Somewhere, legend tells us, off the western end of the dark sea by the very edge of the known world lie the mysterious White Isles, a strange land blanketed in snow and ice where few may travel… How cool is this NASA satellite image of frozen Britain (via the BBC)? There’s barely a scrap of colour to be seen, the entire British Isles appears to be white (must be a BNP dream!). Check the larger version on the Beeb site, its beautifully detailed and clear, you can easily see Loch Ness and the Great Glen in the north of Scotland while the western coast of Scotland looks astonishing
Photojournalist David White set out to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Robert Howlett. You may not recognise his name, but you will have seen at least one of his photographs, of the legendary engineer isambard Kingdom Bruenel, in dusty coat and top hat, cigar between his lips, posed in front of massive chains, ever inch the great Victorian pioneer and engineer.
Howlett was dead within a couple of years of taking that photograph at the age of only 27 (the toxic chemicals in the photography process most likely killed him), but he created one of the iconic images of the 19th century. All the more remarkable, as White points out, because photography, itself a 19th century creation of that great age of innovation and exploration, was barely twenty years old when he fashioned this image, not content to do a simple portrait but to frame, pose and light a scene which capture the essence of the man so well. White had a re-created camera similar to the one Howlett would have had in the 1850s and took it around Britain to photograph some of Brunel’s surviving structures in as close a manner as would have been available to Howlett (although wisely he used non toxic chemicals); the BBC has an audio visual slideshow of the result which is both asethetically pleasing and historically fascinating, drawing on the early days of photography and that period when there seemed a great romance about the new world engineers and inventors were shaping in our little islands.
Should the UK have a national motto? Since this idea of Gordon Brown’s was first floated the Prime Eejit has distanced himself, saying that this wasn’t actually his intent. Frankly I go with the Jim Hacker rule – when a politician denies something like this it normally means it is true. It seems a curiously old-fashioned idea which belongs to times past when governments and other institutions – education, religion, the monarchy, even the arts – tried their best to create a single idea of national unity. It was cobblers then, a pure fiction and one that would be badly misused too often (such as being used as a rallying point for the slaughter of the Great War, which is, ironically, when a lot of people really started to see it for the insidious nonsense that it is). To try and forge some sort of national identity in this day of multi-cultural societies, international travel and trans-border culture and communication seems simply stupid and as archaic as John Major’s famously daft speech extolling a Britain of cricket on the village green and old ladies cycling to Evensong services at the parish church.
Still, no reason we can’t have a little fun with the idea, though, is it? America has ‘In God We Trust’, which is actually fairly recent (only brought in during the 50s) and still controversial since church and state are supposed to be strictly seperate. Not to mention the fact they have ended up with mentally defective retard monkeys like George Dubyah Bush and Ronald Reagan being in charge of the country gives you the inkling that such trust in god may be misplaced… France has ‘liberty, egality, fraternity’ (unless you’re an immigrant from the former colonies in which case it is ‘fuck off and live in squalor in a crap overspill development’). But what motto would suit a United Kingdom which has parts which would rather be the Untied Kingdom (apologies to my mate James Lovegrove for borrowing a title from one of his excellent novels, I’m sure he’ll forgive me using it)? Here are a few of my ideas, feel free to make your own suggestions:
Britain – please queue here
(this emphasises on of our great national characteristics and at the same time serves to educate those damned foreigners like Italians who seem to have no concept of queueing much to the fury of Britons when they walk in front of us at a big line. Although we are too polite to tell them off for it, preferring to mumble in low tones to our queueing neighbours)
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
(uplifting and inspiring in hard times and a reminder of one of our great cultural gifts to the world)
Nice weather for ducks
(we probably should have a motto that reflects our national obsession with weather. Others don’t understand why we have this obsession, but it is simply because we have so much endlessly changing weather, sometimes having sunshine, rain, hail and snow within the same afternoon)
(one for the xenophobic Daily Mail readers to enjoy waving in front of the immigrant population)
Watch what you say or we’ll invade you next
(what a lot of right wing numpties would love)
Britain – now available in HiDef
(perhaps we need one which celebrates our technological achievements)
Britain – Press red button for more information
(for our cabled up digital age)
Five a day!
(to help boost the UK’s health)
I think I’ll stick to our own Scottish national motto as seen above the gates to Edinburgh Castle: nemo me impune lacessit, roughly translated as no-one touches me with impunity or, as would be more the case these days, we’re friendly folks but don’t piss us or you’re for a kickin’.
How to be a citizen
The Scotsman had a piece on the rather arbitrary cobblers that is the citizenship test for immigrants, which I’m guessing a lot of actual British citizens would struggle to get the 75% minimum for a pass. And to be honest some of us would struggle to answer them not out of ignorance but because the questions are ridiculous, often rather subjective – if I had constructed a questionnaire this addled and weak back in my college days my tutor would have told me to go and rethink it to make the questions clear and understandable so that the results would also be understandable. Here’s my bash at some of them:
a) How many people live in the countries of the UK?
