How Henry Discovered That Audio Messages Are A Satanic Conspiracy
Tighten your chastity belt and smother your children. A nefarious occult group has summoned Satan to help them reanimate the answering machine.
Why? Because they’re demon spawn.
Today’s topic is audio messages and how they will single handedly destroy society.
You know, those cute snippets of audio you record on Whatsapp and iMessage and send to your vapid friends. Obligingly holding your phone horizontally to your mouth while pretending that you only drink bubble tea ironically.
While audio messages have featured on Whatsapp & iMessage since 2013 & 2014, they only started infiltrating my personal sphere recently. And I’m incensed. Why bring back the answering machine (because, yes, audio messages are virtual answering machines without the etiquette)?
Sure, they’re an important assistive technology. But none of my friends are partially sighted, thumbless and or have forgotten how to write.
So here’s why my response to the next person who sends me an audio message is going to be a sympathetic, “Who performed your orbital lobotomy? Do they offer referral commissions?” Because if I don’t, who will?
Audio Messages Are Unjustified Voicemails
When did you last check your voicemail? It was 2013, wasn’t it? Why? Because the only people who leave voicemails are HMRC scammers claiming you’ve got a £50,000 underpayment, and time bending insurance companies with offers to transport you into last week’s most brutal car crash.
Still, they only leave a voicemail if you don’t pick up. And that’s the difference between audio messages and voicemails. The audio message is the voicemail without the justification.
Try calling someone and they don’t pick up – leave them a voicemail as punishment. That’s fair. It’s justified.
Don’t try to call someone, but send an audio message instead? Well, what are you punishing them for? Why should they listen to someone who hasn’t made the effort?
With this in mind, it’s obvious that people who leave audio messages are worse than HMRC scammers and rogue no claims agents.
Unstructured Thoughts & The Vice of Sloth
Sloths are evil. Does any other animal spend all of its time hanging upside down, with big, nasty claws? They’re also very lazy and live unstructured lives; key characteristics of being evil.
Audio messages are the same. They’re unstructured and quicker to send than emails, text messages and telegrams. Why? Because you don’t need to spend three seconds constructing an intro, summarising your issue and articulating a concise request.
My biggest gripe with them is when they’re used for communicating work assignments. Ten minutes of crap that I’m forced to listen to twice. Just to figure out what someone wants ME to do. Shouldn’t that emphasis be on them?!
Audio messages shift responsibility for structuring sent messages onto the receiver. How rich is that? You’re already asking someone to engage with your message. Surely there’s an unwritten social contract that effective communication is the responsibility of the person communicating?
What gives audio message senders the right to shift the blame for their blathering?
Continue using audio messages and you’re accepting stealing food from another’s mouth. Plundering their intellectual reserves. Audio messages are robbery.
Audio Messages Are Opaque
Want to know the gist of a message before you deign to read it? No chance with an audio message. There’s no way to determine what’s contained until you listen to it.
Modern communication carries the clear expectation to come with a summary, or at least the ability to read the first line of a message before deciding whether you’re going to read the whole thing.
With audio messages, you can’t blank people.
Also, have you thought about the nefarious things people could do with this opacity? Someone could send you passages from the Necronomicon, forcing you to unwittingly summon the Kandarian Demon into your front room with a tap of the play button.
Audio messages are a platform of the occult.
Broadcasting Sexual Exploits Over Bluetooth
You’re listening to Joan Jett’s version of Season of the Witch on your little Bluetooth speaker because you don’t like Donovan. The room is filled with friends. Tipsy, you check your Whatsapp messages and press play on an audio message from Bernard, your bit on the side. Holding the phone to your ear, you hope he’s recorded something dirty. Maybe a bathroom escapade. Suddenly, your face drops. The music’s stopped and you can hear Bernard’s nasal voice, explaining that while he’s had fun sharing you with your boyfriend, he’s met someone else and they’re getting serious. Previously unaware, your boyfriend picks up a fork, pushes it into a plug socket and fries himself. Thus commences the Season of the Bitch.
Pop quiz, who was the worst person in that scenario?
No. It was Bernard for sending that damned audio message.
Audio messages ruin relationships, kill spouses and completely invade your privacy.
It’s A Non-Interactive Phone Call
What’s my favourite thing about pizza? Watching someone eating it? Of course not. I like touching all the slices and playing with the melted cheese.
How about phone calls? I like making animal sounds in response to legitimate questions.
“When are you going to have that report finished?”
“Neymoo.” (It’s the sound of a deer – a mix between a horse and a cow)
As non-interactive phone calls, audio messages remove my right to respond with these, important, constructive points at the perfect opportunity. They disempower me from my god given right to shut down conversations.
Clearly, audio messages are disenfranchising recipients of the right to respond. By extension, they’re a form of censorship.
