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Toby Banks

Don't let them eat cake

Fifty-two year old Margaret Jellicoe's nightmare began when she ate a slice of chocolate cake which her niece had spiked with marijuana. She was eventually found chewing grass by the side of a road, believing she had died and gone to hell. On the way, she had starred with Esther Rantzen on That's Life and taken part in Crimewatch UK. On top of this, two police officers wanted to kill her.

I never touch chocolate cake myself, but I know how she feels: where I'm living seems very similar to the place Mrs Jellicoe was unfortunate enough to visit. Esther Rantzen, Crimewatch UK and the police are all here, and it looks just like Britain, but something's not quite right about it all. Some funny things have been going on lately. Here are a few examples:

  • The Big Holy One published: an anthology of the 'Christian Viz' comic, The Winebibber
  • The Joy of Sex (worldwide sales 8m) updated with new beardless male model. New version declares: 'kissing is as satisfying as sex'
  • 'Don't Be a Lout, Be a Scout' released: 'rap record with a message'
  • Harrods restaurant purchases giant Soviet painting of the storming of the Winter Palace ('delicious irony')
  • Winnie the Pooh books reinstated to school reading lists
  • Garry Bushell, former skinhead music journalist, now Sun TV critic, suggests that The Word should be replaced with something that sets young people a good example - such as 'the Colonel H story'
  • Children's adventure game awards 'hero points' for saving schoolteachers from danger
  • Beer and fags banned in professional darts; neckties introduced
  • British Sausage Bureau launches competition to compose a song in praise of the 'British banger'
Current affairs
  • House of Lords debates new measures to curb public spitting
  • World Wildlife Fund (President: Prince Philip) branded 'subversive' by the Campaign for Real Education and accused of 'undermining national sovereignty and culture'
  • England's Polite Society established (Secretary: Rev Ian Gregory). Campaigning for good manners
  • British Tea Council unveils revolutionary 'Teapot 2000'
  • Groundbreaking Nat West commercial features a group of cheering bakery workers presenting their manager with a cake inscribed 'Well done boss!'
All true. Well, all except the last one. In fact, the Nat West ad is a few years older than the rest, but you just wouldn't believe me if I told you about the current one. They've got these kids in shorts and school caps, with frogs and catapults, and this bank manager who gets a 'buzz' from his job....

As I said, there's something very disturbing about this place. They get all the British news here, and Question Time and plenty of sport. There are lots of books about English Heritage and The British People. They know about Highland crofters, Chelsea Pensioners, the Royal Variety Club and the Norfolk Young Farmers League. They've got the national psyche off pat: how the boys go from nannies to boarding school and 'turn homosexual'; how everyone used to 'live under a nuclear shadow', but now 'live under the shadow of Aids', and so on.

And somewhere in the historical footnotes you'll find the 'British Class System', along with the 'Imperial Measures System' and other curiosities. I'm All Right Jack was on the other day, that film they took off the air before the last election ('too controversial'). 'Up the workers!' How quaint. Everyone rather liked it this time.

Of course, they know all about ordinary people here - they see them on Blind Date, those ordinary surveyors and drama students and the rest. But now and then they get the odd 'throwback' who makes things tricky. That cricketer, Phil Tufnell, the one who took all those wickets - they didn't know what to make of him. His voice didn't fit, did it? They looked it up in the books and decided he 'spoke like a rag and bone man with a fag in his mouth'. And what about that Vinnie Jones? Well, apparently he used to be a 'hod carrier', whatever that is. But they worked that one out: it seems he 'rose above his humble origins' to become a professional footballer.

Funny old world, isn't it? Sometimes I get the feeling there are others here who feel a bit out of place. You hear the occasional story...those who refuse to move with the times...the few who spoil it for the rest. Only the other day a Blind Date contestant had been recognised in the street and beaten up for being a 'snob'. What was all that about?

Worse still, there was that family from...where was it?...Bermondsey, who went skiing in Soll. Well, everyone thought it was terribly amusing for a day or two, but then things turned sour. It seems these newcomers had rather a serious 'sense of humour failure' and made a large withdrawal from the local bottle bank.

What followed is history. Not too funny, but everyone's hoping it will be one of the last little battles in the class war. Get things in perspective and keep a steady nerve. Best to carry on ignoring them. After all, as history shows, it always ends in a nightmare if you let them eat cake.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 42, April 1992

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