Saturday, July 4, 2009

Disappearing Britain

I returned from a two-week holiday in the US just three hours ago to find that, in my absence, Britain has outlawed humor.

As you enter my town from the direction of the train station (which you might do if you just returned from holiday and are too cheap to pay for a cab) you will find The Candy Box, an independent newsagent founded in 1923. The new owner, John O'Sullivan, has started putting a fake news board up outside his shop with humorous headlines on it, such as "Swan Sculpture in Suicide Drama," or "Local Youth Kidnapped by Aliens." I really enjoyed those headlines, and used to look forward to seeing them on our evening walks.

During our absence, however, The Town Council told the owner he will be arrested if he does not stop. Apparently, four people complained. Never mind that many more have voiced approval, or that someone making a complaint about you doesn't necessarily mean you are committing a crime, a policewoman visited John last week and told him he would be arrested if he continued. Rumour is they are making use of an obscure law instituted by Cromwell and his puritan buddies that makes any sort of fun punishable by drawing and quartering (I jest, of course, they are more likely going to use a real law, such as assault or public lewdness, and stretch its meaning to cover making jokes).

This is embarrassing: I just spent two weeks telling my American friends how the Brits are so much more laid back, tolerant and disinclined to litigation than people in the US. What happened? Did Al-Qaeda put something in your tea while I was away?

Actually, I would love to believe that this was due to an outside influence, but I fear the reason is closer to home:

-- begin paranoid conspiracy theory rant --

At the other end of town stand the Shelly Fountain. I have already written about that and its current state of disrepair. It seems The Council has floated the idea of tearing it out while I was away (this, presumably, when they were not busy persecuting candy merchants).

The Shelly Fountain is one of the few things that make Horsham Horsham. Without it, there is nothing to distinguish it from any other British town. The only other advantage Horsham enjoys is a variety of locally owned shops that keep the high street unique… Oh, I forgot, The Council raised the rents so high all the independent stores have closed and have been replaced by chain clothing stores, hair salons and bookmakers. One of the very small number left is The Candy Box.

Coincidence? I think not.

Mr. O'Sullivan, apparently, is ready to stick to his guns (or sign board, at any rate) and will therefore be carted away to the nick soon, his store probably impounded and turned into a Starbucks that sells clothes and allows you to make bets in the back room where they style hair. They will then take out the fountain and build a kiosk selling watchstraps, batteries and post cards of what the town used to look like in its place.

And why would The Council want to do this? Who can say: despite overwhelming public opinion, they want to turn our historic town hall into yet another restaurant, so there's no way to discern their motives. Maybe Al-Qaeda put something in their tea.

-- end paranoid conspiracy theory rant --

All I know is, next time I go off on holiday, I'm going to have someone keep an eye on the town for me so I don't come back to find it turned into an anonymous, bland, lifeless duplicate of Anytown, UK.

And if this site suddenly disappears, you'll know they really did outlaw humor.

Today's joke headline
Tomorrow's real headline?


  1. Did anyone mention exactly what he will be arrested for? It's not exactly lies is it? Or slander, or libel? Pathetic. Someone needs to phone a natinoal newspaper and blow the lid on this one.

  2. According to the store clerk I talked to, they weren't really clear on that. I can't imagine someone reading something they don't like being able to arrest the person who wrote it. God forbid!! I'd be serving a life sentance ;)

  3. Hi Mike,
    Been looney lately so only just caught up tonight. I love your blogs and this one especially. I hope someone does phone The Mirror.
    By the way, love the subliminal message!!!!

  4. Thanks, Pam! Just checked up on your trip -- sounds ambitious! Hope you have a great time.

  5. Anonymous12:56 PM

    I think the rant is well-deserved, and I would happily read more and contribute. Living in an identi-kit British town must be soul-destroying. It's bad enough when even the supposedly distinctive towns like mine have such same-y high street shops and restaurants. It's like living in an American shopping mall parking lot, aside from the occasional building of historical relevance. Grrr.

  6. Yes, the unique qualities that I loved about Britain are slowly being chipped away, not least of which is (was) their non-reliance on lawyers to solve their problems (unlike in the States). I'm afraid that has gone the way of the tea-shop and afternoon closing of pubs.

  7. In Haltwhistle we have two butchers, an off licence which sells cards, a flower shop which sells cards, 2 magazine/newsagent which sell cards, 2 supermarkets which sells cards, a TV/ironmongers which sells cards, numerous tea shops which sell cards, a shoe shop, bricabrac shop, an unfriendly shop which sells blinds (not an unfriendly blind shop). You see it still all happens here.

  8. Hadrian, it sounds like you live in the center of Britain or something ;)