Once at a cocktail party in Columbia, I met an editor from a British publication (The Times, I want to say) and I asked him: “Why is it that British newspapers are so much better written than American ones?” He said he rather thought it was because in the UK, they write with readers in mind, rather than for other journalists.
I think he was right. It sort of speaks to that thing that John Parish was on about, when he explained to me his disdain for journalism prizes back in 1978.
Anyway, I’m very much enjoying the great wealth of British newspapers while I’m here. My favorite bit today, from a magazine included in The Times:
The big ideas, with a little twist
In the distant past there were lumbering, old-fashioned beasts who survived for an unaccountably long time before departing the stage, like a dinosaurian Ann Widdecombe. Then they all died because they were stupid and a smart monkey came down from the trees in Africa, moved to Surrey, put on a frock coat and invented the British Empire, which was clearly the pinnacle of existence and pretty much the point of having life begin at all.
Watson and Crick discovered CSI in a London pub, beating Rosalind Franklin, who had two X chromosomes and therefore was ineligible to be clever. A scientist patented his own DNA and sued his offspring for breach of copyright. Gay men had a gay gene that responded under ultraviolet light to musicals, women had one that caused them to swoon in the presence of unsuitable men with two-tone shoes, and the rich had a gene that meant their children were rich, although that was later attributed to tax avoidance. A whole new series of medical treatments was predicted by those with three copies of the optimism gene.
Sex was invented because cells got sick o talking to exact copies of themselves at parties, like accountant. It split the world into halves: women are from Venus and men are from some planet where bowel movements are considered a leisure activity. Sex is not essential (qv Widdecombe, above) but does give a chance for unsuitable men with two-tone shoes to wee in the shallow end of the gene pool. It’s energy-intensive, distracting, dangerous and so humiliating that evolution has to give humans jolts of pleasure on the level of a three-rock crack hit to make them do it….
You get the idea. If Douglas Adams were still alive, he could sue for theft of style. In fact, that “got sick of talking to exact copies of themselves at parties, like accountants” is VERY like a gag of Adams’ to the effect of “Many respectable physicists said that they weren’t going to stand for that sort of thing, partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because they didn’t get invited to those sorts of parties” — or at least it reminded ME of it.