St Paul's misogyny

Holidaying in Sicily, Herring ponders St Paul's attitude to women and asks why, if love is doomed, w

I have just been on holiday to Sicily. It’s a beautiful place, lots of history, amazing scenery and driving there is a seat of the pants exhilarating dance with death. But it’s not a bad thing to be reminded of your mortality. I find it makes you live life harder.

I was based in Syracuse, which has some pretty incredible sights, least of which is the gigantic modern Cathedral, built around a statue of the Virgin Mary that apparently produced tears for a week back in the 1950s.

It is quite amazing to see grown-ups bowing in homage to a plaster representation of a fictional character, when surely common sense dictates that this was an accident or more likely some kind of confidence trick. But then maybe the Virgin Mary likes to use her magical powers to make inanimate objects weep for a short period of time.

Anyway, the Cathedral, designed, I believe to resemble a giant teardrop, is an edifice to ugliness as well as stupidity. Much more moving in a religious sense was the crypt beneath the city’s original Cathedral which had been one of the gathering places of the first European Christians and has a 1st century altar at which it is likely that St Paul preached.

Now if I was a Christian that would be the kind of thing that got my juices going, not a lachrymose statue. Indeed my historian and ex-Christian heart jumped a little in any case when I realised St Paul had probably been in the little grotto in which I was standing. He arguably has more influence on the spread and the philosophy of Christianity, even than Jesus himself.

He is certainly responsible for the misogyny of the religion and there shouldn't be a man alive who doesn't thank him for that! He kept bitches in their place, whereas Jesus, the sandal-wearing hippie, clearly thought they should have equality or something. Thank goodness that sense prevailed. All women are good for is crying and preferably in statue form. That's what St Paul and I think and so I was pleased to have been in the same room that he had breathed his hateful words.

Whilst sight-seeing is fun, human watching is the most fun thing for me on holiday. I especially love watching couples interact. One breakfast time I was sitting next to an Italian couple who were probably a little bit older than me and from their studied silence and frostiness towards one another had clearly been together for a while - familiarity breeds contempt, always remember this.

They barely spoke to each other and when they did it was little more than a grunt. The man popped outside for a smoke. There was a fire door right behind their table, which closed behind him. Five minutes later he had finished his cigarette and his face appeared hopefully at the window. It was time for his wife to let him in. But even though she was no more than two steps away and could almost have reached over from her seat, she shrugged and sighed and indicated that he should go round the building and come in another door. Not surprisingly he was somewhat aggrieved by this suggestion, but who knows what slight had occurred earlier for him to deserve this treatment and he vociferously gestured for her to stop being so stupid and to let him in. She was indeed being ludicrously petty and after a couple of minutes made a big show of getting out of her seat and pushing the door for him. He entered and by now was too cross to thank her for this gesture and they sat in fuming silence for the rest of the meal. They were being more childish than the adults who worship a piece of stone which once had some moisture on it.

This was funny for me as a casual observer, but when one considers that they have to spend all their time in this battle of wills, scoring points off one another, it is actually mildly tragic. You only seem to see two types of couple on holiday, either those who have just got together or just been married who are ridiculously happy and demonstrative about their affection, or those who have been together for too long, have nothing left to say and can only derive any pleasure from tormenting their companion who is both their gaoler and their prisoner.

The new couples never seem to look at the old and see a frightening vision of their inevitable future and the old couple never seen to look at the new and remember that they once felt this way about their partner, which might rekindle some lost emotion and warm their heart (or more likely break it). Ultimately love is doomed and yet we all carry on despite the mountains of historical evidence ahead of us. You have to admire this triumph of hope over experience.

Richard Herring began writing and performing comedy when he was 14. His career since Oxford has included a successful partnership with Stewart Lee and his hit one-man show Talking Cock
Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.