Sunday 30 September 2018

The Michaelmas Party

Last night we hosted our first dinner party in St. Benedict over the Apple Tree. It was our first dinner party since, in early February, a faulty fire retardant system changed our lives forever. Dinner parties are our favourite social events, but unfortunately B.A.'s illness has curtailed them greatly for the past year and a half.  (We made an effort for Polish Pretend Son's visits home.) The fact that we can have them again is a sign of hope.

This dinner party took an unusual amount of preparation because of all the boxes lying around.  I  stuffed them into cupboards and closets between cooking tasks. Originally I meant the party to celebrate the end of our move, as well as St. Michael, B.A's anniversary, and our anniversary, but we haven't finished moving. Moving out of a working museum when both halves of a couple work full-time and one is a cancer patient turns out to be a very long, drawn out affair. However, I managed to clear a good space in our new dining-room/guest room/office, and go to Michaelmas Mass, AND cook dinner, so all's well that ends well.

A guest who is increasingly visually impaired got lost on the way, and there were several expeditions to find her. The Schola Bass brought her in, and after I had handed her a restorative glass of hot buttered apple cider with rum, we had the flat blessed by our priest. It was really quite a short ritual beginning with Latin prayers and ending with Father sprinkling holy water in all the corners of the room, where demons might lurk. He sprinkled the hall cupboards, too, so if there are any demons in the flat, they are limited to the bedroom closet.

Then I brought out the soup, vastly grateful that B.A. had set the table. This had not been an easy task because he had to find the wineglasses in their boxes and to remember to bring the silverware and the electric candles from the Historical House.  Now that we no longer live in a museum, we can have real candles, but there were no beeswax candles at either Real Foods or Tesco, so I decided it would be more eco-trad to stick to our rechargeables.

Dinner consisted of "Autumn Vegetable" soup (my family's traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas soup); two fat, roasted free-ranged chickens;sage, apple and onion stuffing; gravy; curried carrots; green beans with almonds and red pepper; and szarlotka, Polish deep-dish apple pie, with whipped cream. There were also cheese, apple slices, and oatcakes afterwards, but nobody was interested in the cheese this time. The truffles I got on sale at Waitrose a few weeks ago were more popular.  And of course there were many bottles of wine, beginning with the fancy Cava my parents sent for B.A.'s birthday in August.

I think one day I will put everything on the table à la Russe so that I don't spend that party jumping up and rushing to the kitchen for the next course, etc. The routine was easier when the kitchen was directly across the hall from the dining-room. This time I missed out on most of the conversations although I do have an amusing anecdote for, having noticed a massive volume on my desk in the corner, an Oxford man, well-primed with wine, asked me why I had a book about polish.

"It's Polish," I explained---and he will never hear the end of it.

I think there was also a conversation touching on modernism, for we were entertained by an anecdote about a Catholic countryman telling a Catholic lady that "It's time somebody put a bung in Kung."

But I must say it was very odd, after nine-and-a-half years of dinner parties in the old dining room in the Historical House (built approximately 1683), to be in a high-ceilinged square room with a rectangular window instead of a long, low-ceiled room with a fireplace and an ox-eye window and the "Polish corridor" (a sleeping nook for visitors or suddenly homeless Polish students) behind B.A. at the head of the table. This time Father was at the head of the table and B.A. was at the foot beside me, and the lighting was different, and the room felt crowded and strange.

It will be more like home, I think, when we get in the last of the furniture, empty the last of the boxes, and get the pictures on the walls.

I wish I had an account of all Historical House dinner parties since late September (or early October) 2008, when B.A. threw a dinner party for me, the recently arrived Canadian guest. but we had so many of them, the basic formula is tattooed deep inside my brain. The most similar part this timewas the Great Dishwash. Looking down into the sink, it was easy to imagine myself in my old kitchen  and forget that the dining-room wasn't just across the hall but through the new sitting-room and then across the hall. Of course, I may have been slightly delirious at that point.

Our guests said nice things about our new flat, and the Bass said the sitting-room reminded him of our sitting-room in the Historical House, which pleased me very much. When the others went away the Master of the Men's Schola, the Bass and B.A. settled into armchairs for a good chat. Shortly after B.A. went to bed, I announced that there would be a new tradition. Thus, the MMS and the B moved their chatting-and-drinking operations into the kitchen while I continued the Great Dishwash.

It's funny about second winds--or third winds. I was probably on my third wind by then. At 1 AM I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor with Dr. Bonner's soap and a sponge--as happy as a robin in spring. I don't think it was the rum-laced apple cider either. It was joy at dinner parties returning to our lives.

Friday 28 September 2018

Ten Years On

Ten years ago today I first woke up in the Historical House. Despite the rigours of my flight from Toronto and my bus ride from London, I was as happy as a lark. Then I whacked my head on the sloping ceiling. But I was still very happy.

I did not know then that the nice fellow in the loud tweed jacket who had met me at the bus station the night before, taken me to a pub for a pie and ale and then hospitably whisked me off in a taxi cab to Pemberley a Georgian manor would become my husband. 

But lo. 

Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of Benedict Ambrose's reception into the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, so we are having a little party of our co-religionists--trads to a man. It is also St. Michael's Day, so in honour of the great archangel I shall be preparing a great feast. And a priest is coming, so we'll have St. Benedict Over the Apple Tree blessed, too. 

In terms of traditional Michaelmas foods, I am adapting rather than sticking to the ancient ways. First, it isn't easy to get a Michaelmas goose anymore, the goose breeders now primarily interested in the Christmas market. Second, geese cost an awful lot. Then the Michaelmas bannock, which is a kind of large scone wrapped in pancakes, does not sound that appetising. 

Therefore, I am more-or-less making Thanksgiving dinner, only with more attention to apples. 

Runner's Knee & the Potential of Youth

This features much later in the post.
How can this happen ALREADY? Wah! After Wednesday's run my knees ached all day, and they began to ache again yesterday on a walk to the Historical House to pack a few more boxes.

I looked up "Why do my knees hurt when I run?" on the internet and discovered this horrible malady called "Runner's Knee." Tomorrow on my way to Michaelmas Mass I will stop in at the fancy running shoe shop and have a serious conversation with complete strangers about my pronated feet and their evil influence on my knees.

Enjoy being young, kids!

That is actually a better topic for my blog than aching knees, which are of interest only to me, B.A. and perhaps my mother. My hypothesis that the human body starts to break down from the ridiculously early age of 35 or so should be of interest to any human in danger of turning 35 one day.

G.I. Jane was probably not a great film, but I found it very inspiring, having begun to get in shape for the first time in my life. And for almost ten years I was in great shape and regretted only that I had not been more athletic as a teenager. Although not overweight, I had disliked corporal existence and felt that my body was something heavy and smelly that I had to drag around. A daily two-mile run somewhere pretty, followed by a dumb-bell session, and (probably above all) fasting from sugar would have made me less depressed.

A fun, enjoyable and healthy goal for a teenager or twenty-year old might be to become as strong, fast and fit as possible by 30. You can maintain the strength of your 30 year old self for twenty years, apparently. Oh, this is where my brother Quadrophonic would like me to warn you that I am not a doctor and you should not take any of this as a substitute for medical advice. Consider it philosophy.

For a young, healthy body to mooch around a shopping mall or sit in a chair with the internet all day is simply a waste of a young, healthy body. We all know what young, healthy human bodies are capable of from watching the Olympics or just an important race. Whereas I do not think Olympic training is necessarily good for bodies--the training goal is not the fitness of the body but the victory--it at least shows us what the human body can do.

Actually, that would be a fun experiment even for a middle-aged person: what can MY middle-aged, seemingly falling apart body do? However, even if I could run the Edinburgh marathon one day, it would not be as impressive as what a thirty year old, after twenty or even ten years of training, would be capable of.

