Breaking News: Bank Customers Lose Confidence “In Everything” 

The recent financial distress of the Northern Rock bank has had a massively detrimental effect confidence, experts have concluded. It seems that this is not constrained to money matters: many people have lost faith in practically every aspect of their lives.

The trouble began last Friday, when Northern Rock announced it had received emergency loans from the UK central bank, as it was temporarily struggling to access cash following the credit crunch last month. Savers responded immediately to news that Northern Rock was short of available cash by asking for all their cash back. Falling confidence in the operations of the bank caused many to question other taken-for-granted areas.

Agriculture was the first to be affected – most farmers and gardeners have dug up all their seeds over the weekend. “We’re supposed to trust the soil to keep our seeds safe and turn them into food? It’s too much of a risk – we might never see them again,” said one gardener, hacking into the ground with a spade. On Monday morning, parents were seen queueing outside of schools, hoping to retrieve their children from the public education system. “The whole system could fall apart at any time,” one concerned parent told Breaking News, as she hacked into the school walls with a spade.

Most concerning has been the dramatic fall in self-confidence. The government has issued strong statements of support, telling everyone that they are really good, but so far these have mainly been disregarded. “How can the government be so sure that we are really good? I, for one, don’t feel like I can trust myself right now – I feel like I’m going to make a stupid, rash decision at almost any moment,” said Martin Trunkett, a Northern Rock customer who was queuing up to close his account. An interesting side-effect of this event has been the increased attendance at churches – the Anglican faith in particular has a long tradition of providing support to people who don’t want to believe in anything any more.

Thankfully, the panic in the north of the country has yet to reach the south, where people are more sophisticated and drink mocha lattes. Slight cracks in this outlook were seen earlier today, however, when one person’s coffee cup was accidentally hacked into with a spade.


The World Explained #9: Bees…Explained 

There are more questions in this world than answers. Sometimes, the sheer weight of all the questions attached to one answer becomes too much, and they fall off, drifting away into the atmosphere where they build up a layer of uncertainty which traps heat and may well be contributing to rising global temperatures. Scientists have told governments that in order to avoid long term damage to the planet, we need to think of new solutions. To this end, Project Brainstorm presents The World Explained, a column packed with answers to those Earth burning questions. Today, we look at bees.

When most people think about bees, they immediately conjure this image of a flying insect with yellow and black fur that makes a buzzing noise and produces honey. This is accurate, and reflects the extent to which people study bees at university. Many textbooks will suggest there are many species of bee, and give them different names – bumblebee, honeybee, spellingbee, and so on. In fact, all bees are the same. Arguing otherwise would be akin to saying black men are a different species to tall men.

Certainly, the role of the bee in the production of honey is well documented. Bees fly from flower to flower, usually in that order, and collect pollen, which they take home and fix into a scrapbook or album. Honey is made when the pollen combines with the paper adhesive. Collecting pollen is the most popular leisure activity of the bee, and some honey collections are very valuable – top collectors have samples that date back to historical times. Unfortunately, because of the economic prospects of the bee, many have to sell their collections to beekeepers. As this is a very upsetting process for bees, sympathetic beekeepers will often dress up as Stormtroopers to raise their spirits – Star Wars is the favourite movie of bees, who provided voice-over for the light sabres.

The coat of a bee used to be highly fashionable commodity, not only for its distinctive colour, but also because it came already with zips. The plight of bees has improved greatly since the early 1990s, when bee hunting was first made ridiculous and then, two years later, illegal. Bee hunters were only allowed to search for their quarry in designated bee reserves, which were usually located inside saunas, and had to sing Depeche Mode songs non-stop throughout. This practice was stopped when two inexperienced bee hunting apprentices were killed in successive months due to these extreme conditions: the first was found dehydrated and shrivelled in the sauna, looking for an off-switch; the second accidentally choked to death on a bit of a Depeche Mode lyric that got caught in his throat.

The importance of bees throughout British history cannot be underthought. For instance, the term ‘Beefeaters’ apparently comes from the traditional meal given to Yeomen of the Guards, and reflects their regular culinary habits. In these more enlightened times, however, most people think it is cruel to serve up the feet of a bee, which are needed as part of the bee’s distinctive walking style. Today’s Guards tend to prefer a more ethical bee foot substitute that, while similar in appearance and texture, is made of young cows.

It is hoped that this has been useful and that the reader will be motivated to learn even more about bees. We do ask you to do this responsibly, so as to help Europe meet its target of being question-neutral by 2020. Every question requires at least one answer, or possibly more if the answer comes from someone who speaks in broad generalisations, such as a religious leader.


