Protect children from the angels

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The Independent Online
AN OVERLOOKED, but disturbing feature of the Waco aftermath was the comment from June Craddock, mother of one of the survivors: 'I believe that the angels protected him from harm.' It made me long to grab her by the shoulders and bang her head against the wall and shout, 'Forget angels. It's your half-witted twaddle about angels that caused this horrible, unnecessary, tragedy in the first place.' But I suppose that would count as brain-washing, and put me in the same league as David Koresh.

I remember once talking with a group of friends about the perils of bringing up children. Our parents, we agreed, had had it easy - they'd only worried about us getting pregnant - but we had to run the whole gamut of anorexia and bulimia and muggings and drugs and joy-riding and Aids. Talking about Aids made us so depressed that after a while I tried to change the subject by saying, 'Actually, what I really worry about is my daughters getting religion.' I said it almost as a joke, but to my amazement everyone was suddenly leaning forward passionately agreeing that yes, that was the worry of all worries that kept them awake at night. One friend confided that she had already caught her son 'sneaking off to funny Bible classes' and we all tut-tutted with sympathy. How times have changed] My parents would have loved it if I'd gone to Bible classes, it would have seemed a sign that I was safely on the straight and narrow. Nowadays one thinks of Jonestown or Waco and shakes the head.

So how does one vaccinate one's children against belief in cults? The trouble is that there is no hard dividing line between cults and 'proper' religions except that the cults actually practise what they preach. The established religions, being older, are wiser: they have learnt to keep a hold on reality and to recognise the occasional loonies in their midst. The need to believe the unbelievable, to believe in angels, obviously goes very deep in the human psyche: one cannot hope to eradicate it, but only to co-opt it for morally desirable ends. Maybe the answer - it is weird to find myself saying this - is to send children to Sunday school: give them an early dose of safe, boring, conventional religion and hope that it works as a prophylactic against discovering angels in adult life?

THE TRAGIC death of Blue will I hope alert the nation to the horrendous danger we all face from squirrels. Blue, in case you have not been concentrating, was Princess Michael of Kent's Siamese cat found dead at Kensington Palace in mysterious circumstances. Although a chorus of animal experts bleat that squirrels will never attack cats, I can assure them that the gardens of Casa Barber tell a different story. The super-squirrels of London are now completely fearless: fattened to bulldog size by their diet of peanuts in public parks, they cut their teeth on rats, and then rampage through the streets, leaping on any dogs, cats, or humans that stand in their way. More worrying still, I notice that you never nowadays see squashed squirrels on the busy Spaniards Lane that bisects Hampstead Heath. I fear this means that the creatures have learnt to look left, look right, look left again before crossing the road. Soon we will have to have squirrel bars, like roo bars, on the front of our cars and no cat or dog will be safe out of doors. Make no mistake, Blue is only the first of many.

OBVIOUSLY there'll be no going out on Thursday nights for the next 12 weeks. The Baker-Donaher family revealed in all its squabbling glory in Sylvania Waters is far more gripping than any soap opera, and Noeline promises to be one of those characters, like Falstaff or Alf Garnett, whose name alone will stand for a syndrome. Apparently she is less happy with the result: she was quoted in the Sun as saying: 'The way we were portrayed made it an insult to call us ambassadors for our country.' Oh, I dunno. One of the children said, 'Even though we're all Australian, we're all different.' I hadn't realised that Australians themselves saw this as a problem - the fact that they all seem identical to us - but Sylvania Waters will change all that. Good on yer, Noeline.

MICHAEL PALIN once asked me what magazine I would recommend to foreigners as a model of well-written English and, after mentioning our own Sunday Review, I found it but a short step to silence. The answer should be the Spectator but it has one or two writers such as Alastair Forbes whom one would hate to see anyone using as a model. Most women's magazines disqualify themselves by their misuse of essential to mean non-essential, as in 'essential accessories' and any magazine that prints anything by Camille Paglia is automatically disbarred. However, I have just seen a magazine that seems to be a model of elegant English, albeit rather a surprising one: it is called the Fortean Times. Apparently it has existed for 20 years, and is named after Charles Fort (1874-1932) who collected data on inexplicable phenomena. Unfortunately its subject matter is crop circles, vampires, freak toads and suchlike, but its style cannot be faulted. Moreover it has a priceless photo supplement, featuring, for example, 'Chicken Love Tragedy', a photograph of a man lying under a rock which 'purports to show a bricklayer crushed to death in 1990 by a falling rock in Orense, Spain, while having intercourse with a chicken'.

PRINTED corrections are always fun and I particularly enjoyed one in this month's Tatler: 'Amina-Muthoni Sheikhan Aly Khan Mahomoud Mohammoud is a Princess of the Kikuyu clan and the Somalian royal tribe Okaden and the daughter of General Mahomoud Mohammoud, the General Chief of Staff in Kenya, and not as otherwise stated in the August 1992 issue of Tatler.' Naturally I sped to the August issue and what did I find? Princess Amina whatsit whatsit was 'reputed to be the daughter of Idi Amin'. No wonder she demanded a correction.