I’ve been meaning to post here at TNB for a while now. Today seems like as good a days as any… it’s not like it’s a public holiday or anything. It’s actually one of those rare days in the calendar where absolutely nothing of historical interest has ever happened in all the thousands of years of human existence… Well, there was that trivial little incident in 1776, but I’ve bored you enough with the history of cricket.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been drafting various posts on a range of topics. I never got around to finishing any of them because I was too busy being awesome at L.A. Noire and going to a cricket match. Seriously— this isn’t one of those jokes where I make fun of how English I am; I actually went to a cricket match. It rained, England won, and there was a ‘Tea Bar’ inside the ground. It was utterly spiffing.

I was going to write a long post about a play that I wrote, directed, and delivered a tour de force performance in a three minute cameo. But now it’s being staged again at a bigger theatre later in the year so I’m saving it for that.

Then I was going to write about how I quit Facebook and consequently became a better person. However that’s a subject that’s been pretty well covered recently, and far more intelligently than I could hope to be.

I even considered writing a lame emotional piece that would have been undercut with funny set pieces that would make it sort of like Bridget Jones’ Diary but with an actual English person and not a pretend English person with an American accent and the most French name anyone has outside of France/half of Canada.

But then I decided today would the perfect day for me to write an essay on all the things that make Britain great. I know most of you reading will be American and may find excessive displays of patriotism somewhat distasteful and unseemly. I can only apologize in advance, and include a link to the song Danger Zone for you to listen to if it all gets too British for you.

It’s not that I don’t love America. I love cheeseburgers, and I think my appreciation for Die Hard has been well documented. I’ve been to America and met many Americans, and I loved every moment and every person. I’ve been to Canada and even though we own it, it’s not nearly as nice. Everyone in Montreal is surly because they’re secretly French and the people of Toronto just haven’t been the same since Rush left.

I don’t have a bad word to say about America, or any of the Americans I’ve met. Of course I didn’t meet anyone like Charles Manson, Sarah Palin, Richard Nixon, or the new crazy Republican lady who should get Ted Turner to run as her VP candidate and use both Takin’ Care of Business and You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet as campaign songs. As far as I’m aware ‘70s rock musicians love it when right wing politicians appropriate their songs.

I genuinely love America, and I’m not just saying that because it’s your birthday either. Britain loves America like the accidentally conceived child it is. It’s okay, you might have been an accident, but at least you’re not adopted… like Canada…

Sure you could argue about historical facts and the cultural intricacies and immigration from other nations, but ultimately just as Davros created the Daleks, Britain created the nation of America… but in a good way. I’m not looking for thanks here. Casting Alan Rickman is Die Hard was all the thanks we could hope for.

I’m something of a history enthusiast, and one of my favourite historical events is the formation of an independent America…

Once upon a time we discovered America and then proceeded to populate it with potato starved Irishmen, the poor, the persecuted religious, and a couple of rich people to make sure no-one got out of hand. Unfortunately the horrible warmongering, America-hating French soon turned up and tried to kill all the Americans. Luckily Britain courageously fought the dirty French back so that all they had left was the shit half of Canada whilst we kept the half with Neil Young (and started spreading rumours that Chad Kroeger is actually from Montreal).

Britain and America then lived in peaceful co-existence where we agreed on everything from how awesome tea is, to how much tea should be taxed. Then one fateful day a shipment of tea disappeared from Boston harbour. The British were so impressed by the anger and frustration of the Americans reaction to this great loss that we decided you were finally ready to break out on your own. Shortly after that Britain gladly handed the USA independence.

But whilst you slowly developed into a mightily impressive nation, Britain is still superior for these four reasons:

1. Tea

Sure coffee looks cool. It sounds cool. It even tastes pretty good, and many, many diner scenes in movies and TV shows would lose a certain something if the waitress was pouring tea out of a dainty little teapot, but tea is still better.

For final proof, people often use ‘all the tea in china’ as an example of excessive reward that would still be too small to tempt them. There is no equivalent for coffee, because it’s not as good, and no-one actually knows where it comes from.

