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I blame the scapegoats, p.1

I blame the scapegoats, page 1


I blame the scapegoats

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I blame the scapegoats

  I blame the scapegoats

  John O'Farrell

  London : Black Swan, 2004. (2003)

  Tags: Satire, Non Fiction

  Satirettt Non Fictionttt

  * * *

  * * *


  Another collection of funny, satirical essays on a hundred and one 21st century subjects ranging from a sperm-sorting machine to Santa loans for school children, and how the EC is being expanded to include Narnia.

  John O'Farrell is the author of two best-selling novels, The Best a Man Can Get and This Is Your Life, and Things Can Only Get Better, a memoir. His name has flashed past at the end of such productions as Spitting Image, Have I Got News For You and Chicken Run. He writes a weekly column in the Guardian, the first volume of which was collected and published as Global Village Idiot. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

  Also by John O'Farrell

  Things Can Only Get Better

  The Best a Man Can Get

  Global Village Idiot

  This Is Your Life

  I Blame the Scapegoats


  John O'Farrell




  61-63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA

  a division of The Random House Group Ltd

  RANDOM HOUSE AUSTRALIA (PTY) LTD 20 Alfred Street, Milsons Point, Sydney, New South Wales 2061, Australia


  18 Poland Road, Glenfield, Auckland 10, New Zealand

  RANDOM HOUSE SOUTH AFRICA (PTY) LTD Endulini, 5a jubilee Road, Parktown 2193, South Africa

  Published 2003 by Doubleday

  a division ofTransworld Publishers

  Copyright ©John O’Farrell 2003

  The right of John O'Farrell to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 0385 606745

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

  Typeset in I IM/I4pt Ehrhardt by Falcon Oast Graphic Art Ltd.

  Printed in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, Bungay, Suffolk.

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3

  Papers used by Transworld Publishers are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

  'Maketh up a quote at ye beginning of thy book; 'twill make people think thou art clever.'

  Christopher Marlowe,

  The Obscure Tragedie,

  Act II, Scene ii


  Introduction 1

  Choose the sex of your child 5

  The greatest Tories ever sold 8

  Brickbats and mortar 11

  After you with the trough 14

  Product placement sickens me 17

  Send in the clones 20

  The scientists are making it all up 23

  What's so bloody great about the private sector? 26

  Welcome to England: smacking area - 200 yards 29

  They've run out of IDS 32

  Edward - stalker laureate 35

  Lack of identity cards 38

  The wrong sort of shares 41

  Shop for victory! 44

  Pentagon seeks part-time helpers - no terrorists please 47

  PC Plod goes to PC World 50

  Goal not dole

  Hey, Mr Taliban Man

  Between a rock and a hard place

  I blame the scapegoats

  Hotel health service

  Defective defector

  Immunizing children against the tabloid press

  Osama's Christmas message

  Top dog collar

  Working-class students

  Tyson bites yer legs

  God Save the Queeeeen!

  As English as baseball itself

  Consignia Personnel Pat

  Britain wins gold medal at Olympics! (in the ladies' curling)

  Someone explain the Third Way to a fox

  More power to those elbows with the leather patches

  Five thousand police march (police estimate much lower)

  Criminals in the community

  War! Hurr! What is it good for?

  Nationalized Grand National

  Does the working class exist?

  Labour to increase taxes shock!

  Match abandoned (following inspection by accountants)

  Talking ballots

  It's what one would have wanted Filthy lucre School's out

  God bless the World Cup

  Snakes and property ladders

  In-flight entertainment


  No sex please, we're teenage boys

  Off with her head

  Talking rubbish


  Look out! There's an accountant about. . . Rats!

  Football fans are revolting!

  I'm a world leader, get me out of here!

  Atomkraft? Nein danke!

  United Nations States

  The Quiet Man with a lot to be quiet about

  The Ballad of Lincoln Gaol

  Grate Britons

  Je t'aime (moi non plus)

  The butler didn't do it

  Dial 999. Ask for 'Fire'. And wait for strike to end . Cut!

  Weapons of mass distraction

  Miss World shows her age

  EU to include Narnia

  Feeling travel-sick on the road to nowhere

  New Labour, New Christmas

  Election battle

  Intelligent hominids (due any century now)

  Grounds for concern

  London Olympics (indoors if wet)

  Off the wall

  Genetically modified asparagus (an end to strange-smelling urine)

  Tories in turmoil (Part 7)

  Who wants to be a military Blair?

  That's slaughtertainment!

  Free market forces

  McDonald's to go, please

  The thief of Baghdad

  An American in Paris (in a Sherman tank)

  Responsible owner sought for sawn-off shotguns

  Testing, testing . . .

  Halal Dolly

  Sunday Dads

  I don't want spam!

  Life on Mars?

