England

Post #46 – 45 Things This Aussie Initially Observed About England

As I write this, I’m sitting within the walls of a typical English house in the southern county of Hampshire, with a faint breeze outside and the sun beaming down. The flowers are in full bloom, and the bumblebees are buzzing away. Yes, there’s much to like about England, but there’s also some bits that are baffling – and some that are just a downright offence to common sense. One of most famous individuals to be influenced by the sights and sounds of England was the great poet George Chapman, who many in this country consider the rival poet of Shakespeare. He said this of his fellow countrymen in 1636,

I know an Englishman. Being flattered, is a lamb; threatened, a lion.

Much the same can be said about contemporary English folk – they shy from praise, but will squirm and sulk at the first sign of critique or self-reflection. So this post today will combine a bit of both – the peculiar and bizarre of all things English I have observed, firmly from the perspective of an inquisitive Aussie. I find it eternally fascinating what aspects of culture, mannerisms, ideology and lifestyle have managed to make it all the way to Australia – and conversely, what hasn’t.

I’ve briefly been to England a few times in the past, and this time around I’m attempting to live and work here. However, my travels here have never been very exploratory, only ever in the winter, and never any further north than Luton. So to say my comprehension of this complex and multifaceted nation is limited would be an understatement. But nor is it an attempt to be so, and these are just my initial understandings of this country. So here they are – as an Aussie these are the things that really stand out for me, divided up into five key sections – Mannerisms, Society, Food, Alcohol & Gambling, and Transport.

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Post #44 – Budgets, Brexits, Battlelines and Briefcases

There is a Civil War brewing. No I’m not referring to Yemen, Ukraine, the U.S or even the upcoming antics of Captain America. I’m referring to a Civil War over a quantitative expression of a plan for a defined period of time – better known as a budget.

Federal budgets are those funny things in politics that have the power to destroy – or further solidify – the career of the Chosen One that hands it down. A memorable budget is usually characterised by an image, a particular event, or a symbol. Take the example of the Abbott Government’s much-maligned 2014 budget, personified so eloquently in the grainy footage of then-Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann huffing down Cuban cigars. He was henceforth disparagingly referred to as ‘Smokin’ Joe‘, and his career prospects tanked along with the budget. The man many thought might be our future Prime Minister was undid by a shitty budget (more…)

Post #41 – Welcome to the ‘Surveillance Society’

“At some point we have to draw a line”, proclaimed Australian federal MP Scott Ludlam – referring specifically to controversial changes to data retention laws put before the Australian parliament for debate. A few months later (despite all his Youtubing, tweets, Facebook jibes and rousing proclamations in the Senate) the changes he (and many Australians) opposed passed through both houses of Parliament and became law. Maybe, just maybe, Ludlam is fighting the wrong battle here.

Maybe we should be asking ourselves if we ever had any privacy to begin with – maybe, just maybe, we started being a surveillance society a while ago. ‘Why bother [fighting it]?’ was the question posed by Richard Thomas, the UK government’s Information Commissioner who believes the surveillance society is already ‘a reality’… and that was back in 2006.

So on the one hand, Ludlum is saying we risk becoming a ‘surveillance society’, but experts are adamant we’re already there. What gives?

And even if we are already a so-called ‘surveillance society’ – where the government and big business can check our every move – is it really that big a deal?
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Post #23 – Guest Post on UK Elections: Some Countries Do ‘Ave ‘Em

Although one can scarcely believe how the years have flown, it is indeed time for another general election in your founding nation. The last four years have raced by in a flurry of social media faux pas and Boris-baiting, and we once again settle in comfortably to watch the poshest toffs of Britain battle it out for a rather underwhelming island in the North Sea.

Our contenders this year are unsurprisingly the same poor old buggers from the last bout. In the blue corner, dressed head to toe in the tears of unwed mothers is the current big dog, David Cameron. Not content with a mere four years as the overlord of British politics, he’s back for another stab at the top job. This time though, I imagine he’ll attempt to shake off that ineffectual Clegg (who?) and run the gig solo. He’s taken a hell of a bashing in his first term but has impressed with his rubber-like facade and determination to convince us ‘we’re all in this together’. A man so convinced by his ability to connect with the working class, he was even seen wearing jeans in late 2013. His right hand man, George Osbourne, was given a smart phone in 2011 which immediately turned him into the next Cara Delvigne in terms of posting crap pictures no one gives a shit about. His attempts at being ‘down with the kids meets working dad’ saw him post a pic of his working-lunch burger; although at over 15 bucks for the bap (roll in English speak), was met with more snarky remarks than Joe Hockey’s ‘the poor don’t drive’ blasphemy.

