Press Column

"Is this the face of Christ in a duster?" asked the Daily Mail. The last man to ask a question that good was Pilate; and, like Pilate’s, the Mail’s received no satisfactory answer. The Express reproduced the picture, and added: "Now a stream of pilgrims is expected at her semi-detached home to se for themselves what they are calling the Miracle of Pat’s Duster.

"The distinct image is being compared with the Turin Shroud and mother-of-four Pat is convinced it is a divine message. "I was cleaning the offices with a workmate was I have done thousands of times", said Mrs Coles, 50, a teacher for 17 years. "I had been using the council’s metal polish and for some reason I glanced at my cloth.

"I said ‘look at that’. My colleagues agreed it looked like Jesus Christ and I showed it to all the other cleaners and they agreed."

How I long for the scene of recognition to be painted, perhaps by Georges de La Tour: the headscarfed faces gathered around the duster in a crepuscular office block; the curious glittering radiance of the council’s metal polish.

"Irish-born Pat added: ‘the first thing I did that night was to take the cloth to our parish priest. Then I phoned my mother in county Mayo and told her I thought Jesus was going to take me away. But she assured me only good news could come of it."

The only note of scepticism was sounded – of course – by an Anglican, in fact Mary Murray, Archbishop Hope’s secretary. Sent a picture of the miraculous duster, she told the Express: "I’ll pass it to his grace. It could be the face of Jesus. It could be Moses: we don’t know what Jesus looked like., But is could be my old schoolmaster for that matter."

The other candidate for headline of the week came form the Sun. "Rev Hubby didn't whack my head" was how it informed its readers of the Golightly case. The Rev William Golightly was sentenced to five years for smashing his wife’s head in with a hammer: yet she, who has no memory of the attack, appears convinced he was innocent, as he himself does, despite the overwhelming weight of medical and circumstantial evidence. One would have expected there to be claims of possession: how else to explain the inexplicable? But none have appeared, and the Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt. Rev Alan Smithson said in the Mail that Mr Golightly "remains a good friend, and a Christian… It has not affected my opinion about the man."

I don’t suppose that is quite what the Bishop of Winchester had in mind when he complained that his colleagues were "playing down" the incidence of marital crises in the priesthood. This story, which originally surfaced on the Sunday programme, remains a small mystery. The Mail — have I read nothing else all week? — quoted a member of the working party, the Rev Tom Leary as saying: Originally there were recommendations; now there are suggestions and the authority of the report has also been brought into question by the House of Bishops so that it now only has the authority of the people who wrote it." No doubt these things seem extremely important in the middle of a piece of bureaucratic infighting, but I cannot quite bring into focus a scene in which Mr Golightly shakes his head regretfully and lays the hammer down, leaving his sleeping wife unharmed. "If they had only been suggestions", he thinks, "then I might have done it. But I could not bring myself to go against the recommendations of the House of Bishops."

There are no such troubles in the Atkins household, thank goodness. Anne’s latest bulletin to the fans of her Daily Telegraph agony column was tremendously upbeat: "My husband has had difficulty shaking off a stress-related illness, so our doctor put him on Prozac. He took it for several weeks before confessing that he had been warned of its possibly anaphrodisiac side-effects. I was livid — though luckily he told me before I resrted to silicon implants. Yet despite this drawback, the drug did change his health for the better, which meant he was able to come off it quite quickly – before I suffered terminal depression myself. I have no offered him my own personal cure: a frightening amount of fresh air, exercise, and fried breakfasts. And, of course, making up for the time lost by the Prozac."

In another blow for women, Assa Larsanova has been exchanged for 100 cows. This seemed a surprisingly high valuation for a woman’s life in Islamic republic of Chechnya, especially when the woman in question had killed her husband and been sentenced to be shot. But closer reading of the story, in the Telegraph, showed that the 100 cows were actually the value placed on her husband’s life by his relatives. Her own life was worth so little that she would already have been shot were she not heavily pregnant. Her death had been postponed in April so she could have the baby and hand it over to her husband’s family first. German charities rescued her, and she will now be alowed to go into exile instead.

On that cheering note we can announce that the first annual George Carey prize for saying not exactly what you meant has already been awarded for 1998 to Dani Behr, a television presenter, who told the Mail: "People seem to have an image of me as this blonde bimbo or some nakedly ambitious person driven by her career. I’m neither — I’m probably halfway between the two."

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