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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 20th June 2009

Extract from The Sound of No Hands Clapping: Don't Mention the War!


Sean and Anabel got married in Ibiza in the summer of 2001 and, against his better judgement, Sean asked if I’d consider being his best man. My appalling debacle at the Chevy Chase Country Club was still fresh in my memory, but far from putting me off, that made me even more inclined to say yes. If I could pull it off, I thought, maybe that would go some way to expunging the shame I still felt. It was as if a beautiful woman was inviting me back into her bed for a second go round even though I hadn’t been able to perform the first time. Here was a chance to redeem myself.

There was one surefire way to get laughs at this wedding and that was to tell a string of anti-German jokes. Anabel’s mother, Lady Cutler, is German and of the 120 guests at the wedding about 40 of them were going to be Krauts. “Lady Cutler,” I thought about saying, “you mustn’t think of yourself as losing a daughter so much as gaining the Sudetenland.” However, while I could rely on the British contingent to laugh at infantile gags like that, the Germans probably wouldn’t be amused. Indeed, Anabel had specifically asked me not to tell any anti-German jokes. “Please Toby,” she said. “My mother will be really upset.” Consequently, I knew that if I made any reference to the beach towels strategically placed over the first three rows of seats in the church--or any other equally sophomoric remarks--I would end up antagonizing at least a third of the guests, including the bride and her mother.

What was I to do?

Well, obviously, I told a string of anti-German jokes.

In deference to Anabel’s feelings, I did make some attempt to disguise them as anti-British jokes. For instance, I pointed out that it was just as well the Germans had come with us on our boat trip to Formentera the previous day because without them the Brits would never have been able to put up the gazebo. I described the comic scenes on the beach as various pissed British hacks struggled to erect the sunshade that was supposed to go over the picnic table. Eventually, one of Anabel’s strapping German cousins had decided to take charge: “You, bald man, pick that up and take it over there, jah?”

Initially, this strategy seemed to be working. At one point, when I was showering the Germans with insincere praise, a blonde-haired Valkyrie leapt to her feet, punched the air with her fist and shouted “jawohl”. However, I did get a little carried away. I related how one of the Germans had buttonholed me earlier that evening and told me that in her country weddings are organized much more efficiently. Apparently, they rank all the single people on a scale of one to 50 and then make sure that people of equivalent sexual attractiveness are seated next to each other. I then quoted the German: “It works very well provided the margin of error is no greater than plus or minus 10 points. Everybody goes home and has a nice little fuck.” After pausing for dramatic effect I added: “I must say, I was a little surprised to hear Lady Cutler use the F-word…”

Towards the end of the evening, I went up to Anabel’s mum and said I hoped she hadn’t been too upset by my constant references to the Germans. “At first, it was quite funny,” she said, “but then you went too far. I’d forgotten about the obsession you British have with the Germans--always with the same stupid jokes. It’s really quite boring.”

There’s a postscript to this story.

The following day, Caroline and I were making our way to the airport in our rental car when a light came on on the dashboard. We were about to run out of petrol. Luckily, there was a garage nearby and even though I was suffering from an appalling hangover I thought that filling the car up with petrol was something I could just about manage. I pulled into the garage and parked alongside the nearest pump, only to realise that the petrol cap was on the other side of the car. After executing a three-point turn--or, rather, a 15-point turn--I was then confronted with a fiendishly difficult IQ test: How to get the petrol cap off? I wrestled with this puzzle for a good 10 minutes, before finally giving up the ghost and prising it off with a penknife. After filling up the tank, I used the same tool to hammer the cap back into place. The entire performance took about 20 minutes.

As Caroline and I were leaving the garage, I noticed a group of Anabel’s German relatives having breakfast in the service station restaurant and staring at us through the window. They’d witnessed my entire performance.

A minute or so later, after we’d been travelling for less than a mile, the car’s engine seized up and it ground to a halt. What had gone wrong? It turned out the car I’d rented was a diesel and I’d filled it up with petrol.

Sure enough, after a few minutes had elapsed, the same group of Germans came gliding past in a silver Mercedes. They slowed down to gawp at the bald man standing beside his broken-down vehicle, smoke billowing from the engine. As they disappeared over the horizon I could see them shaking their heads in disbelief: How on earth had they lost the war?

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