Joao Magueijo is a physics professor at Imperial College, London.
He is Portuguese and has lived in England for twenty-five years.
He’s written a book about us.
He says the English are “one of the most rigid and rotten societies in Europe, possibly the world”.
He says “I never met such a group of animals; English culture is pathologically violent”.
He says “Oral sex is not considered a sexual act among the English.
It is something a woman can perform on a stranger whose name she doesn’t even know, no one cares”.
He says “When you visit English homes, they are all so disgusting that even my grandmother’s poultry cage is cleaner”.
He says “It is not unusual to drink 12 pints, or two huge buckets of beer per person. Even a horse would get drunk with this but in England it is standard practice. In England, real men have to drink like sponges and throw up everything at the end of the evening”.
He says “They say “it’s grim up north” and now I see why: people in the north are incredibly obese, men and women with three-metre waists made of fat and lard. Blackpool beach is an ideal place to see these ‘human whales’”.
This book has been on the best-seller list in Portugal for six months.
So, given the professor is so disgusted with us, why did he stay for so long?
He says “I love the British sense of humour. I love the tolerance, the creativity and the madness of the people. There is an incapacity for institutional repression, which I like”.
I think that’s really interesting.
What he calls the “incapacity for institutional repression”.
In other words: rebelliousness, questioning the rules, a refusal to bow to authority.
The problem of course is you can’t have it both ways.
You can’t have an exciting, dynamic, creative, society and one which also follows all the rules of decorum and good taste.
You can’t follow the rules while you’re breaking the rules.
That is the dichotomy.
It reminds me of a conversation I heard at dinner one evening between Bob Brooks and Oscar Grillo.
Bob was a brilliant film director from New York.
Oscar is a brilliant animator from Buenos Aires.
Both loved London, but Bob was grumbling about it.
Bob said “The problem is nothing fucking works: the goddamn buses, the goddamn trains, the goddamn roads. Nothing fucking works”.
Oscar said “Of course it doesn’t work. Why do you think we come here? What do you think we want: fucking Switzerland?”
And that summed it up for me.
England, especially London, is messy and that’s what makes it interesting.
Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square celebrates one of our greatest naval victories.
Look up the crew list on Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory.
Obviously they were English, Scots, Welsh and Irish.
But they were also: Danish, Norwegian, Canadian, German, Dutch, Swedish, Swiss, Maltese, Portuguese, Brazilian, Indian, Jamaican, African, American, even French.
And that was just one ship.
What I’ve always loved about London is that, like New York, it attracts creativity and that means rebels, from all over the world.
The best thrives because it’s the best.
Not because it’s the nicest.
But of course, that can get messy, that’s the price you pay.
Orson Wells summed it up best in The Third Man.
“In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.
In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Personally, I like what Voltaire said about the English.
“The English are like their own beer: the dregs are at the bottom, the top is nothing but froth, but the middle is quite excellent.”