2. Action Heroes/Acting

American culture is littered with action heroes from the various ranch hands played by John Wayne to the sensitive amnesiac Jason Bourne. Between those two icons you’ve had John McClane, Johnny Utah, John Rambo, Chuck Norris, and the many roles of Arnold Schwarzenegger. A lot of them feature in pretty decent films. I love both Die Hard and Point Break.

In Britain we only have one action hero. We only need one action hero. We got the violence/sex/horrendous pun formula right the first time. Who wants to see Bruce Willis shouting obscenities in bare feet and shooting vaguely German terrorist when you can watch a fifty year old Roger Moore flapping his saggy jowls over the body of a twenty year old and making crude sex jokes?!

No American has ever played Bond. Meanwhile the three best known American comic book characters are all played by Brits because we’re all better actors than you. Yes, even Keira Knightley.

3. Colonization/War

We had an Empire. Despite our aesthetically displeasing dentistry we still managed to get our hands on most of the world and mercilessly exploit the local populations.

You can try and claim the two World Wars, but that’s like when you’re trying to open a jar, five people give it a go and then the sixth personally finally manages and takes all the credit and makes hundreds of movies about how great he is at opening jars. We were loosening those jars for a long time before you showed up.

The only war you ever won was against yourself. The War of Independence doesn’t count because it didn’t actually happen. Any evidence to the contrary is simply photoshopping and hearsay.

4. History

We Brits have history. America is part of our history. A fairly brief and unimportant part too, hundreds and hundreds of years after our Roman ancestry and walls to keep the Scots out.

The most important parts of American history aren’t even taught in our schools. I only know about it because I studied it a bit at university and read up on these things purely so I can make jokes about not being interested in the information I’ve researched.

Seriously though, it’s just sort of glossed over. Sometimes a teacher might tell the story about the shipment of tea failing to arrive if a student asks, but mostly we’re too busy learning about our rich cultural heritage, drinking tea, and dashing outside to play cricket during the brief periods when it stops raining.

So there you have it; indisputable scientific proof that my country is better than yours. Huzzah for Blighty! Let’s all celebrate with tea and scones! Spiffing!


I could have come up posting today and been very bitter. But today shouldn’t be about bitterness, it should be about celebration. I prefer making tea with tap water rather than sea water but… whatever… enjoy your cawfee…

But seriously, Happy 235th Birthday America— you’re looking good for it.






It’s impossible to know whether the world is going the way of China or China is going the way of the world. An uncomfortable layering of capitalism and communism on top of one another, as embodied by the city of Hong Kong, is not the answer to this question.

Hong Kong is the question.

Sandwiched between ‘capitalism’ and ‘communism’, is Hong Kong the model for the city of the future?:

An ultra-policed, liberalised economy surrounded on all sides by a paternalist one-party state to which money flows mostly one way.

Porous borders into and out of a two-tier system in which the obscurity of the local language, even to visitors from other parts of the mainland, creates a huge industry catering for those unable to decifer it.

Boundless vertical density for a theoretically unlimited population over a maximised geographical area, perfectly positioned at the heart of the land and sea infrastructure of the world’s busiest commercial area, The Pearl River Delta.

At a superficial level, Hong Kong is like Kafka and JG Ballard getting together on a UK Garage remix of Two Tribes, with Beckett on the ones and twos.

As a reluctant British ‘subject’, it melts my head to see just how far the UK went with its economic experiment in Hong Kong; still the freest economy in the world. The creation of Hong Kong is the equivalent of devolving Anglesey from the rest of the UK, installing a mercantilist quango presided over by Nelson Rockefeller and demanding an exorbitant stipend for use of the road out.

I feel justified in complaining about most of this because we went there uninvited, peddling smack for tea, and started pissing about—so the guilt’s on the heads of my father’s and my grandfather’s generations, when all is said and done.

