Progress on Covid-19, volunteers and the NHS, extremists’ psychology and the misuse of words

28 February 2021

Boris Johnson’s biographer has had a good week.  Commissioned to write a book called “Truth-telling and Triumphs” ten years ago, there’s been nothing to write about and all that had been written so far was “As a child, Boris was abused spoilt worshipped indulged and, henceforth, he expected no more of life”.

Then suddenly, in late February 2021, Johnson stepped right out of character and didn’t promise the pandemic would all be over by Easter / the summer / Christmas / Easter / the summer;  nor did he even promise impossible dates while his medical advisers looked away and tried to pretend they weren’t with him.  Instead, he said that releasing the lockdown would be phased and, while they wouldn’t happen before particular dates, their timing would depend on the situation at the time.

Then Matt Hancock, the health secretary, praised and thanked the large numbers of volunteers (which, crucially to the government, means unpaid) who are helping roll-out the vaccination programme, and he went on to say they were hoping to keep this volunteer force active when the pandemic is over.  What a brill … hang on a minute, these are people who offered to help because the government has cut NHS funding so much in the last 10 years that it no longer has enough staff.

I’ve spent my life paying money national insurance, VAT and income tax so that the NHS, the benefits system and other public services are properly funded and we can all can use them for free.  Relying on volunteers is just another way for the government to avoid having to make up NHS funding, even just to what it was before they came to power.

However, the latest poll shows that support for the Conservatives has increased dramatically since Monday.  I wonder if Johnson will spot the link between his support falling after he was so weak this time last year and its bounce following his newly-found caution.

Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve a third new vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson* for emergency use and Joe Biden has confirmed that America has increased vaccination rates to £1.7m a day and is on track to deliver 100m shots within his first 100 days.  What a nice change from Dogsbottom’s failures**.

The Germans have created some new compound words to honour the pandemic, from coronamüde (tired of Covid-19) to balkonsänger (someone who stands on their balcony and sings at passers-by) but my favourite describes stockpiling lavatory paper and baked beans:  hamsteritis.  (While I was checking that the German for ‘hamster’ really is ‘Hamster’, I came across a wonderful example of how the word can be used in a German sentence that translates into English as “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries” – no, me neither.)

Our government has at last agreed to prioritise people on the learning disabilities register for vaccination, but only because Jo Whiley got a lot of press coverage for her sister’s genetic disorder.  What a pity it took somebody famous enough to get a lot of media coverage before they would act on what seems blindingly obvious to the rest of us.

Interestingly, researchers from the University of Cambridge have found that, in a sample of 330 US-based participants, people with extreme political, nationalist or dogmatic views tend to see the world in black and white and perform poorly on complex tasks that require intricate mental steps.

Dr Leor Zmigrod at Cambridge’s department of psychology said “Individuals or brains that struggle to process and plan complex action sequences may be more drawn to extreme ideologies, or authoritarian ideologies that simplify the world.”  Such people are prone to take simplistic views and are resistant to accept credible evidence that doesn’t support their world view, but this seems to be because they have a genuine problem with processing information, even at a perceptual level.

In some of the cognitive tasks, participants were asked to respond as quickly and as accurately as possible. People who leant towards (small c) conservativism tended to approach every task with caution and react more slowly, giving more detailed responses that meshed with their beliefs while those with less rigid beliefs produced less contextual answers faster. 

Because the “psychological signature” for extremism across the board appeared to indicate a blend of conservative and dogmatic psychologies, the researchers are hoping that these results may help identify people most at risk of radicalisation.

So, basically, extremists can’t help themselves but Shamima Begum has still been refused permission to return to the country of her birth, even though she was only 15 when she was radicalised.  Which of us never did anything when we were 15 that we might now wish we’d done differently?  Get the beam out of your own moat before you throw one in somebody else’s.

I mentioned recently that I’ve exchanged a couple of letters with a far-right climate-change denier in our local paper and apologised publicly for having teased him after he’d obviously thought I was serious about how the comparative volumes of frozen and liquid water could affect sea levels.  Last week, he claimed he’d realised I was taking the mickey (ho yerss) and, having completely missed the point of my first letter, said he was glad my heart seemed to be in the right place.  I don’t propose to respond – I’ve had my fun – but I wouldn’t want to meet him on a dark night.

