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I blame the scapegoats, p.14

I blame the scapegoats, page 14

 

I blame the scapegoats
 


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  dramatic increase in the numbers of condoms being filled up with water and chucked at passers-by from the top of the multi-storey car park.

  Underage sex is not a new problem in this country. A report back in the 1970s showed that boys in their teens were having more sex than ever, although this figure would have dropped dramatically if they'd included me in the survey. Of course, these things can be quite difficult to measure. Approaching a class of sixteen-year-old boys and saying, 'Right, hands up who's still a virgin?' may not be the most reliable polling method available. In the developed world, only America manages an even higher teenage pregnancy rate than us, and there George W. Bush is funding an abstinence education programme, telling young people that they should not have sex, while every advert, TV show and movie is telling them the opposite.

  It is fashionable on the left to laugh at the idea of abstinence education as misguided and reactionary, and if the only thing we were telling our teenagers about sex is 'don't do it' then we would obviously fail. But alongside better information, advice and access to contraception, I would venture that it is a good idea to just add that there is no compulsion for teenagers to lose their virginity quite so early on. Basically, what I'm saying is that if I didn't have constant sex as a teenager I don't see why they should. More education has to be the answer and Dutch caps off to the government for taking a brave stand on this. Obviously it's going to be a struggle to get fourteen-year-old boys to think about sex, but it has to be done. 'Oh but, miss, do we have to do sex again? Can't we do logarithms, please, miss, please?'

  One way to reduce the pressure on kids to grow up so quickly might be to make sex education more brutally honest about the reality of the adult sexual experience. 'Sexual intercourse happens between a man and a woman on Sunday morning after The Archers Omnibus. Foreplay traditionally begins with the gentleman being more attentive to his wife than he has been all week, fetching her a second cup of tea and repeatedly sighing, "Well, there's nothing worth reading in the Sunday papers!" Three minutes after this the lady says, "Mmm, that was nice!" and remembers that she'd meant to get up early to deadhead the geraniums.' That should put them off the idea for a while. Or perhaps special books for children could be used to help educate kids on the subject. 'Oh dear, Mrs Goggins is very cross with Postman Pat.

  He still hasn't guessed why she's been throwing up in the mornings.' You could have Five Go Down to the Family Planning Clinic, Harry Potter and the Child Support Agency and Teletubbies Say Uh-oh! Or how about the pop-up Joy of Sex? Obviously after a few years it won't pop up like it used to, but hey - that's life.

  Off with her head

  6 July 2002

  This government have finally lost touch. They have finally gone native. Somebody knocks the head off the statue of Lady Thatcher and they somehow try to suggest that this is a bad thing! Thousands of old lefties completely agree with them that Paul Kelleher should not have removed the head of Thatcher's statue. He should have, like, decapitated the original, man! It all could have been handled so differently. Tony Blair should have come out into Downing Street looking excited and proud: 'I would like to pass you over to our Minister for Culture as she has some news I think you might like to hear.'

  The minister would then have stepped forward, trying not to look too smug as she read from the prepared statement: 'Be pleased to inform Her Majesty, that at approximately 12.00 hours GMT, a lone anti-capitalist protester entered the Guildhall in London and knocked Mrs Thatcher's block off! God Save the Queen!'

  And above the cheers of the waiting crowds the excited journalists would have fired off dozens of questions, only to be chastised by the Prime Minister: 'Just rejoice at that news! And congratulate Paul Kelleher and Guildhall's security!'

  Instead, the condemnation was universal. 'Politics is about persuading people through reason,' said Lady Thatcher to the sound of a million jaws dropping around the country. Of course whacking heads with cricket bats is not something that should be encouraged, even if it was a technique that Thatcher herself used to persuade stubborner members of her cabinet from time to time. Foreign commentators have asked why the assailant was not stopped by security when he entered the building carrying a cricket bat. They have to understand that, in England, if someone is in possession of a cricket bat it's just presumed that they'll never be able to hit their target. Perhaps this new feature should be incorporated into the English national game; it would certainly liven up Test Match Special a bit: 'And Atherton steps out, swings his bat high, misses the ball completely but it doesn't matter because he has knocked the head off the Thatcher statue! Marvellous - just listen to that applause! But oh dear, the wicketkeeper has managed to catch the head, and Atherton is out!'

  Having failed to remove the head with a cricket bat, Kelleher employed one of the metal poles used to support the fancy bit of crimson rope that is supposed to prevent people from getting too close to the statue. You have to ask questions about the security system in operation here. Those dark red bits of rope have never been much of a deterrent to a really determined trespasser. In 1940, when Hitler was looking for the weak spot in France's famous Maginot Line, he identified the section near the Ardennes, which consisted of just a few poles linked together with twirly red rope, as offering the least resistance to the Wehrmacht's tank divisions. If I'd been the security guard on duty at the Guildhall, I would have just stuck the head back on with a bit of Araldite and hoped nobody would notice.

  'Hang on a minute! What's that crack all around the neck with gluey stuff dripping out of it?'

  'Honestly! It's supposed to be like that, you philistine. That is the artist's message, about the nature of, er - nothingness.'

