The findings are in.
My exploratory yet exhaustive qualitative research into the state of the UK-US Special Relationship, conducted over the past few days under a number of strict scientific guidelines (“I will buy you a drink if you answer my question” – “Fine”), resulted in an overwhelming:
The question being: do you think, following the Government’s defeat last week over Syria, that the UK is no longer America’s closest ally and friend?
The initial reaction of “Well, that’s just dumb” was followed by an envious respect for a parliamentary process that allowed for a binding vote on the issue of military action.
The data collected from the sample during the latter, significantly more boozy, stages of interviews served only to confirm what I have thought all along: that the Special Relationship is generally beloved of Americans, in the same way that they might adore a particular Great Aunt.
Those I spoke to – the sample, I should point out, was taken from age groups 20 to 29 and 30 to 39, educated to degree level and in employment – were rather astonished at the suggestion that the relationship between our two countries could be damaged by the intrigues of the past week. Most believed that the UK had done the US a favour by pushing Obama into seeking a Congressional vote on military action and, whilst acknowledging that this may have caused a fairly decent diplomatic version of brain freeze, they saw no reason to drop the UK from their in-case-of-emergency list.
A quick recap of the tear-stained reaction from the popular press back home (‘Twelve Reasons We Totally Just Got Dumped’) was met with further quizzical looks and some amusing drunken listicals of just how much us Brits are adored: “You have a Queen! I love your accent! Churchill! The Olympics! The prime minister’s question thing in the Parliament!” History, it seems, weighs heavier than current events, and the will of the people is powerfully attractive. Fret no more, UK. We’re still BFF’s.
This past weekend we celebrated Labor Day, a public holiday established by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor in 1887 and dedicated to the ‘strength and esprit de corp of the trade and labor organizations’.
My earliest awareness of trade unions came from my mother, who recounted stories of my grandfather, a coal miner, enjoying paid holidays for the first time in the 1940’s. Thus I have a sentimental attachment to the organisations that fought for better pay and conditions like sick pay and maternity leave. It has been an eye-opener to me that, here, unions are scarce to be found in the private sector, and those that are active in the public sector are apparently mistrusted because ugh unions, you guys holding the economy hostage with your shitty wage demands and your defence of workers’ rights and your *shudder* collective bargaining ugh shame on you.
Ok, ok so some unions these days keep a closer eye on their own preservation than on the interests of their members. Meanwhile, here in my little corner of the non-unionised private sector, the concept of being ‘employed at will’, with little or no recourse should I be fired, has gone some way to curtail my daily swearage quota, cursing being rather frowned upon in the workplace. By the time I return home at the end of each working day, my little body is bursting with pent-up profanities, and the slightest annoyance – a misplaced book, a dropped spoon – is met with a stream of “fuckshitbollockfuckarse”.
Labor Day is of course a decent excuse to mark the last gasp of summer and get together with friends to drink beer and cook giant slabs of meat on bbq grills the size of my first flat. It is also when public swimming pools are open for one final weekend – for humans, that is. After Labor Day, D.C. enjoys the charming tradition of turning some pools over to dogs. Doggie Day Swim gives dogs a day of their own for fun and games in the water.
The weeks leading up to Labor Day often see employers inviting employees over to their homes for an evening of drinks and forced bonhomie, a social occasion to rally the troops for the hard work to come in the autumn.
It’s a nice and generous gesture, certainly. But bosses often live in suburban areas outside D.C. – Maryland or Virginia – and with little or no access to public transport, employees must car-share there and back. I don’t drive, and I would rather eat a herpes sandwich than get in a car with someone who has been drinking. So when the invitation came, I checked if anyone was intending to stay sober (nope), made my excuses and skipped the evening.
Drink driving is a thing here. In 2010, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes; that’s one person every 51 minutes. The US has some way to go until it reaches the zenith of smuggery we enjoy in the UK, where drink driving is seen as a crime so heinous it’s up there with kicking puppies. Blind puppies. Wearing tiny hats.
A co-worker once defended her practice of drink driving by telling me “Well, you smoke!” Yes, love, but I’m only killing myself.
While on the subject of horrific ways to die that leave families destroyed and communities devastated, here’s a fun fact for you. Maryland Police have received 85,000 gun-purchase applications this year so far. That’s an increase of 15,000 on the number of applications they received for the whole of last year.
Why the sudden rush? In a direct response to the Newtown school shooting, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley introduced tough new legislation aimed at preventing gun violence. The law will come into effect on 1 October and will, amongst other things, limit handgun magazines and add over 40 guns to a list of banned assault weapons.
Of course this has caused a bit of a kerfuffle with the gun lobby. The NRA plan to challenge the new law in the courts, and a local sheriff, suggesting the law is unconstitutional, has said he will refuse to enforce parts of it.
Possibly the best response came from a hilarious pro-gun advocate who applauded the declaration by the naughty sheriff by comparing him favourably to the blind loyalty displayed by Nazis working in death camps ha ha stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Finally, an apology. It has been a few months since I updated this blog. Frankly, the political world hasn’t been much fun recently (also, the new season of Masterchef started). But in the spirit of Robert the Bruce, I thought I’d give it another go.
Comments welcome (also, drinks and gifts of money).