Tales Of The City: And lo! The Grand Canyon was born

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The Independent Online

According to the people who run the Grand Canyon National Park, the gigantic natural wonder in their midst is not, as some people have thought, the product of a few million years' erosion of rock on an epic evolutionary scale. Not at all. It is, in fact, the result of a biblical flood ordained by God to punish the world just a few thousand years ago. Unlike Noah's more celebrated global deluge, it didn't involve an ark or a collection of endangered species going in two by two; it just occurred for divine unfathomable reasons and, hey presto, the canyon was the result when the waters subsided.

According to the people who run the Grand Canyon National Park, the gigantic natural wonder in their midst is not, as some people have thought, the product of a few million years' erosion of rock on an epic evolutionary scale. Not at all. It is, in fact, the result of a biblical flood ordained by God to punish the world just a few thousand years ago. Unlike Noah's more celebrated global deluge, it didn't involve an ark or a collection of endangered species going in two by two; it just occurred for divine unfathomable reasons and, hey presto, the canyon was the result when the waters subsided.

Now, the American scientific fraternity is seething about the inclusion, in the Grand Canyon bookstore, of a book that features this amusing theory. The bigwigs who oversee American parks are refusing to condemn it because of something called the "faith-based parks policy"; and the Bush government is tending to side with park superintendents who like to ascribe the credit for natural outdoor phenomena to a Supreme Being rather than a long and boring geological process involving several aeons.

We can scoff at American fundamentalism, and the way successive presidents suck up to the most barmy creationists of the religious right. But could we be missing something about the English landscape? America presumably doesn't have a monopoly on the Lord's scenic interventions. Might not some of our most cherished natural beauties be the direct result of God's mysterious ways? I'd be prepared to believe that Cheddar Gorge is not, as advertised, a freakish rock formation caused by limestone deposits over a million years, but was in fact landscaped by platoons of archangels bearing trowels in 400BC.

I'd be OK if someone explained that Dartmoor is not, in fact, 369 square miles of wild moorland full of ancient barrows and tumuli from the mists of prehistory, but was the result of a really shocking storm that issued directly from the mouth of God, to punish the recidivist sinners of the Devon area, at about the time Moses was encountering the burning bush.

I don't see why Lake Windermere, far from being something to do with melting glaciers and the end of the Ice Age, shouldn't be an enormous basin of holy water, left there for the edification of the God-fearing folk of Ambleside and environs by a crack troop of seraphim, in a brilliant overnight feat of celestial engineering.

When I was young, I was told that the Giant's Causeway on the Antrim coast was built by Finn MacCool, the celebrated Ulster warrior and giant, as a highway to enable his beloved, a lady giant from a Hebridean island, to walk across to Ulster without getting her knees wet. I suppose I could go back to believing that, if Mr Blair's own brand of Christian zealotry takes a sudden, more dictatorial turn.

But who are we kidding with our well-bred cynicism? Perfectly enlightened English people have for centuries been half in love with the idea of divine intervention in the geographical phenomena of their native land - at least since William Blake speculated about the Lamb of God walking around England's pleasant pastures and mountains green and, implicitly, making them holy. It's remarkable, but true, that every time a WI sings "Jerusalem", they're singing from the same hymn-sheet as the fundamentalist canyon crazoids.

The trial thatÿs definitely food for thought

Call me a sicko if you must, but I can't get enough of the "Cannibal of Rotenburg" trial in Kassel, Germany. The central frisson of contemplating Armin Meiwes, the man charged with mutilating, killing and eating Bernd-Jurgen Brandes, is one thing - but the piquancy of the case lies in its crackpot details. Like Bernd-Jurgen's boyfriend Victor, who was always being urged to bite off Bernd-Jurgen's penis (despite the obviously one-off nature of this sexual treat). Like the reported meal at which Armin and Bernd-Jurgen both ate the latter's membrum virile (and what did they talk about? And did they season it with black pepper and balsamic vinegar? And did Armin say, "What's for pudding?"). Like the schoolfriend who recalls the defendant appearing, unremarked, at a party in his mother's flowery dress. (Unremarked, amid a gang of 15-year-olds?) Like Meiwes's habit of showing videos of amputees to his straight friends (as you do). And like the fact that the place where he went to school was called Essen. Which is, of course, German for both "meal" and "eating"...

Yeah but, no but

The TV programme Little Britain is having a shocking effect on modern youth. Not because it's corrupting them, but because it's hijacking most of their conversation. The nation's playgrounds and pizza restaurants are already ringing with the words, "Yeah but, no but, yeah but I did 'ave a baby but I swapped it for a Westlife CD". Now, hardly an hour goes by chez Walsh without the boy (12) going off into Matt Lucas's hypnotism sketch: "Look into my eyes, the eyes, the eyes, not around the eyes, in the eyes, the eyes, the eyes... OK, you're under. You have not given me any pocket money for seven weeks, you owe me £27 and you are anxious to pay up right now. Three, two, wahhhhhhnn - and you're back."

I keep explaining to him that it doesn't work, and that the weekly repetition of fatuous music-hall routines does not make you a master of sophisticated humour, but he continues to clutch his sides and fall about laughing. We must face the ugly truth: Mr Lucas and his mesmerism sketch are the John Cleese-and-the-Norwegian Blue of the GameCube generation.

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