‘You Can Grow Concrete,’ and 12 Other Things We Learned in 2021

It was a really strong year for people saying saying dumb things with supreme confidence.
Simon Childs
London, GB
‘You Can Grow Concrete,’ and 12 Other Things We Learned in 2021
Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden meet prior to a US-Russia summit in Geneva earlier this year. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

A year that started with Donald Trump getting kicked off of social media nevertheless contained some notable pearls of wisdom to upload to the creaking hard-drive of human knowledge for safe-keeping. Here are some of the most important things we learned about the world in 2021.

1. You can grow concrete

In October, as climate activists Insulate Britain were causing havoc by blocking the UK’s roads, a demonstrator called Cameron went on TalkRadio to make the case for disruptive protest.

Advertisement

Prickly host Mike Graham decided to try and trip Cameron up by asking what he does for work, presumably hoping he had some risibly hippyish non-job like junior vibes consultant at an arboretum. Cameron was in fact a carpenter, so Graham pointed out that he was working with trees that had been cut down, which he said was bad for climate change. Cameron replied that carpentry is sustainable because you can grow trees but “you can’t grow concrete”.

To this Graham responded, “you can.”

This was followed by several toe-curling seconds of dead-air, leaving us to imagine Graham lovingly tending to his lump of concrete, watering it, feeding it concrete fertiliser and even talking to it in the hopes that it would grow into a multi-storey car park. Unbelievably, Graham dedicated several more shows to defending his belief that you can grow concrete.

2. COVID vaccines don’t give you huge balls

In September Trinidad and Tobago’s health minister was forced to deny that there were any cases of people suffering from swollen testicles after taking a coronavirus vaccine on the Caribbean island. Terrence Deyalsingh’s statement came after rapper Nicki Minaj said that her cousin refuses to get a vaccine because his friend’s balls became swollen after he was vaccinated. "His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding," Minaj told her 22.6 million Twitter followers.

Advertisement

“Unfortunately we spent so much time yesterday running down this false claim… what was sad about this is that it wasted our time yesterday because we take all these claims seriously,” said a frustrated Deyalsingh.

3. Afghanistan will not fall to the Taliban

In remarks to the press in July concerning the US’s impending withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden said: “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

Not sure how this one turned out. Has anyone checked?

4. Even German poetry’s biggest fans don’t know anything about it

Tino Chrupalla, co-leader of the far-right AfD party, appeared on a children’s TV programme to promote the importance of German school children learning about German poetry and folk traditions.

Advertisement

The child interviewing him then asks, “What’s your favourite German poem?”

Inevitably, following a long pause, Chrupalla says, “I can’t think of one.”

Being bested by a school child was certainly embarrassing for the grown-up politician, but maybe, in a roundabout way, his ignorance proved his point.

5. Tottenham Hotspur are a “top 6” football club

In April the executives of 12 of Europe’s richest football clubs proposed the creation of a self-selecting closed-shop Super League, promising, “The best clubs. The best players. Every week.”

It went down like a pint of anthrax with just about everyone associated with football and led to fan protests, before most of the founders abandoned the idea.

In all the talk of anti-competitive commercialism ruining the beautiful game, we at least learned that Tottenham Hotspur are apparently one of a supposed “big six” of English clubs, despite famously having a trophy cabinet emptier than a post-Brexit supermarket shelf. A truly inspirational example of faking it ‘til you make it.

6. Maybe it’s bad to plagiarise your dissertation if you want to be Prime Minister

Who would be a politician these days? Thanks to the internet and social media you get mischievous journalists trawling through your past ready to drag up every inopportune forum post or embarrassing photograph from when you were young and stupid and free. Or in the case of Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, the fact that you plagiarised your dissertation.

Advertisement

Luxembourg news site Reporter analysed Bettel’s 1999 dissertation and found that only two of its 56 pages were free from plagiarism material.

“It could have – yes, maybe should have – been done differently,” he admitted.

The word “maybe” doing some heavy lifting there.

7. Vladimir Putin is emo

Asked about whether his meeting with Joe Biden in Geneva, Switzerland in June had helped build trust between the two leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "There's no happiness in life. There's only a mirage on the horizon, so we'll cherish that." Finally a politician who tells it like it is.

