Sunday, November 14, 2010

BBQ for visitors from Britain

Given the unending stream of people moving between Britain and Australia, a BBQ for visitors from Britain is quite a common social occasion in Australia. The visitors may be Australians returning or Britons visiting relatives who have migrated to Australia.

Today was an example of the latter. Kenneth has always been keen on keeping in touch with his immediate family in Britain and a few years ago even managed to get his sister Tracy to move to Australia. So relatives back in Britain now have a double incentive to come here. Today it was sister Pat and her husband Jon -- with the BBQ at Simon & Tracy's place in semi-rural Carbrook. Kickoff was at 2pm and I had faded by about 4pm

Jon has long been much involved in British politics -- mostly in the Liberal cause -- so we had lots to talk about -- given that I keep a close track of British politics. The British Liberals are moderate Leftists -- moderate enough to be in a coalition government with the Tories at the moment -- so Jon is very open to reasonable argument and we covered a lot of ground. We were of course both appalled at the proposed new arrangements for support of university students in Britain -- arrangements which are mainly the work of the Liberals but which fly in the face of all reason.

Some elements of the arrangements make sense but the net effect would seem to be the segregation of graduates from poorer families into low-income jobs and leaving high income jobs to the children of the rich -- and that is from a party that parades itself as friends of the poor! But Leftist politics are always a mess.

Simon was chef again as usual and did his usual magnificent job: Some of the best sausages and chicken kebabs I have tasted. And Maureen supplied a large and first-class Pavlova again.

There were over 20 of us present and poor Becky (Simon and Tracy's beautiful teenage daughter) was trying to figure out how she was related to everyone present. It is quite a complex tale but I think she got most of it in the end.

Anne spent a lot of time talking to Simon about Oberammergau and I spent most of my time talking to Jon -- largely about topics (such as the West Lothian question) that would have been pretty impenetrable to others present. But I rarely get the opportinity to talk to someone close to the action in British politics so I hope I didn't annoy anybody.

I provided three bottles of Australian Seaview brut "champagne" as my contribution to the deliberations and they went down well as usual. Maybe I am just a peasant but I find it hard to distinguish Seaview from Moet -- even though Seaview is a fraction of the price of Moet. I do buy Moet for special occasions with Anne (birthdays etc.) but it for symbolism rather than taste. I used to buy Veuve Cliquot for special occasions but I eventually concluded that I liked Moet et Chandon better. All three are nice wines, however.

But I used to like the now defunct Barossa Pearl so that pigeonholes me among Australian wine gurus ("old fool" would probably be one of the kinder epithets).

It was a hot day but Simon embraced the Australian/Indian tradition of wide verandahs in the design of his house so we ate at a looong table on the verandah, where it was perfectly cool.

A pretty good photo of late in the occasion. I am in the white shirt talking to Jon diagonally opposite me

The two bubbies getting to know one another. They were both very "good", without a cry of complaint out of either of them

Von will have one of her own in a couple of weeks

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A small personal note on customer service in Australia and Britain

A Sunday morning reflection

I have spent time in England on three occasions -- including a Sabbatical year. There are a lot of similarities between England and Australia (the constant flow of English immigrants to Australia helps ensure that) but I noted one major difference: How customers are treated in shops, cafes and the like.

I am always pleased by the almost universal cheerful and friendly service I get in such establishments in Australia but in England customers tend to be treated like a bad smell. Just getting staff to recognize your presence is not always easy. Hence the old tradition of the "floor walker" -- immortalized in the TV comedy series "Are you being served".

Fortunately, however, most small businesses in England (particularly London) have now been taken over by people from the Indian subcontinent -- and all it usually takes to get good service from them is a smile.

But how did the English become such unhappy people? It seems to go back to a sense of entitlement. They mostly seem to think that they should not have to work at all -- and routine work in particular is greatly disliked. And the millions of Brits who have never worked and live on welfare payments is some testimony to that. "Pommy bludgers" are also a byword in Australia: Australians who see much of the English almost always end up seeing them as being in general work-shy.

So whence the sense of entitlement behind all that? It seems to be partly the result of official British propaganda, which the English are very good at. They are very good at trumpeting their own virtues in particular -- sometimes in an understated way but propaganda can be all the more effective for that. Even Hitler admired British wartime propaganda -- and he knew more than a little about that subject.

British government propaganda these days is nowhere as jingoistic as it once was but memories of empire persist and Britons almost universally believe that Britain saved the world from Hitler. The fact that over 80% of German wartime military casualties were on the Eastern front is rarely mentioned. It was Russia that defeated Hitler.

But perhaps the biggest source of the sense of entitlement is the welfare State. Since 1945 Britain has had an extensive and generous system of welfare payments which make work optional. Successive Britain governments have made it clear that Britons are ENTITLED to support from the government, come what may. So no wonder that those who do choose to work for whatever reason feel that they should not really have to.

It seems to me that Britons who have some go in them tend to emigrate -- to Australia, Canada, the USA etc. Britons abroad and Britons in Britain sometimes seem like two different races to me -- JR


Glasgow is a strange place. It has one of the world's highest rates of violent crime. The crime mostly consists of the "Jimmies" (usually young working class Glaswegian males) sticking shivs (an improvised stabbing knife) into the gizzard of one of their friends on Friday or Saturday night. Sinking lots of whiskies with beer chasers does that to you.

So it's not really serious -- and even the Jimmies don't seem to think it is.

I have a memory of standing outside a pub in Sauchiehall St that reminded me strongly of a traditional Australian pub. I guess we got our pub culture from the Scots. Scots certainly like a "wee dram" -- but only the males of course. The women drink tea to set the men a good example. But that is how it was. I imagine that younger Glasweginan women have now given up that futile effort.

Anyway, I even seem to rembember seeing outside the Sauchiehall St pub a woman sending in her children to extract her husband from the pub and get him to come home for his dinner.

Does that seem strange? Not to me. That was part of my life too. Men are very consistent about where they drink. So their friends and wives generally know where to find them after hours. And my mother did too. It was generally my sister who was sent in to get my father out of the pub (usually the "Crown" in Innisfail) but I guess I would have had that job if my sister had not been a cuter kid than I was.

So I rather like Glasgow. I feel that I understand it. The fact that my second wife was a very fine Glaswegian woman may have some influence on that conclusion, however.

Glaswegians are generally very good-humoured people (as long they are not talking to the English) and Joyce Anne Burns Lipp certainly has a full measure of Glaswegian good cheer. She even gets on well with the English! So that is extremely good-natured by Scottish standards.