But territories that have been forced to adopt western systems, papering over an iron-strong, unique and irrepressible vernacular culture, as in Vietnam, Japan and Hong Kong, will simply not be beat.

The degree to which the forms and elements of commercial excess are pushed in places like (The) Ho(le) Chi Minh city and Hong Kong is testament to the resilience and the individuality of the cultures we’re still desperately trying to subsume with our hackneyed bullshit. In the case of Hong Kong and the larger cities of Vietnam, it’s as though someone local at the top finally snapped at some point and started having some fun with it.

Just like in central London, the complete absence of seats, benches or any horizontal surfaces at human level in Hong Kong is the perfect expression of the ethically-palsied western shopping ethos taken to a demented degree. The private corporation that owns the underground system also owns all the malls and luxury apartments built above the stations; designing the exits from the underground trains to route passengers into the shopping areas, whether they want to go there or not. You can’t even stop, never mind stop shopping.

Most of Hong Kong Island’s ‘public space’ has a six-lane blacktop scything through the middle of it, in spite of the fact that the city has arguably the best public transport system in the world. There’s a genuinely C21st subway, light railway and ferry network and a reasonably efficient tram system before you even get to the busses and the taxis. I would love it if someone could explain to me just where, exactly, everyone is driving to and why they would even dream of investing so much in such flash cars to do so in?

Anyone who has ever spent any length of time in the city of Birmingham in the UK will find themselves fighting off an unusual sense of deja vu on arriving in Hong Kong. To someone steeped in the culture of Great Britain (by fair means or foul), on the surface, the place feels like Manchester occupied and lightly retro-fitted by the Kuomintang. The civic architecture seems based around the model of a municipal lavatory teleported from a British seaside promenade in the 1950s, and purposely renders the entire place into a much warmer suburb of Central London.

The Chicago Loop c/o Creative Commons

The absolute dominion over the place by roads makes every intersection into a subtropical spaghetti junction; delineating with metal crash barriers oceanic concrete islands that necessitate proficient parkour to make any meaningful progress on foot.

Of course, 50-grand sterling for a Maserati for no other purpose than driving around the M25 corridor at rush hour, occasionally stopping off at convenience stores for processed snacks, is everyone’s idea of nirvana, isn’t it…?

It’s possible to tell a lot about a people by their attitude to space. Hong Kong doesn’t have any, so once it’s occupied, it jolly well stays that way, thank you very much. Turn around anywhere on Hong Kong Island with your arms extended even slightly proud of your body and you’ll be touching someone else. Lift up your feet and you’ll find somebody standing on the back of your sandals. Alter your walking pace even minutely and a concertina of bodies hits you from the rear.

The most over-populated island in the world, Ap Lei Chau in Hong Kong, has so many people on it that if they all came out of their homes at the same time, they would begin falling into the sea.

This, I can only pray, may one day start happening to England.

I spent my first 10 days in the Americas, in New York City in November 2008, just after the election and right around the time the financial crisis was just starting to bear its rotten molars.

Walking around a deserted Lower Manhattan on a Saturday afternoon—along Gall Street, past the New York Doom Exchange and up around the Ground Zero mausoleum—as the sky promptly went black around 3.30pm, and the wind came howling in off the Hudson, it crossed my mind that perhaps ‘Ghostbusters’ had been intended as more of a tourist information film than I’d first thought.

It wouldn’t have surprised me if the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man had come bounding around the corner.

The whole of Manhattan smelled fusty and decaying—like wet dollars mouldering somewhere below ground. The imposing historicist architecture and the rickety, clockwork subway clogged with the dust of ages made the experience feel like a voyage back into the dark days of the last century, in the company of Thomas Pynchon. The skyscrapers stood like pristine simulare; shining statues of the gods lining the entrance to a dead Roman city.

Like many Europeans, I get most of my cultural information about the modern United States from hip hop, and hip hop of a specifically New York bent, due to the surfeit of esoteric folklore exported by the Wu Tang Clan.

I felt like I’d been to Staten Island even before I (almost) went there.

