Tuesday 31 March 2020

Binged Watched

Oh dear. I gave into temptation last night and binge-watched all four episodes of Unorthodox on Netflix. Here is a promo:

Then I lay awake for an hour trying not to think about it.  As good sleep is necessary to keeping safe and healthy during the pandemic this was all unfortunate. However, the combination of a traditional religious culture, marital bad luck, and travel to Berlin made for a thoroughly absorbing story.

I noticed, though, that the heroine never witnesses a sane, fruitful heterosexual relationship in Berlin. There is a startling amount of homosexual cuddling, but then I suppose that would be the most startling aspect of contemporary life to a 19 year old from an isolated religious community. What I remember from my very first day of university, besides wearing the absolute wrong clothing, are posters of grainy black-and-white photos of same-sex couples snogging stapled on trees and taped to lamp-posts with the superscription: "Enjoying your orientation?" That was startling. It also made me feel that I did not belong. It was the era of the kiss-in, when people with same-sex attractions would make out with each other to make "the straights" feel uncomfortable, to make us stew in our revulsion. The posters belonged to that school of thought.  Come to think of it, at least the heroine  of Unorthodox was witnessing affection, not an "F.U., straight Catholic girl" demonstration.

Life on lockdown is getting more difficult. I saw, to my horror, that I made a lot of stupid mistakes in an article I finished yesterday, the worst of which an editor caught, but he didn't catch them all. I think I will request different hours of work, so that I can work during the mornings and knock off at 5 PM instead of 8 PM.

I miss the exercise club so much, I'm drinking coffee today. It's not just the physical and psychological benefits of spin class and barre: it's talking to other women. It's being just another ordinary woman among women, occasionally talking about non-political women stuff.

On International Women's Day (which admittedly is itself political) I was asked on my way out, just like everyone else, if I would read two lines of a poem about being a woman to a camera. I would. I didn't ask if only biological woman were being asked, or what the charities the project was supporting were. I just did it because I like the club and the women who work there. The benefit the fundraiser was offering to women being helped by those charities was free classes.  At any rate, sometimes I just want to be a woman among other women doing something together because we are women.

Going for walks and digging up the dandelions is not a perfect substitute for being around other women. This is not to say there are no difficulties between women or among women in women's schools, clubs, etc. There is indeed such a thing as toxic femininity. However, if I could transport myself across the ocean by clicking my heels and saying "There's no place like home," I'd do it in a shot to have brunch with a female friend back in Toronto. As the brunch places are all shut, I'd risk the subway to get to her house. I've been self-distancing since mid-March, I haven't been on public transit or a mile from my house since St. Joseph's Day, and I've never had a symptom. My friend would be safe from me.

Anyway, what can I say? Yesterday was dedicated to the dandelions, the walk and trying to write about who said what about whom or what. I made a number of phone calls to New Mexico because not only democracy but faith dies in darkness. While I worked my mind veered between "We need to trust the bishops on this suspension of the sacraments" and "We need to call out the bishops on this suspension of the sacraments." I feel like one of the robot women on "Star Trek" who, being unable to cope with contradiction, conk out. And at the same time a virus floats about punishing both the "old with underlying health conditions" and the "young, fit and healthy."

Here is a photograph from our walk yesterday. The tide was out, farther out than I ever remember it being. The shellfish, sand and shingle seemed to stretch halfway to Fife. We counted three golf balls and a tyre.

CHEERFUL UPDATE: A 10 kilogram bag of potting soil has arrived. Tomorrow morning I will commence planting.

Monday 30 March 2020

Gratitude and Grazes

I have just come indoors after an hour's dandelion yanking. It's a sunny day but not warm until after a half an hour or so of digging up nasty fat white roots. I shared the sun with Lightning, the cat next door, a few worms, and a few song birds but not with the plaintive voice that instructed me from above that I shouldn't be outside.

A wiggly worm for the worm fan.
I looked up, and there was a golden-haired, bare-legged moppet of about three or so standing in the doorway of the flat next door and up. (To put you in the picture, our building is two stories high, with four flats below and four flats above. The downstairs flats have front gardens as well as back gardens, and the upstairs flats have just back gardens. Charity sector workers both, my husband and I live in an upstairs flat.) I couldn't make out exactly what she was saying, but it seemed to be that I ought to be inside. She lost interest when a cat shot past her into the flat, so now I am not sure if she was addressing the cat or me. She was certainly looking at me, though.

The Moppet's flat is probably owned by the Council, for it is outwardly in a state of disrepair and the back garden is a riot of long grass, garden tables, plastic toys, etc. I wonder if the Moppet has been told that she cannot go outside because of the Vile Germ and if her mother is taking the word "outside" very literally. I certainly haven't seen any children playing in that garden for weeks--or months, come to think of it.

I myself may start taking "Don't leave your home" more literally myself, for I am growing increasingly uncomfortable around people. Yesterday B.A. and I went for a walk along the river and the crowds--oh yes, very polite crowds, crowds keeping one or two metres apart, but still CROWDS-unnerved me. It was as if a third of the neighbourhood had decided to go for their government-mandated one walk at the same time and place.

But my nerves were already in pieces, for our walk along the river began on the rougher side this time, the side on which youths loiter, breaking bottles, drinking Iron Bru, and shooting up heroin, for all I know. The path is not very well paved, and I tripped and fell and began to roll down the hill towards the river, stopping in a large patch of nettles, not far from an abandoned bottle.

My left hand began to bleed, and I was absolutely horror-stricken, thinking of how many germs there could be on that path or what I might have cut my hand on. So I rushed off home at once to wash my hands throughly before re-embarking on our supposed-to-be soothing walk along one side of the river and back. I inspected the patch of nettles for syringes or broken glass: no syringes, no broken glass.

The nicer side of the river.
I enjoyed the solitary part of our walk, but it was all too short, for we soon found ourselves behind a politely spaced out throng and in front of a politely spaced out throng, and I kept thinking that one cough or sneeze would leave tiny droplets in the air for a few hours for us to walk into and breathe. This led to pondering the many accounts of people's lonely deaths by coronavirus I have read, and which I discourage you from reading. At any rate, I was near despair.

