Monday 30 December 2019

The Joy of Giving Christmas Presents

This is both the first Christmas since 2008 that I've been "home" in Canada and Benedict Ambrose's first-ever Canadian Christmas, so as you can imagine, it's very special.

One of the more blast-from-the-past aspects so far was doing the majority of our Christmas shopping in Toronto stores. Usually I buy Christmas presents for family online (which I loathe) or I buy everyone a book from my favourite Edinburgh bookshop and send them by post for an eye-watering sum. But this year I could choose presents from the vast retail networks of Canada's largest city, so when I asked family members what they wanted for Christmas, there was a really good chance they would get it.

I am not fond of shopping--in fact, I break into a sweat in crowded stores--and so I was particularly grateful to family members who told me exactly what they, or other family members, wanted for Christmas. I didn't know what my younger nephew would like, which led to a sweaty visit to the Indigo Bookshop in the Eaton Centre and a stern self-scolding to keep me from fleeing. My brother Quadrophonic tipped me off to my elder nephew's favourite clothing brand, which led to a more confident visit to the Hudson's Bay Company and then the Eaton Centre in search of it.

Come to think of it, these were also sweaty visits, as I was raised to believe that when you buy a brand name, you are "paying for the label," and if the brand name is visible on the clothing, you are a "walking billboard" providing the brand with "free advertising." I wondered if by chasing after Pirate's preferred label,  I was contributing to a pernicious social trend. At the same time, though, I spent at least 15 minutes mooning over super-pricey Hudson's Bay Company products because they symbolise the Canadian dream, i.e. having your own cottage by a lake in the wilderness. Thus, I realised I was not that different from my nephew, and if he wanted [X brand] for Christmas, he should get [X brand] for Christmas.

Quadrophonic was not delighted to know that I had exploited his intel to buy [X brand] for Pirate, for he had also bought [X brand] stuff for Pirate. Fortunately, though, he bought him a long-sleeved shirt and sweatpants whereas B.A. and I bought him a short-sleeved shirt and a hat. The more [X brand] stuff, the better, I calculated, and lo. It was so. Pirate was amazed and delighted when he opened his Toronto uncle's present and then amazed and delighted again when he opened his Edinburgh aunt and uncle's present. Breaking into a sweat in the Men's Department of the Bay and then going forth to the Eaton Centre was totally worth it--as was paying for the label. I mean, the label was the point.

When people asked me what I wanted I replied in all truth that I wanted tights and socks, and thus I was happy to get three pairs of tights and something like ten pairs of socks. But I also wanted beeswax candles, which Quadrophonic gave B.A. and me, and he gave us  a shoe shine kit, too, having perceived from my boots that we clearly need one.

I did not ask for, and thus did not get, pricey Hudson's Bay Company items (will I crack tomorrow and buy at very least the HBC-striped mittens?). However, since B.A. and I took the train to Montreal and my brother Nulli Secundus drove us to his village in Quebec's Eastern Townships, we have been more-or-less living the lifestyle symbolised by the HBC label. We are across the street from a frozen lake, and the house is surrounded by pine trees. There is snow on the ground, and mountain views a quick drive away. The neighbourhood is dotted with handsome United Empire Loyalist clapboard dwellings built circa 1820... Okay, I'm off topic. In short, there's nothing like giving a loved one--especially a loved one with little money--the Exact Right Thing for Christmas.

Saturday 28 December 2019

A Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all readers! I'm sorry my blogging has dropped right off, but I strive to write at least two articles a day for work, which rather uses up all my writing energy.

This year B.A. and I had enough health and wealth to go to Canada for Christmas, so this was the first Christmas all the family was together in one sitting-room and around one dining room table. It was splendid and over much too soon! Now we are in the Eastern Townships of Quebec contemplating going for a country walk.

Naturally I am still working on languages. One of my favourite Christmas presents is a thick book called Encyklopedia dla Dzieci ("Children's Encyclopedia"). It begins with the Wielki Wybuch of the Osobliwość  (the Big Bang of the primordial Atom), so I am learning a lot.

Friday 15 November 2019

Poor Venice

Both climate change and bureaucratic incompetence are being blamed for the Venice floods.  Venice has been sinking all my life, and I suppose it will eventually sink---unless of course Venetian and other Italian officials really get their act together.

I am reminded of the idea that the Amazon jungle should be the responsibility of the world, not the Brazilian government and the other eight regimes with Amazonian territory. Would it be nice if Venice were ruled by professional conservationists, like Benedict Ambrose? One thing about Old Building Fanatics: they love their work more than money, and embezzle from its preservation fund they would not. 

My one and only trip to Venice was in 1998, and I remember it being a sad place. Of course, it may have been me, not Venice, that was sad. I made a mental note not to return to the city without a loved one. Being all alone, save for my Contiki tour group, was sad in Venice. Now I am wondering if I shall ever return, for tourism is killing the community as much as it pours money into it. 

I was there that October, so the crowds were not as daunting as they would have been in July. Because most of us tourists dress any which way now, crowds of tourists detract from the beauty of a place. Venice is intricately beautiful, but crowds are not, and because when I think of Venice, I think of crowds and obscenely overpriced gelato in St. Mark's Square, I have not be dying to return.

If I did return, I would read all about it first, spurred by the understanding that this would be for the last time in my life, not only because Venice may indeed slip under the lagoon before I die, but because I myself would be an unlovely foreign tourist, part of a crowd, displacer of citizens.

At least I was in my twenties when I first saw Venice, and although I had no entree anywhere, knew no Venetians, stayed in a cheaper hotel outside, and had a cookie-cutter Venetian tourist experience, the memories are special to me now because I was young. My unasked for general advice is to go to the great urban jewels of the world when you are old enough to truly enjoy them and not to old to truly enjoy yourself. This means between 18 and, say, 28. 

I suppose in some cases you should take an oldster with you, but only if they have some useful skill (like local languages) or acquaintance in the urban jewel of your choice. My dear late friend Angela brought the first Scottish art exhibition to the Venice Biennale, and she was friends with an actual Venetian family. Angela, therefore, would have been an excellent chaperone for a young person wanting to see Europe. She had acquaintance in Paris, too, and in Oslo, I believe. 

Should my niece and nephews' eyes fall upon this post, I will point out that I would be an excellent oldster to bring along on travels to Italy and Poland. However, I do hope they are 18 or 19 before they   see these countries. Currently they seem not to distinguish much between playgrounds in Brussels and playgrounds in Berlin.  

Of course, I am taking for granted that transatlantic air travel for entertainment purposes will still be permitted when my younger relations reach gap-year age. Greta Thunberg has finally found someone to sail her back to Sweden, which suggests a new (or renewed) industry for forward-thinking sailors: eco-transit. Currently it takes just under 4 days for racers to sail from New York to Cornwall. It warms my heart to image the seas full of sailboats racing across the seas with their eco-conscious travellers. 

Well, that's enough from me, for I have to write up a speech on the use of the internet to further socially conservative causes I'm giving tomorrow. 

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Just Try to be Holy?

I had a note from a priest who was feeling guilty about what he was saying to his flock. He read on a news forum the complaint of a Catholic who had spoken to a priest about these heartbroken times in the Church that the priest had said "Just try to be holy." The priest who wrote to me felt guilty because that's what he's been saying to people.

Priests have very little freedom of speech because they are, in short, the hands of their bishop. The laity can publish critiques of all kinds of Pope Francis's theology and not much can happen to us unless, of course, we work for an unsympathetic bishop. Bishops, of course, have a lot of freedom of speech, especially if they don't mind having their mandatory retirement letter accepted right after their 75th birthday.

Incidentally, I would not want any young man I loved becoming a diocesan seminarian before working for at least five years to save up a large sum to invest towards his retirement. Even if he has a lovely, fatherly, saintly bishop now, the chances are that this bishop's successors will not be as holy.

The priest noted that Cardinal Burke just keeps teaching perennial doctrine without criticising Pope Francis. I note also that the cardinal refrains from calling the pontiff names or demanding his resignation or being hostile towards him in any way. Cardinal Burke just continues on defending doctrine and accepting invitations to say the Traditional Latin Mass, red-faced and tired under all the heavy vestments we traddies heap on him. It blows my mind that his critics think he enjoys dragging a cappa magna around: vestments are the liturgical equivalent of a burkha, for they hide personal identity, and they are uncomfortable.

Cardinal Burke has suffered numerous humiliations under the pontificate, kicked from post to post,  his influence curtailed, and on top of that there is all the sneering from the left side of the aisle, which I hope he doesn't read. He does read LifeSiteNews, but then everybody reads LifeSiteNews. Whether they admit it is another question, of course.

Presumably Cardinal Burke also reads devotional works, and this is where my advice for the laity comes in--besides taking Cardinal Burke as a model: don't read nothing but the bad news. Read a lot of good news, including the Good News. Keep an eye out for the latest books by your favourite Catholic authors. This could be fiction by Fiorella de Maria or philosophy by Peter Kreeft. Go to the library or Catholic bookshop and find classic works by Catholic authors you haven't read before, like Alice Thomas Ellis or Rumor Godden. Walk on the wild side, and read a non-Catholic with some traditional values like Wendell Berry.  

Read your diocesan print news, not for the bad news, but for the mundane and the good news. Read about the pilgrimage, the children's concert, the high school's food drive for the poor, the parish's 150th anniversary celebration.

Go to Mass. Fast between midnight and Mass, if you can. Pray for Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict, your bishop and your pastor. Offer up sacrifices in reparation for both your sins and their sins. Support financially only those priests and bishops who teach perennial doctrine. Ask yourself what you can do to be a good Catholic, and do that. Focus on what you can do, and not on what you can't.

