Saturday 30 March 2019

Helping Girls Become Happy Women

When I first began to blog twelve years ago, my primary concern was finding meaning and happiness in  life as a Catholic Single woman. I was in my mid-thirties, and I thought my marriage chances were poor. The fault, I believed, lay with the Sexual Revolution and also with my younger self by having a lousy attitude towards boys and men.

(It is a myth, by the way, that men don't like "smart women." Most men like smart women. Most men just don't like women who tell them they're stupid.)

Feeling oppressed by crushes on boys that verged on OCD, I would tell my fellow high school students that the Amazons had the right idea. It took me a very long time to develop the insight that women who want to marry and have babies shouldn't sound like Lesbian Separatists. The reality, of course, is that I was frightened of boys.

When I began to blog, I was less frightened of being Single than I was of others marrying the wrong person, which I thought was hell on earth. At some point I had the insight that it is equally problematic to BE the wrong person. I was the wrong woman for anyone until I was in my thirties, which was good (when he came along I was free to marry Benedict Ambrose) and bad (no children).

My concern now is how women can become "the right woman" for anyone before their fertility dies and also how men can become "the right man" before all the fertile women are 15 years younger than they are. It's the rare 40 year old man who looks all that attractive to a 25 year old girl.

I think the biggest block to happiness for women is not understanding where happiness resides. As girls my generation of women didn't know where happiness resided because we were lied to. We were told that it was boring, wrong, laughable and dangerous to get married young and have babies.

Cool girls did not want to get married young and have babies. Cool girls wanted to beat boys at their own game, man, and become the first woman CEO of BigCo/Premier of Ontario. At the very least, cool girls got Careers--or became poets and moved downtown. When I found out a classmate was getting married the summer after high school to a dentist, I was horrified.

Housewives were unhappy, I believed. Even if a woman was lucky enough to find true love with a prince of a fellow with a good job, she would be stuck at home being stupefied with boredom, wasting her brain, wasting her life. Yada yada.

It did not occur to me to investigate these claims or ponder why it was that people despised housewives so much or find out why not all housewives threw off their shackles. Having known some  horrible boys (and read some very horrible things), I believed almost everything I read about the so-called Patriarchy, and thought it was responsible for just about everything bad. If it weren't for being a Catholic, I might have become a Lesbian Separatist after all. Being a Catholic, I was perturbed by the overt anti-Catholicism of the feminist movement and, of course, its obsession with abortion.

The embarrassing truth about women is that we want to be whatever society tells us "good women" are. And society jerks us around by changing its mind. Currently we're asked to be "badly-behaved", as in "Well-behaved women seldom make history." It's a con, though. It's saying that good behaviour is bad behaviour, and bad behaviour is good behaviour. What?

When I was going slowly mad at Boston College, I had a fit when someone whined about Catholicism being too obsessed with sin.

"We're all obsessed with sin," I snarled. "Only what we now think are sins aren't sins. People think smoking and belonging to the Republican Party are sins."

There was dead silence, either because the seminar group strongly believed that smoking and belonging to the GOP were very serious sins indeed or that it was obvious I was slowly going crazy.

I'll tell you something: most women, like most men, don't make history (whatever that is). We're lucky if, after sacrificing our marriage capital and fertility, we even have careers instead of a succession of dull jobs in unhealthy buildings with grey wall-to-wall carpets.

It's time to forget about "making history" and focusing on making happiness. In general, people make women happy: fond parents, thoughtful siblings, bright children, loyal women, decent men, supportive colleagues. Therefore, girls should be taught how to be fond, thoughtful, bright, loyal, and decent themselves, how to recognise these qualities in others, and how to help them develop.

Naturally, this is easier said than done, and there's a lot to sort out. But I think one thing that is absolutely crucial is to prevent boys and girls from growing up resenting each other.

Leggings and tiny Ts.

As every Catholic blogger knows, there's nothing like writing about women's clothing to get the hits.

Today I volunteered to write about the brave Catholic mom who asked the young ladies of Notre Dame University to stop wearing leggings without something to cover their butts. Her one mistake was not to say, okay, wear the leggings, but wear long shirts with them, for cryin' out loud because the tiny T-shirt detail is getting lost in the media circus. The controversy is not really about leggings but about women's rumps waggling about. (We're all too shy to discuss what's going on in front.)

Going out wearing a tiny T-shirt and skin-tight leggings and a tiny T-shirt is pretty much the same as going out wearing a tiny T-shirt and tights.  It actually is the same as going out wearing long underwear. My thought is this combo is okay at the gym, where everyone is focused on their own body, but nowhere else.

I cut out my reflections on my boxing days three times. In the end, I decided it would really detract from my point, which is that young women wield a lot of sexual power, and they should be gentle with it, as gentle as they expect young men to be be with their physical power.

This is not about blaming women. This is about asking young women to be careful. We ask young men to be careful all the time. We shout at them from birth to not hit girls. We ask them to be careful when roughhousing with their sisters.... Anyway, it's all in my article.

I realize that some of you may be disappointed that I have joined the ranks of the finger-waggers. But, hey, at least I have not joined the women-should-never-wear-trousers-dirndls-are-best brigade. And to cheer you up, here's my once-famous Modest Proposal.

Incidentally, if we're fighting about women's clothing again, it must be spring.

Friday 29 March 2019

The Huggy Priest

It's been a long time since I had an "Auntie Seraphic" letter, but this one was so brilliant and touches upon a problem is probably experienced by many that I thought I would share the outlines.