So if you are under 30, I highly recommend that you see a doctor to ask for advice and permission to develop your fitness to the highest level you are capable of. And, again, this does not mean winning competitions but seeking the maximum health of your body.  For example, boxing training is fantastic for your body until you step into the ring and someone punches you in the face. I am grateful for my boxing years as they made me a stronger, healthier and braver woman,  but I hope I quit before my chances of developing Parkinson's skyrocketed.

The other unsolicited advice I have for the young is for those with dry, curly, bushy, thick hair. I wish I had known this at ten, let alone thirteen. Had I known this from a child, I would have been bullied less and felt a lot happier about my appearance. Dear heavens, the freedom of not having to think about one's appearance.

Anyway, it is this: never brush your hair, stop using shampoo, scrub your scalp with a bit of conditioner after working it through your wet hair from the ends, use a detangler on your conditioned-up hair, rinse, squish the water out with a towel, apply a tablespoon of coconut oil to your hair, comb it through with the detangler, and then loosely braid your hair for a few  hours, unbraiding it later long enough for it to dry, and then braiding it up again. Since I discovered coconut oil, I have been able to grow my hair as long as my smooth-haired mother can for the first time in my life.

And now I shall find some advice about fitness goals for the over-40 set, listen to some Polish, and learn some more about the anarchist objections to the minimal state.

Wednesday 26 September 2018


"Hen" is an old-fashioned term of endearment in Scotland whose usage is falling off as it is now considered insensitive to women's new place in society, blah blah.

That's a great pity, for I much prefer being called "hen" to being called "pal", which used to be reserved for men. Democratic Scotland doesn't care for "sir" or "ma'am" although I suppose we would all "sir" and "ma'am" to the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay, were they to toddle by our places of work to open a new wing, etc.  Maybe when I'm older more bus drivers will call me "hen" instead of "pal" because I remind them of their grannies; something nice to look forward to.

"Hen" is also not used overmuch by people who went to university or by foreigners like me, as it sounds funny in our non-Scots accents. B.A. some times calls me "hen" which leaves me in a bind as it sounds wrong to call him "pal" in return. I'm not sure what Scotswomen call their "partners" (another awful word) because the only Scotswomen I know either do not have partners or abstain from endearments in public.

Meanwhile, I have been reading all about hens because I am hoping to buy some in the spring and ensconce them in a hideously expensive but easily cleaned chicken coop under the apple tree.

Hens are the tentative solution to my need to mother somebody or something. B.A. does not want pets in the house, so hens are our compromise. Unfortunately, hens are a lot more work than cats and dogs, and you have to have two or three of them at once, as they hate living alone. But they do lay eggs, and they can be taught to love you through food-bribery, and they even enjoy a bit of a cuddle, so they may be worth all the attention, cleaning, worming, and tremendous chain and padlock I will have to buy.

The most depressing thing I read in the chicken books--and if you want to keep chickens the first thing you must do is read all about them--is that in urban settings you need to worry about humans even more than foxes because humans will steal eggs, chickens, coop and all. That was almost a deal breaker for me, for the last thing I want to worry about is serious sin. I write about serious sin all day long, and I do not want to tempt serious sinners into our garden with chickens.

Although chickens seem to pay their way through egg-production, they are not very economical pets, even if you buy or build a cheap chicken-coop yourself.  You have to buy chicken feed, grit, bedding, disinfectant, biannual de-wormer powder, a feeder and a drinker, and the occasional cabbage or head of broccoli so they get their greens. This seems more involved than being a cat-mother, who has  fewer things to buy: a comb, a collar, Meow Mix, Whiskas, a litter box, litter, and scoop. Being a chicken-mother is certainly more expensive than popping into Tesco for eggs.

Thus, poultry-keeping comes down firmly under the heading of "HOBBY", and as I already have a hobby--learning Polish--I have to ponder if I really have the time and money to invest in it. It would be easier to get a cat, but B.A. is adamantly against cats and my brother Nulli is deathly allergic to them, so he'd never be able to visit.

In case I haven't mentions, B.A. is adamantly against cats because he firmly believes that they creep into your bed at the crack of dawn and wake you up, and if you prevent them from doing this by firmly shutting the bedroom door, they avenge themselves by scratching the furniture.

I complained to cat-adoring pals about B.A.'s intransigence, but when I explained his reasons, they notably did not say that these reasons were unfounded.

B.A. is also against owning dogs, in part because of the terrible environmental damage to urban and semi-urban parkland caused by dogs and their owners. There are approximately 640,000 dogs in Scotland, and their urine is murder on trees and other plants. What their droppings can do to human beings is no joke. After twelve years at the Historical House, B.A. has seen just too much dog-damage to the precious Historical Landscape.

Chicken droppings, however, make a good fertiliser. So, now that I think about it, although chickens might not make strictly economical pets, they are environmentally friendly.

Saturday 22 September 2018


My daily habits get a kicking in a little book called Eat, Move, Sleep. Apparently sitting is the new sugar, and every hour of sitting is shortening my life. Also, the more one sits, the more likely fat will collect in one's posterior. Goodness gracious. This is seriously bad news for contemporary journalists who spend eight hours a day or more at our desks.

There was more bad news in an article the Huffington Post, which suggests the the overweight should just give up hope that dieting will ever work in the long term.

I don't actually believe that, as the Fast Diet works long-term for many, and did work for me as long as I stuck to it. I forget when I quit, but I suspect B.A.'s illness had something to do with it. A year and a half of almost unrelenting stress have packed on the pounds, too. Besides all B.A.'s health woes, the flood-from-above, leaving our home-of-nine-years, shuttling about from refuge to refuge, the long, drawn-up process of getting our belongings moved to our new home, there is the sadness of almost everything I read and write about for work.

"How do you bear it?" someone asked---and the answer from June (at latest) until now is "I stuff my face."

Having granola in the house is just fatal.

That reminds me, by the way, of the saddest priest I ever met, who was also one of the fattest. Even then I had an inkling that he was self-medicating on food, but I had my own problems then, so I don't think it occurred to me to suggest to someone in authority that he might need help.

Anyway, Eat, Move, Sleep convinced me that everybody should get at least 150 minutes of cardio-vascular activity a week, so I have been going out for a half-hour run upon getting out of bed, five mornings a week. The first run was so awful, I hope I never quit, for having to do another "first run" is just too depressing a thought.

I haven't had a regular run outdoors since high school, as even in my most athletic days I was a gym rat and preferred the weatherless comfort of indoors. However, running outdoors--if you already have  running shoes--is free, and my route along the river to the Firth of Forth and back is scenic. It provides a mental lift to see the ducks and swans and to hear the oystercatchers peeping.

Thursday 20 September 2018

Benedict's Letters according to Bild

I spent the summer of 2006 in Germany, and it was pretty hard to ignore Bild because it carried a photograph of a topless woman on Page 1 almost every day. Apparently Bild moved the Page 1 girl to inside the newspaper in 2012, but unless I am very mistaken it's still just a rag full of gossip, football news, and soft porn. How surprised I was to discover that Bild broke the story of the Benedict-Brandmueller contretemps.

Speaking as a reporter at a media outlet that lobbed a real bombshell document at the world, I do not believe in other bombshell letters and documents unless they are actually linked to or reproduced below the lede. And furthermore I do not believe that someone who wanted to leak letters from Benedict would give them to Bild--unless Bild pays for such things, of course. But then why not publish the complete letters? 

Honestly, did no-one at The New York Times ask himself or herself these questions? Well, Brandmueller is still alive, so he can confirm or deny himself, I suppose. 

Meanwhile, I do not believe that Il Fatto Quotiadiano has part of the infamous 300-page dossier on a certain lobby group. I have read two articles by Il FQ on the topic of bombshell documents and dossiers, and they were all smoke and no fire. In fact, I got in touch with someone at Il FQ to ask politely if Il FQ would actually release the names they claimed to have seen, and the answer was "obviously not" because of "rules of civility."