Upon returning home, I pulled off my tights and discovered that my left leg was scratched to blazes. I ran a hot bath with lavender bubble bath I bought in some other era and sat in it to calm down, clean my wounds, and imagine my death. This last task interfered with the first, so instead I listed things I was grateful for: having a bathtub, having lavender bubble bath, owning a flat in the first place. I thought about the poor of India losing their restaurant jobs, for example, and having no homes to go to.

(Pardon me---I was just on today's government-mandated walk. We went somewhere less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.)

Gratitude plus remembering that others have it much worse helped restored my equanimity, as did the  baking of a pan of raspberry Bakewell squares. (I love frangipani above all other sweets except dates stuffed with walnuts.) I think the recipe is too sugary, but B.A. loves the result, so that's satisfactory. Gardening and long walks will have to continue, even if just to stop getting fatter from my nerve-soothing baking.

Sunday 29 March 2020

Passion Sunday in the Long Lent

It is Sunday and "Spring Forward" in Britain, so we are now five hours ahead of Toronto and New York again. It is also Passion Sunday according to the traditional calendar, so B.A. swathed our principal crucifix with my purple shawl.

We participated in the Warrington FSSP  Sunday Mass as well as we could, and I have an essential oil diffuser, so that was our incense. We are also fortunate in that we have Holy Water.  You can see Fr. de Malleray onscreen in the photo to the left. 

Worm photo.
Yesterday B.A. printed out a Spiritual Act of Communion, and today he put it in a frame. At present I am having problems importing some of my photos from my phone, but I'll post a picture of that too when I can. 

I ran about beforehand getting ready for Mass, as I was out in the garden fighting the dandelions and communing with the worms. I have had a request for worm photos, so here is the one my computer wants you to see.  Mr. Worm looks like a stick here, but you can see him trying to hid under a leaf.  

Local swans self-distancing.
Yesterday I got a good strip of lawn free of dandelions, and then B.A. and I went for a long walk, keeping well clear of our neighbours and an eye out for the Law. We saw a hooded crow and a number of water birds as we walked along a river to the Firth of Forth.  

Edinburgh or elephant?
It was not very warm, I must say. But I derived some amusement from seeing a family I had never seen before striding down our street, presumably out getting their one government-mandated walk. I wondered if this was as new a habit to them as it is to us. Hitherto B.A. and I didn't take a daily walk together, either. He walked to work and back, and I walked to the bus stop on my way to the gym. 

The highlight of my day was teaching my homeschoolers. The days of six paragraph research essays are suspended until they have access to libraries again, I'm afraid. Last week I gave them a brief lesson on news articles and asked them to produce news articles about incidents at home. When they appeared separately in my "In" box, I was delighted. One was roughly "Boy Makes Mothering Sunday Cake for Mom" and the other "Boy Makes Catapult that Fails." Somehow my genius pupils managed to convey quite a lot about their daily life in about 100 words. Perhaps this is why they adamantly rejected the idea of having a family newspaper. At any rate, I assigned them more newspaper articles and an adventure story each. They seemed up for the challenge of adventure stories although I fear my cake-making boy student is determined to kill his hero. 

Meanwhile B.A. risked illness and death by going to the other newsagent's on our street to buy Doritos and cheddar. I have been following recipes from my old Moosewood Restaurant cookbook, as they are both highly nutritious and suitable for Lent. Yesterday's dinner was Black Bean Chilaquile, which features two layers of crushed tortilla chips, two layers of salsa, two layers of cheddar cheese, black beans, tomatoes, sweet corn, spinach, onions and lime juice. It is quite delicious, and here is another photo: 

We watched The Post starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and it was nothing at all like working for an online newspaper, at least not for me. I cannot imagine being full of chagrin because Church Militant got the latest Saddest News in the World before we did. Of course we don't gather in a living-room when its all hands on deck. The Post was definitely a period piece, and a very good one. I loved the scenes in the typesetting room, as it gave me a clue as to what my grandfather's workplace might have been like. I even liked the feminist-y bits because I have been told that "a woman preaching is like a dog walking on its hind legs" (a line which appears in the film) approximately  100000000000000 times since I moved to Edinburgh. 

Before bed, I chatted with my mum and dad over Skype. This is also a new daily habit. Happily they almost never go outside but unhappily this means they don't have much to report. One of my sisters left them some groceries the other day, and that definitely counted as news: "Woman Leaves Parents Groceries, Chats through Door."  

I have thought of something for my mum to do, and that is to make hospital masks for B.A. and me, ASAP, as he is scheduled to go to the hospital in a week and a half for his six-month brain scan. The assignment, should she choose to accept it, is to make B.A. and me hospital masks and then package them for one of my siblings to take to the Post Office. I found handy instructions online, but unfortunately I don't have any interfacing. 

Saturday 28 March 2020

No Tinned Tomatoes

Death to dandelions!
Life on lockdown continues. I am trying to keep to a schedule as mental health experts recommend, and this is not difficult, as my working day starts at noon and goes until 8 PM. At 9 AM or thereabouts I go out to wage war against the weeds. At 11 AM or thereabouts B.A. and I go for our government-mandated outdoor exercise. Yesterday we walked past Tesco to see if there was a queue, and as there was, I grumbled against our lot. Not in the Blitz Spirit, I know.

At any rate, we walked up our local hill and strode about our local cemetery and gazed upon the local Georgian church, while B.A. apostrophised the architect of the probably Victorian additions, and went back down the other side of the hill and were not stopped or questioned by police.

Then we went back to work, taking a break to watch Pope Francis's Ubi et Orbi blessing liturgy and wonder who wrote the petitions. Then I went back to work and B.A. went to Tesco with a list I cobbled together while half-listening to Pope Francis' homily. Happily, there was no longer a queue when B.A. arrived, but sadly there were no tins of tomatoes, no antiseptic soap, no antiseptic wipes and no olive oil, save for a garlic-flavoured one, which B.A. bought. But he did find baby spinach and  dark chocolate and various other things on my list.

Later I checked for local veg box deliveries, but sadly nobody local is taking on new customers at this time. However, I did successfully sign up for coffee deliveries from Union, which fills me with joy as I can no longer stand Tesco's Finest. Also not in the Blitz Spirit but, you know, the women in my family actually spent WW2 in relative comfort across the ocean. One worked in a munitions factory, and the other worked in the hat department at Simpson's.  This, of course, reminds me of past dinner parties when guests born in what used to be the British Empire talked cheerfully about what our fathers or grandfathers did in the war and the Poles said nothing, presumably because their family stories are too sad to mention at dinner parties.

