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I blame the scapegoats, p.20

I blame the scapegoats, page 20


I blame the scapegoats

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  full of wild anachronisms: dinosaurs occurred much earlier and fur Wonderbras came much, much later.

  What is also not generally understood is that there were various branches of hominids in competition with each other. Neanderthals were not our direct ancestors but another branch of the genus that were in all probability wiped out by us, Homo sapiens. Ugly battles must have taken place between grunting troglodytes with thick necks and protruding foreheads - a bit like when Millwall fans turn up at Chelsea. The remains discovered this week in Spain are also of a subspecies that was killed off and now we are presented with the depressing conclusion that our particular branch of mankind may not have triumphed because we were the only highly intelligent branch of the family, as we'd arrogantly presumed, but because we were the most vicious and brutal. We know that early Homo sapiens looked like a chimp and was dangerous and aggressive. And when you look at President Bush, you can see how far we have come. On the same day that this prehistoric discovery was announced, the respected World Watch Institute in Washington declared that we only have one generation to save the planet. A million years getting to this point and we are going to blow it all away in less than a century. This week the anthropologists were excitedly debating when the first intelligent humans appeared. But somehow when you look around you can't help thinking that we're still waiting.

  Grounds for concern

  18 January 2003

  Football teams are under all sorts of pressure these days. Peterborough United were recently told they could no longer use the nickname 'Posh' because that now belongs to Posh Spice. Next thing you know George Michael will object to Fulham calling themselves 'the Cottagers'.

  The origin of Fulham's nickname comes of course from Craven Cottage, by far the most charming football ground in the country. But this week it has been reported that the club's owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, has already received a £S million down-payment from a property company seeking to build luxury homes on this prime riverside location. It wasn't clear whether the cash was handed over in plain brown envelopes.

  Chairman Mo insists that this is just a precautionary option that he is taking alongside his primary objective of redeveloping Fulham's historic ground. Clearly there is no contradiction here; property developers and football players will work alongside each other. The team will play a normal ninety minutes except there will be cement mixers and piles of rubble all over the pitch. It'll certainly liven up the match commentary on The Premiership: 'Oh and a fantastic piece of improvisation there from Steve Finnan! The Irish international jumped into the JCB, picked up the ball in midfield, steered it round

  the visitors' defence and delivered it right into the box. But oh dear, Marlet's still missed it!'

  Craven Cottage has been the home of Fulham FC since 1896 and if ancient rights of way are still used by ramblers through the estates of country houses, then this development should proceed only if the historic right to play footy there is maintained. The new residents will only be able to park their Porsches after Malbranque and Van De Sar have finished playing 'three-and-in' against the garage door. In the lobby, the game of keepy-uppy may have to be abandoned due to chandelier failure. Will the Jacuzzi still be as inviting after eleven footballers have jumped into it wearing muddy boots and sweaty football kits?

  Former season-ticket holders must also have some sort of rights as sitting tenants that would mean the incoming millionaires having to share their living rooms with the previous occupant of that particular space. Any purchaser who imagines herself curled up on the sofa watching a period costume drama on BBC2 should realize that the charmer who sits behind me at Fulham every week will now be sitting directly behind her settee, swearing and shouting at her television: 'Oi, Darcy, you stuck-up twat, tell Mrs Bennet to go fuck herself!' Dinner parties just won't be the same with the squatters sitting there chomping on hot-dogs and burgers, with mustard and red sauce dripping out all over the place mats.

  But of course none of this will have to happen if the local Labour council have the courage to refuse planning permission for this development. Until now Fulham FC has been a great example of what can happen under Labour. When Tony Blair became PM, Fulham were in the bottom division. By the end of his first term, Fulham had been promoted to the Premiership - what clearer evidence do people want of Labour's competence in power? Of course, Al Fayed's millions may have also have had something to do with it. But the club's chairman is in his seventies - in ten years' time he may no longer be funding the club, Fulham will probably slip out of the Premiership and the memory of a few seasons in the sun will not be adequate compensation for being permanently homeless or having to travel out to the edge of some god-awful industrial estate twenty miles away to watch the team.

