Tuesday 30 June 2020

Fiori di Zucca 2

Today I fried up five fiori di zucca (recipe here, only we had anchovies instead of capers), some cucumber and the leftover anchovies. At the last moment, I remembered to take a photograph. (The object on the right is a stuffed zucchini blossom.)

It really was the taste of Rome. I didn't even like anchovies until we discovered fiori di zucca in Rome.

The plan, going forward, is to eat the blossoms the day they first bloom. They don't stay that big for very long. The thing to do is to have mozzarella, anchovies and mint to hand from mid to late June.

In other gardening news, the last runner bean has emerged from the soil of the trug and so have the pea shoots. To save them from the ghastly greenfly, I have put plastic pop-bottle cloches over them. One of the second-sowing radishes in the raised bed was ready, so I popped it out, gave it a scrub, cut off the greens for later and ate it.

The radishes are very small, and I think after a year or two of learning from trial and error I will attempt to grow big vegetables like the best-in-show type vegetable growers. I am not a great radish fan, preferring the green tops, to be honest, so perhaps I'll concentrate on bean production, or something like that. It would be lovely to have enough green beans for us to eat a handful every day.

Next year I may also splash out on a greenhouse because I am longing to try tomatoes and aubergines (eggplants). We eat a lot of tomatoes, and even though, yes, the canned Italian variety cost only 35 p a can, it would be marvellous to have delicious Calabrese salads.

Monday 29 June 2020

Fiori di Zucca

The courgettes (zucchini) are flourishing--that is, the flowers are. Therefore, tomorrow I will be picking the male flowers, stuffing them with mozzarella and anchovies, dipping them in batter and frying them in oil. This is one of my favourite dishes, so I hope tomorrow isn't too late!

Here is a lovely photograph from our Saturday walk around the Historical House. We ran for a familiar old shelter just in time not to get drenched.

Sunday 28 June 2020

The Zoom Reunion

It has been many years since I graduated from high school. My body has thickened, and my face is melting. However, such is the lot of women who live past forty as was impressed upon me yesterday by the sight of over a dozen old classmates on my computer last night.

It was supposed to be an online cocktail party; I drank a little too much red wine instead.

"Did you talk about the faith?" asked Benedict Ambrose, or words to that effect.

"Goodness gracious, no. We talked about where we all lived now, children, Sr. W's matching red-white-and-blue outfits, D being pregnant the year we graduated, V's arranged marriage and how she is now, how M likes living in Dubai, how at least of two of them were bullies, and which girl had had a baby with another girl, which I don't think is true, actually."

That is a reconstructed statement, to be honest, as I am not sure what I exactly said to B.A., having drunk too much wine. I think what inspired that was one of the women still living in the principal Italian-Canadian neighbourhood asking a woman with an Italian married name what part of Italy her husband was from. Nothing brought back my school days like that. Reminiscing about hairspray and the Dep brand of gel carried only faint shadows of feeling like an outsider.

Hey, paesana! Hey, chica! Come stai, ha? Oh, okay, you know? Hey, Carmela, what part of Italy are you from? Calabria? Yeah? Cosenza?

That said, this may have been the exact same woman who asked me how my husband was doing, which strongly suggested that she or her parents were still reading the Toronto Catholic Register in 2017. That was very kind, and the closest we got to what B.A. was hoping for. He was so indignant that my graduating class, despite having gone to a convent school (so to speak) and taught by nuns, were so uninterested in Catholic topics that I ran away back to my computer to send a message to my prom date, who was and still is a practising Catholic.

I noticed that the women who had been quiet, studious girls, didn't attempt to get a word in edgewise, and that the women who had been great at sports and parties did most of the talking. My own set of outsiders--some of whom had been bullied by the girls some of these women used to be--were not there. I was moved, however, that the former bullies remembered their principal victims and asked after them.

Memories were shaky and information shared--including by me--unreliable. Someone suggested X and Y had had a baby together, but someone else said that Y was married to a man. I said that Q was in Colorado, but today I see that she is in Toronto.

Someone said that 1 in 10 of us must have been gay, but that we didn't even talk about such things back then. I thought privately that possibly 1 in 100 of us was deep-seatedly same-sex attracted and that we certainly did talk about such things back then. For one thing, all my schoolmates were collectively called "The Lezzies of [School]" by outsiders, and for another there were rumours that two girls had been caught kissing in the washroom/behind a shed/in the art room, etc. I myself entered the school with a massive crush on an older girl that was soon replaced by a massive crush on a boy at my brother's school. Adolescence is complicated.

Occasionally a child or photograph of children showed up on the screen and at one point a computer was taken outside where a man was barbecuing. It looked as thought we had mostly turned out the way I always suspected the school meant us to: university-educated or at least married to university-educated men, with at least two children (but not more than four), employed or at least married to employed men, with suburban houses and back yards, and the school cheer still resounding somewhere in the back of our middle-class minds. This was not the life I thought I wanted, and (as you see) this is not the life I have.

I found the reunion profoundly interesting and yet disturbing, and I was thankful afterwards that for once my best practising Catholic female friend, mother of my Canadian god-daughter, picked up the phone. Lily (as I call her online) is one of the few people outside my family to whom that I can sincerely say, "I love you so much, and I think you are fabulously beautiful."

To tell the truth, though, my family is not given to enthusiastic use of the L-word. We fight back tears at our weddings and funerals instead and occasionally harangue each other about losing weight/quitting stressful jobs/not risking dying alone of Covid-19. So thank heavens for my quiet American ex-pat Lily, locked down in a downtown house with a handsome, clever husband and four beautiful, clever children. (The fifth won't emerge fully on the scene until later this year.)

With Lily I can talk about the faith and society and American politics and everything under the sun without a shadow of reticence or fear, and with her children I can be both a gift-giving aunt and a hideous monster that drags them along the floor before gobbling them up.  And so I do not begrudge similar friendships among the old classmates I saw last night: I think its wonderful and hopeful that they last so long.

Lily and I talked until I was sober enough to picture the phone bill, and then I went to bed.

Update: B.A. doesn't think that anyone on last night's call would be thrilled if they read this description, so I apologise in advance. I do think the reunion was a great idea.  Yes, I felt "on the margins" of the conversation, just as I felt awkward around many of the conversations at school. As for the reconstructed "Hey, Carmela" conversation, I understand the factors that led to close knit Italian-Canadian communities, and I don't begrudge the members their membership. At any rate, I will have an interesting conversation about all this with my non-Canadian Italian tutor this evening.

Saturday 27 June 2020

My Brilliant Financial Advice

When I was working in a Canadian government office, lo, twenty years ago, I was given the first piece of serious financial advice that I ever remember receiving. It wasn't very good, as it was merely "Never buy a home because then you'll be trapped!" The giver of this advice was a Scottish immigrant to Canada who very much disliked our job and wanted to quit but could not because of her mortgage.

Personally, I love our mortgage. I was going to say it's a child-substitute, but that would add a note of unintended melancholy. Having run out of Polish graduate students, I have made the vegetables my child-substitute. The mortgage is more of a sport. The object of the sport is to save up as much as much as possible to put down the biggest allowable annual overpayment on the mortgage, thus making monthly mortgage payments smaller. It's like golf--the smaller the number is, the better our game.

One of the reasons that I love the mortgage is that it represents Benedict Ambrose's and my successful, if rather late, rooting in financial reality. Before I returned to full-time employment, we were advised that Benedict Ambrose alone should apply for a mortgage, for as a freelancer I would significantly lower the sum the bank would grant us. This was the principal reason why, after B.A.'s first life-saving operation, I seized upon the first full-time writing job I thought I was at all likely to get. This meant that my salary, too, would be factored in by the banks.

Our principal dread was that we would be thrown out of the Historical House and into the rental market, where B.A. was adamant he did not want us to be. Therefore, we began to save, and kept on saving when I got a job and when B.A. was deathly ill. When his sick pay ran out, I cut my expenses. We continued to put all our savings into a first-time buyers' "Help to Buy" Investment Savings Account (ISA).

This proved to have been the canniest thing we ever did because when we were thrown out of the Historical House, we had enough saved, and we were earning enough, to get the mortgage that enabled us to buy a two bedroom flat in a safe and convenient, if humble, neighbourhood. Needless to say, we do not feel trapped. We feel very fortunate, doubly fortunate that this flat has a private garden instead of the usual shared "[laundry] drying green".