  'Oh right, yeah.'

  It has to be said that as a work of art the original statue was a pretty vapid effort; if it had been eight inches high it would have been the sort of bland statuette that middle-class ladies place in back-lit corner units, on the little shelf above the crystal gondola. Exactly the sort of bland art that Mrs Thatcher herself might have gone for, in fact. But now, with the head removed and lying at her feet, it suddenly feels like a deeply symbolic and ironic statement. The leader who divided British society now lies in two pieces herself. For a woman who lost her marbles years ago, it all seems wonderfully appropriate.

  Now the empty plinth in the House of Commons looks set to remain unoccupied for years to come. If they want they can borrow the old Spitting Image puppet of her that I have in my office and stick that in the empty space. It is a far better representation, and it might stop all the kids who come for sleepovers to our house having nightmares.

  The artist is said to be deeply saddened by what has happened. So would you be if you had to meet up with her all over again for another half dozen sittings. But if a replacement is to be commissioned, shouldn't it be more in keeping with the more radical end of the BritArt scene? How about Lady Thatcher's unmade bed - with empty Glenfiddich bottles and chainmail knickers strewn across the sheets? Or how about a glass tank containing one of Mrs Thatcher's lungs pickled in formaldehyde? All right, so it might cause onlookers to recoil with disgust and nausea. But not as much as having an eight-foot-high realistic likeness staring down at you.

  Talking rubbish

  13 July 2002

  This week the government took decisive action to help Britain's sketch writers and cartoonists. They published a great big document on the subject of rubbish. The humorists scratched their heads into the small hours.

  'Hmmm, there's pages and pages of this thing, all about rubbish; there must be an angle in here somewhere?' 'Nope, beats me.'

  The headline-grabbing idea was that households producing too much waste will have to start paying. It's a brilliant plan. At the moment we're saying, 'Please don't drop litter, please take your rubbish home with you.' And now we're simply adding, 'Oh, and it'll cost you a pound a bag every time you do so.' What greater incentive could there be to stop people dumping? We've seen what happens when people have to pay to get
rid of their old cars or fridges; and all because those lazy dustmen somehow try to claim that they can't put a Nissan Sunny into the back of their cart. Even the Royal Navy has started simply dumping its battleships. (There's now a great big sticker on HMS Nottingham saying 'Police Aware'.)*

  *Just as skiers go 'off piste' and owners of four-wheel drives go 'off road', this week the captain of HMS Nottingham went 'off sea'.

  Fortunately, in this country all the appropriate spaces for fly tipping are very clearly marked; they have a big sign saying 'No Fly Tipping'. There's something about certain stretches of brick wall that compels people to think, 'You know what that spot really needs? A wet mattress and a broken kitchen unit - yup, that would really finish it off.'

  'Super idea - and maybe some tins of hardened paint arranged around the edges?'

  Something has to be done about all the rubbish produced in this country, other than putting it out on Sky One. Britain has one of the worst waste problems in Europe; we've all seen the ugly pictures of hundreds of tonnes of rubbish spread everywhere, bin liners split open as mangy looking seagulls pick over the stinking contents. Yes, that's what happens to the front garden when the dustmen don't get a Christmas tip. If the refuse does eventually get collected, it ends up in one of Britain's 1400 landfill sites (except for all the empty coke cans which go in my hedge). Britain has more landfill sites than most countries because of the number of mysterious holes in the ground located close to something once apparently known as 'the British Coal Industry'. So that's why Thatcher closed all the mines: she needed somewhere to put all of Denis's empties. It was a brilliant political scam: 'All right, Arthur Scargill, you can re-open all the coal mines if you want, but you'll have to get all the old disposable nappies out first.'

  To cut down on the amount of rubbish that we bury, we're going to have to recycle more. It's suggested that people should recycle their vegetable waste by having a compost heap. Fine for some households, but if you're a single parent on the thirteenth floor of a high-rise block, you're unlikely to be worrying about whether the avocado skins would make good compost for the begonias. Paper is another obvious area where recycling should be encouraged. In Britain we throw away millions of tonnes of waste paper every day, and that's just the pizza leaflets. Where I live in Lambeth there is a scheme which involves putting all your newspapers outside your front gate for recycling. Countless hours are wasted every Monday night as couples anxiously argue over which publication would look best on top of the crate before it's put out for all to see.

  'You can't just leave Hello! magazine on top. What will the neighbours think?'

  'But I only put it there to cover up that Outsize Underwear catalogue we got through the post.' ''What Computer?' 'Too nerdy.' 'Daily Mail!’ 'God forbid!'

  'Look, hang on, the newsagent's still open. I'll pop down and get a copy of Literary Review - we can stick that on top.'

  And then an hour later an old man in a grubby mac walks past and casually throws a copy of Asian Babes on top of the pile and the whole street has you marked down as a pervert for ever more. As well as publicly displaying your choice of reading material, you are also forced to advertise your weekly alcohol consumption when you put out the empty wine bottles. All I'm saying is that that Catholic priest in our road must do an awful lot of Holy Communions at home.