  Obviously, as a season-ticket holder at Fulham I cannot pretend to be neutral on this issue, but I would not wish the loss of their ground on any club. Well, except Chelsea, of course. Every site in the capital is worth more as luxury flats, whether it's a hospital, a school or an old football ground. But there's a difference between price and value. What is it that gives our cities character and charm: quirky places open to all and full of memories for thousands, or gated private housing with CCTV cameras? Football fans from any club will agree that Craven Cottage is special. I have watched hundreds of games there, often followed by a reflective pint overlooking the river as the sun went down on the Thames. The idea that this might be gone for ever fills me with such sadness that it makes me want to top myself - or worse, start supporting Manchester United. There is something wrong with our society when we are prepared to surrender our sporting heritage for luxury apartments. And the only people who'll be able to afford those sort of prices will be Premiership footballers. It's a shame they won't actually have anywhere to play any more.

  London Olympics (indoors if wet)

  I February 2003

  This week the cabinet postponed a decision on another British bid for the Olympics while they focused on the more pressing problem of Saddam Hussein. The thinking is that bombing Iraq will make Baghdad's chances of hosting the 2012 Olympics even slimmer and suddenly London might be in with an outside chance.

  Our recent record on landing major sporting events has not been too impressive. For the 2006 World Cup we lost to Germany without so much as a penalty shoot-out. And strangely, Olympic delegates were more attracted by the prospect of a few weeks in Sydney than they were by sunny Manchester. Now it's even looking touch and go whether London will get to host the London Marathon. Despite all this, it seems that the government will eventually back a British bid for the 2012 Games. Having had such a wonderful experience with the Millennium Dome, they are keen to multiply that PR triumph by a thousand. Why limit ourselves to being humiliated inside the sporting arena when we can be humiliated outside it as well?

  As part of the bidding process, each city has to spend a week hosting the IOC Committee, showing them the very best of what their home town has to offer. The suggestion that this occasion might provide opportunities for a certain amount of corruption is grossly exaggerated. While other countries will be laying on high-class prostitutes, cocaine and suitcases crammed with $50 notes, in London the delegates will be surreptitiously slipped two free tickets to see David Essex at the Labatt's Apollo. There will be a chance to see all the sites, of course; a coach will set off from Tower Bridge en route for Trafalgar Square - so that should take up the first three days. What greater treat could there be than being stuck in a traffic jam with Sebastian Coe? And while the international committee search through their pockets to cough up for the congestion charge, they'll be given a running commentary on London's sporting heritage: 'The British people love sport and find many ways to get involved; notice that chap on the corner holding up a sign saying "Massive Golf Sale". And as you can see, our young men are already in practice for the relay race, grabbing mobile phones and running off at great speed!' Then it's a traditional London tourist's slap-up lunch - wandering down Oxford Street eating a warmed-up slice o
f pizza saying, 'Pleeze, where is Penny Lane and Ze Cavern?' as office workers hurry past presuming they're being accosted by a drug addict.

  This initial bidding stage will cost £13 million - or twice that if they buy them lunch at Pret a Manger. But should we be successful and beat off bids from Harare and the Lost City of Atlantis, then the money gets really serious. The current estimate is that it would cost the UK taxpayer £2 billion to stage the Olympics in London. Now I'm going to really stick my neck out here and make an outlandish prediction. The actual cost will end up being more than the estimate. There, I've said it, and in 2012 historians will dig out this column and say, 'How could he possibly have known such a thing? Was he a time traveller, some sort of mystic visionary, a second Nostradamus? For he actually foresaw that the cost of this major construction project would exceed the original estimate! And he also predicted that there would be delays in construction. Yea, a true prophet did come among us!'

