The overexamined life is not worth living. It makes me laugh when I see those self-indulgent lost souls parroting the sad modern line, “I’m not religious but I am spiritual.” What the heck does that mean? Why do so many clowns seem to believe that poking and prodding ever further into their own banal entrails will bring them enlightenment? The only way to happiness is to forget yourself, and to take on humble tasks, on behalf of people whose plight does not affect you. When I started my first voluntary job, working with mentally handicapped adults, the media mother of a mentally handicapped child said to me, “How can you do it! I couldn’t!” and she genuinely didn’t see the oddness of this. Selfishness in the cause of crude biology is one of the most grotesque features of everyday life; no wonder early Christianity was so militantly anti-family.

And the greatest of these is charity. Why did they change the thing after faith and hope to “love”? Any sucker can do that! Charity sorts the men from the boys; “The man who dies rich dies disgraced,” said Andrew Carnegie, the great Scots-American industrialist and philanthropist. “The one who dies with the most toys wins,” say English public schoolboys. In America, the richer people get, the more money they give away; here it’s the exact reverse. Yet another reason why the USA makes Britain look like a moral pygmy.

This is the modern world! Whenever I hear some spoilt middle-class student brat banging on about the stifling conformity of modern Western life, my paws itch to do one of two things. One, stick him in a time machine and send him back to a time when working-class men, women and children lived lives we now associate strictly with the Third World: well into the 1960s young women were put into lunatic asylums in Ireland for having babies outside marriage, and children were sent to routinely destroy their health in factories and sweatshops all over Europe. Or more realist­ically to put the pampered poltroon on a plane to spend some quality time in one of the many Muslim countries where you can get 150 lashes for having a cup of coffee in a public place with a member of the opposite sex you’re not related to. Then they’ll learn a thing or two about ­stifling conformity, and maybe app­reciate a little more the amazing freedoms of 21st-century Western life. If you don’t like it, cry-babies, there are numerous deserving people in the non-Western world who could make the best of the advantages that are obviously wasted on you.

Go and be bi-curious somewhere else! Just because I was in love with a girl for six months 13 years ago, a swath of unappealing “straight” females have seen fit to try it on with me ever since. “But I want to experiment with my sexuality!” they wail as I eject them into the night. “Then buy a Bunsen burner and a Petri dish!” I squeal indignantly. The bottom line is, I’m married and I love my husband. That means paws off!

Sunshine. Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like it! I hated it till I was 35 and I was a right nasty little madam. Then I met my husband Dan, and became the sunny-natured sweetheart I am today.

Black and Gold by Sam Sparro is, to my knowledge, the first Top Ten hit single about theology. It sums up everything I feel about my faith and never fails to make me snivel. I find that house and soul songs, from Sam Cooke right up to stuff like “Shackles (Praise You)” by Mary Mary, “Free” by Ultra Naté and “You Got The Love” by Candi Staton, express my feelings about my religion far more than hymns do. The very lack of formality in the language of pop suits the defenceless euph­oria of genuine faith.

The Jews. When I was a little girl, I think about six or eight, I saw a photograph of Jews in the Shoah, behind a barbed wire fence. It was an extraordinary feeling, as I read what had happened; as though I could feel the world actually shift beneath my feet. I didn’t feel sad; just very alive. I thought what a strange and exceptional people they must be to make other humans behave towards them so un­usually. From that day on this was the thing I wanted more than anything — more than money, fame, sex — I wanted to see the Jews, in the flesh. I didn’t expect them to be superhuman; in fact the first time I met a dumb Jew, an ugly Jew, a cruel Jew, that was a lovely thing for me. I had no illusions, I didn’t hero-worship them; I just wanted to walk alongside them, to see that they were real. It’s quite hard to explain. From Shoah to Israel to National Front to Islamism, my life has been defined by their ceaseless struggle to survive. When I finally went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, it was the most perfect day of my life. I stared at every photograph, and afterwards I walked out into the Israeli sun and I thought, “Well, that was it!” I was dazzled — by the past and by the present, come together in this unique, unimpeachable, wonderful country. I would love to be buried there — but not quite yet.

An autumn note

“For many, the end of this uneasy year cannot come quickly enough”

An ordinary killing

Ian Cobain’s book uses the killing of Millar McAllister to paint a meticulous portrait of the Troubles

Greater—not wiser

John Mullan elucidates the genius of Charles Dickens
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