Tales of the Unexpected

'If only, as the cardinal was to say later, Father O'Higgins had been allowed to instruct unchaperoned children, all might have been well'
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The Independent Online

Today I bring you three tales for our times.

Today I bring you three tales for our times.


A man who had been waiting quietly in a check-in queue at an American airport to get on a flight to the Middle East suddenly pulled a gun and started shooting at the airline staff. He was swiftly disarmed after his bullets had run out, and was taken away to be examined by a psychologist, whose job it was to decide if this was another terrible terrorist outrage of which the President of the USA should be informed or just an ordinary American shooting that everyone could ignore.

His findings were of great interest. He discovered that the stress levels in people queuing for long periods to check in for a flight, afraid that they might not even get on their plane, were such that many passengers, though outwardly calm, were near breaking-point inside and could break into violence at any time. He was amazed no one had gone berserk before.

He concluded that queuing procedures were over-stressful and should be modified. The airlines agreed and instituted new search procedures: people were searched before checking in, and relieved of their deadly weapons at an earlier stage. The actual queuing arrangements remained as before: that is to say, designed for the airlines' convenience.


Once upon a time there was a bicyclist pedalling along a country road in the sunshine. Behind him there were three cars queuing up to overtake him, and, as all cyclists do from time to time, he had an irrational fear that one of these unseen cars would knock him down from behind and kill him. How could he possibly know what deranged or erratic soul was at the wheel of a ton of metal?

In which he was more right to be worried than he could possibly know. For the first car was driven by a man whose daughter had been killed while riding her tricycle on the pavement by a car that ran out of control, and who, ever since, had been not quite right in the head about bikes. And the second car was driven by a lady who had left her spectacles at home, and to whom the road was, frankly, a bit of a blur. And the third car was driven by a young man who was racing to join his mates at the pub, and we all know, do we not, that young men, not drink or speed, are the main causes of road accidents.

The first car passed the cyclist, perhaps more closely than it should have. The short-sighted lady passed the cyclist quite easily, even though she never actually saw him. The young man hooted at the bloody bicyclist but didn't hit him, and the cyclist breathed a bit more easily. In fact, he breathed too easily, as he swallowed a passing insect and wobbled while trying to spit it out, so that when he went round the next corner he ran into a pedestrian coming the other way and caused him awful injuries.


Father O'Higgins was an Irish priest who had no sexual interest in young children of either sex. This unusual man was the handsome local priest of a posh area of London where he was highly regarded and trusted, especially by the Catholic ladies of the area, who found comfort in his warm presence and, it has to be said, his manly Irish features, which reminded more than one of them of the young Spencer Tracy, and they felt no compunction in letting their young children be taught by him.

Yet because of the scandal surrounding those Catholic priests who had been guilty of child abuse, it was decreed that even Father O'Higgins, when he instructed young children, should have at least one parent of each child present, and so it was that Father O'Higgins came into close contact with many young and beautiful mothers.

Which suited him fine, because although he could not conceive how any mortal soul could be attracted to their brats, he found that the flesh was weak when it came to mature young women. And I am afraid to say that he did not always keep these longings to himself, and more than one of them in their turn found the combination of manly allure and priestly calm too much to resist, and found comfort in his arms. If only, as the cardinal was to say later, if only Father O'Higgins had been allowed to instruct unchaperoned children, all might have been well.