Why Audio Messages Must Die
Do you want to live in a world of surprise demonic summonings? Boyfriends, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, fathers and sons forced to kill themselves? Do you support mass censorship? Forced engagement? All while sloths amble about junctions, blocking traffic and economic progress?
Well there’s only one solution. Stop sending me audio messages.
It’s a satirical zine about UK politics – specifically, the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s Partygate scandal. Unlike Joe Lycett’s highly publicised parody, this one extends well beyond a six point executive summary. It’s a full, 44-page report.
Unlike a traditional parody report, thematically and structurally, this report’s a bit abstract. The premise is a Murder Mystery Party, hosted at No10 by Boris Johnson, during which Sue Gray and various other characters are invited to solve a mystery – whether Ministers and Officials have been partying during national COVID-Sars lockdowns. The party takes place across rooms throughout No11 & No12 Downing Street (where the parties actually happened), with different party and investigation themed scenarios on each page.
The main narrative is prefaced with a fake excerpt from a psychological journal, in a similar theme to JG Ballard’s experimental 1968 piece, ‘Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan’. This is to provide criticism around the premise of the actual ‘Investigation Into Alleged Gatherings On Government Premises During COVID Restrictions’ – an investigation that really wasn’t necessary. Instead, it became a highly publicised waste of time, because the Prime Minister is a liar.
What Qualifies You To Write This?
Here’s the funny bit. I worked in Whitehall for seven years. Although I walked out well before COVID, I’ve been to a lot of parties at Downing Street; either as a Private Secretary or in a comms role. Further, I worked in a couple of Permanent Secretaries’ offices, which in practice means I’ve worked directly with Sue Gray and her former office when she was Director General of Propriety & Ethics at the Cabinet Office.
For a long time, I embraced the culture. I can attest that Whitehall does have a drinking problem. I can’t think of a Thursday or Friday when there wasn’t at least a case of opened Prosecco in the office. Office managers expected staff to come in with a hangover on Friday. It was a given. Hell, I used to end up at the Red Lion or Champagne Charlies on Villiers St almost every night of the working week.
I can also tell you that Cabinet Office and No10 were way boozier than other Departments. That’s why when the investigation was launched, the idea that Whitehall was boozing during lockdown really didn’t surprise me. It’s completely ingrained into the culture.
Why Did You Bother Writing It?
To be honest, I’m not sure. I went for a drink with some former Private Office colleagues a week before the actual early report came out. We were talking about Sue Gray’s investigation and agreed it’d be funny to produce something similar to the political zine I made in late 2019, called ‘Watch Out! Your Dad’s A Tory’.
However, it ballooned significantly beyond the initial scope, a weirder narrative blossomed and in the end, it became a much grander piece than it was intended to be.
What Is The Political Context of Sue Gray’s Report?
For those reading this who don’t understand the context, here’s a brief rundown. Evidence was released that proved that Officials, Special Advisors & Ministers had parties in Government buildings during periods of National Lockdown.
At the height of these lockdowns, individuals were unable to see friends, family, visit other peoples’ houses under the penalty of a substantial fine (up to £10,000). Even pubs were closed, which in England is sacrilegious. However, these lockdowns were justified and largely supported by the public to prevent the spread of COVID-Sars, reduce pressures on the NHS and protect vulnerable individuals.
Allegations That Parties Were Held In Government Buildings
How Henry learned that the Knights of the Garter should really be called the War Criminals’ Club
Britain’s collective conscience has been shaken – suspected war criminal Tony Blair, like every other former UK Prime Minister, has been appointed Knight of the Order of the Garter. Honestly, the reaction is less surprising than the time it’s taken to happen.
Still, I’m compelled to argue that Tony Blair totally deserves to be a Knight of the Garter. Why? Because historically, the Order of the Garter was actually a club for war criminals. No worries Angus, it isn’t immediately obvious unless you know about this crazy thing called wikipedia.
What’s A Knighthood?
Apparently, a Knighthood is acknowledgement from the Queen that you’re a stand up lord or lady. It’s also an hilarious endorsement from the establishment.
Right, that’s an endorsement from the same establishment that has been protecting a suspected paedophile, cut working age benefits by almost 30% during an unprecedented rise in the cost of living and the same establishment that had a jolly good time partying after they told everyone else to go to bed.
That lines up with my ancient war criminals club theory, doesn’t it?
What Kind of Person Accepts a Knighthood?
It’s easier to explain the type of person that declines one:
Who delcined the Order of the Garter? Clearly only the cool Prime Ministers – Neville Chamberlain and Harold MacDonald. Chamberlain? Wasn’t he the one who used the Vulcan method of diplomacy to stop Hitler? And Harold MacDonald was the alter-ego of Super Mac, the first British Prime Minister to wear latex after hours.
How about the Knight Batchelor? You know, the one for ordinary people. Didn’t David Bowie, Joseph Conrad, Aldous Huxley and Lawrence of Arabia all reject their Knighthoods? Wasn’t Lawrence of Arabia’s justification for rejecting the honour because it was going to be awarded by the slimy bastards who double crossed Arabia (the British Government)? And didn’t Kipling write some poem about how it’s super lame?
If Kipling thought it was lame, then it must be like starting a club with your friends to discuss the merits of your smelly pen collection, because Kipling didn’t do anything but write poems and make cakes.
And now, who’s been trying really hard to get a Knighthood? Wasn’t it David Beckham?
Right. So we’ve established that everyone who hangs out on the smoker’s bench declines them, and everyone who goes to parties at No10 unironically wants one.
War Criminals Club.
Shut Up! The Order of the Garter Isn’t For War Criminals
Fine. I’ll retract it to (almost all) assorted criminals club.
Wasn’t Sir Winston Churchill a Knight of the Garter? Oh yeah. And didn’t he brag about actually killing Sudanese natives with his bare hands? And wasn’t there something about him enthusiastically endorsing the use of concentration camps in the Second Boer War. And that very vocal desire to drop poison gas on Kurdistan?
Or doesn’t he count because he’s dead?
No, Who Else is a Knight of the Garter Now?
Fine. Isn’t the Grand Old Duke of York a Royal Knight of the Garter? Too easy?
Is that enough for you? Does that club not seem like the perfect place for War Criminals to lean back against a roaring fire, smoke cigars and share stories?
But Is A Knighthood Appropriate For Tony Blair?
Hmm. Actually, now that you mention it, I understand that the Victoria Cross and George Cross outrank the simple Knighthood.
Now let’s be fair to Blair. He was an exceptionally well behaved lapdog for George Bush. So, given he was Prime Minister for a decade, I think it’d be only right to award him the equivalent of the Victoria Cross. You know, the Dickin Medal.
The honour awarded by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals that’s made out of dog biscuits.
Would that make everyone feel better?
What Rescinding Blair’s Honour Will Do
So, we’ve established that honours are stupid and that all the cool people reject them; so logically, if Tony Blair accepts his honour, that makes him a total lame ass.
However, there are three obvious consequences of removing it from him:
It sets a precedent to remove other Prime Minister’s honours (wouldn’t that be a funny game?).
Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party will use it to undermine an already weak opposition.
It endorses the false assertion that, empirically, being a Knight of the Garter is a good thing.
So, no, rescinding Tony Blair’s knighthood is not going to clean up the Knights of the Garter. It’s removing a rotten apple from a bowl of liquidised fruit.
Maybe instead, someone should start a petition to change the Order’s name or get the whole thing cancelled. I’ve already suggested the War Criminals Club. Or, instead, how about we all just let all those old, sad people fellate each other in peace?
How did it come to this? Christmas used to be great. Is there any way Christmas 2022 can be saved?
I understand your despair, but hold off burning your stockings. This year’s disappointment brings radical hope. For I can now explain why it’s the perfect time to move the secular holiday formerly known as Christmas to the summer and rename it, Super Cool Summer Day.
Here are my thoughts on why Christmas should be moved from December 25 to June 25.
Why Move Christmas To Summer?
Consider everything this radical plan would solve – avoidable viral outbreaks, mulled wine, your daughters spewing on your best cushions, affairs, war & me having to go to Suffolk when it’s raining and no one wants to hang out.
Now think of the opportunities. Reimagining St Nicholas for the summer. A more Scream-inspired Krampus. A great excuse to banish The Holiday and Single Santa Meets Mrs Claus. Burning Christmas jumpers and wanton consumerism. A funky new soundtrack based on surf rock and cliche stripped songs. Or how about Bank holidays for when it’s actually nice outside?
The concept’s environmentally sound, culturally acceptable and would probably ‘level-up’ the economy.
Here’s my (actually serious) argument for moving Christmas from December 25 to June 25.
Wait, Why Do You Want To Move Christmas?
Right now, sitting within the tender age range of 29-34, Christmas is only good for one thing – visiting pubs near my parents’ house to ‘randomly’ bump into former classmates.
To show everyone how much I’ve grown. And to drunkenly laugh at how, even though objectively, my achievements are shitter than theirs, in my head, I’m still winning.
“What? Robert’s had a baby? How could anyone live so conventionally? I’ve been experimenting with loneliness since 2017.”
Henry circa Christmas 2019
Well, this was all ruined by COVID (and my unlikeable character).
Instead of putting my least favourite former classmates into imagined headlocks, I found myself caged at my parents’ house. The confinement would have broken someone weaker, but I found hope.
An angel came to me and said, I doth decree Christmas must be cancelled and replaced with Super Cool Summer Day on June 25. It was like, totally spiritual, but also not.
How Would You Move Christmas?
Easy. Cross out Christmas and Boxing Day in all the calendars and then rewrite it on June 25 and 26 respectively.
Keep New Year’s Eve on December 31 and move Valentine’s Day to December 14. Why move Valentine’s Day? So the uncoupled still have a reason to be depressed this winter.