In the same issue of the paper, there was an impressive example of how the omission of a comma can give a misleading impression.  One sentence read “She was the middle of three sisters born to Edwin Gove Trump* and his wife Ruby on May 7, 1918.”  How interesting, I thought, the sisters were triplets, it must have been quite rare for all three triplets to survive in 1918.  Then I read on and it became clear that the omission of a comma after “sisters” wasn’t intended to imply they were triplets.  It would of course have been even clearer if the first seven words had been moved to the end of the sentence …

I also came across an advertisement that said “Your debit card lets you spend up to 8x cheaper than a bank”, which has baffled me totally.  Even correcting “cheaper” to “more cheaply” didn’t help.  What does it mean?  I rather doubt it means you get stuff for one eighth of the price if you use their debit card.  All suggestions on what it’s trying to say will be welcomed.

And the oxymoron of the week was in a report on a man who was defecting from North to South Korea:  “He was apprehended after surveillance equipment spotted him near the town of Goseong at the eastern end of the DMZ, a 248km-long (155-mile) strip of land strewn with mines that has separated the two Koreas since the end of their 1950-53 war.”  Since when has a minefield been considered “demilitarised”?

But my favourite use of words this week was a picture of a woman wearing a sweatshirt printed with the words “Underestimate me – that’ll be fun”.

*          No relation (as far as I know)

**        Doesn’t Dogsbottom sound like one of Shakespeare’s yokels, or the name of an English village, just to the west of Loose Chippings?

On being ‘woke’, BLM, statues, history, birds, and Dolly Parton again

21 February 2021

I’m struggling with the description ‘woke’, and not just grammatically (using ‘woke’ as an adjective troubles me even though I realise it was originally a dialect or slang word used in African American communities).

I believe it originally meant something like ‘enlightened’ and was intended as a compliment to those who can put historical and educational conditioning and peer pressure on one side and deal with people as they are, but I’m not sure that people describe themselves as ‘woke’.  However, people on the right of the political spectrum seem to be using it as a way of dissing people who, either individually or in groups, are sensitive to societal prejudice and injustice;  and, in an attempt to distract attention from the government’s catastrophic mistakes in the last year, some Conservative MPs are trying to stir up a “war on the woke” campaign to defend things that seemed OK at the time but are now perceived rather differently.

It really took off last year when a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was dragged into the harbour in Bristol as a side-show at a Black Lives Matter demonstration following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in America.

Colston is actually a good case to illustrate the complications of making incompletely-researched judgements about people.  He originally joined the family’s textile trading company then, in 1680 when he was 44, he joined the Royal African Company which had a monopoly on the west African slave trade and branded all slaves, including women and children, with ‘RAC’ on their chests. 

Colston made most of his fortune from RAC which transported about 100,000 people, some 20% of whom died on the voyage, to be sold in the Caribbean islands and America in his 12 years with the company.  In 1692, Colston left to become a money-lender and (briefly) a Tory MP but continued trading in slaves privately and died extremely rich (even after he’d given a large number of his shares to the king in 1689, presumably to ensure his continuing patronage and support for the R in RAC).

Colston then became known as a philanthropist, giving money to endow and support schools, almshouses, hospitals and Anglican churches in Bristol and elsewhere.  Some years after his death, The Colston Society, which later became a charity, was set up to commemorate him;  it was disbanded last year.

At the time, Britain thought it ruled the world and that other peoples and lands were there to be exploited, slave trading was ‘normal’ and companies like RAC even had royal charters.  What Colston did was deemed acceptable at the time and he did give a lot of money to ‘good causes’ in his later years so they named streets and buildings after him, and erected statues of him (although the one in Bristol that was removed last year was only erected in 1895, 174 years after his death and 30 years after slavery had been abolished by the 13th Amendment).

Now, in 2021, the empire’s gone and, in theory at least, all people are equal although your skin colour can put you at a potentially fatal disadvantage if you live in the ‘wrong’ society, and there are still far too many racists.

Questions now arise about whether memorials to people who would today be considered criminals should be removed, or housed in museums dedicated to their own particular crimes or, as the anti-woke people would argue, left where they are on the basis that they are part of our historical record (even though most of us accept that history books are written by the winners and are therefore entirely one-sided and that the history of, say, India is shockingly unbalanced as long as we believe in ‘the glory of empire’ and forget the tens of millions of Indians who died as the Brits stripped the country of its riches and subjugated its peoples)?

Should their earlier peccadilloes be ignored if people later spent some of their blood-money on ‘good’ things, whether they had developed a guilty conscience or they just liked seeing their names on streets and buildings? 

