John Walsh: Tales of the City

There's trouble in Paradise as minister takes issue with the idea that God is the Boss
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The Independent Online

It started eight years ago, when a minister called Helen Percy, then 31 and single, was accused of having an affair with a married Church elder, and suspended from ministering to her flock in the Nowheresville end of the Grampians. She was forced to resign. Then, shrewdly noting that other church ministers (male ones, quelle surprise) had not been sacked for similar cavortings, she went to an unemployment tribunal and accused the church of unfair dismissal and sex discrimination.

It didn't work because, mirabile dictu, clergy have no employee rights that can be defended in civil courts; therefore, no case such as Ms Percy's can be tried in court.

Did you know that British clergy aren't considered "employed" by the church? They're just holders of office, and their office derives from God - who doesn't generally get involved in legal reform or trade-union debate.

Ms Percy has spent eight years trying to prove sex discrimination in court after court, but has always run up against this philosophical impasse. It must be like discovering that you don't exist, or exist only as a piece of fiction. Five law lords are now struggling with this and wondering how to square the church's grave autonomy with the EU's pronouncements on Equal Rights in the Workplace.

God as the ultimate employer - there's an interesting thought. An ancient, shadowy male, never glimpsed in the office though often talked about, a chap who expects employees to be eternally grateful for the jobs he has gifted them and to be virtuous and moral too, a fellow who seems unconscionably keen on crap weather, a perverse and twisted old geezer, capricious, old-fashioned, politically incorrect ... It's not a good profile, is it? You know that, if you went into his office, He wouldn't remember who you were, but would whuffle on about "letting you go" and how you should seek "a challenge that is also an opportunity," before sacking you to make room for his son-in-law or his new personal assistant Ms Luxuria Bosom. There's something shockingly unreconstructed about God the Boss, whose Acts in the area of environment have never been so wantonly destructive and whose only friend on Earth (at least the only one prepared to admit it) is George Bush. He once had a really good PR man called John T Baptist. He needs another one pronto.

Books as accessories

A YouGov survey confirms something we've long suspected about young British people - lots of them buy books purely as fashion accessories. One in three London book-buyers admitted they bought a book "solely to look intelligent." Apparently, much social cachet can be gained by carrying a title from a hot shortlist, like the Booker or Whitbread, though it's quite likely you won't actually be reading it. Some admitted to buying in two categories - one bit of escapist froth and one to be seen not-really-reading on the 9.03am to Victoria.

I had spotted this phenomenon. In Lordship Lane, the increasingly trendy thoroughfare in East Dulwich, there's plenty of literary posing at weekends. Glance through the window of Inside Seventy-Two, an achingly hip brunch bar, and you'll find three young male compadres lolling on the sofas like they're in Central Perk. When I looked in, on Saturday morning, one was ostentatiously correcting the proofs of his new screenplay (or lyrics sheet, or novel, or business plan) while the others devoured Eggs Benedict and talked urgently, a copy of Bret Easton Ellis's Lunar Park lying between them like a talisman.

It had to be Bret, of course. The writer who has satirised, for 20 years, the glossy surface of high-achievement America has become the kind of accessory he once satirised. The woman beside me on the train reading a Penguin Classics edition of Pride and Prejudice would have literary snobs pointing and scoffing - my dear, she's only got round to reading it now, because she liked the film. But at least she was clearly reading and enjoying it, rather than wearing it like a 300-page iPod.

You have to be careful with books as indices of intelligence. However great your desire to see what all the yelling is about, you should never, gentle reader, be seen leafing through anything at all written by Dan Brown. To be seen on the Tube with the new Harry Potter, unless you are under 13, is pure social death. Reading The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, that drivelling moonshine about destiny and human wishes, instantly marks you down as a credulous dweller of Loser's Lane. Prizewinners are okay: there's no harm in being seen reading Small Island or The Sea, although it faintly suggests you're the kind of person who'd buy anything if it was Number One in the charts. But beware of how fickle fashion can be. A week after the Booker event, I was deep in Ali Smith's terrific (shortlisted) novel The Accidental and caught, across the train carriage, a stare of real contempt somewhere around Brixton - as if to say, "Ali Smith? Didn't you hear? She lost. She's so over."

Game end

Vignette of the week is a detail from Lynne Truss's diatribe against modern rudeness, Talk to the Hand. It's the true story of a crusty landowner of a sporting disposition, who decided that life was not worth living and that he should end it all with his trusty 12-bore. Just before he did so, with admirable punctiliousness he entered himself in his Game Book - the record of everything he'd shot during the year. I'm not sure if the entry gave his full name and address, or just the word "Self," but it went in under the "Various" column.

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