment.


Let’s admit it: choice in our consumer society (or what used to be our consumer society) is a ritual. The purpose of the menu is to give you something to talk about in the embarrasing time before the wine kicks in. It’s not there to give you choice. If it were, then there’d be more than one vegetarian option for a start.  These days I let the one I’m with do the choosing for me while I sit back and look at the other diners and the wallpaper.  (Wallpaper in restaurants, now there’s a topic).

Choice is about giving us something to do while we wait for the waiter, or making us feel special when we are just another punter, or persuading us that we’ve had customer service.

So let’s hear it for smaller shops which you can nip in to and nip out of, advisors who give advice rather than explaining options, and doctors who prescribe and proscribe but don’t bloody well describe.

Lorem ipsum quantum ploncum

The tutor that I will be submitting my assignment to prefers data to be plural. 

Now, I am a linguistic liberal: I am not sure if there can ever be such thing as ‘correct’ usage and however you use the language is fine by me so long as I can observe it, I am a linguistic voyeur as well you see.  And on top of that, I’m a linguistic democrat, I tend to go with my peer group if only to improve my chances of being understood.

So, I follow the usage of most people, and regard data as basically indivisible, like fog or rice. Thus: ‘the data is interesting’. Ok, I admit I use media in the plural, but you can still say medium and not be a complete arse-hole.  

You see, I think that only someone whose datum is right up their rectum convolutes the English language like that and just such a datum-rectum-qantum-lorem-ipsum is teaching me this module and he has thrown a linguistic tantrum, and now so am I. How bloody dare he impose his linguistic quirks upon me? Just because he’s the teacher an’ has a doctorate an’ all.

I’m being oppressed by the patriarchy!

The question is, can I write a whole paper on research methods without using data as the subject of a verb?

I am quite tempted to say ‘the results we get datis’ and let him ablate on that.

Or ‘the implications datorum’.


I like that.

Decline on that genitive, datum boy!

Aphra, she say

Charlotte asked me to list ten things I know, and I missed it.  So, rather late, here goes:

  1. Everything’s a trade off – accept the loss as well as the gain
  2. Starbucks is for people who don’t actually like coffee
  3. Cravings do eventually fade
  4. All men are bastards, but that’s ok because all women are bitches.  Know that and be constantly delighted by goodness.
  5. The wiccan admonition to do what you will but do no harm has a sting in the tail.  Knowing what we do, it is impossible to live up to.
  6. A girl can never have too many sapphires.  
  7. There is no meal better than a russet apple and a piece of cheddar.  Good cheddar.
  8. Fois gras is very nearly worth it.  Very nearly, but not quite.  
  9. Lime curd is better than lemon curd, but harder to find.
  10. People with no sense of humour are in fact aliens.  We must be patient with them.  They’ve been cut off from the mother ship.

If you know stuff, post it and link back.