This is not to say I have not cried a tear or two of regret over the many years I did not work full-time and did not save. When I scan past decades, my greatest financial regret is that I did not save 50% of everything I ever earned and put it into some investment vehicle that returned even just 3%. If I had done that, we would not be living in Safebuthumblehood but in Edinburgh's New Town.

I had some inkling of the importance of saving and investing young when I was in my late twenties, but I basically forgot it to pursue my dreamy-dreams. Then, the summer we bought our flat, I came across a book in the Stockbridge Public Library called The Escape Artist. It was a life changer, not  because it explained how someone could retire before 40, but because its principles work for over-40s wanting to retire before 80.

The interesting thing about the concept of the millionaire is that many, many, many employees earn over a million pounds or dollars during their work lives, but they aren't millionaires at the end. They aren't millionaires because, of course, they have spent the money. Much of this spending is absolutely necessary: taxes, shelter, food, heating, electricity, work clothes, medical insurance or fees. However, much of it really isn't. Financial Independence for Early Retirement (FIRE) people are brutal about automobiles, and Mr. Money Mustache, for example, is a great fan of bicycles. My maternal grandfather rode a bicycle to work. B.A.'s maternal grandfather walked to work. FIRE people are also  brutal about restaurants, which are a greater temptation to Mr and Mrs B.A. than cars.

When scanning past decades to see where my earnings disappeared, I inevitably conclude that Life Happens and that the inner flame lit by going out for sushi with my richer classmates after evening theology lectures was worth the money.  All the same, I think the very wisest thing a young person can do, after leaving college or university without debts, is to work as hard and earn as much as possible, living as cheaply as possible, for five years. All savings should be invested as cheaply (look out for bank or brokers' fees) as possible, taking into account your comfort with risk, as obviously some investments are safer bets than others. If the young person was able to save £/$20,000 a year, in five years he or she would have £/$100,000 plus whatever interest they had earned.

To put this into perspective, a full-time Starbucks employee in Canada seems to make about $26,000 a year. The lowest annual wage I've seen for a farm hand in Vermont is over $27,000. I am deliberately choosing low-paying jobs here. Have a look for likely salaries for American college graduates here.

Ideally, my hard-working young person gets along well enough with his or her parent/s to continue living with them as he or she grows his or her £/$100,000+ nest egg. If the parent/s wants a financial contribution to household bills, etc., then better the money goes to family than a stranger. Richer parents may just be impressed by their offspring's canny financial goal and cheer him or her on.

This initial $/£100,000 is a form of financial insurance against life's little difficulties. Even in a so-called "high-interest" savings account, it will grow all by itself over time. As traditional Catholics very often marry young, I suppose they would gladly spend it on real estate. However, I initially formulated this plan for young men hoping to become diocesan priests.

As a journalist, I keep coming across stories about young priests who are abused in a myriad of ways by bad or badly advised bishops. One of the problems is that bishops have enormous power over their priests, including financial. Another problem is that bishops die, and the good bishop who is a loving father to his young priests may be replaced by a serial sex pest or anti-trad ideologue. No matter how much money the priest has invested, he will still have a lot of sorrow, but at least he will not be completely financially dependent on his bishop.

Fictional example

Young Stan Kowalski is a whizz with computers but suspects he has a vocation to the priesthood. His parents, though devout, beg him to go to college and maybe work a few years before going to seminary. So Stan puts his head down, gets a degree in computer science by age 21, continues living with his parents and saves most of his $60,000/a salary. The day he has $100,000 nicely invested in something safe but steady, he calls Bishop Saintly's vocation director. He is now 23.

Young Stan goes to the diocesan seminary and is ordained to the diaconate at age 29 and then to the priesthood. He loves good Bishop Saintly and his parishioners, and his bishop and parishioners love him. Sometimes Fr. Stan feels uneasy that he has this great sum in index funds, snowballing away at 7%, but his parents have assured him that they will kill him if he tries to give it away to the poor. So instead Fr. Stan gives the poor almost all of his salary, saving only $100 a month to give to his mother. His mother promptly puts it into his index funds.

Then disaster. Bishop Saintly, whose traditionalism has put him into no little conflict with people who wish to sing a new church into being, has a heart attack and dies. Fr Stan, now 39, says a Traditional Latin Requiem Mass for his beloved ghostly father within the hour and weeps at the official funeral.

Then second disaster. Bishop Eric McTed is appointed to the diocese. Whereas Fr Stan is now too old to be of particular interest to the notorious "Uncle" McTed, the new bishop is keen to sing a new church into being. And just as you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, you can't establish the New Pentecost without throwing an orthodox priest or two into the diocesan funny farm.  And balding Fr. Stan, who is known to say the TLM for a stable group, to serve a flourishing society of rigidly orthodox young people, and to lead rosaries outside the local PP, looks just like the egg that has to be broke.

A faithful priest, even one with no political talents, can be hard to crack, though. Indeed, it is two more years before Fr. Stan comes to the attention of a Marxist identitarian group, and one more before their campaign against him leads to what the parish still calls The Homily That Did For Him. It gets 50,000 hits on YouTube.

"But I don't want to go to St Dymphna's," says Fr. Stan to Bishop McTed over the phone. "I'm not unhappy. I'm not sick. I didn't say anything that was uncharitable. I didn't say anything that was untrue."

"I want you out in six hours," says Bishop McTed, scratching his pointed tail.

"He wants me out in six hours," Fr. Stan tells his aged parents over Skype.

"What a lucky thing you have $265, 919.21 in your index fund," says his mother.

"If you live frugally, you'll be able to live on the interest alone for the rest of your life," says his father.

"But what about my ministry?" wails Fr. Stan.

"Well, I guess you follow the canonical procedures," says his mother. "Meanwhile, your Auntie Mary says Bishop Goodman over in Wisconsin is a saint."

By the way, if you think you recognise Fr. Stan, you are wrong; his woes are a composite of the kind of woes traditional young priests risk these days. When I was a child, I never dreamed men like a certain former archbishop of Washington (or another of Milwaukee) existed, let alone could ever become priests. I wish there was something more I could do about it.

Friday 26 June 2020

I May Have to Return to Writing for Singles

People. I'm supposed to be working, but I got led down a Twitter rabbit hole.


People, people, people. By whom I mean Trads. Men Trads.

This is not how you write personal ads.

YARG! If you are looking for a wife on a site called Traditional [or Traditional Catholic] Singles, you do NOT have to spell out that your future wife is not going to use birth control. What you DO have to spell out, at once, is what you do for a living.

Let's think "traditional" here. Traditionally (and also on Traditional Catholic Singles), men look for pretty, good-tempered, charming women to make their domestic lives nice, have their children, and be a good companion on the weekends they're not out with the boys. Traditionally, women look for men who can pay for all that. 

So the first thing I want to see after "Hi, I'm Bill, 31, from St. Ouain-Ouain, Quebec" is "I'm a software engineer/forest ranger/managerial trainee/firefighter/dentistry student/market gardener."

A dating profile is an ADVERTISEMENT. The whole point of advertising is to SELL something, and in this case you are selling the idea that you are a good catch. What would make you a good catch to a 50 year old millionairess is not what would make you a good catch to a 20-something traditional girl who wants a home, garden, children and flock of hens.

Men who want "traditional Catholic" women had better prove up front that they are "traditional Catholic" men. Unless the Traditional Catholic Single Man is a university professor,  Traditional Catholic Single Woman doesn't want to read all about his theological interests--at least, not yet.  Theological interests don't get Suzie Catholic her home, garden, children or chickens. I have an M.Div., so I know what I'm talking about.

Traditionally Catholic men wanting to get married generally left theology to their priest pals and got on with work.

Incidentally, anyone who thinks women should wear skirts 24/7 (I'm including nightgowns) and then has a seizure because such women prefer men who make enough money to support a large family is a fool not a good catch.

In short, if you want to have a really catchy personal ad, make sure you say up front and fast what you do for a living and what you will be able to offer the woman who consents to be your wife.


Mike, 30,  from Craighart, Scotland. Hello, I'm a research chemist for one of the UK's largest pharmaceutical firms.  I'm the second of five siblings. I hope some day to have children myself, but I'm open to whatever number God sends--one, five, ten, whatever. I'm renting a flat with some pals while I save up enough for a deposit on a house. My dream is to live in a big farmhouse in the countryside one day with my wife and children. My interests are metal-detecting, archaeology and football. My pals and I play five-a-side every few weeks.   

