What goes clip-clop bang-bang?

It seems that the Amish brethren are just as liable as the rest of us to succumb to human greed
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The Independent Culture
That's shocking news about the Amish and the cocaine bust. Visitors to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, or anyone who's seen Peter Weir's film Witness, in which Harrison Ford protects a small boy who has witnessed a murder by sheltering him among the Pennsylvanian Dutch community, will remember their strict Mennonite ways, their puritanical work ethic, their forswearing of every gross, immoral manifestation of 20th-century modernity, from zip fasteners to Birds Instant Custard, their way of referring to the rest of the population of America as "the English", and their phenomenal ZZ Topp beards. Truly, they are a lesson in basic human decency, an Old Testament band of brothers, a moral army besieged by the heathen majority with their Pop Tarts and trailer parks.

So it was with, frankly, a whoop of joy that we learned last week that this whiskery throng are, after all, not just human, but embroiled up to their dungareed oxters in criminal activity. Two Amish adherents, confusingly both called Abner Stoltzfus, were named by the Feds as partners with a nasty gang of motorbiking drug fiends dealing umpteen kilograms of cocaine to, among others, Amish youth clubs. It seems the brethren, for all their Shaker lifestyle, are just as liable as the rest of us to succumb to human greed and forget the precepts by which their community lives.

The rest of us, on the other hand, do not go around smuggling class-A drugs and heading for the nick. The worst that most of us are capable of is having too much Chateauneuf du Pape and winding up in front of the television, yelling "Eff off!" at the Colombian captain with the corkscrew fright-wig. The Amish baddies seem to have moved from ascetic saintliness to lawless self-indulgence without any intervening state of common-or- garden sinfulness.

It can only get worse, I'm afraid. Picture the scene a year from now. The Pennsylvania night. A huge harvest moon. The sound of prayer from the wooden chapel, in humble celebration of the abundant harvest. Two community elders discussing a knotty point of church rubric in their guttural dialect. Then a sound is heard: Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop, clip- clop, clip-clop, clip-clop, bang-bang, clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop.

Oh no. The first Amish drive-by shooting.


I RUSHED to an early preview of that new British film everyone's banging on about, Velvet Goldmine. It is, after all, set in my salad days of the early Seventies and the whole glam-rock circus, a time when it was, you know, really important to young intellectuals whether the title of David Bowie's LP Aladdin Sane actually meant "a lad insane" and referred to Bowie's unhappy brother, and whether his song The Jean Genie was a reference to Jean Genet (although whether the great French novelist and jailbird did really live on his back and love chimney-stacks remained inscrutable).

It was the time when I sang in an Oxford rock band (only a year and a few colleges away from Tony Blair's Ugly Rumours, phew, what a near-shake with the Hand of History) and everyone pretended to be bisexual, and what I didn't know about black-and-gold-lame jumpsuits wasn't worth asking.

Anyway, Goldmine is written and directed by Todd Haynes, a Californian whose debut movie, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, departed from bio-pic orthodoxy, and indeed, good taste, by telling the sad tale of the anorexic warbler using Barbie dolls as actors. The new movie briefly uses a brace of Ken dolls to illustrate the changing relationship between the two main characters, Brian Slade, played by a young ephebe called Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Curt Wild, played by Ewan McGregor. Slade is a shape-changing cosmic weirdo, not a million miles from David Bowie. Wild is a composite of rock'n'roll wild men, starting out sans shirt as Iggy Pop, mutating into Lou Reed and ending up as Kurt Cobain.

The film is a structural mess with a lot of tacky production design, but has some tremendous scenes. In the best one, the two nascent superstars demonstrate their different approaches.

McGregor goes impressively ballistic on stage and flashes his pork microphone at the audience, while Rhys Meyers is booed off stage for being too fey, and for singing while wearing a long silk evening gown (shades of Bowie in a dress on the original sleeve of The Man Who Sold the World). Sitting there watching the audience throwing bottles and shouting "Get off, ya poof!", I thought with amazement how intolerant rock audiences had become in the early Seventies, so soon after Woodstock. And how easy it was to epater les bourgeois in those days by the simple deployment of blue-glitter mascara. And how it couldn't possibly happen now.

But how wrong can you be? At the preview I learned that McGregor and Rhys Meyers had so upset the technical staff at Bray Studios with their in-character pretence of manly affection, that the electricians started calling them names, abusing them verbally and threatening a go-slow. The producer, Christine Vachon, could be found stamping round the set saying she would never make a film in this country again. And when some of the offending crew were removed, McGregor and Rhys Meyers made it their amusing habit to frequent the technicians' on-set bar in full glam regalia and start embracing in full view of the apoplectic sparks that remained. Goodness, the fuss a little affectation of gaiety can cause.


AS WILLIAM Hague returns to work this week, I'll let others snipe about his sinus blockage (a medical condition only slightly more glamorous than rectal wart excision) and his infected tubes.

What intrigues me is the news that he has been an exponent of transcendental meditation since he was 16, but has now given it up in favour of judo. Blimey. Trying to imagine Mr Hague, with his Mekon head and his bulldog chin, intoning a mantra, hands held at the level of his ears, thumbs and middle fingers mystically conjoined. Trying to imagine Mr Hague - whose normal speaking voice suggests the chairman of a Northern golf club informing an audience that he wasn't born yesterday - saying "Om" over and over and wondering, like Chuang Tse, the third-century BC philosopher, if he is a man dreaming he's a butterfly or vice versa. Trying to picture Mr Hague advancing towards you in a belted white pajama suit, hands outstretched, his face a rictus of concentration. No, I'm sorry. No can do. The human imagination can only stretch so far.

Tory advisers are said to be furious that Mr Hague's shift from internal peace to external aggression has been made public, and are now debating whether his "going back" to TM would count as a kind of policy U-turn. Myself, I'd like to see him go further and take up Aikido, complete with full Samurai uniform and helmet.

There is some reason why the Tory leader is keen on therapies and exercise from the mystic East, and I think I know what it is. Where have we seen that combination of spiritual and physical endeavour before? Why, in Kung Fu, the TV show Mr Hague would surely have watched in his early teens, about a placid, caring, Christ-like drifter in the Wild West whose Zen training at a Buddhist monastery has left him capable of flattening a dozen gun-toting villains in a whirl of fists and bare feet, should the occasion arise.

So that's what mild-mannered William "Glasshopper" Hague has been secretly dreaming of at the dispatch box for the past 12 months.