Air travel and how to survive it

There is a certain discipline involved in air travel that irks those of us who don’t like being told what to do.

Take everything out of your pockets and put it in the tray. Laptop out of the bag. Just because, all right? Shoes off. And belt (Why? Afraid I’m going to try to hang myself from the scanning doorframe type thing you have to walk through?)

No fluids over a certain volume. And don’t even think about declaring your blood – security people don’t take kindly to jokes.

Once you’re on the plane and have fastened your seatbelt like a good boy (which I’ll admit is only common sense), when they reach a certain altitude you are informed that the seatbelt sign has been switched off, but they would still like you to keep it on, loosened like a tie at a wedding reception.

Turn your phone off, because “it may interfere with the aircraft’s navigation system”. Really? Or are you actually just saving us all from Debbie from McDonald’s, who hasn’t been on a plane before and is so excited she’s got to phone her best friend and give her a running commentary?

seatbelt sign
One more thing: do not play your bassoon

“For the benefit of the only person in the world who doesn’t know this – Debbie, are you listening – you can’t smoke in a plane. Even in the toilets, because they’re fitted with smoke detectors. So we’ve got you there too. Heh heh, Meester Bond. Thrrrrp. Eengleesh peeg.”

Then there is the overhead locker question: you’re supposed to put your hand luggage up there, even if there’s no room because the time-conscious veteran passengers have squeezed their entire wardrobe into theirs, to save having to mess about with a big suitcase, and the little carry-on had to be forced in.

On a long flight these people will repeatedly block the aisle while they retrieve books, sweets and things for the children to play with.

Coming in to land, you are informed that the seatbelt sign is back on, so buckle up, buttercup.

There was an extra point to be considered when I travelled on the Caribbean airline LIAT recently: don’t steal anything. They put it something like, “It is an offence to remove equipment and fittings from the aeroplane.”

Furtively I fished the oxygen mask out of my underpants, where it had fitted nicely, like a cricketer’s protective ‘box’, and removed the two seat belts, which I had cunningly disguised, crossed on my chest, as if I was on my way to a fancy dress party as a Mexican bandit.

The sick bag went back in the seat pocket, a bit crumpled but still usable, and I managed to reassemble the folding tray, which had been shoved up my shirt like body armour.

I toyed briefly with the idea of returning the in-flight magazine before remembering that you’re not just allowed but positively encouraged to take that with you.

My wife, on the other hand, had great trouble taking off her clothes, which she had slipped over the entire, unbolted seat, with the aim of waddling away with it to guarantee being able sit down while we waited for the luggage.

There’s a final seatbelt warning, to the effect that you should not undo it until the sign has been switched off and the plane has come to a complete standstill. Me, I’m on my feet before the overhead locker merchants have time to start heaving their treasure chests out and down to block the aisle, as is obviously their calling in life.


This is probably just my imagination, but does anyone else feel that the cabin crew member who says the goodbyes tends to ignore you?

And then it’s the power-walk up ramps and down corridors, looking for the display board that tells you where (but not when) the luggage will be dispensed. If you look closely at these boards, there is an unlit section where you can just make out the words, “But don’t hold your breath.”

So we sat on it and bingo: fits in the overhead locker

What country is this again? What’s the time, in their opinion? What currency do they use and how much of it are you going to need to pay the taxi driver?

Which queue am I supposed to be in? I know there is a sign, but it’s in a foreign language.

Shall I smile and be friendly or just tramp through the gloom and get it over with? Would it be quicker to create a disturbance and get arrested? The police station is probably quite close to my hotel.

The Immigration desks are manned by depressed misanthropes, all trained at the same disused prison camp in Siberia. And there’s the Customs guys, cracking jokes, giving little breakdancing demonstrations and wishing you a nice day.

And the worst thing of all is that you’re going to have to do the same thing all over again in a few days’ time.