Unfortunately I don't trust the local Catholic school system, so I'm looking for a university-educated woman who will homeschool our future children. If my wife wants to work once the kids have graduated, that's cool with me. My feeling is that my wife shouldn't HAVE to work, but if she wants to when the children grow up, that's fine.  I'm not open to adopting/fostering, just so that's out there. I go to the local SSPX chapel for Mass, and I help serve Mass and set up for retreats, so that's also a non-negotiable. That said, I'm interested in meeting girls who currently go to other Latin Masses, too! 

End of. Going on about headship and skirts and age difference and all that stuff is just dumb. When you apply for jobs, you don't tell the company what it can do for you but what you can do for the company. I strongly suggest the same here.

Update: I added the "bad news" in the second paragraph--no adoption--because it's need-to-know but also off-putting to some girls. Maybe many girls, although women under 30 won't be too worried about that yet. But don't put any hint at a possible heartache in the first paragraph.

Update 2: Healthy traditionally masculine interests and friendships are attractive and suggest you are "normal", so into the first paragraph they go.

Mediterranean Weather

I had no writing duties on Wednesday, so Benedict Ambrose and I carved out some time for a long country walk. The sun poured down. It was so warm, he actually wore a Panama hat instead of opting for first degree burns. We started at one of our favourite places--a rural patisserie--and walked some distance to a village with an eleventh century church. It was once a pilgrimage site, and we read the signage across the road with interest. Apparently suffragettes came along and set fire to it in 1912 or so. Everything but the stone (local red sandstone) was destroyed. Fortunately the obsession with Gothic Revival wasn't over yet, so the knighted architect employed to fix it did a good job.

The church is in a small village with heartbreakingly beautiful houses and decent if homely modern houses added on. The views of the variegated fields and hills were breathtaking. We thought about following the road to the sea but our planned route was a circular one, so we opted to look more closely at the village and to finish our circuit of the area. 

There was not much to see in the village but houses and gardens and a red postbox. After a rest on a strip of grass by the main road (the sun was really beating down), we walked onward through a wood and saw, to our left, a stable block so grand and Palladian I took it for the local manor. The local manor is a 19th century castle, now turned into charming apartments. There were also farmhouses and what must have been the castle's old kitchen garden, the wall perfectly intact. 

It was a long walk back to the bus stop, especially in all that heat. However, we continued on along over two bridges and then along a burn and then through fields, taking a last rest by a dungheap, which was not as terrible as it sounds. Then, checking the time, we strode on and at last saw, from the top of the hill, the village from which we would take a bus homeward. 

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and, as usual, one of us checked property prices when we were snug in our own sitting-room. When I was thoroughly rested, I went outside and picked off the horrible aphids (greenfly, really) from my vegetables by hand. I read somewhere that you can vacuum them off, too, and as we have a handheld DustBuster, I will indeed try that. 

Yesterday I was at my desk from 10 to 6, so there were no grand walks. By the late afternoon it was positively hot, though, so when I left my desk we went for a modest walk to the Firth of Forth and even ambled along the beach. As our beach actually has sand, it felt almost like being on the Mediterranean. As we are relatively remote, the beach wasn't crowded either. There was definite social-distancing going on. 

So that's two absolutely glorious June days in a row, tempting me into thinking perhaps tomatoes can grow outside in Scotland after all.  

Speaking of gardening, B.A. put out sliced cucumber in an aluminium tray in the veg trug in the hopes of annoying the greenfly thereby. It's all very hands-on learning, this gardening wheeze. Next year I will plant a border of "companion plants" to fend off the greenfly in the trug and sink beer traps  in the raised bed to drown the slugs. 

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Garden Glory

Last night I was feeling overly furious about a minor mistake, and so I rushed out into the garden. I leaned over the vegetable trug to see if the peas had sprouted, for sprouts are high on my list of things-that-make-me-happy. No pea sprouts as yet.

However, this morning I went outside on my slug hunt and discovered one great beautiful blossom:

"Squash blossom," I cried and went back in for my actual camera. I still haven't figured out why my MacBook is feuding with its kinsdevice, the iPhone.

Here are three more photos of vegetables and one of fruit:

Slug-chewed lettuce in the raised bed.

Broad beans, kale, chard, beets, lettuce, runner beans.

Aphid-chewed runner beans, sleeping peas.
Cider babies.

Monday 22 June 2020

*New* Indestructible Denim Maxi-Skirt of Feminine Traddery

Good news on the minimalist wardrobe front: I have purchased a new (to me) indestructible denim maxi-skirt of feminine traddery via eBay. It is the exact same brand, make and size as the last one. Nevertheless the two skirts differ somewhat in appearance. (See left.)

The old indestructible denim maxi-skirt, which also used to be indigo, will now be used for gardening in. The new indestructible will serve as my weekday uniform, worn over leggings and washed once a week. If I were courageous (and the charity shops were open), I would now rid myself of all other skirts, except my suit skirt, and retain only three dresses: the azure-blue (PPS's wedding), the dotted brown silk (PGD's christening), the red cotton (swing-dancing days) and the ankle-length navy (Vatican Press Office).

When I was a child, I was determined that I would wear designer clothes when I grew up. However, I never properly worked out how this could come about, and then I read about Dorothy Day of New York. As I have no doubt told you several times before, Dorothy Day thought money spent on luxuries was stolen from the poor and got her own clothes from the rejects in the Catholic Worker donation box.

Balancing out the Venerable Dorothy, however, is a late Sister Dorothy I once knew, who had unusually beautiful clothes for a plainclothes nun. The rumour was that she "came from money" and that she was given the clothes by wealthy family members: smart tweeds and intricate Irish cardigans, if I remember correctly, the sort of clothes I will buy myself when B.A. and I win the lottery and move to the New Town.

For the time being, though, we have very limited closet space and when I am not writing, reading, studying, gardening, houseworking, teaching over Skype, or buying groceries, I am going on long country walks with B.A. This is why I am so tempted just to chuck out almost everything left in my closet.

Sunday 21 June 2020

Fields of Wonder

Apparently roaming about Scotland without a sufficient cause can still lead to a fine or a ticking off by police officers. This surprised me, when I saw an article about it on line, for I thought that particular jig was up, thanks to all kinds of mass demonstrations throughout the UK the various governments are too frightened to stop.

What I can say about yesterday was that I had sufficient cause to take a train, and when I got on the train I saw that everyone except the conductor and me was wearing a mask. This alarmed me, for I was unsure when the mandatory-masks-on-public-transit begins. It begins tomorrow, actually.  Benedict Ambrose and I will have to remember to take with us the nice denim masks Aged P made us  on future journeys. 

There are fields a three days' walk from here upon which the Romans once built (and rebuilt) a mighty fort. The ditches and places where walls once stood are still discernible in aerial photographs of the site. For me the fields, now filled with green grain, are also filled with wonder. The fort is an important setting in one of my favourite books, and the heroes of the book climb over the "heathery shoulder" of a nearby hill. In place of heather, there are now trees on the shoulder.

The river valley the fort once looked down upon is spectacularly beautiful.  

When the Romans were gone for good, the fort was robbed of its red sandstone by the locals, and much of it, we believe, went to the building of an abbey. This too has been robbed of much of its sandstone in turn, thanks to the iconoclasm of the Protestant Revolt. Unlike the fort, there is still something left of the abbey, and it glows red in the midsummer sun. 

There is an ice-cream shop in a town by the abbey which re-opened yesterday. Business has been steady but, to the relief of the servers, not overwhelming. 

Benedict Ambrose and I went for a walk today for exercise and to get ice-cream from our local Italian-founded gelateria, which reopened a few weeks ago. On our way, we saw that another local Italian restaurant has reopened, if only for take-out and delivery. The white-haired proprietor was standing in the doorway, looking cheerful, so I called out "Tanti auguri!" and he bowed and said "Grazie!"

I then worked out in my head the Italian for "Had I known that we would meet il Signor [Locally Famous Restauranteur], I would have put on matching socks." For the record, this sentiment takes the Congiuntivo Trapassato and the Condizionale Passato. Also for the record, my socks almost match. They are both grey, but one has a red band around the top and the other a purple.

It rained before we got to the ice cream parlour. Luckily, we were in a park near a bandstand when the  rain came pelting down. We stood in the bandstand, which is painted blue and yellow, with a small family and a few bicyclists. It seems to be a hybrid bandstand: the ironwork looks Victorian but the floor is most definitely concrete.

