Chris Schuler: btw

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The Independent Online

The human and animal denizens of Hamburg Zoo are in mourning after Leila, a much-loved orang-utang, drowned in a water enclosure while trying to retrieve a piece of bread thrown by a visitor. The orang-utan hails from the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia, and has long been regarded as the most intelligent of the great apes after Homo sapiens. A century before Darwin, the 18th-century scholar Lord Monboddo believed the orang-utang to be a member of the human family, and in Thomas Love Peacock's 1817 novel Melincourt, an educated ape called Sir Oran Haut-ton becomes a baronet and is elected a Member of Parliament. It is testimony to the primate's uncanny kinship with humans that poor Leila has now attracted the dubious attentions of Gunther von Hagens, who wants to "plastinate" her for his controversial Body Worlds exhibition. Professor von Hagens maintains that his human exhibits have donated their corpses voluntarily, which raises the question: did Leila sign a consent form?

* The other night, I caught an episode of EastEnders for the first time in years. What struck me was not so much the ageing faces of Phil and Peggy, worn down by the weight of the series' history, nor even a grizzled East End chancer like Archie dispensing advice straight out of The New Man's Holistic Handbook ("You gotta forgive yourself, Phil – and that's the hardest thing of all"), but the sets. Just when did the private rooms at the Queen Vic get a makeover? The Möben-style kitchen, the hand-blocked wallpaper that could have come from Colefax and Fowler, the achingly tasteful dining room with its elegant lighting sparkling off the wine glasses ... It seems that the soap still has its finger on the pulse of the nation: designed to the hilt and as miserable as sin.

* Several commentators have welcomed the economic downturn as heralding a return to a less materialistic lifestyle. I wish I were that optimistic. At Marks & Spencer at Victoria Station, I overheard the following: "This Fairtrade coffee is all very well, but it's £2.85 a packet. Don't you have any Unfairtrade coffee? There is a credit crunch on, you know." For some, the milk of human kindness still comes macchiato.

* If it's reassuringly traditional values you're looking for, better head for Utah. In South Ogden, 11-year-old Joe Brunton wanted to attract his girlfriend's attention one morning without waking her parents, so he resorted to the time-honoured method of throwing wood chips at her window. When that didn't work, he went home and fetched his catapult – with predictable results. Joe is now doing odd jobs around town to pay for the broken pane.