  The question is whether the benefits of hosting the Olympic Games would be worth three or four billion quid. Is London the part of Britain that needs this sort of investment, or did someone decide that the 'Warrington-Runcorn Olympics' didn't have the right ring to it? Imagine if that sort of money was invested in sport at a grass-roots level all across the country. This was the policy pursued by Francois Mitterrand in the 1980s and great national sporting achievement duly followed, with a French World Cup victory and an impressive crop of Olympic golds, far exceeding Britain's usual handful in the small-bore rifle shooting and synchronized queuing.

  Do we really want the whole world watching an opening ceremony where the lighting of the Olympic torch is delayed because the man from the gas board never turned up even though the sports minister waited in all day for him? Do we trust our police to watch Carl Lewis's successor breaking the 100 metres world record without pulling him over to ask him why he's in such a hurry? And if the Olympic village was like any other village in the south of England, all the foreign athletes would have to live there for five years before anyone said 'Good morning' to them. No, instead Britain should limit itself to bidding for the Winter Olympics. Now that would be really impressive: 'We apologize that the skiing, skating and bobsled events have all been cancelled. Apparently there's been a bit of snow, so nobody can get anywhere.'

  Off the wall

  8 February 2003

  Why is everybody so quick to label Michael Jackson? Who among us can honestly say we haven't gone shopping and bought things we didn't really need? Who hasn't wished they could change their appearance a little? Who hasn't built their own private funfair, zoo and fantasy park and got twelve-year-old kids to come over and stay the night in their bedroom? Okay, so just Michael then.

  Martin Bashir's documentary was certainly compelling entertainment, especially now those guided tours through Bedlam have been stopped. We learned that Michael wants his kids to have a happier childhood than he had. So he calls his son 'Blanket'. Yup, that sounds fine to me; I can't see any school bullies or sadistic teachers finding anything strange or laughable in that. In any case, when they're older, kids with unusual names always have the option of switching to their more conventional middle name, which in this case happens to be 'Duvet'. Michael Jackson's attempt to bottle feed the baby did not fill one with confidence. There was an incredible amount of shaking going on, probably coming from the baby who at that moment looked up to realize that this complete weirdo was his dad. But young Blanket is rapidly growing up to be a normal toddler and should be moon-walking any day now.

  Another great moment was the sight of Michael going shopping.

  He dashed around a boutique crammed with ornate gold vases and giant jewel-encrusted urns, each costing tens of thousands of dollars, buying everything in sight while the store-owner rubbed his hands like Uriah Heep behind him. I wish this scene had been filmed in Britain.

  'Ooh, no, sorry, that's a display model, I'm afraid, and we won't have any more of those for another six to eight weeks.'

  'But look, here's a million in cash - just let me have whatever you've got.'

  'Nah, sorry, you have to order those in advance.'

  Of course the element which has grabbed all the media attention has been Jackson's relationship with a twelve-year-old boy. The parents of young 'Gavin' are apparently perfectly happy for their son to go and sleep in Michael Jackson's bed. It's marvellous that such trust still survives in this world, that they can confidently send little Gavin off with his overnight bag, his toothbrush and half a dozen hidden microphones while a crack team of private detectives and lawyers are parked in a mobile listening command centre at the bottom of the lane praying that this will be the night they can hit Jacko with a billion-dollar lawsuit.

  'Did you have a nice time at your friend's, dear?'

  'Yes, Mommy.'

  'Damn! You mean you didn't get trampled by one of his pet elephants or anything?'

  I wonder if Michael ever goes back for a sleepover at Gavin's house? 'Hello, Michael, we've put up the camp bed for you in Gavin's room, and got the oxygen tent down from the loft, and put up sun screens and hired a few aardvarks and camels to wander about the place to make you feel at home. Now, would you like some ice cream, dear - it's five million dollars a scoop?'

