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Alexander's Slander

Resident social critic Alexander lays down his tomes and half-devoured pint of real ale to illuminate the shrouded crevices of the St Andrean bubble and beyond.

Less Anglo, More Saxon

This column was initially going to be a tirade against the concerning and tyrannical censorship of prickly fellow but sensational children’s author Roald Dahl. Said censorship has since been renounced and will rightfully tumble back into the refuse heap of history. Until, of course, an academic in the field of critical chocolate-factory studies emerges from the Twitterverse to reignite the debate. Clairvoyance is a provider of bountiful joy.

Alas, instead of the masterpiece I had lined up questioning the applephobia of James being placed inside a giant peach, and explaining the gripe I have with the awfully inconsiderate The Twits not yet being renamed to the softer, more inclusive The Twxts, I’ve had to find something else to slander. That entity was going to be the Federal Republic of Germany; then, I went to the German Republic and — surprise, surprise — was seduced by their Knödel and Klöße to the point that my verbal projectiles are being returned to sender.

For the historically-uninitiated, the Anglo-Saxon period of English history precedes 1066, that infamous year in which those Gallic Normans — now, for many, grandmoms and pops — arrived and steamrolled our Germanic ancestors like a football hooligan does a Carling. In the subsequent centuries, greater and greater integration brought the English to where they are today: neither French nor German, a sort of halfway house with infinitely more wit and humour than either of its parts.

It would be very easy, and perhaps, even, accurate, to bemoan that French arrival and all the harm that it has caused us. This exact reproach has become quintessential British culture, after all. Nevertheless, in travelling to modern-day Germany — which does, sadly, require flying with plane companies so dystopian they now sell lotto tickets 30,000 feet above the ground — one can discern the fundamental bifurcation at which that ‘perfidious Albion’ threw itself under the bus: alcohol.

In Berlin, one can find decent, draught beer for less than €3 a pop. Err, hello? The average pint price in Britain is approaching £4. What’s more, Germans can drink on the street, in public transport, practically wherever they like. We Brits, for crying out loud, stringently forbid one another from having a tipple on the beach, whilst 16-year-old Germans are legally ploughing through pints (when not cycling or pretending to be vegan). As innumerable studies point out, alcohol-induced ‘Dutch courage’ grants greater linguistic confidence and thus ability. Hence their capacity to speak English better than we ourselves — the nation of water drinkers and “Can I have a pint of the 0%, please”-ers that we’ve become. Whatever the ‘experts’ and health gurus say, my conviction is such: if Britain wants to match, to level, to compete again with its continental Bruder, the sole solution comes in 568ml servings.

A Train-ful Experience

Trains are easy. Unlike airports, which attribute great importance to whether or not your luggage can go kaboom, train stations are much more relaxed about the whole thing. Plus, if you’re lucky, a quick fizzle and subsequent emergency evacuation might let you ‘coincidentally’ alight at a much more convenient spot than the next station.

What is more, hurtling towards wherever may be their terminus, it seems that everyone on a train has somewhere to be. I often wonder just how so many people can have so many places to go. Then, remembering some people still pay good money to go to events like TRNSMT, which reads more like a rail workers’ union than a festival — I recall that human beings are not universally reasonable. To be fair, some passengers don’t have a defined destination, they quite literally come along for the ride. So long as that ride doesn’t pass through Birmingham, who am I to judge?

Here’s the crux of the matter: trains are great; other passengers, seldom so. For example, is there some sort of hidden criterion stating that every carriage in Britain must carry at least three people who, leaving a hefty piece of literature on the table in front of them — Middlemarch, Ulysses, Crime and Punishment, or the like — simply refuse to touch, lift, or — brace yourselves — read it? One gets the impression. Albeit amusing, one can respect this carry-on: it’s an attempt to produce a spectacle of culture.

Less respectable are: the interminable “sorrys” of passengers either drunk or so overwhelmed by the concept of walking that they can’t do so in a straight line; the wannabe NASA-intern who, inexplicably, brings on board a 30-minute journey 17 laptops, Skullcandy headphones, a Nintendo DS, a Playstation 5 and 4 surround-sound curved-screen monitors; and, most scarring of all, the “listen, Chantelle, I know they were our life savings but I really thought Newcastle were a shoe-in to win in 90 minutes” victims of a bet-cum-marriage-ending gamble.

Illustration: Sarah Knight

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