As you know, I did not throw Pachamama in the Tiber, and it never occurred to me to do so, even though I visited Santa Maria in Traspontina twice while the carvings were there. Much more offensive to me than Pachamama, as I was too busy on other stories to pay attention to the reported details of the October 4 celebration in the Vatican Gardens, was the racist, sexist, pornographic poster of an indigenous woman breastfeeding a wild piglet.*

I went as far as to examine how this disgusting object was attached to the wall (masking tape), but I never intuited God's command to me to pull it down and whisk it out of the church. It was always my hope that an actual Roman would do it, but really it was the job of whomever God called to do it. It seems that God called a young Austrian to throw Pachamama in the Tiber: certainly Tshugguel prayed long and hard about it.

What I did was my daily duty, which was to write about the Synod, and I worked overtime so that not only did the Big Stories get out, but also the little stories about who-said-what. I also went to Mass almost every day, and what got me through the insanity was going to Mass, doing my job, and enjoying my off-time as much as I could. I met with friends, and I made daily trips to a cafe-bar for a five minute croissant-and-cappuccino break.

The five minute croissant-and-cappuccino break was, by the way, a full-immersion into real Roman life. It had absolutely nothing to do with the Synod or the Vatican or the Amazon or this pontificate.   I stood out like a seagull among blackbirds, but this really didn't matter. It was the psychological equivalent of a hot shower.

If feeling terribly sad or worried by this pontificate, find your own version of my croissant-and-cappuccino break.

But that is enough from me for the housework has slipped while I have been ill and I have several articles still to write.

*Apparently this is not as unheard of as I thought, since there is a wikipedia entry devoted to the practice of inter-species breastfeeding, and rock star Tori Amos shocked America in 1996 with a photograph showing her pretending to breastfeed a piglet. I found also commentary suggesting that "America" is a "bigot" for being shocked. In defence of America, I am Canadian, in my late 40s, an expat, conversant in four languages, relatively cosmopolitan, and I was shocked out of my gourd.

Monday 11 November 2019

Dispelling November Gloom

I don't think April is the cruelest month. The cruelest month is most definitely November, especially in a northern country like Scotland when the sun starts setting at 4 PM. By the end of the month the sun will set at 3:45 PM. Then there's the rain. And the cold. And British concepts of indoor home heating. There's a reason Harry Potter was written in Edinburgh cafes.

Our radiators aren't working, but I am procrastinating from calling the plumbers because it's warm only in bed and I still can't understand Scottish Plumber over the phone. I have a cold, and all the Catholics blogs and news sites to the right of Daniel Berrigan are apocalyptic. No hideous Church story goes unreported, right down to a potentially obscene Station of the Cross in, naturally,  Germany. (It might be, but it might just be the viewer's interpretation.)  It's like being covered in boils and yet finding a new and worse one.

I started keeping a list of one bright spot in every November day: holly berries, a pied wag-tail,  bright yellow beeches, Christmas lights in Poundland.

Naturally I go to exercise classes--although it is fortunate I didn't sign up for one today as my head hurts. All the experts seem to agree that exercise is a mood-lifter.

Another mood-lifter is writing stories. One of my young homeschooled pupils was too sick for a lesson last week, so I wrote him a story, starring him at age 19. Naturally his future self is at Oxford University, but he is also a detective and a cook at a Mexican restaurant. His actual self enjoys classic adventure stories, and he wrote a good one for Writing Class in which his hero crosses the Laconda jungle.

I worked on my story on bus trips to and from classes, and so I have to admit that this was a good weekend despite the cold radiators, catching a cold, and the daily additions to the apocalyptic genre of religion reporting. Yesterday, the boy having recovered from flu, I read the story aloud to both of my pupils as part of a lesson on "Dialogue." One or two of their siblings came creeping in to hear it, too.

Cheerful children are also dispellers of November gloom unless, I suppose, you have postpartum depression or some other illness like that.

Another mood-lifter is appreciation for one's work, and I see that my LSN article on the Traditional Latin Mass has been shared on Facebook a thousand times now. That is by no means a big number of shares for an LSN piece, but it is at least a sign people liked it.

I wish now I had added a few more details that are obvious to me but would not be to people who have never been to a TLM before. The most important are that the TLM works according to the Old Calendar, not the New, and that the readings are different from those said during the Ordinary Form. When I was a child, I was impressed by the fact that "The readings are the same all over the world" in the same way past generations bragged that the Mass was the same over all the world. Well, the readings are only the same depending on which Form you attend. There are no Years A, B and C in the Extraordinary Form.

Meanwhile, I would love to turn off the firehose of bad news and just go about having an ordinary, friendly life with lots of dinner parties and meeting people for coffee. Unfortunately, that is now impossible. For one thing, it would be like being a young British or French man of military age who waited out Second World War on the sunny beaches of Spain.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Roman Working Day

I'm back from Rome, and I'm all tired out. I think I'm getting a cold, too.

If you were interested in what I was up to during the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region, I hope you went to LSN to read my reports. I wrote an awful lot.

This was my daily schedule for three weeks:

6:15 AM (latest): Get up, make first coffee.
6:40 AM (ideally): Start walking to Mass.
7:15 AM: Mass.
8:00 AM: Start walking back to flat.
8:30 AM: Stop in cafe for cappuccino and croissant at the counter.
8:35 AM: Continue walking back to flat.
8:45 AM: Wash the dishes or pick up a bit.
9:00 AM: Writing time!

Write, write, write, write, write, write.

1:00 PM: Start walking to the Sala Stampa (Vatican Press Office)
1:15 PM: Arrive at Sala Stampa and get translation machine from the nice young men in suits. Find seat and gawk at all the famous Catholic journalists: Edward Pentin, Robert Royal, Sandro Magister, Michael Voris (for the first week), JD Flynn, Christopher Altieri, Ines San Martin,  Cindy Wooden (I think), Fr. Thomas Reese, Austen Ivereigh, Christopher Lamb. Eventually Krystian Kratiuk from Polonia Christiana arrived, too.
2:30 PM: Stand around awkwardly and then start walking back to flat
2:40 PM: Gelato until I gave it up in reparation for the Pachamama craziness
2:55 PM (approx): Write some more. Or shoot news videos.

Write, write, write, write.

During the second of the three weeks, Benedict Ambrose stopped by. I seem to recall he got up early two or three times and went to Mass with me. We had dinner together a few times. He brought a map. He took the map away again. One of my favourite memories of my Roman assignment was crossing the Piazza Navona with my colleague Jim and seeing the phone-less B.A. bouncing along the piazza himself, bound for a glass of wine at our favourite restaurant before going to an Early Music concert. Of course, I ran like mad to catch up with him, and we all sat down together. B.A. mostly spent the week looking at pretty churches. He enjoyed being able to do this at a leisurely pace, no impatient wife wanting only to go to lunch.

I saw expat or pilgrim friends in Rome a few times, too. That was nice. Mostly Americans, but also an Irish priest, a Scottish seminarian, an English ex-seminarian, a German student, and a Polish student. I did no sightseeing (yay!) except to climb the Janiculum Hill and I felt very tired, cross, hot and bored when I got to the top. Oh, I got into Vatican City for an event (as you may have read) and got lost on the way out again, so that might have been sightseeing, in a way.

Naturally I saw Pope Francis (from the press galleries set up in St. Peter's) and dozens of cardinals and bishops, including my own Scottish bishop. I met a life peeress, since we were both lost at the same time and place.

It will take me a while to process everything I learned and experienced reporting on the Synod. I think, in the main, it would be a good idea for everyone to earn and save as much money as they can and also to live as simple a life as they can manage. More than that I dare not write today.

Saturday 12 October 2019

Dorothy as Vatican Correspondent

I have had an email from a concerned reader wondering where and how I am.

I'm fine! I'm in Rome covering the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region. I get up shortly after 6 AM, I'm at Mass by 7:15 AM, I'm at the cafe for a cappuccino at 8:35 AM, and then it's work, work, work, work, work until (ideally) 8 PM supper or (less ideally) bed after 11 PM. 

I have produced seemingly endless stories for LSN, so for now just pop over there. Click on "Dorothy's Diaries" in the "Catholic" edition for the first-person chatty stuff. (Look on the top of the LSN page for the links.) 

I've been here since last Friday, and I cannot believe eight days have gone by already.

Update: Here's the latest "diary" entry. Yesterday's still to do. 

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Eco-trad Husband Says Wife Must Freeze

On Monday I had the heat on in my office so that the apple juice would be nice and not-cold for the cider yeast. I enjoyed the cocoon of warmth so much, I put the heat on on Tuesday, too. But as soon as Benedict Ambrose came home, he turned it off and said this was worse for the planet than plastic-wrapped vegetables.

This is actually true according to the scary books I am reading, for although plastic is terrible, fossil fuels are responsible for all the carbon in the atmosphere. So even though I knew B.A. was really worried about the fuel bill, I had no reply except that I was cold. 

He then told me to put on a jumper but I don't have a jumper (long story), so I eventually put on my 100% cotton bathrobe. But I am still cold and worried about my apple cider. Apple Cider 2018 spent October in a toasty warm cupboard in the bathroom and turned out beautifully. What will happen to Apple Cider 2019, I wonder. 

I love Scotland and I very much love Scottish architecture, but one very big problem in British life--in my experience, anyway--is that buildings are cold and damp instead of warm and dry like Canadian ones. My theory is that Canadians acknowledge and understand the cold, whereas Scots pretend it isn't there or that there is nothing they can do about it, save airing comedy episodes featuring Glasgow pensioners freezing to death. 

