Thursday, March 6, 2014

"Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines..."

    Opining about the weather always struck me as the lowest rung of punditry, hinting at intellectual exhaustion on the part of a columnist. Some mark the seasons like primroses: greet the spring, celebrate the summer, plant a fingertip on their chin and grow reflective at the autumn then shiver through the winter. Rinse and repeat.
     I try not to be that guy.
     But damn ... this snow. This cold. Will it never end? I found myself, Wednesday morning, actually standing outside and shouting at the sky: "Stopppp...snowwwing!!!" Recognizing a meme when I saw it, I whipped out my cell phone and repeated my performance. I don't know whether my yell was less hollow on cue, or that I always sound that, well, constricted. But it didn't strike me as the raging, mad-as-hell, full-throated cri du coeur that I hoped for, and posting it on Facebook only confirmed my suspicions. 
     But lest you judge too harshly, go outside and yell at the sky. It's harder than you think.
     I have to write about the arctic chill today, because my only other option is writing about how much I hate the British government. Hate, hate, hate them. Brendan Behan has nothing on me, and he's the guy who wrote Confessions of an Irish Rebel, which has perhaps the best opening of any memoir, ever:  
      'You're for the Governor in the morning,' said this dreary red-headed little Welsh Methodist bastard of a screw.
     'Thanks for telling me,' said I, in an almost English accent, as sarcastically as I politely could, 'but I'm not for 'im in the morning or any other bloody time, you little Welsh puff.'
     This antipathy is new for me. Just since Tuesday in fact. I had a column idea — cities far larger than Chicago, undeniable "world-class" cities, also care about their images. What cities to pick? Easy, Paris and London. I called the French Tourist Board. No problem. Their director happened to be in Chicago, and a sub-director was found; any French organization is silly with sub-directors. He said nothing usable whatsoever, of course -- I had to turn to my friend Adam Gopnik, who was perfect -- but the point was, I had reached him.
     Could the British do that? Noooooo. The British consulate in Chicago has a beautiful GOV.UK web site, sleek and clean and utterly useless, except that it very quickly makes you understand why 1984 was written by a Brit. There's a phone number all right, but the phone puts you through shell hell leading nowhere, all the while urging you to go to their web site, where there's nothing about reaching a human being. 
     I tried other cities — Altanta, figuring things would be slower there, a bit more laid back, maybe they'd pick up the phone. New York and Washington, assuming they might have this whole communicate-with-the-press thing down pat. Nothing.  Every other web site I visit, almost without exception, has some little back door you find where, under warnings that only real live reporters on deadline should use this, a real phone number for a real person, or at least an email address to a real person. Not the Brits. It was a maddening experience, clicking this way and that, trying various tantalizingly-dangled phone numbers, getting the same perky recorded woman's voice straight out of "Brazil." It made me hate them, it really did. 
    Not that I was thwarted. A professional prevails. Abandoning the government, I found real Londoners easily enough -- you know how? -- Facebook, and some British business board in Chicago that answers their phone. And of course, the actual Brits turned out to be hale, stout folk one and all, so I'm not talking about the British people in my dance-on-your-grave contempt for those behind the government web site. My best friend is a Brit. Salt of the earth, the grandchildren of those East Enders who stepped out of the rubble of their homes tear their shirts open and scream at the departing German bombers: "Oh yeh? Yer dun and ruhnnin', now, are ya, ya fookin' Kraut coonts! C'm beck 'n give oos sum mahrrrr, cuz we can tek all ye'v gat 'n then rem it beck oop yer bleedin' Berliner backsides!!!!"  
    But the government, this web site, well, it makes me mad. They make the United States Postal Service seem as quick to help as an Apple clerk, as keen to please as a geisha. Maybe I'm arrogant -- the media, what's left of it, is known for that, and it might be true. We don't like to be thwarted. Who does? At some point you want a human goddamn being to answer a simple question about attitudes in London, a question that isn't on their FAQs and slick graphics. 
     And they failed. It truly snapped my mind, nearly — maybe the weather also played a hand — but I'm all for Scottish independence now. "Alba gu brĂ th!" Scotland forever! Vote aye, and send the jackbooted, non-communicative John Bulls back to the red hell they crawled out of in 1296.  Why would that lovely, peaty country of whiskey and draught horses want to continue being slaves to a bunch of mute arseholes, a pack of, well, I wasn't really thinking of Brendan Behan's relatively tame lines about his keeper while struggling with her majesty's web site.  I was thinking of D.H. Lawrence's classic assessment of his compatriots. Perhaps this is best read outside, if you can, into the pelting snow and killing wind, at full volume, facing East toward England:
Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rotters, the flaming sods, the sniveling, dribbling, dithering palsied pulse-less lot that make up England today. They've got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery its a marvel they can breed. They can nothing but frog-spawn — the gibberers! God, how I hate them! God curse them, funkers. God blast them, wish-wash. Exterminate them, slime. I could curse for hours and hours — God help me.
    I'll stop now. Blame the snow. And the cold. And its generally endlessness. I don't even look at the weather report; why bother? Because it's always the same. So blame that. Although Lawrence wrote the above in summer, in July 1912, after Sons and Lovers was rejected for publication. So maybe being thwarted by a web site — and Jesus, hire a few operators, will you, you cheap royalist bastards — isn't quite the same. But the depth of feeling is there. Don't fuck with writers, we'll curse you in a way that will haunt you through the centuries.