In short, a single woman active in her parish hates being hugged by her priest. The priest hugs everyone, and she wonders if any of them also dislike it. This priest hugs her at the Sign of Peace, and she's too embarrassed to stop him. She tries to avoid him, but when she can't, he at least squeezes her arm. He also says the equivalent of "You are the sunshine of all our lives" (I won't repeat the original in case it would identify him and her) which she finds odd.

My advice was for her to tell him, to his face or by phone or by email, that she doesn't like being hugged or squeezed by him and she wants him to stop. If he hugs or squeezes her again after that, she should remind him that she asked him not to. But if he does it again, she should go to the Safeguarding Officer at either the parish or the diocese.

I'm a three-strikes-he's-out kind of Auntie. Personally I'm uncomfortable with a man who wields (whether he likes it or not) as much spiritual and psychological power as a priest hugging people who are not his personal friends and relations. I also wonder who and what these hugs are really for. Does the priest, living alone as I assume he does, long for human touch?

But that said, I don't think it is necessary for your fellow reader to go to the Safeguarding Officer unless the priest proves that he does not respect her boundaries. My reader is over 24. If my reader were under 24, I would have suggested she consult the Safeguarding Officer sooner because I believe the under-24 set needs more help in asserting their rights before authority.

I wasn't born in a huggy culture, but my high school, which teemed with the daughters of Italian immigrants, was huggy. Now that I live in Scotland, which is not at all huggy, I have to judge which of my friends is huggy and which is not, and sometimes I get them mixed up, just like I mix up who gets one air kiss (old-school Britons I've known for years), who gets two (Britons who like France), and who gets three (close Polish friends).  Therefore I am giving the huggy priest the benefit of the doubt--either he comes from a huggy culture in which the good spiritual daddy gives all his spiritual children hugs, or he thinks he is now in one.

Still, no-one should have to submit to any kind of embrace he or she doesn't want. Sadly, social codes meant to protect people from unwanted physical contact have fallen into disuse.  For example, a man  could only shake a woman's hand if she offered it to him first, and she didn't have to take her glove off. Another useful custom that has fallen into disuse is showing marked reverence for the hands of a priest. (I am suddenly entranced by the thought of a devout-but-desperate Catholic burglar hitting a priest on the head but being very careful not to touch his hands.)

However, the social codes have fallen apart, and so it is up to men and women to swallow our embarrassment and to tell each other what we do or do not welcome. The sooner, the better, too, so it does not come out in an agonised "STOP HUGGING ME THIS IS SCOTLAND NOT YOUR ITALIAN-CANADIAN HIGH SCHOOL." Worse, it could turn into a whispering campaign against an innocent, if clueless, person.

Meanwhile, it never ceases to amaze me that some priests still risk violating the boundaries of their parishioners. Once again I am so grateful to my mother for training me in the priests-are-men school of thought. When, at the tender age of 14, I told her that Fr X had used bad language at me over the phone, she told me that I should have hung up on him.

"But he's a priest," said I with awe.

I wish I could remember her exact words. However, they were along the lines of "A priest is a man and don't have anything to do with men who swear at 14-year-old girls on the phone." That said, decades later, I have been yelled at by three intemperate and vulgar priests over the phone, and in the words of Sophie Scholl, I'm proud of it.

Thursday 28 March 2019

Method for Healing Sorrow 2, 3, 4

Once a month I have a work-sponsored retreat day. This is not a "day-off" but an opportunity to reflect on work and come up with insights for improvement. Yesterday I also discovered three other methods for healing sorrow.

As usual on retreat day, I went to 8 AM Mass and spoke to a priest about work for an hour. At Mass I palpably felt my mood lift, in part because I need feel no guilt or worry about the number of stories to be written. I could just read something that wasn't news.

After chatting with my priest, I went to Edinburgh  Central Library to read Newspaper Journalism: A Practical Introduction. As this was published in 2005, it is somewhat out of date. However, most of it is still relevant. It reminded me, too, that thousands of people do the same job I do, only usually better qualified.

At noon I met a friend for lunch at Brew Lab. One of the owners of Brew Lab knows my name, which is very gratifying, especially now that I don't go there every week. My friend brought me eggs from her hens, a wonderful treat. Afterwards we went to a good bookshop, and browsed the Classics.

When my friend had made her purchases, we said goodbye near the George IV Bridge. She went to the Grassmarket, where her car was parked, and I went to Edinburgh University to continue reading Newspaper Journalism and wait for Language Tandem at 3. It is "Europe Week" at the Uni, and so there are various multicultural and multilingual events.

Unfortunately, I did not understand that one had to find a language partner in advance, so when I turned up in the correct room, I discovered that there were no Polish or Italian speakers.  Thus, I continued to read Newspaper Journalism and discovered that British journalists are all supposed to know shorthand.

Seeing it was 4 PM, I walked back to Central Library and asked for a book on Pitman New Era shorthand. It was so entrancing, I took out a notebook and began to learn the first "outlines" (phonetic codes) right away. It's such a brilliant tool, I don't know why I didn't think of this before.

At 5 PM, I was in Tiger Lily's cocktail bar, which may seem weird for a retreat day, but I had arranged to meet a friend who is a very busy primary school teacher, and when we do meet, this is usually where we go. We had a good long chat, and I had two cocktails whereas she stuck to lemonade, and then we did a bit of window gazing along fashionable George Street on our way towards the train station.

