Belfast Telegraph

Girls Aloud's cat fight has been reignited

Welcome to the sideways world of our star columnist

By Robert McNeil

The break-up of Girls Aloud is often described by leading commentators as the greatest tragedy of modern times.

Fallout from the split continues to affect the stock market, and only this week lead trombonist Cheryl Cole-Versace accused triangle player Nadine Coyle of being replete with pongy waste products.

Cheryl's claim in a gay lifestyle magazine was in reaction to a tweet last year in which Nadine, from Londonderry but now inexplicably living in Los Angeles, accused Cheryl of telling "porkie-pies" about the break-up.

Cheryl thought deeply about Nadine's sensational, pastry-style accusation and, a year later, announced: "She's full of s**t."

This is an unseemly way for leading cultural figures to behave. Sir Alec Douglas Home never accused Sir Anthony Eden of being "full of s**t" during the Suez Crisis. Perhaps Nadine and Cheryl should read improving biographies of these two stars from the Fifties.

Sunday: Be still my dancing feet

The People's Kylie was in town and, while I was otherwise engaged plucking my nasal hair, reports suggest the lieges were thrilled by the gyrations and thumpy-thumpy beat.

The world's leading Minogue spoke of "the biggest disco in town". Apart from that, it sounded like fun.

Monday: Jennifer cake may be past sell-by date, but I'd still have a slice

Although fond of cake, I'm not sure I could eat a life-sized one in the shape of Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence.

Lara Clarke, from Belfast but now living in Walsall, also baked a full-scale Tyrion Lannister from family comedy Game of Thrones.

Alas, Lara says the cakes aren't edible as some ingredients are four months old. Wouldn't stop me.

Recently, I cooked spaghetti that was six months out of date and, while I did experience stomach pain for several days, I attribute that to the tinned stew accompanying it.

I'd always thought Winalot a reliable brand, too.

Tuesday: Faith a serious business

Plague, flood and famine no longer bother us much, but religion still does.

This is odd since new research shows these three horsepersons of misery are what caused us to imagine moralistic gods in the first place.

Smoke-stained boffins with disarranged hair emerged from their laboratory at North Carolina State University to announce that humans are more likely to believe in scowling, judgmental deities during times of hardship and extreme weather.

When food was scarce or thunder rumbled in the skies, folk panicked and got down on their knees. Soon afterwards, the leading wailers started mincing about in robes, and various logical rules were drawn up about what you could eat and so forth.

On the plus side, religion may have promoted co-operation, fairness and honesty, so it wasn't all sacrifice, stoning and genocide.

Today religion remains a popular historical hobby but not, thankfully, something we take seriously.

Wednesday: Another cure for smoking? This sounds a bit fishy

Smokers are bombarded with nearly as many cures or diets as are fat persons.

The latest is that old standby, omega 3, found in oily fish. Well, it wouldn't be chip shop fish, would it? Has to be something "worthy".

Everyone's been told to take omega 3 at some point: the elderly, the pregnant, and men generally. Next thing, they're warned not to take it as it causes the very condition it's supposed to cure. So it goes.

I picture a smoker with fag in one hand and kipper in the other. Poor sods.

Remember when we nearly all smoked? It seems incredible now. If you're a young person you're probably Googling it to find out what it was. Don't worry. In the future, people will be saying: "Remember when we all used to Google everything?"

I'm sure the cure for Googling will be to rub mackerel on your face. Though some eat mackerel, none of my friends smokes now. Not one. But they nearly all used to.

Mentally, I place smoke-filled rooms in the period just after the dinosaurs. An old friend told me of one big newsroom where folk couldn't see from one side to the other.

The tiny newsroom on my local paper was almost as bad. Old dames bringing us their urgent Women's Institute reports reeled back from the stench and fug.

It seemed to go with the job, and with movie images that defined us. Same with any kind of writing, really: it only worked if you smoked. Smoking helped you concentrate. We couldn't imagine writing without it. In truth, it was as much an aid as a magic medallion.

Why did we do it? It seems so dumb now. Bunging a stick in your mouth and inhaling harmful smoke. Well, there was peer pressure and advertising. Smoking as an essential accoutrement for movie heroes and heroines played a big part.

Smoking told us a lot about ourselves or what we wanted to be: cool mainly, as ever. Once, I started a new job nervously trying to light the wrong end of my fag.

But fags were always a comforter, as were the accoutrements: favourite brand packet, lighter or, perchance, roll-ups tin.

I was sure they'd have a cure for cancer by the time I was 30. Still waiting. In the meantime, smokers are enjoined to slap their faces with a herring or trout.

Friday: Haunted by our ghostly selves

Time's running out for ghosts. They must put up or shut up. I make these tendentious assertions following scientific "proof" that the ghost you see is actually… you.

The experiment was carried out in Switzerland, but that needn't invalidate it. Toblerone-munching boffins found that disturbances in the brainlobes create a second representation of one's own body, which is perceived as a "presence".

These disturbances can be induced by expectation, stress or extreme situations like mountaineering.

I'm maintaining an open mind. But, in these days of ubiquitous cameras and YouTube, the spectres should have put in an appearance by now.

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