"My grandma worked in Simpson's hat department."
"How nice for her. Mine was sent to Siberia."
"Oh, how terribly, um, terrible."

In times of depression and worry, it is always helpful to remember that we are unlikely to be driven out of the house and forced to walk to Arkhangelsk, unlike poor Eugeniusz Bodo, the Polish film star, only he never made it, poor man.

So I am not minding too much about the tinned tomatoes, especially as I am guaranteed good coffee, and here are some more photos of my garden to keep us focused on the outside world. I have been meeting various worms, who slide up to the surface to see what I am doing with the dandelions, and watching the dynamics between rival cats.

Anti-cat spikes.
A cat named Lightning. 

A black cat invading next door.

Friday 27 March 2020

The Queue Outside Tesco

Probable fate.
Benedict Ambrose are both still employed, thank heavens, which means we do not sit around reading great books or binge-watching Netflix: we work.

But we clean more than usual, and I make war on the weeds. We go for daily walks, a new ritual, because B.A. no longer walks to work and I no longer go to my gym, which I miss terribly. I miss my bus time, too, which I dedicated to study. I haven't yet found a new study rhythm.

We also check Twitter, and I noted the outrage about the Derbyshire Police spying on people embarked on "not essential travel" in famous beauty spots with drones. I am not outraged for several reasons, most stemming from a lifetime of reading about petrol restrictions during the Second World War. I am also sympathetic to the country folk frightened of townies bringing the Vile Germ and clogging up their local medical centres. Finally, I am envious of people with cars being able to see major tourist sites without any other tourists in them, so a mean little spirit within me says "Ha ha" to them being caught by drones.

What I wouldn't give to see for myself the canals of Venice running clear or Florence reserved solely to the Florentines (and me). But there it is. Technically I could walk to central Edinburgh on a sunny day and admire its sunlit quiet, but I might have difficulty convincing Police Scotland that this is well within the meaning of "exercise." Traffic flows unabated in my neighbourhood, which is apparently full of essential workers.

B.A. and I walk usually along a river, which is nice, although never without other walkers, climb a hill, admire a Georgian church, and go down the hill, sometimes dropping into Tesco. Yesterday, our entrance into Tesco was stopped by an Italian Tesco worker who explained that we had to go around to the other doors and join the queue. Shocked, we didn't ask why, we just went around to the other side to look. And behold--20 or so people, singles and couples, standing at six foot intervals along the front of our enormous Tesco Extra.

Now, I realise that for many people today this is nothing new, and in Communist times Eastern and Central Europeans spent hours a day queuing for food, but the queue outside Tesco shocked the living daylights out of me. If someone asked me, "Mrs McLean, what does freedom and prosperity mean to you?" I would say, "It means popping into Tesco to buy the nice French butter and popping out again in ten minutes or less." Suffice it to say, that the queue outside Tesco impressed upon me that we really are in a National Emergency.

Meanwhile, I was merely on a break from work, so instead of queuing we went to the newsagent's up our street and bought a tub of spreadable Lurpak. On the way there, we saw one of B.A.'s  young former colleagues with her husband and we shouted conversation at each other from ten or so feet away. She is a yoga instructor and still has to pay rent on her studio in our nearest community centre. She is giving lessons online, but she's not sure she will break even. Fortunately the government is helping out the self-employed, but unfortunately she is not sure if she qualifies, having been partly employed and partly self-employed in the past three years.

It was hard for me to get back to work--which was reporting Tucker Carlson's thoughts about the American media's editorial spin on chloroquine--because I was so distressed by the Tesco queue. I am starting to become agoraphobic, and I really do not want to stand outside a mere six feet from strangers in the hopes that kitchen staples will still be in the shop when I get in. However, I realise that this is not in keeping with the Old Blitz Spirit, so I might as well do the thing properly by tying on a headscarf and digging out a basket.

Speaking of the Old Blitz Spirit, have you heard of the British Pet Massacre? I hadn't until I went looking for photos of British women queuing during the Second World War and came across this.

Day's Gardening Note: Rain. Finished paving stones. Dug up dandelions in first section of lawn. Researched how to keep cats out of veg beds (net, pointy things, pepper spray).

Thursday 26 March 2020

Blueberry Bakewell for Lady Day

Blueberry Bakewell
Yesterday was the Feast of the Annunciation, and my waking gloom was turned to joy as I realised that Lady Day was a good enough excuse to have a cup of coffee. It was also my work retreat day, so after our walk to Co-op, Benedict Ambrose and I watched the FSSP Mass in Warrington online. Then B.A. went back to work, and I wrote to my spiritual director. (I would normally go to see him but--lockdown.) After some reading, I went outside to hoe up the weeds between the concrete paving stones around the lawn. This was rather pleasant, as it was about 54 Fahrenheit outside.

Next I began to make a loaf of bread, and while that was proving, I made a blueberry Bakewell. I had meant to make a raspberry one, but there were no raspberries in Co-op. Channelling the old Blitz Spirit, I decided to experiment with what there was. As the blueberries were from hard-hit Spain, I washed them thoroughly, even with a dab of dish soap as I had seen advised online. This led to protests from B.A., who found counter-arguments online, so there will be no more washing fruit and veg with dish soap.

Work in progress.
As we watch the infection rate for the UK climb and climb, we are unsure what is our best course of action. Should we go for walks, or should we run up and down our stairs for exercise? When is it safest to go to the supermarket? Should we delay going to the supermarket for as long as possible? Should we really wait a day before opening packages? How do we disinfect our wall-to-wall carpet?

The eponymous apple tree.

I would love to wipe all our groceries with disinfecting wipes, but there are no disinfecting wipes to had, so we just do more hand washing after handling groceries and while cooking. The inability to see the Vile Germ and thus to know if we are eliminating it from our home or not is driving me a bit mad. This morning I woke at 6, and when I fell asleep I dreamed that I had travelled to China, where my media outlet was having its AGM.

Well, to cheer us up, here are photographs from our garden. As you can see, there isn't much to admire yet. That's rosemary and thyme in the barrel, and the little bush at the top end of the hoe-like thing is lavender.

The compost bin and beech leaves. 

