Episode 88 - A Geriatric Fever Dream (Deserts Week)
Not another Monday recording Sam! I’ve struggled with the last few weeks and so this week I decided to seek some advice from the village Sage. You may have heard of her, she used to be quite famous, Shirley Bassey they used to call her, although she prefers to be known as Shazza. Anyway, she lives down the bottom of the neighbours garden under an old wheelbarrow amongst the damp, fallen leaves. You can’t surprise her so you need to tiptoe through the scattered Bassey turds and remnants of half eaten squirrels before tapping gently on the wheelbarrow. Anyway, I asked Shazza for some advice regarding preparing for the podcast, she suggested…
Reading books on the bog
Will make you a man of distinction
A real go-getter
Encyclopaedias, newspapers too,
The Daily Mail for wiping off the stubborn bits of poo.
Leave your phone on the bed
It will stop you getting angry with the shit people post
Read on the crapper
And learn, whilst having a dump.
With that, she scuttled back under the wheelbarrow snatching the remnants of one of the squirrels as she went. So anyway, I’ve been following her advice and I’ve been reading Encyclopaedias on the bog.
This was an interesting topic Sam. I thought you’d chosen this topic because you had a good story lined up, as it turns out, you pulled it out of your big, sandy, scorpion-infested, dune-filled arse.
I can’t remember if I told you this but I managed to snaffle a complete, immaculate 1986 set of Encyclopedia Britannicas for £30 on Facebook market place. Original price; £100. Reduced to £50. I said COCKNEY VOICE, alright my poppet, £50 for those?! When it’s all on the internet nowadays? You must be having a bubble bath! I’ll give you 30 flids for it, quid! Cockney rhyming slang innit! I might also throw in a jar of jellied eels; wagon wheels! Cockney rhyming slang! Have a banana! Pyjamas! I’ll give you a pair of my old pyjamas! Cockney rhyming slang! Lamas! Fancy a ride on a llama? Up the apples and pairs! Flares! I’m wearing a pair of 70s flares!
So anyway, I got the Encyclopedia Britannicas for £30 and they are already proving to be worth their weight in door stops. When I started my research this week, I looked up ‘deserts’ in the Encyclopedia, I saw ‘hermits’ so I look at this, then found a few of the early Christian hermits. COCKNEY On to the old internet, fighter jet! Cockney rhyming slang! And I found myself reading some wonderfully stupid sources on Christian hermits going nuts in the desert. Brilliant.
Plus, I learned this priceless fact, straight from the Encyclopedia; a hermit is often called an eremite, or even an Anchorite, but these two words were originally slightly different. An eremite was someone who retired to the wilderness. An anchorite retired to a cell attached to a church (or something similar). Thwack goes the fact stick.
I’m going to talk about 2 of the earliest hermits. Paul the Hermit, also known as Paul of Thebes or Paul the Anchorite, COCKNEY, Wank-it-right! Cockney rhyming slang my sweetheart! Don’t wank it wrong! Wank it right! We also shouldn’t mix this chap up with Paul the Simple who was another early hermit who came after Paul the Hermit; Wank race! You lose! No I didn’t mean it that way, he became a hermit after Paul the Hermit, but wasn’t Paul the Hermit, he was Paul the Simple. Interpreting the sources, I think Paul the Simple basically had a mid-life crisis. He found out his wife was having an affair at the age of 60 and being the simple, boring bastard that he was, he decided to become a hermit and devote his life to god rather than manning up and keying his wife’s boyfriends Porsche, setting fire to his house and then pissing on the embers whilst shouting drunkenly ‘nobody fucks with this accountant’. Perhaps it was because he was such a boring fuck that his wife ran off in the first place.
The other hermit is Saint Anthony. So to confirm, we’re talking about Saint Paul and Saint Anthony.
Our source today is The Life of Saint Paul the First Hermit by another Saint, Saint Jerome (he’s the Saint that famously wooed elderly ladies alongside Saint Robson with their renditions of 60’s pop ballads like ‘What became of the First Coucil of Nicea’ by Saint Jimmy of Ruffin). No he wasn’t. But he did create a Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate which became one of the most widespread versions of the Bible in the Middle Age.
St Jerome wrote his work about Saint Paul in the latter half of the 4th Century, so around 150-200 years after Saint Paul was born. Quote: “Some as they think fit circulate stories such as this—that he was a man living in an underground cave with flowing hair down to his feet, and invent many incredible tales which it would be useless to detail. Nor does the opinion of men who lie without any sense of shame seem worthy of refutation.” So Saint Jerome is basically saying, there are lots of silly stories associated with Saint Paul, most very dubious, but I am sensible man and I’ll give you the sensible version of his story. I’ll let you decide whether Saint Jerome was right about this.
Saint Paul became a hermit as a response to the persecutions of Christians under the Emperors Decius and Valerian in the Middle of the Third Century. Neither of these Emperors were Emperor for long because they ruled during the period known as the Crisis of the Third Century, where Roman politics made Australian politics look stable and consistent. There were 26 emperors in 50 years, 25 in 35 years if you take out Gallienus (15 years), 12 of whom lasted less than a year.
