Little Britain

I just took off from the United Kingdom’s flagship airport—tomorrow, Heathrow will alter flight paths to avoid disturbing the procession leading Elizabeth II to her final resting place in Windsor palace, so flight chaos will be de rigeur.

I came over on a whistlestop tour—I was only in England one full day—but I depart saddened by the country’s predicament. Instead of ‘Glorious Britain’, ‘Cool Britannia’, ‘Brexit freedoms’, and all the other bollocks dished out by politicians and the media, I mostly saw a nation frozen in time, its citizens living in a make-believe world where nobody does it better.

I drove to a small town in Kent to attend a wedding—a church service followed by a reception—which in the UK is bizarrely called a breakfast, even though this meal began at six in the evening.

The trip down was arduous—not due to the distance but because of bank holiday traffic on a Friday afternoon. England has a tradition of calling any holiday a bank holiday, with the exception of Christmas Day and a couple of others.

This means the queen’s funeral tomorrow is a bank holiday Monday—wisely, I escaped a day early and am thirty thousand feet above the confusion—leaving just as all the pols arrive for the funeral. When the Met, as the London cops are called, describes it as the largest operation in their history, you really want to be eight miles high and heading south.

To get to my destination I had to drive down the M25 freeway—driving (an optimistic word) around London floods back memories of my close friend Russell, who died of cancer in early 2018. He was poleaxed by something called signet ring cell carcinoma—in five weeks he was dead.

I’d never heard of this cancer, but believe me, it has my full respect—if pancreatic cancer is a killer, this one is a KGB assassin.

Russ called the M25 the world’s biggest car park—I’ve been ‘driving’ it for decades, and it’s still one giant parking lot. My friend’s sense of humor was drier than a New York martini—one time he picked me up at Heathrow—doing seven miles an hour eastbound, he observed, “…bit of a racetrack here today”.

Both outbound and this morning—it has a half century of congestion that no amount of antihistamines can cure—many cars had only the driver, so the US car pool lane would be a great idea, but an American invention would not do at all, dahling.

When I got to my hotel, I discovered my room was located on the fourth floor, but the elevator was missing. There was in fact no concern at all for any disabled guests.

In all respects, the hotel resembled the classic Fawlty Towers British comedy series.

I reminded the receptionist that in the old John Cleese series, older people would occasionally die due to various mishaps such as climbing ten flights of stairs, and it would be a great shame for their establishment to re-enact the script.

My quip was wasted on the staff—they are now all Brits, presumably as a consequence of Brexit—the more service-minded contingent of southern Europeans, Poles, Czechs, and the like has departed.

I wasn’t struck by any desire to provide a service or explore the finer points of the term ‘hospitality’—my room’s shower was incapable of competently dispensing hot water, the freezing room reflected the challenges British people have in paying their gas bills, and the road accessing the car park was cut off at 9:30 this morning due to a race—no one warned any of the guests…

The wedding ‘breakfast’ took place in a castle—a rather grand setting in the beautiful British countryside—a plaque outside sported the gold stars of the European Union, whose regional development fund contributed to the building’s restoration.

Kent is a bastion of Brexit, so the irony is not lost—in keeping with signs in my room advising that ‘the radiator can get extremely hot’, when they should have told me that it can get extremely cold!

The fast-track security line at Heathrow couldn’t get passengers past the barcode reader gate because the queue was five rows abreast—I expected casket-viewing to be imminent—and as I reached the checkpoint after a forty-minute wait, a sign proudly informed me that Heathrow fast track was a world-class experience. Unlike Miami, Lisbon, and many other airports, in Heathrow, ‘world class’ means liquids in plastic bags and laptops out, further delaying everyone.

It’s this arrogance, patently detuned from reality, that stops Britain making the changes it needs to regain its position as a first-world country.

The queen was much-loved, to the extent that ordinary citizens felt the need to write poems mourning her passing, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, aka the sinister minister, proposed that Britain return to its former imperial glory by er… becoming imperial.

I don’t mean he intends to reconquer the entire commonwealth—even he’s not that dense—but that he feels the urge to roll back Britain’s decimal system of weights and measures to pre-1969.

For a minister regurgitated from Victorian times, the return to pounds, ounces, gallons, and gills, is only natural—part of the Brexit freedoms, dontcha know.

In truly democratic spirit, this enlightened mind asked the public to decide between the imperial system or the imperial system with metric sub-titles—the third option, i.e. whether a metric system should remain in place, was not part of the list—perhaps three choices would confuse the great British public.

The French opted for the decimal system in the late XVIIIth century and a movement for decimalization began in Britain in 1841—it took well over one hundred years to accept that a system based on multiples of ten was preferable to one predicated on twelve pence to a shilling, twenty shillings to a pound—but twenty-one for a guinea—sixteen ounces to the pound, and fourteen pounds to a stone.

And don’t get me started on spirits dispensed in multiples of one sixth of a gill—all sounds a bit fishy to me.

Many things are done better elsewhere in Europe, in North America, and other parts of the world, but Britain is unable to accept this—to do so would somehow imply that Brits are a lesser people, which would be outrageous.

Of course, that assumption is total nonsense—nations should profit from each other’s wisdom rather than follow a course of enlightened autism.

But how can you find a cure if you can’t find a problem?

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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