I had an Italian class over the phone today, and my tutor told me that he was sure il Signor [LFR] wasn't offended by my socks. While I was telling him about Benedict Ambrose having made 16 litres of elderflower champagne, B.A. came into the dining room to give me a glass of it. It isn't very alcoholic yet, but it is good.  

I have decided that one of the the things in life I enjoy unabashedly is Italian class. Throughout my life I have had a struggle determining what I  like and enjoy and what I don't really like and enjoy but always think I do until it's too late. I am compiling a list. So far it includes going for country walks with B.A. in good weather, Italian class, and seeing vegetables germinate. Of course there are more, but I am compiling this list slowly, as the enjoyable activities happen.  

Gardening News: Today cut the tops off my broad bean plants to discourage the arrival of bugs. We will eat the tops with supper. I also harvested 18 broad beans, which we will also eat for supper.  I planted peas this week, but they have not yet raised their little green heads. The aphids (which BA, being Scottish, calls "greenfly") have been chomping fiercely on the leaves of my runner beans, so I will certainly try the cucumber-on-aluminium trick. I transplanted a pot of parsley from the dining room windowsill to the herb half-barrel outside this week. It is doing well, although not as well as the parsley I transplanted last year. This is flourishing wildly, throwing out large delicious leaves in every direction.  The thyme is starting to flower, so I cut off a few branches and have tied them to the dining room window frame with thread to dry out. The slugs have not been visible in the past three mornings--possibly word has got out that I squash them on sight. Meanwhile, I am thinking about planting sticks from black currant bushes under the apple tree, and I want to see if the stick method works with wild raspberries, too.   

Friday 19 June 2020

Midsummer Night's Eve (?)

Alas! I don't think I'll be able to fulfil the conditions necessary to wake up Puck, but maybe one day.

(Update: It would appear that Midsummer Day is actually St. John's Day, not the evening of the Solstice--or has been since the 15th century, anyway. Aha!)

Do you know Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill? It was one of my favourite stories as a child and fed my Anglophilia.  Now I know a Scottish place rather like the place described below. Here's how the story begins:   

The children were at the Theatre, acting to Three Cows as much as they could remember of Midsummer Night's Dream. Their father had made them a small play out of the big Shakespeare one, and they had rehearsed it with him and with their mother till they could say it by heart. They began when Nick Bottom the weaver comes out of the bushes with a donkey's head on his shoulders, and finds Titania, Queen of the Fairies, asleep. Then they skipped to the part where Bottom asks three little fairies to scratch his head and bring him honey, and they ended where he falls asleep in Titania's arms. Dan was Puck and Nick Bottom, as well as all three Fairies. He wore a pointy-cloth cap for Puck, and a paper donkey's head out of a Christmas cracker—but it tore if you were not careful—for Bottom. Una was Titania, with a wreath of columbines and a foxglove wand.

The Theatre lay in a meadow called the Long Slip. A little mill-stream, carrying water to a mill two or three fields away, bent round one corner of it, and in the middle of the bend lay a large old Fairy Ring of darkened grass, which was the stage. The millstream banks, overgrown with willow, hazel, and guelder-rose, made convenient places to wait in till your turn came; and a grown-up who had seen it said that Shakespeare himself could not have imagined a more suitable setting for his play. They were not, of course, allowed to act on Midsummer Night itself, but they went down after tea on Midsummer Eve, when the shadows were growing, and they took their supper—hard-boiled eggs, Bath Oliver biscuits, and salt in an envelope—with them. Three Cows had been milked and were grazing steadily with a tearing noise that one could hear all down the meadow; and the noise of the Mill at work sounded like bare feet running on hard ground. A cuckoo sat on a gate-post singing his broken June tune, 'cuckoo-cuck', while a busy kingfisher crossed from the mill-stream, to the brook which ran on the other side of the meadow. Everything else was a sort of thick, sleepy stillness smelling of meadow-sweet and dry grass.

Their play went beautifully. Dan remembered all his parts—Puck, Bottom, and the three Fairies—and Una never forgot a word of Titania—not even the difficult piece where she tells the Fairies how to feed Bottom with 'apricocks, green figs, and dewberries', and all the lines end in 'ies'. They were both so pleased that they acted it three times over from beginning to end before they sat down in the unthistly centre of the Ring to eat eggs and Bath Olivers. This was when they heard a whistle among the alders on the bank, and they jumped.

The bushes parted. In the very spot where Dan had stood as Puck they saw a small, brown, broad-shouldered, pointy-eared person with a snub nose, slanting blue eyes, and a grin that ran right across his freckled face. He shaded his forehead as though he were watching Quince, Snout, Bottom, and the others rehearsing Pyramus and Thisbe, and, in a voice as deep as Three Cows asking to be milked, he began:
'What hempen homespuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the fairy Queen?'

He stopped, hollowed one hand round his ear, and, with a wicked twinkle in his eye, went on:

'What, a play toward? I'll be an auditor;
An actor, too, perhaps, if I see cause.'

The children looked and gasped. The small thing—he was no taller than Dan's shoulder—stepped quietly into the Ring.

'I'm rather out of practice,' said he; 'but that's the way my part ought to be played.'

Still the children stared at him—from his dark-blue cap, like a big columbine flower, to his bare, hairy feet. At last he laughed.

'Please don't look like that. It isn't my fault. What else could you expect?' he said.

'We didn't expect any one,' Dan answered slowly. 'This is our field.'

'Is it?' said their visitor, sitting down. 'Then what on Human Earth made you act Midsummer Night's Dream three times over, on Midsummer Eve, in the middle of a Ring, and under—right under one of my oldest hills in Old England? Pook's Hill—Puck's Hill—Puck's Hill—Pook's Hill! It's as plain as the nose on my face.' 

Wednesday 17 June 2020

Elderflowers and Broad Beans

A harvest day: I harvested 17 broad beans for supper, and Benedict Ambrose bottled 16 litres of elderflower champagne. A very, very clean bathtub was involved in the latter.

Our neighbour Sandy has returned from a double-stint in the North Sea. He is loudly singing.

In other garden news, I discovered another runner bean; it was hidden among the flourishing baby gem lettuce in the trug. The aphids have chomped wee holes in its leaves. They have also been chomping on the radish tops, but so far they have left the lettuce alone.

Sandy was interested in the large plant in the plastic pot beside the half-barrel.

"Courgette," I explained.

B.A. was exhausted from his champagne-making exertions, so we just had a short walk around some lovely Victorian row houses.  We would quite like a Victorian row house as our next rung on the property ladder, as long as it had a garden.

In addition to the 16 litres of elderflower fizz, we are the proud owners of 2 litres of almost one-year-old blackcurrant vodka. The vodka still has the blackcurrants in it; I am waiting for Advent before bottling it.

At lunchtime I underscored all the adjectives in Chapter 3 of The Eagle of the Ninth. Sutcliffe blesses many of her nouns with an adjective (sometimes two), and so do I,  I see.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

The Scent of Honeysuckle

I have collapsed in my chair, all tuckered out after our plague-era walk. We walked along the rough side of the river and then past the golf course and the ponies. We crossed the bridge and the field, going upwards to the 1920s houses. The air was perfumed with the scent of honeysuckle and then some other blossom. The wood pigeons cooed, and the blackbirds sang. We squeezed past an old fence and passed by the golden duck forever stopped in mid-flight on its weathervane. I felt surprisingly hungry. We went down the hill to the supermarket and bought a few groceries. Suddenly I felt very tired and then sleepy.

I've been up since six-thirty. I worked on Polish before work, and at lunchtime on my lesson plan for writing class. I wrote two articles and sent some emails. It's been a long day.

When I went out for our walk, I hoped to find myself back in the world of Marcus, Esca and The Eagle of the Ninth. We are, after all, between the Antonine Wall and Hadrian's. I know where the nearest Roman fort is; indeed, I know where its baths are, half-uncovered in the grounds of a grand mansion. Most importantly, most of their world was out-of-doors among the blackbirds, the honeysuckle and the ivy.

Every chapter--there are 21--has something exciting in it, some conflict or life-determining decision. The first chapter sets the central problem--the disappearance of the Ninth Legion north of Hadrian's Wall---and its life-altering significance for the young hero's childhood back in Etruria (Tuscany). It also introduces the tension between Marcus and his despised uncle-by-marriage. Marcus hopes his uncle-by-blood, who lives in Britain, will be like his father.