  In future, anything that is not recycled will be weighed by the dustmen and a levy will be charged on particularly heavy wheelie bins. This will have people sneaking bags of rubbish into each other's bins under cover of darkness; at three in the morning the bedroom window will go up, followed by shouts of 'Oi, neighbour, that's our bloody wheelie bin you're loading up there!'

  'Oh sorry, Cherie, it's so hard to see in the dark. Anyway it's not my fault - I've got tonnes and tonnes of useless scrap paper to get rid of. It's that huge report on rubbish from your husband.'

  See, even jokes can be recycled.

  Robo-squaddie

  20 July 2002

  The British army is going all hi-tech. Now when you phone them up you get a disjointed digital recording saying, 'Thank you for phoning the Ministry of Defence. If you wish to declare war on the United Kingdom, please press one. If you are the American President and require British forces to join your own to give the spurious impression of international co-operation, please press two. If you wish to register a complaint about the massacre of innocent civilians, press three or hold for an operator.' In which case you have to listen to Vivaldi for thirty years until someone's finally prepared to listen.

  This week it was announced that British service personnel are to be armed with all the latest micro-chip technology to assist them in the war against terrorism. With so much of today's defence budget being spent on computerized equipment, they needed that extra £3.5 billion to pay for the printer cartridges. Modelling the 'soldier of the future' outfit for the BBC News was an embarrassed-looking squaddie weighed down by countless electrical gadgets strapped all over his body, while his face seemed to say, 'I haven't the faintest bloody idea how any of this stuff works.' There were satellite communicators, computerized weapons, an integrated monitor screen just above his eyeline; all in standard army camouflage colours, making the soldier impossible to pick out until the moment his mobile phone suddenly went off, playing The Dam Busters theme at full volume.

  Of course, with the soldiers now carrying the latest in communications technology, terrorists will not be their only enemy. They're also going to have to watch their backs for teenage boys mugging them for their million-pound digital equipment which they could flog down the pub for a tenner. The computer packs are specially designed to be light and highly mobile; it's just a shame that carrying all those enormous manuals is going to slow them down so much. Hostilities will be delayed for months as combatants search through the weapons manual looking for the section on 'firing'. Yet the whole point of all this increased communications software is supposed to be speed. Soon NATO forces will be able to blow up their own armoured personnel carriers far more quickly than they have been able to do in the past. The ground forces will be in constant communication with reconnaissance aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and attack helicopters, right up until the moment the computer crashes and then all the aircraft crash as well.

  But of course the test of all this technology will be the first time that this soldier is on the battlefield face to face with an enemy gunman. A split second can make the difference between life or death as he activates his computerized weaponry. But it doesn't take out the enemy; instead a little reminder wizard appears on screen: 'Click here to register your Microsoft Anti-terrorist software for great technical support, free upgrades and special offers on other Microsoft products.' The soldier frantically clicks the 'register later' icon as enemy bullets fly past his head. Grenades are now exploding on either side of him, as a smiling little animated Mr Bomb character bounces up and down on the screen saying, 'Are you sure you want to register later?'

  That's if the technology works at all, of course. It's one thing to have your printer refusing to respond when you were hoping to catch the last post. But I'd say you'd get even more annoyed with modern technology when you are being surrounded by Taliban gunmen and the computerized missile launcher says, 'Error in weapon configuration - refer to helpline.' It's at times like this that you wish you'd sent that guarantee card back to Hewlett Packard.

  With our armed forces increasingly dependent on computer software, it won't be germ warfare we are worried about but virus warfare. 'Oh look, I've got an e-mail from someone called Osama - I'll just open that attachment and see what it is!' says the soldier brightly as the entire NATO communications goes down. Or maybe the enemy will be closer to home. I can't help worrying that the boys who left school to become squaddies tended not to be the same boys who were really brilliant with computers. The nervous brainy kids were forced to avoid all the tough boys by going along to computer soc. every lunchtime and will have spent the last fifteen years working their way up thr
ough the software industry, patiently planning their revenge. So when the tattooed meat-head of a squaddie is stuck in an Iraqi battlefield and has to rely on his computer equipment to save his life, he'll suddenly find his software freezing as a voice from the past pops up on the monitor: 'Hello Slugger. Timothy Johnson here, from Form 4B. You probably won't remember that every day for five years you broke my glasses and threw my violin case on top of the bus shelter. Well, now you are really going to wish you hadn't. Click here to leave a farewell message on Enemies Reunited.'

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

  27 July 2002

  There was a major scandal in Wall Street this week when a rogue US corporation was found not to have been fiddling the books. 'We can't imagine how this has been allowed to happen,' said the shamefaced auditors. The chief financial officer immediate resigned in disgrace as it was revealed that the firm's profits were exactly what he'd claimed they were, with no trace of false accounting or the artificial inflation of share prices. However, it's thought the chance of this happening in other US corporations remains very slim.

  The only thing that is surprising about the wave of financial scandals engulfing America is that everyone is so surprised. Well, who'd have thought it - the most aggressive capitalists making inexplicably huge profits turn out to have been cheating! You stop regulating big business and the directors take advantage to make themselves huge illicit fortunes! And we'd all thought they'd made those extra billions by doing a paper round every morning before work.

 
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