When I got home at 8 PM, I felt that I had had a thoroughly splendid and profitable day. The methods for healing sorrow were public prayer (which stops private prayer from becoming self-absorbed), pals and Pitman--which is to say, something new and useful to learn.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Methods of Healing Sorrow 1

Italian class. Discovering again how beautiful the language is.  Noting that I usually remember the "irregular" stresses without having to think about it. Bouncing my sorrows off my Italian tutor, since he asks how I am. Telling nothing but the direct truth because it's easiest. Remembering being 18 and confronting the passato remoto for the first time.

Fighting Sorrow

Well, I should have known better. A week or so ago, Benedict Ambrose suggested that we watch a BBC comedy called "Fleabag." He didn't suggest I watch the first season, and when I viewed it on my own, late at night, I understood why. The nameless heroine--referred to by all as Fleabag--has a lot of sex. She's a species of English Carrie Bradshaw--only heartbreakingly sad. Sex is her way of fighting sorrow, and she's as compulsive as an internet addict.

But Season 2 isn't sex-drenched, and even Season 1 was enormously clever and well-acted. Viewers were introduced to a kindly but foul-mouthed young priest who was invited by Fleabag's stepmother-to-be to an engagement dinner. The priest is very happy to have been invited to the dinner, even though the air bristles with family tension, because he is so lonely.


Fleabag is erotically attracted to the young priest, whereas he shrewdly perceives that what Fleabag needs, most of all, is a chaste male friend. Unfortunately, this chastity lasts only until the end of Episode 4 when he is discovered by Fleabag at 9:45 PM drunk in the vestry, looking for a hidden bottle. Because he is determined to find out Fleabag's secret sorrow, he persuades her to enter the confessional---and here I became very uncomfortable.  To make an excruciating--and jaw-droppingly sacrilegious--scene short, I'll just say that Fleabag delivers a heartbreaking monologue and the priest kisses her. There is a lot of panting and snorting before, mercifully, a painting falls off the wall, and the priest rushes off in sorrow. 

It was a while before I saw that part, though, as I was out of my seat, across the room, and yelling about cancelling the TV license a split-second after the priest pulled aside the curtain. Poor B.A. gave me a running commentary.  B.A. doesn't wade through the sludge of the clerical sexual abuse and coverup scandal every day. 

Here's the thing. For THIRTY YEARS ("If boys could have babies, there'd be a clinic in St. John's," sneered Canadian pro-aborts in the late 1980s) ordinary faithful Catholics have borne the brunt of the clerical sexual abuse scandal. Most damaged are the ordinary faithful Catholics who were themselves sexually abused or seduced: not just the tiny minority who were under eleven, but the boys aged 11-18, the young men, the young women, and helpless elderly in hospitals. But the rest of us haven't escaped entirely.

For thirty years non-Catholics and ex-Catholics have mocked the faithful, especially the entire brotherhood of priests, with the sexual sins of a handful of perverted criminals. And when Catholics, trying to get to grips with the problem, observe that the largest group of victims were teenage boys and young men and therefore homosexuality must have something do to with it, other Catholics start screaming about the women. Well, yes. We Catholics all know about the women. I know at least three women who have been molested by priests, and two women who had affairs with them. It's painful. 

And I haven't even mentioned the corrosive anti-catholicism that has been part and parcel of life in Great Britain for over four hundred years. It's still here because Catholicism is still against the state religion, which is now Sex. And that's painful, too. At cocktail parties--when I still went to cocktail parties--I went through verbal contortions not to have to name the newspaper I wrote for.  Never mind the fact that Great Britain is, on paper, so much against hatred for minority religious and so much for religious diversity. 

What do I do to escape the sorrow of wading through the swamp that is the decline and fall of Western Christendom? I sit down after supper with my husband and watch clever, funny television shows. And I honestly thought that I was watching a show in which Catholicism would be allowed to speak firm, kind words against the sexual libertinism that is making so many post-Christians so miserable. 

But no. Fleabag's writer--an enormously talented woman--did not allow that. That wasn't her intent. Her intent was to eroticise chaste Catholic celibacy, to eroticise the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation, and to show Mighty Aphrodite defeating even the mighty Catholic priesthood. 

Have a look on Twitter to see how much British television audiences liked that. They LOVED that. They terribly want Fleabag to have sex with that priest. Terribly. They think he is the perfect man for Fleabag, yada yada, and yet when women start suing British dioceses, they will tut-tut about Catholic priests seducing vulnerable women ("although at least it isn't boys").

It was a long time before I could sleep, so angry and disappointed was I. And this led me to reflect that I am angry and disappointed every day, and that when Hilary White had my job, she longed to write about marine biology. 

Clearly the BBC is no escape from sorrow. 

Wednesday 20 March 2019

A Good Film

I stayed up late last night watching Denial on Netflix.  It is a dramatisation of the libel case the English military historian David Irving brought against Penguin Books and the American Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt. The film was very well written and had a brilliant cast: a who's who of splendid contemporary British actors.

Irving (played by Timothy Spall) objected to a book by Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weiss) that described him as a Holocaust denier, but the trial centred on Irving and the very serious question of whether or not he had intentionally suppressed or twisted what he knew to be the truth to advance his racist, anti-Semitic ideology.