Late Night Radio Show 

DJ: Welcome back. You are listening to Tony Fumble. We’re here all night taking your calls on your relationship problems. I believe we have a caller on the line. Hello, caller, what’s your name?

Caller: Hi Tony, my name is Mr. Freeman.

DJ: Hello Mr. Freeman, welcome to the show, what do you want to talk about tonight?

Caller: I’m a married man, Tony, but I’ve just started having an affair. I don’t know whether I should tell me wife.

DJ: OK, a common dilemma on this show. Well, let me ask you what I ask everyone on this show: do you and your wife have an honest relationship?

Caller: I tell her we do, yes.

DJ: Very good. And now let’s put this affair into context. How long have you been married?

Caller: The best part of seven years.

DJ: And what, if we are going to be precise, is the best part of seven years?

Caller: The evenings, I would say.

DJ: I would say that too. Now tell me this, how long have you been having this affair?

Caller: It’s hard to say exactly, Tony, as it really kind of happened over a period of time, but if I were going to be precise, I would say about forty-five minutes.

DJ: Forty-five minutes, right. So you could say it was quite a recent development.

Caller: I think that would be quite accurate, yes.

DJ: Good. Now let me see if I understand what is going on here. You meet this girl, this girl ends up back at your house, after she leaves you begin to feel guilty, and so you are now not sure what to do next?

Caller: No, that is not quite right.

DJ: You do not feel guilty?

Caller: No, she hasn’t left.

DJ: I see. She is still there.

Caller: She is. She’s right here. Say hello, Lauren.

Lauren: Is this going to take long?

Caller: I’ll be right back with you in a minute.

DJ: I think I misunderstood you earlier. When you said, earlier, that you were having affair, you in fact meant you were having an affair right at this very moment.

Caller: I am mid-affair, yes. It is presently occupying a large portion of my attention.

DJ: I did not realise. I can not hear much noise at your end.

Caller: Well, we turned the music down.

DJ: I see. So you have brought this girl home for the purpose of starting, and at some point soon I would suppose, concluding an affair.

Caller: Correct.

DJ: You wife was away, you got a little lonely, maybe you thought you could get away with it.

Caller: No, that is not quite right, either.

DJ: You were not feeling lonely?

Caller: My wife is not away.

DJ: So she is…?

Caller: Right here next to us. Asleep.

DJ: Mr Freeman, may I ask, have you and your wife been having any problems in your relationship? Specifically any problems in the bedroom?

Caller: Not really. Except, of course, that there is currently an additional person in it, although this is really only something I’ve picked up on so far.

DJ: And you have called in, Mr Freeman, to ask me whether you should, at this time, wake up your wife and let her know that you are having an affair, next to her, whilst she sleeps?

Caller: Yes, except I’d like to know how to do it in a way that makes it seem like this is somehow my wife’s fault.

DJ: You want to blame her?

Caller: Yes, that could work. [muted] Darling, darling, wake up. It’s OK. WHO ON EARTH IS THIS? Who is this woman? In our marital bed, as well. Oh, it makes me feel sick.

[The line goes quiet for a few seconds]

DJ: Well, listeners, I think we’ve lost Mr Freeman…

Wife: Hello? Tony?

DJ: Ah. Hi, Jane. Has Mark gone?

Wife: He ran straight out the room. I think he’s in the shed.

DJ: I’ve got to tell you, Jane, these things are getting wierder and wierder.

Wife: I know. But it seems to make him happy.

DJ: I guess. Are you coming round later?

Wife: Sure. One second. What’s that, Lauren? Oh, sorry. Yes, you can go now.


Breaking News: Ministers Confirm Past 

Several top government ministers have been forced into revealing that they have each had a past before joining the government. When questioned, government officials admitted to a series of events and occurrences dating back until practically their earliest memories. While this is still relatively common amongst many career backbenchers and throughout the lesser opposition parties, it has generally been considered impossible for someone to manage both a successful political career and an active personal history.

The issue was raised earlier in the week when Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary and well-known television personality, alluded to a story from what was later shown to be her childhood. Statements of denial were issued at first by the government, but when further such stories were discovered to be rife amongst the frontbench, the statement of denial was altered slightly to include a section on how it was all true.

The government retaliated by emphasising that such stories attract attention away from real policy debates, and was trying to move past them. “There is a concern with these stories that by talking about specific details, we will generate unwanted headlines and fuel further speculation, ” Labour spokesman Tim Ablestump told Project Brainstorm last night, “It’s not like we beat up old ladies on the roadside and steal their money to gamble on underground midget fights”. A public statement from the Prime Minister last night reinforced the position of the government, sources close to Gordon Brown have revealed.

