Occasionally I get messages from malcontents who find themselves offended by negative comments I’ve made about their country on this blog. It goes without saying that you can’t please all the people all of the time, but I wouldn’t want you thinking that I’m blinded by some misplaced sense of patriotism into believing that the UK is the be-all-and-end-all. It’s not. My League of Nations list is (as I admit in the pre-amble) tremendously subjective, and the fact that England comes out on top has more to do with my family and friends than it does any sense of rabid nationalism.
With that in mind, and with last week’s riots leaving a bad taste in our mouths, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give the UK a damn good dressing down.
Before I start, let me just say that the UK has many, many things going for it. However, I stand by my opinion that the British just don’t seem to get how good they have it when compared with the vast majority of other countries on the planet.
Sure, Newsweek can select Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland as the “best” countries in the world… but when it comes to literature, art and good old fashioned rock n’ roll, us little Englanders, Scotchers, Welshers and Northern Irelanders kick their arses from here to Timbuktu.
Having said that, if we could just iron out a few little niggles, the UK could be a much, much better place…
1. Public Transport
Considering we are dealing with the country that invented the steam engine, you’d think we’d have half a clue how to run an halfway decent public transportation service. But we don’t.
I would say that as far as the worst public transport service in the world is concerned, I’d have to tie the UK with the US. In short, it’s a frikkin’ embarrassment. Hell, at least in Guinea public transport is cheap. Unlike the London Underground, the trams in Manchester and what’s left of the Liverpool rail network which cost a small fortune. But that’s nothing compared with intercity travel, something that should be cheap and easy, considering most big British cities are located within walking distance (if you’re walking a marathon) from each other.
British intercity trains are horrifically overpriced – 260 quid for a return to London from Liverpool (a two-hour journey) – they rarely run on time, are often overcrowded, the toilets have a nasty tendency to fly open mid wee (and the “door-close” button is conveniently located out of reach of the toilet itself), the staff are notoriously rude and unhelpful, the companies running the trains are cowboys with a monopoly (laughing all the way to the bank no doubt) and the unprofitable part of the railway network – the maintenance of the track – is paid for by us gibbering idiots, yup: the taxpayer. Madness, utter madness.
That’s not to say the coach network provides much of an alternative. With the exception of the no-frills Megabus (which does a decent job of WYSIWYG), most of the country’s intercity coaches are operated by a monopoly called National Express. No competition (there are no other national coach companies and the trains are too expensive for 83% of the British population to afford) means that they can deliver a piss-poor service, charge over the odds and get away with it – something they’ve been getting away with for years. When I say that only Greyhound USA is worse, that’s hardly a compliment. It once took Mand and I ELEVEN HOURS to get back from London to Liverpool on a National Express bus.
I think we could have done it faster on horseback.
The fact that it’s cheaper for five people to buy a car, tax it, insure it, fill it with petrol and drive to London and back than to take the train is testament to how bloody awful the situation is. Your car could be stolen and burnt out upon completion of the journey and you’d still be better off than the five who spent over 1000 quid between them on the train.
But driving would mean driving down Britain’s god-awful motorways. Not that the motorways are poorly maintained, I’d argue that they’re not, it’s just that motorways in the UK are more like lorryways with an occasional car problem. Thanks to the short-sighted, piss-poor and quite frankly corrupt policy decisions of the Conservative government in the early 60s, our motorways, also paid for by the taxpayer, are long flat concrete bitches of the massive haulage companies that are no doubt using their mountains of gold coins as an indoor ski slope.
Ever heard of a chap called Ernest Marples? You should have. He ruined your life. Most people blame Dr Beeching for the utterly incomprehensible cannibalisation of the British railway system in the 1960s, but it was dickwit-in-chief Ernest Marples who was the puppetmaster. Take it away, Wikipedia:
Beeching had been appointed to his post as head of British Railways by Marples. Marples was not just a government minister; he also owned a construction company, Marples-Ridgway, whose main concern was constructing roads. They contributed to several motorway projects during the 1950s and 1960s and also constructed the Hammersmith flyover in London. When it was pointed out that being transport minister as well as a road builder might be construed as a conflict of interest, he agreed and divested himself of his shares in Marples-Ridgway. However, this was to his wife, with a clause to buy back the shares at the sale price when he ceased to be a minister: something not disclosed at the time.