In the red corner, weighing in with no discernible opinion whatsoever (more…)

Post #21 – War (and ANZAC Day) is a Racket

With ANZAC Day this Saturday, I thought I would try and honour those who died for this country by not saying anything at all. Lord knows there’s more than enough media coverage surrounding the 100th anniversary of that fateful landing of our troops in Gallipoli to test the endurance of the most seasoned media consumer and ANZAC aficionado. But something about the whole thing has bugged me this year, more than it has other years. I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable playing two-up (contemporarily called ‘three-up’ now, for a quicker, more entertaining game!) whilst sinking copious amounts of piss to commemorate the dead. I would usually bite my tongue when people would describe how they would be ‘celebrating‘ (what the fuck are you celebrating, exactly?) ANZAC Day, or further bite my tongue when they would casually relate the day to some faux-patriotic/nationalistic sentiment (thereby completely missing the whole point of the commemoration).

But this year, with the commemorative spirit notched up to fever pitch, it struck me. (more…)

Post #15 – ‘Everyone Speaks Spanish Except For The Apes’

A few days ago the Spanish government closed a Spanish-language school in Gibraltar (a British territory at the arse-end of Spain) because, according to them, ‘everyone [in Gibraltar] speaks Spanish except for the apes’. Now, this can be read two ways – he could be referring to the native monkeys that live on the rock, or he could be referring to the British. He’s most likely referring to both. You see, Gibraltar couldn’t be anymore geographically Spanish even if it was smack-bang in the Puerta Del Sol in Madrid, but the British classify it as their overseas territory and solely their territory. British border guards, British pubs… even British phone boxes, double-decker buses, little red post boxes, pictures of the Queen and crooked smiles galore! It’s nearly British in every respect, except there’s sun. As you could imagine the proud people of Spain see this as an historic injustice and therefore every now and again Spain makes life difficult for England and little Gibraltar, just to let them know they consider it their territory. To demonstrate that it really pisses the Spanish off, they sometimes just close the only land border into the country, for no reason at all… for days on end. So to help explain this bizarre situation I’m gunna have a look at a very influential navy seaman (lolz… seamen) and strategist called Alfred Mahan and see how his ideas’ from over a century ago might make some sense out of why the Spanish are referring to the British as monkeys.

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Post #14 – They’re Called Penalty Rates For A Reason

My girlfriends’ parents recently traveled out from England to meet us and have a holiday in ‘sunny’ Oz – instead it pissed down rain the whole time they were here. But on the last day of their trip Down Under, the Lord turned the thermostat up, parted the clouds and put on a typical sultry summers’ evening. So for their last supper we went out for dinner, to a restaurant in Darling Harbour called Cyren Bar Grill Seafood. The food was decent enough and the service was fine – with some of the best views of Sydney’s shimmering skyline you can get. A sour taste was awaiting us though; for when the bill came my girlfriends’ father noticed something foreign on the bill – a ‘Sunday surcharge’.

It’s something I personally don’t remember seeing listed on the menu, nor anywhere in the restaurant – and it definitely was not something that we were informed about by the staff. We’re not talking about small change here either – it equated to over $20 for the four of us. I didn’t ask for specifics on the charge (as it was not the time nor the place) but it’s something I’d never personally seen on a bill before, and I was taken aback. I proudly told him that it was because we pay decent penalty rates to our workers on the weekend (compared to similar industrialised nations), but I personally felt embarrassed about the incident and uttered to him in my puzzled state that it was just something that we do, and that it was standard practice. But was it? Why had I not experienced this before, and why were we not informed before ordering? Do I simply just go to the wrong (or right) restaurants? In light of the current talk about changes to penalty rates and industrial relations in general I thought this was an area that really needs picking apart. So here’s what a bit of digging has found me…

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