by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

LONDON — Yes, once again, it’s time for our annual report on our forefathers across the pond, the people who gave back Hong Kong but kept the Spice Girls, the people for whom the Fourth of July is simply another lousy day in the colony business, yes, I’m talking about the Brits.

What’s ‘appening ovah ‘ere?

Well. Let’s start with something they do better than we do. The TV weather. I’m watching the evening news and the announcer says “now a look at the forecast” and I figure we’ll see the new “Princess Di-Doppler 9000” or some other high-tech gadgetry since that’s what TV weather has become, hasn’t it, just one big “mine is bigger than yours” contest? And since the weather in England is so unpredictable — rain, sun, clouds, wind, rain, clouds, wind — they must have great equipment, right?

Well. Here comes the “weatherman” and it’s this middle-aged guy standing in front of what looks like a Colorforms map. You remember Colorforms? Those little rubber shapes you played with as a kid, sticking them all over your brother’s face?

The British weatherman has three Colorforms — a sun, a cloud and a cloud with rain. And you know what he does? He sticks them on his brother’s face. No, actually, he points at the Colorforms and says it’s going to rain here, be cloudy there and by midday it should be “rather warm.”

And back to you, newsman.

The whole thing takes 25 seconds.

And this wasn’t the weather for London, folks. This was for England, Scotland and Ireland! Three countries, 25 seconds!

And it was all we needed to know.

Food for thought

So you have to give that round to the Brits. No Doppler this or Doppler that. No four-minute weather forecasts as we have in Detroit, with maps showing temperatures in cities you can drive to. (I never understood those. I mean, have you ever called your friend in Lansing and said, “Hey, I saw on TV where it’s 66 up there. We got 67 down here. Bet you wish you never moved, don’t ya?”)

The Brits are not into weather gadgetry, which is good. Of course, they’re not into screens in their windows, either, which is bad, especially since there is no shortage of flies in this country. The theater is still cheaper than in New York, clothes are more expensive and subways still stop running at 12:45 a.m., which means at 12:44 a.m. there is a mad rush from the pubs into the street. It’s like the Kentucky Derby when they open the infield.

As for food? I am happy to report that London cuisine no longer consists of cucumber sandwiches with butter. They now have cucumber sandwiches with mayonnaise. Also, there are many fast-food places just like their American counterparts — except here at Burger King you can get the “Veggie Whopper” and the “Beanburger.” We don’t have that in the States.

But we don’t have Mad Cows, either.

No clothes needed

Scandal? There is no shortage of that. Some sub-minister sleeping with some sub-secretary. Some Tory bribing some MP. Some Duke of Strawberry insulting the Duke of Raspberry. And of course, there’s the royal family, in which the princess is running around with a doctor, the prince is running around with his mistress, and the queen is wondering how she can change her name and slip away from all of them.

But if there’s one thing England has more of than scandal, it’s naked women.

There are nude and semi-nude models just about everywhere you look. On bus posters. On billboards. On TV. And especially in the newspapers. The famous
“Page Three” girls have now expanded to Page 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 36-24-36, the back page and the front page. (One day soon, newspapers here will be one huge picture of a naked woman and a small headline, “Nuclear war declared, see Page 34.”)

Still, just when you think this country has turned into a giant G-string, along comes the story of a 15-year-old British schoolgirl who has invented — and I am not exaggerating this one bit — the world’s first muffler for a French horn.

It happened last week. It seems that the girl, whose name is Victoria, was getting self-conscious about her French horn practice in the town of Scarborough, North Yorkshire, not to be confused with South Yorkshire, New Yorkshire, Scarborough Fair or Yorkshire pudding. And as her mother told the newspapers, “Her instrument noise tends to travel.”

So young Victoria invented a device that stuffs into the mouth of the French horn and has two plugs for headphones. And now nobody can hear her practicing except Victoria herself, which, if I know teenagers, allows her to do what she really wanted to do in the first place, which is blow the world’s first French horn rendition of “Honky Tonk Women.”

Soon, Victoria hopes to invent more mufflers, including one for the Spice Girls.

Anyhow, I would like to tell you more, but I have to close my windows now, because we have no screens and the mayonnaise is getting warm on my cucumber sandwich. Besides, Princess Di is coming over to watch the weather with me, and we don’t want to miss it.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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