Alongside being very cold instead of turning on the heat in mid-September, I have helped the environment by making low-sugar chocolate cookies instead of buying anything in a packet. I would feel more of a virtuous glow if I hadn't already eaten so many of them. 

Monday 16 September 2019

Apple Dinner Party

Yesterday I made 4 litres of apple juice for cider, presided over the After-Mass teapot, and made an apple-themed three-course dinner for five.  Then I cleaned up and, oh, my poor back.  I slept well, though.

I love cooking for dinner parties, even if I get a bit stressed. Benedict Ambrose does almost all of the everyday cooking, and his method is entirely different from mine. B.A. cooks slowly. It helps him relax after work.  He potters. He listens to the BBC or some rather more Catholic broadcaster. He never consults a cookbook. Meals usually consist of one course.  If there is a pudding, it is shop-bought. He does not get stressed.

I, on the other hand, cook only for the dinner parties. I plot out three courses, at minimum, and I consider shop-bought puddings at dinner parties shameful, shameful, shameful, except in France. In France you are allowed to get dessert from a patisserie; in Great Britain absolutely not! (Shame!) I do not potter. I follow recipes. I mentally break down all the cooking into jobs, and I try to determine the best order in which they should be done. I need three hours minimum to make three courses (plus veg), and if the house is not guest-tidy, I need large plastic bags into which to store clutter.

Benedict Ambrose has almost learned he must never enter the kitchen when I am cooking for a dinner party. He has known me for almost eleven years, and this kitchen is smaller than my last, but still he creeps in for a glass of water or whatever. At least he no longer attempts to make a sandwich.

I felt a bit homesick for the Historical House as I chopped red cabbage, etc., and the days in which I was underemployed and therefore could have more dinner parties. One of the worst things about leaving the H.H. was losing the memories of dinner parties past, which still echoed in the halls when  B.A. and I were tossed out departed.  However, the more dinner parties we have in the new flat, the more it feels like home.  

Last night's menu was Carrot-Apple Soup with Homemade Rye Bread (the latter made by a friend); Roast Pork Loin with Apple Cider Gravy, Roast King Edward Potatoes, Braised Red Cabbage with Apples, and Broccoli; and Polish Apple "Szarlotka" Pie with Double Cream.

There were Gin and Tonics to drink beforehand, and the last five bottles of last year's homemade apple cider to have with the pork. There was a bottle of red wine for anyone who preferred that with dinner, and there was a dessert wine at the end. And coffee. With the cocoa cookies I had made two days before when I had a snack attack in the snackless flat.

Cleaning up was a Herculean task because I also had to clean up the ravages of juice-making, too. I had squeezed apples until it was time to get ready for Mass and after Mass I went to the grocery store, so I hadn't had time to clean off the apple press, etc.

The most amusing moment of the party that I can remember was when one of the guests discovered a painting by Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law of a group of wedding guests, including him.

B.A. made a wonderful dish of his own invention for dinner tonight:  half curry, half tagine, out of most of the rest of the pork roast. It has curry powder, apricots, coconut, veggie stock, yogurt and beer, and I am now slipping into a food coma. Zzzzz.

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Cider bubbling away

Just a quick note to record that I put cider yeast in the fermenting bucket yesterday, and so we should transfer it to a demijohn sometime between September 17 and 20.

The cider was already fermenting away when I put the yeast in, which suggests that the Campden tablet failed to kill the natural yeast already on the apples. I'm relaxed about that, but I hope no "nasties" also eluded the Campden tablet. (Thought to self: next time stir.)

The important thing is to get this--and next weekend's batch--done before October 4 because I am going to Rome the next day for most of the rest of October.

Monday 9 September 2019

Yoga Pants are Killing the Planet

Bad news for the wee lassies who love comfort above all---their yoga pants (or leggings as we say in the UK) are made of plastic and are therefore bad for the environment. 

In fact, they are inflicting violence upon the oceans, which means that the are violating the yogic principle of "ahimsa" (non-violence).

Thus, yoga pants are a contradiction in themselves. Bad, bad yoga pants.

Also, they cost $90 or more at Lululemon, so come on. 

In fact, we have enough made-made clothes to last us several lifetimes*, and there is no point to the fashion trade anymore except in natural textiles like cotton, wool and silk even then I'd want to know about the factory run-off.

Yes, I am becoming an eco-warrior this week, but that's partly because I don't think the environmental movement should be left to the Malthusians.  When someone sneers at Traditional Catholics for having "so many children," it would be great to say, "Actually, there's a very strong interest in ecology among Traditional Catholics. For one thing, we are very disturbed about the effects of pollution on fertility, and for another, our children take a keen interest in the sciences that will save the planet, not useless degrees in Gender Neutral Basketweaving. "

I must talk to the Notre Dame mother about this. She took a kicking because she politely asked the young ladies women of Notre Dame to stop wearing yoga pants at Mass, etc., out of modesty. If she had written harshly to them about the cost of the environment, they might have signed a pledge never to buy another pair.

*Although as washing them sends thousands of plastic microfibres into the sea, maybe it's best just to be rid of them (how?) and wear and wash 100% cotton, wool, etc. Meanwhile you can wash them less and also use a Guppyfriend bag, apparently. It too is made of plastic, but is apparently "recyclable".

Sunday 8 September 2019

Cider Time!

It's cider time at St. Benedict over the Apple Tree, the semi-official name of our home. (The Historical House had its own proper name, and I do miss the days of being able to say--with a hint of smugness--"It doesn't have a number." Sic transit gloria mundi.)

Last year we were very stingy with our cider, as it took so much work and we got only 9 litres. Thus we still have many bottles of last year's cider,  with which we hope to be more generous this autumn. This year Benedict Ambrose is also much, much better than he was last cider season. If you recall, he was still recovering from a summer of radiotherapy, poor man. I have indelible memories of B.A. giving up and going to bed while I grimly toiled through the night, apple splatters everywhere.

Making cider is easy but labour intensive, and I am glad we are doing it over two or three days instead of in one great day-long swoop. I wish now that I hadn't been cheap and had got a slightly bigger apple press and glass bottles instead of plastic, but it's all very experimental at this stage. Because our 2018 cider was so dry, this year we're using proper sweet cider yeast instead of champagne yeast.

Our apple tree is so big, its branches stretch out to our neighbours on either side and to at least one neighbour at the back. We have invited the neighbours we know to take the apples from "their" side (legally they're ours even though they're over their gardens), and as luck would have it, the apples are thickest--and most easy to reach--in our neighbour's garden to the left.

They are really delicious apples. Sadly we still don't know what kind they are. I've toyed with sending a sample to a professional apple expert. Maybe this year!

Update: We're going to increase production, so we will resume next weekend. This weekend we made just 7 litres of apple juice, which we got from 100 apples.

I also labelled our little bag of Campden tablets ("Dangerously corrosive") after absentmindedly licking some sodium metabisulfite that got on my hand and spending an hour on the phone with NHS 24. I have a weeny burn on the roof of my mouth and a some resentment against the brewing supply shop for having no warning on their label.

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Eco-trad Worries

The environment. I am torn between hopefully banning all new plastic from the house and despairing that without China and India on board, there is really nothing the West can do to stop the world from becoming a plastic graveyard.

I read Pope Francis "Message" on the care of the earth,  I find it very interesting, and not only because he jetted off to Africa today. (It may be childish, but I always think it funny when environmentalists get on planes.* At least Greta Thunberg made the gesture of putting to sea on a yacht. FIFTEEN DAYS from Plymouth to New York! Yikes!)

The top question that concerns me today is whether or not "climate change" is a matter of faith and morals.

But a more personal question is what I can do to reduce the amount of plastic we use in this flat because I know that our plastic rubbish is not disappearing in a cloud of organic water vapour. I don't know, but I suspect, that everything that goes into the recycling bin it is not all being recycled.

I would love it if everyone who doesn't already have one adopted a "simpler lifestyle" that included a complete veto of plastic products made in China. This includes fast fashion: I am all for cotton, linen and wool, and having a mortgage, I usually get these materials from charity shops.

I feel sad looking at plastic products in shops because whether someone buys them or not, the damage is done. They're here and they're going to be here for a looooooong time.  Four hundred and fifty years for a plastic bottle, says this website. (But as the first plastic bottles were sold in 1947, how do they know?)

Meanwhile, it seems unlikely I will ever have a plastic-free household, but at least I can work on reducing the rubbish. As the eldest of five, not to mention as someone who is childless-not-by-choice, I absolutely hate the idea that a solution to the problem is to have fewer kids. I believe that the solution to solving the world's woes is MORE human brains, not fewer.

And that's my rant. I'm now going to collect apples for our organic household cider.

*NB. I get on planes myself, so there you go. I have looked into transatlantic crossings by ship, but they do take a very long time and are few and far between.

Update: Here's something NASA has to say about climate change.  Here's the Royal Society.

Sunday 1 September 2019


"I read an article by a woman who said her bunions disappeared," said Benedict Ambrose

"Really?" I asked. "Disappeared? Did she get braces on her feet or something?"

"Well, maybe not disappeared," said B.A.  "She went to a lot of exercise classes and they stopped bothering her.

Light dawned.

"That was MY BLOGPOST!" I said.

"Oh, was it?" asked B.A. "Well, see, I do read what you write."

Saturday 31 August 2019

We wear short-shorts...! (No we don't.)

I read a post on Facebook that no traditionalist friend of the writers's had shared this story, so I will share it.

To sum up: a mother brought her daughters to an Adoration Chapel one night. One of the daughters, in her early teens, was wearing short denim shorts. A woman in her 50s who often keeps watch in the Adoration Chapel approached the girl in short-shorts, draped her own coat over the girl's legs, indicated the tabernacle and said "Cover up--this is Jesus we're talking about here."

