Terence Blacker: Catholics do it on a wing and a prayer

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The Independent Online

So here we are, after all those dates and dinners and nervous telephone calls. It's just us, alone together, in a romantic double room at the Novotel. And for a whole night! I have to tell you, darling, there have been times when I thought we'd never – What are you doing?"

"I'm getting down on my knees."

"Blimey! And they say an Englishman takes time."

"Actually, I'm about to pray. And I think you should."

"Pray? Now?"

"According to the Catholic Church, it's very important to offer up a prayer before couples go to bed together. It helps purify their intentions so that what follows is not unduly hedonistic or selfish. A special pre-sex religious offering called 'A Prayer Before Making Love' has just been published in a pamphlet from the Catholic Truth Society."

"Doesn't that rather take the fun out of it? Between you and me, I was rather hoping to keep my intentions as impure as possible. And surely 'hedonism' is just a rather prim way of describing fun?"

"It's true that the Prayer Before Making Love has been written for married couples. But I think that's a bit exclusive. Praying before we go to bed together is simply a matter of letting God into our relationship."

"I'm not sure I want to do that, either. It sounds a bit creepy. Call me old-fashioned, but I'd rather prefer Him not to be in this particular Novotel bedroom tonight. There are such things as boundaries, even for the Holy Spirit."

"That's just where you're wrong. Praying is everywhere these days. Politicians routinely mention that someone or something is 'in their prayers'. It's probably part of the blog culture. We're all so used to telling all and sundry how we feel or what we think that praying is just another form of virtual communication – like Twitter, only for your spiritual life."

"Have you ever considered going on Thought for the Day?"

"In fact, a Tweet-a-Prayer service has just been set up. On the assumption that God is online and that being a busy 24/7 kind of deity he'll appreciate short prayers, people have taken to micro-blogging their requests to him round the clock."

"This is the kind of thing which is giving religion a bad name. Why does it have to be everywhere – on Twitter, in politics, in the bedroom? It's becoming intrusive. No wonder Richard Dawkins has become something of a hero."

"Are you going to pray or not? If you like, you can just mutter 'Amen' at the end, in the traditional English way."

"What's in this prayer anyway?"

"It asks the Almighty to clothe us with dignity."

"Great."

"It also has some good stuff about self-offering that tells the truth, and forgiveness that truly receives. It mentions the importance of shared aspirations."

"This is sex we're talking about here, not working for Oxfam?"

"Just a little prayer. Please."

"As long we won't then have to pray any more when we're in bed."

" I promise – unless you count the occasional 'Oh my God'."

"All right then. Let us pray..."

Who's the daddy, Kelvin?

Rather rashly, the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie has laid a £500 bet with William Hill that the recently released Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi will survive at least 12 months after his release. By the look of recent photographs from the Libyan's hospital bed, the odds of even-money, which William Hill offered to MacKenzie, were distinctly ungenerous.

When he loses his bet, Kelvin may like to take another news- related punt to recover his money. Within days of the English actor Mark Lester having suggested that he might be the father of one of Michael Jackson's children, another former child star, Macaulay Culkin, has been widely named as the person who helped Jacko sire his son Blanket.

How many more visitors to Neverland were asked to contribute their sperm? Was it part of normal dinner-time conversation there? We can be sure that the truth, however bizarre, will not remain hidden for long. William Hill should open a Jacko Paternity Sweepstake, and allow Kelvin MacKenzie to blow some more of his money.

Prescott finds his audience at last

One of the funnier stories to emerge this week is the news that a great new environmental campaigner will soon be touring schools to warn children about the dangers of global warming. It is none other than John Prescott.

Once he has been granted his I-am-not-a-paedophile certificate by the police – if authors of children's books need them, why not former cabinet ministers? – Prescott will be aiming to win his young listeners over to the environmental cause. Children, he says, are more receptive to his arguments than adults.

That may be because they ask fewer awkward questions. Teachers setting up question-and-answer sessions for the classroom might like to include the following: whose government department encouraged walking to work as an environmental activity in 1999? Who preferred to be driven 200 yards rather than walking at a climate change conference five years later?

I suspect, even in primary schools, it will soon become embarrassingly obvious that there could be few less convincing prophets of abstinence and self-sacrifice than John Prescott.

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