A version of this article first appeared in Newsday, Trinidad and Tobago

A woman’s brain is in her hips

Fern Britton. There’s brains in them there hills

This blog is all in favour of the fuller-figured woman. While that is not to dismiss the undoubted attractiveness of some with little upholstery on their frame, those waif-like creatures have had it all their own way for long enough and need no support from us.

The last golden age for the larger lady was a long time ago – the 16th century, in fact, when the painter Peter Paul Rubens was the artist of the day, regaling the world with his pictures of buxom wenches. He was interested in other things too, of course: he did palaces and saints and all sorts, but if there was going to be a woman in them, she was going to be fleshy.

Does my bum look big in this?

And not just nicely rounded: Rubens painted cellulite before it even had a name. And his women were starkly, never-seen-the-sun white, too, which means they didn’t benefit from the softening effect of darker skin tones.

This train of thought arises not just by chance, but by coming across findings suggesting that intelligence is directly related to body shape and that curvy women are likely to be brighter than their slimmer sisters and may produce more intelligent children.

So there you have it, ladies, you’re not just a lavish helping of succulent flesh, you’re also cleverer than you thought. It may not be as simple as saying your brains are in your boobs, not to mention your buttocks, but it’s something along those lines.

Researchers in the US surveyed 16,000 women and girls and found the more voluptuous ones performed better in cognitive tests.

Cognitive. No, I wasn’t sure either, so I looked it up and found it was to do with cognition. So I looked that up too and found it meant ‘The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses’. Which means… it’s about figuring things out for yourself.

No stick insect: Serena Williams

One theory is that it is all to do with the fatty tissue found on hips, which is likely to contain omega 3, and you know how highly regarded that is. So, gentlemen, if you want to give your brain a boost, ward off Alzheimers etc, , you don’t have to get pills from the pharmacy or eat truckloads of oily fish. Just chew on your lady’s generous parts.

“Men respond to the double enticement of both an intelligent partner and an intelligent child,” the researchers at the Universities of Pittsburgh and California said.

See? It’s not ignorant, animal lust, as has been portrayed for so many years. It’s your brains we’re interested in.

There is, as usual, a catch. Apparently, if this theory is to be believed at all, it has to be made more specific. It’s all a matter of the waist-to-hip ratio. So just having a rump like two footballs is not a guarantee of Einstein-like IQ. You have to have a comparatively small waist.

Well, that can be faked to a certain extent. Women in the 18th and 19th centuries wore corsets to achieve the very shape we’re talking about, although what they wanted their lower moons to resemble was probably small melons, rather than footballs.

black woman
Madam, you have just been promoted to gorgeous

A new acronym is called for. BBBW: big beautiful brainy woman.

Ref! The enigma that is Liverpool

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.


What do I think of Liverpool, Dave? In light of the fact I did their game against Villa, you mean? Well, it was thoroughly enjoyable from my point of view, but that’s not what you’re asking, is it? You’re asking if, in my professional opinion, Brendan Rodgers has got it right.

The answer is, as so often, circumstances have helped him. I thought he – or his transfer committee – had a terrible summer. First it’s all about Danny Ings. He snaps him up as soon as Burnley are relegated. Indecent haste, mate. Embarrassing.

But okay, he’s got Ings and this is going to be the answer to Liverpool’s prayers. Then he buys Benteke, who is a more high-profile player and a different kettle of fish altogether. Big target man, a throwback to John Toshack, almost, and everybody’s saying they’ll have to build the team around him.

Then Daniel Sturridge comes back from injury and Benteke does a hamstring and it’s all about Sturridge. And him and Ings do look more like it, you have to admit.

But all the time, guys, all the time, there’s little Philippe Coutinho, who’s their real diamond, and he must be thinking ‘Okay, Brendan, sort it out and get the team to catch up with me’, cos he’s your Brazilian Mata, he’s as good as Hazard, but he’s like a beautiful carrot that’s already grown and ready to dig while they’re still spreading manure on the rest of the garden.

That, Baz, is called mixing metaphors. It’s what happens when you’ve got a football brain like the thoughts of Chairman Mao meets the mind of Brian Clough.

Cheers, Gary, pint of that milky stuff we invented last week: Guinness and Baileys. Gaileys, yes, Dave, good one. Well, a bit… you know, but we’re all secure in our sexuality, I think.

At the back, mate? Liverpool, you mean? The jury is out, Dave. He’s got lots of options but they’re so unconvincing the jury is not just out but has gone for a pint, had a few scotches and is now hanging around the only remaining chip shop in the area, in search of a bit of relief from the tedium.

Manual relief, yes, Baz, maybe, but someone else’s manual.

They’re a funny bunch, though, Liverpool. They’ve been hopeless for years apart from that little Suarez interlude, ever since Fergie did what he set out to do and knocked them off their effing perch, but they don’t see it. They still think it’s a blip. But manager after manager buys ten cheap shirts instead of one beautiful one and wonders why they shrink in the wash.

Yes, Baz, minced menopause again. Go back to sleep, for Clough’s sake.


Savez vous la route pour San Jose?

As you know, other people are idiots.

That was my father’s opinion, anyway. They are also bastards, he assured me. He had many redeeming features, my Dad, but the ones concerning other people certainly needed redeeming.

Other people cease to be so when we realize that we are idiots, and in no sphere of human activity are there more idiots than in the process of finding our way somewhere by road.

Without satnav.

The old-fashioned way involving using a map until it runs out of detail.

…and this is the most recent one you’ve got?

Then you’re reduced to asking people. That is hard enough when they speak the same language as you, let alone when rough translation rears its ugly head.

I recently found myself relying on directions given by a stranger in a service station who didn’t speak English and barely spoke the local language, because it was a weekend in French Guiana where, of course, they speak French(ish). Picture the scene: you’re buzzing around a country you’ve never visited before, in a rented car which Henry Ford himself has just finished assembling.

“We’re looking for the Hotel Parapluie. Is it around here?”

He says yes, but it’s a long way, and when pressed, adds that that means six or seven minutes’ drive. Unconvinced, I stop at the next petrol station for confirmation, only to find that the Chinese woman running it is pointing back the way we have just come and indicating left while saying right.

This inability to tell left from right is a built-in weakness in about half the world’s population, and I’m not necessarily saying that’s the female half, although there is compelling evidence to support that assertion, not least in my own household.

Anyway, this woman’s earnest performance is entirely unreliable and I decide she probably couldn’t find her way out of her own underwear, so the jury disregards her ramblings and we proceed as per the previous witness’s efforts.

“At the first rondpoint [roundabout – you might find this useful some time], take the third exit.” In other words turn left, I thought, patronizingly, as the man sketched the route on a piece of scrap paper.

Remember, they drive on the right there and the roundabouts are all back to front.

“Second rondpoint, go straight ahead.”

We turn left at the first one and soon find the second, which turns out to have no straight-ahead option. In such circumstances all you can do is try to think as your instructor thinks. If he considers five or six minutes’ drive a long way, does he mean left or right when he says straight ahead?

Left looks more promising, so we take a gamble on that. Note the plural: as darkness falls and patience runs short, the last thing you need is a difference of opinion inside the car. Decisions must be unanimous, or appear so, anyway. We succeed together and we fail together.

One more roadside consultation, this time in a fast food outlet, where I receive confirmation that it’s just up there before the school. Oh, the school, of course. Just because I’ve never been here before, that doesn’t mean I can fail to know where the school is, and if I do find it, it means I’ve missed the hotel.

But wait, another clue: turn right at the “weet a weet”. Long-ago French scholar turns detective and decides this must be a convenience store that’s open from eight to eight. Now you’re talking.

Back in the car with a wave of optimism struggling to assert itself. Curse the traffic for putting you under pressure when you’re crawling along like a numpty, head extended tortoise-style to gain a few precious inches of zoom.

And there in the gathering gloom is a corner shop with a 8 a Huit sign shining like a beacon outside a harbour.