The girl must be a nice girl, for instead of saying "F U grandma," she cried tears of mortification. And her mother must be a kind woman, for instead of hissing at the old bat, she just took her daughters away.

My very first thought, alas, was to wonder why a teenage girl was wearing short-shorts at all. However, my next thought was that it is utterly utterly outrageous for anyone to approach a complete stranger and place her dirty clothes upon them. Doing this while she is praying is even more outrageous. Doing this in front of  her mother just compounds the seriousness of the offence.

What women should wear in church, or indeed in public, after we have hit puberty is an issue different from appropriate comportment in church. The best time to make a remark about anyone's clothing at church is when creating a sign reading "Please come in no matter what you are wearing: feel free to take a shawl from the box."

As a matter of fact, you can't get into St. Peter's Basilica in short shorts, no matter if you are a man or a woman. Many people buy outrageously priced scarves from vendors, drape them around their naked arms or legs, and toddle in unabashed.

But again I am wronging concentrating on the short-shorts (but human beings do, alas, that's how we are). The main point is: don't be a nasty old bat.

Thursday 29 August 2019

What Trads are Like

I have a bad cold, so here I am at home instead of going from one gym class to the next. As I don't feel like moving from this chair, I have perused Twitter, and I see that Dawn Eden made a Twitter attack on Catholics who go to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (aka Trads). Dr Shaw of the Latin Mass Society has responded.

I'm saddened by Dawn's attack on Trads in part because I met Dawn years ago at the Edith Stein Project at Notre Dame, and I was impressed by her energy and friendliness. I was glad to hear that she had thrown herself into theological studies and was impressed when she got her doctorate. As she became an authority on St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body, I was surprised that she has remained intensely loyal to Pope Francis. Naturally, it is normal for Catholics to be pugnacious in the defence of our pope, but normal does not describe this papacy.    

Anyway, Dawn has retweeted a Patheos blogger's belief that anti-Semitism has found a "cozy home" among Trads, and Dr Shaw has pointed out that this is libel. And I too think it is libel.

I have heard more anti-Semitic remarks from Catholics who go to the Ordinary Form (5) than I have from Catholics who prefer the Extraordinary Form (2), and they have been so few and far between that I remember them all. Anti-Jewish remarks are (or were) such a taboo where I come from that every one burns itself on my brain.

People who go to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass are not really a sub-culture, you know. We are just Catholics who go to the Extraordinary From of the Mass. There are sub-cultures among us, of course. There are, for example, young men whose guide to life is Brideshead Revisited. Then there are young homeschooling families. There are the wheelchair-bound and their families. There are also elderly ladies whose lives are given over to good works.

In Britain there are librarians and solicitors and carpenters and the occasional aristocrat. There are people who go to the EF every day, and there are those who go only on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. There are people who are very interested in every detail of a Missa Cantata, and there are those who prefer a nice quiet Low Mass. There are people who go to FSSP Masses exclusively, and people who go to SSPX Masses exclusively, and people who will daringly go to both.

One suggestion about people who go to the EF that I am willing to entertain is that there is a noticeable number of ideological non-conformists among them. First of all, there are fewer of us, so non-conformists are more noticeable. Second, going to the EF at all is a non-conformist activity. If you are the kind of person who worries about what people think of you, you're not going to go to the Extraordinary Form--unless, of course, your friends and family all do.

Anti-Semitism does not strike me as a pressing issue among Catholics who go to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. What is a pressing issue is Catholics who go to the Novus Ordo being nasty about and to Catholics who go to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Since I've already mentioned it on Twitter, I will repeat that a local EF-goer was recently refused a cup of water by a local NO-goer who was standing at the sink of the parish hall.

"You can have a cup of water after your Mass," she apparently said.

Dear heavens. I have heard some stories about local anti-EF feeling, but really takes the cake.

It may be true that individual people who prefer the Extraordinary Form make personal remarks about people because they prefer the Ordinary Form, but I haven't heard any. (EF people occasionally do complain about the OF itself, e.g. "a fabrication, a banal product of the moment".)

But I have heard people who prefer the Ordinary Form make snide remarks about people who attend the Extraordinary Form on more than one occasion--including in church, after the OF Mass, blissfully unconcerned about making detractions before the Blessed Sacrament.

My theory is that Catholic tribalism doesn't know what to do with itself now that age-old resentment of Protestants is totally unacceptable and banned, and so those Catholics who feel it most keenly vent it on Catholics who won't just get with the liturgical program.  However, that strikes me as spiritually destructive, and I think I will post that deep thought to Twitter.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Arrested Senescence

I'm home early from the gym, so we can have a chat before I go back to work. I do need a rest; I've been up since 5:45 AM.

So I don't want to have a go at the National Health Service, but as I was holding "plank" for a goodly while I thought back to the young podiatrist who counselled me about my bunions. I had been rather keen on Pilates and annoyed that it suddenly hurt to hold plank, to say nothing of being able to stand on my toes.*

"I wish I had an excuse not to do plank," said the bright-eyed young podiatrist and comforted me that I could still wear "naughty shoes" once in awhile.

She went on such great length about "naughty shoes" that I wondered it if my working-class postal code had something to do with it. (A friend and I once compared our differing experiences with the NHS, and she suggested that my problem getting decent fertility care might have been my postal code. She has a middle-class postal code.)

It didn't occur to the podiatrist to tell me that bunions did not mean a permanent end to plank, but perhaps she didn't know. At any rate, I can hold plank and do anything else requested of me in barre class. My feet and ankles are now stronger than ever and, perhaps as a result, my bunions are troubling me a lot less. Maybe I will even try on a pair of naughty shoes.

I was up at 5:45 AM because I had a spin (cycle) class before barre, and although it is only Tuesday, I am just 15 minutes short of the NHS-advised 150 minutes of cardio a week.

Another benefit of all this exercise is, of course, that I am less stressed out, and this is indeed still my primary preoccupation. My job is stressful, let's be honest, and yesterday I woke up having dreamt that the USA was waging a literal (i.e. shooting) civil war over marriage and the family, and someone had attempted to assassinate me. This morning I woke up having dreamt about accompanying Cardinal Burke around a Canadian city for some reason. I checked my Facebook and found a plaintive message from a 60+ victim of childhood clerical beatings asking "So what if Pell really did it?"

Stress is a mindkiller, and I avoid overdosing as much as possible. B.A. and I are going to be in Italy in October--not sure how long yet--so I have put aside "Daily Polish Stories" for daily Italian drill. When our Polish household help arrived yesterday, I explained (in Polish) that unfortunately I couldn't think in Polish because I have been studying Italian very hard for this trip. Then I made us a pot of coffee, sat down, asked about her new puppy, and then told her all about B.A.'s brush with death, right up to his three days of repeating "Her Immaculate Heart will triumph."

Perhaps because I have discussed B.A.'s brush with death several times in Polish,  I was rather more intelligible about that than about the new puppy. I am not sure what "Jej niepokalane serce zatriumfuje"is in Italian because my Italian tutor does not seem to be Catholic, whereas my Polish household help very much enjoyed hearing about B.A.'s delirious piety and said it gave her goosebumps.

And that is all my news except that the Council (local government) will pick up an awful old cabinet that was in the flat when we bought it and our spare room bed next week, at which point the dining-room/office/guest-room will be even more minimalist and certainly nicer.

*This said "eyes" for hours. I meant "toes"! Toes!

Monday 19 August 2019

Code-switching is the worst.

The problem with trying to improve two languages simultaneously is code-switching. Code-switching occurs when you switch from one language to another. It is relatively easy for me to switch from English to Polish--unless I have been furiously studying Italian for two hours.

This was the sad situation I was in on Sunday when a parishioner introduced me to his girlfriend,  visiting from Poland, and I said "Miło mi poznać" ("Pleased to meet you") and then totally blanked out. I even forgot my "magic word" for such occasions, which is "Spokojnie" ("Be calm").

Today I studied Italian all the way to exercise class, but then listened to Polish lessons on my phone all the way home because my Polish-speaking help was coming, and I didn't want another brain-freeze. Alas, the help messaged to say she is sick today, so I might have spent another bus ride working on Italian, but there it is.

One of my sisters is fluent in both French and Spanish and is now learning Italian, so I must find out how she manages. I suspect she has an unfair genetic anomaly, though. Possibly the left side of her brain talks to the right lickety-split.

Saturday 17 August 2019

The Battle of the Falaise Pocket

The 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Falaise Pocket began earlier this week and continues into next. Benedict Ambrose and I took the bus to Penicuik Town Hall to see a small exhibit on the subject.

It is of local interest because Polish soldiers who had been stationed in Scotland were sent to Normandy with the Canadian Army, and they were led by General Maczek into Operation Totalize and the Battle of the Falaise Pocket. It is of interest to me because two of my Polish friends had fathers at that battle---and so did my mother. The Canadian Army was, after all, mostly made up of Canadians.

All three men were, therefore, accidentally bombed by the Americans around the 8th of August, 1944. R's dad and my grandpa were okay, but K's dad was very badly wounded (65 men were killed)   and spent ten years in British military hospitals afterwards.*

The exhibition is small, made up entirely of placards put up on the walls around a multi-purpose room currently serving as a tea shop, to raise funds for the Polish-made Map of Scotland down in the Borders. There has been a significant Polish community in Scotland since 1941, and don't you forget it. I can't forget it because I get Facebook messages from various Scottish-Polish friendship groups, which heavily emphasise the war generation, especially Wojtek the Bear.

