Nicholas Lezard: Where's the wild, straggling beard?

You can't appoint a 'hermit' and then let him have online conversations

Related Topics

The news that someone called Ansuman Biswas has been chosen by Manchester Museum to live in a tower for 40 days and nights and be its very own hermit would be entirely welcome were it not for the nagging thought that no one saw fit to send me an application form, and the additional news that he is to be given a computer with web access so that he can write a blog about 40 selected artifacts from the museum's enormous collection.

It is not bad enough that Mr Biswas looks like the opposite of a hermit – he is bald, clean-shaven, and does not look noticeably demented; it is this business of being allowed not only to blog, but to have online conversations with the public world. I bet he's even going to be allowed to eat a rather more varied diet than roots, nuts and berries.

But I shouldn't be too harsh. It is one of the traditional duties of the hermit to offer advice, and even the greatest hermit of them all, Saint Simeon Stylites, who perched on top of a pillar in the Syrian desert for 37 years, allowed vertigo-free pilgrims to climb a ladder and ask him questions about how to live their lives.

If only he, too, had had access to computer technology, so that we could now retrieve his advice in a form which would be accessible and comprehensible to us:

Q. Dear St Simeon Stylites

I covet my neighbour's ox. And his ass. Come to think of it, his wife's a bit of all right too. How should I go about purging myself of these unworthy desires? Yours, Perplexed of Canaan.

A. Dear Perplexed of Canaan, or should I say Miserable Wretch Destined for an Eternity of Damnation

I used to have this kind of trouble myself. Then I found that sitting on top of a pillar for 37 years pretty much stopped me from thinking about anything else but the Ineffable Majesty of God and how not to fall off in a high wind. Think big. Anything under 60 feet high simply isn't trying hard enough. And don't call me St Simeon, I haven't been canonised yet.

And so on. Mr Biswas's brief will be wider, though. One wonders which of the museum's 4.5 million items he will be ruminating on. Among its almost incomparable collection of ancient Egyptiana, will he be allowed access to the museum's more sacred arcana, some of which, such as the unpublished lyrics of the Ian Curtis song entitled "Actually, Life's Pretty Wonderful When You Think About It", or the 1843 declaration of the Manchester Corporation deeming "Liverpudlians the salt of the earth, and their city a dashed fine place to boot", exist only as whispered rumour? Only time will tell.

But in the meantime, please, Mr Biswas, take some time off to get things right. Grow a wild, straggling beard. Cultivate a few running sores. Acquire a taste for locusts and wild honey. And if the authorities can clear it with Health and Safety, would it be too much to ask of you to run around the museum in nothing more than a filthy and bedraggled loincloth, screaming prophecies at bewildered visitors?

It's all very well being allowed to blog, but there are some traditions that simply shouldn't be allowed to die out.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...


Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?