China crisis

18 countries will be boycotting tomorrow's Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony.

Tomorrow's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo will be filled with empty chairs. The most striking absentee will be this year's winner, Liu Xiaobo, who is in jail in China for subversion after co-authoring Charter 08, a book that calls for peaceful reform of China's one-party political system. The table assigned to friends and family will be empyt too, as Xiaobo's wife, Liu Xia, was placed under house arrest shortly after the awards announcement.

Also absent will be ambassadors from the 18 countries who have rejected their invitations: Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco have all discovered prior commitments. A Russian spokesman for the Oslo embassy said: "It is not politically motivated . . . we do not feel we are pressured by China."

Yet despite early claims from the Chinese foreign ministry that "at present, more than 100 countries and organisations have expressed explicit support for China opposing the Nobel peace prize, which fully shows that the international community does not accept the decision of the Nobel committee", 44 countries will nevertheless be in attendance.

After initial dithering, Europe will be fully represented at the ceremony. "France is always represented by its ambassador to Norway at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo. This tradition will continue this year," said foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

Political spokespeople have been less cagey in Hong Kong, where there have been marches in support of the release of Liu Xiaobo. Lee Cheuk-yan, member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, last week said: "The Chinese government is still very much oppressing the rights of Liu Xiaobo, his wife and other dissidents in China. China's international image will be damaged if it doesn't release Liu and his wife."

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Why do the words “soup, swoop, loop de loop” come to mind every time I lift a spoon to my lips?

It’s all thanks to Barry and Anita.

A while ago I was lending a friend the keys to our house. We keep spare keys in a ceramic pot I was given years ago by someone who made it while on an art-school pottery course. “That’s er . . . quite challenging,” the friend said of the pot.

“Is it?” I replied. “I’d stopped noticing how ugly it is.”

“Then it’s a grunty,” she said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A grunty. It’s something you have in your house that’s hideous and useless but you’ve stopped noticing it completely, so it’s effectively invisible.”

I was much taken with this idea and realised that as well as “grunties” there are also “gruntyisms”: things you say or do, though the reason why you say or do them has long since been forgotten. For example, every time we drink soup my wife and I say the same thing, uttered in a strange monotone: we say, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop.” How we came to say “soup, swoop, loop de loop” came about like this.

For a married couple, the years between your mid-thirties and your late forties might be seen as the decade of the bad dinner party. You’re no longer looking for a partner, so the hormonal urge to visit crowded bars has receded, but you are still full of energy so you don’t want to stay in at night, either. Instead, you go to dinner parties attended by other couples you don’t necessarily like that much.

One such couple were called Barry and Anita. Every time we ate at their house Barry would make soup, and when serving it he would invariably say, “There we are: soup, swoop, loop de loop.” After the dinner party, as soon as we were in the minicab going home, me and Linda would start drunkenly talking about what an arse Barry was, saying to each other, in a high-pitched, mocking imitation of his voice: “Please do have some more of this delicious soup, swoop, loop de loop.” Then we’d collapse against each other laughing, convincing the Algerian or Bengali taxi driver once again of the impenetrability and corruption of Western society.

Pretty soon whenever we had soup at home, Linda and I would say to each other, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop,” at first still ridiculing Barry, but eventually we forgot why we were saying it and it became part of the private language every couple develop, employed long after we’d gratefully ceased having soupy dinners with Barry and Anita.

In the early Nineties we had an exchange student staying with us for a year, a Maori girl from the Cook Islands in the southern Pacific. When she returned home she took the expression “soup, swoop, loop de loop” with her and spread it among her extended family, until finally the phrase appeared in an anthropological dissertation: “ ‘Soup swoop, loop de loop.’ Shamanistic Incantations in Rarotongan Food Preparation Rituals” – University of Topeka, 2001. 

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt