Wednesday 13 August 2003

We Brits are so wacky

by AL Kennedy

I'm just back from a spot of work abroad - sorry, the Source of all UK Crime, Bad Driving and Childcare - and after days of European public speaking, cream-based sauces and nude swimming my fettle is fine. Not least because - although my nation's leaders consistently behave like a troop of sub-standard baboons - in foreign parts, there still lingers a fondness for our wacky little island full of lies.

Despite our ever-closer links with the world's most unconvincing Texan psychopath, many Europeans still want to see us as simply the generous purveyors of madcap humour and weirdly suppressed sex - we are Mrs Peel in The Avengers, we are Connery's Bond and we are, above all, Mr Bean and Monty Python. Such is the goodwill generated by Monty Python alone that we would all have to spend every afternoon standing on a dying pensioner while eating raw Iraqi babies before anyone believed how fatally ugly our domestic and foreign policies can be.

We're also acknowledged to be only slightly less terrifying than the Americans, but there's a lingering suspicion that, safe in Barbados, Tony Blair will dress up as a woman and hit himself with fish while, at home, Gordon Brown dances in stockings and leather suspenders.

I'm beginning to see Europe's point. For example, I left Britain expecting I'd return to find those lovable rogues Tony and Alastair had been hung upside down from lamp-posts and nibbled by dogs. Only a population with an immeasurably advanced sense of humour would continue to allow them free run of their national budget when 99 out of 99 toddlers wouldn't trust them with a bag of crisps and they're both blatantly pawning our future while converting us to a murder-based economy.

But we Brits get wackier than that. Take the transformation of cautious, informed reports from various spies and inspectors into what we in Scotland call utter shite, as spouted and still spouting from various government representatives. Rather than be tedious and declare those involved irretrievably corrupt before sacking them, we prefer weeks of music-hall banter about sod all.

I'm waiting for the edition of Newsnight when Paxman waddles in wearing baggy trousers to find a dead cow in his seat and must ask Jack Straw questions for 15 minutes without mentioning anything bovine or on mortality. We'll laugh till we cry.

And then we'll laugh more, because of that edgy, alternative humour for which we are famed. This presumably allows the hounding to death (or assassination by conspiracy) of David Kelly to be a laugh riot - not to mention the recent suicide of the future US navy secretary and multiple military suicides in Iraq. These are especially amusing because they prove that Bush and his cohorts are right up with us in the quest for delightful pranks.

America's finest ongoing wheeze, apart from smothering news of uranium poisonings, is its casualty figure fiddle. Obviously, it's deeply funny that anyone at all is dying in Iraq for no good reason, that US veterans' benefits have been slashed and that the loyalty of so many has been manipulated so magnificently by so few.

But this gets even funnier if you only tell the folks back home about soldiers who die as a result of enemy action. Anyone dying by accident, unknown cause or as a result of personal despair simply isn't acknowledged. The total US death toll in Iraq is 258; compare this with the sanitised version and laugh yourself sick when you realise the final insult is the denial that so much grief even exists.

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