Captain Moonlight's Notebook: Sisters of vengeance line up their targets

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The Independent Online
A SINISTER message from an organisation calling itself Daughters of Eve (West) from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, tells me that investigations are afoot in both the US and Britain to 'indict' our two most famous living playwrights, Harold Pinter and John Osborne, and the Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, for 'fatal damage' to their late wives: Vivien Merchant, Jill Bennett and Sylvia Plath.

The message says the three showed no remorse when the women committed suicide or afterwards. As a consequence the three would be tried by a 'Daughters' jury' at the university later this year.

No one of my acquaintance has any idea who these avenging angels are, nor as it happens does the University of Southern California. When I telephoned Los Angeles I was passed on to a department called Swims, an acronym referring to a university institute which concerns itself with the Study of Women In Men's Society. A young man said Swims was a focus for gender studies concentrating on 'male masculine issues and female feminist issues'.

Daughters of Eve was unknown there. They said I should try the Law School. The Law School said I should try the drama department. The drama department offered me the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Counselling Service. Dr Keating, the service's counsellor, was permanently engaged. Dr Harris, leader of the bisexual men's support group, tried to help but couldn't. Daughters of Eve drew a blank with him. He passed me to the Student's Senate. The Senate said that if Daughters of Eve was a campus organisation it was required to be registered with the Senate, and it was not. The nearest group he could think of was Glass - Gay, Lesbian Assembly for Student Support - but they were never in.

At this stage I wondered for my sanity. I told the student from the Senate that my note from the Daughters of Eve (West) was stamped with the university seal and gave the campus as its address. 'In thatcase,' he said, 'don't buy anything from them.'

Unless the message is a spoof, a posse from the Daughters is on its way to collect earth from Sylvia Plath's grave for their 'hearth' at USCLA and bury in the soil here in Britain a citation naming her as an honorary Daughter of Eve. They said the citation was being 'crafted for Spring readiness'. The other two women will also be named 'honorary Daughters' the main reason cited being that 'they laboured with dignity in the non-electronic media'.

The Daughters keep to themselves their plans for taking Pinter, Osborne and Hughes to Los Angeles for 'trial'. I hope Stella Rimington is on to this one. It would be a shame to lose them.

(Photograph omitted)

LEFT TO ROT IN JAIL FOR BEING TOO ORDINARY

The release from jail last week of Wang Dan, the mild-mannered ascetic history student who led the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989, has reminded me of the behaviour of the British embassy in Peking at that time towards another and far less well-known democracy activist, Ren Wanding. Mr Ren is in jail thanks partly to the callousness of the British and other Western missions whose help he sought.

His case reflects the fate of hundreds of political prisoners in China; ordinary people - workmen, clerks, the unemployed - who were jailed after the army crushed the protest on 4 June 1989. Because they are not intellectuals or 'names', people such as Mr Ren have no influential patrons abroad to fight for their release.

Mr Ren, 47, a labourer turned bookkeeper, was a member of China's lost generation - youths inspired by Mao Tse-tung to become Red Guards, manipulated by his successors and then cast aside. Active in the Democracy Wall movement in Peking at the end of the 1970s when Deng Xiaoping was establishing his authority, Mr Ren set up the China Human Rights League, an informal group appalled by the economic backwardness and political despotism left by Mao. He was arrested as he was about to put up a poster in 1979, thrown into jail for four years without any charges being laid and denounced as a 'non-Marxist'. He was always considered slightly odd, especially when he predicted that a 'whirlwind' of democracy would sweep China.

In 1989, six years after his release, Mr Wen - a socialist who believed the leaders of China's Communist Party had betrayed the people and democracy - was with the students in Tiananmen Square, reading them essays he had written in jail on lavatory paper. I last saw him on 6 June, two days after the tanks moved into the square and crushed the democracy movement. He was nervously eating noodles in the apartment of a foreigner where he had come for help. Calls made on his behalf to British and other Western embassies for assistance were rejected outright. Mr Ren was of no consequence. Britain was too concerned about its relationship with China, especially over Hong Kong, to let a mere bookkeeper get in the way.

He said goodbye, nervous and almost in tears, well aware of his fate. Four days later, on 10 June, police came to his one-room flat and took him away. He was charged with counter- revolutionary propaganda and agitation and jailed for seven years. His wife and 16-year-old daughter were evicted. Mr Ren was singled out for blame by the authorities precisely because he was an ordinary man who dared to speak his mind; they fear a man like Mr Ren. He was not a famous astro-physicist, glamorous student leader, or prominent intellectual. That was why the British and other embassies did not want to know him then and why no one wants to know about him now.

As a postscript, readers may like to know that Rolls-Royce, the manufacturer of aero engines, informed me recently that Sir Alan Donald, Britain's ambassador to Peking at the time Mr Ren made his appeal for help, has, in his retirement, been appointed an adviser on China. I last saw Sir Alan at the Chinese embassy before Christmas, at a reception with the ambassador Ma Yuzhen, who had earlier in the month purchased a new pounds 114,000 Rolls- Royce Silver Spur motor car.

FLAWS IN THE FACE VALUES

The British banknote is a sorry story of devaluation and constant, fretting changes in design - who said Britain was a traditional country; it's the world's biggest fashion victim - each change worse than the last. Last week the Bank of England admitted it was wrong. The new pounds 10 and pounds 20 notes were too similar; minor changes would be made. But no changes are planned to the current crop of historical figures: George Stephenson on the pounds 5, Charles Dickens on the pounds 10, Michael Faraday on the pounds 20, with John Houblon, first governor of the Bank of England, due to make his appearance on the pounds 50 next year. Florence Nightingale, on the old tenner, ceases to be legal tender next year, as does Sir Christopher Wren on the pounds 50. William Shakespeare on the pounds 20 expires next month.

And so the future is male and English. I suggest the following hierarchy. Stick with Nightingale but change her to the fiver; give the tenner to Isaac Newton; put James Watt on the pounds 20 and Shakespeare on the pounds 50. Thus four centuries are represented. You have a woman to whom we are all in debt, the most famous English scientist of all time, a Scotsman whose ingenuity changed the world, and the world's most famous writer. Make each banknote a different size. Do not ever change them unless to raise their value.

CHARLES COLSON is not the sort of person one would expect to find inside Buckingham Palace, unless he was planning to bug it. None the less this 61-year-old convicted criminal, once special adviser to Richard Nixon with responsibility for dirty tricks, will have a private audience with the Duke of Edinburgh at the palace on 12 May to receive a cheque for dollars 1m.

Nowadays Mr Colson is a reformed man who said he discovered God just before he went to prison for seven months in 1976 for obstructing justice during the Watergate investigation. He came out a believer and set about converting other prisoners with a task force today of 50,000 volunteers. His White House desk had a sign which said that if you grabbed men tightly by a certain part of their anatomy, their hearts and minds would follow.

He joins such holy men and women as Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Lord Jacobovits, former Chief Rabbi, as winners of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. The prize was established in 1972 by the philanthropist, Sir John Templeton. Buckingham Palace could not explain the connection between Sir John and the Duke of Edinburgh except to say the Duke had always handed over the cheque.

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