John Walsh: btw

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The Independent Online

Should we keep a wary eye on Chris de Burgh, the Irish crooner responsible for "Lady in Red"? Two weeks ago, he revealed on BBC1 that he has the power to heal people. "I met someone in the West Indies who wasn't able to walk. I put my hands on him and he was able to get up," he told Gloria Hunniford, adding that he was hoping to "play down" his gift (perhaps not appearing on TV might help). Next we learnt that he cured a writer's paralysed left arm by placing his hands on it. Now he's informed the Birmingham Post that his next big market will be Iran, where (he was informed by fans) "the two biggest stars are Madonna and Chris de Burgh". He says he feels the same missionary zeal about playing there as he did in South Africa in the 1970s. Uh-oh. So far, he's made the lame walk, he's cured the sick and given disenfranchised blacks the vote, and now he'll bring peace to the Middle East. How soon will he change his name to Messiah and adopt an African baby?

I'm puzzling over the image used by Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly, the top Muslim cleric of Sydney, who said that a woman who goes round without a headscarf is like a plate of meat - "and if the cat comes and eats it, whose fault is it, the cat's or the uncovered meat?" Does he really think Australian men respond to the sight of female hair like feral carnivores confronted with steak? Strewth. Does he actually know any Australian men? Or is he talking only about Muslim men? And what does the male population of Sydney make of him? Do they think he's a bit of a mufti?

Nice to see East Lancashire Hospitals Trust (deficit: £11.6m) addressing important issues. It's issued an edict banning staff from wearing elaborate hairstyles or socks bearing the likeness of Homer Simpson or Donald Duck. It was hoping, said a hospital wonk, "to establish a corporate identity across the trust" in order to acquire "a more professional appearance". Now the local MP has come piling in to express his view that novelty socks are "harmless fun". Expect a White Paper on this vital issue very soon.

A literary mystery is brewing around the distinguished biographer Victoria Glendinning. Look up her new life of Leonard Woolf, on Amazon, and you find two critiques by a reviewer called "Geena" ("... very disappointed at the poor standard of writing and scholarship. Glendinning gushes ..."). There's also a counter-review by Glendinning's husband, taking exception to the use of the word "gushes". But who is "Geena"? Hunt around and you find that she favourably reviewed ("The best biography I've ever read") a life of Vera Brittain by Paul Berry - a review that reveals the book was started by Berry but completed by Mark Bostridge. And what do we find in The Independent on Sunday, in 2002? A review by Bostridge of Glendinning's novel Flight. It's very rude. Bostridge mentions that he never liked her biographies. Why? "She often assumes a gushing familiarity with the subjects she chooses ..."

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