Day's Gardening note: Dug up weeds from between concrete paving stones.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

First Day Under Lockdown

"This Church is closed."
One of the blessings of the past few days is that it has been sunny. I got up late for me, washed the dishes, made the Vile Tea of Lenten Penance, and after reading all the news, went out to rake beech leaves and tidy up another raised garden bed. What useful or pretty thing grows in an east-facing, very shady, Central Belt Scottish bed? Today I will have to read up on that.

Then B.A. and I went out for our state-approved one walk of the day. It was a long one, taking us to the old kirkyard where some key members of  The Historical House's Family lie awaiting Final Judgement. We prayed for their Protestant souls before continuing on to our geographical-parish church. There we found the door locked against us, just as an elderly man popped out of the rectory to ask if he could help us.

B.A. spoke very pleasantly to him, which was a very good thing, as nothing puts my back up here quite like someone British or Canadian saying "Can I help you?" To me "Can I help you?" is a signal that the speaker belongs there and you do not and your presence is a nuisance into the bargain. However, I was already feeling cross about 1. the Vile Germ 2. mixed messages from the government about church closures 3. the locked door, so perhaps I misjudged him and the man really did want to help us.

Anyway, once the man went back indoors, B.A. and I plunked ourselves on our knees in the grass before the Lourdes grotto instead of the Blessed Sacrament, risking passing Protestants think  we worship Mary, and said the Prayer in Times of Pestilence. Then we walked home, and I started work.

I hope with all my heart that Scotland's priests are asking God to stop the Vile Germ, and not limiting themselves to what the Scottish Bishops said in their statement about praying for people. B.A. wrote to our Archdiocese about the conflicting government instructions about prayer, and they said that the churches would remain "closed to the public." Ever sensitive to words' shades of meaning, I was infuriated by the use of the word "public" to denote THE FAITHFUL, as if the churches are the sole property of the bishops, minor clergy and their lay employees and special volunteers.

At the same time, I am just going to have to trust all the Catholic bishops of the world who have stopped public Masses and even the ones who have shut the churches to prayer on the off-chance that vulnerable if pious people will be tempted into them and pick up the Vile Germ from the back of a pew. Presumably those among them who believe in God have thought and prayed long and hard about this and consulted actual epidemiologists. One of the worst parts about being a Catholic adult in the 21st century is having so little faith in the bishops as a class. It would be much more agreeable to be like the little child I used to be and gaze on them in shy wonder.

By the way, my views on the coercive powers of state have undergone a tweaking, thanks to the media coverage of crowds of people at beaches, pubs, and public parks during a pandemic. The panic-buying and thievery has made an impression, too. Clearly in order to live safely without a state, you need a highly moral and intelligent people. How much better to have fear of God than merely of plod. But there we are.

In cheerful news, B.A. is thriving from working at home. Apparently there are fewer distractions. And I have ordered seeds and compost from eBay, having discovered that Amazon is unlikely to deliver anything earlier than late April. Also, today is the Feast of the Annunciation, so I am drinking the Coffee of Joy instead of the Vile Tea of Lenten Penance.

To cheer up further, I will think about the festivities around the christening of my Polish god-daughter. The sheer joy of sinking into a slipper tub after a long journey by plane and train! The beauty of my córka chrzestna's handmade baptismal finery! The delightful champagne reception, the seat of honour at the top table (a lifetime first), the flaming wild boar!  And if I need to add to the happy thoughts, I will contemplate my cc's parents' splendid wedding, which also featured many wonderful people and things.

Update: Tinned tomatoes in the nearest Co-op! YAY!

Gardening note: Weeded.

Monday 23 March 2020


Benedict Ambrose and I listened to the Prime Minister's speech when he gave it at 8:30 PM (GMT). What a good thing we visited the Blessed Sacrament in our geographical-parish church when we could, for the doors will almost certainly be locked tomorrow. Meanwhile, I suppressed an urge to rush across the river to panic-shop at Tesco. Oh me, oh my. I wish I had bought my seeds last month.

This morning B.A. dropped a can on the smaller teapot, and when I saw the state of the kitchen I fled to the garden where I weeded both the herb garden and the ----

Sorry, can we grasp the fact that in Great Britain today, you cannot meet outdoors in groups larger than two, except with members of your own household? Yes, I realise that this is for a very good reason, and I will strive never to buy anything "Made in China" until the Communist Party is no more. But at the same time, I am simply amazed.

Anyway, I weeded the herb garden and the raised bed by the shed, and I hope the seed packet companies are still delivering, although as almost everyone has to work from home, who knows?

Naturally this is not as jaw-dropping as not being able to set foot in church, which surely is unprecedented in 1, 600 years of British history. I mean, even during the distressing period when being Catholic was illegal, churches were still open for prayer. That said, the trade in seeds must be even older than that, although not the mail-order version, naturally.

B.A. has made me a gin-and-tonic to cope with martial law the nation's new, sobering challenge which every one of us will meet to protect the NHS and save lives. It has a slice of grapefruit in it because when we bought the gin there were neither lemons nor limes in the shop.

The Prime Minister called the Covid-19 coronavirus "the biggest threat this country has faced in decades," and I must say I was glad it was Blond Boris telling us all about our new inconveniences (and the likelihood of many dying anyway) and not that ghastly Jeremy Corbin. Even as the PM delivered all this bad news, he sounded reassuringly embarrassed and non-communist.

Nothing to add except that for our two-person Laetare Sunday supper we had a pink feast: duck breast, mashed potatoes dyed with beetroot juice, beetroot, red wine, and strawberry mousse for pudding, followed by zeppole. It feels like wartime, but that was definitely not wartime food.

Sunday 22 March 2020

Laetare Sunday at Home

Future generations of Catholics are just not going to believe their eyes when they read that Masses were suspended over much of the western world, including Great Britain, Ireland and the United States, in 2020. I find it hard to believe myself, and yet there we were setting up the sitting-room and then getting dressed to attend Mass from 218 miles away.

We would have had roses in time for the 11 o'clock Mass, but Tesco was still closed when I ventured out at 7:30 and would not open until 10. The thought of crowding into Tesco with a desperate hoard at 10 did not appeal to me, so I have yet to go out and purchase Laetare Sunday supper.

Well, how was it? In our case, we were able to concentrate and pray and as I was reading my missal it was not terribly unlike being at Mass in person until there was no Communion of the Faithful, at which point I cried. As we have no sackcloth and ashes in the house, tears will have to do.

