John Walsh: Tales of the City

'Environmental pollution is one of the new deadly sins, according to the Vatican. How vacuously trendy'
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The Independent Online

Well, that's terrific, I must say. Sunday night's gale has blown my garden gate off its hinges. A mysterious affliction of the sciatic nerve is making my left arm buzz like a vibrator. My stylish first novel has unaccountably failed to make the Top 100 titles on sale at Luton airport. And now I find I'm likely to spend eternity in Hell because I have become lax in my recycling habits.

The Vatican has revealed, in the pages of L'Osservatore Romano, that the familiar Seven Deadly Sins have been joined by seven more. The new ones are: 1) drug abuse, 2) genetic manipulation, 3) morally dubious experimentation, 4) environmental pollution, 5) social inequality and injustice, 6) causing poverty and 7) accumulating excessive wealth at the expense of the common good of society. Do you know anyone who deals in any of these? You'll be able to tell your friends they're going straight to hell.

I used to know all about the Catholic hierarchy of sins, the league table of wrongdoing, but I'm a little hazy. There used to be some fantastic mega-sins, called the Sins Crying to Heaven For Vengeance, but, frustratingly, I can't remember what they were. (Sodomy? Setting fire to a naval dockyard?) But I never thought Becoming a Rich Skinflint would itself count as a mortal sin. It seems unfair: you somehow know the sinner would lose the taint of sin as soon as he steered some of his "excessive" wealth into endowing a lady chapel.

The magnificent new seven are the brainchild of Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, who runs the Apostolic Penitentiary at St Peter's. You didn't know, did you, that the Vatican has a Department for the Forgiveness of Sins? The Bishop, however, isn't keen on forgiveness so much as finding new things about which to upbraid and penalise his flock. I can understand how the church might feel nervous about stem-cell research (the cells are deemed to have the capacity to be human, and therefore to have a soul,) but surely they needn't get involved, so to speak, with drugs; it's not a sin to reach a state of euphoria by artificial means, or Christ wouldn't have gone around changing water into wine. What does Bishop Gianfranco say on the matter? "Drugs... weaken both intelligence and physicality, leaving many youngsters outside the ecclesiastical circuit." Well, yeah, but it leaves them inside the club circuit, which may make them better people in the long run.

It's the environmental pollution sin that reveals the vacuous trendiness of the project. Sin used to be a black mark against you personally. The new sins assume we all share a collective conscience – not the same thing at all. The worst transgression now is to fail to join in with what everyone else is doing. And while it is taking me a while to plug low-energy light bulbs into every socket, I object to being deemed a black-hearted sinner for failing to do so. The path to Hell is now, a little unexpectedly, paved with Unnecessary Plastic Carrier Bags...



****

You know that strangely pointless moment when the person cutting your hair gets a hand-mirror and holds it up so you can appraise their handiwork at the back of your head? What can you say except "Er – that's fine"? It's fruitless to wish they hadn't gone mad with the clippers, as there's not a thing you can do about it. If only Ms Lauren Newton of Washington, Pennsylvania, had realised this, she wouldn't have copped a .38 slug in the spine. She'd gone for a haircut to the house of Monique Reed, a professional stylist, and all had been fine. Then Ms Reed enquired how her client liked the cut, and Ms Newton said it wasn't quite what she was expecting. It wasn't quite what she was expecting? Not since Emperor Joseph II dismissed Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail with the words "too many notes" has a masterpiece been so abused. Ms Reed went to her bedroom, returned with a gun, fired it at the ceiling and, when Lauren ran away, shot her in the back. The stylist faces charges of aggravated assault and endangerment while her client is having surgery – and, presumably, being cautioned about behaviour likely to lead to a breach of the peace.



****

I'm a fan of Brief Encounter. I love Celia Johnson's vast troubled eyes, Trevor Howard's hat-doffing gallantry, Noël Coward's hilarious notions of cockney chitchat in the station café. I thought any attempt to re-create it on stage must be doomed. I was wrong. The version packing 'em into the Haymarket cinema is an absolute triumph; moving, funny, jaw-droppingly inventive. Kneehigh Theatre throw scores of special effects at both stage and screen: one moment, our hero Alec is a flesh and blood character, the next he's a celluloid presence, waving goodbye from a filmed train sequence. As the guilty couple fall in love, huge waves crash on a rocky shore behind them. The 10-strong acting troupe turn out to be accomplished musicians and vaudeville turns, while spot-on 1940s spoof ads greet you after the interval. The scene in which Alec and Laura meet a brace of Laura's suspicious lady friends (and a fake Pomeranian) and struggle to conduct a conversation had me weeping with hysterics. Do try to grab a ticket. It's the best evening I've spent in the theatre in months.

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