As Uncle Aquila is much more sympathetic than Uncle-by-Marriage Tullus Lepidus, but not much like Marcus' twenty-years-younger father in look or manner, he will serve as a double contrast. There is quite a lot of compare-and-contrast in The Eagle of the Ninth, as my pupils will learn to appreciate.   Naturally there is a strong contrast between Roman and British, between light and dark, and between authenticity and pretence.

The themes are filial piety and loyalty, of course. Not only do they come up over and over again--and indeed are the common language to all the characters in the book--a character is given a bracelet with "Pia fidelis" carved into it.  Another theme is friendship.

There is also character development for all the younger characters, including Cottia, the Iceni girl-next-door. (I was going to accuse Cottia changing only in regard to her grown-up lady clothes, but I realised that as she got older she became a little more reserved and a little less free-spirited.)

It's really a splendid book. I wrapped up my students' copies in brown paper, and B.A. took the parcel to the post office. I am sure they will like it.

Monday 15 June 2020

Blackbirds and Pecan Tart

I have been out in the garden removing slugs from the lettuce in the raised bed and stomping on them. Death to slugs. In happier news, almost all of  the beets have sprouted in the trug and another runner bean seedling has appeared.

Sunday morning was unusual in two respects: first, the Warrington Mass wasn't transmitting for some unknown reason, and so Benedict Ambrose read the prayers and readings for a Missa Sicca. Second, I noticed a fluently Polish comment on my article about President Duda and his Family Card, so I searched online for references to it in the Polish media. Instead of a reference to the article, I found a video of myself giving an interview to Polonia Christiana.

As yet I have been too embarrassed to watch it although not to embarrassed to report it to work, my mother,  my Polish tutor, my Italian teacher, my French & German-speaking brother, and my Facebook friends. Back in October, when I gave the interview I thought I had done so badly, PC24 decided not to air it. Apparently not. One of the comments delightfully says "How did the lady learn to speak Polish so well?"

There are two answers to that. The first is that the lady has committed ego-suicide with the knife of embarrassment over and over again for several years. The second is that the lady contacted her parish's current Polish altar server and collaborated on her remarks. Polish is hard, becoming fluent in Polish outside Poland is harder, and speaking Polish in Rome is so hard I abandoned it mid-interview and we switched to English.

And so I told my Italian teacher over the phone yesterday in Italian.

But that was after 6 PM. After we failed to find the Warrington Mass and Benedict Ambrose did his laymen's best, we ate delicious local bacon sandwiches and then went on a country walk. First we took the bus straight to our favourite countryside hipster cafe (strange but true) with its great sacks of Canadian flour ("Manitoba White") and French flour. There we purchased two cappuccinos and two slices of pecan tart and took them away to a sort of alcove in the stone wall running around the forested part of a market garden. After we ate them, we revised our walk plans.

We had meant to climb the local hill, the ancient stronghold of the Votadini, but B.A. decided it was too misty and rainy to appreciate the view.  So we went for a walk around the fields and alongside the river, aiming at a pretty stone-built village we had never visited before. The local cafe was open, so I bought a bottle of water and learned that they had just reopened that very day. Then we walked to East Linton, rather swiftly, and got to the bus stop within six minutes of the once-an-hour bus's arrival.

Yesterday I also finished my slow-reading of The Eagle of the Ninth, and this reminds me of the importance of details for setting a scene.  Thus I will add that the damp trees were alive with blackbirds cheerfully singing away, and that we saw a white-throated dipper flicking and and fluttering on a stone in the river, and that one of the fields was full of pea shoots. B.A. plucked a little to taste, and I wailed about pesticides. It had been raining, though, so presumably the pea shoots had been rendered temporarily organic.

I thought about The Eagle of the Ninth constantly and tried to imagine what had been where the potato fields and Brussel sprout crops are now. Trees? Scrub? Next Saturday we will go to Trimontium and imagine Marcus and Esca meeting Guern the Hunter in the ruins of the fort. Today I will post off copies of the book to my pupils.

Two of the beautiful stone house in the village were for sale. When we got home, though, we discovered that both owners want over £400,000, which is rather outside our budget.

Saturday 13 June 2020

The New Regime

A year ago or so I wrote a letter for work about my daily schedule. Apparently many readers enjoyed seeing what the ordinary life of an online journalist looked like. As I was studying German at the time, looking forward to a summer trip to Berlin,  it is now very out of date.

I have been writing up little timetables for myself since I was a teenager, and it was many years before I stopped, knowing that I never stick to them for long. If I met someone who kept the same schedule for a decade, let alone life, I would be in awe of them. I would be in awe of their efficiency. 

 But all that said, here is my new weekday, Covid-era, regime. 

1. Stagger out of bed between 7 and 8. (Hopefully closer to 7.)
2. Wash all dishes.
3. Make coffee while cleaning counters.
4. Put on bathrobe and shoes, go outdoors and check on plants. Remove feasting snails and slugs.
5. Drink coffee while A) checking email and headlines or B) reading something improving.
6. Half an hour studying Italian.
7. Half an hour studying Polish.
8. Researching stories for work. 
9. WORK until 1:30 or so. 
10. (Optional: lunch break. Lunch break activities include hanging up the laundry.)
11. WORK until 6 or 7. 
12. If I really do stop working at 6, go for government-approved exercise walk.
13. Supper.
14. Companionable film-or-show watching with Benedict Ambrose
15. Calling my parents on Skype. 
16. Reading something improving.
17. Gathering all dishes and putting them by the sink.
18. Reading something improving.
19. Bed. 

That's what the last week has looked like, anyway. Today is Saturday, so the staggering and dishwashing happened at 9 AM. Normally I hate waking up that late, as morning is my favourite time of day, but today I didn't mind. I have lots of time for language study, and language study is the activity in most danger of being squeezed out. 

Yesterday I was assigned a story about Poland, and I'm grateful I had returned to Polish studies, so that I didn't draw a complete blank when sending messages to contacts. Most of them are fluent in English, but not all. I sought help over the translation of Andrzej Duda's "Family Card" because, to be honest,  a solitary struggle with "Decydujący wpłw rodzicówna forme, i trześć zdjęć dodatkowych w szkołach" would have spent much of my time and many of my tears over my massive Polish dictionary. As it was, Duda and his Family Card took up most of my working day, and I worked an extra hour to finish a BLM story.  

I am pleased now to see that the Duda story has been shared on Facebook over 9 11 thousand times. Assuredly conservative journalists must not leave Poland to American liberals, for they can't read Polish and get the story from Poles of the far-left and/or they just seize on one thing and go crazy because the vast majority of Poland diverges ideologically from Western Europe and the New York Times. Naturally foreigners are trying to change this by sending thousands, if not millions, of dollars to the far-left Polish fringe. Curious how foreigners constantly lust over Poland at the expense of the Poles. 

Speaking of foreign agendas, I was asked if I thought Rod Dreher (who vastly offended a friend of mine by judging Polish Catholicism by what he was told during a trip to Warsaw) had an agenda when he went there. 

"Yes, but a benign one," I said and then pondered if I have an agenda myself. To be frank, I don't think I have the mental space for much an agenda in Poland besides getting from A to B without getting lost, making a fool of myself, or falling into a dark pool of self-hatred for getting a noun declension wrong. 

I had the mother of all meltdowns on my way to my god-daughter's Lower Silesia christening while squashed into a car with the British choir and a Polish-American ex-Marine. The ex-Marine was leading me through the Apostles Creed in Polish, which I knew, but couldn't rattle through as fast as, e.g., the ex-Marine. I was the only woman in the car, and I completely let the side down by ranting that this had been a terrible mistake and I should never have agreed, etc. I seem to recall the men making suitably supporting remarks, but looking back on it now, it is a pity Polish Pretend Son wasn't there, for he loves drama. In the end, of course, Córka Chrzestna yelled so loudly during the Apostles Creed that nobody could tell if I knew it in Polish or not. 

If I have an agenda it's to revel in Polish uniqueness and singularity, and so the greatest temptation is to ignore the ways in which Poland is similar to the rest of Western Europe. There are, for example, Starbucks outlets in the major cities. 

In gardening news, this morning I caught a slug in the very act of eating the heart out of one of our lettuce plants. I poked fiercely at it, and it was slimy. Ugh. However, I was cheered by the discovery that my broad beans have fruited, so there will be fresh broad beans with supper tonight. 

