In the past few weeks, we've had earthquakes, and got bored with them, and tsunamis, and got bored with them, and revolutions, and got bored with them, and wars, and got bored with them, and elections, which bored us before we even started. We've had a wedding, which delighted us and then began to bore us, and we've had an execution, which delighted us and then began to bore us, until the authorities issued video footage to keep us going. And now, four years after she became almost as famous as another Kate, we have Kate McCann.
Four years on, the details of that terrible night come flooding back, like a language once learnt, and then forgotten. It was the Ocean Club. It was Praia da Luz. It was an apartment near a swimming pool and a tapas bar. It was 10pm when Kate McCann discovered that the bed where her three-year-old daughter had been curled up, with a princess blanket and her Cuddle Cat, was empty. For us, it was the beginning of one of the biggest stories ever to hit the news stands. For her, it was the beginning of a nightmare which may never go.
When Kate McCann went down on her knees, and begged God to protect her daughter, and phoned her priest, and phoned her best friend, and begged her to get her family to pray, too, she can't have guessed what would follow. She can't have guessed that the police, who she was trusting to find her daughter, would soon be telling her that her daughter was dead. Or that they would be bullying her to confess that she had killed her.
Can anyone forget the moment when the Portuguese police announced that dogs sniffing the McCanns' hire car had found the "smell of death"? Can anyone forget the word "arguido"? A word which meant that this woman, who walked along a beach clutching her daughter's Cuddle Cat, and who begged the world to help her find her, was a murderer, and a liar, and a fraud.
Can anyone forget the moment the media turned? The moment men and women who went home to kiss their children goodnight, started writing that they had known all along that there was something suspicious about this woman who seemed so calm, and who refused to cry for the cameras? And how pity suddenly turned to hate?
For Kate McCann, being abused by people she'd never met, and being bullied by policemen who could barely be bothered to leave their desks, and being portrayed by great swathes of the world's media as a bad mother, and by big chunks of it as a killer, must have been like being skinned alive.
But all of this fades next to the agony of losing a child.
No one who hasn't been to check on a child, and found that she has disappeared, and not known if she was still alive, and not known if she was being abused, or raped, can imagine what Kate McCann went through and what she still goes through every day. But now we can have a glimpse, if we want to.
Kate McCann's book, Madeleine, is published tomorrow. She wrote it because she wanted to "set down" for her children "a complete record of what happened in Portugal, so that, when they are ready, the facts will be there for them to read". And because she wanted "the truth to be told" to the world. "The press," she said, in an extract published over the weekend, "has published a mountain of stories, often without knowing, and perhaps without caring, whether or not there was any substance to them, causing great distress to our family and, more important, hindering the search for Madeleine".
For Kate McCann, it is, and will always be, about Madeleine. Proceeds from the book, which is already a bestseller on Amazon, will go towards the search. Which, it's clear, will never stop. For her, a front page of The Sun taken up by the words "I couldn't make love to Gerry", and topped by the words "Maddie, by her mum", in deliberate contravention of her stated desire, from the beginning of her ordeal, that journalists could at least respect her daughter by using her full name, is a price worth paying if it helps with the search. So are accounts, extracted in yesterday's Sun, of how she nearly lost her faith.
"There have," she says, "been many times when I've felt God has deserted me, or that He has let Madeleine down... I've shouted out loud and on occasion I've hit things... I do not blame God for Madeleine's abduction. The abductor is responsible for that. What I do wrestle with, though, is the inexplicable fact that despite so many prayers, almost total global awareness and a vast amount of hard work, we still do not have an answer. My aunt quotes a saying: 'Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you', and I truly believe this is what we've done."
It's hard to read those words without wanting to weep. There can't be a human being on this planet who thinks Kate and Gerry McCann haven't tried hard enough to get their daughter back. There can't be many who think that this quest, launched on that May night in Portugal four years ago, and which will, apparently, continue for the rest of their lives, or until their daughter, or her body, is found, isn't also a curse.
Kate McCann is on a pilgrimage which is also a kind of purgatory. It's like a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela where, in hope of greater blessings, and maybe miracles, you shuffle on bruised and bloodied knees. You live in hope, even when you think the hope might kill you, and even when, as she confesses in her book, you sometimes think you might kill yourself. There was a time when you could only do so much. You could pray, and fast, and weep, and wail, and shuffle on knees and whip yourself with chains. But that was before the blessing, and curse, and god, and devil, and heaven and hell, we call the media.
Kate McCann knows all about the media as hell. She knows how this ravening beast, with its 24-hour appetite, and need for fresh meat, even when there isn't any, can chew you up, and spew you up. If she didn't before, she certainly does now. But she has also held fast to the belief in the media as the path to salvation, and the path to a kind of heaven. And for the possibility of this path to heaven, she has come near to selling her soul.
No one who hasn't been through what she has been through can blame her for the choice she has made. Most people would walk on their knees through broken glass, and many would write about their sex life in the pages of Britain's sleaziest red-top, to get a missing child back. Many write about their sex life, or talk about it on TV, when they don't have anything to get back. They do it because they don't think the media is a pathway to anything. They think it is heaven. Until it turns into hell.
This is a heaven and hell of our choosing. We can choose to feed the beast, by demanding more detail, and more detail, and buying the papers which think that gossip is the same as news, and fiction is the same as fact, or we can choose not to. We can choose to forget that writing, and reporting, and commenting, is meant to be about truth.
Kate McCann's book won't get her daughter back. If it brought her any catharsis to write it, then I'm glad she did. But now that she has, I hope, I really hope, that she can keep away from the god and devil that feeds her hope, and set her soul, and the memory of her beautiful daughter, free.