Great British April Fools!

     And what a day it was indeed as I came across several amusing prank statuses on social media throughout the day from across the Great Pond. Some were more obvious than others, and some looked quite serious until I had taken the time to actually read and think about them to come to the conclusion that it was an April Fool’s joke. Either way, this year's April Fools was a great exercise in British humor on display, and in this post, I am going to share some of the more memorable statuses and articles based on people and things involving the United Kingdom!

Royal Brexit Intervention

     The first sign of April Fools for me came in form of an “exclusive” article by the Guardian which claimed that the Royal Family was “seriously considering making a dramatic intervention” in the debate over whether Britain ought to continue its membership of the European Union. On a united front, the family would come down in support on British membership and in doing so, were prepared to risk provoking a constitutional crisis by running contrary to the long-standing precedent of the Royal family not getting involved in political campaigns and taking sides.

     It was claimed that the decision to do this was an indication of how “deep their anger is at parts of the British press and senior politicians.”

     With regard to the press, the family was reportedly dismayed by the way the Sun newspaper depicted Her Majesty as a Brexit supporter, the claims of Prince William being “workshy” by the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, and a story about Kate being “posher” than the blood royals. As for politicians, they supposedly had reserved criticism for Michael Gove (“that awful little leaker who put it about that the Queen wanted out”), Boris Johnson (“a cycling maniac from Islington”), Nigel Farage (“another awful little man”), and David Cameron – who couldn’t be trusted with this referendum because he had made a “damn close-run thing” of the Scottish referendum two years ago.

     So to prevent this current referendum from going south, the Royal family (based on advice from outside experts) decided that their pro-EU effort ought to be lead by Prince Philip – “a figure with impeccable European credentials, a strong affinity with the continent and the character to speak out.”

     The Greek-born Duke of Edinburgh was said to be “hugely impressed by the way the EU stepped in, not just once but several times, to save Greece” and that he “admires what [Greek prime minister] Tsipras and [former Greek finance minister] Varoufakis achieved” – seeing a bit of his younger self in Varoufakis, but also stating his belief that Greece would have been better served if the military junta of 1967-74 had stayed in place.

     It was at this point that I realized that this was an April Fool’s joke. It is true that Prince Philip speaks his mind, but in no world could I imagine him speaking in admiration of the utterly inept Tsipras government or the EU’s hyper-austerity measures upon the Greek people. Besides all that, the Duke comes off as a Euroskeptic anyway, and some Royal commentators have made note of his views being oriented in that direction.

     I looked back at the top of the article to see who wrote it, only to find no name, but instead a byline with: “By our royal correspondent.” The other parts of the article, which looked humorous to begin with, were now hilarious as I laughed at some of quotes attributed to members of the Royal family, and laughed my myself for taking it seriously and almost getting a heart attack!

     The rest of the article made cheeky references to Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon having her eyes on living in Royal family’s private Balmoral Estate in Aberdeenshire and princes William and Harry deliberating on whether to an interview with Tom Bradby or appear on Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway (SNT). Both are on ITV and would have been a way for them to get back at the BBC (the Bleating Broadcasting Corporation) for its “cocking up the Queen’s water pageant with those disc jockeys instead of using a [David] Dimbleby”, while SNT in particular would appeal to “people in the north with accents.” There was also another jibe at Prince Philip – claiming that his forthrightness and propensity for swearing would necessitate a recorded broadcast.

     As if to make the point about April Fool’s clear, the article ended by saying that there was plenty of time to “iron things out between today – 1 April – and June.”

     So this was a genuinely good effort on the part of the Guardian at an April Fool’s joke. It certainly got my attention when I first read the headline as it came across my Facebook feed, and I must say, others initially feel for it as well before realizing many of the statements were a bit outlandish. Of course, I knew that the Royal family should know better than to get so brazenly involved in a political campaign for one side, but this is a testament to how good of an article it was, and it was great fun to read it.

The Fourth Forth Bridge

     Meanwhile on, there was a blog post announcing plans for constructing a new railroad bridge across the Firth of Forth – right next to the iconic Victorian original of 1890 and becoming the fourth bridge to connect the Lothians and Fife.

     It said that in the Year of Innovation, Architecture, and Design 2016, VisitScotland and Network Rail had joined up to build a new bridge as “an exciting new project” which would help ensure that the current rail bridge “can continue to wow visitors and locals alike for hundreds of years to come.”

     Indeed, the blog post seemed plausible with its mention of Network Rail reporting a “huge rise in demand for train travel in Scotland” spurred by the opening of the Borders Railway and the launch of the Spirit of Scotland Travelpass. The new bridge, it claimed, would cost £1.4 billion and allow 400 trains to cross the Forth every day. In fact, it would carry the majority of the daily crossings while the existing Victorian structure would be “free to become an even more fantastic attraction, with special steam train rides, bridge climbs and themed excursions available throughout the year”, along with special round trips over both bridges.

     There was even a blueprint of the bridge design – a triple arch design complementing the current bridge and with an appearance that would make it seem as though three Sydney Harbour Bridges were being built back-to-back, and the post also featured a beautiful artists impression of what this new crossing would look like alongside the other ones, including the still-building Queensferry Crossing. Construction would begin in 2018 and be overseen by Ailsa Polyford, a Scottish architect, “whose current work includes bridges in Berlin, Tokyo and Manchester.”

     The blog also featured a video with Network Rail Senior Communications Manager Craig Bowman explaining the rationale for the bridge and its mid 20th Century design – saying that they didn’t want something which “clashed” too much with the Victorian design of the original.

