Brewer's Droop #207
I’m a big fan of Stephen Fry. I didn’t like his last book much though and, let’s be honest, he’s never going to be an award-winning actor, but I think his QI programme is truly fabulous – and I look forward to them with great delight.
However, I’ve only just realised that he is fallible and, like you and I, has believed someone who is wrong (not very often, granted), but one error and your reputation takes a huge knock – especially when you set yourself such high standards.
I discovered this when one of his guests, Giles Brandreth, pontificated (literally) on one of the ceremonies in which a newly elected Pope must partake.
Apparently the new elected Pontiff sits, wearing no underwear, on a specially designed chair (basically one with a hole in it) and this is passed over the heads of a group of Cardinals so that they may view his genitals.
When everything appears to be normal and in place they cry “testiculos habet et bene pendentes” (he has testicles and they hang well).
There are several versions of why this should be done and they all date back to the Middle Ages and the story was first reported in the 13th Century.
Essentially, a lady called “Joan” disguised herself as a man and joined the clergy where she enjoyed a spectacular career and ended up being elected Pope John VIII.
She might never have been discovered if she hadn’t fallen pregnant (they’re a naughty lot in the Vatican you know). Even worse, she gave birth during a Papal ceremony (or it might have been whilst mounting a horse – the stories differ).
It must have been a bit of shock to the Cardinals. One minute your boss is being all manly, sitting on a throne doing all kinds of masculine Papal things when suddenly he drops a baby and starts breast-feeding.
Anyway, Pope Joan was quickly stoned to death (or buried – or both) on the “Via Sacra” (the “Sacred Way”) but now commonly known as “shame street” which leads between the Colosseum and St. Clements Church. Popes always avoid this street.
The point is that Giles Brandreth is wrong when he says that all new Popes have their testes checked. In the first place there is no historical evidence that this ceremony ever took place at all and secondly, I was there recently and everyone I asked said they’d never heard of it (but one guy did sell me an ice cream).
Whatever, the 5 points awarded Brandreth in QI should be revoked and he should be made to suffer the same indignity and have his own genitals investigated on live TV for being wrong – but mainly for being so pompously wrong. Who knows, there may even be some surprises there too.
The Church also denies emphatically the existence of Pope Joan – insisting that she never existed and that it’s all a lie. But in the immortal words of Mandy Rice Davies, “well they would say that wouldn’t they?”
AS AN ASIDE
During my recent visit to the Mediterranean, I was quite shocked at the Vatican charging an entrance fee to its museum (including the Sistine Chapel of course) and even more surprised at all the souvenir junk they sell. On the other hand, when I went to Istanbul and walked around the Blue Mosque I was humbled by the fact that (a) they allowed non-believers into their place of worship and (b) they didn’t try and make any money out of it. There’s a moral in there somewhere and the Muslim faith has certainly risen in my estimation.
AND THIS JUST IN FROM DOWNING STREET
No 10 Downing Street is one of the most heavily guarded buildings in Britain.
The front door cannot be opened from the outside because it has no handle, and no one can enter the building without passing through a scanner and a set of security gates manned by armed guards.
However, in the first five years after Tony Blair became prime minister, 37 computers, four mobile phones, two cameras, a mini-disc player, a video recorder, four printers, two projectors and a bicycle were stolen from the building.
As far as I know, Cherie Blair has not yet been questioned.
There’s nothing I want to add to what everyone else has said about his friends except to observe that watching Jacob Zuma run this country is like watching Edward Scissorhands try to make balloon animals.
Finally, as I write this, both my sons are about to start the “2013 Transvulcania” ultra-marathon. That’s over 83 km up and down a Volcano on the island of La Palma.
I taught them well.