A lot. I don’t know them all personally. Besides, how do you describe ‘live’? Some of the people will be dying, not living, some will be existing on the margins, not living.
b) What is the census and how is census data collected and used?
It’s how the military-industrial complex keep an eye on us all using satellites and mind rays.
c) How many people in the UK belong to an ethnic minority and which are the country’s largest minority groups?
How do you define what an ethnic minority is? General terms like ‘Asian’ or more precise like ‘Bangladeshi’? Personally I’d guess Scots would be the biggest ethnic minority.
2. REGIONS OF BRITAIN
a) Where are Geordie, Cockney and Scouse dialects spoken?
Geordie and Scouse are largely spoken on Channel 4, Cockney on Eastenders on the Beeb
b) What languages other than English are spoken in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales?
Scots Gaelic, Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Ulster Scots, BroadScots, Doric, Hindi, Polish, Klingon and smeg knows what else
3. RELIGION AND TOLERANCE
a) How many people say they have a religion?
Define religion – are we including all of us who put Jedi down on the last census? Don’t giggle, its no sillier than most other organised religions.
b) What are the largest religious groups?
Does stupidity count as a religious group?
c) What is the Church of England and who is its head? What is the main Christian group in Scotland?
The Church of England is the English Church – duuuhhhhh… It’s head is some ponce in girly robes who descends from men who let King Henry be rather nasty to his wives. The main group in Scotland is Dour Bastards
4. CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS
a) Which sports and sporting events are popular in the UK?
Popular with whom? Does video gaming marathons count?
b) Do people tend to live in towns and cities or in the country?
Simple answer – yes, they do.
c) What and when are the patron saints’ days of the four countries of the UK?
Since we don’t get holidays for them, who gives a rat’s arse? Saint Andrews is the 30th of November, no idea when the rest are
d) What are the main Christian festivals?
The same as the main pagan festivals, which those darned Christians upped and stole from our ancestors, sneaky buggers. In a secular society why is this important for a citizenship test?
5. HOW THE UNITED KINGDOM IS GOVERNED
The obvious answer to this entire section is obviously ‘poorly’
a) What type of constitution does the UK have?
b) What is the Queen’s official role and what ceremonial duties does she have?
She is in charge of eating swans and is the principal waver to people for the UK
c) What is the House of Lords and who are its members?
That’s the nice building where rich people who have paid political parties lots of money get sent to, but no-one ever gets blamed for it. A fine example to new citizens on the honesty and probity of the British governing classes.
d) What are MPs? How often are elections held and who forms the government?
Most of them are useless twats. Elections are held whenever the Prime Minister decides to call them. The government is formed by whatever MPs in the largest party licked the leader’s arse correctly
e) How do elections for the House of Commons work? What do the party Whips do?
They don’t. MPs are more often than not returned for a constituency despite having only 30% of the vote because of the stupid first past the post system
f) What is the role of the Prime Minister?
To talk shite, lie to the nation and agree with whatever bloody crazy idea the American government cooks up next
g) Which areas of policy remain under the control of the UK government?
Whatever the EU and American decide to leave us
6. HOW THE UNITED KINGDOM IS GOVERNED
a) What is proportional representation and where is it used?
We have a bit of in Scotland, where it is used to make Labour’s life a misery.
b) What services are provided by local authorities?
I dunno – the fuckers keep taking more of my money every year and I don’t know what I’m getting for that
c) What are quangos and non-departmental public bodies?
Let me answer that by saying two words – pigs and trough
d) Who has the right to vote and at what age? How and when do you register to vote?
You have the right to vote at 18, but most of the time your vote will be utterly wasted by the system, even assuming the procedures all work in the first plac
e) What rights do citizens of the European Union states have to travel and work?
We have the right to let lots of Polish people work here. At least they do a good jobl just wish they’d learn to park properly.
f) What is the Commonwealth?
A fucking joke?
7. THE CHANGING ROLE OF WOMEN
a) Do women have equal rights in voting, education and work, and has this always been the case?
Yes, they have equal rights, just don’t expect them in real life, gals. No, this hasn’t always been the case – some women got the vote after WWI, some after burning their underwear and threatening MPs with Germaine Greer’s saggy bum. But cheer up, you still live longer than men, And most of them only got the vote in the late 19th century, not that much longer ahead of the women on the historical scale
a) How many people in the UK own their own home? What is a mortgage?
The number is dropping as the rates keep going up and more of us can’t pay the mortgage – thanks Gordon Brown and the Bank of England, you selfish, uncaring bastards
b) How is the process of buying a house different in Scotland?
We’re just much nicer than everyone else and most of our homes are still likely to be above water after global warming raises the oceans, unlike southern England.
c) Which organisations can people rent houses from? How do people apply for council accommodation?
Many rentals will be from immigrant businessfolks who are probably taking this test. Applying to the council involves backhanders and praying and a long, long wait for even a crap place in a ned-infested hole
d) Which organisations offer help to homeless people?
