John Walsh: Never in the field of interplanetary conflict

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The Independent Online

At last it's out in the open. Winston Churchill was so bothered by reports of UFOs interfering with RAF aircraft during the Second World War, he ordered that the encounter should be kept quiet for 50 years. Admittedly the news isn't exactly well documented.– a chap wrote to the Ministry of Defence in 1999, claiming that his grandfather had overheard Churchill talking to Eisenhower about the spooky event – but it's a fascinating vignette of the great man confronted with something he has no idea how to deal with.

"This event should be immediately classified," he said, "since it would create mass panic among the general population and destroy one's belief in the Church." We have no record of what Eisenhower replied. It was probably: "You don't take this baloney seriously do you, Winston? What are you, drunk?"

Of course, he would have taken it seriously. Things are going damn badly if, along with Nazi stormtroopers across Europe, the fall of France, the skies thickening with Dornier bombers and the Atlantic convoys threatened by U-boats, he had to deal with squadrons of bloody aliens from outer space. "Not now!!" he must have felt like yelling at them. "I've got my hands full right now!!"

And Churchill was always alarmed by scientific things – like silently hovering metallic objects –- which he couldn't understand. In his "finest hour" speech, he warned about "a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science." What did he mean? Had he already heard about the UFOs?

It makes you wonder how Churchill might have had to adopt his wartime rhetoric to suit the new threat. What would he have said? "The whole fury and might of, er, interplanetary life forms must soon be turned upon us. The enemy knows that they must break us on this island, terrorise us with their long wiggly tentacles, and blast us with their spookily bleeping ray guns, or lose the war. But we shall not flag or fail. We shall not run, screaming pointlessly, through the streets pursued by alien space-craft. We shall fight the, er, anthropoidal intruders in the hills and, with growing, if misplaced, confidence, in the pub. We shall fight on, even when our lady wives become rigid, staring-eyed, body-snatched, zombie nutters. We shall never surrender ... Unless of course, MGM offers us film rights and a 20 per cent share of the box office ..."

What a Foreign Minister really needs to know

Some years ago, Stephen Pile published The Book of Heroic Failures, "a celebration of human inadequacy in all its forms" in which he told true stories about the world's worst burglar, worst chef, worst juror and so forth. It was a bestseller: people loved hearing about members of the Not Terribly Good Club. A possible candidate for membership is Lene Espersen, a 44-year-old mother of two, who happens to be Deputy Prime Minister of Denmark and Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs.

She is completely relaxed about the foreign stuff. When Denmark was expected at a crucial, vital etc meeting of Arctic countries one Easter, Lene flew off to holiday in lovely warm Majorca instead. Her office booked one-to-one meetings with Hillary Clinton on three occasions and she couldn't make any of them. Her critics say she is completely rubbish. She says it's fine to send another ministry representative in her stead, and her supporters say her opponents are hounding her.

It's not always her fault. When she was due to attend the Kabul Conference – a vital, crucial etc summit on the future of Afghanistan – a rocket attack closed Kabul airport, her plane was diverted to Kazakhstan, and the wily Uzbeks next door refused to let her fly through their airspace. Lene threatened to complain to the Uzbek ambassador in Copenhagen. There is no Uzbek embassy in Copenhagen. A Foreign Minister really should have known that.

According to a poll in a German newspaper more than half the Danish people think she should give up the job. Nonsense. They should be proud to have a politician with such an insouciant approach to all that summitry and conceit.

The jewel raid that was more myth than hit

We should be proud to think we have some very well-educated criminals. Early on Wednesday morning, jewel thieves performed a £1m sledgehammer smash-and-grab raid on a jewellery store in Kingston, and zoomed off with a haul that included 40 designer watches. They were pursued by police cars and a helicopter – and as the cars closed in, the robbers threw Rolexes at the officers.

Some might say they were stupid to imagine the siren-blaring cop-wagons would screech to a halt so officers could retrieve the expensive timepieces. Others will realise that they were jocularly alluding to the Greek myth of Atalanta. She was the beautiful huntress, whose father makes a deal with her that she must marry any man who can beat her in a foot race. Being a fast runner, she beats all suitors until one, Hippomenes, prays to Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, for help and is given three golden apples – the ancient Greek equivalent of Oyster Perpetuals.

During the race, he throws the apples on to the ground, one by one, and Atalanta stops to collect them. So Hippomenes wins the race, and her hand in marriage, through a brazen appeal to her greed. Marvellous. I hope the thieves can regale their fellow prisoners in Parkhurst with other interesting tales from Mount Olympus.

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