"There's still been no word about that missing girl Milly Dowler," I said to my friend several years ago.
"She's dead," he said. "When missing children don't turn up very soon, they almost invariably are dead."
He was right, of course, she was.
Just in case you've been living in a remote cave somewhere for the past few weeks, Madeleine McCann is the little girl who was abducted from a hotel room in Portugal about twenty-five days ago. Now Madeleine McCann's parents are to meet the Pope.
Kate and Gerry McCann are Roman Catholics and "it is hoped that the Pope will refer to Madeleine and her parents during prayers in St Peter's Square" (The Times, today)
Well, I hope that Madeleine will be found safe and well, but I don't think she will be, sadly. I can understand why her parents are taking part in this media circus - a visit to the Pope, planning to meet David Beckham in Madrid, visiting Morocco as the little girl might perhaps have been seen there, visiting Seville, Berlin, Amsterdam - - determinedly keeping Madeleine in the news, just in case some tiny bit of evidence is found that leads to her being returned to them alive. Prince Charles and Camilla have expressed their "deep concern" and sympathy. Sir Philip Green has offered the use of a private jet. From the parents' point of view, in their shocked, grieving state, it must seem to make sense.
A similar media frenzy ensued when Ian Huntley murdered Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman
- two pretty little girls, English and, er, white. That last photo of them taken in their red shirts underneath the clock was in the press everywhere for weeks, long after it needed to be - because they had been found, and they were dead.
The blonde, blue-eyed, photogenic Madeleine McCann has been in every newspaper all the time since she was abducted. I keep getting emails with photos of her that are ricocheting round the world. There's a website
devoted to the search, with a soft voice-over and mushy music.
It all makes me uneasy. I don't understand about the Pope praying for her. I don't see how that's supposed to work. Does God think "all right then, the Pope's mentioned her in his prayers, I'll make sure she's okay?" I cannot make sense of that, I just can't.
It brings out the cynic in me, and I don't like that. While the newspapers are filling their pages with this poor little girl, what news are they hiding? There are too many people getting a kick out of the "ooh, isn't it terrible?" factor.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, how many children have died in suffering since Madeleine McCann was abducted? Shouldn't the Pope perhaps give them a mention too?
There are some things that can't be said - the media certainly aren't saying them much, but I'm going to say them now.
Firstly, if the child who had been abducted was a boy, and if he wasn't good-looking, and if he was older, and black, or Asian, would the papers have given so much coverage?
And if the parents had been working-class instead of articulate, photogenic doctors, would there have been so much publicity?
And - - too late, I know, they'll regret it for the rest of their lives - they should not have left their children alone in that hotel room, no matter how near they were. I know they were very, very unlucky, and that people do such things every day and get away with it, and that they were checking on them every half-hour - but they should not have left them.
I've seen a few articles saying that parents who think - like I do - that small children should never be left alone in such circumstances, are over-protective. But if you check on your child every half-hour, and the child wakes two minutes after you've left - - well, twenty-eight minutes is a long time for a small child to be alone and frightened. And if any good at all ever comes from this tragedy, it might be that more parents will stay with their children.