A secondary theme in the film was the battle between reason and sentiment. Lipstadt wanted to present emotion-laden arguments and even allow Holocaust survivors to tell the judge their stories; her legal team didn't want to give Irving, who represented himself, a chance to humiliate Holocaust survivors in court. He had done it before. The film also contrasts the loud New Yorker Lipstadt with her old-school, very British representatives, at least one of whom was also Jewish.

Afterwards I clicked to Youtube and watched footage of the real David Irving and the real Deborah Lipstadt being grilled by journalist Jeremy Paxman. It was a bit of a shock, revealing the one injustice of the film, which was that Irving was not as ugly as Timothy Spall and Lipstadt was much older and less attractive than Rachel Weiss. I suppose there is some sort of cinematic rule that the racist baddie must be ugly and the damsel-in-distress must be beautiful, lest the audience be confused.

Nevertheless, the film was a love-letter to defeating bad arguments with good arguments and exposing lies with truth. It showed in an even-handed fashion that the mob outside the courtroom yelled abuse at both Irving and Lipstadt. This, too, provided a contrast to the careful intellectual battle being waged within the courtroom.

I doubt Denial would change the minds of Holocaust deniers, but aesthetically speaking, it is a good and thoughtful film.  

Incidentally, Holocaust denial takes some surprising forms. This morning I was astonished to see that an author named "David Horowitz", apparently to annoy Poles, had tweeted "I've been to Auschwitz, and you would hardly know a Jew died there."

Well, I went to Auschwitz in 2014, both Auschwitz 1 (which has the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign) and Auschwitz 2 (which has the railway tracks). At Auschwitz 1 sets of placards written in several languages, including English and Polish, made it clear that hundreds of thousands of Jews, among others, died there. The information is very detailed and precise, and shows where the Jews came from, both in terms of nationality and of any camps they had been transferred from.  At Auschwitz 2, there is an English-language memorial stating that over a million people, mostly Jews, died at Auschwitz.

What surprised me, and perhaps surprised Mr Horowitz, was that Auschwitz 1 was originally a small Polish army base which the invading Germans had taken over and converted into a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners. This early history of Auschwitz is also preserved and clearly explained to visitors. Thus, when you first make your way through the indoor museum, you are confronted with the photographs of a good many Polish Catholics, including young monks.

I don't see how it could be helpful to anyone to denigrate, resent or lie about the memorials of anyone who died at Auschwitz.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Back to Italian classes

Work duties have necessitated a return to my Italian tutor.


I started today, la festa di San Giuseppe. My poor tutor has been plunged back into the world of Vatican politics. Naturally I had to fight through great thickets of mental Polish to get at the wandering flock of superannuated sheep that is my Italian vocabulary. Amusingly--for my tutor--I invariably said "ale" (Polish for "but") instead of "ma", just as I used to say "o" (Italian for "or") instead of "lub" or "albo" to my Polish tutor.

Afterwards I went to Elm Row and Leith Walk on a hunt for zeppole di San Giuseppe. I bought some cannoli in case I couldn't find the zeppole.  As a matter of fact, I did find zeppole, but the cannoli--from The Sicilian Pastry Shop--were better.

On the bus home with my pastry boxes I listened to Max Pezzali and 883 on my phone, but I had a weird feeling of 1980s dejà vu more in keeping with this song:

Once again I was back in Mrs Angelini's senior Italian class on the third floor of the Tudor-Gothic fort that was my high school, wool plaid kilt sticking to my thighs. Someone in class wrote an essay about "Terra Promessa." I could probably write an essay on Italy in the 1980s even though I didn't get there until 1998.

Sunday 17 March 2019

Grzegorz has cancer.

My language study ground to a halt last month when I discovered a small scandal about plagiarism that turned into a big scandal about fraud and may yet turn into an enormous scandal about clericalism. 

At any rate, I became so wound up by the scandal that I decided the best thing to do to take my mind off it was to listen to my next Polish lesson in the "Real Polish" series. It was about Grzegorz (G'sheh-gosh) who has smoked for 20 years. Grzegorz' doctor told him to quit. Grzegorz didn't listen. Then Grzegorz' wife and children told him to quit. He didn't listen to them either. Everyone begged him to quit, but Grzegorz told them to stop worrying because nothing would happen to him. 

Are you acquainted with Polish film? If so, you already know what happened to Grzegorz.

Yes, Grzegorz has cancer, and his doctor can't help him: it's too late.  Good-bye, Grzegorz. Good-bye. 

So depressed was I by this mention of the C-word (which in Polish, rak, is presumably the R-słowo) that I hit a mental block and stopped studying either Polish or German. I use up all my free time on plagiarism-scandal research because I don't want to think about Grzegorz and his stupid cancer. Incidentally, reading the tax returns of registered charities is a lot of fun. 

I spent too many Italian and Polish classes in 2017 talking about my husband's brain tumour and how he was mysteriously turning into a living skeleton. It was probably cheaper than therapy, mind you.  And as a result I already know the Polish words I need to deal with cancer, e.g. the ones that mean "My husband cannot go through the X-ray, for he has a tube in his brain." 

Yesterday, however, I forced myself back into Grzegorz's terrible story. I wrote it out from two different perspectives. Then I wrote it a third time on printer paper and cut it up for reassembly on the kitchen table. Tonight I will finish studying Grzegorz's fate so that tomorrow I can move onto Lesson 33. 

Life is conspiring to prevent me from becoming fluent in other European languages, but I will not permit it. One day I will be fully fluent in both Polish and Italian and be able to cope in German, French and Russian. Urdu will have to wait until I am retired.  

