Thursday 20 August 2020

Carrots and Cats

Today I planted carrots, reasonably confident that the carrot fly season is over.  The broad bean season is over too, and I must say that there was no point letting them get big enough to shell. The actual broad beans turned out to be tiny whereas the young pods were quite delicious.

I had hopes of convincing Polish Pretend Son to build a walled garden, but after a day in the August heat, I realised that, as cold as it gets in winter, Poland has no need of walled gardens. It's cold and rainy Britain that needs the walled gardens. No wonder ours are famous--if only among ourselves.

One of the most cheerful sights in the Polish countryside was a brightly coloured village garden with lots of flowers and neat rows of vegetables. We didn't see any horses--just the two ponies outside the living country museum (one looking suspiciously like a Welsh Mountain Pony)--but we saw a few slim cats slinking around.  Naturally many of the village houses had dogs, and some even had signs warning "Bad dog." I don't think Scottish dog owners are so honest about their pets.

Naturally the dogs barked up a story as we walked by on our epic walk to Polish Pretend Daughter's rehearsal two villages over.

"Another burek (mutt)," Polish Pretend Son observed.

 There were also many chickens and ducks, but now I must eat supper.

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Pierogi, Naturally

I can tell that I am on a diet because it is not Lent and yet here I am thinking about food. Reading cookbooks will surely follow. If Rose Petal Jam can ever be ordered for less than £20, I might finally buy it.

Polish food is quite delicious. Should anyone feel tired of life, let them start eating Polish food. It will perk them up right away. Polish customer service is, however, famously hit and miss. Benedict Ambrose and I have (or had) a favourite teashop in Kraków ruled by pair of rude and cranky old ladies. This year they outdid themselves in rudeness by locking up the shop and going away for months without mentioning this on their website.

Service at the country hotel was quite nice, though, and naturally the first thing we ate when we got there was pierogi with confit of duck. Yum, yum, yum.  Well, for me that was the second thing. The first thing was chłodnik, a cold beetroot soup of incomparable tastiness.

Another evening I chowed down on a kotlet schabowy, which you and I knew latterly as a pork schnitzel, with potatoes and fermented cabbage erroneously called sauerkraut. Germans have sauerkraut and the sauer comes from vinegar. Poles have kapusta and they salt it and put it in jars. I apologise to my ancestors, but kapusta is better.

There were some experimental foods, too. Polish Pretend Son ate fish burgers so often that I tried the fish burger. The fish was a New Zealand whiptail (aka hoki, aka Blue Grenadier), fried and scrumptious on top of veggies with sauce. There was also gazpacho, which I did not like as much as glorious chłodnik.

Back in the super-traditional realm, there was a black blood sausage so ontologically bloody I couldn't actually eat it. Benedict Ambrose could. This was at the big cookout in the field put aside for parties, and B.A. also ate a flat chop called karkówka because it comes from the pig's neck (kark). I stuck to kiełbasa and salad for the duration. Well, I did have a light and fluffy piece of sernik (cheesecake).

Breakfasts were intensely good because traditional Polish breakfasts consist of sliced meats, soft white cheese, yellow hard cheese, eggs, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, sprouts, sliced bread, boiled wieners known as parówki and a host of other good things. There was also natural yogurt made in the hotel and homemade jam to go with it.

For our last meal we all went to a pizzeria and ate cheesy crispy pizzas which were incredibly inexpensive and also quite good. In Kraków B.A.  had had a pizza in an "Italian restaurant" and I had had a hamburger, which was alright, but really in Poland you should eat Polish food. We were driven to the "Italian restaurant" because it was so late,  B.A. drew the line at kabobs, and the window that used to sell placki (potato pancakes) was selling ice-cream instead.

Speaking of ice-cream, the hotel had lovely sundaes, but amusingly even more memorable were the chocolate-covered Magnum Almond Ice-cream bars B.A. and I found in the freezer of the village shop. It was like meeting friends from home unexpectedly. Meanwhile, it was boiling hot, so we got one each. Just as we began to eat them in the street, the heavens opened. We rushed to a nearby bus shelter and we watched the violent storm in safety while munching away.  It was marvellous.

Tuesday 18 August 2020

Godfather and Great-Uncle E

I am reading an interesting book called Atomic Habits. Atomic Habits says change comes not from stating your goals but by professing your identity. Every morning I am going to identify as a slim, healthy, even-tempered, pious, polyglot writer. We'll see how that works.  So far today I have studied Italian, studied Polish, exercised vigorously, and written two articles. Not bad.

