As if it weren't upsetting enough that we're buried up to our necks in rapidly freezing snow and there's a grit crisis looming in time for Monday morning, a new survey from International Living magazine has made the insulting assertion that it's comparatively pretty rubbish to live in Britain. The Quality of Life Index, published for the 30th year, is compiled using government statistics, data from the World Health Organisation and the views of the magazine's editors around the globe. And shockingly, they claim that this is only the 25th best place in the world to live. Even more alarming, they reckon that France is number one.
The survey uses nine criteria, including the cost of living, culture, environment, safety and weather (oh dear), but when you look closely its writers have some pretty funny ideas about what makes life fun. France is praised for its "tidy gardens" and the charming restaurant culture of romantic Paris. (Charming unless you're a British diner, they somehow fail to add.) Germany scores highly for a specialist hiking trail for nudists in the Harz Mountains. Really.
And since these funny foreign judges find such odd virtues in other countries, how can we believe that they know how to appreciate our peculiarly British attractions? Visitors here often fail to see the charm in the things that we natives hold dear. For example, all the Australians (second on the Quality of Living list) and New Zealanders (fifth) who live on the night bus seem to hate Britain. But maybe that's down to the language barrier. The Kiwi lady next to me on the snowbound train to Waterloo the other day sounded horrified when she explained into her mobile that her entire street had turned into a "shit of arse". No wonder they think that Britain is weird; they can't even ask for ice in their drinks without provoking gales of Carry On-style laughter.
Foreign judges cannot possibly assess the quality of our lives here, because they do not understand that we like complaining. They might think that we'd be miserable in this cold snap; in fact, we couldn't be happier. So here are 25 reasons to be cheerful about living in Britain. Why not add some more to kill the time while you're snowed in?
1. Chicken tikka masala.
2. Conspiracy theories. New Mexico has the Roswell Incident, we have the Great Grit Conspiracy: They are hanging on to all the salt so that They can build sandcastles with it in the car park when the council offices close for the great heat wave of summer 2010.
3. Scouse wit, Yorkshire grit, Cornish separatism, Welsh pride and regional accents.
4. Scotland: all of it.
5. Stilton. Or Cheddar. No, definitely Stilton. Unless the Cheddar is really mature....
6. Snow days.
7. Victoria Wood.
8. The BBC, and also ITV2 for Jeremy Kyle and being able to sneer at people more volatile/stupid/drunk /prone to incest than ourselves.
9. Sunday roasts, Yorkshire puddings, and proper beer served in a pint glass in a real pub.
10. The Lake District.
11. The Glastonbury Festival, or the Hay Festival, depending on which one has more mud.
12. Wellington boots.
13. Black cab drivers.
14. Football/cricket/rugby/the Olympics. Plus avoiding football/cricket/rugby/the Olympics by going shopping in Carnaby Street/Oxfam/Primark/a local market.
15. The English language: it took all the best bits from every other language in the world; now most of the world speaks it.
16. Getting your hands on any world cuisine – and still choosing a kebab.
17. Betty's cream teas. And Julie Guest's bread and butter pudding (thanks, Mum).
20. Joanna Lumley.
21. Having Canadian weather sometimes, and Caribbean weather other times, and therefore still finding both a bit of a novelty.
22. The best music industry in the world.
23. The NHS.
24. Bonfire night.
25. HMQ, if only because the alternative would be President Brown.
Fringe benefit: If the Doctor wants to be ginger, I can help
While I had to sympathise with the York mother of three who recently criticised Tesco's anti-ginger Christmas cards, I don't understand the outrage over Doctor Who's supposedly gingerist remarks. The card, "Santa loves all children – even ginger ones" is funny when you're an adult; but let's face it, school bullies don't need back up from the country's biggest retailer. The new Doctor, on the other hand, seems to have been misunderstood.
Matt Smith took over from David Tennant in the New Year's Day episode, and his first words provoked 150 complaints to the BBC. "I've still got legs. Arms, hands, lots of fingers, eyes, hair," he said, after regenerating. "I'm not a girl. I'm still not ginger."
The comments, as fans will remember, echo Tennant's on his first appearance. "Aww, I wanted to be ginger," he said. "I've never been ginger." The Doctor, we can see, is a gingerphile.
I don't say this merely because I admire every word that comes out of Tennant's mouth (though this is true); but because the new Doctor clearly needs a little help. So, if I could pass on a piece of advice, discreetly and between friends: Clairol Nice '*Easy number 109A.
The world according to 'Avatar'
Three questions pose themselves to audiences leaving James Cameron's 3D epic, Avatar. How many allusions to other movies were there? (The Millennium Falcon lookalike and trombone symphony from The Empire Strikes Back; the inexplicable use of woad from Braveheart; Sigourney Weaver from Alien ....) Why didn't the sexy young lovers do that thing with their tails when they had sex in the woods under the faraway tree? (He's saving it for the director's cut DVD, it seems.) And have Americans noticed how the movie completely tears apart their Pyrrhic victory in the war on terror, their environmental destruction, their use of "Christian values" to trample on other faiths, and their mindless slaughter of innocent Smurfs, I mean Iraqis? If so, and since it's James Cameron, will they mind?
My hero, at five degrees below
Woolly hats off to the hero at Staines station on Thursday morning, who, with a loudhailer and an attitude not seen in a London transport employee since 1957, turned Commuter Town in Travel Chaos into a wintry morning walk in the park. For maintaining his humour at -5C, for explaining the disruption in grown-up language, and for answering the 500th question about trains to Reading (none) with as much grace as he did the first, this anonymous champion deserves a little medal. Or a job training his colleagues on the Southern network. As he will never get either, however, how about the commuters he helped passing on a random act of snowy kindness: clearing a pavement, helping an old lady, buying a Big Issue? We could thaw Britain with the good cheer racing along the arterial routes of South West Trains.
Janet Street-Porter is away