A few days ago, I had a letter from a new friend. "Dear Christina," it said, "I know we have never met, yet I feel you and I have a special bond – we can communicate on a 'higher level' than the physical sense." Very sweetly, my new friend was offering to say some special prayers for me at Lourdes. Did I have an urgent need for money? A desire for romance? Or perhaps for a prayer to counter a curse?
Well, come to think of it, all of the above. Count me in! No strings attached, apparently, and I mustn't, absolutely mustn't, send money. Those of us in the "spiritual community" should stick together.
Indeed we must. Everyone agrees. Ken Livingstone, who likes nothing better than a big bash celebrating Eid/ Diwali//the River Thames, has decided to go the whole hog (but perhaps that's not quite the metaphor) in "engaging with" London's religious communities. On a visit to a mosque on Saturday, he was happy to swap his raincoat for a nice embroidered prayer shawl and matching hat. He's printed leaflets, too. "It is Muslims' moral duty to support Ken," said the Bengali-language leaflets handed out at Friday prayers last week at mosques in Brick Lane. The leaflets also, according to a translator, claimed that Boris Johnson had expressed his "hatred" of Islam – but let's not dwell on that.
Anyway, times change. You've got to go with the flow. If Boris ever hated Islam, he doesn't now. He loves it. And Hinduism. And Judaism. And Sikhism. And Kate Hoey. He loves everyone, in fact. They all do. Faster than Nick Clegg can acquire notches on bedposts, these guys are rushing from mosque to synagogue to temple, like some kind of spiritual triathlon conducted by a whirling dervish (dressed much like Ken).
On the other side of the pond, of course, things are more complicated. There, a middle name that sounds a bit foreign – let's call a spade a spade, a bit Muslim – is what an American might call a challenge. So while Boris is dusting down the Muslim skeletons in his ancestral closet, poor Barack is trying to lock his away. But they just keep tumbling out – almost as fast, in fact, as the panoply of anti-patriotic horrors emanating from the lips of his spiritual mentor.
In a country where you can't become a cheerleader (let alone a President) without being born again, Barack managed to sign up to the wrong brand of Protestant Christianity, the one in which the belief that racism exists and that aggressive foreign policy has consequences is, apparently, profoundly offensive to the oh-so-moral majority which knows that God loves apple pie, white picket fences and white Republican presidents.
Help is, however, at hand. The Messiah is on his way. He's called Tony Blair, and he's special envoy to the Middle East, J P Morgan, Yale and God. At Westminster Cathedral last month, he launched his "faith foundation", a big, flowery tent which will unite all "people of faith" – people who believe in a God who prefers the mass spread of HIV to an evil rubber membrane, people who believe that bombing buses is a passport to paradise and people who believe that it's terribly important to switch to low-voltage light-bulbs.
"We ignore the power of religion at our peril," said God's envoy in his coming-out-as-a-Catholic speech. On this, at least, he's right. Religion – sincere or cynical, liberal or fundamentalist, pro-death or pro-life – is coming soon to a politician near you. God help us all.
Happiness for whiney half-wits
Mike Leigh goes cheerful was always going to be interesting, particularly since critics were fighting to out-eulogise his break-out rom-com Happy Go Lucky. From its opening glimpses of Sally Hawkins on a bike, grinning and gurning for the adoring audience she evidently imagined to be everywhere, it was, however, clear that it was in a league of its own. A league of excruciating awfulness, I'm afraid. Here were conversations of breathtaking banality, all conducted in horrible, whiney voices by people whose idea of empathetic engagement with another human being is along the lines of "cheer up, love, it might not happen". It's hard to know how such a wonderful director could sink so low, but please, Mike, go back to misery.
* Yesterday, like vast swaths of the population (or at least that tiny proportion of it that listens to Radio 4) I woke up in paradise. At long last, the news we had all been waiting for. No, not a cure for cancer, or Aids, or poverty, or war. Much, much more exciting than that. A magic pill. One, of course, that would enable you to have your cake (all day long, if you like!) and still squeeze into your size 0 jeans.
Researchers in Australia have, apparently, found a hormone that can cause weight loss by increasing the metabolic rate – with, as he delicately put it, none of the "unpleasant side effects" (ie sudden incontinence) of existing fat-binding drugs. So far, it's only been tested on mice, but my own research can confirm they're just as bad as their giant human cousins. My furry squatters have been stuffing their faces with poison for weeks and they're still alarmingly fat, fecund – and alive.Reuse content