There are precedents elsewhere:  previous leaders’ statues have been felled in Russia, Saddam Hussain’s was pulled down in Iraq, there are no statues of Hitler in Germany and Austrian laws ban the use of Nazi symbols.  On the other hand, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen in America still visit statues of Robert E Lee, a traitor who started a revolution to defend what he thought of as ‘white supremacy’ (which is ironic – you only have to look at neo-Nazis and the KKK to realise that ‘white supremacy’ is an oxymoron with, in this case, the emphasis on ‘moron’).

Anyway, statues and memorabilia are just symbols and irrelevant to how we should treat other people, and we need to remember that some people can be nasty and some can be nice, but you can’t tell which they are by the colour of their skin or their ancestry.

We’re even getting precious about icons.  Think of the Charlie Hebdo murders which took place because they’d printed an image of Muhammad, which is forbidden by Islamic texts.  Or just last week, Rihanna was criticised for wearing a pendant of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha (who represents success in new beginnings) whose statues and images can be obtained throughout India.

Other – less contentious – things I learnt this week:

  • a northern mockingbird has been seen in Exmouth;  pictures were posted on – yes, you guessed it – Twitter
  • travelling from coast to coast by train in the north of England can take longer than going by train from Leeds to Paris
  • in Iran a married woman must get her husband’s permission to apply for a passport or travel abroad so Samira Zargari, coach of the Iranian women’s skiing team, will have to stay at home while somebody else takes her place in the world skiing championships in Italy
  • Nashville wants to put up a statue of Dolly Parton in the grounds of the Tennessee state parliament building;  she has asked them not to do this saying “I am honoured and humbled …[but] …Given all that is going in the world, I don’t think that putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time”
  • scientists at the University of Maryland have discovered how to make ordinary sheets of wood transparent
  • Heathcote Fabrics, a company based in Tiverton, developed and provided NASA with a new, exceptionally strong fabric which can withstand extreme heat and, after being tested in the world’s largest wind tunnel, was used to make the parachute that slowed the Mars rover Perseverance, which is the size of a small car and weighs 1 ton, from 13,670 mph (Mach 16) to a soft landing.

Covid vaccinations, HS2, KGB assets, Proud Boys, verbising, nice people and a royal double bind

31 January 2021

We had our first Covid vaccinations yesterday with our second booked for 19 April, which gives us plenty of time to catch Covid with the 50% that isn’t protected.  Then, this morning I had Jerome K Jerome’s problem:  I’d read the list of possible side-effects and woke up with a headache and feeling fluey.  Bit better now though thank you for asking and a friend has just said she too had a bad reaction but it only lasted a day. 

Problems crossing the new “frictionless” and “tariff-free” borders with the EU continue to appear and Boris Johnson is busy rushing round the stables shutting doors while, in the distance, there’s a field full of equine escapees.  However, for a change, this week’s problem wasn’t of his making and came from the EU which was forced to do a U-turn over trying to control vaccines travelling to the UK through Ireland but, even though they had the grace to recognise their mistake and apologise, they’ve thrown a lighted match into a political powder barrel.

Protestors against HS2 have dug tunnels under Euston Square Gardens to delay the work.  They’ve stocked up with food and drink but my first thought was to hope they’ve got a loo down there.  Sadly, they’re apparently already running short of oxygen and rain is causing leaks of mud and collapses in the tunnel.  Great idea to draw attention to the futility of HS2 but why is there never a civil engineer around when you want one?

With the demographic changes wrought by the pandemic, some of which are certain to be permanent, it’s obvious that whole UK transport system needs to be thought again from scratch and HS2 is a white elephant.  The problem is that a vast amount of money and reputations have already been sunk into it and it would be politically difficult to cancel it and make a fresh start on a UK-wide plan.

The government seems to be full of people who will hold onto an investment whose value has plummeted and wait for its value to come back to what they paid for it.  This can feel emotionally comforting but is nonsense.  It’s generally much better to cut your losses and buy another investment with better prospects.

On Tuesday, Johnson said he was “deeply sorry” for the world-beating 100,000 deaths from Covid in the UK and, as prime minister, he took “full responsibility for everything that the government has done”.  When he asked if he now wished he’d done more sooner, he refused to answer the question and waffled “What I can tell you is that we truly did everything we could, and continue to do everything that we can, to minimise loss of life and to minimise suffering in what has been a very, very difficult stage, and a very, very difficult crisis for our country, and we will continue to do that.”