Made it against all the odds. The hotel is there as promised, and not only that: the bar and the restaurant are still open.

Shower? Who needs one? I’ll have an internal rinse with French beer while I look at the wine list. If I’d wanted to behave myself I’d have stayed at home.


Confessions of an expat: The Foreigner’s Fear of the Hairdresser

Getting a haircut is not a major consideration in most men’s lives. It gets too long, you have it cut: simple.

But when you have recently moved to a country with a different ethnic mix, different fashions etc, you have to be just a little bit cautious. Often a hairdresser will send you away looking how he or she thinks you should look, rather than how you want to look.

Suriname is a cultural melting pot of people of African heritage, Indians (they call them Hindustanis), Chinese, Indonesians and Brazilians. And because it is a former Dutch colony, there are a few white people too.

I’ve been barbered on Caribbean islands where they had never worked on a head of straightish European hair before; I’ve tried to explain what I wanted in Spanish; I’ve had it done in women’s salons – and all with varying degrees of success.

Haircut 1
Fifties slickback, 70s length. Timelessly tasteless

There have been instances where I came out shorn, slicked back and dripping with hair oil, looking like a Cuban drug lord. I don’t like wearing hats or caps, but sometimes you have to take refuge there for a few days while it grows a fraction and settles down. A new country is a new challenge and you have to be careful.

And so it is that I am roaming around the capital, Paramaribo, weighing up the options. There are kapsalons (I think that means hairdressing) all over the place, just like there are car washes and supermarkets where you would least expect to find them, with people working from home to save on rent and trying to maximize their profits in a country where no one seems to be able to charge much money for whatever it is they do.

I’m wary of some of these side-street places. I don’t know anything about the people running them. They might be skilful, respectable folk providing a professional service. But without recommendations, you don’t know, do you?

However, you’ve got to do something, you’ve got to trust someone. Finally I come across a place in a small group of shops, with a professional frontage and a proper sign above the door.

I feel guilty about choosing this operation just because it can afford to have its name painted by a professional signwriter, but I can’t keep looking forever, so that’s it. This will be the one.

Haircut 2
Something like this suit you? You’re a distinguished lookng gentleman…

There are four chairs and the place looks like it is for women only. A young Chinese girl greets me, her breath reeking of cigarettes. She would like to be helpful but doesn’t understand my question, “Do you do men’s hair?”

A slightly older Chinese young man appears and takes over – he’s been on the Marlboros too. He understands me and ushers me into one of the chairs. At this point communication becomes visual only. I would like the back and sides done with the electric clippers but the top with scissors. He doesn’t have anything as crude as scissors.

The girl puts the towel on the back of my neck but he doesn’t like the way she does it, so he takes it off and repositions it. She retreats to the back of the shop for a smoke. The young man is keen to get started.

Haircut 3
Something more flamboyant, perhaps. With your bone structure this could really work

It pays to disregard a hairdresser’s own haircut. This guy has it shaved at the back and sides, and the top is long, dyed blond and swept forward. As I try to describe what I want, I have to fight the urge to tell him that whatever he does, I don’t want my hair to look like his. If he wants to look like a plonker, that’s up to him.

When he starts, he is all action, whizzing the clippers up and down my neck, contours on the sides and a reassuringly light touch on top. He seems to know what he is doing, and if it is all going to go horribly wrong, it is going to go horribly wrong quickly.

Haircut 4
I’ll get you. I’ll be back and I’ll ****in’ have you, pal

It’s all over in five minutes and my hair looks okay at a glance. He can’t understand why I don’t want some ‘product’ in it – wax or gel or putty or something – but lets me off eventually, grinning and waving the internationally-accepted thumbs-up sign.

“Another satisfied customer,” he seems to be thinking. “I’m too good for this place. One day I’ll have a salon on Fifth Avenue in New York and when I tell my life story, I will very briefly refer to the little business where I started, next to a rice-packaging plant in the south of Paramaribo. You should have seen this English guy I did once. Got it done in five minutes and he couldn’t believe it. Feeling round the back with his fingers even though I had just shown it to him in the mirror. He didn’t trust me, thought I was going be an idiot.”