Oh really? So let me get this straight: guy owns ROAD BUILDING company, gets job as government TRANSPORT minister, avoids accusations of conflict of interest by giving his shares to his wife, takes back his shares once he’s personally destroyed TWO-THIRDS of the British Rail Network (the only viable competition to HIS F—KING ROADS) and ensured his road-building company’s position on the gravy train for life. Now give me another wheelbarrow full of taxpayer’s money, my wife needs a new fur coat.
What a irredeemable bastard. Then again, you vote right-wing, you deserve everything you get: which will (invariably) mean the interests of wealthy individuals, companies and corporations trump your petty little needs every time. I can’t be the only one who notices that… Anyway, so here we are, fifty years on, our trains cost more than what most of us earn in a week, our coaches are several shades of god-awful and our motorways are gridlocked (since the freight that used to happily travel along the railways can’t travel on non-existent lines, apparently).
Oh, did I mention that even though there are very few surviving branch lines, the tax-payer STILL has to pay for the maintenance of the THOUSANDS of now unused bridges, tunnels and viaducts that criss-cross the nation? If a single loose brick falls onto the windscreen of a car passing underneath, it’s the great British public who will pay the damages. So we have a situation were we are paying to maintain infrastructure that we have pretty much NO WAY of getting ANY money back from whatsoever! Brilliant!!
Plus, thanks to Marples, North-East Liverpool has no railway anymore – in fact, there are over FORTY closed railway stations in Liverpool: the highest number of any first-world city in the world. This means that in some of the most deprived area of Liverpool it’s next to impossible to get to work… unless you walk (in the rain), cycle (in the rain) or get the bus filled with screaming, gobbing, swearing, fighting schoolchildren as… oh yeah, we have no school buses(!). I don’t have to paint a picture of how unpleasant these 8.30am buses are, I’m sure you’ve got a good idea and it probably doesn’t involve Moonlight Sonata and caviar on the Orient Express.
Ninety years ago, Liverpool had a better, faster, more integrated and (bizarrely) GREENER public transport system than it has today. The same can probably be said for most cities in the UK. Progress anyone?!
A little suggestion: how about a new rule that companies are responsible for paying for bus and train passes so their employees to get to work? It would see a constant, reliable income for Public Transportation systems (even if the employees choose to drive instead) and discourage companies from employing people who would need to make a three-hour commute every day – you know, local jobs for local people? Smart.
Oh, and while you’re at it, re-nationalise the bloody railways. Even America — land of gullible poltroons who believe that corporations are their friends and that the government they elect is their enemy — has a nationalised rail service. Get with the program, you dithering Limey knuckleheads.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened to that rotten bastard Marples:
“In the early 70s … he tried to fight off a revaluation of his assets which would undoubtedly cost him dear … So Marples decided he had to go and hatched a plot to remove £2 million from Britain through his Liechtenstein company … there was nothing for it but to cut and run, which Marples did just before the tax year of 1975. He left by the night ferry with his belongings crammed into tea chests, leaving the floors of his home in Belgravia littered with discarded clothes and possessions … He claimed he had been asked to pay nearly 30 years’ overdue tax … The Treasury froze his assets in Britain for the next ten years. By then most of them were safely in Monaco and Liechtenstein.” (Richard Stott, ‘Dogs and Lampposts’, Metro Publishing, 2002, pages 166 – 171)
No doubt he was twirling his evil little moustache all the way.
2. The Architecture (since 1958)
I’ve written at length about the bum-scroff that passes for architecture around the world these days, but it really does boggle my mind and break my heart that Great Britain, the same country that spent a good 1000 years cooking up some of the most delicious buildings in the world should see fit to throw all that glorious heritage away and follow the nightmarish visions of that bastard crackpot Swiss pied piper of all things bleak, totalitarian and downright ugly – Le Corbusier, a man I have about as much respect for as Hitler. Which is to say, none.