Update: Okay, it looks as though Bild really does have the letters. I'd love to know how Bild got them. 

storm ali

here's a fun post written by my left hand for reasons that will become clear.

yesterday storm Ali came by with its promised 80 mph winds and tore down most of the rest of our apples. when I could I rushed out with a big blue Ikea bag and collected all the windfalls worth saving. then I put them in the bathtub and went back to work, which is a surprisingly physically demanding one, at least for my arms.

when work was done--which actually means I couldn't type anymore, since I still have articles left to do--I got to work preserving the apples in the few ways I can, these not being apples that store well. late apples store well--you can wrap them in newspaper and eat them all winter--but September apples do not.

the fermenting bin is occupied, so after I made about 3 litres of apple juice, I poured them into 7 500 ml water bottles (BA is not an eco-trad), and put 6 of them in the freezer. at the same time I turned 3 lbs of apples into apple pie filling by cooking them down over low heat with lemon juice and then adding sugar and spices. I froze that too.

but now we still have 3 dozen apples and I can barely use my right hand. I am not sure what to do, other than buy another lemon for more apple pie filling and ibuprofen for my arm and soldier through.

Wednesday 19 September 2018

"Why We Fight"

When I was three and Nulli was two, my parents moved to England for a year. We lived near Cambridge University, and I enjoyed English life as thoroughly as an under-five could in those happy days of the milk ration, nursery school and playing with keys at church. I am sorry to say I did not meet any of the great figures of Cambridge life in the 1970s--or if I did, I don't remember.

When telling my friends I was returning to Canada, one asked if I would come back, and I said "Yes"--which is probably the first time (and most definitely not the last) I made a rash promise probably impossible to keep. However, I did go back to England many times through books, starting with Winnie the Pooh, the Narnia series, The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings and a lot of other books written by men who went to Oxford or Cambridge or by their daughters.

Unsurprisingly, this gave me a very antiquated view of Britain and what British people were like. Obviously I didn't think the modern day Englishman was quite like Aragorn son of Arathorn, but I did assume that the average Englishman aspired to be so.

I have long since realised this is not the case, and having watched British television for almost nine years, I thought I had seen the depths of British cultural decline. However I haven't, for these posters shocked me as much as anyone:

NHS stand for National Health Service, and the product they are pushing in the first poster is the "morning after pill". The second poster advertises condoms.

The general public has found the first poster   offensive, but I think the second is even worse.  And, unfortunately, many people find the first poster offensive merely because it suggests you have to choose between dressing up and having a baby. Their argument is that you certainly can wear those shoes AND have a baby.

Frankly I think wearing such shoes is appalling to begin with, not only because they are a public declaration of sexual "power" but because of what they do to your feet and legs.  For the National Health Service to pretend that wearing shoes like that is desirable, let alone more important than motherhood--yes, even teen motherhood--is to have abdicated their own responsibility to the public.

But the second poster really upsets me for two reasons. The lesser reason is that it suggests to the English teenage boy that video games are crucial to his existence. As the obestiy problem skyrockets in the UK--an American friend of mine says all you have to do to get fat in the UK is breathe--it is outrageous that the National Health Service would hold up video games as superior to fatherhood (yes, even teen fatherhood).

The greater reason is the warning "Bware da baby trap". Bware da baby trap--in the country of Shakespeare, Milton, Austen, Dickens,  Chesterton, T.S. Eliot, A.S. Byatt and Julian Barnes. Yes, of course it is also completely offensive to refer to readers' responsibilities to their potential children as "a trap". But it seems to me even more offensive to assume he enjoys being patronised in this fashion by an agency of the government.  

I've entitled this post "Why We Fight" in a rather tongue-in-cheek way, as I do most of my fighting on a North American battleground. The people doing the real fighting to retain cultural standards in Britain are English and Scottish parents who either send their children to the best schools they can afford or homeschool them.

Unfortunately, British traditionalists and conservatives have lost battle after battle in the public realm. This strikes me as untenable; it's not as if traditional parents will be left in peace to raise their children as they see best. However, I am not sure myself what to do about that.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Good-bye to the furniture...

Today the antique dealer's Polish boyfriend and his equally strong buddy came by the Historical House to take most of the nicest pieces of furniture we still have in the Historical Attic. I wasn't there for the epic removal down three flights of very old stairs, but B.A. said it went very smoothly.

I was there this morning, cleaning out drawers. Although I am becoming minimalist and there is no space for it, I am a little sad thinking about the loss of B.A.'s great-grandmother's old desk. It wasn't a grand desk--the very thin veneer was flaking off,  ]the original drawer knobs had long since disappeared, and it was too small for a full-time journalism job. But it was my first desk in Scotland, and I wrote an awful lot on it, and it was B.A.'s last piece of his family's furniture.

What else went? An oak chest of drawers with a mirror, a painted screen, the cane-backed chair that lived in the bathroom, two inlaid tables, a glass-topped coffee table, a pine chest of drawers. a Victorian kneehole desk that was really too low but fit in the guest room, an elm stool.

Mostly I feel badly that B.A. had to give up his furniture.  However, there is some comfort in the fact that he will get some money for it, and it will presumably go to homes, good or bad.  B.A. was adamant that the furniture was not going to end up in a skip.  When I tried to get rid of our good dining-room table a couple of weeks ago--it wouldn't go through the hall door of the new place---my kind friend helped me stuff it in the back of her car and drove to charity shop after charity shop in the rain.

I couldn't find a charity shop that would take it. My pal would have driven me to the dump, but I couldn't bare the thought of telling B.A. we had thrown "such a good table" in the landfill. So we took it back to the Historical House, and I put it in an outbuilding. Hopefully someone will be able to take it apart, and then we will be able to get it through the door.

Another reason why I don't like losing the furniture is that it makes me think of families on their way down, like James Joyce's family. However, as property owners we are presumably on our way up and really have lost only our Historical House-derived delusions of grandeur. When you are the sole tenants of a 17th/18th manor house, it is very easy to feel like you own it!

As always I am comforted by the thought of the garden. Although we don't have room for flocks of furniture, we do have room for two people---especially with a long garden rolling out below our windows.

Monday 17 September 2018

We make cider and survive

Benedict Ambrose and I share the same core values (very important in marriage), but we have very different personalities. This can cause friction although I have always appreciated that B.A. is very laid-back and presumably he admires my energy. I sure hope so.

I am often on the lookout for hobbies that we can do together that are not watching television. (Of course, being trads, we occasionally sit together transfixed before my computer screen, watching Michael Voris snark, or Michael Matt seethe, or Raymond Arroyo ask the Papal Posse what this all means for the Church.)

Unfortunately, swing-dancing is right out. One of the happiest moments of my life in Scotland was seeing B.A. across the swing-dancing class floor, but then it turned out he was just saying "hello" on his way somewhere else.

I no longer go to swing-dancing. The loneliness and having to smile all the time despite the In-Crowd just about killed me. Anyone who thinks traditional Catholics are snooty and judgemental should spend a year in the Edinburgh social dance scene.

Of course, anything strenuous is right out for now, as B.A. is still recovering from radio-therapy. This reminds me of his ill-fated night school French course. To my great joy, B.A. decided one year to study French. Shortly after his classes started, he got really sick. As he began to slowly slip into delirium, I was doing his French homework half an hour before his class.* That was it for French.

This year, having acquired this wonderful apple tree, we decided that we would make cider. While B.A. read Twitter, I watched two videos and bought all the equipment online. When the boxes arrived, I opened them up, and we decided we would being making the cider on B.A.'s next day off, which was Sunday.