Saint Jerome takes a moment to describe two examples of the horrendous persecution. I’ll let you decide which of the two was worst. Number 1; one Christian was smeared in honey and tied up in the burning hot sun to be roasted and eaten by flies. Number 2; Quote; “Another who was in the bloom of youth was taken by his command to some delightful pleasure gardens, and there amid white lilies and blushing roses, close by a gently murmuring stream, while overhead the soft whisper of the wind played among the leaves of the trees, was laid upon a deep luxurious feather-bed, bound with fetters of sweet garlands to prevent his escape. When all had withdrawn from him a harlot of great beauty drew near and began with voluptuous embrace to throw her arms around his neck, and, wicked even to relate! to handle his person, so that when once the lusts of the flesh were roused, she might accomplish her licentious purpose.”
Oh dearie me, the honey! The honey! Anything but the sexual encounter with a voluptuous woman in a rather lovely surrounding! The cunning youth escaped the situation by the way by chewing off his tongue and spitting it at the lady.
“Your highness! I’m a Christian! Over here!”
“You’re not a Christian! I saw you at the Temple of Athena this morning?”
“Shut up! Barry! I am! I’m a bloody Christian I tell you! And a right celibate one at that, and gay! I would be terrible if you were to punish me!”
Saint Paul ends up escaping to the desert after hearing about his inevitable betrayal at the hands of a brother in law. He wanders for a while, deeper and deeper into the desert before finding a disused mint from the time of Antony and Cleopatra. This is alright Saint Paul thinks, I’ll camp out here. There’s a mucky stream and a palm tree with dates. All I could ever wish for after that constipating urban diet. It should flush me right out within a few days.
Now I’m not one to critique Saint Jerome’s writing, but there is a rather large gap between Saint Paul escaping to the desert in his teens, and him turning 113 and having a tricky time placing all the earwax candles on his date and dead rat cake. But it is as this point that Saint Jerome introduces our other geriatric cave-dweller, Saint Anthony, or Tony Palm-Leaf Pants as he was known. Saint Anthony was 90 at the time, so a spring chicken compared to Saint Paul. He was told in a revelation that there was another hermit nearby who was showing him up, and he should go and check him out (dull day in heaven, the angels fancied shit-stirring with some geriatrics). So pious Saint Anthony sets off and on his journey under the scorching sun, he encounters a hippocentaur; presumably this is a really fat centaur that enjoys eating watermelons whole. This pleasant monster shows Saint Anthony the way BRIAN BLESSED “Oh you’re almost there! Just keeping going, past the post office on your left, take a right at the hairdressers and Paul’s cave is second on the left, be careful though, he’s getting his driveway done”.
A little further on, just past the post office, he encounters, quote, “a mannikin with hooked snout, horned forehead, and extremities like goats’ feet. When he saw this, Antony like a good soldier seized the shield of faith and the helmet of hope”. This bit stands out, it’s rather Game Of Thrones. There had been no mention of a shield of faith and a helmet of hope previously, and they wouldn’t be two items that I’d burden myself with if I was planning to escape to the desert, I’d probably take my Socks of Destiny and my Marigolds of Truth. Saint Jerome uses this encounter to make a not so subtle point; the Faun it turns out is a Christian. But in Alexandria the people worship monsters. Oh the irony! Monsters worshipping human gods, humans worshipping monster gods! I dunno!? Aye!
Can you remember when, at the start, I said that Saint Jerome dismissed so many stories about St Paul as nonsense? Well apparently that Faun was later taken to Antioch after he died and preserved in salt so that the Emperor Constantine could see him. What a disappointment it must have been for Constantine to find cured goat and not the Mr Tumnus he was promised.
The old fart continued to wander in the desert like someone with dimensia who has escaped the care home. Then, he was led by a she-wolf, presumably Shakira Shakira, into a long dark cave. In the distance he saw a light, but he stumbled on a rock in the darkness and the sound alerted the ever-welcoming Saint Paul who shut the door in Saint Anthony’s face and made him wait 6 hours in the darkness with a hungry she-wolf somewhere nearby. Eventually Saint Paul condescended to letting Saint Anthony in to his cave, after 6 hours of trying to find his glasses that were on his head.
The two have a good chat. Saint Anthony, understandably, asks “who’s the President? What year is it?” and then a raven turns up with a loaf of bread. Saint Paul explains that the Raven has been delivering half a loaf of bread a day for the last 60 years, like an early avian uber-eats. Two things strike me here, firstly, if God thinks suffering in the desert is a good thing, don’t give people any help. Secondly, if you are going to help, giving something a bit more substantial, or at least send a crumpet or a banana loaf occasionally. Maybe some stolen at Christmas.
The two elderly Saints then let themselves down a bit by bickering over who should tear the bread in half. They eventually decide to pull simultaneous much like a Christmas cracker. Anyway, after some shenanigans involving a Scalextric and some homebrew, Saint Paul dies and Saint Anthony is very upset. A few mountain lions turn up and dig a grave for Saint Paul and he is buried. The document ends with a little bit of moralising about material society, and an assertion that you don’t need any belongings to be happy. Something I empathise with up to a point.