     This one was harder to decipher as an April Fools prank, but the first red flag was the name of the bridge: the “Fourth Bridge” (geddit? ;-)). This seemed a bit too cartoonish/cheeky, and then I looked up Ailsa Polyford, only to find that there was no information to be found on what should have been a globally-recognized individual.

     However, it may have also difficult to sniff out due to the fact that there is an element of truth to this “new” bridge. When VisitScotland updated the blog to admit the hoax (with a new video featuring Craig Bowman), they explained that in the course of creating the new visitor’s experience for the existing Forth Rail Bridge, plans for an actual second rail bridge were unearthed. As the plans are dated from early 1945, it is currently speculated that they were drawn up to provide a back-up railroad bridge during the Second World War, but there is really little known substantively about this proposed structure and Network Rail and VisitScotland are asking for anyone who may know something about it to come forward.

     So there is not a “Fourth” Forth Bridge in the works, but with regard to April Fools however, the people involved did a fabulous job in presenting this prank with something seeming so plausible, precisely because it was plausible - at least, in another time.

The Celtic Union

     Later during the day, there was an article in the Independent about members of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly being in discussions to split away from the UK in the event of a Brexit vote in which the UK as a whole decides to terminate its EU membership, but without the majority of Scottish and Welsh voters going along with it.

     The article presents heavily redacted documents “leaked from the resulting Cabinet Office committee meeting on ‘Brexit consequences’” which claim that David Cameron and Number 10 know of these discussions, which have been dubbed as a “joint cessation” between Wales and Scotland, who will form a new country known as the “Celtic Union.” In addition, there were plans for a “Celtic Gateway” tunnel linking the two counties via the Isle of Man, with a map included and costs estimated to be £7 billion (and partly funded by the EU).

     Downing Street’s “Brexit Committee” also raised the issue of passports being necessary in the new union and Bank of England expert warned that breaking up the UK in two would result in “a prolonged period of stagnation” for both economies. Other issues were discussed, such as building a Trump-inspired wall or moat around England and mulling over a name change for the remaining English-Northern Irish UK rump – potentially dropping “Great” from Great Britain.

     The article also states that the Independent has attempted to obtain information on these meetings via a Freedom of Information Act request, but was turned down. They were able to get their hands on them via a whistle-blower, whose identity they have promised to protect, and who has taken safe shelter “in an undisclosed location in Moscow.” An “update” later cited the protest punk group Pussy Riot as giving their support to the whistle blower and added: “It is testament to the lack of transparency of world governments that Russia, with its history of media censorship and government unaccountability, has become the destination of choice for international whistle blowers.”

     Unlike the first two pranks, this one was rather obvious off the bat – at least to me. Perhaps by this time during the day when I found the article, my mind was set to believe that it was a hoax, but then again, the whole thing just read like a fantasy. The tunnel plan looked quite unrealistic compared to the “Fourth” Forth Bridge. Reading further down, the “documents” appeared too redacted – almost a cartoonish and over-the-top vision of government censorship, and the Whitehall whistleblower was so obviously modeled on Edward Snowden.

Queen of Twitter strikes again!

     Far more hilarious than the hypothetical separatist scenario outlined by the Independent were real separatists in real time getting trolled by none other than J.K. Rowling.

     It started when the founder of the so-called “Scottish Resistance” James Scott posted a doctored photo of the Edinburgh-based Harry Potter author wearing their t-shirt with the caption: “Breaking News: JK Rowling has joined the Scottish Resistance and has started her new book The Fall of the House of Westmonster.”

     When alerted to the prank by BuzzFeed’s Jaime Ross on Twitter, Rowling responded, “They needn't have used photoshop, though”, and posted a picture of herself wearing a Scottish Resistance shirt, which was hugely received by the Twittersphere as she had the last laugh.

Ocean Liners for Fools

     The next couple of April Fool’s pranks from yesterday are actually inside jokes within the ocean liner community, but are focused on British vessels, with the first two dealing with the phenomenon of people believing just about anything they see with regard to the Titanic.

     There’s this bit about a Titanic “lifeboat” being found in Iceland – having been pushed up there by the Gulf Stream and now only recently exposed by melting ice as a result of global warming. This status was written by Steve Hall, a prominent author of Titanic books, and believe me, there are many people who would fall for this if they didn’t know any better.

     Then there’s the situation when some people will look at just about any ship with four funnels (smokestacks) and conclude that it’s the Titanic. Enter this from Jonathan Smith, another prominent Titanic historian, which features a "newly-discovered" photo containing the great ship, but with a cartoonish vessel laid over it with four funnels and slapped with the name Titanic. To add more of a joke to it, the doctored photo is captioned as Titanic leaving Belfast for her sea trials on April 1, 1912, when in fact, her sea trials – though scheduled for April 1st – actually took place on April 2nd due to unfavorable weather the day before.

     Finally, there is this photo (courtesy of ocean liner enthusiast, Brent Holt) of what the Cunard Line’s RMS Queen Mary 2 will look like when she is returned to service from her overhaul this summer.

     In fact, this paint scheme is actually reminiscent of two past Cunarders, the Mauretania (1939) and the Caronia (1949), which had similar green paint schemes. In the case of the Caronia, she used this paint scheme throughout her career and was nicknamed the "Green Goddess", but the Mauretania only used it for the last three years of her career as she did more cruising.

    However, it is fair to say that when the Queen Mary 2 returns to service, she will do so with the traditional black and white scheme which she has used and which most of her predecessors have used since the beginning of modern ocean travel in the 19th Century.

     So, it’s fair to say that April Fools Day 2016 was quite an interesting one as a Britophile, and I hope it was just as interesting and light-hearted for everyone else out there! Remember - if it's too good to be true, it probably is!