Weird Stuff The English Instinctively Know

Great Britain


The news is too depressing to contemplate today. Let’s cheer ourselves up by looking at the secret stuff  most British people know without even realising it. Here are the ten I’ve noticed. Feel free to add to the list…

  1. No matter how badly they did in maths, they can work out the speed and distance of an approaching taxi and when they need to hold out their hand in order to have it stop in time on a wet road and not go flying past.
  2. They instinctively understand that the staff in pubs operate behind the counter in separate sections ranging right to left, and know where to stand in order to get served quickly while tourists are still looking confusedly at the pumps, trying to work out what Old Speckled Hen is.
  3. They can give instructions to a place by saying ‘Turn left at the statue of Bomber Harris and right at the Charles II’ not because they have a good sense of geography but because they read ‘1066 and All That’ as children or ‘Horrible Histories’ to their kids.
  4. While they understand that rain makes you wet, they also know that it will not require you to take shelter or do anything that you had not been planning to do anyway, unless it’s torrential, which will require that you stand under a tobacconist shop awning for 8-10 seconds.
  5. They can get through the busiest station from booking hall to platform in around 30 seconds using the patented ‘speed chess’ technique of filling any gap and moving forward. They have a built-in gyroscopic ability to remain upright and steady on a hurtling train without needing to hold onto anything and arrive while tourists are still trying to work out why heading from King’s Cross to Euston is classed as ‘North’ and not ‘West’.
  6. They know that certain questions will merely induce helpless laughter, like asking if a pie is gluten-free, or whether the barman can make a decent martini. They also realise that ordering chips for the table in a pub is nothing to do with nutrition but rather to act as an absorbent tissue for beer. If drinking alone they will most likely be carrying a book.
  7. It is tacitly understood that no matter how good the service is in a restaurant, one never leaves extra, pointing out that ‘It already says 12.5% on the bill’.
  8. They only visit the doctor if there are actual signs that they may be dead before nightfall because ‘it’s not a good time for me to be out of the office.’
  9. They will bravely seek out screenings held in abandoned railway tunnels, food festivals conducted on rooftops and salsa lessons taking place in weird overlit rooms at the back of evening colleges, but will still buy a lunchtime crayfish & rocket sandwich every day at Pret.
  10. They know that all signs exhorting you to Walk, Stop or Mind Your Step are not aimed at them, and get to their destination via an inbuilt ‘As The Crow Flies’ mental Satnav that involved cutting all corners and crossing roads diagonally.

20 comments on “Weird Stuff The English Instinctively Know”

  1. Chuggers and sellers of The Big Issue are invisible to them.

  2. snowy says:

    That the distinction between ‘fruit and veg’ is merely a taxonomic nicety. Hence one can begin a meal with a fruit soup and end it with vegetables covered in custard and nobody bats an eye.

  3. Steve says:

    A lot of truth there 🙂
    Why doesnt point 2 work for me…
    Point 5 I have a vaguely funny story. A colleague of mine from Frankfurt was at bank station with a plane to catch to city airport. I said to him plenty of time. But he missed the plane and he said to me, it was all crowded i couldnt get through. So i did say to him, you have to be opportunistic and assertive, theres slways more room on the train…

    About the sad day – brexit – i do agree it’s a sad day, despite what i wrote last night.
    I think it’s interesting to compare what maggiet did back in the 80s with cameron.
    Back then the issue was that the poorest country in the eu (at least before ireland and spain joined) paid the most after Germany, while the richest – France – actually took money out. So Maggie went in there handbag swinging, negotiated a rebate, and then had a three line whip in parliament to stay in europe.
    Compare Cameron who truly is a quack politician. He laid down the issues he wanted to address in a couple of uk speeches. Then, he went round the capitals – he was in sofia when i was there – getting what he could. Nothing, of what he said his targets were, was achieved. His pathetic speech in Hamburg was the encapsulation of his uselessness – all he showed that he no clear objectives for the uk, but also no understanding of what the european project is about from tje continental side.Then, on the basis of exactly nothing he then went for a referendum, exactly the opposite of what a representative democracy should be.
    What the situation needed was a real serious analysis and addressing of the issues, taking years, of the important issues lying between the uk and the continent. This would have been hard and libg work but in the end better for the uk, better for europe, and better for the world.
    Instead you’ve got this quack politician, who if he loses the referendum will immediate invoke article 50 as a final act of childish destruction.