  Of course it is not normal or healthy for a forty-four-year-old man to have twelve-year-old boys over to stay, but what is it about our society that makes us so eager to scream 'paedophile' before we're sure what is really going on? It seems more likely that Jacko, as part of his rather tragic childlike behaviour, is having 'other' kids over to stay. Yet since the film was broadcast there has been an almost tangible hunger to brand Jackson as a pederast because in the modern Salem witch hunts it's been a few weeks since the last public show trial and the mob

  are screaming for more. We've had paediatricians attacked because people got that confused with paedophile. Who's next? I've got relations in Ireland called 'Paddy O'Farrell’; that sounds a bit like 'paedophile' - maybe the mob should storm their houses as well. And as for Iraqi paedophiles posing as asylum seekers, well, they're the worst of the lot.

  The eagerness to tar Jacko with the worst possible brush is like one of the cheap thrills in his empty funfair. Yes, he is creepy and self-deluding but that doesn't automatically mean he must be evil. Nothing is black and white - especially in Michael Jackson's case. Apparently he was horrified by Bashir's documentary, saying, 'I am surprised that a professional journalist would compromise his integrity by deceiving me.' Blimey, he's even more detached from reality than we thought. Jacko's PR adviser should have warned him that doing this film was a bad idea, that it might be edited in such a way as to make the singer seem a trifle eccentric. Sadly, Michael's PR adviser is a llama and so was unable to do this. And so now Bashir's really put the star's nose out of joint. That should keep the plastic surgeons busy for a while.

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

  22 February 2003

  This is the year that the government is supposed to make a decision on whether to allow commercial growing of genetically modified crops. The farm trials began three years ago and they had hoped that they'd get away without having to decide one way or the other because there wouldn't be any farms left by now. The immediate problem is remembering exactly which fields the farmers planted the GM crops in. 'Was it that one?' 'Er, might have been, or it could have been that one ... I dunno, us farmers have had a lot on our minds you know.'

  This month's conference on GM crops did not cause quite the stir that had been hoped. One appalled environmentalist spoke from the platform about the terrible threat to one of our best-known native species. 'Unless action is taken soon,' she implored, 'we will see the deliberate extinction of the stinging nettle!!' There was an awkward silence as delegates contemplated such a scenario. 'Imagine the stinging nettle completely disappearing from our gardens and footpaths!'

  'Erm, yeah, well, I think I could probably live with that,' said someone at the back.
r />   'Me too,' echoed a couple in the row in front and a positive murmur went round the whole hall as delegates imagined their kids falling into a bed of the GM 'tickling nettle'.

  The geneticists promise us that GM plants offer a brave new world in which you could park your car underneath a sycamore tree without the windscreen getting all sticky. One day it will be possible to eat a three-bean salad and then lay a carpet with confidence. All sorts of adjustments can be made to everyday plants: there'll be a mould that is the same colour as the non-slip bath mat, an end to the trauma of that one unopenable pistachio nut and a new minty-fresh garlic redesigned so the skin doesn't get all stuck in the garlic crusher. One inspired scientist has even managed to put a cannabis gene into a cocoa plant so that you can get stoned and cure the munchies all at the same time.

  But many opponents of GM food are wary of the Hitlerian concept of genetic super-species, even if this time round we are talking about broccoli. Can the Americans really be trusted to meddle in the incredibly complex genetic make-up of plants without adding tomato ketchup to everything? The balance of the natural world is very fragile, with many animals and plants depending upon one another for their propagation and survival. For example, the lily has evolved so that its pollen can be dispersed only by people with clean white shirts brushing against it at drinks parties. History has shown us that every change we make to the ecosystem will have a knock-on effect that we did not foresee. For example, we are rapidly losing the natural habitat of that special moss that grows only on the bumpers of Triumph Heralds. Of course, mankind has been interfering in nature since prehistoric farmers first learnt to apply for subsidies. Without selective breeding and the development of new species the world would be a very different place. There'd only be one sort of lettuce and husbands would no longer come back from the supermarket in fear that they'd got the wrong one. David Blunkett would have a 'Guide Wolf for the Blind'. And the guide wolf would sit patiently at his feet during Home Office questions while the opposition took great care to agree with every single point the minister made.

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