It’s a mad, bad, world.jpg

It’s a mad, bad, world

Skip Bandele reflects on life and his world – as he sees it

SHORTLY AFTER I was born, John F Kennedy was felled by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, and his brother Robert met with the same untimely end, five years later. Martin Luther King was similarly silenced, man landed on the moon  and Paris became engulfed in running street battles between students and police.

Being very young at the time, most of these events passed me by but, in retrospect, I can say that they stood out, because they represented the exception rather than the rule. Life, growing up, seemed fairly safe, normal – whatever that may mean. Or was that just my experience? Today, the world appears to be a different place, one that I no longer recognise or understand.

Leafing through newspapers is a long-standing habit of mine. Normally, I pick out specific items that are of particular interest to what I am currently involved in doing, but every so often I have the time to read from cover to cover. Last weekend was one such occasion. I was horrified. For some reason I still cling to the belief that we are all basically decent human beings, invested with certain morals that allow us to distinguish between right and wrong most of our lives. I am wrong. Here is a sample of what I found in just one semi-respectable tabloid.

As some ill-chosen words from the Pope succeeded in inflaming Muslim opinion throughout the world, causing Christian churches to be bombed and effigies of the Holy Shepherd to be torched, world leaders were urged to prevent a holocaust set to decimate the population of Sudan. Religious leaders prayed outside Downing Street and Britain’s top Roman Catholic, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, fresh from defending his boss in the Vatican, warned that the situation in the African country was “catastrophic in terms of the violence, the murders and the displacement of people.”  

More than 200,000 people have already been killed and over two million have fled their homes in the Darfur region since 2003, while the international community has largely looked the other way, much as it did during the 1994 Rwandan crisis that claimed 800,000 lives.

Where does the sudden concern come from? Maybe someone has discovered new oil reserves in the huge country – if not, nothing meaningful will be done to halt the continuing genocide inflicted upon ethnic tribes by the Arab-led Khartoum government. So much for ‘loving thy neighbour’, part one.

Next, I came across some rather bizarre animal stories. Sixty-seven children apparently had to be evacuated from a Pakistani school, while authorities debated what to do about a sacred cobra slithering about in the classrooms. Eventually, an exorcist, not an exterminator or snake charmer, was called to treat the children, who were suffering from mass hysteria.

In Africa, locals live in fear of lions, while tigers strike terror into the hearts of Indian villagers. In Finland, where Reindeer are the cause of the majority of road accidents, kamikaze squirrels are the latest scourge. It has been reported that a famous opera singer was severely injured when knocked off his bicycle by one of the small furry creatures scampering between the spokes of his conveyance’s front wheel. A National Opera spokesperson said that the latest world premiere would go ahead regardless.  

Meanwhile, a Swiss driver, caught speeding in Canada, said he was simply enjoying driving fast without hitting a goat, a major hazard in his own country. Most tragic of all, however, is the story of Australian wildlife presenter Steve Irwin. The 44-year-old world famous animal expert, who ran a Queensland zoo, died when a stingray’s barb pierced his heart, while he was filming on the Great Barrier Reef. The last such fatal stingray incident was reported in 1943.

Since Irwin’s death, dozens of the normally docile and peaceful creatures have been found dead and mutilated on beaches throughout Australia, in what amounts to revenge attacks by humans. Crazily, thousands of Americans have booked trips Down Under in the aftermath of the calamity, besieging US travel agents.

A British former police trainee from Birkenhead faces deportation from Australia, after going missing twice in the same week near Alice Springs. Each time, the 50-year-old caused full scale air and land rescue operations with his ‘walkabouts’ – he is now undergoing mental health assessments, while nursing severe sunburn and dehydration; scorpions and other ‘critters’ were not mentioned.

As I continued turning the pages of the newspaper things became progressively grimmer.

In Oldbury, West Midlands, police tailed and then stopped a car negotiating two traffic islands and a corner at 35mph. Nothing unusual in that, but, when the driver, Omed Aziz, was asked to remove his sunglasses, officers were amazed to find that he literally had no eyes. Furthermore, the Iraqi bomb blast victim suffered from impaired hearing, leg tremors and only had two fingers on his right hand. Magistrates banned Aziz from driving … for three years! Take care as you cross the road ….

If your holiday postcards have still not reached their destination, here is why. In Southern Italy, a 53-year-old postman, who was always the first to finish his shift, was arrested. Police found almost three tonnes of undelivered mail at his Messina home.

Idiosyncrasy is also alive and well across the Atlantic. In Chicago, a 79-year-old pensioner attempted to rob a bank. The woman fled when cashiers refused to hand over the 30,000 US dollars demanded and was apprehended in a nearby pharmacy a short time later.

Back in Britain, a grandfather, aged 70, was jailed for 18 months after becoming the country’s oldest drug dealer. George Axton cultivated over 400 cannabis plants in his Hampshire greenhouse, enough for 17,000 street deals worth 150,000 pounds sterling. Not far away in Oxford, a vicar claimed that his computer downloaded 119 indecent images of children without his knowledge. Married Reverend Richard Thomas, an aide to the city’s Bishop, admitted to being addicted to adult pornography, but denied deliberately accessing sexual material relating to minors. The 56-year-old was released on bail, but warned that he could face a jail sentence.

While looking at sexually explicit pictures of children is sick and repulsive in itself, the actual physical abuse and killing of the innocent is abhorrent in the extreme. Convicted Soham schoolgirl murderer, Ian Huntley, has been placed under 24-hour surveillance following his latest failed suicide bid. Prison warders are being paid 16 pounds an hour in overtime to watch him from a room next door on 12-hour shifts. Keeping the monster alive costs an incredible 1,780 pounds a day or 650,000 pounds of taxpayer’s money a year. Now, Huntley is threatening to go to court, claiming round-the-clock security cameras installed in his cell are a breach of his human rights. To my mind his gruesome deeds have forfeited any rights he may have held and, if there ever was a good argument for bringing back the death penalty, he is it.

Less emotive, but equally nonsensical, is the harassment case involving a garden gnome I came across on page seven – no allusion to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs! Gordon MacKillop was woken at midnight at his home in the Cornish hamlet of Treovis, by police hammering on his front door. His crime? Displaying a solar-powered garden gnome dressed as a policeman at the end of his drive. Apparently, the ornament offended neighbours. The 46-year-old marine surveyor was issued with a police warning notice under the Protection From Harassment Act 1997 for “placing a garden gnome with intent to cause harassment” and was told to remove it – I beg you, do our law enforcers suffer from paranoia?!  Devon and Cornwall Police commented: “This is not just a silly thing that we’ve gone and done.” Oh no?            

I end my glum look at our world with the contention that money really can’t buy you love. More than a year has now passed since Dolores McNamara scooped Europe’s biggest lottery jackpot, netting 115 million euros with a single EuroMillion lottery ticket. Since then, the 46-year-old mother of six from Limerick has been plagued by kidnap threats and pestered by begging letters.

The relentless pressure has forced her and her family to flee their hometown and live as virtual recluses in a remote mansion, surrounded by state-of-the-art security systems, CCTV cameras and a 24-hour guard.

The American wit, Clare Boothe Luce, once wrote: “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you’re being miserable.” I would love the chance to prove the saying wrong – on the other hand, looking around me as I have done, Dolores may well be better off locked away from this, our mad, bad world.