Well I’m sorry. Yes, I was apprehensive. But I was wrong. Five minutes, 25SRD – about £5. Everyone’s a winner.

Confessions of an expat: the language issue



Foreign? Moi?

There is a perception of the Englishman abroad in which he is dressed in baggy trousers and a hat, and doesn’t speak the language because, of course, everyone should speak English. So in order to communicate with the locals he talks slowly and loudly and thinks that they understand really, but are too bloody-minded to admit it.

While I don’t subscribe to that viewpoint, I do worry that if English and Spanish don’t assert themselves, we’re all going to have to learn Mandarin, which is all very well if you do it as a schoolkid, but once you get past a certain age it becomes more difficult.

The expat has an unwritten obligation to learn the language of his adopted country. It’s only polite, after all, and not to do so can appear arrogant.

It might be a minority language that you secretly feel should be allowed to disappear quietly, but while it exists and is the chief tool of communication, you have to make an effort.

In Suriname that means getting to grips with Dutch (the local language Sranan tongo (AKA taki taki) might be fun, but it can wait). First, find your Dutch teacher. My wife and I did. We took taxis to the other side of the city twice a week to take part in mixed-level classes. Now, when you and your classmates are all absolute beginners, the term mixed-level might seem inappropriate, but in this case it is accurate.

thumbs up
Internationally understood. If only the answer to every question was “Yes”.

The classes are given in English – in other words the teacher teaches in English. That presents a problem if, for instance, your classmates are an Indian man from India, rather than a local Hindustani, and a girl from French Guiana, who speaks, yes, French.

The teacher can’t keep everyone happy. Either she’s crawling along in first gear for the benefit of those who don’t really understand what she’s saying, or she’s racing along and leaving them trailing in the distance, to accommodate those who do understand her and are capable of progressing quite quickly.

The teacher can’t win, although to her credit she discreetly switches between gears during each class so that both of the sub-groups have it their way for a while.

Progress is made and after a couple of months and a test, I am the proud owner of a certificate announcing that I know a little more than someone who knows nothing at all.

I can tell people my name, age and country of origin. I can tell the time (in a hesitant, not-really-sure way) and can ask someone how they are.

It pays to remember, though, that this is classroom stuff. In real life people don’t stick to the script, they have different accents, they use slang terms, throw in bits of taki taki or Chinese, Hindi, Javanese etc. and you lose track and confidence almost immediately.

A classic example comes in a Chinese restaurant. We arrive just after 5:30, not deliberately, but because we’ve been out all day and it feels like dinner time. Although the doors are open, the lights are on and the staff are there, they’re not open yet. Through sign language it is explained to us that the chef is asleep. This is clearly a problem.

They give us a glass of wine each to pass the time, and agree to turn on the airconditioning.

In due course the chef arrives (apparently) and we move on to the issue of ordering food from a menu written in Dutch. The young Chinese waitress attempts to help us for a minute or two before giving up and going away.

We eventually secure the services of a Chinese boy who speaks a bit of English but is unaccustomed to human contact because he spends all day and night playing games on a computer. Nice kid, though, and his parents must be very proud of him, if they remember him after all that time hiding in his bedroom.

The food is fantastic. The restaurant only recently opened, and it seems they have a hotshot chef, brought over from China to get the place off to a flying start. His only problem is that he doesn’t speak Dutch, either, so the local waitresses can’t get things across to him any better than they can to us.

The gawky waiter brings a bottle of red wine that is dark and murky and tastes muddy. In the UK I would send it back, but here I get the feeling that even if I could explain to them, they wouldn’t understand why I was refusing to accept what I asked for and they have brought.

Perhaps just around the corner in technologyland, or possibly Technologielaan, there is a solution to international language differences. Esperanto was developed 125 years ago but didn’t catch on – and it sounded too Italian for my liking, anyway.

