I have been so concerned with gods over the past week that it's difficult for me to come down to earth and write a diary about worldly events. First I was writing about Greek gods for an American broadcaster and I found that the behaviour on Olympus was quite unacceptable to the land of The Spy who Shagged Me and Die Hard 2.

Gods who engage in lying and deceit, or turn themselves into various animals for the purpose of surprising, and having sex with, unsuspecting female mortals, seem to have been banned from American television.

A drama in which Medea murders her children is considered unsuitable for home viewing among the families who loved Silence of the Lambs. The Greek gods, who seem to me the most believable of deities, are definitely out in a land where mythology has become Disneyfied.

So it was with relief that I turned to dramatising, again for America, a story from the Old Testament, only to find that its God has a great deal in common with the unpredictable inhabitants of Mount Olympus. He also demands frequent burnt offerings and is furious if he doesn't get them. He also has a contemporary interest in ethnic cleansing, and how will a politically correct audience react to King David who delivered 500 Philistine foreskins to Saul and, when attacking Jerusalem, called out, "Does anybody here hate the Jebusites as much as I do?"? The place for religion, if only on television, is plainly after the watershed.

C M Bowra wrote: "A people gets the gods it deserves. The grinning, gloating ogres of the Aztecs mirrored a race barbarised by constant war."

So the Greek gods are as louche, and often as charming, as their worshippers. The God of Israel is extremely nationalistic and frequently cross. The Scottish God is prim and meticulous and the American God, on the networks, wishes to be taken literally and prefers large financial contributions to burnt offerings.

When I was at school I was introduced to the Church of England God, a well-intentioned old gent who doesn't care too much for religion.


WHATEVER YOU may think of Tony Blair, his behaviour in Northern Ireland was little short of heroic. Here was Blair at his best, prepared to spend days and nights closely closeted with some of the world's most boring bigots and still able to come up smiling. As he pursued his tireless negotiations, I knew just how he was behaving. He was, once again, Blair the young barrister trying desperately to settle a case "at the door of the court". I remember just what it was like. The judge was being kept out of court and was in his room drinking coffee and doing the Times crossword, an occupation that wouldn't keep him quiet forever. So the barrister went up and down the corridor, speaking to the lawyers of different parties, offering a piece of the action to one, a crumb of comfort to another, a promise to pay costs or make an apology in open court, every word of which would be picked over.

The deadline was fixed; the judges' clerk said his Lordship can't be kept out for ever. You spoke a slightly different language to each party and the most difficult person was always your own client. You'd save your customers from a prolonged and hugely expensive battle, and, however slight the cost, they would find it hard to swallow. Like the contestants in Northern Ireland, who have come prepared for a fight, and are keenly looking forward to it. They would rather risk everything than be cheated out of a chance to vilify the opposition. Your heart sinks when they tell you they only want "justice", a vague conception to which they are probably not entitled and which may do them more harm than good.

The judge sends out a last message; he's coming back to court and minds will have to be made up. There are more important cases waiting.


DICKENS, of course, knew all the absurdities of his society and they aroused him to mirth and anger. If he were alive today he would find the same targets for his unerring aim.

Sad crowds are standing in line outside the Circumlocution Office waiting for official permission to go on holiday. And Mr Gradgrind seems to be behind every official pronouncement on education - Hard Times should be required reading for every education minister, and that school inspector who seems to be an unfortunate hangover from the previous government. When not bombarding teachers with forms to fill in, or belittling their achievements, those in charge of our schools appear devoted to the Gradgrind system of education. He was proud to call himself "a man who perceives upon the principle that two and two are four and nothing over, and he is not to be talked into allowing for anything over". Gradgrind ran a school built on the theory that "facts alone are needed in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else". The result of this is that when one of his pupils, named Blitzer, is asked if he has a heart, replies: "The circulation, sir, couldn't be carried on without one."

This is undoubtedly the thinking behind coursework for three-year-olds, cutting the teaching of music and the arts, the almost total neglect of history and judging achievement in ways which ignore the fact that children mature at different ages. The admitted aim of the Gradgrind system is "to produce an efficient workforce". So the eight-year-old is to be moulded into a middle manager who can talk about "entrepreneurial objectives" with no idea who Napoleon was and not having read Dickens. There is something profoundly sad about treating children as little potential cogs in the economy. It's also worth reminding Mr Gradgrind that you can live quite a fulfilled and reasonably successful life with only the shakiest grasp of long division.