On Sunday I got up at 7 and went outside with a ladder to pick apples as B.A. snoozed on. This was great fun although the ladder was very tippy, so once he got up I summoned B.A. to help. B.A. held the ladder and squawked with dismay when I gave up on it and climbed into the tree.

"Oh darling please be careful," said B.A.

"I'm fifteen again," I cried, 20 feet in the air.

"You'll never reach those ones," said B.A.

"Yes, I will," I thought and sometimes did, and sometimes didn't.

Once B.A. was back inside, sure we had enough apples, I climbed up the ladder again to get more. Thus, we ended up with 130 apples. Thirteen of them weighed 2 kilos (about 4.5 lbs), so that was 20 kg of apples, which the internet told me should produce 2 imperial gallons (9 litres)  of juice. After Mass I washed them in the bathtub.

Then we had a squabble about sterilising the equipment. B.A. has made a fair amount of elderflower champagne in his time and never bothered with Camden tablets,  champagne yeasts, disinfectants and all that modern stuff. However, the cider books I got from the library were adamant about sterilising all equipment, so I took the highly caustic disinfectant ("Oh darling please be careful") to the bathroom and sterilised the fermenting bin and its lid. The bathtub was as clean as newly fallen snow afterwards.

Meanwhile, B.A. had started chopping and blitzing the apples. Essentially, the way to make cider juice is to cut apples into quarters, put them in a vegetable chopper, blitz them to bits and then stick them in your  handy-dandy bag-lined apple press. This is more labour intensive than it sounds, and in hindsight is not the ideal Sunday-afternoon activity for a cancer patient and a journalist with tendonitis. It is fun, though, although it would have been more fun if we had invited friends to help, providing snacks and other people's cider to inspire us.

Another argument was whether or not we should bolt the apple press to the floor. It was a nice enough day that we could have bolted it to the lawn, but B.A. wasn't feeling well and wanted to stay indoors. We don't like our kitchen linoleum and will eventually tile the floor, but we don't have a drill for making bolt-holes, so that was that. When it got difficult to turn the handle to squish out the last of the juice, B.A. got me to hold the legs.

When we had about 50 apples to go, B.A. was really very tired. We had only 6 litres of juice--just over a gallon--but the thought of cutting, blitzing and squishing 50 more apples was too much for him.

"We'll never do it," he said and went to lie down.

"To heck with that," I thought (maybe not that politely). "I want 9 litres!"

The thought of those 3 extra litres gave me extra energy. So I cut up the 50 apples, blitzed them, emptied out the "cheese" (dry squashed apple bits), and filled up the press again. Then I turned the handle of the apple press myself, which wasn't that hard until the end.

Shortly after 8, I thought I'd better check on B.A. There are too many stories of husbands going to lie down and then simply dying.

So I stuck my head in the bedroom door. B.A. was under the covers with the reading lamp on.

"I'm just lying quietly with a book," he literally said.

"I'm not mad at you," I replied. "And I'm almost done."

And then I was. I can barely type now, but we have 2 gallons of juice sitting in the fermenting bin, its natural yeasts being killed off by the Camden tablets. Tonight I will add wine-and-cider yeast---which reminds me: I must get B.A. to show me how to turn on the heat as we need the cider to live at a balmy 20 degrees celsius for the next week.

The juice is really delicious, so I hope the cider is too. Maybe for our next batch we will not add the Camden tablets and just see what the natural yeasts do. On the other hand, this is all so labour-intensive, I cannot bear the thought of failure.

*One of the stranger aspects to B.A.'s 1.5 year battle with the brain tumour is my inability to grasp what is happening when it starts to happen. However, I've noticed that some of his doctors are like that, too. Some have insisted that he was fine, when I knew he wasn't fine, and others have admitted that they didn't know what was wrong. Our gentle G.P., who tried to care for B.A. but was stymied, has retired early. Was it us? We hope it wasn't us.

Friday 14 September 2018

The Freedom of Being Nobody

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us.
The "Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises" of Saint Ignatius of Loyola helped me a lot when I was grappling with a very difficult decision years ago.

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created. 

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.  

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created. 

The part that really challenged me was the idea of not desiring "honour rather than dishonour," since I was about to quit a PhD programme and therefore abandon my lifelong dream of becoming a university professor.  

Now, I would never recommend to anyone that they drop their PhD programme. Getting that far and then giving up--for whatever unhappy reason--can leave a very deep wound.  (I suppose if it is for a happy reason--like something so much better--then you'd be okay.) However, I eventually found a fulfilling life outside of academia, even discovering that the Great Conversation carries on outside the walls. 

In fact, the conversation inside the walls can become very restrictive, and I am reminded again of the time I positively savaged a book of feminist theology in a book review published in the Toronto Catholic Register. At that time, Canadian Catholics in academia did not rip apart the books of other Canadian Catholics in academia in print. Doing so is not very nice, and the Catholic Register was (and may still be) a nice paper, rather more interested in building up than tearing down, which was as it should be. Moreover, ripping into the works of potential future colleagues is not great for your future career. 

However, I was very passionate about theology, and I had a very low tolerance for the cotton candy quality of thought that came along with the 1970s-style pastoral branch, so I very much hated this book. I recall hating it so much, I threw it across a laundromat--which I may have said in my review. 

It did not occur to me to imagine how the authoress would feel when she read my review, as she inevitably did, and I have paid for my thoughtlessness since by reading reviews of my own work. (I no longer do this for I have suffered enough.)  

But not to put a fine point on it, she went nuts. She wrote to me at two email addresses, and she wrote to the editor-in-chief, and she telephoned him too. Telephoning a newspaper editor to scream is inelegant, but at least it leaves no traces. I never deleted the authoress's email and although I have written many stupid emails since the genre was invented, I have never written one quite like that. 

In short, the authoress was a learned, respected professor at a wonderful university who had the confidence and support of the bishops----"and who are YOU?"

"I'm nobody," said your humble correspondent to her screen and "--and that makes me free." 

I don't agree with St. Ignatius about the health and the riches, exactly. I'm not sure 16th century people had as much choice about these things as we westerners do now, and compared to 16th century people, we're all rich. However, I do think he is spot on about the honour/dishonour thing. If you do not care that much about what Very Important People think of you--caring more about, say, how you appear to the ladies of your mother's branch of the Catholic Women's League*--then you have more freedom to stand up for what you believe in, no matter how unfashionable it is.  

The outraged authoress did me three very good turns by freaking out, by the way.  

First, her tears (I think I was told she cried over the phone) were a wake-up call that words hurt even grown-up strangers with tenure. 

Second, although I myself have cried over bad reviews since then--even private ones from friends, shameful, shameful, shameful**---I have never pulled the "I am so GREAT, and you are so SMALL" stunt, and I hope God prevents me from ever doing it.  

Third, she alerted the editor-in-chief to the fact that there was something scream-worthy in that week's Register. He picked up a copy and had a read of my review. And that, mes enfants, is how I eventually got my own column and my first book published and thus the book republished in the USA and in Poland. 

I am very thankful that when my once-promising academic career fell sick and died, I had my writing career (!) to fall back on. But I am also grateful for the lesson that to be "nobody" is to be free and being "somebody" can lead to delusion.

*The ladies of the Catholic Women's League, I am quite sure, would draw a line well before  picketing outside a private house and telling a man's children that his father is a horrible person and loads of people hate him. I suspect the CWL eyebrow would have lifted right when Mr Bone told his parents that instead of getting a job after university, he was going to live on the public purse.

**When I had spent the requisite time with poets, story-writers and other scribblers in the 1990s, I began to notice that we seemed particularly vulnerable to certain sins, chief among them volcanic envy. I will never forget my reaction when I first discovered that a dear friend had had a book published by a mainstream publisher with a big advance and bee-oo-tee-ful binding: murderous rage. Up until that moment I thought I was proof against the snarling hatred certain poets I knew had for much more successful poets their age.  Ah ha ha ha ha--no. 