Wojtek, incidentally, was not at the Battle of the Falaise Pocket. I believe he helped win the Battle of Montecassino with Polish Pretend Son's Great-Grandfather and the leatherworker on Lauriston Place.

That was the adventure of the day. Otherwise the day was spent in:

7:15 AM Accepting that I had slept in and making coffee.
8:15 AM Watching a TV interview with Jakub Baryła, whom I hope to interview. (Niech Pan pisze do mnie!)
9:15 AM Polish conversation tutorial with my tutor.
10:15 AM Studying Italian in my chair.
1:15  PM Eating brunch in old-fashioned caff (i.e. greasy spoon) in Penicuik.
2:15 PM Buying groceries in Penicuik Lidl.
3:15 PM Studying Italian on the bus.
4:15 PM Ordering a sofa bed from home.
5:15 PM Obeying orders in gym class.
6:15 PM Studying Italian on the bus again.
7:15 PM Taking B.A.'s photo for his new passport.
8:15 PM Contemplating Facebook.

Sinead asked the other day how I get all the reading in. I am not actually getting that much reading in this year because I have thrown myself into exercise instead. However, I do get a goodly amount of studying done because of all the bus trips.

*Apologies to American readers that this tragic friendly fire episode is what R, K, and I best remember about Operation Totalize. Naturally our ancestors were also endangered by the Germans.

Thursday 8 August 2019

Embracing my Novus Ordo Past

Every once in a while I read an article by a new convert to Tradition who is seething with fury because he or she has been to a Traditional Latin Mass and now feels like "I was ROBBED!" Frankly, I don't think this is the best response to the sacred liturgy myself. I'd go with joy and gratitude although really my first response to the Edinburgh TLM was confusion, disorientation and awe.

Having been trained by the Novus Ordo to ponder the People of God, I was very aware of the People of God all around me, and they were all concentrating like mad on the altar. Thus, I was awed by the congregation more than by the liturgy, but that was my first time (as an adult) at the TLM, and perhaps that's to be expected. The congregation's attention was pointing to the central reality, just as Our Lady points to Baby Jesus in paintings.

I was really happy to have found the TLM when I did because I was so tired of ordinary Sunday liturgies that I had taken up going to the local German Mass. This was a result of my highfaluting theological education, which involved an unusual amount of Aquinas. Inter alia I intuited somehow that the language used at Mass should not be the language of ordinary life, and German fit the bill. (My German was much better then.) I had also become very precious about homilies, both in terms of intellectual rigour and of orthodoxy, and the great thing about German homilies was that if they were dumb or heterodox, my German wasn't good enough to know. The only phrase I remember from a Toronto German homily is "Grandma's apple pie." He was a lovely priest.

The majority of people who attended the German Mass 11 years ago were elderly and devout. They prayed in reverent silence, but their choir's pre-War voices were no longer in good singing order. My brother Nulli, who has perfect pitch, would have been in agony. Probably B.A. would have been too. Despite all attempts, I am not particularly musical, but even I was a bit ...

Okay, enough about the German Mass. What I want to do is express gratitude for the Novus Ordo-based catechesis of my childhood and teenage years because I am tired of being ashamed of it.

Benedict Ambrose is a convert from Scottish Episcopalianism and was an old-fashioned Anglican choir boy, so naturally he drank Coverdale's Psalms like Iron Bru and knows the Book of Common Prayer backwards and forwards and, no doubt, inside out.  The Anglican choral and liturgical tradition is objectively beautiful, and so he is very fortunate to have it all still coursing through his veins.

I used to feel very embarrassed before Anglicans, especially Anglican suitors flirting with Catholicism in an attempt to please me, because in my golden youth I knew just enough about music and art to know that contemporary Catholic music,  prayers, art and architecture were terrible compared to the High Anglican tradition which, I eventually realised, was a homage to mediaeval Catholicism.

However, the most embarrassing thing of all--until now--is that all that late 20th century music, prayer and art is actually part of me.  If ever I am languishing in prison for 'misgendering' or some other thought crime, I will not be meditating on the Psalms in Latin or the Coverdale translation but on the hymns of my youth.

"Looooord be my shep-heeeeeerd, let meeeeee be your sheeeeep!" 

There is no point crying "Wah! Wah! Robbed!" It's a fact. It's what I got. When I am a very old lady (or washing laundry in HMP Edinburgh), I will  remember being in the choir during an elementary school gym mass and watching my blonde little sister in the congregation doing the hand-gestures for "I Will Sweep Away Your Transgressions."

I will sweep away your transgressions like a cloud
And your sins will be to Me like a mist dissolved.
So return to Me; I will heal you, for I love you. 

After a promising start, catechesis in Religion Class was so negligible by Grade 8 even I knew it and complained to my mother, who mentioned it to a priest. We had some good and solid parish priests (two of them very probably crypto-trads), so I managed to learn the faith anyway. Just as influential, however, was the school music teacher, who beat a form of Catholicism into our heads via song. Is it worth mentioning that one of the first songs he taught my kindergarten class was "Havah Nagila?"

The most exciting part was:

"Uru achim belev sameach,
Uru achim belev sameach,
Uru achim belev sameach.
Uru achim! Uru achim!
Belev sam-e-e-e-e-ach!"

To this day, I have no idea what this means but, come to think of it, I wish he had taught us the dance, too.

It is now fashionable to rail against the St. Louis Jesuits, and Hagan and Haas, and all of those chaps and chapettes, but the truth is that I loved their songs when I was a child. I loved those songs when I was a teen. On Eagle's Wings made me cry.  I Am the Bread of Life did too. I was horrified when, in later life, I made a jest at the expense of the SLJ, and one of them emailed me a sharp reproof.

Mixed in with all these 1970s and 1980s hymns (and Godspell) was the Good News Bible, with its cool cartoons, and felt banners, but also exhortations from the pulpit to say the rosary; being enrolled in the Brown Scapular by, I now realise, Fr. Gruner himself; nativity plays; warnings against the SSPX; the Pope being shot; modern-day martyrs (killed in Latin America or Communist countries); modern-day confessors (priests imprisoned in Canada for pro-life work or in Communist countries);  resounding hymns composed by ancient Lutherans; and the whole half-new, half-old Catholic marinade which pickled at least some of us for life.

There is no reason to be ashamed of any of this, for those of us who grew up in it had very little say and the teachers and priests who plunged us in it were doing what they thought was God's will. Meanwhile, I have dozens of happy memories of trying to sing the Three Hymn Sandwich as loudly as my mother--who loves jolly church tunes--and cannot help to contrast them with the dirges we trads sing on Corpus Christi while trudging around the parish car park.

(No, but really. Could Scottish Catholics have been singing "Lauda Zion" to that tune throughout the 19th and 20th centuries? Surely not.)

There were, of course, divisions even in the 1980s. Of my two childhood churches, one had female altar servers and one did not. Both had Guitar Masses, but only one rang with "God Save the People." (My mother was and is strongly pro-union, but she drew the line at "God Save the People".) One was terribly left-wing, it turned out, and the other was decidedly Marian (and probably crypto-trad).

Meanwhile, there was the Cathedral, whose Novus Ordo was even more solemn than that of our Marian parish, and featured proper boys-and-men's choirs, thanks to the post-Vatican II survival of the Cathedral's choir school. Both my brothers went to that school, and naturally I was sad and resentful that there was no place there for girls. (It was not, however, an entirely joyful place for boys.) The choirs sang actual Latin hymns composed men with odd names like Palestrina and  Victoria. Tourists wiped away tears of gladness, and eventually I realised that this music, reserved for boys and boys alone, was the Quality, noble survivors from a liturgical shipwreck nobody ever talked about. 

England's Cardinal Heenan famously said that the experimental Novus Ordo he saw in 1967 was just not going to cut it with men. "At home, it is not only women and children but also fathers of families and young men who come regularly to Mass. If we were to offer them the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday we would soon be left with a congregation of women and children," he said.

Clearly he know what he was talking about. The Edinburgh TLM is one of the only Masses I have even been to (outside monasteries and seminaries) where men outnumber women 2 or 3:1.

But, you know, I was a child--a woman-child to boot--so yes, I loved the Novus Ordo and the Three Hymn Sandwich. They sank deep into my bones. As much as I like to think I would be singing the Credo in Latin when ISIS chopped off my head, it is more than likely that at that stressful moment, the only song I will remember will be "Loooord be my shep-heeeeerd, let meeeeee be your sheeep!"

Wednesday 7 August 2019

"I'll Not Be Working"

Hello from Edinburgh Airport. I am off to the USA for a work retreat, but "I'll not be working" I said to the inquisitive airport official. You need a visa for that. Nobody expect an investigative phone call from me over the next few days. 

It seems a bit unfair as Canadians had Monday as a holiday (as did many Scots, apparently, and my guess is that it was the modern replacement for Lammas Day), and so I didn't work three days in a row, wrote up two stories yesterday, and here am I not working again. 

Still, I have a book to review, so I will be kept busy, and meanwhile it will be nice to have yet another break from The Worst News in the World. Yesterday I went to spin class, barre class and Italian class before plunging into TWNW. Both stories I wrote yesterday were about sexual abuse of minors.

"Is there any pudding?" I asked B.A.

"Are there any ice cream bars left?" asked B.A.

"No," I said guiltily, having eaten the last one during an editorial meeting.

"Well, I'm set because I'll have the chocolate cornflake crispies," said B.A.

"Oh yes," I said. "I meant to tell you about that. I haven't eaten them all, but I ate some...."

Only now do I remember that there are carrot sticks somewhere in the fridge. 

Amazing fact: over the weekend, I did no mindless snacking. And also, I do no mindless snacking when there are no snacks. I still wandered in and out of the kitchen and opened and shut cupboards, but as there were no potential snacks, I did not eat them.  I think about going to Tesco for snacks, and then the snack attack passes. 