A Very British Evening

Yesterday evening was damp, cold and drizzly.

"Wear your tweed coat," said Benedict Ambrose. 

B.A. put on a green quilted jacked, a heavy tweed coat and a matching tweed cap. I pulled my own tweed coat over a black dress and my MacLean tartan sash. We were having a rare outing to the theatre, and I reject the habitual dowdiness of Edinburgh audiences. Mindful of the rain, I shoved my green silk shoes into a cotton bag and put on my rain boots. Naturally the wind blew out my umbrella on our way to the Tesco bank machine for cash. 

We took a double-decker bus to Bruntsfield, looking at the damp, darkening 17th, 18th and 19th century streets, and the crowds of people, many of them young tourists, huddled under nylon hoods. I was very glad to be on a bus and that its terminal stop was so close to the theatre. 

Our first port of call was Tuk-Tuk, an Indian restaurant, for an early pre-theatre dinner. It is BYOB, so after we ordered, B.A. popped back into the rain to get a bottle of beer from the nearest supermarket. The British have eaten curry at home since the mid-18th century, and the first Indian restaurant opened in Britain in 1809. Going out for, or bringing home, a curry is one of the most British activities I can think of.  Fish and chip shops didn't start up until the 1860s. 

The menu said the plates would be small, so we should order three per person: an excellent marketing idea to trap the unwary. We ordered vegetable samosas, "Bengali fish cakes", mixed vegetable pakoras, butter prawns, eggplant and potato curry and chana masala (chickpea curry). I had a coconut lassi, too. We shared a naan, with which we scooped up the butter prawn sauce. It was too much food, and later we were sorry.

The interior of the restaurant gives the exotic impression of being a large shed, perhaps somewhere on a country road somewhere in India. It was rather too cold, and the patrons rather too Scots, to contribute to the illusion, but I at least had the radiator at my back.

"I thought you were wearing a sari," said a friendly Indian waiter, having a better look at my tartan sash. 

B.A. paid up. I put my rubber boots back on, and we crossed the street to the King's Theatre. There I handed over my boots and coat to the check-out volunteer and went with B.A. to the bar. We sat at a corner table and drank carbonated water very, very slowly, hoping the bubbles would ease our overcrowded tummies. It was amusing to watch the bar fill up with people having a snort before the show. 

This was, by the way, Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado," which has been a hit since it opened in 1885. I was a G&S fan as a child, and B.A. has been one his entire life, acting in several G&S comic operas from the age of 18 to about 28, when he played Koko. B.A. swore off acting before I met him, which is really too bad, but he says he doesn't have the energy any more. 

As always "The Mikado" was great fun, although this version of "I've Got Them on The List" mocked Theresa May, Donald Trump, and Brexit, which I thought a bit safe. Mocking the Duke of Edinburgh's driving accident was edgier, I thought, for a mostly elderly Edinburgh audience. And I suppose they couldn't really present the sexual assault charges against the former First Minister as a joke.    

In Scottish theatre productions it is interesting to see what actors do about accents. Poohbah and Go To went full plummy English, whereas Nanki Poo was mildly English, and Koko was decidedly local.    Meanwhile, every last actress wore a black bob wig, which was startling (to say the least), and I am surprised "The Mikado" doesn't get picketed by the Woke. However, "The Mikado" wasn't poking fun at the Japanese but at the English Japanoiserie craze of the early 1880s. The English love to make fun of themselves, and Edinburgh is one of the least anti-English parts of Scotland, so all was well. 

When the show was over (no standing O), the vast majority of the audience picked up the coats they had been sitting on for two and a half hours and toddled off into the night. I went back to the minute cloakroom and got my tweed, boots and broken umbrella. Then B.A. and I got onto another double decker bus and listened to an Edinburgher of about 60 mansplain "The Mikado" to the silent lady next to him. 

We alighted at Princes Street where we got another bus. We avoided the Rough Bus as it was 11 PM, and we were hoping for a peaceful journey without drunks. Our dream came true. I was so sleepy that, after reading my email, I eschewed my usual before-bed reading of The Spectator and turned out the lamp.  

Friday 15 March 2019

The Nation

"In his last book, Memory and IdentityJohn Paul II reflected movingly on the Christian meaning of our earthly homelands. He denied that Christians have no “native land” in this life and defended the nation as a natural community. Against those seeking a post-national world, he urged Western nations to preserve their languages, histories, and religious traditions. The “spiritual self-defense” of our homelands, he wrote, is part of our moral obligation, commanded by God, to honor our fathers and mothers."

---Matthew Rose, "The Anti-Christian Alt-Right" in First Things  

Read the whole thing, though. You'll need coffee.

Shooting up mosques is abysmal behaviour

I woke up to the news of the Christchurch mosque shooting and was deeply disappointed in my fellow "Whites", as I suppose the terrorist gang would identify themselves. The leader of the gang described his parents as being of Scottish, Irish  and English stock. Add a splash of German, and that's my ethnic background, too. And since people call upon the Islamic communities to sort themselves out, it's only fair that "white people" or "people of European descent" should condemn mass murder carried out in our name.

No, this is not virtue signalling. This is responsible online journalism.

As long-term readers know, I never name mass shooters in print because one of the reasons they do what they do is get their names in print. They love the media. This Australian terrorist in Christchurch filmed his murders--which is exactly what Islamic terrorists do--to inspire the likeminded--which is exactly why Islamic terrorists do it, too.

