One of the things that's noticeable when you go to the U.S.A. for the first time, apart from the fact that everything seems familiar because you've already seen it in films and on television, is that your home country ceases to exist as far as news broadcasts are concerned. When I spent a few weeks in upstate New York I quite enjoyed the U.K. news blackout, but I know people who are enraged by Americans' apparent ignorance of and lack of interest in anything outside the U.S. To tell you the truth I'm quite happy for Americans to remain blissfully ignorant about the rest of the world, because when they do decide sit up and take an interest it seems to end in tears. Or carpet-bombing. Or both.
Anyway, despite being innately grumpy I'm a reasonably fair-minded man, and I don't think the average Brit is much more interested in or better informed about the outside world than the average Yank. We don't even really care what happens in France and it's only thirty miles away, and despite paying lip service to all that European Union stuff, the rest of Europe is still, well, just too foreign.
Other Europeans aren't like us, though. We had a German couple (guests at a friend's wedding) staying with us at the weekend; her English was very good. His English was better than mine. They were highly intelligent, well informed about just about everything, and confounded national stereotyping by having a passably decent sense of humour. I don't speak any German, and all I know about the Germans is that they came second in World War Two and in the 1966 World Cup Final and that they've just elected as Chancellor a lady called Angela Merkel. (The "g" is hard, as in "angle".) I've been to Frankfurt once, but it was a business trip, meaning that rather than seeing any of the city I just saw the inside of an airport, a hotel and an office, interspersed with cab rides. All I remember is that Frankfurt airport is a dull place in which to be delayed for four hours and that the cable channel in the hotel had the most disturbingly gynaecological porn movie I've ever seen, which was about as sexually arousing as watching a cow give birth to a two-headed calf. (And if that's your favourite thing please don't tell me.)
Anyhow, back to the news. In case anyone's interested, the U.K. news items on the radio this morning included the following:
- The Government has announced plans to introduce a partial ban on cigarette smoking in public places but has chickened out of a total ban, despite its success in the Republic of Ireland, where tobacco sales have fallen by almost ten percent as a result. In England smoking will not be permitted in pubs which serve food, but will be allowed in premises which don't serve food and in private clubs, so in all likelihood tobacco consumption will not actually reduce but just move from one place to another. Parliamentary opponents of a complete ban have unexpectedly found themselves possessed of a fierce desire to protect the rights and freedoms of the individual. And an equally heart-felt and noble reluctance to place in jeopardy the £8 billion a year the Government collects in tax on cigarettes.
- Ex-Manchester United footballer George Best, famed for his phenomenal talent on the pitch (and enthusiam for alcohol, partying and long-legged blonde ladies off it) is in hospital and at death's door. George had a liver transplant a few years back but due to an oversight was fitted with only one new liver rather than the four or five connected in parallel which he needed to cope adequately with his prodigious consumption of hard liquor.
- Chris Moyles, breakfast-time radio presenter and self-styled "saviour of Radio One" now "attracts" 6.5 million listeners every day. Moyles is a pointless potato-faced twat who, unpleasant even by disc jockey standards, has managed to confound critics by being even more irritating than his Breakfast Show predecessor Sara Cox, herself responsible for more radios being flung through more windows than any other presenter since the birth of public broadcasting. Moyles is famed for being rude to and about just about everyone and everything, and manages to achieve this without once displaying a single spark of empathy, humour, or humanity. It is of course a simple matter to turn off the radio to avoid Moyles; at the time of writing, universal access to a switch which would subject him to a series of excruciatingly painful and ultimately lethal electric shocks remains, disappointingly, just a dream.
- Five hundred years after becoming extinct in the U.K., European beavers are once again living wild in Gloucestershire. Six Bavarian beavers have been released on a five-hundred acre site in the hope that they will breed and establish a self-sufficient colony. Apparently the animals were originally hunted to extinction for their fur and also, to quote the BBC, "for the pain-relieving properties of their anal-gland secretions." I don't really want to speculate on who first discovered these properties or indeed under what circumstances, but if you happen to be walking in the Gloucestershire countryside and see someone with a beaver's arse clamped to his face, give me the benefit of the doubt and assume I've got toothache.