When I leafed through her latest book, The World Turned Upside Down, I thought she was exaggerating. Then two friends put me straight

I was idly leafing through Melanie Phillips’s latest book the other day. Called The World Turned Upside Down and written in her usual combative style, it examines the irrational notions that drive much of modern life. “Millions of people,” she writes, “…now appear only too eager to believe that the world is controlled by dark conspiracies of covert forces for which there is not one shred of evidence.” There are references to “the Bilderberg Group” and conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 among other examples of irrationality.

Life’s not like that, I told myself; Melanie is over-egging the cake here. Then I called on my friend Bill (not his real name). Bill is an old-style, old-rite Catholic: his life is punctuated by pilgrimages, devotions, novenas, shrines and good works. Alongside him, my faith is very middle-of-the-road and low-key. Bill flourished a newspaper under my nose. “Read it,” he said mysteriously. “It will fry your brains and it’s all true.”

Being incontinently curious about all newsprint, I obliged. Called The Sovereign Independent and printed in Ireland it did have a “single-issue” feel to it; as I read on I discovered the single issue was Conspiracy. Page one had sub-headings like “Diet of Fear” and “Global Crime Syndicate”; page two had an article entitled “The New World Order” and was illustrated by a pyramid topped by an eye; page three was about the Bilderberg Group; page five was about “Shadow World Government Coming to Ireland”; page 12 concerned “The Micro-Chipping Agenda”; page 23 was about another hidden agenda, this time concerning genetic manipulation; and on page 25 were grainy photos of the Twin Towers and the Reichstag, both in flames, with the headline: “They Wouldn’t Do that! Would They?” There were other articles too, and other grainy photos, but you get the picture.

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My first thought (being of Irish ancestry) was: whatever has happened to the land of saints, shamrock and scholars? My second thought was: Melanie Phillips is right. I don’t want to create the impression that it is only certain old-rite Catholics who are like my friend Bill. Atheists and agnostics can also go in for the Higher Pottiness (I describe it thus to distinguish it from the Lower Pottiness when people merely believe they are Napoleon etc). Why, the last time I visited my agnostic friend Howard (not his real name, either), he asked me if I was really so naive as to think that the poor old prisoner of Spandau, who was found hanged in the prison garden some years ago, was actually Rudolf Hess. “Rudolf Hess had scar tissue on his torso; this corpse didn’t,” he said with an air that trumped all objections.

I am now reading Melanie Phillips from cover to cover.

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