Before, during and after my visit to New York city, I kept on encountering these frothing panegyrics to the advent of a ‘post-racial United States’, as if somehow decades of segregation and mutual hate had suddenly been magically eradicated from the record. So these ideas were clanging around my brainpan throughout my time in the country and for a long time after I got back…

I must explain what a completely alien universe I come from: I grew up in a small village in the Lancashire countryside which shares a postcode with the town of Blackpool—a place so right wing that it hosted the annual Conservative Party conference all the way through the Thatcher era. It was the venue for her infamous 1999 speech on “the callous and unjust … judicial kidnap … of Senator Pinochet” (sic).

The smoke only cleared in the bar of the local I used to drink in during my time at university in Leeds when someone leaned over to me in the last week of my course to inform me, in suitably hushed tones, that the place was “a BNP pub” – as in the jack-boot, Union Jack, shaved-head-and-a-pitbull, send-the-buggers-back, Jack British Nationalist Party.

I had absolutely no idea.

For four years.

I have to make it clear that in the entirety of my closeted Northern-English upbringing and early adulthood, before travelling to New York, the only person of African descent I’d ever really got(ten) the chance to have a proper conversation with was a Jamaican feller my auntie was going out with.

In the mid-1980s.

Unfortunately, as a great-grandchild of another empire built on slavery, and one which is perhaps still more overtly class-ridden than any other, I feel that I live and work in a white, middle-class Never Never Land most of the time.

And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Within a couple of hours of arriving in New York, I’d already bumped fists with and been christened ‘Big Andy’ by a purportedly-rising hip hop star in Times Square, and I’d been given a free guide to the Top of the Rockefeller Centre by the most cheerful lady I’ve ever encountered in the service industry.

Still mulling over those reports of the triumph of American ethnic integration, I saw the joyous chap dancing freely and screaming out the lyrics of ‘I Wanna Go Bang’ by Arthur Russell to the broad, freezing daylight air of a Sunday afternoon flea market in Brooklyn, as the harbinger of some ethnological Arcadia.

I’d heard apocryphal tales of people dancing in the streets following the election, but I did not expect that this would actually be the case.

It was all I could do to stop myself joining in…

“I wanna see. All of my friends at once!”

(So do I, mate, so do I!)

With all of those odes to the new, improved, supra-racist US of A ringing in my ears, I felt like the lead in a solarised version of ‘Coming to America’.

(That programme was worth ten freaking clams, dude!)

Standing on a train platform in Jamaica, Queens at the end of the trip and choosing to take the demographics in evidence as basis for a violent kneejerk reaction, however, I was struck by the fallacy of the notion of a ‘post-racial America’.

I do acknowledge that people dress this up as ‘more about poverty than race’, and I recognise how far towards this ‘new’ America things have progressed since the days of wholesale jiggerypokery by the Federal Housing Authority and full on white flight, but the smörgåsbord of cock cheese served up about the ethnic melting pot must be based on the diversity of Manhattan alone, am I right?

To the ignorant bystander: to someone like me, growing up in the politically correct climate of the United Kingdom of the 1970s and 80s, poorer areas where at-a-glance it appears there could be an African-American majority tend to engender the following kind of reaction:

“Post-racial America? Gimme a break, wieners! Where the Jim Crow did you get that idea!?”

Then the friend I’m visiting informs me they are off to something called a ‘Huxtable Party’ and all of this rarefied and constipated white guilt; all of that politically correct dogma and the full force of my inherent gormlessness about these things floods my psyche in such a torrent that I’m left spluttering and tongue-tied and utterly dumbfounded.

Despite what the media might say (even in the Guardian newspaper in March 2009), I can assure you, most of England is still pre-medieval in these matters.

In a not dissimilar fashion to Prince Henry of Wales, I just do not get it.

“A Huxtable Party?”

“Yeah”

“What? as in loads of white people dressing up as people from ‘The Cosby Show’!?”

“Well… Yeah. You should come”

“Thanks but I don’t think I’d fit in…”