Go to the voluntary and charity ones, kids, the government don’t give a monkeys
9. SERVICES IN AND FOR THE HOME
a) What does the amount of council tax charged by local government depend on?
How much the bastards think they can screw out of us
b) Which groups of people can receive a reduction in the council tax they pay or benefits?
Those who know how to avoid the unfair thing
10. MONEY AND CREDIT
a) What are the values of the UK banknotes?
That depends – value as compared to what? Dollars? The gold standard?
b) Where can people get or change foreign currency?
Foreign countries for a start.
c) What is social security and who receives it?
A mix of people who genuinely need it and some scunners who milk it and leech of the rest
a) What is the NHS?
b) What is the role of a general practitioner (GP)?
To be condescending to you then laugh at the money they get for less hours from their new contracts while ill people wonder why they can’t get a doctor out of hours
c) Which groups of people receive free prescriptions?
The lucky few. The rest of us are doubly fucked by paying taxes and stamp for the NHS then pay over the odds for a prescription that might be more than the cost of the drugs to keep pharmaceutical companies happy
a)What are the ages of compulsory education? How does this differ in Northern Ireland? Who is responsible for ensuring a child attends school?
Minimum leaving age is 16 for normal folks, although generally only thickoes leave at this age. For neds it is about 10, but this is generally a good thing as it gets them out of the way to leave room for proper students with brains. I have no idea what it is in Northern Ireland, but since the BBC doesn’t even seem to realise Scotland takes different school holidays from England, so what?
b) At what age do children go to secondary school? How does this differ in Scotland?
Around 10-11 in Scotland, no idea what it is elsewhere and why would I? And by extension why would an immigrant?
c) What are faith schools?
A fucking waste of money – why are my taxes used to subsidise someone else’s bloody belief system which I fundamentally disapprove of? Great way for religious leaders to keep brainwashing the young though isn’t it?
d) What is the role of a school governing body (or a school board in Scotland)?
To throw cheese and wine parties
a) What is the film classification system? What are the classifications?
It is the arbitrary way some unelected and unrepresentative people get to control what grown adults in a free society can see. The classifications are a load of toss.
b) What is the National Trust? c) How old must people be before they can buy alcohol? d) How old must people be to go into betting shops?
The national trust is a place for middle class people in barbour jackets to get together. To buy alcohol you must look old enough or persuade an adult to get it for you. You’re old enough to go to the bookies when your dad has a broken leg and needs a line put on the 4.15 at Cheltenham.
14. TRAVEL AND TRANSPORT
a) How long can overseas driving licences be used for in the UK?
Why the fuck would someone living here as a citizen know that? Surely they’d have a UK license
b) Where can people purchase a road tax disc?
From the Road Tax Disc ship
c) What are the speed limits for cars and motorcycles?
Where? The speed limits vary depending where you are, urban area, near a school, motorway and if you are near a speed camera. Of course, Jeremy Clarkson is exempt from all such restrictions
15. LOOKING FOR WORK
a) Who can be a referee?
Usually a bloke in a black top with a whistle. I recommend the Acme Thunderer as the finest whistle known to man
16. AT WORK
a) What is the purpose of a pay slip?
To induce tears in grown men when they see it and think “that’s it?”
b) What is National Insurance? How is it paid? How can people obtain a National Insurance number?
That’s what pays for our great welfare system that regularly lets us down
c) What is the State Pension age for men and for women?
I’m not sure, is it still older for men in the hope more of us will die earlier and so not get back a fraction of what we paid in? Now that’s equality for us. Welcome to Britain!
I’ve been really enjoying Andrew Marr’s Modern History of Britain – this week’s episode was the late 60s dissolving from Flower Power into riots, demonstrations and dreadful national debt into the early 70s, fuel crisis and mass strikes. It’s quite fascinating not only to see how dreadfully racist and bigoted we were then – ‘decent’ people objecting to the decriminalisation of homosexuality (between men anyway, there was no such legal injunction against lesbianism, supposedly because years before Queen Victoria refused to believe lesbians existed, which is a shame, because there was a dour old queen who could have seriously used some clitoral stimulation), jokes about coloured people being ‘different’ on prime time TV shows, panic about immigration and the older generation convinced all young people were terrible. Alongside this mass marches of people protesting the British prime minister for being too close to a war-mongering US administration, demands for ‘Americans out’ and ‘end the war’ (Vietnam here of course) and Northern Ireland going from tricky to bloody with the introduction of interning suspects without trial and violent action by troops among civilians leading to terrorist strikes on mainland Britain.
Gee, I’m so glad we’re beyond all that now, eh? We’ve learned so much from our mistakes in the intervening decades. Oh, hold on…
Does anyone else ever get the idea that anyone who stands for government should be battered around the head with several volumes of history books and forced to produce essays on them to prove they have learned something before they are allowed to run the country? The BBC site has the whole second episode (from last week) up for perusal.