THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
A luxurious home for the politically bewildered?
When will they ever learn?

Stepping in the same river twice

Returning to England after twenty years abroad is a culture shock. It's amazing, for example, that grown men and women are prepared to spend so much of their time sorting household rubbish into different categories. Isn't life short enough for you all? What do you pay your taxes for? Would it not be better to have a few hundred thousand rubbish sorters on minumum wage to reduce the numbers of the eight million plus "economically inactive?" Or is that too shockingly old-fashioned?

Trash generally seems to be a big topic of conversation now, which I don't remember from my previous life on these islands. We worried about the dustmen only once a year when we had to decide how big their "Christmas box" should be in order to ensure the minimum of future spills on the path to the front gate. Does anyone bother to tip them any more, given that they don't set foot on the property? Do they now tip the householders, who - after all - have done the bulk of the work by the time their roaring, beeping truck shatters the peace?

I need to know by next Christmas please, at least in relation to our Cheshire home. The trash is collected nightly from outside the apartment door in London so I assume the building's management deal with the dustmen and it's somehow reflected in the hefty service charge. So far I have only had to call the council's refuse department to pay £25 to have an old TV taken away. That's another innovation, and a surprising one. After all, the Council Tax has increased several hundred percent since we left England in 1992. Still they thanked me by email for the payment and though they misspelled my name, (written communications in modern England all seem to be misspelled*) it at least worked phonetically. I am learning to consider that a win.

In another sense, a lot of trash is being talked. A godson works for the BBC and summed it up recently when we were talking about the childish register of the approximation to English used on "The One Show." He laughed, agreed and said "Yes, it's just Blue Peter for grown-ups, isn't it?" But so, alas, is much of British TV. We have been restricted to illicit feeds of Sky News while we were abroad and thought the tone of that pretty condescending. Imagine our amazement to find it quite cerebral compared to the mainstream channels! When did they start talking to you like children, gentles? And why don't you object? Why, with all the hundreds of channels now available in Britain, is there not even one reserved for the intelligent? I thought catering to minority tastes (among which intelligent thought now seems to number) was going to be a big benefit of cable and satellite TV? Cheryl Cole on dozens of channels seems a small advance over Cilla Black on one, frankly.

Worst of all is the offensively matey tone taken by people in sales. This would be hard to pull off well, even if you are a native speaker. It's also highly regional in nature. Yet now it's attempted by speakers of ESL from offshore call-centres who have no hope of getting it right; still less of tailoring it correctly to regional tastes. You can call me (if you must) "me duck" if we are both in Nottingham or "mate" if we are both in Manchester but if I am anywhere in Britain and you are in Bangalore, surely it's best to stick to "Sir" or "Mr Paine?" As for going straight to "Tom", all uninvited, that is really quite a shock.

Millions of pounds in sales must be lost every day to this nonsense, surely? I don't know about you gentle reader (though I thought I did before I came home) but I will certainly never buy from someone who is impertinent. Least of all will I ever buy from someone who cold calls me about anything or (horrors!) sends me an unsolicited SMS about my "recent accident" on the offchance that I have had one. Please reassure me that no members of my once-honourable and learned profession are involved in that. On reflection, don't. Leave me some blissful ignorance, at least.

*Spelling corrected, with thanks to Hollando and Pedant2007