Ah well. Ik heet Chris. Ik kom uit England . Hoe gaat het? Tot ziens. That’s “My name is Chris. I’m English (not exactly, but it’s too complicated to explain.) How are you? Bye.”

The English Pedant. Don’t shoot me – it was the proofreader wot done it

The writer writes. The sub-editor chops and changes as he or she sees fit. And the proofreader has the final say.

Many people would like to be proofreaders. When they read a piece in a newspaper or magazine they notice things that they perceive to be wrong. And if they are obsessive enough about it they may want to spend their life making minor corrections.

Take that last sentence, for example: you don’t start a sentence with a conjunction such as and or but. We were taught that rule at school. But everyone does it these days.

And is there anything really wrong with it? It reflects how we speak, and writing is becoming ever more conversational.

Does it prevent us from understanding what is being expressed? I don’t think so.

Would it stand up under the unscrupulous scrutiny of a court of law? I doubt it.

If you have never contributed an article or story to a publication, you may think that means your writing has never been examined by a proofreader, but wait a minute: have you ever used Microsoft Word? When a word is underlined, that is the automatic checker telling you you’ve done something wrong. It could be the spelling, spacing or grammar, or it could have noticed that you have repeated a word by accident (it assumes).

Many people rely on the spellchecker to point out errors and are not just grateful but completely accepting of its verdicts. However (he said, avoiding using but at the start of the sentence) where do you think the rules came from? They weren’t generated by an intelligent computer. No, they were drawn up by a human being, and as such are open to debate.

Every one of the rules reflects his or her opinion of what is correct. And quite honestly, you or I may not always agree.

Never use a preposition to end a sentence with.

The one that gets my goat is when you refer to ‘the person who wrote the rules’ and it wants to change it to ‘the person that wrote them’. Is a person a thing? No. A building, a grape or a dog is a thing and is therefore the building, grape or dog that is referred to; a person is a human being and is therefore the person who did something.

We’ve all got pet hates. Even those who you might not expect to be interested will have something to say if you ask them.

This is particularly apparent to the writer who allows people he’s writing about to look at the article before it is published. Let’s say I’ve interviewed you about your new coffee shop. And I’ve started a sentence with but.

“In general it’s fine,’ you may say, assuming the mantle of proofreader. ‘But you start this sentence with but.”

“But you’ve just done that yourself,” I point out. “Anyway, carry on.”

“You say we have a bewildering range of flavours.”


‘I don’t want my customers bewildered.’

This actually happened to me once when I was attempting to describe the variety of nails and screws in a hardware store. Everywhere you looked there was row upon row of little sticks of metal. Now, strictly speaking, I can see the owner’s point, but is anyone really going to be prevented from entering his shop, having read the article, fearing they are going to be overcome by the huge choice and panicking?

Bloke in the Kitchen. Chilli con carne (AKA chilli)


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Ah, chilli con carne. Sounds quite fancy, doesn’t it?

Chili pepper
All chillies are hot but some are hotter than others, so be careful. Rule of thumb: small is deadly

Chilli is the hot stuff. It comes as fresh peppers, dried and chopped or – stroke of luck for us – as powder. GET SOME (hot, not mild -– if it’s too hot, use less next time). Carne is Spanish for meat. ALWAYS HAVE SOME MINCE IN THE FREEZER. Beef or lamb (you see turkey sometimes but it’s got a very strong flavour and can take things over, so it’s not the best option).

This recipe makes enough for today and three or four portions to freeze.

In the time it takes Chelsea to go 2-0 up against Barcelona, you’ll have enough chilli to last most of the week.


An onion.

Garlic if you like.

Cooking oil (sunflower maybe – nothing fancy)

A pack of minced beef or lamb, fresh or frozen

1 tin chopped tomatoes (one of those cans about 6″ tall)

1 small tin condensed tomato soup (optional)

2 tins red kidney beans

Stock cube (beef, lamb or chicken)

Chilli powder

Long grain rice – wholegrain (brown) or white


Defrost the mince if it’s frozen.