  4. Steve says:

    Libg =long!! Bloody iphone!!

  5. Vivienne says:

    Sadder things than Brexit today, but agree about Cameron’s uselessness. He probably can’t manage to buy a pint or cross the road without a green man, either.

  6. Steve says:

    Ps i just realised that as a gay guy, Chris may well have had Orlando in mind. On the front of my Times today was the brexit poll. So sorry if i did a bit the ego thing there, without thinking first.

  7. Brooke says:

    Yes, Christopher. As Auden said to a colleague, too sad to even sing.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Sad doesn’t even come close. A hundred people and their families and friends for no reason at all. Why can’t people leave other people alone?

    Opportunistic moving is an inborn trait, you’re right, but being short is an advantage, too, because you’re below shoulder level and can worm your way through.

    1066 & All That is required reading past high school, isn’t it? Horrible Histories don’t bring it up to date as concisely as the original.

    Pardon my taxonomic ignorance but while I got the fruit soup I didn’t get the veg with custard. ??

  9. admin says:

    Snowy lost me at veg with custard too, Helen, it wasn’t just you.

    I’m too taken aback by the news today to run a piece about it. To any intelligent human being what’s obvious doesn’t need saying. Feeling exhausted and depressed by the world at the moment.

  10. Steve says:

    Chris, I’m sorry I didnt have the Orlando thing n mind, but please do think that in america it seems there will always be crazy people with guns. Today it was gays, but tomorrow it will be women, blacks, whites, whatever or whoever the next idiot has a problem with.
    As long as you and your partner keep making the world happier, whether it’s your friends or your readers, you’re doing your bit to make the world better. And thats more than 99% of the rest of us.

  11. Ford says:

    Helen, rhubarb and custard?

    As for Brexit, seems to me to be a case of the fillable being led by then deceitful! The Remainers are suffering from years of not explaining the benefits of the EU, and dispelling the myths – like banana regulations, which Barmy Boris has used. People are happy to believe these stories, because as Brits, we instinctively know that Johnny Foreigner has some funny/strange ideas!

  12. snowy says:

    I suspect you have both had it at least once, it may even be one of your favourites.

    Think a little harder, it might serve to distract the mind from the terrible and completely senseless incident in Orlando.

  13. snowy says:

    Bingo! I knew somebody would twig!

  14. Ford says:

    Gullible NOT filable! Damn you autocorrect!

  15. Ford says:

    I have pulled some rhubarb from the allotment, for pudding tonight. Probably with ice cream, not custard!

  16. Ian Mason says:

    Rhubarb! No, not muttering to myself, nor offering a politer version of BS, but a vegetable that goes well with custard.

    What’s disturbing about Orlando – beyond the simple event itself – is the rush of various parties to either blame the events on Islam or Gays, according to whichever axe to grind they have, rather than a twisted individual who happened to be of Moslem decent and, according to some accounts, gay. The majority of mass killings in the USA are perpetrated by white anglo-saxon protestants yet the same rush to blame that grouping never happens.

  17. John Griffin says:

    And now we have an assassination/murder of our own to contemplate.

  18. Lyn Taylor says:

    I’ll be visiting London for my first time in late Nov. for 7 dys. I’ve read all your books & thought you’d be the best source for what’s good to see/visit to get the best experience of London. Thanks in advance for your consideration & advice!

  19. snowy says:

    If you will pardon me butting in, your question is very difficult/impossible for anybody to answer. ‘That London’ is quite a big place with lots in it. Without knowing where your interests lie picking out a few things from the tens of thousands of possible options is quite difficult.

    As it is your first visit; assuming that you are self-directed ie. not being herded around in some sort of package tour. Then that gives you a degree of flexability.

    Now presuming that you want to see all the sights, the big clock, Betty’s house, Crown Jewels etc. That could be crammed into one day. Leaving you about 6 days to fill up with more interesting stuff, having a fling with a cockney chimney sweep etc. [Don’t blame me if it turns out he was born in Missouri.]

    There are museums to suit all tastes, for the history of Medicine there is the Welcome Collection. The Foundling Museum which tells the story of children abandoned by mothers too poor to bring them up. If History is your thing then London has it by the yard. Pick a period? There is something somewhere, The Great Fire, The Plague. Or if you want something a little more modern, The Cabinet War Rooms where Prime Minister Churchill would slip off for a crafty bath as bombs fell on the city.

    Fashion through the ages, that will be the Victoria and Albert Museum [among others, not my strong suit this]. Toys? The Museum of Childhood, Bethnel Green; Lunatic Asylums? That will be Bethleham Hospital. Railways constructed with the sole purpose of carrying the dead out of the city? Big Dinosaurs? All available. A man who had himself stuffed after death? Sorry that one’s by private appointment only. Dead Egyptians? The Britsh Musuem. There are 70+ museums scattered throughout the place.

    Galleries? Dozens, pick a time period there will be something from Greek Sculpture to Old Masters to Modern Art, [though there is probably more creativity and colour to be foumd from a burst refuse sack than some of the exhibits in the latter.]

    Theatre, take your pick. Blockbusters in the Theatre District, more interesting fare scattered around in smaller venues. Ditto Comedy. Ditto Music.

    Food, the whole range: from very cheap rubbish to eyewateringly expensive well, rubbish. Plenty of excellent food at decent prices mostly independent/family run places.

    Do you have a list of places and things you want to see/do? Where was X born, lived, died. Where was X invented/built?

    History? Perhaps a little pre-reading might help you pick out the bits you would like? Off the top off my head, something by Peter Ackryod might help narrow it down.

    [Apologies if this comes across in any was as ‘grumpy’, it is not intended to be, I’ve just spent 2 hours trying to get an animation to render properly and it simply will not play nicely. Probably my fault. Excuse typos I think I need to go and stand in the rain for a bit.]

    [Helen did a UK tour a few years back she might have a few tips?]

  20. Helen Martin says:

    Did the usual and walked a lot. The Wellcome Collection (note spelling) I didn’t see, but should have and the museum I wanted to see and didn’t, the Soames (?), the one in Invisible Code, anyway, you should see. There are days I want to go back and do it all over again differently. Talk to people – it doesn’t take much to get Londoners talking. Ask about headlines and you could start a public debate as they try to tell you what’s wrong with the world. Visit pubs. Visited a worn down neighbourhood one near Victoria Station and learned all about the price of accommodation in the area. Get an A to Z guide and note down interesting – to you – things that have been mentioned in these pages or in The Londonist and work out your own tour. (Lovely people in small Greek restaurant near Kensington Gardens – can’t find name just now) Walk in the parks, walk by the river (not relaxing if during the mayor’s festival, though) go down near Southwark Cathedral where the Golden Hind replica is berthed (ignore mentions of pirates) and find the tea house/ pub frequented by Samuel Johnson and if those three items don’t give you shivers of ages gone then visit St. Margaret’s Church – the parliament’s church – and read the plaques on the wall, including the one in memory of a family’s 10 year old daughter, who was such a perfect child she could be a model for all others according to her parents. You’ll end up with your own private list. Just go for it. You’ll miss some the way I did, but it won’t matter. Spend a lot of time in the British Museum, the British Library, and the Victoria and Albert.
    How’s that, guys?

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