Terrorists are almost always men and their subordinate female partners or relations, so I am really not sure what I could say to "White" guys in danger of shooting up a mosque or church of ordinary people. My hypothesis of influence is that the vast majority of women have a dramatic influence on only a very small number of men--usually their sons, grandsons, brothers, boyfriends and husbands. If you want to influence hundreds of thousands of young men, you're going to have to recruit men at least slightly older than them to do it.

There are exceptions, of course. Here in the UK Margaret Thatcher had an enormous influence on any number of conservative young Englishmen. But then Thatcher was exceptional. Middle-class Englishmen loved Thatcher whereas middle-class American men loathe Hilary Clinton. Discuss.

Anyway, as far as the majority of women are concerned, it is up to mothers, grandmothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives to have conversations with their menfolk about how they should respond as men to political and cultural instability. I suppose highly favoured aunties could have that conversation, too, if asked.

I haven't been asked, but if one of my nephews or courtesy nephews were to complain to me about the low white European birthrate, I would point out that siring, raising and educating five European babies would be the best and most effective way of fighting that.

Imaginary Monologue to At-Risk Imaginary Nephew

Obviously, the most super-effective way to raise the European birthrate would be to have as many babies as possible with as many willing European women you could find and then let the various European nanny states deal with their needs. However I cannot see the point of propagating a "race" for the sake of its genes. Skin cancer and light-sensitivity--whoo hoo.

I concede, Imaginary-Nephew-at-Risk-of-Whiteism, that white people of European descent number about 750 million, which is a tenth of the global population. So, yes, white people of European descent are indeed a minority.

However, what makes European descent at all interesting are the actual European cultures white people of European descent inherited, whose strengths rely on virtues that any human being of reasonable intelligence can adopt and indeed can be found to a greater or lesser extent throughout the world. The virtues depend on upbringing, and the cultures depend on education.

Please don't tell me any nonsense about IQ, Imaginary-Nephew-at-Risk, as the sort of people who study that sort of thing have discovered that the countries with the highest IQs are East Asian.

The Australian-in-Christchurch mosque shooter, I'll point out, testified that he didn't have much education. Possibly he had lousy teachers. Possibly the curriculum was at fault. Possibly local education ideology concentrated only on the needs of girls. All that said, if he cared that much about France (as his manifesto claims), it would have made a lot more sense to learn French and become, in however large or small a way, an Australian ambassador for French culture: French governance, French literature, French music, French horticulture, French cheesemaking, French viniculture, French couture, French cooking.

England's francophile Elizabeth David preserved thousands of classic French recipes. She didn't shoot up a mosque.

Me, I like the idea of distinctive, unifying, familiar European cultures. I grew up in Toronto, so I find relative monocultures fascinating. I dig a bit and discover slight variations in culture from geographical place to geographical place in a relatively ethnically homogenous country.

I'm a fan of geography-dependent cultural differences. I don't think every nation in the world should become as multicultural as Toronto. But the multiculturalism of Toronto is also, I've discovered, different from the multiculturalism of London and of Boston, so multiculturalism is not the McDonaldization of the world I used to think it was. I'm for cultures developing naturally but slowly.   I am (somewhat) sympathetic to Quebec's heavy-handed mission to stay French-speaking, but I don't like social engineering.

Well, I guess I don't like liberal social engineering. Hungarian tax breaks for families and pensions for mothers-of-four resonate with me, but Wear a Hijab day does not.

Migration is a fact of life, but I think mass migration is inherently destablizing. I gave myself a terrible shock while speaking with a Free Presbyterian pal when I realised the extent to which Irish Catholic mass migration had destablized 19th century Scottish society. Scotland still feels the aftershocks to this day. But my ancestors were Famine Irish themselves: they went west to the USA with the thousands of other Irish Catholics who inadvertently destabilised Boston and New York.

Migration (particularly from east to west) is a human constant, and the speed and size at which it is happening today is one of the defining questions of the still-young 21st century. I don't think anyone has the solution as to how to cope with the inevitable fall-out.

Given the complexities of human migration, I suggest, At-Risk Imaginary Nephew, that you think about what it is that you want and what it is that you fear and then set about finding out as much as you can about both. One of the great gifts of Western Civilisation is that idea that anyone, no matter how poor or disadvantaged, can and should learn to read and then use his powers of reason to determine what is true.

Meanwhile, shooting unarmed people is always and everywhere evil and cowardly.

Update: This, about the rejection of Christianity by the alt-right, is important. More on this later, I hope.

Update 2: This, from Rod Dreher, is also insightful. I haven't read the entire manifesto--just a couple of pages I first found on Twitter. Don't miss the French Canadian song he links to. In an earlier edit I said I wished the Quebecois hadn't eroded their culture by moving en masse to the cities, going on the Pill and throwing their religious faith and traditions out the window.

Rod added an update by a deeply shocked and grieving Christchurch resident who, understandably, seems to believe this is the time for feeling, not thinking. I think that is true for Christchurch, but not for everyone else. Rod makes a good argument that just as we need to examine the ideology of Islamic terrorism, we need to examine the ideology of the Christchurch massacre.