Wait, I bet you’re thinking I haven’t thought this through, aren’t you?
Isn’t Christmas Jesus’ Birthday?
Right, so your first problem with this plan is that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. Well, you’re wrong.
Every idiot knows that the Romans grafted Jesus’ birthday onto an existing pagan holiday, now lovingly known as Winter Solstice. This was to trick the stupid Engish people into contracting their polytheisic tendencies to boring monotheism.
But wait. It’s 2022.
I think we can all agree for all the Celts that the celebration of Christmas amounts to the celebration of Celtic cultural genocide. It’s pretty insensitive to celebrate a Christian holiday on one of their holidays.
I Don’t Believe You
Who cares? Jesus was a martyr. Do you know who else is a martyr? Think about it (your sister when she forces herself to eat your home made mince pies). Would you have a holiday on the other martyrs’ birthdays?
Ultimately, I respect your right to believe whatever you like.
I don’t care if you’re theistically wed to 25 December being Jesus’ birthday.
However, I do think it’s selfish to force everyone else to celebrate that date through a nationally prescribed bank holiday, whether the Church of England exists or not. Particularly if it means that I’m obliged to visit my parents’ in the dead of winter.
Any more problems? No? Great.
Christmas Spreads COVID, Flu & Genital Warts
The main problem with Christmas is that its current date coincides with transmission spikes for viral infections. Now don’t get defensive. It’s time to accept that we live in a post-non-pandemic world.
Right now, Christmas is positioned bang in the middle of the most infectious time of the year. Why? Because we live in England (if you’re reading this and don’t live in England, why?). It’s really cold and rains all the time, even more so in December, January and February.
Also, from whence did COVID emerge in Europe? How did it get to England? From a ski resort in Italy. Can you think of anything more stereotypically Christmas-y? The evidence is pretty clear. In its current incarnation, Christmas = COVID = Death. Want to keep Christmas where it is? Fine, but you need to accept that you’re a murderer.
The Government decreed that when COVID’s about, it’s better to mix socially outside. So it would make way more sense to move national family-orientated holidays to a time of year when you can go outside.
Unfortunately, the only time of year for that in England is the summer. And we all want to protect the NHS. Don’t we? So why not move Christmas to summer?
Christmas Birthdays Are Unfair
Do you have a birthday near or on Christmas? Do you know someone who has a birthday near, or on Christmas?
Well, I can tell you that these people have suffered. They need someone to speak up for them, because like all people born on Christmas, they’re martyrs (ha – see what I did there?)
It’s not fair that all those born on Christmas Day, or around Christmas, are constantly having their birthdays ruined by Christmas. Statistically, those unlucky enough to be born on the 24, 25 and 26 December receive 57% less presents and merriment than those born on other days. They’re also 78% more likely to go bald.
As a nation, it’s only fair that we shift the pain to another set of birthdays. Haven’t those born around Christmas suffered enough? It’s time to fight for the rights of those with Christmas birthdays.
Consider those born on June 25 – Ricky Gervais, Bartholomeus V. Welser, George Orwell. Haven’t they had enough success because they were born on June 25 already? Totally. Let’s move Christmas there then!
Rebranding Christmas To The Max
Who’s Christmas’ spokesperson? A fat, old white male, whose parents were probably rich. How else would he be able to afford to live in the North Pole as a genteel? Even more troubling, what are his pastimes? Giving children presents, sneaking down chimneys and deciding who’s been naughty and nice.
If that was a description of your weird uncle or Prince Andrew, what would you conclude? Exactly.
It’s high time St Nicholas was cancelled and replaced with someone relevant. I’ll leave it to Coca Cola to figure out exactly what they should look like, but why not make them a little more diverse? And instead of holding absolute authority on who deserves presents, why not delegate that to Twitter? I mean, if they’re already doing the work, why duplicate it?
Going beyond the spokesperson, why not change the colours too? Red, green, white and gold? It’s tacky. What about an ironic, second-hand Hawaiian shirt and some pineapples. And instead of mulled wine, which isn’t exactly a brand, how about getting Red Bull and Bacardi to sponsor a very summer Christmas?
Killing Christmas Adverts
Do Christmas adverts still excite you? Of course not. Here’s what I gleaned from 2021’s batch of Christmas adverts:
John Lewis’ alien spaceship thing was weird and appeared to be about how it’s ok for fully grown space women to seduce underage human boys.
Marks & Spencers‘ think it’s seasonally appropriate to push pigs’ cannibalistic tendencies.
While I appreciate that these were a little subversive, they’re scattershot and don’t really work.
It’d be cooler to see what advertising houses could do with summer Christmas adverts. Imagine New Santa rubbing Boots’ Soltan Sun Block onto whoever won I’m A Celebrity or Coca Cola running a reimagined classic Diet Coke dusty petrol station ad.
