Press Column

We’ve had a variety of Muslim sacred vegetables this year: the word Allah in an aubergine and so on: but last week God revealed his Christian nature in a form that other religions just can’t swallow: The Sun found a pork scratching in the shape of Mary and Jesus. The "three-inch religious rind" turned up in a packet of pork scratchings that "god-fearing Aaron Dodgson" was finishing with his uncle in a Coventry pub after his girlfriend dumped him. He plans to frame it in a glass case. "He said last night ‘You can se the madonna’s veil. A bump pn the scratching makes it seem she is holding her child.

‘It was a sign to keep my chin up and get on with things’

‘My uncle and the other guys in the pub all agreed. People may think I’m barking but things like this come as a sign when you are at the crossroads.’

"The chip shop opposite the pub is GABRIEL’s. Aaron said: ‘there was a neon light flashing when I found the scratching. It made it seem like an apparition.’

Not to be outdone, the News of the World featured a human bean: a freelance photographer found a baked bean with three greyish splodges resembling eyes and a nose. Instead of suing Sainsbury’s, the quick-witted Russell West phoned the paper. "His Mr Bean follows the discovery of other scary scoffs, including a tomato whose seeds spelled out Allah and an pork scratching in the shape of Mary and Jesus."

About the only newspaper which has not found one of these miracles to call its own is the Mirror. So if you come across any vegetables that are even remotely human, do send them in to David Montgomery, and if they don’t make a news story, they can always find jobs in the personnel department.

Of all the things which make Northern Ireland foreign to the English, religion is probably the most effective. Orange parades are difficult to understand, with their combination of tremendously martial music and peaceful, Christian sentiments on the banners. Most commentators hear the message of the drums; few read the messages of the banners. One of the few to try is the Irish writer Ruth Dudley Edwards. She had an elegaic piece in one of the papers last week about watching a quiet orange parade in the border country. I can’t now find it, but it stayed in my memory when most of the articles I clipped would have been completely forgotten if I had not kept them on paper.

The Daily Mail, for which Ruth Dudley Edwards did a rather cruder retread of her original piece, brought Christianity into its leader on Drumcree, "After attending a service of Christian (love the neighbour as thyself) worship, 1,200 men dresses in bowler hats and orange sashes persist in marching down ad where their presence can only provoke hatred.

Earlier, in what was grotesquely described as ‘a spontaneous demonstration’ the neighbourly folk (Christians of a different denomination) who dwell alongside this tribal stretch of tarmac pelted with stones and petrol bombs the British troops and police taking up their position at 3am to prevent nationalists and loyalists tearing each other to pieces."

The argument then veered off into British domestic politics. But it is worth noticing the way in which Christianity is used as one of the alienating factors which "make this part of the United Kingdom seem as remote as that part of Central Africa where Hutus and Tutsis live." , in which "British" troops are contrasted with "loyalists and nationalists"

Of courser it is all much less fun than that other great constitutional issue, the role of the Prince of Wales’s mistress. The Daily Mail quoted the Rev David Streater, of the Church Society, in fine fulminating form. "The monarchy is greater than Charles, and this country is greater than the monarchy. I have standards as a minister in the Church of England. If I commit adultery I will lose my position. He has admitted he’s in that situation. Let’s see some repentance and we will be doing some forgiving."

I do think the Mail should have let its readers in on the secret that Mr Streater is no longer a minister in the Church of England at all, but in one of the continuing churches. It makes his offer to forgive the Prince even funnier. George Austin, meanwhile, has come round to the view that remarriage is better in this situation than adultery.

The saga of the Bishops’ chauffeurs continues. Jan Herbert, wife of the Bishop of St Albans, had a speldid letter in the Times: "as a busy schoolteacher married to an equally busy bishop, I do wish I could meet these chauffeur-driven bishops with lavish lifestyles and large staffs referred to in the review by Lord Bridge"

Actually, I think they were only referred to in Ruth’s report of the review.

"I do have a day off on Thursday, so I can manage the ordination tea party for 30 without any problems, but I am worried about getting ready for the post-ordination drinks for 130 here on Sunday .. Yes, my husband did ask the gardener to drive him to a service one day last week; that was the only time he had available to write the eighth sermon, address or speech of the week was in the car."

One moral to draw from this is that Bishops are not overstaffed. Another is that they are trying to do far too much and their jobs should be rethought anyway.

Poor Snowy the Eagle Owl made a fatal mistake when he took up residence in St Paul’s. First he was doorstepped by Ruth Gledhill, exactly as if he was a woman canon: she climbed right into the dome to catch a glimpse of him, but failed; then he ate a poisoned pigeon and died. If I were Lucy Winkett I would be worrying.

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