8. This is Dominic Raab’s world, and we’re just living in it

In an enlightening year one sage’s wisdom has shone like a beacon. UK government minister Dominic Raab – he was Foreign Secretary but then got simultaneously sacked and promoted to become Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister –  has led the way in matters of morality and philosophy this year, telling us that misogyny is “absolutely wrong, whether it’s a man against a woman or a woman against a man.”

Further he told a fable of how he could not possibly have been paddle boarding while Kabul fell to the Taliban because “the sea was actually closed”.

Advertisement

And finally, faced with questions over a party alleged to have happened in Downing Street in December 2020 when the UK was facing a strict lockdown, he questioned the nature of time itself, challenging us with the concept that the police do not investigate crimes that have taken place in the past.

9. The law doesn’t apply to you if you don’t want it to

The growing global sovereign citizen movement of anti-establishment fantasist has been teaching us that the law is whatever you can imagine it to be.

In Ontario, Canada, they tried to arrest the mayor for imposing coronavirus lockdowns, claiming the right to do so under “common law”.

In Scotland around 20 protesters attempted to “seize” Edinburgh castle based on article 61 of the Magna Carta, a clause of the ancient English legal document from 1215 which was never incorporated into law.

And a Brit in Singapore, believing himself to be “sovereign”, told a court that charges against him for not wearing a mask “don’t apply to me”. Who does he think he is, Boris Johnson?

Advertisement

Brb just off to claim Jeff Bezos’ mansion as my own on the basis of “finders’ keepers”.

10. COP26 was in Edinburgh

Americans turned up to the COP26 summit in Scotland to save the planet only to prove that they probably couldn’t find it on a map. CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer proudly announced that he was reporting from, “Edinburgh in Scotland where 20,000 world leaders and delegates have gathered for the COP26 Climate Summit”, despite the summit taking place in Glasgow, a different city entirely.

And then former President Barack Obama said, “Since we’re here in the Emerald Isles, let me quote the bard. What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” Quoting Shakespeare might have made him look quite sophisticated if the “Emerald Isle” wasn’t a poetic way of referring to Ireland which, unfortunately for Obama, is not the same thing as Great Britain, the island where Scotland is. The Irish tend to be fairly keen on this distinction. Shakespeare was also English, not Scottish. Other than that, full marks.

11. The UK’s vaccine programme was based on the film “Contagion”

Discussing the procurement of vaccines, then UK health secretary Matt Hancock turned to 2011 thriller Contagion for inspiration. “In the film, it shows the moment of highest stress around the vaccine programme is not in fact before it’s rolled out, when actually it’s the scientists and the manufacturers working together at pace. It’s afterwards, when there is a huge row about the order of priority. So not only did we in this country, I insisted, we ordered enough for everybody, every adult to have their two doses.”

Advertisement

Basing the UK’s real life vaccination programme on a ten-year-old film starring Matt Damon might sound dubious, but it’s actually one of the few things the government has done successfully recently. Here’s to a defence policy inspired by Starship Troopers.

12. Spain’s most popular women author is three men in a trench coat

Carmen Mola, one of Spain’s most popular female authors, is famed for books such as The Girl, which Spain’s Women’s Institute has included in a list of books by female authors that “help us understand the reality and the experiences of women.”

It turns out Mola is actually a pseudonym for three established writers who don’t know all that much about the reality and experiences of women, being as they are, blokes. Agustín Martínez, Jorge Díaz and Antonio Mercero came forward to collect the coveted Planeta literary award when “Carmen Mola” was announced as the winner of the million euro prize.

They chose the name Carmen after “a minute and a half of throwing around names of men, women, foreigners,” Martinez told El Pais. Not sure if this is a bold new way to deconstruct gender or the makings of a very misjudged sequel to Some Like It Hot.

13. Science is not an exact science

After his government spent most of the pandemic insisting that its policies were being “led by the science”, Conservative MP Ben Bradley argued that the UK shouldn’t “rush in” to further coronavirus restrictions because of the Omicron variant, because “science is not an exact science at the end of the day”. Hard to argue with that.