Thursday 11 June 2020

The Fosseway

Yesterday the President of the United States tweeted a link to my workplace, and I missed the excitement because it was late and I was rereading Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth. 

I now have four copies of The Eagle of the Ninth because I bought three identical copies for my homeschool writing class. As well as writing our own stories, my pupils and I are going to examine this story to see how Miss Sutcliff wrote hers.

My father gave me a copy of The Eagle of the Ninth when he returned from a work trip to Britain the year I was twelve. Images from the book have stayed with me every since then--especially the dark red rose bush that the hero believes is growing pot-bound. I realised only last night that the dark red rose bush represents Marcus' career. A lifetime of speed-reading has its drawbacks.

So instead of speed-reading, I am slow-reading. Slow-reading involves looking up words and concepts I don't understand instead of skipping over them.

"From the Fosseway westward to Isca Dumniorum the road was simply a British trackway," the book begins.

"Hold on," I thought. "What is the Fosseway?"

I typed it into the computer and behold!  It's a road that marked the edge of the Roman western frontier in Britain. Some believe it began as a defensive ditch ('fosse' in Latin), and in its heyday it stretched from Lindum Colonia (Lincoln) 230 miles southwest to Isca Dumniorum (Exeter).

I'm still a bit confused though. If the road stretched to Isca Dumniorum, where was this British trackway? Perhaps that bit wasn't built yet? Or did the Fosseway actually run further south and the marching Legions turned right when they got to the British trackway? I think I'm going with the finished part of the Fosseway ending before the final jerk to the left when the story begins. The Romans will build over the trackway later.

My next search was for the "Raven degree of Mithras,"for which hero underwent scarring. This led to the discovery that it was the most junior degree of the religion, which is certainly suitable for Marcus, as he is 19 years old, tops.

Then Marcus' old home in Cluvium: it's now known as Chiusi and it's in Tuscany. No wonder Marcus loved it so much.

Then--I'm almost embarrassed to admit this--for the first I looked up the game Marcus' vanished father used to play with him: "Flash the Fingers." Marcus would have known it as "Micare Digitis"; the Italians call it "Morra."

Yes, there's a richness in slow reading. Quite apart from forcing myself to stop and really see what Sutcliff saw when she wrote her story, there's appreciating how she did it. Here is a quick diagram of the first half of Chapter One:

1. Description of the road, movement forward.
2. Description of the people on the road.
3. Description of the cohort from above.
4. Description of the cohort from the hero's point of view.
5. Description of the hero.
6. Naming of hero & short description of his childhood, ending with the PROBLEM linked to father.
7. Results of the PROBLEM, including description of hero's disliked uncle-by-marriage. (Contrast.)
8. Shift to present, showing how hero still feels about uncle-by-marriage.
9. Explanation of why hero is in Britain--links to father's brother and father.
10. Description of father and foreshadowing of his fate.
11. FIRST DIALOGUE: Mother foreshadows father's fate; father's optimistic reply.
12. Description of father's eyes and emerald ring. (Note: light a theme in first four chapters. Mithras?)
13. Hero hopes Uncle Aquila is like his father; further description of Uncle A.
14. Career goals described.
15. Lost home described.
16. First sight of Isca Dumniorum described.
17. British town beneath described from above.
18. British town described from the road through it.

Your patience with this sketch may vary. I found it incredibly interesting, but I will note only that the chapter ends with the outgoing cohort marching off through the town in the morning sun. Meanwhile,  although I was never a girl for extensive descriptions (skimming through florid pages of the Anne books), these sucked me right into the story and never really let me go. How happy I am to live in what was once the shadow of a Roman British fort!

Wednesday 10 June 2020

Pruning the Apple Tree

I am reasonably sure nobody has pruned our apple tree in years. It stretches over three neighbouring yards, and when I went in there with our new pruning saw, I found many dead branches. Now we have enough old, dry apple wood for a satisfactory bonfire.

Pruning the green wood made me nervous, but I sawed off a few thin branches that were crossing  other branches. Later I read a few more how-to guides on the internet and was satisfied that I hadn't done anything wrong. This morning I went out and had a look at the tree with a pruner's eye, and I see the there is much more to do. It would have been better to do it in April, but we're still far enough away from winter that I think the tree will be okay.

I'm looking forward to having a bumper crop of apples--next year if not this year. We've been drinking our stored-up 2019 cider, and we've only two bottles left now. I want to keep them to sustain us through our next cider-making marathon.

Yesterday Benedict Ambrose went up the hill towards where the Roman fort used to be and collected elderflowers for his famous elderflower champagne. When he returned the rich scent of elderflowers emanated from his collecting bag and filled the whole kitchen. He had already zested and squeezed a dozen or more lemons. Now our large fermentation bin is sitting at the safe end of the bathroom, covered in a muslin cloth.

Elderflower champagne reminds me of twelve-hour parties and weekend guests at the Historical House. However, this is no longer such a melancholy thought now that we have had a proper Sunday Lunch in the garden. One day there will be a bigger Sunday Lunch and then several Sunday Lunches to look back on fondly.

Last night before I fell asleep I re-read a Wendell Berry essay beginning with his 16 year old impatience, in 1950, with a mule team slowing him down as he drove his father's nearly new tractor. His grandfather, who had always worked with mules and loved the good ones, had died in his mid-80s only three years before. Berry's grandfather had rejected tractors, saying that they compacted the soil. And here is where I once again exult in the memory of seeing a farmer behind a horse-and-plow on a hill between Kielce and Krakow, I think it was.

Farming sounds like very hard work, much harder work than gardening. It is easy to become romantic about it, so I have to keep telling myself that. The chances of Benedict Ambrose agreeing to  start a market garden with me are zero--and I have to admit that this shows good sense. Still, I love the idea of being self-sufficient, and when B.A. was recovering from brain surgery, he watched endless hours of My Self Reliance videos.

One of the things I love about B.A. is that he enjoys watching surviving-and-thriving in the Canadian wilderness videos even though he entirely dislikes camping and didn't own a saw, for example, until Monday. His idea of a perfect dwelling is a "double-upper" in the New Town, and I have to admit that this would indeed be ideal for winter parties. One of the drawbacks of our current flat is that it is a bit of a squeeze for weekend parties.

Monday 8 June 2020

Back to Languages

Last night's Italian class was so great, I decided to pull up my socks and go back to proper language study. This morning I made my coffee and studied Italian for half and hour and then Polish for half an hour. I then wrote a note to my writing students and included it in the cardboard envelope of marking.  I was going to do 20 minutes on the exercise bike, but the laundry needed hanging out.

Then I went to work.

Benedict Ambrose told me some years ago that if I had stuck to Italian and Italian alone, I would have been fluent in it already. This is very likely true. One of the positive benefits of not studying Polish for two months is that when I speak to my Italian tutor, Polish no longer intrudes. However, I am determined to become trilingual (at very least), so what can I do?

At this point I would be willing to study Polish in a different room from the one I speak Italian in, wear different clothes, learn entirely different sets of words (winter words for Poland, summer words for Italy; ecclesiastical political terminology in Italian, secular political terminology in Polish, etc.). Anything to stop Polish from getting in the way of Italian, and Italian from getting in the way of Polish.

Meanwhile, I feel energised by my two month break from Polish and extra Italian study, and I think I will even work on my Italian accent.

Gardening News: My Burgeon and Ball Folding Pruning Saw arrived today. To the best of my knowledge, it was made in Sheffield. I am now going outside to saw some dead apple branches.

Sunday 7 June 2020

The Most Beautiful Sunday

This morning was overcast, breezy and not overly warm but nevertheless the most beautiful Sunday this spring. Today a kind priest came to our home after we watched the Warrington Mass, heard our confessions and gave us Holy Communion.

We had not received Holy Communion since St. Joseph's Day. I won't tell you how long it was since I'd been to confession. (Benedict Ambrose is better about this than I am.) Having Holy Communion today reminded me of my First Communion--the first official one, I mean.*

The government regulations in Scotland are such that we can now visit with a few people from different households as long as we all stay outside and six feet apart. Thus, B.A. set up a chair on the landing right outside our outer door, and I put down our green silk Moroccan prayer rug just inside our hall. When Father arrived, I retreated behind the sitting-room door, and B.A. made his confession before the outer doorway. When B.A. was done, he got me. Then I made my confession before the outer doorway.