Update 3: I found the manifesto and skimmed it. If I write more about this, I'll take the time to read it properly. It's disturbing because it's much different from the ranting of mass shooters of women. I've read documents left by two anti-women killers, and they revealed self-absorbed, mentally unbalanced nitwits seething with self-pity. The Australian shooter (who professes indifference for fame and believes his name will soon be forgotten) was willing to sacrifice his life because he thinks he is part of a war. Well, off to see what Jordan Peterson has to say.

Thursday 14 March 2019

A Pretty Room

I spent a night away from home this week, staying in the guest room of an older friend who had fallen   on the stairs while her husband was away. They live in a 17th century house in a rapidly disappearing part of what used to be countryside, and the glorious view has already been altered and uglified.

Once upon a time, e.g. a year ago, we could look through the windows of that house over the formal, stonewalled garden, across the ancient deer park (long since plowed fields), straight to the Historical House. The concrete path between the fields was out of view. Sometimes when walking to our friends' house, I imagined I was Elizabeth Bennett walking to Netherfield. 

Since then an ugly cinder track has sliced through the eastern field and... Okay, let's not think about that. On to the pretty room. 

I have two favourite rooms in my friends' house. One is the second storey study, which is painted Chinese red and has most of the books. One is the second-and-a-half storey guest bedroom with all the travel books. This room has two tall and narrow 18-light windows, one on either side of the room, and is painted white. It has a double bed with a brass frame, covered with white duvets. There is a fireplace, of course, but a space heater sits in front of the grate. There is a chair in the corner by the window looking onto the garden (and across the fields). There's a chest with a spare duvet folded on it at the foot of the bed. And naturally there is a handy night-table with a small lamp and a digital clock.

Our friends have a sizeable art collection, thanks to years in the culture biz. Over the fireplace is a playful watercolour of the house, a (fictional?) electricity tower looming over it. Beside this is a interesting abstract in blue and brown. Over the bed, beautifully framed, is a mixed-media expression of a decaying 18th century library, using handmade grey-blue paper and ribbons. There are two tall beech-coloured bookcases full of travel books on the right (as you're sitting up in bed) and a lower, wider bookcase on the left, with books on a variety of topics. 

The room hadn't been heated when I retired for the night, so I was very grateful for all the duvets. I don't mind going to bed in a cold room, as long as there are enough bedclothes to make a snug cave. (I also turned on the space heater.) In the morning, despite my sleep mask, I woke up to golden morning sunlight. The room was so cheerful and bright, I took my coffee upstairs and got back into bed. I read a travel guide about Berlin until my coffee was done, and then I reluctantly go on with the day. 

Because of the planned destruction of the ancient deer park--upon which there has never been a building, let alone an instant gimcrack neighbourhood--our friends may move away. A little bit of Scottish paradise will be wiped out, both indoors and out, for it is unlikely that I will sleep in the pretty room ever again. 

Well, now I must go and tidy the garden. One of the former owner's tenants was a keen gardener, and we have been surprised by the spring flowers popping up. They need to be done justice. 

Monday 11 March 2019

Lenten Dinner Party, Um.

When I came home from Canada, I was determined to make some radical change to my Scottish way of life. A dog! A cat! Volunteer with children! Get rid of the single bed in the dining room and get the most comfortable small sofa-bed in the market! Emigrate!

So far, though, the only thing I have done that is at all different--besides searching the internet for Tibetan Spaniels--is to invite over a couple we've never had over before on their own to Sunday dinner.

Then Lent hit, and I thought about the spiritual-corporal heroics of the Greeks, and there was a bit of a rumpus at our house about the dinner party menu. Benedict Ambrose read me the Roman Catholic fasting laws for 1962, but I was adamant: no meat.

After Mass I chatted with an Orthodox chap who drops by for the craic, and he told me that the Russians have even stricter fasting laws than the Greeks. Look them up. There are Raw Food Days, Cooked Food Days, Cooked and Fried Food days, and No Food days. On Good Friday and Holy Saturday the 2% of Russians who actually follow this to the letter don't eat at all.

So with do further ado, here was our Sunday Dinner menu

Sherry and almonds.
Guacamole on toast with prawns.
Orange-ginger salmon with maple syrup.
Asparagus and potatoes.
Apple crumble.
Blue cheese.
Curry cookies.

White wine.
Pudding wine.

Well, it was a Sunday. For Latins the most controversial thing about this list is the spelling of whisky, which I want write as "whiskey," but I don't dare.

Speaking of controversy, B.A. said something mildly politically incorrect on the train, and the young woman beside him raised her head like one of the Animal Farm puppies scenting a Two-Legs and stared meaningfully at her friend across the aisle.

Both were typing on their phones, and I realised that all the other young people around us were on their phones, and that all these phones were capable of recording and posting recorded speech on the internet. I was momentarily terrified.

"We no longer have freedom of speech in the UK," I said to the girls, while pretending to say it to B.A.

Later B.A. pointed out that I use this mildly un-p.c. phrase "all the time", which I do occasionally but not in public. No, I'm not going to tell you what it is. It's not the hill to die on.

UPDATE: B.A. has a brain scan tomorrow, so could the prayerfully inclined please pray that the tumour-buds have died? Thanks. We're rather worried about it.

Friday 8 March 2019

Mystery of Galaretka Solved!

Once I was a mighty blogger... Oh well!

Devoted readers will have divined that I am very, very, very busy with a series of news article for work. The house is a mess, my Polish lessons have been put to the side (mostly), my snail mail correspondence goes neglected ...