However, it is Laetare Sunday, so let us be happy now and eat delicious things, like another batch of zeppole in honour of St. Joseph. I was not happy with my St. Joseph's Day batch, for I didn't use the oven thermometer and the zeppole didn't rise. However, today I did, and here we are:

B.A. and I ate two zeppole each with coffee at our homebound version of the After-Mass Coffee and Tea of Peace. B.A. called members of the Schola, too, for verisimilitude and to ask after their mothers. He had already called his own mother, who has been sent home from her job for having a cough. Although she no longer has the cough, they won't let her back for two weeks

It is Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom, which is our Mother's Day, and a much older holiday than the American one it is, too. Traditionally one goes home to one's home parish with a cake for one's mother--although when I say "traditionally," I mean in the late Middle Ages or wherever it was when people started going to the towns for non-agrarian work and fun.

This can be a sad day for childless-not-by-choice women, but the traditional Epistle says that we in particular are supposed to rejoice. While I read it today, I thought about how much easier it probably is to wait out a pandemic when you don't have tiny children to keep occupied/amused/clean/healthy/fed. So mad props to the physical mothers of the world in particular as well as greetings to my fellow spiritual ones. I'm thinking of my godchildren, too, especially the baby girls.

I am not sure whether or not we are advised to leave our properties at all. Fortunately we have a   private garden (Yay, apple tree! Yay, roses!), but we've been going for long walks for exercise. Yesterday we were tempted into the local shopping district by our need of a spice rack (more anon) and then by curiosity about the famous local Italian ice-cream shop.  (Ice-cream in Scotland came from Italian immigrants. It is a long and noble story.)  We thought the Local Treasure would be closed, but behold! Although the dining area is closed, the ice-cream counter was open. So we took our lives into our hands by standing near some local lasses and ordering two waffle cones (hazelnut and vanilla).

But I ended our search for a spice rack when I heard too much coughing in the five-and-dime. What were we thinking? I demanded of my panicking self. So we returned home, and eventually I taught two not notably enthusiastic homeschoolers a writing lesson over Skype. The poor critters learned late that they were having any lesson at all, and there was a great carry-on as they belatedly wrote essays about Julius Caesar without recourse to any but online books. I would pity them, had they not had three weeks to write these papers. Meanwhile I must get over my technophobia to figure out how best to use screens to teach children writing. Can one present Powerpoint over Skype? I must talk to my computer-genius brother.

The sudden desire for a spice rack was awakened in our bosoms when I washed, disinfected and rearranged the pantry cupboards. When we lived in the Historical House the spices all lived in a tidy (or  tidier) alphabetical row on a shelf running the length of the wall. But until yesterday the spices in St. Benedict over the Apple Tree were jumbled up on the pantry shelves. They are now living alphabetically in a polystyrene insert that protected the printer in its cardboard box, and the cupboards look much nicer.

Yes, this is what we have come to: attending Mass online, teaching online, rearranging the kitchen shelves and then blogging about it. However, life is about to get exciting again, for I am going to risk death by the Dread Germ by going back to Tesco.

Update: Zeppole are supposed to be topped by cherries preserved in syrup, but we don't have any, so ours have been topped by very Scottish raspberries instead. Well, topping things with raspberries is very Scottish. I think those particular raspberries came from Spain.

Saturday 21 March 2020

The Joy and Hope of Eggs

Today is going to be a good day: at 7:30 this morning there were eggs for sale in Tesco. Normally I buy six medium free range eggs at a time, but there were only large free range eggs in boxes of 12, so I did not dither. I firmly seized two boxes. There were also some cleaning products on the shelf, so now we are fully armed against the Vile Germ.

I keep meaning to not go to Tesco, where crowds gather, but then, like a grocery junkie, keep going back. Yesterday, though, it was B.A. who went  after our daily walk (more anon). He came back with mackerel, tender-stem broccoli, pre-packaged pannacottas, bread, chocolate digestive biscuits, and a Canon 5150 printer. Yes, we finally have a new printer. It was on sale, and it's not like B.A. can print things at work anymore, being at home.  

Every day I call up my parents on Skype to enliven our solitudes and to make sure they aren't out picking up the Vile Germ in Canadian Tire or wherever. Apparently my father was at the BANK the other day. The BANK.  Courage or recklessness? I will have to consult Aquinas. They seem cheerful and resilient, and Dad consumes the news more than ever. I keep asking my mother about the garden, and it keeps being Toronto in March, so of course she's not in the garden.

I think garden thoughts a lot. I now have two new gardening books: Fruit and Vegetables for Scotland and Veg in One Bed. As soon as I can get my hands on some lumber and a drill or B.A.'s extremely handy colleague who fixed our oven, washing-machine, and front door, I am going to build  a raised bed. Our houseplants are thriving, so this is not a foolhardy endeavour. Besides, this feels like wartime, and in wartime you plant a victory garden. Well, the British plant victory gardens. I have an American friend who just wants to buy a gun.

We have no need of a gun. The weapon of choice in the neighbourhood is a knife, and we have plenty of knives in the kitchen. We also have a screwdriver we keep by the front door although I am not entirely sure why. I think it's for repairs. Incidentally, I am so, so glad we were firmly rooted in cold reality when we had suddenly to buy a flat and did not attempt to get a bigger mortgage for a grander abode.

I'm prone to anxiety, so occasionally I read the latest calming books about Maximum Happiness and other such desirable emotions, and one of them recommends writing lists of 20 things you're grateful for. Then you write 20 good things about yourself, and then you write 20 good things about your "partner" as the person you share a bed with is called in the UK. You're supposed to read these lists everyday, which I don't do, but I appreciate the wisdom of the advice, especially in Times of Trial, like the one we are now all in. This morning I rushed off to Tesco feeling doomed to infection, but then there were eggs in the big egg-cage, and I was so grateful they transformed my day.

Well, now I shall online shop for garden supplies before heaving myself out of my chair to scrub my own kitchen and bathroom, the humanity.

Friday 20 March 2020

The Last Mass

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Joseph. I made traditional Italian zeppole di San Giuseppe before getting down to work. I began work early, for I had obtained permission to knock off at five to go to Mass. It would be the last public Traditional Latin Mass approved by the Archdiocese, for the Scottish bishops have now suspended all public Masses because of the coronavirus.

Fortunately for my state of mind, I had just finished writing an article about Trump's announcement of the use of the malaria remedy hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19.  I was feeling hopeful and even took Benedict Ambrose's announcement that the 17:20 train had been cancelled in stride. 