So damn the renaissance, the neo-gothic and the art-nouveau, there’s a new kid in town – a cool kid that’s made of Asbestos and Legionnaire’s Disease, smells of piss and looks like a nuclear fallout shelter – a nuclear fallout shelter built in a hurry after they have already dropped the bomb. It came in over budget, the roof is leaking, the windows don’t open, the people inside are being slowly cooked alive, the lift is broken, the solidified mashed potato that constitutes the interior walls is crumbling away and to top it all the damn thing is just so goddamn ugly it makes Susan Boyle look like the Venus de Milo.
I wish I was describing one single god-awful edifice, maybe tucked away in the Outer Hebrideswhere nobody will ever see it, it wouldn’t be so bad. But I’m talking about every building designed and built everywhere since 1958. Hell, you might think they’re beautiful, but then you’re presumably from Mars, were born without eyes and have wet dreams about Susan Boyle.
Hand in hand with the horror of our modern arseifaces, we have to give equal condemnation to the town planners … they should be flogged, covered in jam and fed to the wasps. Not content with scarring the very fabric of our historic towns and cities with the totalitarian horrors of the Mancunian Way, the Bullring and Leeds city centre Hotwheels circuit (not to mention the shameful demolition of the Euston Arch), they are also responsible for the god-awful shopping centres, the screwball thinking that towerblocks are a good idea, the car-centric concrete jungles of the 1960s and the disgraceful cloning of our towns… wouldn’t it be nice if every high street looked exactly the same eh? NO. NO IT WOULDN’T YOU CROWD OF MASSIVE RETARDS.
These vandals – this dark conspiracy of big business, lazy architects, megalomaniacal town planners and corrupt politicians – have irreparably scarred the once-beautiful cityscapes that previously graced our green and pleasant land. You can get a whiff of what once was if you stroll around Belgravia, Rodney Street or The Royal Crescent – and get a sense of what could be if you visit the magnificently restored St. Pancras Station, but at the end of the day, it seems that The Powers The Be have better things to spend your money on – wars, probably.
Before 1958, we would build warehouses that are so good-looking they are now UNESCO world heritage sites, we would build power stations so iconic that they would go on to grace the cover of a Pink Floyd album, we built extractor towers so fabulous that they barely look out of place on a street of prestige buildings. Now, however… urgh… I don’t want to go on with this, you get the picture. It makes me too miserable.
3. The Depression
Talking of being miserable, crikey we Englishers are a miserable bunch, aren’t we? Sometimes it seems like we’re only happy when we’re having a jolly good moan.
But there’s a major downside to this affliction (other than being teased by the rest of the world)… real depression is often overlooked and sadness is often misdiagnosed as something you can only cure with drugs. Hence the somewhat depressing (that’s probably not the right word) number of Brits on anti-depressants.
The general malaise that hangs over the good ship UK is something that has bothered me for a while, and there are two things that I think would help: a ban on building stuff out of bloody concrete (I’m serious) and a concerted effort by our politicians to end their idiotic bluster about competing economically against China(!) and instead push for laws, reforms and acts of parliament specially tailored to the explicit aim of ‘improving the happiness of the nation.’
You know what has been proven to improve the general happiness of any given nation? A small and shrinking gap between rich and poor. Since 1997, the rich/poor divide in the UK has grown exponentially… as has our general misery. This is no coincidence.
It looks like if we want to improve the general contentment of our electorate, it would be wise to whack up the tax rate on the super-rich and yes, fine, let them leave the country if they must… but add a twist:
1) Whoa whoa whoa!! You’re not taking that UK passport with you! Put. It. Down. Step away from the passport, you traitorous dog.
2) If you’ve left us for another continent and then decide you want to work in the EU in the future, you must apply for a working visa, like every other alien.
3) The support from British Embassies (paid for by John Q. Taxpayer) will be withdrawn. Good luck getting out of that Congolese jail, ya tyrant billionaire!
Ahhhh, I feel happier already.
4. The Schools
There’s a mad system in this weird little country I visited while trotting around the world and I’d like to share it with you.
In order to get your kid into a good school – thereby setting him or her with the best possible chance in life – you have to pick a football team. Yeah, that’s right, a football team. Even if you can’t stand football! You then have to attend every single match that team plays for a year. If you’ve pretended to be a really big fan and not looked too bored or criticise the owner of the club (who may or may not be a known facilitator of paedophilic activity), little Johnny will be allowed to go to this school.