Somehow, though, I will drag myself back to my normal schedule--the one that involves dusting, hoovering, studying Polish for an hour, and studying German for 20 minutes. Today my Polish tutor came by, and I was still able to hold a comprehensible conversation, so that's good news.

Another bit of good news is that someone on Facebook linked to this excellent, informative blog. The woman makes her own pączki; I am amazed.  The linker linked to this, however, as an example of food that should never be eaten. Naturally the linker is wrong: it looks absolutely delicious. And now I understand what karp w galarecie means. It is a phrase from Polish in 4 Weeks Part 2 that I never bothered looking up. Clearly it is "carp in aspic", which I will not be making, for nobody, not even a Pole, really likes carp.

Looking at "Polish Your Kitchen" makes me long for Easter. I love making Polish Easter Breakfast; if you're reading this because you hate my LSN coverage, perhaps that will humanise me a bit in your eyes. Is there anything more revolutionary than sausage soup and jam tart for breakfast? Well--maybe chicken Jello for supper! Woo hoo!

Benedict Ambrose and I prepared for Lent on Pancake Tuesday by going to an Argentine restaurant for steaks and Malbec instead.  He had French fries with his; I had fried onions. We split some sort of Argentinian almond tart for pudding; dulche de leche featured. It was all glorious. We will return on Easter Monday.

The next day we went to Ash Wednesday Mass according the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite and afterwards broke our fast with cheese-and-onion pasties from the train station. There was a goodly quantity of diced potatoes mixed in with the cheese and onion, and it was positively the definition of British Lenten food: stodgy carbohydrates.

This should be the most humbling time of the year for Latin Rite Catholics. The Islamic Ramadan Fast is based on the Lenten Fast of 6th/7th century Christians, which shows how far we've fallen since then. The Greek Catholics--or at least their priests, monks and women, not to mention the Greek and every other kind of Orthodox--or at least their priests, monks and women--leave us Latins in the dust.  When they mock us, we should admit that they are just and weep tears of sorrow and repentance.

It was very embarrassing to see, on a TRAD Facebook page, Trad Catholics encouraging each other to eat great cuts of meat on the Thursday between Ash Wednesday and Friday.  Well, it was not so embarrassing that I wouldn't mention it on my blog. I write about  Catholics scandals all day long, so here's one about us Trads. No feast without a fast, people (unless you're under 18, pregnant, ill or have or had eating disorders).

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Back in Scotland or The Event

Jet-lagged, muscles aching, coffee-swilling: I'm back in Scotland.

Canada was splendid: so splendid that I did not want to come back and wouldn't have come back had  it not been for Benedict Ambrose. I have reached Peak Scot, which is to say, the stage at which Scots say, "Let's emigrate to Canada!" 

Canada was cold and covered in snow: ankle-deep in Toronto, knee-deep in the Eastern Townships. I lived in houses: my parents' large two-storey box, my brother's sprawling bungalow. For once in sync with management, I worked the regulation 9 to 5, although (as we will discuss) I did quite a lot of overtime. 

I was surrounded by family and friends, most notably children. Three of those were blood relations,  three were courtesy nephews and one was my goddaughter. 

I saw two of my favourite professors; I met up with elementary school pals for drinks. Red Mezzo drove up from Vermont to see me in Quebec; Alisha stopped by a bakery-cafe in Montreal to see me before work. 

For the first time in a long time, I spent an entire day in research: interviewing sources and hunting down books. 

I finished reading Emmanuel Carrere's The Kingdom, minus the infamous few pages of porn. There's a professor in Ohio I'd like to talk to about it. (O Boże, it's overdue at the library.)

I went to "Chicago" a day early to buy pączki for Tłusty Czwartek. "Nie ma"--so I bought a poppy seed roll instead while the sprzedawczyni nattered away happily po polsku, and I was so rusty, I understood barely a word.  

But most of the time I worked or slept, just like here, only there I could come downstairs to tell my parents the latest news, or go upstairs (I stayed in my brother's basement) to apologise for still being on the computer. 

I was on the computer because, during my first week in Canada, I googled "diabolical masterpiece" and thereby discovered what turned out to be the terrible 30-year secret of a Toronto-based Church personality.  Our story broke on February 15 and was read by (I'm assuming) the more conservative of Catholic and Lutheran intellectual types. Curious, they did more research and tweeted the results. The National Post story broke the night of February 22.  I was so tired, I was shaking, but with the help of an editor, I wrote another piece. 

The Post story went viral. The Catholic media finally picked up the story. Versions of it (not always accurate) were published in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Polish. 

I received emails of congratulation and an email of mild abuse. I was warned on Facebook to watch my back, and I took down a blogpost about the children. 

At the beginning of the scandal, certain institutions would not reply to my emails or phone calls. Now they are replying to my emails, which certainly makes my job easier. 

This is, for the record, now all very terrible and sad. Virtual bombs are blowing up in offices all over Canada, frightening and hurting people I care about. At the same time, the spectacle of various Catholic figures trying to minimise the 30-year secret is a nauseating spectacle of clericalism. No layman's career would have survived this. Thirty years. Peer-reviewed journals. Called Archbishop Viganò a "liar".

Today I got an important and respectful email from Jerusalem. It is a great contrast to the sniping from Toronto I've been getting over Facebook. Apparently writing this story is so divisive and so bad for the Church, blah blah blah. It gives me just the smallest taste of the hell Rod Dreher went through trying to report on a worse scandal. 

My hands hurt from typing. I check Twitter at least once every half an hour.