"Call a taxi," I said and arrayed myself in, more or less, the blue outfit I wore to Polish Pretend Son's 2018 wedding. Not the hat. It was too cold for a straw hat. Instead I wore my "Russian" bearskin (teddy bearskin, really) hat, the one that makes me five inches taller. And I also wore my late friend Angela's pearls. I'm so glad Angela was not sick in the time of coronavirus. 

I dabbed on rose perfume, put on my "outdoor" gloves and got into the taxicab before B.A. The driver, who had been at home with his wife all day, was garrulous. The taxicab smelled of bleach. Business is terrible, we were assured, which is why our driver had been at home, waiting to be called out instead of looking for fares that simply aren't there. He had just bought his taxicab, so this is a bit of a worry, but he was more grateful than worried, having bought the least expensive car he could. He told an amusing story against Uber: apparently a young lady was recently kicked out of an Uber car after she sneezed and had to take a proper cab after all. 

The fare was £25, which is a lot for poor Mr. and Mrs. B.A., but we enjoyed the seeing the sun set over the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art One and also, as B.A. pointed out, its Neon announcement that "Everything is going to be alright." Then we kept a metre's distance from our fellow TLM devotees as we exchanged remarks about the pandemic going into the church. 

Well, what can I say about Mass? It was the Feast of St. Joseph, our priest wore white and gold. There were three young-man servers as well as John the Middle-Aged M.C. Silent Stuart, who is always the thurifer, was thurifer to the bitter end. There were Euan and Sam. They came out of the sacristy, processed down the Epistle side of the church and then up the central aisle. Mark (the Other Mark) sang the choir parts, and at one point his wife Annabel (a brilliant soprano) added assistance. 

There were none of the missals (left to us in Fra Freddie's will) or a Whyte Sheete for St. Joseph's Day, so if we didn't have our missals (I think I left mine in Father's house chapel) we had to rely on our Latin. My Latin is generally good enough for the Gospel, if not the Epistle. There were between 35 (my count) and 38 (Mark's count) of us altogether. Only eight of us were women; we seemed to be mostly young men--and a hitherto unknown dog. The dog sat by the back doors and occasionally complained.

In his homily, Father struck a cheerful note, assuring us that he would continue to say Mass and that he would pray for us as always. We could be confident that we would still receive all the graces that we would have had, had we continued going to Mass. However, I still though longingly of the 18th century, when at least the laity could have sneaked out into the countryside and found Mass awaiting us in the heather. (Possibly some delightfully fanatical Polish priest will row up the Firth of Forth and there will again be Mass in the heather.) 

After Mass, we all prayed the "Prayer in Times of Epidemics" from a new Whyte Sheete Father asked us to take home.  Then Other Mark began to sing a hymn to St. Joseph, which he (and at least one other young man) read from his smartphone. The chorus, which eventually we all learned to sing, is as follows:

Dear St. Joseph, spouse of Mary
blest above all saints on high,
When the death shades round us gather, 
teach, O teach us how to die, 
teach, O teach us how to die.

Apropos, no? I felt a bit sad again and had to remind myself of splendid hydroxychloroquine, second cousin, surely, to the good old Gin & Tonic. Also, the way to die, if you can manage it, is probably cheerfully, giving as little trouble to those around you as you can: very C.S. Lewis/G.K. Chesterton/the Queen. Or so I said to B.A. as we walked towards the dreaded bus stop in the gloom.

Some outraged local readers may wonder why they didn't know there was a 18:15 TLM for St. Joseph at the church yesterday.  One answer is that I found out through Facebook from Other Mark, so if you don't use Facebook you were out of luck. I was so burdened with cares that when I was thinking of people who ought to know, I thought only of an Austrian physicist--possibly because I knew he could walk there and would not be tempted to take a germy bus.  UPDATE: Another answer is that it was on the FSSP website, which too few of us read.) 

I am now fanatically anti-bus and got on a double-decker one last night only because, like B.A., I couldn't bear the thought of another £25 taxicab ride. A man four rows down coughed shallowly into his coat at intervals. For awhile I thought it was the young Pole beside his wife/girlfriend three rows back and looked with horror at his reflection in the window as he greeted an equally Polish pal, shook his hand, and the pal immediately put his shaken hand on a bus pole. Teach, O teach us how to die. But it was the chap behind him, after all.

"Trzymaj się," the maligned Pole said to his friend when latter went downstairs to alight in Portobello. Take care.

"Trzymaj się!"

Take care, everyone. My gloves, as per my sister-in-law's instructions, are going back into a 9:1 water-bleach solution.  

Sunday 15 March 2020

The Swans

B.A. and I are lucky enough to live across the street from wooded riverbanks. On the other side of the river is a Victorian factory that has been converted into offices. It has a working clock tower. Thus, we have a flat with a lovely view.

Yesterday I took a break from worrying about Covid-19 to hang up a load of laundry in our dining-room/office/guest-room, and while draping clothes over the radiator, I looked through the window and saw two swans in the river, nibbling at the opposite bank.

I had never seen swans so far up the river, so I called out to B.A. to have a look.

It was a lovely moment, really.

Yesterday we also went for a country walk, the country being a 15 minute walk from our door, and after lunch we spent hours in the garden. In the midst of a health pandemic, the question uppermost in my mind is, "If you have to stay away from people for two weeks, what would you like to do?"

Fortunately for the family finances, I work from home all the time, so there's no change there. And it's spring, so working in the garden is not only pleasant but necessary. Our nearest neighbours, whose gardens are in much better shape, came outside to cheer on our efforts. Going for country walks is one of our favourite shared activities. Because of all the pilgrimages I've been on in the past few years, I now associate long walks with the rosary, so we get in some prayer together, too.

I like talking to my parents on Skype, so I've been doing more of that.

I don't like washing my hands to song anymore, alas, as I have developed what looks like contact dermatitis on the backs of my hands. They itch. Even when they are not red they itch. Naturally I am not keen to go to the local medical clinic, so I'm self-medicating with Vaseline Intensive Care lotion and diaper rash cream. At some point I will consult with Dr. Sister-in-Law. Ma Belle Soeur is not keen on B.A. and I taking public transit, by the way. We are going to reduce our public transit time as much as we can.

