Monday, 14 July 2008

Written in Britain

Nineteen ninety seven looks set to be an eventful year here in Britain. The royal family - ex-members included - look set for another tumultuous year. The Duchess of York, - also, or better known as Fergie - has been portrayed as a bit of a hussy and Prince Charles has had to hire a battery of image-setters and media advisors to assure the public that there will no Queen Camilla to rule the waves. The palace tried to quash speculations that Prince William will be the next King of England. In short, the whole monarchy came, yet again to the fore. A televised poll, drawing on responses of a 3000-strong studio audience, debated on whether the Monarchy should be abolished. I imagine the Windsor family heaved a sigh of relief on discovering that two thirds of the British public still liked them and wanted to keep them. I, too, I must admit, was rather pleased with the result. I have always found the royal family good, wholesome entertainment and the British people's obsession with them, their private lives (and parts) quite riveting.

A recent medical discovery has rattled quite a few women here this week as scientists claim that women's brain shrink during pregnancy. As it turns out, the whole study, and the conclusion drawn, was quirky and carried out on such a small sample space that the whole "finding" is little more than anecdotal. Ten healthy women had their brain scanned toward the end of their pregnancies, and again after delivery. What emerged was that after giving birth, these women's brain swelled. Now, two logical conclusions may be drawn: either these women's brains did shrink during pregnancy and the brain was "growing back to size" after they gave birth, or, their brains grew in size after delivery which means that women become more intelligent after giving birth. This second conclusion, is, of-course, much more appealing - to women. So women, forget your plans for a university degree, or a high flying career, don't even bother engaging in an intellectual conversation; motherhood is the easy answer if you want a bigger brain.

Ninety seven also promises to be a rather lively year in the realm of politics, with general elections already in the air. Tony Blair, leader of the Labour party got himself in a bit of a tangle this week when he declared that he never gives money to beggars in the street. And what better place to share these pearls of wisdom than The Big Issue - Britain's magazine sold in the streets by homeless people. A few days later he went on to "explain himself" , as is usually the case with politicians who realise that their truth hasn't go down well with the public. He meant, he said, "aggressive beggars" i.e., "beggars who push people against a wall and demand money". Mr Blair does not seem to be on the ball with street-wise terminology; those people, Mr Blair, are called muggers - not beggars.

The whole incident was overshadowed by Conservative Home Office minister, David Maclean, who claimed beggars in London were a disgrace and an embarrassment. Most of them, he claims are Scottish runaways who are sleeping rough on the streets, doing so because they find it more pleasant than living in houses. [The intelligent reader may wish to read that last sentence again.] Naturally, Mr Maclean insisted that his statements were "misinterpreted", but now for some home truths. The writer here spends a number of hours each week in a community soup kitchen, offering the homeless a free dinner and a pair of listening ears. I have met many homeless people in the process; each has a distinct history, none have claimed to enjoy sleeping in the streets in sub-zero temperatures and sub-human conditions and none of those I have met come from Scotland. Mr Maclean, let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London. I'll show you something to make you change your mind. You are cordially invited to spend an evening or two helping in one of these soup kitchens (they are always in short supply of volunteers). It might put you off slightly, but open your eye's to this country's misery.

On a slightly sweeter note, this week the slogan for Mars bar, the chocolate bar that "helps you work rest and play" was succeeded by a new catch phrase; "It's the taste for life". I guess nothing will ever be the same. The first Mars bar, readers might like to know, was made by hand in Slough on August in 1932. In the first year, about 2 million of these caramel coated chocolate bars were sold. Today 3 million are sold each day - more than any other confectionery in Britain. Chocophiles, or trivial pursuit buffs, might like to know that the first chocolate product to be advertised on television was of a Mars bar. The sweet bar is frequently used as an economic index since it contains staple ingredients such as cocoa, milk and sugar. The Financial Times once described it as being a more reliable index than gold. Perhaps some ambitious and sensitive MP will now take up the case of the lost Mars bar slogan and campaign for its return. Back to basics, they can call it. I personally miss it because it allays my guilt pangs when I rest and play.

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