  United Nations Closing Down Sale Open all hours Going for a song

  The plane to Spain flies mainly over Staines

  Independence Day


  I Blame the Scapegoats


  It must be tough being a Swedish satirist. 'I see the government have decided to keep paid paternity leave at eighteen months rather than extend it to twenty-four, the vicious bastards!' 'Yeah, and notice how those fascists in Stockholm only partially subsidize our excellent public transport system!' Swedish sketch writers must be praying that George W. Bush wins a second term at the White House. 'Hurrah! There's still a psychopathic chimp leading the Western world! Children, you shall have presents this Christmas!'

  Thankfully, in this country we have a Labour government that continues to do its best to assist Britain's satirists as regularly as possible. I worked hard to help get this government elected; giving me so much material was the least they could do in return. However, I do sometimes w
orry whether genuine satire requires the writer to be filled with hatred for his subject matter. Does satire demand contempt? When I worked on Spitting Image we certainly hated Margaret Thatcher. But we also wrote sketches featuring Gary Lineker or the Queen Mother or a bunch of singing vegetables and out of all of those I only hated celery. And now, though I regularly snipe from the sidelines at this Labour government, I don't actually hate them. I have contempt for some of the things that some members of the government have said and done, while there are plenty of other things I applaud and admire (particularly Gordon Brown's habit of buying his Treasury team my novels for Christmas).

  In the past few years many people whom I respect have resigned their membership of the Labour Party, others have chosen to remain, while a third group have sent off their angry letters of resignation but forgotten to cancel their direct debit. I can't really imagine myself ever divorcing the Labour Party; indeed I actually returned to my home town to stand for Parliament at the last election, 'just for the craic’ as they say in Maidenhead's famous Irish community. I knew the voters of Maidenhead wouldn't elect me (though you didn't have to be that emphatic, guys) and I have no intention of standing anywhere again because, frankly, being a writer is a much nicer job. But the experience confirmed for me why I'm still in the Labour Party when it would have been so easy to resign in opposition to the Iraq war or foundation hospitals or Roger Moore getting a knighthood. I think it is because when you are close to it you see people really making a difference. Where I live in Lambeth, for example, some teenagers recently began using an empty kids' paddling pool as an impromptu skateboard arena. Because some of them had their hoods up and weren't playing croquet or bridge, there were obviously complaints about this. So my local councillor approached them and talked to them about whether they ought to campaign for a proper skateboard park. She took them to council meetings where they had the courage to stand up and give a speech making their case. They sat through several more long and probably bewildering meetings, understanding at last why Sky TV hasn't bought the rights to transmit all the thrills and spills of live local government planning committees. But at the end of this gruelling process, the council agreed to build them a proper skateboard park nearby, which you have to admit is a fantastic testament to the democratic process. Obviously by the time it opens these skateboarders will all be in their mid-forties and more interested in re-potting geraniums, but that's not the point. If Councillor Helen O'Malley (Lab.) had been a stuck-up snooty snob, it never would have happened. Instead a sign would have gone up on the paddling pool saying 'No Skateboarding', before being yanked off to make another skateboarding ramp.

  So whenever I get cross with this government, I try to remember that there is a lot more to the Labour Party than what Tony Blair is saying on television. There are a great many vital (and frankly rather tedious) posts that need to be filled, from local councillor to Euro MP to school governor, and I consider it a matter of utmost political importance that as many of these people as possible are not Stuck-up Snooty Snobs.

  And while all these good people are working so hard, I try to do my bit by taking the piss out of them all. My feelings towards the various politicians and organizations in this book vary from affection to outright contempt, but frankly I don't think any of that is as important as whether the jokes are half decent. As it happens, most of the pieces in this collection are not about party politics at all and I have tried to avoid banging on and on about the issues that really bug me because I thought it might get a bit boring for people to keep reading about car alarms and the uncooperative nature of my printer. Instead I have tried to cover as wide a range of topics as possible, from human cloning to the Miss World competition to soft-core pornography. (Come to think of it, these are all the same subject, aren't they?)

  These columns begin immediately after Tony Blair's being re-elected to his job and end soon after Saddam Hussein's losing his. Where there is some topical reference that might now need further clarification I have inserted an asterisk to denote that there will be an explanatory footnote at the bottom of the page* But most of the subjects discussed in this book are still live issues. That's the wonderful thing about having a regular column: one is continually having to make new observations aimed at the latest targets to appear on the scene, such as that right-wing Tory baldie William Hague Iain Duncan Smith.

  So I hope this collection raises the occasional smile in a time when there seems to be less and less to laugh about. Obviously some subjects are simply too distasteful for a comedy writer to even contemplate tackling, such as public autopsy or the death of the Queen Mother (pages 197 and 128 respectively). But as the old saying goes, 'you either laugh or you cry'. Or you think about George W. Bush being elected to a second term and you do both.