My personal opinion on what the Catholic bishops should do for the next few months is what the Polish bishops have done: dispense the elderly, the ill, the children, children's caregivers (I'd add, the caregivers of the elderly), and the merely frightened from their Sunday obligation to assist at Mass while at the same time having more Masses, in part to have smaller congregation, and in part to obtain the grace of more Masses. This is a good opportunity for Catholics, especially Catholic clergy, to be true witnesses to our faith in Christ and hope for heaven, while at the same time not risking sending the vulnerable there before time.  It's also a great time for bearing our discomforts cheerfully, as the superior form of penance, so I will try to think of my itchy hands as a good thing.

I do think, however, that the elderly should be ordered by the bishops to STAY HOME. I suppose the suspension of Sunday Masses by various dioceses (including the Archdiocese of Toronto) may be inspired by a fear that the elderly will keep on going to Mass, and keep on putting themselves and each other in danger of an untimely death, if there is still a Mass to go to. This reminds me that this would also be a good time for Christians to show who we supposed to be by checking in with our elderly neighbours, friends, and family to make sure they have enough food, are staying safe, and are not going squirrelly of boredom and loneliness.

Thursday 12 March 2020

Blogpost in a Plague Year

Before my trip to Poland there were at least 16 women in my barre class. This Tuesday there were seven. Today there were five. The teachers clean the whole club between classes.

"That way twenty people touch everything instead of a hundred," one said. 

She thinks we are all going to get the coronavirus anyway. We better not all get it anyway. It's horrible for the elderly and those with "underlying conditions." My husband might still have an "underlying condition", and I read somewhere that people with cancer should not expect to be intubated. I saw my husband intubated, and it was horrible for him. Thankfully he can't remember.

Before we went to Poland I bought a family pack of toilet paper and as many tinned goods as I could carry, in case there was panic-buying while we were away. There was no panic-buying, and last week there was even still hand-sanitiser in the stores. I bought two pocket-sized plastic bottles of it. 

Yesterday B.A. came home from a class he taught to say that someone had seen him hand-sanitising and exclaimed, "Where did you get it?" So today I went to the local Boots, and sure enough, there was none on the shelves. The young lady behind the counter told me that there will be some available at 9 AM tomorrow---"And by 9:05 it will all be gone." 

The advice from the government is that hand-washing with soap and water for 20 minutes seconds is better than hand sanitiser anyway. I've been using it every time I've alighted from a bus. I use the bus to go to the health club and to Italian class and, with B.A., to church.  I'm not nervous about the club, Italian class or church, but I am nervous about the bus. 

Before I got on the bus to Boots and home, I went to a Sicilian pastry shop and bought some cannoli. B.A. and I celebrate St. Joseph's Day with some fanfare, but it occurred to me this morning that the pastry shops might be closed by March 19. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we---will be under quarantine?

How mediaeval it is to actually ponder sudden death from an invisible disease that we or other people all around us may be harbouring unawares.  

Anyway, we wash our hands, and I've washed the doorhandles, and we have our little bottles of hand sanitiser. We won't receive Holy Communion on our hands (not really a germ-free option, anyway), so we probably won't receive at all at Sunday Masses until Easter, if the proper method is banned. We have holy water at home--the extra-strength, FSSP version. 

B.A.'s mum works in a retirement home in Dundee, but it's on "lockdown" she texted. We're not sure if that means she can't get out or she can't get in. 

My mum's April walking tour of Provence has been cancelled. She can come here, if she likes, but I'm starting to think that might not be a good idea. She might be trapped here. She might be at the bottom of the NHS treatment list.   

I read about the spread of coronavirus as soon as I get up and about an hour before I go to bed.  I wrote three articles about coronavirus yesterday. 

I'm worried about my sister-in-law, the doctor. I'm worried about my dad. 

"Stay away from young people," I told him.

I think about how lovely it is to breathe deeply and easily.

Update: An alternative to the "Happy Birthday" handwashing song, sure to be familiar to everyone my age:


Sunday 8 March 2020

The University Likened to an Orange

The question of the utility of a university education came up after Mass today, and as the situation did not include the youngster going into debt or any other evil, I found myself vigorously defending Academia.

I encourage all gifted, intellectual teenagers to consider the University to be a kind of orange. The orange has a very attractive appearance, and it is true that many student mistake the beautiful and aromatic rind (scores of handsome young members-of-the-opposite sex, the parties, the booze, the drunken dancing on the quad at midnight with your best pal Trish) for the fruit (see below). However, it is the fruit that counts.

The fruit of the University consists of its glorious resources: the lectures, the libraries, the language labs, the science labs, the gardens, the concerts, the plays, the practice rooms, the recordings, and the experts--both the older, experienced experts, who are professors, and the doctoral candidates who, despite their disheveled appearances, know more about (at very least) their thesis topic than anyone else in the world.

There are also the clubs, and I think these should be considered resources, too, if they involve some sport or skill, like debating or chess.  Clubs that involve your philosophy or religion will be not just a resource but also a haven. I cannot imagine any Catholic, let alone a traditional Catholic, attempting a social life at the University without recourse to Catholic Chaplaincy or the Newman or some other place where likeminded Catholics gather.

Young people who share your core values are going to be your lifelong friends, and they are also the also the people with whom you are going to share wine and nachos (I'm thinking of the UK, where the drinking age is 18) at midnight while sharing what you've learned or arguing whether or not phenomenology is incompatible with Thomism. These late-night debates are, by the way, your part of the aromatic orange peel. The peel does have its place, just as orange zest has its place in cookery. In fact, let's call these intellectual and spiritual friendships the zest.  With God's help, you can avoid the inedible white part--the hangovers, drama, mortal sins, and cultural Marxism--completely.

But don't forget what the orange is for: the fruit. Go to University with a clear goal in mind, whether to prepare for future medical studies, or to equip yourself for teaching Latin and Greek to homeschoolers, or to become completely fluent in two Modern Languages. The University has laid out a banquet for you: go in and eat it all up.

P.S. When I was an undergrad, people would sigh "I still don't know what I want to do" as if this were not deeply shameful. Know what you want to do when you go to uni. Adjust your plans later, if you must, but don't go in expecting to be entertained.

Thursday 5 March 2020

Tongue Freeze

Polish chateau
*Update (Friday): I finally had the courage to check, and I DID get the prefix right. "Abrenuntio" is "Odrzekam"in the Obrzędy Chrztu  and that's exactly what I said. So ha, ha, ha clueless young man at the champagne reception and hooray for me!