You’d probably buy way more crap, thus saving the economy.
Revitalising Christmas Content
It’s a well established fact that all the good Christmas movies aren’t about Christmas; Evil Dead 2, Hook & Escape from New York. Watching these classics in the summer instead of in December wouldn’t diminish viewing pleasure.
Further, most of the Christmas short stories revered today were cynical commercial projects:
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was commissioned by the US Department Store Montgomery Ward in the 1930s.
And don’t get mad at me for revealing this, but everyone’s favourite Christmas fable, Sharpe’s Christmas by Bernard Cornwell, the epic tale of how Major Richard Sharpe and the Prince of Wales Own Volunteers escaped from a dirty French Prison in time to get back for Christmas, was commissioned by the Daily Mail.
Both are keen examples of wonderful stories built on black hearts. They’re not filled with the true spirit of Christmas, they’re insides are sticky with miserly capitalist gain.
Think, if Christmas was in the middle of summer, all those struggling writers would have the chance to write, ‘The Very Naughty Drone‘ or ‘How Dare You Say Mistress Claus’ Red Bikini Is Too Small, She Can Wear Whatever She Likes‘.
An Effective Scheme To Save The Hospitality Sector
This year, major brewer Adnams reported that they made only 50% of their usual takings this Christmas. As all the pubs were emphasising in the run up to Christmas 2021, takings over the holiday usually keep them afloat for the slow months over the rest of the year. So, as emphasised already, given that the Government has absolutely no idea when the COVID pandemic will be over, there’s every possibility they’ll face the consequences of a soft lockdown next Christmas.
Think about it. Could you handle it, if by Christmas 2023 all the pubs in your parents’ town have been forced to close? Where would you go on Christmas Eve? How would you find school friends to put into imaginary headlocks? You wouldn’t.
The only realistic and proactive measure that anyone can take to prevent this outcome is to move Christmas to June 25. With New Year’s Eve remaining where it is, the hospitality sector will get a double boost (probably).
Moving Christmas To Summer – The Gift That Keeps Giving
Even better, moving Christmas to the summer time would mean two more bank holidays over summer.
That’s perfect for people with real jobs. Even better, there’s a sweetener.
If you don’t move the school summer holidays, teachers would lose two bank holidays. This makes the change much easier to sell to readers of the Sun and the Daily Mail.
What Could Go Wrong?
I’d have a better Christmas. You’d have a better Christmas. We’d all have a better Christmas.
The only disadvantage would be that I can no longer bask in the heating at my parents’ house over December. But ultimately, I truly believe that’s a very small price to pay for banishing this shitty tradition.
NB: Henry developed this policy proposal on his phone while at his parents’ house, while obstinately refusing to watch reruns of Dr Who and Amazon Prime’s Wheel of Time with his father. Policy officials at DCMS are invited to plagiarise this proposal and present it to their Secretary of State as soon as possible. Should this plan be realised, an angel prophesied that it would become the most innovative policy to emerge from DCMS ever.
It’s a relief, given the Prime Minister’s recent, rather honest admission that “No Whitehall civil servant could have conceivably come up with [a plan as good as] Peppa’s.” Perhaps forgetting that Peppa Pig is actually a cartoon for children conceived by the unwashed & unemployed (apparently anyway).
So it’s no wonder that Michael Gove’s new Department has drawn inspiration from the little swine’s theme park to set out exactly how they’re going to level up the UK. There’s a rumour that she even helped name his new department. Really? Well, who else but a pig would think the Department for Levelling Up would be responsible for anything but rubber stamping DnD character progression?
While I recognise that now would be a good time for a gammon joke, they’re as lazy as Daddy Pig, so make one up yourself (actually, how about, ‘oh you Gammon?‘ – I know, it’s funny. Don’t wet yourself).
So now it’s all out in the open, I thought I’d spill the beans. Don’t worry, I won’t get into trouble. Like all those other leaked announcements, everyone important already knows responsibility sits with Special Advisers or Dominic Cummings.
What Is Peppa Pig World?
It’s a dreary theme park in Hampshire, where estranged single fathers take their teenage children to one up their former spouses. It’s also a beacon of hope and an architectural marvel, eclipsing the majesty of Great Yarmouth’s Merrivale Model Village.
Now that we’ve covered all the details, I bet you’re dying to know exactly what’s in store for Britain.
Let’s dive into the trough and discover exactly how Peppa Pig’s going to change the course of British history.
Levelling Britain Up into a Pig Pen
Innovative, sensational & sexy. Here’s Peppa Pig’s Levelling Up Strategy:
Grandpa Pig’s Little Train Revolutionising HS2. Hang out the windows and forget about work, you’re going to be late anyway. The real reason the Leeds leg of HS2 has been cancelled, because one of Europe’s largest public infrastructure projects is now going to be a fun closed circuit loop driven by a geriatric.