Perhaps the Tories should cut their losses.

Of course it’s not all down to the government’s feeble reaction to the pandemic because other factors, such as the increasing incidence of morbid obesity and diabetes, increased the number of deaths caused by the virus.   And the UK’s progress in developing a vaccine and sticking it into people’s arms might genuinely have been ‘world-beating’!

A former KGB major, Yuri Shvets has revealed that Donald Trump was one of hundreds of young people the KGB recruited as ‘assets’ in the 1980s.  They had identified he was very vulnerable intellectually and psychologically and was susceptible to flattery, and was too thick to realise they were using him, so they cultivated him for the next 40 years, feeding him soundbites he could use.  Tragically, the rest is history.

One of the far-right groups in America is (or was, they keep changing their names) called Proud Boys.  Why does this conjure up in my mind a crowd of very camp men in rainbow-coloured leotards dancing to Abba songs on a trailer at a LGBT+ street parade?

On Tuesday’s BBC 1200 news, a reporter said “it is worth caveating that …”, which stopped me dead.  Turning nouns into verbs, and vice versa, has become much more prevalent over the last few decades, in some cases making the original usage redundant and, ultimately, archaic. 

The first I remember was the use of ‘invite’ instead of ‘invitation’;  how many people now send out invitations?  Another is the misuse of ‘leverage’, often in a business context.  Using it as a noun (and even pronouncing it in American with a short E) is understandable but bankers and fund managers who’d never learnt the word ‘lever’ created a new verb from it and now ‘leverage’ deals.

Incidentally, wasn’t it encouraging to see the biters bit this week!  After a discussion thread started on Reddit, small investors started buying lots of shares in Gamestop using the amateur share trading platform Robinhood and the share price rocketed from $40 on 19 January to $400 within a week.

Wall Street institutions and hedge fund managers were outraged because they’d expected the price to fall so they’d sold Gamestop short* and now had to find enough cash to buy the shares they had to deliver at a much higher price. 

Wasn’t the crocheted Bernie Sanders doll that Tobey King from Kansas made and sold on the internet, raising $20,300 for Meals on Wheels America, wonderful!  After the image of Sanders huddled up in a warm coat and mittens at Joe Biden’s inauguration went viral, his own campaign has been selling sweatshirts and T-shirt with the image and has raised a further $1.8m for charities combating food insecurity.  Nice woman, nice man.

There was an advertisement on TV this week inviting applications to take part in a new series called Celebrity Home Cooking, or something like that, and my wife suggested I apply.  I said that, sadly, I couldn’t because I’m not a celebrity.  I’m not even a ‘celebrity’.  Not even in the street where we live.  And anyway, my knowledge of cooking is limited to pre-heating an oven, removing all outer packaging and putting the tray on the middle shelf for 45 minutes.

I also saw part of a programme on Wallis Simpson being manipulated by Edward VIII (previously known as David) who said he’d slit his throat if she didn’t marry him, and he abdicated, leaving the throne to his reluctant younger brother George VI (previously known as Bertie).  A classic double-bind!

*          ‘Selling short’ basically involves selling shares you haven’t got in the hope that the price will go down and you can buy them at a lower price before you have to deliver them.  It’s a form of gambling.

Light relief including pedantry, neologisms, electricity, mistalking foreign and instinct

9 August 2020

One of the pleasures I get from writing this blog each week is when somebody contacts me with a comment or an addition to something I’ve said.  Last week, for example, I mentioned my theory about how Robert Maxwell died, peeing over the side of his yacht, and a friend told me her sister used to work on his yacht and he didn’t just pee over the side – he would often just pee on the floor of his cabin and then call for staff to come and clear it up.  She didn’t stay long.

What an utterly disgusting man he was.  Why would anyone do something like that?

One of the other pleasures is discovering the things people unwittingly say and write.  For example, Wednesday’s Mail Online headlined “Fearless, funny and so hard-working – we salute you PRINCESS ANNE!” 

We pedants call this a ‘dangling participle phrase’ which actually says that “we” (the Mail Online journalists) are “fearless, funny and so hard-working”, rather than Princess Anne.  This they may be of course but one assumes they actually meant to say it was Anne who was fearless, funny etc.  How simple it would have been for a sub-editor to correct this by adding the word “She’s” at the very beginning.

Another famous example of this error is: “Punting down the river, the chapel came in view.”