Cut the onion in half, lay the halves flat side down and cut one way, then crossways, until you have little fragments. Heat a little oil in a biggish pan (this stuff may spit, even when you’ve turned the heat down later). Fry the onions over a medium heat until translucent (if they go brown it’s not the end of the world). Mince, crush or chop a garlic clove or two , add it and fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the mince and break it up with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle chilli powder on the meat (about a tablespoon to start, and check later to see if you can handle some more). When the meat is cooked (it goes from the pink of raw flesh to a kind of grey/brown), splosh in a bit of red wine (quarter of a glass or so) and mix it up.

Add the tomatoes, tomato soup if you’re using it, and beans.  Turn heat down and let it bubble for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Try a bit and add what you think: tomato relish or chutney, more wine, Worcestershire sauce, reggae reggae sauce, or nothing at all: it’s your dish). Keep it on a low heat while you do the rice. The longer you cook it (gently) the smoother and richer it will be, but if you’re in a hurry it will be okay as soon as the rice is done.

Chilli dish
And it should look something like this


Pour some into a pan and cover with cold water (for two people, one cup of rice, two cups of water, something like that). Bring to the boil, cover (with lid not closed, but at a slight angle to allow steam to escape), turn down heat and cook gently until all or most of the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Strain if necessary.

COWBOY TIP: If it’s not thick enough, stir in some porridge oats or even crush some bran flakes and use them, but nothing too sweet or flavoured. The aim is to thicken, not alter the taste.






An introduction to Facebook

Don’t look at me like that. I have to wear these shades because I’m a visionary

Facebook is the de facto 51st American state – and in some ways the most ‘American’ of all. Millions of people visit the state every day, and many spend enough meaningful time in its environment to be said to live there. It achieves one of the USA’s chief aims by being global, and has achieved this without overt, directly-attributable, foreign-interference bloodshed.

The language of Facebook is not English but American – it was arrived at by a gradual process of mixing foreign accents, words and phrases, and was present at the birth of social media, fully-formed, chewing gum and waitin’ for ya.

While every other state – and indeed almost every other country – relies on traditional dictionaries to verify expressions, spellings and pronunciations, the state of Facebook has as its linguistic basis the complete collection of Friends videos. Therefore when, for instance, expressing the feeling of being heartwarmingly touched by something, it is not acceptable to say “Aaaahhhh!”, as the British do. Friends/Facebook American (FFA) doesn’t permit that. The official expression is “Awwwww!”

Similarly, if something makes you pull a face and utter a disapproving sound, it’s not disgusting but “gross” and the word to use is not “Yuk!” or even “Bleaughhh!” but “Ewww.”

Terms of affection have obviously come a long way since the British-influenced black-and-white era of calling someone “Love” or (heaven forbid) “Darling”. Similarly, regional variants such as “sweetheart”, “chuck”, “duck”, “hen” and particularly “chicken” should be avoided.

If you want to be taken seriously in the 21st century state that is Facebook, you should address people as “Hun” or “Babes”. No one knows why babes is plural, it just is.

brief 2
App me, hun, yeah?


Important note: You do not have to know or fancy the person you’re calling Hun. It’s short for honey, which Americans will use to address just about anyone apart from police officers and tax inspectors, and for security reasons, one should be wary of having such people as FB friends.

Men may address other men as “bro”. If this sounds too young African-American for you, do not resort to non-American forms such as ‘mate’, ‘chum’, ‘pal’ and ‘cobber’. The word is “buddy”.

Although an abbreviation of brother, “Bro” is not an indication of any relationship in family terms, but a shared ideology which need extend no further than the topic under discussion. Thus someone can be your “bro” the very first time you meet him as long as you have enough in common (a shared interest in some obscure, elitist strain of dance music, for instance, can make someone your temporary and highly specific “bro”. If you’re both into knitting, that can do it too).