This is hard cheese on B.A., who is going to have to take any desired snacks with him to work and then back home again. The other solution is for him not to leave any open snack bags. Due to early childhood training, I have a psychological block against opening snack packages I didn't buy. Although not above raids on the cookie bag, I don't think I ever dared open a new pack.

Meanwhile, I have been practicing conscious interior kindness. Whenever I see a very overweight or obese person, I wonder how many children they have or what stresses they have been under, and then I feel a kind of solidarity with them. This is a great contrast the super-fit days of my late twenties, when I mentally divided women over 40 into two groups: the Hockey Moms (short hair, pudgy) and the Glamour Queens (dressed to the nines). Naturally, I wanted to be a Glamour Queen, which was shallow. That said, I don't think the ballerinas on the stationary bikes around me are shallow: I just think they are young and keen. Thus I feel a solidarity with them also, for I was once myself young and keen. 

It helps that my spinning class instructors yell a lot of encouragement including the message that There Is No Judgement in this  Room!

Saturday 3 August 2019

Lammas Day!

August 1 was Lammas Day, formerly a British harvest festival and "quarter day" in Scotland. The celebrations were tied to the wheat harvest, and peasants were expected to give their landlords a quantity of grain.  (In more recent times, Scottish tenants paid landlords their quarterly rent that day.) According to Wikipedia, the ancient Anglo-Saxons would take loafs of bread to church to have them blessed and then break them in four pieces, putting a piece in each corner of the barn.

Benedict Ambrose and I love incorporating ancient traditions into our lives in meaningful ways, so we celebrated Lammas Day by paying our first annual mortgage overpayment to the bank and eating a "Victoria Sandwich" cake, prepared by me.

Victoria Sandwich, by the way, is the easier cake in the world to make, because all you need are 6 oz self-raising flour,  a 1/4 tsp of baking power to make sure this "self-raising" actually happens, 6 oz butter, 6 oz sugar,  3 eggs and a 1/2 tsp of vanilla. You pop the cake (8' tin) in a 350 F oven for about 40 minutes, and when you have allowed it to cool, you slice it in half horizontally, take the top off, cover the bottom with jam (and whipped cream if you're ambitious), and then put the top back on and dust the whole with icing sugar.

August 10th will be our first anniversary of taking possession of St. Benedict Over the Apple Tree, and thus we are beginning to redecorate, using some of the savings we still have after the mortgage repayment. We thought waiting a year would be the best way to proceed, learning from the house, as it were, what it wanted done to it. (We also needed a year to recovery from the stress of buying and moving.)

Thus today I am going to go out and buy paint samples for the dining-room/guest-room/office, which wants to be red instead of magnolia.

"It will be terribly dark," says B.A., but I do not care because the room wants to be elegant and cannot abide magnolia walls when we entertain. If we ever sell, we can just paint it magnolia again. Meanwhile, I am uncertain as to how elegant the room can be as under the magnolia is a lot of textured wallpaper, and everyone advises us not to take it down, lest the plaster come down with it.  Fortunately, we have engaged the services of an artist friend who is quite brilliant at interior decorating.

The wisdom of painting the office red is somewhat dubious, I admit, as I have a hard time staying calm as I write or rewrite the Worst News of the Day. Early this week I had a total meltdown and hurt my hand by banging my fist on my desk three times, dislodging my M.Div. diploma on top of the desk, which fell to the floor.  I also shouted at poor B.A. who, despite having been married for ten years, made the mistake of saying "You just need to ...". After that I cried stormily for about five minutes. Finally I took the last two hours of my work day off, as I couldn't type with a towel of ice on my hand, and apologized to B.A. between giving him tips on how to speak to furious women.

The next day I casually mentioned my meltdown to various fitness instructors to see if they had any advice on how not to get into such a state, and to my surprise, one said "How sad that you're not allowed a meltdown."

Her philosophy was that when you need to melt down, you should just melt down.

"The the river run through it," she said. "I'm going to make that my mantra for the day."

I found this pro-meltdown stance incredibly revolutionary although, really, I don't think hitting my desk or shouting at B.A, is good outlet for my running river of rage. As I'm pretty sure a good old fashioned punching bag would work against the elegance we are planning for this room, I may invest in a large pillow to beat up instead. If we weren't going to replace the overly-soft single guest bed with a sofa-bed, I'd fling myself on that and flail about.

I think the idea that red-haired people are more passionate than others is nonsense, but I am also sure that Vikings lurk near the bottom of my family tree, and that at least one of them is a berserker. I wonder if they lived long enough to accumulate belly fat from all the cortisol. This reminds me that a good way to make a woman stop freaking out might be to say, "Remember your cortisol!"

Saturday 27 July 2019

How I Worked Against Stress This Week

Yesterday I skimmed a lawyer's cease-and-desist letter, said "Not my problem", sent it to my editors and went sailing out to exercise class. This is probably not what the author thought would happen. However, I had had a glorious week fighting the good fight against stress. Here's what I did:

1. I cut back to one cup of coffee a day.
2. I got up between 5:30 AM and 6 AM every day.
3. I went to 10 exercise classes (12 including the classes I went to after opening the lawyer's email).
4. I began reading L'Art de la Liste by Dominique Loreau.
5. I wrote a lot of lists, and they were very cathartic, just like the book promised.
6. I finished transferring my savings to my dad (a three day process) to wire to me here in the UK, so that I can (A) put down an annual overpayment on the mortgage and (B) pay my accountant his surprise fee.
7. I said the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament three days in a row.
8. I spent a few hours in the garden, weeding, mowing and chopping.
9. I had my blonde eyebrows weeded, mowed, chopped and dyed approximately the same colour as my hair.
10. I stayed off the internet before work, except to check emails. (A class was cancelled, and I didn't know because I hadn't checked my email.)
11. I began reading a book about puppy training. Thinking about puppies is tremendously relaxing.
12. I went with B.A. to the local famous ice-cream shop for ice-cream cones one evening.
13. I kept an eye on sugar--which means that I stuck to fruit and the occasional serving of ice-cream.
14. I enjoyed the very-rare-in-Scotland warm and sunny weather as much as I could.

This is not to say I had a stress-free week. I freaked out when I discovered I had to pay some taxes AT ONCE and also when I got a confusing and insulting surprise letter from my accountant's firm. ("We have been more than patient...") Anything combining paperwork and money sends me back to the depths of math class/piano practice hell, so that was very unpleasant. However, in general I had a very emotionally healthy week.

It helps that my spin class instructors launch into motivational speeches about how wonderful we are, how this time is for us, how there is no judgement in this room, how our strength begins in our minds, not our bodies, etc. "You are worthy," they yell. "You are enough!"

Saturday 20 July 2019

The Unflipped Switch & Soccer Speak

Can a cloth-eared, introverted native English-speaker who lives in the UK become fluent in a Slavic language?

Finding this out has been my principal hobby for seven years, and I still don't know the answer. I have learned a lot of Polish, though, as well as much information about memory training, bilingualism, cognition, and the imprecise definition of "fluent". 

There's a lot of unsettled science, so I feel free to believe that some people are born simply more talented than others in learning languages, possibly because the two sides of their brain "speak more quickly" to each other. Of course, early training is very important, too. When I think about the multi-lingual members of my family, the big stars are the ones who were put in French immersion schools as children. 

The biggest star, I suspect, is my sister Tertia, who is qualified to teach both French and Spanish, and is going to Italy in August for an Italian course. I am sure she will "smash it," as my Scottish spinning instructor would say. Tertia has everything going for her: early French immersion, a friendly disposition towards chatty strangers, years of experience teaching English abroad (mainly in Spanish-speaking countries), and God-given talent, whatever that is. 

Occasionally I ask fluent non-native speakers of English when they could understand it all, and the most vivid answer came from a gregarious Polish nurse who said that one day a switch just flipped in his brain. I am still waiting for the switch to flip, but I have made gains. 

The most astonishing gain is that I can now hear separate words in any foreign language, instead of just a mush of sounds. Somehow concentrating so much on Polish (and, to a much lesser extent, Italian) has vastly improved my ability to distinguish other foreign words, even when I don't understand what they mean.  

The most useful one is that I can now speak my less-than-standard Polish without feeling horribly self-conscious, which is very important, because "fear is the mind-killer," as says the "Litany Against Fear" in Dune.  This is thanks to my Polish tutor Anna, who says "Spokojnie" (Keep calm), whenever I am frantically searching my brain for some word I know I used to know. 

By the way, it is so much better to find a one-on-one conversation tutor than to take a night class once you have the basic grammar down. For one thing, you get in more speaking practise. For another, nobody laughs at your mistakes. Occasionally fellow students would laugh at my mistakes, and this wasn't helpful. Feeling strong emotion about a mistake does help you remember the correction, says the science, but I don't think this works when you begin to panic every time you try to speak in class. 

On Monday I was still in Poland and spoke almost as much Polish as I could, given that I was working in English on my computer much of the day. I didn't "have" to, of course, because Polish Pretend Son, Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law and their real family all speak varying degrees of charmingly accented English. (PPDIL says her English is so good because she began learning it at 7.) However, it was a brilliant opportunity to be immersed, and I was grateful that at supper PPS, Mrs PPS and PPS's Real Brother all chatted together po polsku, even  though I understood only about a third of what was said.

I did understand that PPS and his brother had plans to play football that evening, and that his wife was going to go along to watch and hoped I'd come with them. Naturally this was a cultural treasure not to be missed, so I toddled along.

