The words of Blair’s outgoing chief strategy adviser translated for “net-heads”. (As a hostile, self-righteous blogger, I may have got the wrong end of the stick. Never mind, I’m sure nobody else has.)

Read More · 23 November 2006 ·

Please Turn Left Now

We rented a car on Friday to drive down to Nottingham for the weekend to visit friends, and it turned out to have sat nav. I’d never driven a car with sat nav before, with its LCD screen in the middle of the dashboard and mellifluous but stilted Englishwoman telling us what to do. Jane turned it on as we left the carpark and before long it was telling me to turn left every time I turned right, because at first it was trying to guide us back to the rental place.

Driving out of town it wanted to take us down the east coast, presumably because the route was a few miles shorter, but I wanted to go down the west, which has a much higher proportion of motorway. So I struck onto the Biggar road, only to keep getting told to detour or turn around. “PLEASE turn LEFT—NOW.” “PLEASE turn LEFT—NOW.” “If possible, PLEASE do a U-TURN.” “PLEASE turn LEFT—NOW.” It was like being told off by a robot Supernanny.

Read More · 22 November 2006

45 Minutes

So. I’ve been avoiding it all week, but the saga needs a conclusion now that all those reviews are out of the way.

Read More · 31 August 2006 ·

Testing Times

Dates have this habit of rushing up on you like a highlander brandishing a claymore, and tomorrow’s is about to whack me over the head—because tomorrow is when Jane and I do our Life in the UK test. Yes, as those of you who’ve been following the saga will know, it’s now more than five years since we arrived in the UK and over a year since we became permanent residents, which makes us eligible to apply for citizenship—dual citizenship, as Aussies can have nowadays. Which means doing it pronto, before the Home Office or the Australian government change the rules. They’ve already raised the number of years to get permanent residency from four to five, so we were lucky to avoid that.

Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do about this test, which was introduced last November. Some of our friends got in under the line, but no such joy for us. It gets worse: because of this new requirement there was a surge of applications last October by people who’d never got around to applying, leading to an enormous backlog at the Home Office, who now warn that new applications are taking more than six months to be processed—during which they keep your passport. It used to be that you could send notarised copies, but the whole system has been under such strain that they’ve stopped doing that, so once we send our applications in we won’t be going anywhere until next spring. We thought that surely there must be some way to speed things up, but the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau said no, there really isn’t. If we’re lucky we’ll get the results before Christmas; if not, next summer.

Read More · 22 August 2006 ·


In five years of living in Edinburgh I’ve had my share of frustrating encounters with bureaucracy, but a few small victories have served to bolster my spirits, one of them this early episode with Lothian Buses. It’s given me a warm glow every time I’ve laid my Ridacard on the electronic reader to see the name “King Rory Ewins” and a photo of me suppressing my laughter. It’s been, in fact, the very best thing about catching buses in this city.

Read More · 7 August 2006 ·

Hot Hot Heat

It is, as some British-based readers may have noticed, rather hot. Really very hot, actually. Australia-type hot—even in Edinburgh. Last month we had a few days of the Harr, as a Scottish friend told us the fog that blankets the city in summer is called, which prompted days of amusing lines like “Harrrrrr, the fog be rollin’ in” and “Harrrrr, you call this a summer?” But now the Harr has fogged off, and the whole city is starting to bake.

Read More · 27 July 2006

In My Ears and In My Eyes

There was a minor flap in the UK media the other day when Liverpool Council considered a proposal to change the name of Penny Lane because it was originally named for an 18th-century slave-ship owner. Or so it was reported and editorialised, although elsewhere the proposer of the move was reported as saying “I don’t think anyone would seriously consider renaming Penny Lane”; she was pressing for other slavery-related street names to change. Either way, it looks like a non-starter, because Liverpudlians are attached to their historical streets, if not their historical buildings (see: renewed government attempts to demolish half of the north of England).

Read More · 13 July 2006 ·

Language fun from the Graun in 2001, with undercover reporters turning the tables on English-speakers...

Read More · 27 April 2006 ·

Bird Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

At last it’s here. For months the local tabloids have been screaming BIRD FLU REACHES EUROPE... BIRD FLU 300 MILES FROM BRITAIN... BIRD SEEN COUGHING IN CALAIS. Now it’s only a few miles as the asthmatic crow flies from where I’m typing this, and a few days ago we had the best headline of all:

Don't Panic

Read More · 9 April 2006

Ian Dowding: I invented banoffi pie.

27 March 2006

Ben Goldacre casts a refreshingly sceptical eye on pseudoscience peddled in UK schools and gets a barrage of point-missing complaints for his trouble:

[Brain Gym] teach that a special theatrical yawn will lead to “increased oxidation for efficient relaxed functioning”. Oxidation is what causes rusting. It is not the same as oxygenation, which I suppose is what they’re getting at, and even if they are talking about oxygenation, you don’t need to do a funny yawn to get oxygen into your blood: like most other animals children have a perfectly adequate and utterly fascinating physiological system in place to regulate their blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and I’m sure many children would rather be taught about that.

26 March 2006

Learn more about E-Learning, Politics and Society with Edinburgh University’s online MSc in E-Learning.

←UK Culture in 2003