Press Column

A certain perspective on the bishopsí expenses is provided by the Financial Times in which Uri Geller mentions that his house in Henley is on sale for £5.5m. "I donít read the financial papers" he told Lucy Kellaway. I have found that finance and spirituality donít mix. For thirty years I have not signed a cheque. I have credit cards but I donít use them" His morning routine apparently is to get on an exercise bicycle with a manuscript on a stand beside him and ride for thirty miles while writing. Since exercise is almost as good at promoting thought as a hot bath, this is one idea of his that deserves to last.

like many charismatic people, he appears to be chewed by demons. "I bought myself limousines; travelled in private jets. I went to the Savoy hotel and said to the waiter: just bring me everything, They lined up jellies, profiteroles, gateaux and ice creams And I would eat everything. I thought hey, wait a minute. Iím going to be fat. So I excused myself from the table, went to the toilet and vomited. I didnít realise it was the beginning of a serious addiction."

He threw up, he says, five times a day for a year before "deploying his powers" and stopping. Though the interview series is called "lunch with the FT" he is horrified to discover that he is meant to be eating with Ms Kellaway, and eats nothing of the meal put before her by his wife. At the end he asks the journalist whether she has brought a spoon. She offers her ear-rings instead. He declines and produces a spoon of his own, which he manipulates close to a radiator "It helps if I am near metal". It duly flops or bends. A sceptic, of the sort he sues, might think of all sorts of simple explanations for what happened. Ms Kellaway simply remarks "This extraordinary and inexplicable feat has left me curiously unmoved. His ways with metal are not necessarily the weirdest thing about him"

I donít think I have ever read an interview with a spiritual-type person that gave off such a strong sense of anomie and dissatisfaction amidst all the frantic activity. "Look Lucy, Iím a religious man. I believe in God. I donít believe in Darwinism. I think God created us. He also created a major masterplan. There was a reason ó I donít understand it ó for me to take Michael Jackson to the synagogue."

This should be read in conjunction with a short in the Times reporting a lecture by Ernest Rea, the head of Religious Broadcasting, in which he said that the department might need to change its name "to reflect the changing spiritual backcloth of Britain". He is also proposing an additional digital ĎFaith and culturesí channel, focussing on religion in much the same way as UK Style looks at gardening, cooking and travel." Yes yes, Ernie, but whereís the merchandising?

The attitude of the rest of the BBC towards the whole thing was nicely brought out by a spokesman for EastEnders, to whom Ruth Gledhill put the Archbishop of Yorkís suggestion that someone might go to church in one of the soaps this Christmas: "EastEnders recognises the importance of Christmas as a religious celebration as well as a family occasion, but it is not there as a platform for every interest group. Christmas is an important time of year and will be celebrated appropriately on EastEnders."

James Meek, in the Guardian, has not been in the job for long, but already his instincts are right: confronted with the General Synod agenda, he turned instead to the small ads in the Church Times instead, and found an ad for priests in the diocese of the arctic: a population of 70,000 spread out across an area 15 times the size of the UK and not a single one of them working in "communications". Thatís not the only advantage: "Swap your C-reg fiat for a snowmobile, your cassock for a douwn jacket, and your PCC for a herd of friendly caribou." according to the Guardian I am surprised they are not swamped with offers. It seems to me that this is a story which demands research on the spot, preferably in synod week.

Meek also had another story about the British government opening a consulate in Mecca during the Hajj , to be staffed by Muslim members of the Foreign Office, which seems a fine reference point for future historians looking for a striking fact on which to anchor their lucubrations about the changing patterns of British life this century.

Martin Neary gave an interview to the Sunday Times. He is currently working with a Roman Catholic choir in Los Angeles and does not seem to be enjoying the experience much: "American children are brought up to believe they decide things Ö All the boys there have had some basic tuition on the piano, for instance, but they have probably given it up after three or four lessons because they didn't want to carry on and were allowed to do so. What I am trying to give them is English choral discipline without losing the American flair."

The couple talked about their autistic son Thomas in a moving way. But their sense of entitlement shines through the most sympathetic coverage: "They never intended to live in the pretty little Victorian house [in Fulham]. It was bought to let to tenants to provide a little extra income in their old age but it proved a godsend when they found themselves homeless."

The Daily Telegraph had a lovely little report on the efforts of PETA, an animal rights pressure groups, to persuade the world that Jesus was a vegetarian. They had been denied poster space for their message in Belfast; Victoria Combe went round asking theological authorities whether Jesus might have eaten meat. Dan Cohn Sherbok, a vegetarian rabbi at Lampeter, had the neatest answer, referring to the feeding of the five thousand: "A vegetarian would have given out carrots, not fish"

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