Fail in this charade, and little Johnny goes to the shitty comprehensive five miles away and proceeds to get his head flushed down the toilet every day for the following five years, since little Johnny is either fat, gay, ginger or clever… all capital crimes, according to the law of the playground.
The schools in question, one should point out, are not paid for by the football teams and they’re not private either. These are publicly-funded schools, paid for by the tax-payer. What’s even more ridiculous is that these schools are under no obligation to employ any teachers that don’t support the correct football team, something that’s quite a whacked-out arbitrary requirement… and one that would be deeply illegal in any civilised country.
But then the UK is obviously not that civilised, since, yes, that is the ‘weird little country’ to which I referred. Just replace “football team” with “religion” and “match” for “service” and “owner” for, well… “owner”. How it is a good idea to separate our children into tribes based on what Bronze Age creation myth their parents (through an accident of birth) find themselves subscribed??
I’d love to be a gay teenager going to a Catholic school: it would make my day to hear how un-natural I was, that I’d be burning in hell once I died and that the bullies are right to bully me (I need fixin’!). I’d love to have no teacher I could confide in because I’m 14 years old and pregnant and thinking of having an abortion. I’d totally love it if I was told, in SCHOOL, that Aids was bad… but not as bad as condoms.
Although these real-world dilemmas are rendered moot by the horrors that play themselves out on the streets of Northern Ireland every night. Enforced segregation in ANY OTHER WALK OF LIFE is ILLEGAL – WITH GOOD REASON, with the exception of our schools. Take a deep breath and analyse those words… with the exception of our schools. Yes, a school in the UK has the right to deny me a job even as a caretaker if I don’t partake the ‘right’ religion.
Change “religion” for “skin colour” and you MIGHT JUST SEE why this system is so utterly abhorrent. Make no mistake about it: it is Apartheid. Apartheid blessed by the system, paid for by John Q. Taxpayer and legally free to discriminate in a way that not even the BNP is allowed to discriminate. Against children.
This post is entitled “Ten Things I Hate About U(K)”, but the cruel, inhumane, idiotic, openly discriminatory nature of the British School System alone could be “Things” 1 to 10.
5. Chav Culture (Innit)
From a country that exported its language and culture all over the world (not always forcibly!), chavs are nothing short of an abhorrent stain on the fabric of British society. I mean, what’s the use of a chav? At least troublemakers like the punks, mods and rockers had good music. These chavs dress like morons, talk like morons, act like morons… and embarrass the hell out of the 99% of the British population that are decidedly chav-nots.
To the uninitiated, a chav is a young British citizen who dresses in hooded tracksuits, wears a Burberry cap and sports tacky gold jewellery from catalogue shops that wouldn’t look out of place on a pantomime dame. Dressing like a clown is a rite of passage for all young people, but I can’t help but feel like all the good ideas (bike leathers, zoot suits, mohawks) have been done. So here we are: an entire generation that’s run out of ideas and is (understandably) bored with their lot. It’s amazing what utter bobbins can pass for being ‘cool’ in any given generation.
This boredom manifests itself in myriad ways – causing a nuisance outside the corner shop, hocking up and gobbing on the pavement, listening to repetitive generic crap on their iPhones (and forcing everyone else in a 3 mile radius listen to it too) and just being generally anti-social spoddy little toe-rags.
But I’m not just knocking the young here – chavic behaviour have been around since I was a kid. My real problem is with chav culture. That bolshie, anti-education thinking which brags its stupidity and attempts to make a virtue of ignorance. I can’t stand it. Being a dickhead is one thing, but being proud of being a dickhead is just… pathetic. And what has chav culture contributed to society? I really can’t think of a single positive, except perhaps to give us chav-nots something to make fun of.
But I would much rather it be the case that what we do make fun of is not so chinge-worthy for the rest of us. When I was younger I remember watching Jerry Springer and thinking “Ha! That’s hilarious! Stupid Yanks”. I will discuss how patently NOT stupid the Americans are later (when I talk about the British Film “Industry”), but at the time it did seem like that kind of trailer trash television was a peculiar cultural facet of our cousins on the other side of the pond. Of course, since the advent of Jeremy Kyle, we know that not to be the case.
And when chavs go abroad on holiday, their ‘culture’ ends up representing Britain to the world… and it’s not a pretty sight. When you’re talking to a foreigner or you’re a stranger in a strange land, you wind up representing your country by default.
The last thing any country needs are a bunch of boozed-up England shirt-wearing troublemakers running rampage through the streets. Chav culture ends up tarring all us Brits as dribbling guttersnipes who dress like Floridian retirees, are barely comprehensible, are usually drunk on Bacardi Breezers, have a tendency to fight in the streets, indulge in casual racism and are full of snarls and nastiness.
What a terrible advert for my otherwise green and pleasant land. It’s like every personality trait I find repulsive and irritating rolled into one massive ugly fungal infection – a fungal infection that’s running around telling everyone it’s British.
I would rather be stereotyped as a blustering buffoon in a bowler hat, a sexually repressed misanthrope always moaning about the weather or a uptight Fawlty hitting my car with a branch. When your only boast in life is that you could have been good at something, anything… but chose not to be, you’re not going to get any sympathy from me. Society might fail you… but don’t fail yourself.
Talking of Scroobius:
DING DONG! Reasons 6-10 are delayed due to leaves on the line. Gimme a couple of days…
This Post Has 17 Comments
A very enjoyable read but I think you have way to much time on your hands. I do not have a clue what you were talking about when it came to schools and education, you must live on a different planet if you think that is the way it is.
Totally agree with everything else though 🙂
good comments graham,
This thing started out as a one year deal, we are almost into the 3rd year and you weren’t able to get to all contries. Just give it up, stop spending people’s money or even your own in this lost cause, you failed already.
Silence, grumbling subconscious! While nobody else holds the record for getting to every country without flying, I can keep going as long it takes. After all, the world record for visiting every country FLYING is three and a half years. It’ll take much more than “it’s taking too long” to make me quit.
You’re on shakey ground here, Hughes. I absolutely agree that the characteristic behaviour of the people you describe as chav is a poor representation of our fine country but be careful about lumping groups of people together, eh? The word chav might have subtle nuances for you but for a lot of people it’s shorthand for “poor” and has been subject to quite a lot of debate as an example of the media’s vilification of the working class. As usual a great deal of the handwringing finds its way into The Guardian and I’m not saying I fully support this liberal self-flagellation but…well, worth considering. Here’s Polly Toynbee being shrill:
In my experience, “chav” cuts across class, race and regional boundaries – it’s a conscious decision to be part of a uniquely British movement, and one that I don’t have much time for. As it happens I don’t have much time for BMW drivers, either.
Hum…I suppose it’s kind of cheating of me to suggest that you might’ve been away from ol’ blighty a bit long to get the subtle, negative, nuances that the word now carries? As a shorthand – chav is now a favoured insult on the Daily Mail comments boards…
That said it may be that your being away so long has alowed me to lapse even further into bleeding-heart-liberal territory. Either way IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT, HUGHES. x
Did you just say something about the “subtle nuances” of the word “chav”?? AAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Lapsed into bleeding-heart-liberal territory?? It’s more of a Blitzkrieg! What you need is your old ginger sparring partner back… pronto! I’m working on it, I swear!!! 😉
Blimey. Do I not get moderated now? Oh the responsibility…
Graham, you are a hero, a legend, a top chap. I did my own version of the grand world tour, 43 countries in two and a half years and agree with basically everything you say. Only someone who has moved extensively through the world can really know whats going on, and it’s obvious that you do. I’ve been following your journey sporadically for years but never commented for some reason. Well now i will and I want to tell you what you are doing is incredible, valuable, important, and more worthwhile than damn near anything i can think of. Never stop man, once you’ve been to every country, do it again, but do it slower and dig a bit deeper. If everyone traveled, even just once, (not week trips to resorts, but actual “traveling”) the world would be a much better place.
As far as the trains go – they’re expensive thanks to the auto industry out-lobbying and destroyed the train industry after WW2.
Trains are actually a much more safe (in fact the safest method of transport) and practical way to transport good and people.
If they had been receiving the same amount of funding and attention that the global car industry has.. trains today would be formidable.