Mr Potato’s New Obesity Strategy. Now the Prime Minister did have some off colour remarks about the treatment of Daddy Pig in his speech to the CBI. Perhaps that’s because Mr Potato humiliated Daddy Pig on TV and forced him exercise and he’s worried that the same things about to happen to him (Yes – I have actually watched three Peppa Pig episodes today – thank you world)
George’s Spaceship Playzone. Perfect. What better than a non-functioning space port? They’re only meant for tourism anyway. So taking a lead from George, the Government has reiterated plans to install a ride for babies in Cornwall.
Right, so we’ve covered fishing disputes, covering up sleaze, mass transit projects, a way to send away the immigrants, a way to get everyone healthy, some stuff about space and a sanitised national anthem. Surely that’s enough experience for a level up?
Incredible that I wrote this tripe in half an hour.
What’s Going On?
I don’t know. However, it does seem like a better strategy to level up Britain than the current one. So maybe cut Boris a little slack. There’s no harm in talking about Peppa Pig at a business conference. I mean, had anyone in attendance managed to sell the rights to their crappy cartoon for £3.6 billion? No?
Did you know that Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, is my penpal?
Probably not. I don’t think he does either.
Yesterday, I sent a letter to him and it’s a masterpiece. It’s probably going to fix Brexit.
I even put three second class stamps on it, so if you don’t see him this weekend, it’s because he’s working on his response.
It’s such a great story that I had to share it.
Get ready for an epic episodic tale of brotherly love, political espionage & learning French.
I’d wager you’ll enjoy this even more than the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Even that bit when the train crashes and all those people’s face’s start melting.
Here’s how it happened.
How I Started To Feel Like French Toast
Imagine you’re French toast. Damp, sticky and filled with intrigue – at least when I make it.
That’s how I felt at the start of this adventure.
Despite achieving a commendable C in GCSE French, today, I can’t hold a conversation in the language.
You’re spitting your coffee out right now, aren’t you? Exclaiming, ‘Why’s that a problem?!‘
And you’re right.
If you’re English it’s your birth right to assume that everyone else can speak your language.
However, I had a predicament.
You see, at least four of my friends are French and sometimes they speak French to each other (for those who doubt I have four friends, they’re called Jean-Pierre, Jean-Claude, Jean-Renault and Jean-Bic).
While I’m pretty sure I know what they’re saying, I don’t.
I’ve worked out that it’s one of these three subjects, but I need to know which one:
Who fancies me the most
How they’re not as handsome or successful as me
What they’re having for lunch at the studio burger van. Probably breaking the fourth wall in French, while picking apart my lead role in the half-scripted reality tv show, Ultra Warrior (have you seen my abs?)
I’d quite like to know what they’re talking about. If it’s no.3, I’d be really interested in whether I have a clothing line of oversized print t-shirts. If I do, maybe I will make rent this month.
How I Paid To Learn French
When I had a job, I was enrolled on a French course for children at the Institut Français du Royaume Uni in South Kensington.
It was great, except everyone else in the class was twelve. They weren’t from England and they were much better at French than I. English too.
However, despite these formidable challenges, I made a lot of progress on the course.
I learned great phrases like, ‘tu est mon petit chou,’ which is how all students should address their teachers. I also learned that ‘why’ is pronounced ‘i-grec’.
But at £340 a term, after reneging on my job, I didn’t have the cash to start Baby-French-Plus.
Yet I needed to learn more.
You see, after the course there was only one verb that I understood: ‘manger,’ to eat.
Je mange une orange
Je mange un ordinateur
Je mange un petit chat
Je mange la rue
You get the idea.
It was the linguistic equivalent to being a one year old.
I was unable to do anything except stick things in my mouth.
How To Master French For Free
No one gives out baguettes or visits to Élysée Palace for free. So I’ve had to devise my own ingenious strategies to master the French language with limited resources.
It’s a pretty great three pronged strategy:
Point at something, then ask your French girlfriend what it is in French. Ignore her response. Repeat
Repeat the same lesson on Duolingo again and again and again (yes, I am calm & rich)
Trick a very important French person into becoming your pen-pal so you can move to Paris and fully immerse yourself in the language. Finally, I’ll have that column in Le Monde. It’s the only thing that’s going to raise my Grandfather, the great Francophobe, from the grave.
So that’s it! This is point three of my master plan to learn French for free.
Why Write To President Macron?
In France, there aren’t any monarchs. They got rid of them during that revolution. According to Napoleon, that makes the president the king. Writing to a king is WAY better than writing to someone in jail.
Also, President Macron fits a lot of important pen pal criteria:
He can speak French at least as well as I can
French people hate him, so he doesn’t have many friends
We have a lot of common interests. He’s advising the EU on Brexit, and he like I would like to watch the UK burn
But what could I write to him want to be my new bosom?
Inexperienced at friendship, I figured it was probably like life. Everyone’s always saying that you should start things with the most important meal of the day – breakfast. So why not start there?