  1. Surely you mean "East Enders." People who were born west of the sound of Bow Bells don't talk like that.

    1. Yes, fixed. Must have been thinking of "West End Girls."

    2. I detest Target. Overpriced, snooty employees and they won't give change at the front desk after using the ATM. In the food area you have to check dates on many things, expired. If you go to a Walmart in a half way decent area, find all those things and other household items for a lot less. I know there's probably no WM's near you.

  2. My God. You monstrous man! You audacious, rebellious colonist, to insult Her Majesty's government in this way! It was all I could do to not have my monocle fall into my tea when reading this.

    In the great tradition of the Brazilian and also the colonial Toronto government, I hereby serving you notice that all right minded Englishmen have declared war upon your column, which it should be noted, is paltry when compared to Nelson's.

    Rest assured, we shall sour your milk before you put it in your tea, all of your bowler hats shall be replaced by straw hats now that we are OUT OF SEASON, and, oh yes, when you raise your straw hats to us, you can rest assured our bowlers will not be raised in return.

    In short, sir, this means war. Pray God you have your crumpets and tea in order.

  3. A bloody good rant, I say, what!

  4. This torrent of anglophilia puts one in mind of a little ditty titled "A Song of Patriotic Prejudice" composed by the inimitable Flanders and Swan to compensate for the fact that, while the Scots, Irish and Welsh all have clear cut national songs dear old England is stuck with "Jerusalem." The first lines go:

    "The English, the English, the English are best,
    We wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest."

  5. On the other hand, what does it say about what's happened to our fine Chicago tradition of journalism when one of its practitioners decides that a few minutes of being on hold and navigating a website is all the work needed to be put in towards getting a question answered? The consulate's a few blocks away from the Sun-Times building, fercryinoutloud!

    1. It says that, with Londoners lining up to chat, plucked off Facebook, there was no need. Maybe you read over that part.

    2. No, I'm busting on you in the same spirit that I presume you were busting on the UK government! Jokingly taking something trivial and blowing it out of proportion, presumably for laughs -- I mean, I presume you don't really hate the Crown and her minions. I guess when you're the target, you don't think it's funny. There's a lesson there, perhaps!

    3. Of course. I did invite myself to tea with the Queen when I went to London last, drawing the classic reply from her office: "Alas, the Queen will be at her castle in Balmoral."

    4. Joking aside, having read your wonderful book of Failure, and since you are now in favor of Scottish independence, I think you might enjoy the story of how the Act of Union of 1707 came about.

      In 1685, the Scottish nobles fell for a "Get an Empire Quick scheme" known as the Darien Scheme. They invested heavily, and in 1698 1200 Scots were sent to Spanish controlled Panama to seize the peninsula, and thus, they were told, all of world trade.

      They were woefully unprepared, but the first letters home suggested that things were going as planned. After starvation set in, 300 out of the 1200 settlers returned to Scotland.

      But not in time to warn the second expedition, which set off in 1699, filled with cargo of blue bonnets that they were told the natives wanted.

      The natives did not want to trade for the bonnets, and the second colony had the misfortune of not only starvation, but also a siege by the Spanish. The surrendered, and only a handful of settlers returned to Scotland.

      The up shot of this disaster is that the elites of Scotland were heavily in debt. To get out of this debt, which is said to have been about a quarter of Scotland's GDP, they negotiated a settlement with England to take over the debt and to stabilize the Scottish currency.

      Of course, as it was economics that drove Scotland into the Union, so may economics keep them in it. Scotland is heavily subsidized by England, and it would be tricky for Scotland to give up those subsidies. (Imagine, say, Mississippi surviving without the inflow of Federal money.)

      Anywho, l love your blog and column and so on.



    5. Thanks Scott. I never heard about the Scots in Panama.

    6. good info from Scott

      and funny blog too


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