A divine public relations disaster

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The Independent Online

Yesterday I brought you part of a fascinating High Court case in which Mr Archie Bald is on trial for fraud. He runs an insurance firm which purports to compensate people who have been victimised by an Act of God. Unfortunately, they never see their money back.

Yesterday I brought you part of a fascinating High Court case in which Mr Archie Bald is on trial for fraud. He runs an insurance firm which purports to compensate people who have been victimised by an Act of God. Unfortunately, they never see their money back.

In court, the atheistic Mr Bald was invited by prosecuting counsel to clarify matters by challenging God, if there was one, to strike him dead. Mr Bald did so and moments later fell apparently lifeless. Now read on.

Judge: It is customary at moments like this to ask if there is a doctor present in court. Is there? (No response.) A nurse, perhaps? A chiropodist? An actor who has performed in a hospital soap on TV? ( To everyone's relief, Mr Bald's form revives and he reappears in the witness stand.)

Bald: I think I have come back to life now, m'Lud.

Judge: Oh, good. Carry on, Mr Gritter. Ask him what it was like being dead, perhaps.

Counsel: Yes, m'Lud. Now, Mr Bald, perhaps you could tell the court what happened when you challenged God to strike you dead. Did perhaps God try and fail?

Bald: Nothing like that. I heard voices.

Counsel: Really? And what did these voices say?

Bald: They told me it might be a smart move to feign dead.

Counsel: Do you think this was God coaching you?

Bald: No. I think it was the voice of my instinct.

Counsel: Indeed? The instinct for self-preservation? The instinct of religious belief?

Bald: No. The instinct for publicity and theatricality. As a barrister, I am sure you will sympathise.

Counsel: As a barrister, I sympathise only when paid to.

Bald: Fair enough. Here's 50 quid.

Counsel: Mr Bald! Do you think you can gain my favourable opinion simply by handing me money!?

Bald: Why not? Everyone else can.

Counsel: Mr Bald, in this case I am acting solely for the prosecution.

Bald: Ah, their money is better than my money, is that it? Make it 55 pounds, then!

Counsel: You can keep your money, Mr Bald, and tell me a bit more about these Acts of God against which you claim to provide compensation. Natural disasters, are they not?

Bald: That is the general interpretation. Floods, lightning, meteorites, and blocks of ice falling from passing aeroplanes.

Counsel: God is blamed for falling ice?

Bald: Yes. Especially by airlines. But it has always struck me as grossly unfair that an Act of God should be interpreted every time as a ghastly accident. Why should God, if He exists, always be responsible for bad things? Why not good things? Why should an Act of God not be a spell of blissfully sunny weather, a lottery win, a £20 note found lying in the street or an unexpected kiss from a lovely woman?

Judge: (Coming out of a doze) Where? What lovely woman? Have I missed something?

Bald: The whole of the insurance industry has conspired to portray God as a vengeful fellow who likes nothing better than to inflict floods, pestilence, plague and thunderbolts on people! It is a public relations disaster! If there were a God, and I were his personal adviser, I would urge him to cast flaming brands at the sumptuous headquarters of the fat insurance giants and consume them utterly! (Great applause in court.)

Counsel: M'lud, can we not have silence in court? (There is no response. The judge, alas, seems to have dropped off to sleep.)

Bald: The judge shows every sign of lifelessness. Perhaps he has been struck dead by God in error. Or perhaps his voices have told him to feign unconsciousness ...

The case continues, though not in this column.

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