"You'll hear a lot of bad words," warned PPS, and I certainly did, for about twenty Polish men gathered on the village green by the town's five-a-side pitch, and they had to play in shifts. Various words one hears on Edinburgh buses came floating over to where Mrs PPS and I sat admiring PPS and his brother as they ran about after the ball.  PPS's brother is a professional athlete, actually, so he can run a lot faster than PPS, who smokes and drinks, and I was edified to see PPS pass the ball to his brother as Mrs PPS squeaked encouragement from the seats. 

 "Is p****** a very bad word?" I asked PPS the next morning, trotting out one of the words I had learned during his game. 

PPS paused. 

"Yes," he replied austerely.

"Whoops," I said. "Sorry about that." 

This was rather amusing for it followed our discussion about dupa and kupa. My tutor Anna turned green when I once used the word "dupa" (roughly, arse), not being able to remember the proper word for "hips" (biodra, by the way), and when she discovered "kupa" (poo) in the children's story I was reading, she told me to stop reading it. 

PPS said this was puritanical, and I have to admit that it is limiting not to learn relatively off-coloured language because it makes up a certain amount of colloquial speech. For example, on Tuesday morning before driving me to the airport, PPS said that he had kupa pracy to do that day, which roughly translates to "a lot of work" or "a ****load of work," as Catholic lady journalists do not say. 

At the airport, I spoke Polish to all officials although I fell down a bit when I couldn't recall the words for "to the RyanAir desk" fast enough. (Note to self: "do kiosku RyanAir" would probably suffice.) As I stumbled, the young chap at the counter said in a cross tone that he spoke English, and I apologised in English, saying that I preferred to try to speak Polish in Poland.

"Of course that is very nice," he said in the same cheesed-off tone that doesn't necessarily match what the English-speaking Pole in Poland is feeling.

The fruit of this particular anecdote is that I didn't feel suicidal--as I certainly would have two years ago--but cheerfully went to the RyanAir kiosk to have my passport looked at and greeted the man there in Polish. 

"In maybe about seven more years I will be fluent," I had said to PPS.

"Maybe five," he said kindly.  

Friday 19 July 2019

"Feed My Sheep"

Neither Benedict Ambrose nor I emerged physically unscathed from his little cancer experience. B.A. has a long-term (if not permanent) bump on his head and I have two juicy rolls of belly fat, thanks to the stress and anxiety that B.A.'s tumour brought in its basket for little me. I have to say, though, that it's only fair that if he had to suffer damage, then I had to suffer damage, too, for we are married and therefore one flesh, etc.

However, I object to feeling sad all the time now that B.A. has mostly recovered, so I have cut my sugar intake, plan to get a puppy, and have taken up daily exercise classes.

Sometimes I take two exercise classes a day, and yesterday between one and the other I stopped into a   proper Catholic chapel to spend time with the Lord. My colleagues recommend that people in our line of work go to Mass every day, but the Mass nearest me is depressing, and the TLM is an hour away, and I have to get up before 6 AM even to catch the right train. But anyway I popped into the chapel and prayed my usually gloomy prayers, punctuated with "Lord have mercy." Then it occurred to me that I was wronging Our Lord by constantly addressing him as the Stern Judge. Thus I tried out, "Lord, I love you."

"Feed my sheep," was the response in my head, and then I remembered poor hapless St. Peter being asked three times if he loved the Lord and feeling a bit hurt even though, as we all know, there was reason for doubt.

This morning on my way to another exercise class, I thought that the instruction "Feed my sheep" might mean I am to write something other than The Worse News in the World, and that the one group of people I can really help today with my writing are other Catholic journalists, especially the ones who are fat because they are sad.

I checked this interpretation out with the Lord at the chapel this morning, and the image of a whale appeared in my head, which reminded me of Jonah, so I rushed home after class to get cracking instead of going to the library.

Right. So it has not escaped my notice that a significant number of Catholic journalists and bloggers are overweight, and although there is no doubt this is partly because we sit at a computer for eight hours a day or more, I believe it is also because we are terribly sad. We are terribly sad because we love the Church and the Church is in the middle of a civil war and we feel like the rug was pulled out from under us when Benedict XVI resigned.

It also feels like a hidden trap door opened before us, as we lay sprawling, and all kinds of  scary creatures came pouring out. I don't know if you remember this, but nobody was talking very much about communion-for-civilly-remarried or, heaven knows, celebrating in Church the "special gifts" that supposedly come along with same-sex attraction until October 2014. Here was Benedict, not even cold in his grave, having not actually died, and there were Archbishop Forte and Father Rosica making it up as they went along at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.

That was well after "Who am I to judge?", which actually I survived pretty well, as I read what Pope Francis actually said, although when I was in Rome soon after that, most of my friends there went about squeaking "Who am I to judge? Who am I to judge?" in falsetto, and if life were Tosca, Scarpia would have shoved us all in a Vatican dungeon.

My little triumphalist Irish Catholic peasant heart didn't break until the mid-term relatio was given to the media, and had Archbishop Gądecki had not stomped over to Vatican Radio to tell the Poles it was all nonsense, I do not know what I would have done. As it was, I got super-drunk.

But we know all this. Ancient history. Since then McCarrick and Wuerl et cetera and et alia. It never ends, and so Catholic journalists--possibly even the ones who are trying to Sing a New Church into Being--are very sad. I am sure the anti-Catholic journalists are having a whale of a time.

So what to do? Well, first, I would recommend that all Catholic bloggers and journalists not turn on our computers until we have done 45 minutes of exercise, gone outdoors and eaten breakfast. (This is where everyone says "I am not a doctor, talk to a doctor before beginning any exercise regimen, etc. etc.")

Second, I would recommend that all Catholic bloggers and journalists give up booze, smokes, coffee, sugar and whatever else makes people more unhealthy and more depressed.

Third, I would recommend that all Catholic bloggers and journalists fast from the internet before and after work hours. Yes, we are all addicts. Of course, we are addicts. Find something that isn't food that is just as interesting as the internet. Last night I decided it was sleep.

Fourth, I would recommend that all Catholic bloggers and journalists make sure we balance our gloomy prayers with happy prayers. Thank God for the sunshine and the rain and the kids in the family and how good you feel having taken up 45 minutes of exercise for the day.

Fifth, I would recommend that all Catholic bloggers and journalists return to fun activities they put aside when they took to their current job or blogging. For me, that would be actually blogging. I like blogging and giving advice and thinking about other people's romances. It's a lot more fun than writing about the latest homosexual bishop to be found covering up his favourite's homosexual sex abuse.

Sixth, I would recommend that all Catholic bloggers and journalists read and write about all the filth only when we have to--and we DO have to, since we are the fumigators of the Church, and nobody else will do the stinky job--and the rest of the time read and write about lovely things.

Seventh, set a timer and get up every 20 minutes to move around although NOT TO SNACK.

This last point is for me, since I find myself in the kitchen several times a day, usually while reading something particularly horrible I'm going to have to write about even though Christine Niles already did a fine job and I have nothing new to add.

Well, I hope this is helpful to someone. I am now now going to check my work email to see what new horrors have been unleashed on the Church and the world.

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Magaluf versus Milan

The one periodical that slips weekly through our letterbox is The Spectator, and so I was distressed this morning to read that James Delingpole, a personal hero, is allowing his daughter to go to a place known colloquially as "Shagaluf." The expensively-educated girl is 18, and so I am tempted into every parent's very favourite thing: the childless person's opinion of it all.

First, though, I should say that my distress is not untinged by envy because when I was 16 or 17, I very badly wanted to go to Italy to do an intensive course in Italian. My mother said no, and although this may have been partly because there was no money for this (which didn't really occur to me), I know it was because she had antiquated notions of what Italian men were like. 

Having recently read the reminiscences of a British woman her age about travelling to Italy with girls from her school in the 1960, I am more sympathetic now to her fears. Also, one of the first things that happened when I finally travelled alone to Florence at age 28 was that a complete stranger tried to pick me up using quite astonishingly bold lies. Finally, if I had had the gumption necessary for international social survival, I would have defied my mother, made all the arrangements, obtained a cheque book, paid for the term myself from my very hard-won earnings (if I had them), and then presented the permission slip after saying it was all paid for, so she had better sign. 

I did not have that kind of gumption, though. In fact, I may still have been too shy to call strangers on the phone--the reason why I never learned to drive, by the way, and now it is too late.

So now it occurs to me that Delingpole might know his daughter well enough to be certain she will come through a holiday in Shagaluf without harm. Still, I am of the opinion that an 18 year old girl should go nowhere near Majorca, and I am currently looking up excellent post-graduation Gap Year activities for former pupils to do in Rome. If they go, I will coach them very firmly about what to say to men in Italy who approach them with smiles, lies, and unwanted roses.

Monday 15 July 2019

Herring and Mead

The sun shone on Wrocław when I first arrived. I had had an uneventful journey, spent mostly in looking up words in my Polish dictionary. Amusingly, the excellent highway in East Germany abruptly went bumpy at the border, but after some kilometres inside Poland, it improved. Then it worsened. Then it improved. I could see the village of Legnickie Pole from the highway, which was a thrill, and the twin towers of St. Hedwig Church were very impressive.

Polish Pretend Son and Daughter-in-Law turned up in the Wroclawia mall's ground floor Etno Cafe to fetch me, and we had a good Polish conversation while we drank coffee, and then we went to the historic centre to walk around the beautiful, multi-coloured Rynek (Market), stopping for drinks and snacks before settling on a Georgian restaurant for lunch. My favourite drink-and-snack place in Wrocław is "Przedwojenna", which literally means "Pre-war" but practically means "Between 1919 and World War II."  Eugeniusz Bodo (1899-1943) was singing "Już Taki Jestem Zimny Drań" over the speakers, and Józef Piłsudskiej (1867-1935) glowered down from a wall. I had a beer and delicious herring fillets on bread. 