  J.O'F July 2003

  * Yup, you've got the hang of that really quickly.

  Choose the sex of your child

  7 July 2001

  A doctor in America has just invented a 'sperm sorting machine'. At least that's what he claimed when his receptionist burst into the office to find him doing something peculiar with the Hoover attachment. Either way, a clinic in the United States is now charging the modest fee of $2000 in order to allow couples to choose the sex of their child. This development would have provoked the major moral dilemma of our age, were it not for all the other major moral dilemmas currently-piling up in the in-tray. Should we allow the cloning of humans? Should we permit euthanasia? When you receive a written invitation, is it okay to RSVP by e-mail?

  The world would be very different if parents had always had this choice. Imagine if Alderman Roberts had chosen to have a son. Mrs Thatcher might have been an aggressive, war-mongering politician instead of the gentle, loving woman she turned out to be. Or what if Arnold Schwarzenegger's parents had chosen a girl? 'She' would have beaten up a dozen mutants, fired off her rocket launcher and destroyed the cyber-city and everyone would have said, 'You know, Evening Primrose Oil can sometimes help with PMT, dear.'

  It's hard to know if your parents always secretly hoped you'd be born the opposite sex, although if I was Princess Michael of Kent I'd be a bit suspicious. Most couples always pretend that they don't mind

  what sex their baby will be. When people said to Anne Boleyn, 'What do you want: a boy or girl?' she said, 'Well, a girl would be nice because I could buy her dolls and dresses and things. But then part of me hopes it's a boy because otherwise Henry will chop my head off.' But now at last the ability to choose is a genuine reality. Couples who've had several children of the same sex will now be able to balance it out a bit. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers will be remade as Seven Partners for Various Siblings of Alternate Sexes.

  The system used for separating the male and female sperm is remarkably simple. The sample is placed in a petri dish with a microscopic pile of household items on a tiny staircase. All the sperm that go straight past without picking anything up are obviously boys. Fertilization is then just a scientific formality. Of course, before IVF the long journey to the egg was fraught with difficulty. The male sperm just whizzed around all over the place hoping to find it, while the female sperm kept saying they should stop and ask someone. Eventually the male sperm suggested that she map-read and then he got all cross because she had to hold the map upside down to get her bearings.

  Of course some have argued that so much pre-planning should not go into a child's life before conception. Soon pregnant mothers will be going around saying, 'It's a boy, he's an Aries and he's a borough surveyor.' Soon it will be possible to choose not only the sex of your baby but the social class as well. Working-class mums will find little Drusilla saying things like, 'Mother - I want Nanny to take me to the gymkhana. It was so embarrassing last time when you mixed up a colt with a gelding.' And instead of just dressing their middle-class kids up in miniature denim jackets and tiny Doc Martens, right-on parents will order a bone fide working-class son complete with skinhead haircut and tattoos. And they'll watch him playing with his wood
en blocks and proudly say, 'Oh look, he's going to be a labourer when he grows up.'

  The news that we are now able to select the gender of our children was greeted with the usual hand-wringing. Some commentators said, 'It is time we had a full public debate on this whole area,' which is another way of saying, 'I haven't the faintest idea what I think about this one.' Meanwhile there were the predictable howls of outrage from the very quarters that are always banging on about freedom of choice. Because while we're confronted with too much choice when it comes to Sky Movie channels and different sizes of cappuccino, for the really big things in life the right's instinct is to deny people real choices. Why shouldn't parents be able to opt for the gender they would prefer? Who could it harm apart from the people selling yellow Babygros? Either way, when the child is born the choices will still be narrow enough.

  Maybe the critics don't like new generations having the opportunities that they never had. Perhaps they feel that IVF makes it all too effortless. 'Honestly, sperm today, they have it so easy,' they say. 'When I were a sperm, it were a struggle. No fancy doctors helped me reached the egg - I did it through my own hard work and perseverance. But young sperm these days, they don't know they're born. Oh, they're not, are they?'

  The greatest Tories ever sold

  14 July 2001

  Who says the dispossessed underclass of the inner cities are not interested in politics? The first ballot in the Tory Party leadership contest produces a stalemate and suddenly there are riots in the streets of Bradford. Gangs of youths set fire to cars and looted shops, expressing their anger and frustration that Michael Ancram and David Davies had tied for last place thereby delaying the next stage of the contest. One masked teenager, hurling bricks at the riot police, was heard to shout, 'Why can't the 1922 Committee organize an exhaustive ballot using a single transferable vote!' 'Yes! The constituency associations should have had the choice of all five candidates!' cried another, but their desperate pleas were drowned out by the sounds of sirens and smashing glass all around.

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