Thursday 13 September 2018

Upping my gra

I have been terribly lazy about improving my Polish skills since the end of July. Maybe reading Voyage of the Dawn Treader in Polish does not strike you as lazy, but reading is my strongest language skill. My absolute weakest--even weaker than speaking--is listening. Essentially I've been treading linguistic water instead of practising my crawl.

So this morning while preparing an apple crumble for tonight, I listened to Lesson One from Real Polish, and it is at a perfect level for someone who has studied Polish grammar for some time but has slacked off on the listening and speaking. The lesson consisted of the teacher reading a simple story from a third-person perspective, and then from a first-person perspective, and finally asking questions about the story. Believe it or not, I still could not get all the words because I have not yet read the transcript.

Along with "Save half of everything you ever make", "Don't wreck your listening skills by zoning out in class" is among my top tips for children.

It came as a relief that I could understand most of the first ten minutes of Piotr's September 1 update without reading the transcript. One of the worst things about the first few years of night school Polish class was feeling like my ears were plugged. There was one beautiful evening when I returned to class after a trip to Poland and for the first time ever my teacher sounded as clear as a chime tinkling in the breeze. Sadly, that wore off as the weeks wore on.

In the end I had to quit night school because I am on duty until 7 or 8 at night. Eventually I got a tutor, and she was a great help until Mr Mortgage demanded our disposable income. Until June my primary goal was to be able to speak Polish to guests at Polish Pretend Son's wedding. (I did not actually do this very much, as most of the people I met at PPS's wedding were fluent in English: instead I spoke Polish to ticket sellers, shopkeepers, cab drivers, servers, and hotel staff.)

I also have a goal--more of an attainable dream, really--of speaking Polish so well I can interview a Polish bishop without difficulty. Perhaps I should sit down with Polish Pretend Son and come up with a workable plan. Although not a professional linguist, PPS is finishing an English-language PhD in  Philosophy and I'd like to know how he developed the specialist terminology to do that.

What language-learning tips do you have?

Wednesday 12 September 2018

A Brief Foray into British Politics

Yesterday morning I had coffee with a European friend who usually lives in Malaysia. While talking about the expat scene, she mentioned the many successful businesses in Kuala Lumpur owned by the Chinese community. I asked if the Chinese of Malaysia had made any inroads in the political scene, and she made a wry face. Apparently not.

"They're used to being second class citizens," she said. "Like Catholics here."

Catholics, second class citizens in the UK? I was genuinely startled. For over a year, and definitely for the past three weeks, my waking thoughts have been dominated by Catholic news. Not a single one of my co-workers is British, and the majority of our readers are Americans. And---very important---I stopped watching television in early June and haven't been to a cocktail party in over a year. Thus I forgot how alien faithful Catholicism is in contemporary Britain--or, that is to say, the pop culture/media/educational part.

The garden helps this forgetfulness. Today I held the ladder steady while B.A. trimmed the hedge tops. We decorously went into Next Door's garden to trim from that side and to throw back over the fence our untidy branches. Back on our side, we filled the brown plastic garden bin with holly and beech cuttings. I planted snowdrops and collected windfallen apples. It's hard to care about the chatterati when there's a whole world of trees out there.

When I started looking for stories, I found one about professional anarchists setting up outside a Catholic MP's London house and shouting at his children. It seems to me that public discourse has hit a new low when an elderly man thinks it is morally acceptable to tell a six-year-old boy that his father  is a horrible person and loads of people hate him.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is, of course, occasionally grilled for being a Roman Catholic and believing things that adherents to the current ruling religion--Sex--thinks he shouldn't believe. Fortunately for him and, indeed, British Roman Catholics, he handles these televised inquisitions with dignity and courage, and many British people who hate him because he is rich, went to Eton College, has six children or belongs to the Conservative party nevertheless respect him for not waffling, stammering and sweating over his beliefs, like poor Tim Ferron.

Being rich, the father of six (with the same wife even), and belonging to the Conservative party are no bar to becoming Prime Minister, but being a faithful Roman Catholic probably is, so in that sense (and that sense alone) Rees-Mogg is arguably a second-class citizen.

But he has frequently said that he does not wish to be Prime Minister, and it seems unlikely that his party wants him as their leader although, truth be told, an awful lot of young Tories would adore having him as one. For one thing, he's the sort of near-extinct English gentleman that foreigners think of when we think of "English gentlemen", and thus reminds Young Fogeys of the Good Old Days when their great-grandfathers were young and the Sun Never Set On The British Empire.

Sadly, the last time I heard Rees-Mogg being rubbished in public, it was in a Catholic charity shop in Edinburgh's Stockbridge neighbourhood (I thought*). Yes, there I was in St. Columba's, looking for something specific, and the two old wifies on duty, who may or may not have been Catholic themselves, were entertaining themselves by saying things like "He thinks he's so grand" and "And he wants to be the Prime Minister, tsk tsk" and "No wonder we want to leave the Union."

It did not occur to me to defend the good name (and apparent lack of ambition) of Mr Rees-Mogg, for it would have made for a very awkward silence and "If you dinnae like it, why don't you go back where you came from?" hanging invisible and unsaid but tangible in the air. Besides, Scots-in-general do not like the Conservative Party, and that seems to trump any other consideration--except reminding both the Labour Party and the Scots Nats that the electorate is boss.

An amusing aside: Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the (now apparently anti-Jewish) Labour Party, enjoyed a short but sudden uptick of popularity in which young people sang "Oh! Je-re-my Corrrr-byn" to a White Stripes riff. Unfortunately, it's an ear worm, and Benedict Ambrose fell into the habit of singing it. I objected to this, so asked him to substitute a more appropriate name. This is why, should you drop by at the right moment, you might hear one or the other of us absentmindedly singing "Oh! Ja-cob Rees-Mo-ogg."

*B.A. says St. Columba's isn't Catholic.

Tuesday 11 September 2018

Cider House Tools

Exciting news! Benedict Ambrose and I have just ordered cider making equipment. Before supper I made a list of what we would need, based on the British apple cider making videos we watched on Youtube last night.

(Here's one of the videos.)

Again I reflect on the dizzying experience of spending way over £100 all at once after weeks of counting pennies. However, B.A. says it is an investment, and I think of it as a way to cut back on our  £75/month wine bill.

Stay tuned for our cider adventures.

Monday 10 September 2018

Mantra against Misfortune

I have a new technique against useless retrospection. Every time I begin a thought with "Oh, if only..." or "I wish I had...", I say, "What can I do today to make tomorrow better?" 

This mantra popped into my head--very possibly at Mass---when B.A. and I were living in the New Town this summer. At a certain point after the Deluge drove us from our happy home in the Historical Flat, I began to say such mournful things as "What terrible decisions have I made in my life that have led up to this moment?" 

This was nonsense, of course, as neither of us made decisions that led to the sudden malfunction of the HH's fire extinguishing system. Neither of us was responsible, either, for poor B.A.'s brain tumour deciding to grow again. And neither of us was responsible for the delay in taking possession of our flat, which was caused by some shoddy map-making at some registry office, plus a crack in the concrete around the [redundant] chimney.

As a matter of fact, our life decisions had left us well-off, not only because we had kindly friends with a kindly tenant who allowed us to rent a room, but because we had been working and saving against the evil day we would have to leave the Historical House. So in reality we had made excellent decisions that led up to the joyful moment in August went B.A. took possession of our new home. 

This mantra "What can I do today to make tomorrow better?"is a good dispeller of gloomy thoughts, I have found, especially as making tomorrow better includes digging a few dandelions out of the lawn. It occurred to me this morning that I may never finish digging dandelions out of the lawn, as they keep coming back, but that does not mean I should give up. (Giving up would lead to a brutal dandelion occupation.) The victory is in digging up the dandelions as long as I have breath and strength---which is also true of the struggle against sin. 

Gardening is a very theological activity. 

After reading a simple but persuasive book called Eat, Move Sleep by a pop scientist named Tom Rath, I decided that another thing I could do to make tomorrow better was to start running for 30 minutes a day. Despite my athletic years (ages 25-36), this was a very radical decision--especially as this running will be outdoors instead of in a comfortable gym. 

However, for over a year I have been sitting down for over 8 hours a day,  I have gained a lot of weight, and I have arms that ache from too much typing. It seemed to me that I had better take up cardiovascular exercise NOW, or I will be very sorry SOON.

So this morning I got up at 6:50 AM and ran along the river and back for what turned out to be 24 minutes, and it didn't kill me. Eat, Move, Sleep promises (as have other books I've read) that cardiovascular activity improves learning, too. so that will be useful for my Polish. 

Saturday 8 September 2018

Rose Hip Syrup and Chocolate Cupcakes

Today was a busy day: laundry, going out for a walk with B.A., preparing a reception-and-confirmation party for a Catholic friend's suddenly no-longer-Protestant husband, and making rosehip  syrup!

I'm not sure yet the syrup has worked (it's still hot), but here is the recipe I followed. I made only half a batch, though, as I had only half a kilo of rosehips, harvested from a mild pruning I did on Thursday evening. It is early yet in the season for cooking with rosehips--normally you're not supposed to pick them until after a frost--so I put Thursday's crop in the freezer.

Rosehip syrup depends on added sugar, unfortunately. However, it is also a fantastic source of Vitamin C: "20 times more ... than you find in oranges," claims the recipe.

From clicking around on the "Rosehips FAQ", I see that our roses aren't dog roses after all but "rosa rugosa" or Japanese roses.  Maybe after the first frost, I will gather proper "rosa canina" hips and see if they taste differently.

I am interested in drying rosehips for tea, so that I can get all that lovely Vitamin C without having to consume added sugar, too.

My friend's husband became a Catholic according to the Traditional Rite, which involves a very legal sounding enquiry into the soon-to-be-ex-Protestant's beliefs. Our new brother had to declare his belief  specifically in the SEVEN sacraments, in the Bishop of Rome being the Vicar of Christ, and in everything taught by the Roman Catholic Church. Our FSSP chaplain, having been given the authority by the Bishop both to receive our new brother and to confirm him, officially (and in Latin) freed him from the excommunication he had incurred by being in schism--which he presumably has been in since the Sunday after his seventh birthday came and went without him going to the Most Holy and August Sacrifice of the Mass but some Presbyterian jamboree instead.

Afterwards we had gin or champagne, crisps, ham and cheese on Polish rye, cucumber on white, miniature Melton Mowbray pies, carrots with hummus and dip, and chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream icing.

I made these last while answering my friend's questions about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune B.A. and I have suffered since the Deluge drove us from the Historical House. We also discussed the Church Situation. (My friend's husband was having some last minute catechesis top-up in the Modern Art Gallery with his Confirmation Sponsor B.A.) The problem there is that I cannot bake or cook very easily if I have to talk or listen to someone, too. I am not good at multi-tasking, especially not in the kitchen. It drives me absolutely insane if B.A. or any other talkative man is in the kitchen when I have to cook, bake or wash dishes in it. So far the one-and-only exception to this rule is Polish Pretend Son, who doesn't talk as much as harangue, e.g. "THIS isn't keto!"

This was my first attempt at cake with the new oven, and not having time to look up a Canadian recipe, I mostly improvised. The ratios for British cake are super-easy--equal parts butter, sugar and flour--but British cake tends to be a bit flat. Trying to remember how to make a proper Canadian cake batter while talking was terribly difficult, and I am not sure the solution to the texture not looking exactly right was simply to add another egg. However, the cupcakes did rise, and if they were on the more conservative side of sweet (thanks to years of baking cakes with Polish tastes in mind, I tend to skimp on sugar), I made up for that with the icing.

All the same, I very much wish I had a copy of my mother's principal cookbook. For some reason that has never been adequately explained, my mother gave the extra copy to my brother Nulli instead of to me. As I live in a place that has famously been denounced as "a cake-filled misery-laden grey old island", I am sure I need to make Black Midnight Cake and Real Red Devil Cake and all those splendid 1950s-1970s cake a lot more often than Nulli does.

Update: I saw too late that rosa rugosa hips are not ideal for syrup. Sigh. Live and learn.

Friday 7 September 2018

The Bubble

I don't think there is such a thing as a Catholic bubble. The "bubble" is really popular culture, fashion, and the boring platitudes of modern life.

An illustration:

Two homeschooled girls  wanted so badly to go to school they were sent to an excellent, old-fashioned convent school in France where they read a lot of French poetry, play ping-pong, and shiver in winter.  Not a bubble.

Another girl, sent all her life to a "normal" "Catholic" schools, dropped English Lit when it was shoved into a Gender Theory straitjacket and now wants to drop French because it, too, is being taught according to the ideology du jour.  Bubble. 

It is easy to avoid the bubble if you see that it is a bubble and not "real life". It is easy if you are an adult, that is. If you were born inside the bubble, you may be stuck for at least a while.  

Another illustration:

I once went on a tour of the Lake District with my mother and some other Canadians who were mostly retired schoolteachers. They were very PC, and my mother shook them to their core by telling them I was her paid companion. This was not strictly true although my mother did indeed pay my way.  

One woman upbraided another for saying that she had been robbed, in Italy, by Gypsies. 

"You can't call them Gypsies," said the offended woman primly. "They're Roma."

"I think they're Roma when they're in a government office," I said, having worked in a Roma-serving government office. "When they've just robbed you, they're Gypsies." 

The prim lady didn't think this was amusing. She later asked me why her daughter's UK university addressed correspondence to her as "Miss" not "Ms."  

She was certainly living in a bubble. 

I grant you that it is a big bubble. In the UK it includes schools, universities, television, radio, most newspapers, art show openings and cocktail parties with Guardian readers. If your life revolves around those things, you may never realise that there is an enormous world outside them. 

For example, there are 20-somethings who live on half their income so that they can retire at 30. There are young parents of large families. There are people who forage in hedgerows for food. There are truffle hunters. There are zero-wasters. There are beer-brewing monks. There are 1940s re-enactors. There are women who sew mantillas and/or monastic habits for a living. There are homeschoolers who learn a gazillion things they would not have learned in normal school. There are small homesteaders. There are traditional walking pilgrimages from shrine to shrine. There is the local Hunt. There are cloistered nuns with apple orchards and bees. There are women who refuse ever to wear trousers. 

I could go on at great length, but I am tired from a long week of writing articles for so-called "alt media", fervent gardening, house-moving, grocery shopping, rosehip-picking, reading Podróż "Wędrowca w świtu", and pricking myself with pins while repairing my denim maxi-skirt.  I have also made two batches of carrot soup and an a Polish apple pie called "szarlotka". 

Thursday 6 September 2018

The Indestructible Denim Maxi-Skirt of Feminine Traddery Redux

A bad thing happened to the Indestructible Denim Maxi-Skirt of Feminine Traddery while we were in the New Town: I put it in the dryer.

Alas! Somehow the zipper got terribly stuck afterwards, and when B.A. tried to unstick it, it broke.

Quite apart from my affection for the Hitherto Indestructible Denim Maxi-Skirt of Feminine Traddery, the accident had serious ramifications for my minimal wardrobe. I find those "capsule wardrobe" posts on minimalism blogs quite amusing, for they contain many more clothes than I have now.  

That said, I envy nuns their habits, and my ideal is to have one hard-wearing skirt and 6 T-shirts for week-days, one nice dress for Sundays (per season), one suit for the very rare occasions I have to dress professionally, and a knock-out dress for evening parties.

How far I have come from my seventeen magazine reading days when my dreamiest daydream involved a walk-in closet decked with an endless array of designer clothes.

The trad women I know best my age or younger prefer to always wear skirts and never trousers*, and I have felt like a traitor wearing grey summer slacks for the past month, but I more-or-less had to because of the gaping wound in the Hitherto Indestructible Denim Maxi-Skirt of FT.

After pawing through racks in charity shops and looking online for another one, preferably the exact same make and size, I decided that the most economical and simple thing to do would be to take out the broken zipper and put in a new one.  So I took out the old zipper and bought a new one (£2.05) and have been putting it into the IDMSFT with the running backstitch.

The fact that I am sewing is evidence of how badly I want to be frugal.

While putting in this zipper, though, I see that the denim is actually wearing thin here and there and so even with  the new zip the IDMSFT really isn't I. Therefore I probably won't go the whole hog and attempt to dye it back to its original indigo.

Garden Note: I read last night that sitting all day is terribly bad for your health, so today I spent 2.5 hours in the garden--two hours before work and half an hour after--and maybe half an hour grocery-shopping. To my surprise, I had one of my most productive workdays ever.

Update: This trouser-hate is very NICHE, by the way. In Scotland, as in other places in Europe, women wear trousers to the Traditional Latin Mass unless there is a sign around saying not to. Many women don't wear mantillas. Some women go bareheaded, which is especially common in Germany and France.

Wednesday 5 September 2018

Gardening and Calm

I read the Chicago news* today, oh boy, and I mentally threw away the ugly images and thought about my garden.

It's a lovely sunny day. Today I will mow the minute lawn and cut down the grass and weeds running along the south fence.

Gardening is clean and pure. It burns calories and gets human beings outside where we actually belong in daylight.

Hanging out the laundry is also clean and pure, burns calories and gets human beings outside where we belong. Whenever I do it, I see my mother as she was in her early thirties, biceps bulging from carrying laundry, shopping, and children around, pinning the laundry to a wire laundry line that travelled along pulleys.

There is something about our Scottish back garden that reminds me so strongly of my Toronto childhood back yard; I'm not really sure what it is yet. But it is very good.

*More Church scandals, so don't look unless you have a strong faith and a strong stomach.

Tuesday 4 September 2018

Who are you? Who are you really?

Much of the misery of peacetime life in the West can be attributed to people not knowing who they truly are.  We live in a state of ignorance or plain denial about ourselves and make arrangements based not on who we are and what we are likely to do but on who we wish we were and what we like to think we would do. A non-controversial example is featured in the home decoration book Mad about the House, which suggests you not set up your sitting-room as a place for conversation when  you really will use it to watch television while eating popcorn.

A priest once mentioned, with despair, that people do not confess their REAL sins. He lived in a religious community, so I wonder if his brothers went to confession to him and neglected to mention their obvious-to-him faults, like hogging all the granola or intentionally needling Father So-and-so into paroxysms of rage.  This was not, by the way, a model priest, but I thought that this was a very useful insight. It's why we need spiritual directors, or at very least honest friends and family who will give it to us straight.  

Thinking about who you really are should not take more than five to ten minutes of your day, ideally before bed when doing an examination of conscience. However the thought occurred to me while walking to the town library with a burlap shopping bag. It is very sunny today, and I was feeling cheerful and kind to humanity----unlike yesterday when it was dark and rainy, and I was feeling grouchy and misanthropic. It is pathetic to be so influenced by the weather. Am I really a happy person or am I a sourpuss? Am I really a rational soul independent of my environment, or am I a walking rock plant? 

A much more frequent thought should be "What do I really want?"--especially before buying or eating something. I am currently contemplating a trip to Rome--during which I will be working but B.A. will be free to look at churches--and roundtrip airfare for two is, at minimum, £250. Thus, I am thinking "What do I REALLY want?" and what it is, is for B.A. not to look so tired and ill and so occupied by trivialities.  

Thinking about What Else really is should take more than five to ten minutes of your day. Because I am now a reporter, I have to think about it for at least eight hours, five days a week, e.g. What did Raymond Arroyo REALLY say, and have I transcribed it correctly?" I wish I had thought more about What Else really is when I was a teenager contemplating how I was going to live my adult life, but that's too late now.  All I can do is determine reality NOW and to work at being more rooted in reality, minute by minute, day by day. 

At theology school, a professor of Christian ethics said that the question we should ask ourselves while making moral decisions is "Who am I becoming?" I think this is an excellent partner question for "Who am I REALLY?" because it underscores we have a choice in the matter. 

Who I am REALLY now, for example, is a woman who has studied Italian on and off since she was fourteen, and agreed to write a polite letter in Italian to a VIP. 

I am not fluent in Italian, and I haven't had a proper conversation in Italian since B.A.'s sick pay ran out and I said good-bye to my tutor (long story), but I know I can cobble together a letter in Italian,  as I have done so many times before, and so I will do it. At my very best, I will appear like a foreigner who first learned Italian in the 1980s--and that will do.

Who I am BECOMING is a woman with an excellent grasp of what it means to function in foreign languages, thanks to reading and almost-daily practise with a very complicated foreign language. Happily, this also means becoming a woman with authentic humility--self-knowlege that is rooted in reality: I am neither "good at" nor "bad at" languages because non-immersion language acquisition is usually based not in talent but in psychological training.  

Sunday 2 September 2018

Diary Hoarder

Having revealed spousal and familial hoarding habits, I should admit that I cannot get rid of my diaries.

This may be unusual. Many women, upon finding a teenage diary, have a quick look, shudder and tear it to bits. And I do understand this impulse, as last week I found an excruciatingly not-to-be-sent letter I wrote to a young man I had had a crush on. Happily, it was clearly an attempt to write my way to sanity, but all the same I tore it up and divided the pieces between two trash bags.

But  I would never rid myself of my teenage diaries, for I don't want to lose the funny, innocent girl who used to be me. For one thing, I took an oath as a child that I would never forget what being a child was like, and if you have your diaries--and I began my first at 7--it's harder to do that.

I actually do have a look at those diaries for time to time, for now that I have friends who are up to 20 years younger than me, I enjoy having a look to see what I was doing when they were born. In Polish Pretend Son's case, I was either at a dance, sleeping or writing about the dance. I keep forgetting to ask his Polish Authentic Mother about the exact hour.

But I have been tempted to burn all diaries written in the 1990s, for I never read those. When I mentioned this to my dear friend Trish, she said that would be very sad. And I think she is right, especially as they are my last link to the person I was--and the person Trish was--in the 1990s. In the 1990s we both struggled to become proper artists, to conquer depression and to find happiness. I found it very, very hard----another reason why I don't want to burn those diaries. It would be like drowning those young women in the middle of their desperate swim for unseen shores.

(Graduating from a Canadian university in the mid-1990s was like being shipwrecked. Discuss.)

Then there are the diaries of my three-year theological training, during which I was usually happy and life was both structured and interesting. A professor passed along a request from the Catholic Register to review a book, as she hadn't the time, and that is how my career in Catholic media began.

And there are even diaries from my time in an American PhD program, which I sometimes think I could turn into a novel, if I could summon up the courage to return deeply into the horrors. The one great problem with my wonderful faith-filled Canadian theologate was that it gave no preparation at all for the shark-infested sea that is (or was) American academic theology.

Finally there are diaries from my surprising new life in Scotland although the written records are rather patchy as by the time I met B.A. I had been blogging for two years and I have blogged ever since.

The physical result of all these diaries is four large boxes jammed with hardcover notebooks. Had I become part of some amazing literary circle they would hold some interest for future scholars, but so far I haven't,* so I strongly doubt it.

There is little of historical interest even in my teenage diaries, as I recorded very little of the worldwide events and cultural novelties around: an excited reference to the whole family getting a DVD player one Christmas, a colourful illustration of the outfit I wore to a dance, a haircut based on that of Veronique Beliveau, the casual description of Italian-Canadian slaves to teenage fashion, as "Ginos" and "Ginas".

That's rather embarrassing now, come to think of it.  

I suppose it may interest some that there was a nostalgic 1960s revival in the 1980s and that bubble-dresses made a brief reappearance. (My mother made me one, and it was awesome.) It may even be of interest that there were still enough women religious working in the "reference library" of my all-girls high school that my then-best friend Tashie and I made up cruel nicknames for them all.

However, I suspect that this will be of interest only to me, and that my heirs will burn my diaries without a qualm--or even just shove them into trash bags, the horror.

*This is now an arguable point, however. Since I married I have become part of the Catholic traditionalist movement, and that does have some very well-known authors and journalists associated with it. It is hard to say, however, what kind of lasting influence any of us will have, and I myself am a very small potato. I might not even be a whole potato. I may be a single french fry--or a tater tot.

Saturday 1 September 2018

Dating Advice: The Party Option

As long-term readers know, I used to give dating advice to Catholic Singles and "other Singles of Good Will".

I quit when I realised that A) I had been married for too long and B) new technological advances (e.g. Tinder) had changed dating and C) very possibly human nature, too.

Technology made my own experiences obsolete. Not to put too fine a point on it, our brains are literally being shaped by our devices and  nobody my age grew up watching internet pron (do other people still render the word 'pron'?), which means that men who grew up using it are cognitively different from earlier generations of men. And I was so clueless when I first wrote about internet pron, I did not know women get addicted to it too.

So I quit giving advice and eventually the emails stopped coming. But this week I got a delightful SOS from a long-term reader about a young man with whom a priest had tried to set her up. The young man has not, however,  asked her out yet.

"[A male relation] has told me that the possibilities are A) he's clueless B) [...]  a wimp C) [...]  not interested or D) has SSA," your fellow reader wrote.

I am helpless before the severe problems that plague men whose internet use was not effectively monitored by their parents, but I DO  know what a Catholic woman can do when she wants to get to know a faithful Catholic man better.

First, she cannot ask him out blatantly on a date. "Ask him out" was the bad advice given to my generation. It was bad advice because it led to thousands of women paying for dinner for thousands of men who had no real interest in us but didn't want to hurt our feelings or thought that we (or any woman) were okay for now and Miss Perfect was sure to come along later.

If behind these words you hear a faint echo of the 1990s dating bible The Rules, you are so right.

The anthropological-hermeneutical standpoint of The Rules is that male human nature doesn't change, and that men-in-general love to solve puzzles, go hunting, and generally overcome challenges to get what they want. Men-in-general don't want long-term what they can too easily get short-term. Therefore, be friendly to men, but don't look overly available.

A fellow Rules devotee I used to argue the question if this need-for-a-challenge were innate or changed from culture-to-culture. This was a decade ago, before we knew what internet pron was doing to men's brains, and now she is the mother of children strictly forbidden from using electronic devices.

All the same, I stand by the "don't ask him out" rule. Actually, it's more important than ever, so as to avoid men hooked on immediate gratification.*

What a Single Catholic woman CAN do to get to know a particular Single Catholic man better is invite him to a small party at her house.

Frankly, I cannot see any harm in saying to a man recommended by a trusted priest, "Hey, I'm/my housemates and I are having a few friends from [place man is familiar with]  around for dinner on Friday night. Would you like to come?"

The reason for the smallness of the party is in case the young man hates large parties. Many people do. The "dinner" part makes the point of the party clear and is also an incentive, as it suggests a break from bachelor food.  And the very invitation is a signal to the young man is that he is considered worthy of an invite to a young woman's home. And even the strictest and retro of Young Fogeys (should he be such) could not find anything unfeminine in a party invitation.

If the young man turns down the party invitation, go ahead and have the dinner party anyway.  Hopefully you have planted the germ of the idea that you'd be open to spending time with him in his head. At a decent interval, perhaps three months, arrange another dinner party and invite him to that.  If he once again voices regret, then wash him out of your hair.

Incidentally, in my experience most non-predatory men are clueless and many supposed wimps are still good marriage material for somebody. Clearly the men who are not interested in you are NOT potential husbands, and neither are most men with SSA. However, they are still potential friends, so the dinner party is a good investment anyway.

*That said, a man may turn down a date because it sounds very complicated next to staying at home with internet pron. He will never tell you that though. You will erroneously think you did something wrong or aren't pretty enough or whatever, but the real reason will be Triple XXX. It's sad, but every revolution--including the Sexual Revolution---has casualties. The landscape is littered with the bodies of young men who are spiritually dead.

May We Dispense with Our Husbands' Stuff?

Benedict Ambrose had a day off work yesterday, and when a friend agreed to store some boxes of books for us, B.A. went to the Historical House to carry them down three flights of stairs. I was a little worried about his ability to do this and so was vastly relieved when he phoned to say he was okay.

Our friend appeared at St. Benedict Over the Apple Tree (our new home), our first guest after our solicitor, with two beautiful plants for the garden, and we drove off to the Historical House. It was a warm and sunny day, and it was wonderful to be outdoors.

We met B.A. at the bottom of the stairs.  He looked like an exhausted cockatoo. He's still very thin, and of course half the back of his head is still shaved or bald. He was drenched in sweat, clutching a box and staggering a little.

"I've carried down twenty already," he said, panting, as I clucked like a hen and ordered him to sit down. He collapsed into a garden chair in the sun, and J. and I and B.A.'s co-workers carried the boxes to the car. They're relatively small boxes but heavy.

Ignoring my system--the most elementary division of books into most valued and less valued--B.A. had just started with "the books in the hall", which means the "most valued" books are now in a cellar in the New Town. But the good news is that the least valued books are still in the Historical Attic, which means we can more easily banish them to a charity shop.

When our friend's car was thoroughly packed with "most valued" books, I suggested to B.A. that he sit amongst the "lesser" books (mostly novels) and choose which ones should go to the charity shop. He responded with faint wails of horror and exhaustion. The mental energy this would take was simply beyond him.

To put this into perspective, B.A. has neither read Marie Kondo's The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up nor surfed the internet in search of inspiring Minimalist blogs. And as hoarding goes, he is nothing to my mother, who still has a few pairs of my great-grandmother's spectacles. My great-grandmother died, I believe, in 1978.

Actually, a list of the hilarious objects dating from before 1980 to which my parents have granted houseroom would make for a very funny post. Meanwhile, my great-grandfather and grandfather each brought back a German helmet from their respective World War, a grisly reminder that our their* Iron Age ancestors used to fasten the skulls of their enemies to their door lintels.

B.A. doesn't have any helmets, let alone skulls, but he has had an awful lot of junk which I began throwing away after maybe five years of marriage. I think I waited five years. For a very long time, I did not think I had any right to throw away any of my husband's belongings, including worn-out trousers. Now that we have been married for almost ten years, I realise that the secret of unburdening my husband of objects he has not seen for years is just to make an executive decision and throw them away without mentioning it.

This should not be treated as a universal rule. Still, it might solve a major household headache if the minimalising spouse asked the non-minimalising spouse if the way forward is just to proceed with a closet/attic/basement purge without telling him/her what had disappeared.

There are limits, of course. Although B.A. doesn't listen to his large collection of compact discs, there exists a possibility that he may in future want to listen to a specific contact disc. Therefore, I have not eliminated his contact discs. Nor have I got rid of the DVDS although their days are numbered.

Lest the frequent reader think I hate all my husband's stuff, I should mention that I admire B.A.'s taste in antique and mid-century furniture and very much like all but one of the pieces we have already transferred to our new home.

*I say "their" because only my mother's ancestors were 100% British. My father's were also Irish and German, and I don't know what they got up to during the Iron Age.