Princess Anne will be 70 on 15 August (hence the Mail’s sycophancy) and I must admit to having a sneaky regard for her myself.  She and the queen seem to be the only two blood royals who have retained some dignity while all around them are losing theirs – women win again.

At this point, I must emphasise that, while I enjoy pedantry, I also love new words and the changing way they’re used.  I greatly enjoyed the results of this year’s Washington Post competition to invent new words or new meanings for old words.  My favourites from this year’s winners are:Coffee (n):  the person upon whom one coughs.

  • Coffee (n):  the person upon whom one coughs.
  • Esplanade (v):  to attempt an explanation while drunk.
  • Willy-nilly (adj):  impotent.
  • Gargoyle (n):  olive-flavoured mouthwash.
  • Frisbeetarianism (n):  the belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

They also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.  My favourites of these are:

  • Bozone (n):  the substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating;  the bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
  • Cashtration (n):  the act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
  • Osteopornosis (n):  a degenerate disease.
  • Glibido (v):  all talk and no action.
  • Ignoranus (n):  a person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

And here are two I made earlier:

  • Mistalking (n):  the act of lying because one’s too lazy to have read the brief;  currently particularly common amongst the leading politicians of the 3rd largest country in the world and a small, former member of the European Union.
  • Corpulation (n):  the sexual coupling of two overweight people.

Did you know that the National Grid has to keep the grid’s frequency at around 50 hertz in order to avoid power fluctuations that can lead to power cuts.  At the moment, the energy grid’s electrical frequency has been controlled by the spinning turbines in traditional power stations but windfarms and other renewable energy sources don’t have turbines so the Electricity System Operator can be forced to shut down windfarms and keep gas-fired power stations running.

Now a giant flywheel is being built in north-east Scotland which it is hoped will mimic the effect of these turbines and stabilise the grid’s electrical frequency from next winter, allowing the Electricity System Operator to use more renewable energy and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

Our electricity supplier, Octopus Energy, claims “All our electricity is sourced from 100% renewable sources, like sunshine, wind, and water” but I’m now beginning to wonder if this can always be so.  Still better some than none.

Incidentally, if you have a power line running over your property (not connected to your house), you might be entitled to a wayleave payment for it.  We discovered this when a firm of chancers wrote offering to collect this for us if we weren’t already getting it. 

They didn’t mention fees but I assumed that they’d want a large chunk of any payment we were due so I naturally wrote directly to our power supplier and, after a few formalities, we got a back payment for the time we’d been living here and now get an annual payment of about £30.

Elsewhere, a Canadian brewery and a leather store in New Zealand have both used the Māori word ‘Huruhuru’ for, respectively, a beer and a shop.  To people who speak te reo, the Māori language, it means pubic hair.  The owner of the leather shop said he thought it meant ‘feather’ and apologised.  Ho yerss.  A leather shop, pubic hair.  Definitely a coincidence.

It was also reported recently that, in a similarly Freudian slip in 2018, Coca-Cola publicised one of its drinks in New Zealand with the phrase ‘Kia ora mate’.  ‘Kia ora’ is a greeting meaning ‘be well’ but ‘mate’ can be translated as ‘death’.

Anybody else remember when, in 1965, Rolls Royce called its new model the Silver Mist but changed its name to the Silver Shadow after a linguist (who presumably wasn’t in the marketing department) pointed out that, in Germany, ‘mist’ means ‘shit’?

In America, the New York attorney general, Letitia James, has filed a lawsuit to dissolve the National Rifle Association, probably the country’s most influential and lethal lobby group.  The suit claims that four of its top officials have been stealing millions from the NRA and have turned the organisation into “a breeding ground for greed, abuse and brazen illegality”.  Good luck with that – I’d vote for her and I don’t even know if she’s red or blue (though my instinct says she’s blue).

Why is instinct so often dismissed and ignored?  Intuition is even less respected.   One morning, a father woke with a bad feeling, that something wasn’t right, so he kept his daughter at home from school.  It was 6 August 1945 in Hiroshima and Keiko Ogura survived to bear witness to the full horrors of the small atomic bomb which killed an estimated 100,000 – 150,000 people, half of them on the first day.  There are surely two lessons here:  trust your intuition and don’t build bombs.

British competence, American ethics, the English language misused and a kindness award

2 February 2020

“An it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly”.

Thus wrote Shakespeare, who wrote at the end of the same soliloquy about “vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself.”

