I had a chat with the guests at the safari camp the other day, as they waited for their bus to arrive. A shy young woman called Miss Lillywhite told me that she worked for a large publishing house. She said that one of her current projects was re-writing a book of much-loved fairy tales in non-sexist, non-racist language.
“I had no idea that fairy stories were such a repository of political incorrectness,” I remarked. “Can you give me an example?”
“Do you remember when the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk says ‘Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman’?”
“Yes, how funny that was!” I exclaimed. “In a dark and macabre way, of course,” I added gravely.
“Well we’re changing that to ‘Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of a farmer’s son’.”
I nodded thoughtfully. “I see your point. It was obviously bad form for the giant to single out a particular race of humans for his main course. And I don’t believe for one minute that an Englishman’s blood has a distinctive odour. Had he said ‘I smell the armpits of an Englishman’ he might have had a point, but…”
One of the advantages of being a 500-pound gorilla is that you don’t often get interrupted in mid-sentence, but this proved to be one of the rare instances to the contrary. As I faced the young lady, the crisp voice of a sardonic Scotsman passed by my shoulder:
“It’s just as well the giant didne eat him cuz he’d a bin constipated for a week!”
I turned round to see a tall, sturdy man of middle age, with a mischievous twinkle in his grey eyes.
“What ever do you mean, Sir?” I asked. “Does the flesh of the English lack roughage? No more so than the flesh of the Scotch, Irish or Welsh, I’ll be bound. The giant would surely have taken vegetables with his meat, to say nothing of bran flakes for breakfast!”
“I mean the English are so full of shite it would have clogged up his gut!” explained the man with a smirk.
I smiled knowingly. I had met enough Scottish humans in my circus days to know that rubbishing the “auld enemy” was a favourite pastime of theirs.
“How very ironic that you should make such a remark in present company,” I said, “for it is precisely the kind of ignoble sentiment that Miss Lillywhite is excising from the new version of the fable she is drafting.”
“O aye?” replied the Scotsman, looking at our female companion in wry amusement. “So you’re working on a clean version of Jack and the Beanstalk, are yer?
Miss Lillywhite nodded.
“Well yer may have your work cut out. Ah’ve always thought it was a parable warning against the dangers of masturbation. It’s pretty obvious what that sprouting beanstalk represents, don’t yer think?”
I chuckled at the man’s tarradiddle, and was about to make a sceptical yet civil remark, when I noticed with dismay that Miss Lillywhite was blushing furiously. It pained me to see her in such a condition, so I decided to make a loud and preposterous statement in the hope that it would draw attention to myself and ease her discomfort.
“What the devil are you blathering about man!” I cried. “The beanstalk was obviously a giant stick of celery, or perhaps a stick of giant broccoli - a triffid-like harbinger of doom for humans and ogres alike! Man, in his vainglorious pride, dabbles with bewitched beans in defiance of his sacred texts, creating a monstrosity that will smite him hip and thigh!”
As I had hoped, my outburst attracted the attention of the rest of the tour party, several of whom quickly gathered round to participate in the persiflage. The debate quickly developed into a series of rapid-fire exchanges between the Scotsman (whose name was McTavish) and the newcomers (who were English). The former, I might add, was more than equal to the challenge, for these Caledonian folk assuredly have the gift of repartee. Miss Lillywhite, meanwhile, drifted away, and I noted with satisfaction that her cheeks had been restored to their customary pale complexion.
Presently, the safari bus arrived and the guests began to take their seats. The last to board was one of the men who had been bantering with the loquacious Scotsman. Before entering the vehicle, he uttered these words to me in a low voice:
“I’ve got a good one for McTavish: ‘Why do Scotsmen have long, thin dicks? Because they’re a bunch of tight-fisted wankers!’ Wish me luck!”
My only response to this quip was to place my hand over my mouth and shake my head in disapproval. After the bus had driven away, I fell to the ground and howled like hyena.