I was in luck too! At this stage I knew how to say most things about breakfast in French.
That’s why my first letter to President Macron begins with our favourite meal of the day:
Read on. It’s delish!
Coucou President Macron #1 – The Breakfast of Champions
Cou Cou Presidente Macron
Le petit déjeuner des champions
Je suis Henry, et je suis anglais. J’ai trente ans, et je ne travaille pas parce que je n’ai pas le droit de traverser la route. C’est trop dangereux !
En ce moment, j’apprends le français, et je pense que j’ai besoin d’un ami de crayon! Un correspondant et un ami très important !
Vous connaissez beaucoup de politique et moi aussi! Et je pense que vous avez besoin d’un ami de crayon aussi pour vous aider avec le Brexit et pour les affaires domestiques des français !
Toutes mes félicitations ! Je suis votre nouvel ami de crayon !
Parce que nous sommes amis maintenant, je vais écrire “tu” et non “vous”.
Comme toutes les belles amitiés commencent avec le petit déjeuner!
Maintenant, le petit déjeuner des champions commence avec Henry (moi) et toi (Président Macron)!
Je te promets que ça sera savoureux, très intéressant et délicieux.
En général, je mange un petit déjeuner traditionnel ! En anglais, ça s’appelle “English Breakfast” !.
Dans le “English Breakfast” il y a deux saucisses, un œuf, des haricots de fuer, trois tranches de bacon, du pain frit, une tomate de frite et des champignons! C’est parfait, parce que les champignons sont pour les champions !
Mais, aujourd’hui je n’ai pas mangé de petit déjeuner traditionnel, parce que nous prenons le petit déjeuner ensemble et nous ne mangeons pas la nourriture ! Nous mangeons de bonnes idées !
Et toi ? En France, quel est le petit déjeuner traditionnel ? Je pense que c’est différent.
Je sais que tu parles avec le Premier Ministre du Royaume-Uni sur les achats préférés de la population. Et tu veux le meilleur prix ! Je sais qu’il adore manger du cochon. Tu dois lui dire, “Les cochons français sont bien meilleurs que les cochons anglais !”
Ces informations sont très utiles pour ta discussion sur le Brexit !
Hier, j’ai lu que les photographies de la police étaient interdites. Pourquoi ? Est-ce qu’ils sont très moches ? Je sais que les gens très moches gâchent les photographies, mais ils doivent se sentir très mal maintenant.
Peux-tu les prendre en photo pour moi et me les envoyer ? Je vais à savoir si c’est trop mauvais !
Quel super petit-déjeuner ! Je suis très content que nous soyons amis. Passe-moi le jus d’orange s’il te plaît !
Ecris-moi vite !
Henry (ton ami préféré)
What I Think It Says
It’s a masterpiece, isn’t it?
For everyone who can’t speak French as well as I can, here’s what I *think* it says:
To break the ice, I begin with a lighthearted joke about how I don’t have a job because crossing the road is dangerous. Now Emma’s warmed up, he’s now ready to hear about the exceptional political expertise I have to offer him.
I’m confident that we’re going to be friends, so after introductions, I drop the formality and start using ‘tu’ instead of ‘vous’.
Next, I explain the complexities of British culinary habits and how a deep understanding of them can and will improve Brexit deal outcomes for everyone.
Ever the caring friend, I invite him to tell me what the French people usually eat for breakfast, even though I already know it’s nesquik.
I then engage him directly on the Assemblée Nationale’s lower chamber’s recent passage of the Global Security Bill, which proposes to circumvent journalist’s ability to publish photographs of policemen and women online. Now, I’m worried that this wasn’t his decision, as he’s French and loves liberty. I assume because of this, he must have been kidnapped by someone who didn’t want their photograph taking. So, I help him alert me of his captor with a clever ploy – I invite him to send me a picture of them, in confidence.
Finally, I congratulate him on a superb breakfast and implore him to write back soon.
I have every confidence that he will.
The Exciting Next Episode of Coucou President Macron
Next week we’re going to take an imaginary trip to the countryside for a relaxed weekend.
We might also talk about why French cockerals say such stupid things.
I can’t wait. Can you?
What would you do if President Macron was your penpal? Stop dreaming. He’s mine.
Still, this week I learned that it costs the same amount of money to send a letter from the United Kingdom to France, as it does to send it to Azerbaijan.
Incredible. Maybe you can find someone to talk to there.
The biggest threat to UK democracy probably isn’t Russia. It’s probably disinformation peddled by the UK Government, political parties and campaign groups.
Yesterday, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) published a breezy report about how the UK Government “took its eye off the ball on Russia.”
The report identifies that Russia poses a significant threat to the UK security, in part due to state-funded, malicious cyber campaigns targeted at the UK. These offensive attacks have allegedly attempted to influence every major democratic vote in the UK since the 2016 Scottish Referendum.