Perhaps Bonzo is descended from Macbeth.  It took three and a half years to get here and only now does the real work start.  What a pity that Michel Barnier, who’s a true gentleman, can’t be our prime minister in exchange for Bonzo, who isn’t.  Instead, he’s posturing, making it painfully obvious that he wouldn’t know how to negotiate his way out of a paper bag, let alone create trade deals.

Mind you, Shakespeare could have been wrong – he wasn’t even sure how to spell his own name:  only six of his signatures survive and they’re all spelt differently.

Still, we’ve got our 50p pieces of silver, even if it’s only because the Royal Mint doesn’t do 30p pieces, but remember Judas repented, which Great Britain hasn’t yet.

The aftershocks are already being felt.  On Friday morning, a racist poster appeared on all the fire doors in a block of flats in Norwich;  the rant included the instruction “We are now our own country again and the the (sic) Queens (sic) English is the spoken tongue here.”

The future of HS2 should be known this week and Bonzo revealed his own confusion last week, misquoting The First Law of Holes (popularised by the late Denis Healey) “When you’re in a hole, stop digging”, saying instead “In a hole the size of HS2, the only thing to do is keep digging.”  More proof, if any were needed, that he needs to engage his brain before opening his mouth.

A similar problem was caused recently by the management of West Suffolk Hospital who acted before thinking when it was downgraded by the Care Quality Commission from “outstanding” to “requires improvement”.  Competent management would take steps to improve their services but the hospital hired fingerprint and handwriting experts in an attempt to identify the whistleblower.

Even in America, the self-professed “land of the free”, only two Republican senators, Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, actually felt free enough to put their principles before their fear of reprisals;  the other 51 Republicans voted to exclude witnesses from Donald Trump’s trial and won the day, natural enough for people who just want to keep their seats and don’t give a stuff about justice or the oaths they’d sworn.

Many Republicans thought their party was more important than their country and a couple voted to exclude witnesses not because they thought Trump was innocent but because they didn’t think his crimes were serious enough to warrant his being fired.  What does he have to do for heaven’s sake?

Trump had even produced evidence just a few days earlier of his total unfitness for office by producing a suggestion of peace between two warring nations in the Middle East after talking only to Israel, which is already illegally occupying Palestinian land, and not to Palestine.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is being indicted on charges of corruption, described Trump as “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House” as he slipped a brown paper bag into Trump’s tiny hand.  Palestine doesn’t yet seem to have commented on one alleged criminal’s assessment of another.

Further evidence that Trump needs to change his brain surgeon came when reports emerged that he’s planning to reverse yet another of his predecessor’s best decisions and end America’s moratorium on the use of landmines.

A friend pointed out that, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Trump spoke of “the prophets of doom” while Greta Thunberg, in effect, spoke of the profits of doom.

Other abuses of the English language that tripped me up this week included:

  • a headline saying “Ant and Dec win 19th best presenter trophy”; I was almost, but not quite, tempted to ask Mrs Google who’d got the trophy for the best best presenter, and the second best presenter, and so on to the 18th best presenter.
  • Redferns, estate agents in Sidmouth, are advertising a house “within an easy walk of the nearby amenities”.  However they failed to say it’s also within a much longer walk of the amenities that aren’t nearby.
  • the guide book to our new(er) car says “The headlights can be turned to full-beam by using the appropriate stork behind the steering wheel.”   Presumably, if it’s too heavy, you can get a crane to help.
  • discussions continue about the absence of the Oxford comma from the inscription on the new 50p pieces, which actually does make a difference: contrast “He thanked his parents, Boris Johnson, and Anne Widdecombe” and “He thanked his parents, Boris Johnson and Anne Widdecombe”.

This week’s award for kindness goes to Guy Verhofstadt, the chief Brexit representative for the European parliament.  Back in September, after one of Bonzo’s more offensively racist insults, I emailed him a short apology and, some time later, received a charming and apparently personal reply thanking me and saying he will do what he can to limit the damage.  How tragic that Citizen Nobody is embarrassed enough to have to apologise for their prime minister, and how kind that Verhofstadt replied.

Then, last Friday, a film of two World War II veterans lamenting the UK’s departure from the EU, was projected onto the white cliffs of Dover.  As it ended, the stars on the European flag faded until only one was left above the inscription “This is our star. Look after it for us” and Verhofstadt responded by saying the bloc will do this for us.