I've long found the comparisons between ordinary places in the UK with places that are a bit more... exotic, let's say, to be highly amusing. In my current work, I've ended up quoting John Humphrys saing 'I'm in Luton but it could be Lahore'. It reminded me of the 1980s comparisons between Stoke-on-Trent and Beirut.
This was at the time of the Lebanon war, and our TV screens had images of entire neighbourhoods suffering from bombs, such that blocks of flats would have their sides knocked away, as in this image of the Green Line in 1982:
Now, nowhere in Stoke ever really looked like that. However, at this time the word ' Beirut' became disconnected from the reality, and just meant 'a down at heel area'. Thus the image that 'Beirut' now conjures up is a down at heel area, without the need for a war. It's a bit like the phrase 'it looks like a bomb's hit it' being used for an untidy child's bedroom. Obviously this wouldn't actually look like it would if a bomb had actually hit.
The choice of Beirut is also amusing because of what Beirut actually looks like, when we are not just looking at war-ravaged neighbourhoods. So when a local newspaper headline says £8.4million project to transform Beirut of Stoke-on-Trent complete it's worth remembering what Beirut looks like:
This is a city known as the Paris of the East - advertised for holidays with pictures of beautiful women, the sea, and luxury hotels - and also contains the regional UN offices and so on, making it a second-rank 'global city' (alongside Rome).
Blurton, however, is one of Stoke's suburbs that's not one of the 'towns' but does have its own shops, community spaces and so on. It's suffered a bit, but it's nowhere near the worst place around, and is conveniently next to the Britannia stadium. In fact, there's nothing remarkable about the place: obviously it doesn't compare to Beirut on either description, and doesn't deserve a bad reputation.
We know many people are bad at maths. However, most mistakes are easily spotted through experience and common sense. But sometimes, common sense is lacking: here I’m talking about the Conservatives gaff on teenage pregnancy.
So first, the Conservatives. A few days ago they launched a document called Labour’s Two Nations, that was supposed to show how there is great inequality in Britain today (let’s ignore the fact that the rise in inequality happened in the 1980s). What they wanted to point out was that under-18 girls in the most deprived areas are three times more likely to become pregnant than in the least deprived areas (Guardian). It’s not clear what this means with regards to ‘most deprived’ and ‘areas’ – I think it’s top and bottom centiles and districts – and I’m sure I could find a more shocking figure if I chose a harsher definition of most and least deprived. The mistake they did make, though, was to divide 54 by 1000 and come up with 54% not 5.4%. That’s if they did a calculation: some social statistics come as ‘per 1000′ or ‘per 10,000′ and it’s important to notice this.
This matters for two reasons. First, because 54% v 18% is a big difference and much more significant than a difference between 5.4% and 1.8% (significant though this is). Second, because anyone with any sense would realise that 54%, that is over half, is completely absurd. Anywhere with 54% of its teenagers pregnant would have babies everywhere. Either the writer and editor just missed this, or they genuinely believed that there could be such a place and they are massively out of touch with normal life.