Then we had Holy Communion. For this the priest wanted a roof over his head, so he stepped into the hall, gave Communion to B.A., and then, when B.A. moved out of the hallway, gave Communion to me. The sun shone through the little white Disc, and afterwards I cried. Not so tough and sophisticated after all, am I?

B.A. brought the priest water in a china bowl for his finger and thumb, and the water went into the half-barrel herb garden. I shall have to think very carefully in future about exactly what goes into it! Servant of God Dorothy Day, having found herself at a coffee table Mass, took away the coffee cup used as a chalice and buried it, so that it could not longer be used for coffee again. All traditionalists should tell this story when other Catholics denounce her as a communist.

After this very happy and unprecedented reception of two Sacraments at our door, B.A. and I gave the priest Sunday Lunch under the apple tree. It was our first ever meal in the garden. Since I wouldn't let B.A. buy an ugly Made-in-China object (£30), he put his beloved barley-twist table (it looks like this but cost a fraction) under the tree. I covered it with the tablecloth we bought in Florence. Then I brought out a bottle of red wine and two bottles of our homemade apple cider. B.A. brought out the pork loin he had put in the oven before the Warrington Mass and a warm potato salad containing homegrown lettuce, kale, chard and radish.  Unsurprisingly, we were joined by Lightning the Friendly Cat, who clearly had designs on the roast.

For pudding we had slices of an enormous (if I say so myself) Black Midnight Cake, which I unashamedly boast comes from my mother's old Betty Crocker Cookbook recipe. This time I improved upon it by taking my mother's advice to tie wet dish towel collars around the cake tins, so that they would rise flat. They weren't entirely flat, but they were flatter than last time. I spread jam on the bottom of the slightly thinner one, stuck the fatter one on top and covered the whole with cocoa buttercream icing. This I served with peanut butter ice-cream, which B.A. thought slightly odd, but the priest appreciated.

It was a delightful lunch, and B.A. and I both prayed during the Warrington Mass "Prayer against Pestilence" that we would not pass along COVID-19 to the kind priest. We don't have symptoms--and have never had symptoms--so we think he is safe-- from us at any rate.

Not so safe my radishes. As Father and B.A. sat at the table talking about shoebills in Japan, I lingered nearby fussing with my veg trug.  Espying an insect on a fallen radish leaf, I picked up bug and leaf and asked Father if he knew what it was. He did.

"It's an aphid," he said.

Aphids have discovered my trug! I shall have to consult my growing collection of gardening books.

*My first unofficial "First Family Communion" occurred thanks to the liturgical experimentation of the 1970s. It felt very strange, and had none of the ceremony of my official First Communion, in which I wore the white dress and veil my mother made me, the next week. Yes, in the Church of the 1970s, you could have two First Communions: first First and, er, second First. Bizarre.

It, was, however, an excellent metaphor for the schizophrenia in the Church during the 1970s (and to a certain extent, ever since). Not being Europeans, my family didn't celebrate First Communions with parties, etc. But God bless my Grandmother Cummings: she sent me a gold cross and chain to mark mine.

Gardening Update: Two of the five scarlet runner beans have germinated and appeared above ground.  The trug has released the biggest of the radishes so far. Some of the radish thinnings don't have proper round radishes growing, but red fingers. This may be due to over-crowding. 

The thinned out lettuces are growing bigger in both the raised bed and the trug. A bad cat has been digging around one of my new rows of radish seedlings in the raised bed for the usual reason. More wooden anti-cat spikes have now been inserted.

Saturday 6 June 2020

A Walk to the Wee Boulangerie

"If you can't blog something nice, don't blog anything at all" sums up my radio silence there. My belief in humanity is at a low ebb and, besides, I feel like the internet is slowly sucking out my brains. 

Fortunately  I worked with my writing students today, which meant a pleasant morning reading and marking up their stories. Their homework was to write about a plague, paying attention to their tone. Unsurprisingly, both of them chose a sorrowful tone. Oddly, they also chose to write about historic plagues, not the COVID-19 pandemic they're actually living through. One story was set in a small Italian village, and the other in an English village within a castle.  

To my surprise, my boy pupil wrote a powerful love scene. His English hero's wife locks herself in a room when she discovers she has the plague, so that the hero doesn't get it. The hero bangs on the door, reluctant to allow her to die alone. She yells at him to go to his brother's house. "What will you do for food?" wails the husband. The response is that without food, she'll die more quickly and be out of her misery. The husband staggers out, overcome with grief and horror. It's really very good. 

Sadly, when I told my pupil all this over Skype, he wrote "Worst Story Ever" at the top of his copy while his sister shrieked and hooted with laughter. 

I sent them off with another writing challenge. I confess that I'm afraid that if I were to accept my own writing challenges, I wouldn't do as well as they do. That said, I make a super editor. 

The other joy in the day was going for a walk along bike trails to Edinburgh's Wee Boulangerie. Unfortunately, the path was very heavily travelled by, and social-distancing was sometimes difficult. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and it was very pleasant to walk under the trees and look at Arthur's Seat and then the Salisbury Crags rise before us. 

But before we really got started on this walk, we enjoyed a short detour to visit a neighbour. We espied him through his window making his lunch and then he popped out through his front door, preceded by cats both black and ginger, to bring his food scraps to the bin. Thus, we all had a nice chat before our friend went in to his lunch and we continued our walk to the Wee B. 

Unfortunately the cashier at the Wee B had cleaned the cappuccino machine for the day, so we had to make do with frangipani tartlets and a milk bun. B.A. went to look at potential garden tables in Edinburgh Bargain Stores, and I did a quick sweep of the neighbourhood to look for cappuccino. Unfortunately all the hipster cafes were shut, and even Kilimanjero closed at 4. Starbucks was open, but I didn't want a cappuccino THAT badly. 

After B.A. was dissuaded from buying an ugly new table, we took our Wee B treats to George Square and ate them while sitting on some steps, looking at the park. When we felt rested, we bought our groceries at the "student" Tesco and took the Rough Bus home. 

It had been some time since we had been on the Rough Bus, but memories came roaring back when we heard the eldritch shriek of a young local lass behind us and listened to her cough. It was hard to tell if she was off her head on drugs, mentally ill or just a neighbourhood personality. She descended from the bus where we expected her to descend, to be offensively candid. However, one must admit that the young man with her was rather a dish. 

Now I have hung up the laundry and B.A. is cooking tonight's locally-sourced sausages. The world is not so terrible after all---especially as I have not read, and will not read, the news. 

Wednesday 3 June 2020

A Gentle Walk

Despite the madness across the ocean, and more madness down south in London, Benedict Ambrose and I had a tranquil walk through our humble but leafy neighbourhood.

Today I planted beets. I also wrote two articles and recommended to Twitter Sohrab Ahmari's essay about his Manhattan building being under siege. Sadly, I spelled "Ahmari" wrong. Mea culpa.

I told B.A. that I'm going to save all my earnings to pay off the mortgage and invest for our retirement. I'll buy nice clothes only for trips to Poland and for Polish Pretend Son's visits, so as to give the impression that I dress well all the time. B.A. said that this clothing plan was not normal. We then passed the locked, darkened beauty nail shop the hairdresser's, and I declared that I would go to them as soon as the lockdown is over, so as to give them money and help keep them open.

I think my clothing plan is brilliant, though. If I bought three very nice, very expensive, made-in-Britain outfits and wore them only in Poland (and when PPS visits), they will last forever and I will have a strong motivation to remain the same size. For daily wear, I will commission dark blue, ankle-length denim dirndls with big pockets from my mother. I think this is an awesome idea. Make me some denim dirndls, Aged P!

Aged P has already made me the face mask to match.

Another plan is to make our flat a small indoor paradise, so that I will be thoroughly happy with it by the time we are able to sell up and move toe the New Town. Of course, it is possible that we will never be able to move to the New Town, which makes turning the flat into an indoor paradise even more important. Covering over the rest of this ghastly magnolia paint would be a start.

Then of course there is the garden, which I will slowly turn into a Victory Garden of the richest soil to be found on this side of East Coast Organics.

My brain will be fully cultivated with Polish and Italian, French improved enough for one week a year in Quebec and maybe enough tourist Russian to make new friends in Toronto.

So those are my plans.