My “Life” in (northern) Ireland as a Foreigner
After living in London for five years, moved to Northern Ireland to start a Job as a Food and Beverage Manager at a Hotel in County Down.
My first impression of Newcastle, Lovely scenery
My first impression of the Hotel, TERRIBLE!
I am now 48 years old and worked in Hospitality since the age of 17, I worked in many Hotels but this is the worst and dirtiest Hotel I ever saw and worked for. (outside hui inside pfui) like we say in Germany
Anyway I have to live with that. At least as a Department Head I would ensure at least my Department is clean.
My first day at work, let’s call it strange.
When I came here not many foreigners lived and worked in Northern Ireland in our Hotel I think I was foreigner no 4 out of 160.
My Staff wasn’t happy that there new boss is a “German” a Foreigner! I could feel it right away.
People where talking behind your back, actually bedding how long I would stay.
In fact I stayed nearly seven years, until I had been made redundant six weeks ago.
What do I think about living in Northern Ireland?
Ireland in general is nice, people in Ireland are NOT nice, and they are fake, lazy, rude, arrogant, alcoholics and love to complain about everything. That’s fact.
Alcohol is there life, they always find a reason to get drunk, and yes they like to get drunk always and then get violent, or kill someone while driving drunk!
And then they call in “sick” the next day Calling in sick is another Irish Hobby.
I also mentioned fake, they are smiling to your face and wait to stamp a knife in your back.
Irish never mean what they tell you, one sample go shopping and the women on the till call you “Love” or darling! “Sorry about that” or how are you another sample of how fake they are.
Nobody cares how you are and they are definitely not sorry about anything.
Maybe it’s the Weather why people here are so miserable, always rain and storm never summer and if there is an hour of sunshine then people run around in shorts and t-shirt “gorgeous day, isn’t it”
Don’t forget the food, horrible! Oily Fries and greasy battered fish, beans on toast chips on toast
Microwave food at least have some kind of “plastic” taste Irish food have no taste at all.
I had to deal with thousands of Customers over the past seven years, dealt with many complaints. How many times I have to listen to………I don’t like to complain BUT……..And then there is racism, everywhere, as soon they found out you are not “from here” the fake smile disappears followed by the question, where are you from, are you Polish?
No I am not, I am from Germany, Germany mhmmm here we are again, within minutes I have to listen to a story about the 2nd world war and Hitler.
Irish people hate foreigners, they even hate each other South and North they hate the English, the Scottish.
Don’t forget Irish it’s the foreigners who come here and work, pay taxes and National Insurance, so that you lazy people can claim Benefits.
Don’t forget 95% of all foreigners go back home after a few years working here but the money they paid stays here.
i agree with 100000000% and i am english!
“95% of foreigners go back home” what twaddle
One word. Somali’s.
Invite themselves into western coutries that don’t want them, and take take take – to say nothing about their swaggering bigotry.
Of course its not just them
The west is getting an Islamic tidal wave, and very little of those will “go back home”
They’ll be bringing in family members and using the “Human Rights Act” to do it too.
The OPPOSITE of what they do in “their muslim lands” in fact – “Blasphemy law” in pakistan for starters.
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Agree with most you write. Ernest marples was a corrupt bastard who closed the railways, using a pompous right wing prick (Beeching) who was too pompous to realize how he would be (rightly) villified thereafter. Marples, though – he had a ton of money to come from his shares in concrete, roadbuilding, etc etc, and getting a patsy like Beeching to take the fall probably made him think how clever he was. I’d piss on his grave if i could find it.
Religous schools. Too right. But not just the catholic bigots. The muslims make the catholic schools seem like hippies and peace and love, and toleration of other faiths.
Yet loathsome bastards like Cherie Blair (about as bigotted a creature as you will ever find – rabid catholic) are trying to send Britain back centuries by pushing religous schools.
Its like the feminists and lesbians supporting islamic treatm,ent of women. Remember how these repulsive hypocrites shrieked against the French banning the burkha, and their attacking the Shiah law loonies having little girls covered head to foot ? – and how the dykes and gays ranted against them for it ? Openly supporting such ugliness and backward mentality which was out of date more than a 100 years ago shows just what the pink nazis actually are….
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