Several revelations may be very embarrassing to the government. Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Hilary Benn disclosed details of how had once lived in a small city. “I did live in a city. I am not proud of it. I was wrong. Cities are wrong”, he said later. Also under fire is Alan Johnson who confirmed that at the age of seven he refused to take his cough medicine because he “didn’t really like the taste”. Mr Johnson is the new Health Secretary and is now responsible for fixing the nation’s coughing.

The Conservatives have not entirely escaped this unwanted media attention. “Its not like we frequently beat up old ladies on the roadside and steal their money to gamble on underground midget fights”, a Tory spokesperson said.


The World Explained #8: Reality Television…Explained 

Around the end of the twentieth century, it was decided by a group of leading media executives that television programming was just not real enough. Sure, news and documentary programmes contained a certain element of factuality, but usually only concerned themselves with rich people or leopards or bombings or Africans, and not things that ever actually affected the lives of real people. So it was decided that from now on, the main purpose of television was to broadcast the lives of these same real people directly.

This initially created a problem: who were the Real People? How could they be told apart from, for instance, the Man on the Street, already a mainstay of radio news programmes and other such amateur productions? Identifying the average Joe was tricky, and depended greatly on which average was used. The median Joe had a two inch beard, while the modal Joe listened to the Bangles and had pancakes three times a year. The final decision was to use the only measure that really meant anything: 3 Ds at GCSE (It is worth noting, for those not familiar with the UK high school education, that the GCSE was the result of a mountain-and-Mohammed style situation, when it became very clear that there was no possibility of moving more students towards higher grades.)

The first wave of programmes were really just documentaries without a point of view: the idea was to leave a camera running in a place where people were getting on with their day-to-day activities, in such a way that they would act as usual and forget they were soon to be on national television. This idea was originally pioneered by motoring enthusiast OJ Simpson. Shows like Driving School relied solely on the drama and terror we all experienced at a young age of learning to drive while being surrounded by cameras and attempting to read an autocue. Like fictional dramas, the series created characters and conflicts and built up to a climax with the result of students passing their final driving test – approximately 2 Cs at GCSE. Similar series have followed: Airport, Hotel, Bus Stop, Airing Cupboard and Just Slightly Behind a Cow, each depicting the problems faced every day in these places.

The second wave originated, depending on whose story you believe, is either the Netherlands or Holland, with a show called Eine Gluupter Nahkt Und Smadistkaant. This was later renamed, by people who understand such words, as Big Brother. Its introduction to UK televisions signalled the end of television programming as we knew it. On their way out were plots, detailed and complicated characters, tension build-up and satisfying resolutions, all of which were replaced, for the most part, by a mechanical bull. Contestants on Big Brother and the host of reality TV game shows that followed required only a few things: an assortment of bigotries, a love of dancing, and above all, near perfect innumeracy – about a B at GCSE.

By the middle of this decade, reality television was omnipresent, all-consuming and everywhere in between. Most followed one of several basic formulae. One studio came up with an idea called Religion Swap, where two families meet up to experience each others’ Religion. In general, the hook of the programme came from one family hating the other family’s Religion, while the other family is offended that the first family do not seem to be enjoying their Religion. Then, the tables are turned, and it is the second family’s turn to have a go at the first family’s Religion, which they end up hating as much as the first family hated theirs. In the end, they both get together; thank each other for letting them try a different sort of Religion, then give ten reasons why the other Religion isn’t as good as their own Religion. At the last moment, the producers thought the show lacked substance, so changed it from Religion to Holiday, a shift that, to most of the UK audience, was practically unperceivable, such is the faith in the power of Majorca.

The programme had to manufacture drama by choice of participants, in a predictable fashion. An episode from March in 2004 had the following introduction: “The Carter family from Bristol enjoy potholing in France, love pork and are all allergic to wasps. The Stevenson family holiday every year at a wasp farm in Cornwall. They are all over eight feet tall and Jewish.” The show attracted criticism because it forced a Bristol family to go to Cornwall, sparking off bad feelings that had existed ever since Bristol won its independence from Cornwall, especially as it was scientifically assumed that it was the Carters that did it in the first place.

Many in the media have begun to realise that people no longer want reality television programmes taking up all the air time (there’s a documentary about it tonight at 7 pm, repeated at five past). Of course, for some people, reality television is an escape: a chance to break away from the monotony of everyday life into a world of televised, digitalised, unscripted, well, everyday life. To really get to understand reality television try learning to milk a pig, standing on a log, escaping from a prison and selling an antique vest – that is, the equivalent of 5 As at GCSE.