Berlin struck me as a little sad, although this may actually say more about me than Berlin. On the other hand, there are dozens of monuments commemorating very sad events in Berlin, so maybe not. Berlin 2019 is the kind of place where people strive to be anti-racist and super-welcoming and yet continue to use picturesque images of Africans and North American Indians to sell things--and stare daggers at foreigners who applaud at the end of a suite. 

In contrast, Wrocław struck me as cheerful, unpretentious, and unabashedly Catholic, in part because a public rosary was being held in front of a statue of St. John Paul II when PPS, PPDIL and I ducked, shamefully late, into the "Church of Most Blessed Virgin Mary on the Sand" for the Traditional Latin Mass. It wasn't our fault we were late: service was slow at the Georgian restaurant. Mass was said by this priest; he looked in good shape, I am happy to say.

PPS's first choices of restaurant were shut, by the way: Sunday closing is a big deal in Poland now. It's not just stores and other businesses; some Wroclawians decide to close their restaurants. This may be for the owners' summer holidays, of course.  

When Mass had ended, we discovered that rain was bucketing down. We hurried to the car, and then drove to PPS's home village, which was not too far away. Mr and Mrs PPS live in a little house,with a loo and an office on the ground floor and a bedroom and a massive salon on the first (i.e. top) floor, which resembles a luxurious attic. 

PPS, who always professed to hate hipsters, put a Glenn Miller record on the turntable and made some splendid coffee after grinding the beans himself. Glenn Miller was followed by Mieczysław Fogg (1901-1990) and then, the rain having paused, we went outside to the large garden to pick red currents, black currants and truly exquisite black cherries. When the rain began again we went back inside. 

PPS drank champagne and I drank mead at a round table in the middle of the big room, and Mrs PPS drank neither as she is having a baby in December. I admired a photo of PPS and PPDIL at the local races and risked the eternal wrath of PPS by bragging about the supremacy of British hats for women and encouraging PPDIL to look up Philip Treacy. As a matter of fact, though, PPDIL already has a splendid British-level pink hat.  

PPS put on Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, which the young couple saw in Wrocław not too long ago. PPS read, and told PPDIL, that in that modern production R and J would survive, but he had been misinformed, and PPDIL cried buckets when they died. (In contrast, I sighed with relief when R and J   perished in a super-hip Kraków production of the Shakespeare play because it seemed to go on forever and the declension of Romeo--especially the genitive, Romea--was dancing on my nerves in hobnailed boots.) 

PPS and PPDIL are particularly fond of the scene in the ballet where Lady Capulet dances her rage and grief at the death of Tybalt, so we heard it two or three times, and then PPDIL went to sleep and PPS and I went for a walk around the dark, damp village. We saw the greatest hits: the railway station, the pizza parlour where PPS had his bachelor party, the one bar, the parish church, the TB sanatorium, the fantastic restaurant with the glorious duck pierogi, and the building PPS lived in as a child. I also admired the various examples of native architecture, which includes high, steeply sloping rooves, jutting gables and quaint balconies. The streets are lined with trees, and if there is any bomb damage in the last war, it was certainly not obvious to me.   

So that was my day in Lower Silesia, which the Poles call Dolny Śląsk, and today I have been carted off to an even smaller village in the countryside to write while PPS carries out some family business. My vacation is over, and I am back at work today. Fortunately it is the kind of work that can be done anywhere where there is an internet connection although I am somewhat hampered by the lack of a phone.  

Alas, my strict linguistic fast from English only lasted a few hours. However, I don't think I did too badly, and we all go back to Polish from time to time. 

Sunday 14 July 2019

Breslau? Wrocław!

I am in Wrocław, having just alighted from the bus. It left Berlin at 8:05 AM, which is why there have been no updates.

There is not too much to say about yesterday as I had a massive headache and, after a late brunch at KaDeWe, which is really an astonishing department store and much nicer than Harrod's, went back to the flat.

B.A. and I went to the 6 PM Vigil Mass, and it was fine. Excellent organ, so-so organist, 40 people including priest, altar girl and female EMHC. The priest spoke good clear German, which we couldn't understand well, but we were edified all the same. One family, which appeared to be a set of grandparents, a dad and a boy. That was it for children in this genteel Berlin neighbourhood church.

We spent the evening babysitting (so to speak) Peanut and Popcorn, which included eating pizza and salad while watching and singing along to "Help".

Now B.A. is on his flight back to Edinburgh, and I am waiting in Etno Cafe (the ground floor one) in the Wroclawia mall, having spent a pleasant 3.5 hour bus ride trying not to think in English. And that is it for my English now, for I am going to attempt exclusive Polish for the next 26 hours.

Saturday 13 July 2019

Croissants and a Friendly Grave

Yesterday Benedict Ambrose and I decided to take it easier. We went back to Kreuzberg for coffee and croissants at Chapter One, and then we walked through the market hall to Bergmannstrasse to look for the Dreifaltigheitsfriedhof (cemetery). It was marked on the map only as a green space, but we found it easily--in fact, it was just down the street from Felix Austria, where we all ate on Monday night.

The Dreifaltigheitsfriedhof is a delightful and typical Central European cemetery with lots of trees and impressive monuments--statues and Grecian temples, for example. Some of the gravestones had the profile of the deceased cast in bronze. Thanks to this feature, we easily found the grave we were looking for--that of Woldemar Bargiel, a composer and great-great-uncle of a good friend. Bargiel's grave is in the middle of the Friedhof under an oak tree and to the left of a great domed monument with a mosaic ceiling. A new pine bench right beside it doesn't add anything, but there is a proper dark bench at a distance, which serves for contemplation of Bargiel's profile.

We were very pleased that we had found Bargiel, for whom we prayed, and then we went back onto Bergmannstrasse for a relaxed ramble, being careful not to be hit by the bicycles flying down their special lane on the pavement. Bicycles are king in Berlin.

We got on the U-Bahn at Mehringdamm and went to Friedrichstrasse and Dussmann Das KulturKaufhous, a  splendid multi-story bookshop, to buy presents for Peanut and Popcorn. Peanut got a kids' English-language comic book of the Odyssey  and Popcorn got a Semikolon notebook as a journal. (I love, love, love Semikolon stuff, which I can't find anywhere now except Amazon and Germany.)

I was mildly offended that Dussmann's English and International section did not have any Polish books. They had French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Dutch, Turkish, Arabic, and Chinese books, but nothing in Polish. To put this in perspective, there are over 100,000 Poles living in Berlin. However, I see that there is Buch Bund to fill the book gap.

We went back to Alt Tempelhof and bought some groceries. Back at the flat, we had a rest from all that shopping and then researched local Saturday Vigil masses. Tomorrow morning I leave for Wrocław and B.A. returns to Scotland for an academic conference. We found a local church with a vigil mass a 15 minute walk away and walked to it. It seems to have been built in the 1880s and was completely whitewashed at some point. It has really super Gothic altarpieces and statues, which B.A. thinks are excellent 19th century copies. There was also an elderly lady sitting in a pew reading  the newspaper: presumably she was keeping an eye on the place. When we went in there was a large man  in casual clothing and sporting a big beard smoking outside the parish house. We greeted him with "Guten Abend" and assumed he was the priest.

Back at the flat, we saved concert tickets onto a data stick and took Nulli with us to a print shop on Georgenstrasse and then the Berliner Dom to hear the concert. Berliner Dom had the biggest pipe organ in the world when it was first installed, and the concert featured Felix Hell playing it.  He played pieces by Reger, Von Rheinberger, and Healey Willan.

After the first piece by Reger, B.A. came a cropper by pulling his usual claque stunt. In Edinburgh, you can assume that a cathedral concert is filled with musical know-nothings (like me) who don't know when to applaud. B.A., therefore, cocks his head, raises his hands, and then hits them together to produce the sound of a gunshot. Sadly, it did not occur to me to warn him that Berlin is probably not like this and that even a cathedral concert in Germany is likely to be stuffed with Hochschule music teachers, not bored tourists. Anyway, after the first piece, B.A. made his gunshot noise, and there was a polite patter of applause, but not before a woman in a brown wig turned around, attempted to kill B.A. with her eyes and hissed something in German which none, and yet all, of us understood.

"We applaud each piece in Britain," B.A. loudly whispered to me, and later gave me the green light to blog that he said that. It cannot be too widely known (e.g. in Berlin) that we applaud each piece in Britain. But not in Germany, peoples.

After that there was no more applause for Felix Hell until the last note of Healey Willan died away.  Benedict Ambrose and Nulli enjoyed the concert in their knowledgable way--Nulli rather more knowledgeable than B.A. as he is an organist himself--and I put up with it and looked at the golden ornaments around and the statues of the Major Protestant Reformers and wondered if the Vatican was really as corrupt in Calvin's day as it appears to be in ours, etc. Your humble correspondent can appreciate "The World of the Organ" recorded by Simon Preston, but that's about it.

Afterwards B.A. and Nulli said things like "He made me like that "Adagio" until the last note" and "He really swooped into the Willan at the end." We made our way back over the Frederich Bruecke (bridge), on which a bearded man was still creating large flocks of bubbles with a long stick and children were still dancing among them.  Nulli then hurried home to his family, and B.A. and I attempted to eat sushi, but no waiter came to take our order so we went to a late-night grocery shop back on Bergmannstrasse, and went home to eat pasta and "grave lachs", which most readers will know better as grave lox.

I had dreams about Pope Benedict and then about spies.