Tuesday 2 June 2020

Two Skeptics

During the course of my work duties today, I learned about two people about whom I had heard only a little before: the South African engineer Elon Musk and the Canadian artist Claire Boucher, known best for her pop persona "Grimes". The couple have recently had a baby together, and even more recently a rocket ship designed by Musk's company SpaceX made a successful trip. Thus, they are both in the news.

Studying two such talented and successful people was a humbling experience. Musk designed and sold a video game when he was only twelve and turned a profit at pay-for-entrance parties he hosted at university, without leaving his desk. He dropped out mere days into a PhD program so as not to be left out of the internet revolution. He co-founded Tesla, designing electric cars, batteries and solar energy generators, and he founded SpaceX, designing recyclable rocket ships and other space gear. He also cofounded OpenAI, apparently because he is worried that Artificial Intelligence will ultimately be bad for humanity.

Musk is not at all religious. Even when he was very sick with malaria, he did not pray. He believes only in the laws of physics and the value of human civilisation. Interestingly, he is very concerned about the human race going extinct, and this is what drives his interest in space exploration and colonisation. Because fossil fuels are finite, he is also interested in conserving their use and switching to solar. 

According to Aeon magazine, in 500 million years the sun will start scorching the food chain. I suppose at this point the human race (if it is still around) had better have found a younger sun. Reading Aeon's interview with Musk reminded me of the issues of Scientific American that came to my childhood home and also science fiction novels. Classic science fiction novels remind me of my father for some reason; possibly because I was not allowed to read ones written after 1960. I read that Musk read a lot of science fiction and many comic books growing up, and I think it is delightful that he can now make science fiction into science fact. 

Musk was married to a Canadian writer, and then to a British actress. Divorced from both, he is now dating Claire Boucher, or "Grimes." Boucher should be interesting to Catholics because she is one, albeit a lapsed one. I read many, many articles about Boucher, and watched a number of Grimes videos, today in order to establish her religious practises. In short, she doesn't have religious practises although she retains an interest in religion.  

Boucher was "brought up" Catholic and went to Catholic school in Vancouver, but both she and her schoolteachers seem to have been very badly catechised. Apparently when, as a skeptical six or seven year old, she asked teachers for proof the Gospels were true, they told her not to ask questions. That was intensely stupid of them. In seventh grade she had a Wiccan period, which she thinks was a phase, and I think was pretty early for that particular phase. I didn't have any Wiccan friends until university. However, I'm almost a generation older than she is, and I suspect I was better catechised. Also, my parents made sure the Mists of Avalon never fell into my innocent hands. 

After high school, Boucher hightailed it off to McGill University in Montreal, where she studied philosophy, neuroscience, electroacoustics and apparently Russian before dropping out to begin her Grimes project. And what is cool about that, besides Boucher drawing upon the first three things in her musical projects, is that I know someone who did electroacoustics at McGill around that time. However, I consulted one of the musicians in my family, and he advised me it would be kinder not to mine our old pal for information. 

Watching Grimes videos was rather interesting. She told a German interviewer that "Genesis" is about her nostalgia about believing in God. As a Catholic child, she was impressed by stories of God's anger and hell and thought of what she was told like action films. So I watched "Genesis" and found it rather astonishing and bewildering. There's a scary figure with sometimes pink and sometimes snaky braids, who is presumably the devil. Then there's a blonde girl out of a Japanese cartoon with an enormous snake, who is presumably evil. Then there's a young woman in a black outfit, including high-soled boots, with a sword, and then a mace, and then a flaming sword. Presumably she's the angel guarding the way to Paradise. Finally, there's a car full of Grimes and her friends zooming hither and thither as in a video game. 

It was suggested I watch "Kill V. Maim" if I could stand it, and the sad thing is that I thought it was great, except for bare chested male clubbers licking fake blood off each other, which is not something I remember from my nights at Savage Garden, Sanctuary the Vampire Sex Bar or Velvet Underground. The video is clearly inspired by video games again, and it's mostly set in a battered looking Toronto subway station. Grimes and her Gothed-up pals dance about or drive around a green screen in a pink convertible to rhythms that would not disgraced the black lit walls of west Queen Street West. I would not, however, have worn pink boxing gloves, at least not outside of a gym. The black feathery wings would have cost a gazillion dollars at Siren, but I had a friend who could make the fangs. Drag queens, especially not of the ugly yellow wig variety, were not part of the scene in my day.

This video, Grimes explains to interviewers, is supposed to be from the point of view of Al Pacino in Godfather II, only being able to change sex, is a vampire, and can travel through space. Well, that makes total sense to me. At least, it makes more sense than 99% of the Rammstein hits Volker II thanked heaven I couldn't understand. 

At this point, my gentle reader is wondering what I was doing in Goth clubs in the 1990s, and it's a long, complicated story involving Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Toronto Poetry Scene, a former child star and a 6'5" Polish-Canadian. I was looking for the Belle Epoque, Cynara, in my fashion. I liked the rot-gut wine (I could only afford one glass), the candles, and the roaring. Thanks to some deficiency in my hearing, I couldn't understand the lyrics.  

But to get back to Boucher, she revealed what she currently thinks about religion in this interesting interview.  Her erstwhile Catholic mother divorced her dad, by the way, and married a Hindu, which may be one reason why Boucher was, last year, so interested in polytheism. But she also felt that religion is "the best science fiction" and "incredible art." 

"It's incredible storytelling, incredible character design, incredible visual art," Boucher said. 

"Mysticism is an evolutionary byproduct," she continued, risking scandalising her grandparents. 

"I think we’re inherently religious, even if we’re not explicitly religious. We get emotional about things that feel religious. Even the way people feel about you, it’s a form of idol worship. I don’t know what else you would call it. If there’s an artist I love, I see them live and I cry, and I’m like, 'Man, I’m acting like some 14th-century farmer right now.' I feel like some pilgrim seeing a holy relic or something."

Okay, well, that's not anti-religious, exactly. And now I should stop listening to The Killers and Skype my mother. 

Update: The point I wanted to make about Boucher/Grimes is that I think its cool that she is so in tune with pop culture that she can recycle it into something new,  but all the while nodding to her inspirations. She's a culture creator, not just a  culture consumer. That's what an artist is. 

Monday 1 June 2020

Pork Roast and Cider and Joy

As protests and riots make a mockery of lockdowns, I am wondering how much longer ours  is going to last.

I've spent the work day reading and writing about the late George Floyd, his killing and the aftermath. It's all horrible, of course, except for the stories about Floyd helping out Christian missionary work in the Houston projects. One thing that strikes me is that looters got Rodeo Drive; an earlier generation made an attempt on Rodeo Drive during the Rodney King riots and failed. If I remember correctly they were dissuaded from entering by the National Guard, but don't quote me. 

There was window-smashing, if not looting, in Toronto shortly after the American Rodney King riots started, and on the subway I listened to a man with a lacerated hand and a dazed expression repeat "You gotta stop the shooting." 

Today I am wondering if there is more or less cache in owning a Chanel jacket or Gucci bag looted in a riot, and I find myself faintly disgusted at the idea of owning any name brand coveted by a looter.  My favourite handbag was made by a Polish veteran of the Battle of Monte Cassino and sold in his Edinburgh leather goods shop to B.A., who gave it to me as a gift. My favourite dress was made for me by my mother.  

When I was seventeen, I longed to own designer clothes, but I now realise that the real privilege in contemporary life is having married parents who are fond of each other, live within their income and are good at such things as home repair and sewing. 

Unfortunately I am not good at home repair and sewing although, given that I can now speak Polish  (on a good day) and grow vegetables, it is not impossible that I might learn these other things, too. At any rate, I cannot imagine I would feel happier owning a Chanel jacket than seeing a new vegetable appear in the trug.  

Yesterday my three great joys were Italian class, conducted over the phone; a locally raised pork roast   cooked perfectly by B.A.; and our homemade apple cider, which B.A. pronounced the best ever. A branch of elderflower buds has appeared in our garden, poking through the mingled branches of beech hedge and apple tree, reminding us that we're going to make elderflower champagne this year. 

This morning before work I entertained myself by reading about organic soil. Organic soil does not sound as glamorous as a Gucci bag or a Chanel jacket, but it is certainly more useful and also more  valued by the man with the highest status in Britain, i.e. the Prince of Wales. 

Yes, even if I win the lottery I will not shop at Gucci or Chanel. I shall buy my bags from Launer and employ my mother as a full-time dressmaker.