It is recommended that non-American Facebook users undertake a crash course in Friends before venturing onto Facebook for the first time. This will equip them with basic grammatical requirements for participants’ main interest, which is, as in pop music, romantic/sexual relationships. This is not known as “going out with” someone, but “dating”.

One day, my friends, we will be a thing of the past. But our language will live on…

Vocabulary and idioms are crucial here, such as the fact that nobody “chats anybody up” anymore. You “hit on” people. Similarly, “cheating”, which used to mean using unfair methods to achieve good results in examinations etc, has now widened its scope considerably, replacing the outdated concept of “being unfaithful” to one’s spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend.

One side effect of “cheating” on someone is the tendency to feel bad about it (particularly if caught). This should not be expressed as “feeling guilty”, but as “being on like a guilt trip”.

N.B. (fancy Latin abbreviation meaning ‘nota bene’, which in turn means ‘take note’, or perhaps ‘dig this’) Friends finished in 2004 and there are inevitably many words and expressions which came after it, so it is not completely up to date. However, in the absence of an all-encompassing alternative, updates can be gleaned from more recent sitcoms such as Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory (but beware the latter’s undercurrent of intellectualism). Any 21st century American film with a knowing, snappy title (His Best Friend’s Girl, MILFs and Filth, Ride my Llama) will also do.

CONCLUSION: The general purpose of speaking Friends/FacebookAmerican is to make uncool nationalities such as British, Australian, Indian etc. sound like they are part of the baseball cap-wearing world population. Failure to adapt in this way can lead to being “unfriended” (an action previously restricted to school playgrounds and abandoned at the age of 10) and thus missing out on large quantities of inanity.

Ref! Diego Costa

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.


That’s right, Dave, I did Bournemouth-Sunderland on Saturday. I tell you what, although a referee can’t afford to get emotionally involved, we’re only football fans like anyone else. There can’t be many people in England who don’t want Bournemouth to survive in the Premier League, because it seems like a nice little club from an area that doesn’t get much credit football-wise.

The old thing about Southern Softies – just because your Dad wasn’t down a coal mine eight days a week and you’ve got a nice beach to play on and the weather’s a bit warmer, that doesn’t mean you’re any less dedicated. Yes, I speak as a Surrey man, nothing wrong with that.

And on this occasion you had the complete opposite as the opposition. Sunderland, where hardship is worn like a badge of honour, it’s all “we had to eat earwax sandwiches” and the club’s struggling and changing managers every five minutes but they’ve got a glorious history if you go back far enough. So you want them to do okay as well.

But as a ref you keep out of the way as much as possible, We’re, to use the modern parlance, facilitators. What that means, Baz, is that we facilitate the match – we provide the framework, the rules, the schedule – that enables the match to be played. It’s one of those contemporary words that many people think are bollocks, but one has to rise above that and just do the job.

Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a large Scotch. I’ll get the large if you get the Scotch – no, it’s just what I feel like having, it’s not that’s I’m desperate to catch up just because I was half an hour late. I had a couple at home, as it happens.

See, that’s the challenge, and it’s what Mike Dean fell foul of in the Chelsea-Arsenal game. He got the blame in some quarters – Garth Crooks, to be precise – for becoming visible, if you like. He sent off two Arsenal players when the one who should have gone was Diego Costa. He’s a bleeding troublemaker, everyone knows that, but the referee can only give what he sees, and Costa does most of his mischief off the ball, when you’re following the action. So all you know is when the defender finally gets pissed off with it and lamps him one.

Like at home when the missus has been needling you in her subtle, underhand way that doesn’t break any of the rules of domestic interaction. She just quietly picks away at you until finally you might erupt and call her a fat cow or something. We’ve all done it.

Mike did what he thought was right based on what he saw, and I don’t agree that he was making himself the centre of attention. But you are anyway, that’s the trouble. I get home after a game and Yvonne’s daughter, Kellie – 16 now, Dave, why? – she’s noticed my performance and is very complimentary. What can you do? She’s a perceptive girl, takes after her Mum.