Update 2: I concede that 'Wyrzekam' is more colloquial, but that is not what is written in the Obrzędy Chrztu


Now that I am at home, I can recollect in emotional safety the linguistic successes and failures of our recent trip to Poland.

My biggest problem is panic. Panic really is the mind-killer. I am perfectly capable of having good basic conversations in Polish in my sitting-room or in a cafe with my tutor, but put me in the dining room of a Polish chateau, and suddenly all Polish evaporates from my brain.

I thought of coming up with a calming phrase that would make me relax but would also fit in naturally at the beginning of a sentence. A good one would be Nooooo, which just means "Yes" or "Well." However, my guaranteed brain calmer, which can only be used with strangers, is "Czy Pan/Pana mowi po angielsku?" This is the polite form of "Do you speak English?" and it is brilliant in its way because if I give my interlocutor the chance to speak English, I do not feel bad about any mistakes I'm about to mistake. My Polish is literally better than his or her English.

There is also a calming philosophy which is that a conversation is successful, no matter how many linguistic mistakes are made, if it gets the job done. Thus I began our Polish trip with three successful conversations: one involving the purchase of train tickets for four adults, one obtaining a coffee and pastry for Benedict Ambrose, and one learning that eventually we would have to take a shuttle bus from one train station to the next.

However, my next conversation, which was addressed to a large number of Polish Pretend Son's very real relations, was rather less successful because my Polish evaporated before I could say that I was very glad to see them all again and delighted to meet my goddaughter.

As I wrote yesterday, my most important Polish job, which was to present and represent my goddaughter to the Catholic Church was, amazingly, successful, although I think I may have got a prefix wrong.* [See above.] Afterwards I understood most of PPS's toast to the Matka Chrzestna, which was rather nice.

Then it was English, English, English, except for the refrain of Szła dzieweczka during the folk music extravaganza that took place between the roast goose course and the flaming wild boar.  Oh, and we were made to sing drinking songs, but we were given the lyrics to read, so that was easy.

Once back in the big city, I was able to order food and drink po polsku and also to voice my regret that I could not help a stranger find the address he was looking for. (My parents take great pride in fitting in well enough everywhere they go [Europe, Australia, USA] that people ask them for directions. Well, I was in that position on Tuesday morning.)  The most important  of these conversations took place when it was past noon, and it was raining, and we were starving, and all of a sudden here was a milk bar with tables free. Czy Pani mowi po angielsku? Nic nie szkodzi. Dla mnie pierogi ruskie, i dla męza kotlet schabowy. I piwę i wodę mineralną. Dziękuję.  

But that is all very A1 level stuff, and I read at a B2 level, so I really would like to be able to talk to PPS's friends and relations in Polish without having a tongue freeze. I went to the library and took out books on confidence. However, it seems from my test scores that I already have lots of confidence, so that's not the issue. The way forward may be to practise speaking to PPS's friends and relations, so I have an appointment to speak to one on Skype next Monday evening.

Wednesday 4 March 2020

Matka Chrzestna, Córka Chrzestna, and the Naughty Dog

We are back from Poland, and I have a new goddaughter. Her daddy loves privacy, so no photo. Maybe I will be successful at blotting her sweet little head out of a photo of her with me, and then at least you can admire her christening gown, which was made by an English seamstress who is the go-to mantilla-maker of British trads-in-the-know.

Poles do not really go in for long and ornate christening gowns, which was a surprise to me, since I thought they were universal to Christendom. Instead they have ornate handkerchiefs which serve as the official "baptismal garment." My fortunate goddaughter has both, plus a quilted jacket and a quilted bonnet. The planning that went into these garments was intense and ultimately quite rewarding.

We had a few adventures on our way to the Saturday christening and after the christening, one involving a stray husky shedding the black feathers of a murdered hen. My biggest adventure was learning both the Apostles Creed and the Lord's Prayer in Polish while discovering how hard it is to say them automatically when English and sometimes Latin come to mind first.  In the end, I decided I could just read them from my handy Polish prayer book, but then I was handed the baby and had no hands for the prayer book.

Thanks to a miracle, and much reading and re-reading of the Latin-to-Polish text of the Christening according to the Extraordinary Form beforehand, my Nerves melted away when the service started. I actually knew what the priest was saying, and Córka Chrzestna stared up at me in a hypnotic sort of way, and I remembered the responses, e.g. what her name was and what she wanted.

On our walk up the aisle towards the altar, it wouldn't have mattered if I hadn't learned the Skład Apostolski in Polish, for CC began to cry and wailed so loudly nobody could tell if I said it or not.

The service, which was in one of the most famous and beautiful shrines in Poland (13th century),  lasted about 40 minutes, and it was really splendid. Afterwards, I handed the baby to her grandmother and was thus freed from any lingering fear of dropping her on the cold, hard, mediaeval stone floor. But really, we had quite a nice 40 minutes together. Her relations wondered why we spent the first part of the ceremony staring wordlessly at each other. Naturally we were having a spiritual conversation.

The adventure of the dog and the murdered chicken was on Sunday morning after breakfast when I convinced B.A. to walk to the nearest country church with me. It was too late for Mass, unfortunately, but we found the church without being squashed by cars or bitten by dogs or deafened by cockerels. It was very plain, but it was there, if you see what I mean. On our way back to our host hamlet, we were joined by a husky who seemed to have broken his chain. However, he was respectful and friendly, so we didn't mind him trotting along ahead of us, even when he drove captive dogs insane by marking his new territory right in front of them. But then he spotted some chickens, who began to scream as he chased them around a farmyard, and came trotting back with a wailing,
 black hen and broke her neck right in front of us.

City-bred, we were horrified.

"Niegrzeczny pies" was all I could think of to say as he rushed forward again, trailing black feathers from his mouth. "Niegrzeczny pies! Naughty dog!"

We feared that the villagers (hamlet-ers?) would see the dead hen--which the dog didn't even eat--and assume the bad dog belonged to the obvious foreigners who were so uncivilised as to let it run around killing Polish hens. However, this didn't happen, and when I did my duty in informing the local grandee (i.e. Polish Pretend Son) that there was a hen-killing stray on the loose, he said only that I was lucky, for he had never seen anything like that.