Wednesday, January 11, 2006

So is it turkey or is it ham?

TODAY WE are going to be nice to the government. Bear with me, there is method to this madness.

Now we’re not being nice because that strange Ruth Kelly person thinks it’s OK for convicted sex offenders to get a job teaching children. Nor are we being nice because an increasingly delusional Mr Blah has just announced his 657th crackdown on yobbism and it’s just the same as the previous 656.

(Go on, do you know anyone who’s been marched to a cashpoint and fined £80? No, of course not. It’s never happened.)

No, we’re being nice to the government because the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has issued its list of 12 official icons of Englishness and that, my friend, is grist to the mill of any newspaper columnist in the dog days of early January.

Let’s look at the official list. There’s Stonehenge, The Angel of the North, Punch and Judy, the SS Empire Windrush, Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII, a cup of tea, the FA Cup, Alice in Wonderland, the Routemaster Bus, the King James Bible, the Spitfire and the hymn Jerusalem.

Already we have problems. The Routemaster is so iconic that Ken Livingstone has killed it off in favour of continental-style bendy buses, Henry VIII was probably Welsh and Holbein was German, and for all the economic and cultural benefits the SS Windrush brought to this country, was its arrival really more important than the game of cricket? Or our legal system? Or pubs?

Luckily the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is inviting people to nominate their own additions to the list, so my alternative dozen is already winging its way to Whitehall: brass bands, Donald McGill postcards, red telephone boxes, the Radio 4 shipping forecast, fish and chips, morris dancers, Alan Bennett, the Morris Minor, Coronation Street, tabloid newspapers, Marmite and Rolf Harris’s portrait of The Queen. (And before you rush to point out the fact that Rolf is Australian, I would remind you that he’s a Commonwealth citizen and therefore counts.)

Sadly there was no room for black cabs, crown green bowling or Boris Johnson, but it’s a worthy list and only goes to show how much we have to be proud of. Unfortunately, the task of the columnist is to veer between patriotism and cynicism, and in that spirit I must also nominate my Icons of Modern England. And it is not a pretty sight.

Try these: Prince Harry in a Nazi uniform. That fat chav who won the lottery. Poundstretcher shops in every High Street. The Princess Diana memorial fountain. The Turkey Army jobs section in The Guardian. A Fathers For Justice campaigner dressed as Batman climbing up the House of Commons. The compensation culture. Beagle 2. A drunken girl pissing in the street. Speed cameras. Ikea. And the notion of “celebrity”.

which, what are we to do about Celebrity Big Brother? Other than watch it, that is? I always thought that I was reasonably in touch with modern trends, but I watched aghast as several people of whom I had never heard were wheeled into the house last week.

I always thought Preston was the sheep-rustling dog in Wallace and Gromit, I’d never seen the Baywatch woman before and that Maggot bloke was a complete mystery. And as for that shovel-conked slapper from Essex, well, words fail me. Other than to say that if she was taking part in the programme “to show the real me”, then she was doing a damn fine job.

Meanwhile the Americans spend all their time “working out” while the Brits slob around smoking. We have an MP who is supposed to be representing one of the most deprived areas in London indefatigably absenting himself from his duties in pursuit of self-aggrandisement, a shamed music hall entertainer who spends most of his time wallowing in a pool of self pity and a huge, pierced black man who looks like the role model for the BNP’s “come over here and take all our women” neuroses.

And just to show that the government, about which we are being nice this week, continually fails to grasp the more ridiculous side of life, a spokesweasel from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs threatens to have that pneumatic-lipped transvestite Scouser arrested for wearing a coat made from gorilla skins. As if.

And news just in: Big Brother has asked Michael Barrymore to use the ashtrays provided rather than throwing his used fags in the pool.

REMAINING IN the pit of stupidity, we turn to Which? magazine’s list of stupid packaging instructions. We’ve all heard about the bag of airline peanuts marked “Caution. May contain nuts”, but the fear of being sued is driving manufacturers to ever more ridiculous warnings.

There’s the birthday card for two-year-olds labelled “This card is not suitable for children under three years”, the box of trainers marked “Average contents: Two” and the child’s Superman outfit that carries the caution “Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly”. That must have been a big disappointment then.

My favourite isn’t so much born out of fear but fashion. A bottle of £1.50 mineral water promising “Bio-hydration and optimal cellular hydration that will help your body combat the negative effects of 21st century living. Easy to drink”.

Easy to drink? It’s just water for Christ’s sake. What next? Magic Pixie bread?

(Elsewhere in compo land, schools in Scotland have stopped giving out free fruit to pupils in case one of them chokes on an orange pip or a cherry stone. Let’s just stick to the deep-fried Mars Bars then, eh? )

I AM constantly besieged by junk mail offering me millions of pounds of credit if I’ll only sign on the bottom line. A company called Capital One even insists on sending me a pen in the letter, making the signing-away of my life even easier.

Explain this. In their view I’m too poor to even own a pen, yet they’re willing to give me an unsecured loan, no questions asked. And we wonder why the economy is in a mess.

O The views of Mr Beelzebub are purely personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Editor or staff of this website, of anyone not reassured by the sight of our future Army officers carrying their own ironing boards into Sandhurst (“Zulus, Sir, millions of them.” “Don’t bother me now, Evans. I’m trying to get a crease in this shirt.”), of anyone who isn’t fed up with the Tucker family’s perpetual grief over Betty’s death, or of anyone who can explain to me what Bernard Matthews’ Turkey Ham is all about. Look, it’s either turkey or it’s ham. Just come clean and tell us.


Anonymous Doctor Mick said...

If Stonehenge is on the list, why can't we add Hadrian's Wall, even if it has ceased to serve its worthy function?

1:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Turkey ham - apparently it's cured meat from turkey legs. Ham as in hamstrings I suppose. So now you know.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Doctor Mick said...

Turkey ham? Whatever next?

Flying pigs?

5:31 AM  
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