It concludes that disinformation campaigns spearheaded by adversarial foreign states pose a threat to democracy in the UK, recommending that an appropriate defence against this threat would be new regulations for advertising on Social Media and a new set of powers for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Even redacted, it’s a fun read; highlighting some of the current challenges faced in international relations.
However, the recommendations at heart of the report highlight the UK Government’s continued lopsided stance on tackling disinformation in UK politics.
So What’s In The Russia Report?
Not a lot.
It says Russia’s not a nice place, Russian’s hate the West and the Secret Intelligence Services should have done more about the threat from the mid-2000s.
On the whole, it portrays Russia as the misunderstood nihilist. You know, the one who sits at the back of the class, setting fire to things and misquoting Nietzsche.
The report then recommends that to establish the framework to address the situation, new Ministerial powers should be given to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Cabinet Office), empowering them to protect “democratic discourse and processes from [international] interference.” While the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) must establish a protocol with social media companies to ensure that they take covert hostile state use of their platforms seriously, and ‘name and shame’ those that don’t.
So What’s The Problem?
Delivering powers to prevent foreign interference with elections will not address the most potent challenges to democracy in the UK.
Instead, reports like this arguably divert attention from serious domestic issues with UK politics that the UK Government should be actively addressing rather than just paying lip service to.
Briefly, here are some of the actual domestic challenges faced by UK democracy:
The Unchecked Ugliness of Electioneering. Take the 2019 General Election Fact Check UK scandal and well documented factual fallacies in the campaigning material used to support the 2016 EU Referendum Leave and Remain campaigns. In both instances, note the significant lack of consequences faced by those who benefited politically from misleading the public. Right now, during an election, there’s no effective punishment for those who don’t play by the rules. That’s a licence for anyone to lie their way into Government.
Prevailing Public Mistrust of the UK Government and Political Parties. There are plenty of reasons people don’t trust the Government or politicians; but it’s not helped by the UK Government’s continued reliance on misleading statistics. This could be anything from the continued use of heavily caveated unemployment and disability figures, misleading R&D investment totals to frequent misclassification of old funding as ‘new’. The same goes for political parties who misquote their record in Government. The average person is never going to verify claims like this themselves, and when they see claims that they are wrong in the Sun or Guardian, why should they continue to trust politicians.
The UK’s Failed Citizenship Test. The persistence of a relatively poor national understanding of how laws are made, how Government works and how MPs are voted into office. How can people actively participate in a democracy when they don’t understand it?
Continued Constitutional Failures of the UK Electoral System. How can every vote matter in a system in which every major party has endorsed some form of tactical voting during a national election? Or is willing to rewrite electoral boundaries without the check of Parliamentary scrutiny? Or is a vote in a country that still employs the first past the post system? What was the argument for it again? Namely that more often than not, it delivers a stronger Government than those ‘awful’ coalitions mainland Europe has to suffer.
However, unlike an international aggressor, these issues are pretty boring. Every time I try to force a conversation about constitutional politics with my friends, they call me a Lib Dem and ask if Nick Clegg’s my boyfriend.
But still, what’s the point in protecting a democracy when the electorate do not have the right to make informed decisions?
Can you even protect a democracy when the electorate do not have the right to make informed decisions?
I’d argue not.
What Do You Do?
Whether the political system works is always going to be dependent on your definition of ‘works’. My definition of ‘works’ is that the electorate know what they’re voting for, and understand as best they can, the consequences of what they are voting for.
I really hate it when people write about issues, but don’t suggest how to resolve them. So, here’s how I think you’d go about rectifying some of these challenges:
Proper Consequences for MPs and Parties Promoting Disinformation. Give the Electoral Commission the powers and resources necessary to assess when political candidates and their parties have lied or purposefully misled the electorate. Also give them powers to enforce adequate punishments on said parties. Parties and campaigning groups don’t care about monetary fines. They don’t work. Instead, why not force a reduction in the number of voting MPs that party can have at any one time; so the consequence is potentially the loss of majority, but not the complete loss of representation.
An Independent National Research Unit. When there’s a General Election, political parties rely on their own research units to provide statistics for their campaigns. The electorate then has to rely on Fact Check UK, the BBC and other unaffiliated organisations to assess whether politician’s and party’s claims are factual. There should be a state funded, independent organisation that provides accurate information to those running for election, and debunks figures that have been manipulated for the electorate. This responsibility should not be given to Big Data companies, as they should not be part of a national election. This organisation’s definition of truth should not be influenced by possible commercial or political gain.
On the topic of education, I don’t think there’s a simple solution here. Specifically, I do not believe mandatory classes at secondary school would really increase anyone’s understanding of the system.
On the boundaries issue, as long as there’s no way to create laws that are immune to amendment, beyond actually introducing a written British Constitution, I don’t see how this could be achieved effectively.
However, on the whole, I’d argue that these two actions would do more for democracy in the UK than any action on Russia will.