Social affairs

A nativity play for our times

All the fairytale-land characters have come together to put on a nativity show. Little Red Riding Hood is playing the part of Mary, Goldilocks is Gabriel, the Three Little Pigs are the wise men and watch out for the innkeeper - it's the big bad wolf!"

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Michael Cunningham

Heller was synonymous with Catch-22; the same might be said of Michael Cunningham and The Hours. After two well received but slow-selling novels, A Home at the End of the World and Flesh and Blood, published in 1990 and 1995, The Hours transported Cunningham into an elite league where critical and commercial success go hand in hand. The subsequent film, starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman, with a hypnotic score by Philip Glass, served merely to confirm the arrival on the block of a new literary superstar. He won a Pulitzer and enough credit to pursue his own dream.

The result is Specimen Days, which borrows the title of Walt Whitman's Civil War diaries.

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Life without the car

Welcome to the slow lane, the slow life. When my car collided with an 11-ton farm vehicle on a dangerous corner and spun off the road, my children and I became carless or, as we like to say, car-free.

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McDonald's suffers from court grilling

That annoyance resulted in a four-page fact sheet available on request and divided up with headings such as McDeath and McDestruction.

The text was a general attack on junk food, claiming rather uncontroversially that it was high in fat and sodium, low in vitamins and minerals and therefore linked to heart disease and other illnesses.

It also attacked conditions in the catering industry and the economics of the meat industry.

An abridged leaflet was given away outside various branches of McDonald's, and then London Green Peace christened its annual festival the "Anti McDonald's Fayre." By the third fayre McDonald's had sent infiltrators to join in the day-long workshops held on non-violent direct action, and the films featuring the claimed destruction of the rainforest for cattle raising.

They collected all the duplicated leaflets and handouts on display, went to other meetings of London Green Peace and took copious notes of what was said.

These documents form part of the vast mountain of papers lining the walls of court 35 where the libel case is slipping into a seemingly permanent daily grind of wearying banality reminiscent of Jarndyce & Jarndyce in Dickens's Bleak House.

Writs were served on five people in 1990. Three backed down. Morris and his co-defendant Helen Steel did not.

They were determined to defend themselves against the allegation of libel and on the eve of the case when McDonald's published 30,000 copies of its own leaflet accusing Steel and Morris indirectly of lying, they launched a counter claim for libel.

On June 28, 1994 the case began in earnest after McDonald's had been granted an application to do without a jury on the grounds the case would be too complicated for ordinary people to understand. Lawyers for McDonald's confidently estimated the case would run for a maximum of four weeks, but they had underestimated Morris and Steel, who are conducting their own case after an initial two hours of free advice under the legal aid scheme. The two are extremely intelligent and committed political activists who prepared the ground well for their day in court. That day has now stretched to a year and it could go on until January.

Every allegation in the leaflet, most very generalised, has been defended. Conditions in the catering industry are bad, they said, and they have sought to show that by calling dozens of witnesses.

For McDonald's it has turned into a public relations disaster as the company is viewed as a bullying multinational trying to use a sledgehammer to crack two tiny environmental nuts.

Earlier this month, McDonald's refused to agree to a temporary adjournment so that Morris could look after his young son Charlie, who had broken a leg.

Morris and Steel, win or lose on the charges, already see the case as a victory since it has made headlines all over the world.

Steel herself has never been in McDonald's. Morris says he used to like the milk shakes, "but that was before I found out there were 12 spoonfuls of sugar in each one".

Scotland on Sunday
June 25th 1995

'This is a fiendish area for legislation'

Allison Pearson
Evening Standard, London, January 19

"[On Tuesday] the government announced plans to improve the way access to children after divorce is handled. Parents will be given more practical and emotional support. Community service orders and electronic tagging could be imposed on those who deny former partners contact with their kids.

"The plans, though well-meaning, sound both blundering and inadequate. How are kids going to feel towards their father if mum ends up wandering around like a convict with a shackled ankle? This is a fiendish area for legislation: how can you punish an uncooperative parent without hurting her child? ... Every child deserves a childhood: it's battling parents who need to grow up fast - not their innocent kids."

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