But my theme today is language-learning, and the satisfaction that comes when you can understand things you didn't understand before and you can speak to people you couldn't speak to before. For example, while Benedict Ambrose and I were in Poland last week, I finally had a conversation with my Goddaughter's Godfather.

I should probably explain that the country hotel B.A. and I were staying in is very dear to the hearts of Polish Pretend Son and his extended family. PPS and Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law had their wedding reception there. Then their baby had her christening party there. As Benedict Ambrose and I ate our breakfast there last week, he remarked that it was full of happy memories.

One happy memory was meeting various friends and relations of PPS in the minute hotel restaurant before PPS headed the male ones away to his bachelor party. One of the relations was the future Godling's future Godpapa, and I don't think we exchanged any words other than Polish "Hi" and Polish "Nice to meet you." However, this was not surprising, for there was quite a crowd.

The crowd was smaller at Godling's christening, and being Godling's Godmama, I was thrown together quite a lot with her Godpapa, but we still didn't have much to say to each other. This was largely my fault, for uppermost on my mind was the Skład Apostolski and how I was going to repeat it at the speed of people who have all been saying it in Polish their whole lives. But that said, the Godfather is a man of few words, I was later informed.

Therefore, it was a communications revolution last Monday night when, after taking a break from a noisy outdoor barbecue featuring young people, I left B.A. snug in bed with his book and returned to our table. There I had an actual conversation with the newly appeared Godfather.

"By then it was very dark," I wrote in my trusty journal, "and there were amused screams and still loud music and quite a lot of merriment for the scant dozen or so young men and women."

They were mostly young women, all dancing around as far from our table as they could and yet still be near the food and drink. I sat down at the head of this table, and to my surprise the Godfather engaged me in a Polish conversation about B.A.'s and my day trip to Kraków. We discovered that we have an acquaintance in common there, and PPS laughed uproariously when I said "świat to mały" ("It's a small world"). Apparently this is the most Polish response to such a revelation.  I also learned what Godpapa does for a living and where he lives and where exactly he is on the PPS family tree.

PPS was slightly amazed by this conversation and put it down to Godpapa having got himself a fiancee and therefore a newfound ability to talk to women. However, I think it was because B.A. was absent, and I no longer had an excuse to speak English instead of Polish. Godpapa, like other laconic people forced to learn it as a foreign language, believes he speaks English poorly.

It was my third proper Polish conversation of the day. My first Polish conversation had been with PPS's Great-Uncle E that afternoon. B.A. and I had had a very hot and sweaty noon hour walk around a harvested wheat field. We were heading back into the hotel for money and masks, so that we could go to the village shop, when B.A. was hailed by Great-Uncle E. Great-Uncle E, who is over 80, I believe, was sitting at one of the tables between the mansion and the palace gardens. He was clearly laying in wait for people to talk to, and he recognised B.A.

"Dzień dobry! Dzień dobry!" shouted B.A. while frantically waving me over, and I had a short and friendly chat with Great-Uncle E before I decisively ended it so we could get our things and sneak off to the shop.

But my second Polish conversation was also with Great-Uncle E because I could see the poor man still sitting at that table from our hotel room when we got back. My conscience besmote me, and after an hour of reading or so, I got up and went out to talk to Great-Uncle E again.

It was marvellous. Great-Uncle E has only a limited number of topics, and not only did I have a preview of some of them in our first conversation, I had had another preview of them after breakfast back in March. This means that I understood them beautifully the third time.

Another great thing about Great-Uncle E is that he just likes chatting and is therefore perfectly happy answering my questions and doesn't mind getting only "Acha!" and "Rozumiem" ("I understand") in response. Thus, I learned exactly where Great-Uncle E is on the family tree and also how many children and grandchildren he has and which one has a job in America. I also established that PPS's cousin-the-priest is Great-Uncle E's son, so that was exciting. And eventually the priest-son drove up in a car and took Great-Uncle E away.

"Well done!" shouted Benedict Ambrose, leaning out the window.

The trick, really, is to study Polish almost every day for years and years and then relax when actually called upon to speak the language. Relaxing is hard.

This morning I played the former Father Jacek Międlar's fiery "Narodowa duma" speech while I was on my exercise bike in the kitchen and was delighted when, as expected, cries of "Narodowa duma" came seeping in from the sitting-room. I was also delighted that I understood the speech so much better than I did when I heard it the first 20 times, five years ago. Like Great-Uncle E, Międlar's range of topics, though decidedly different, was narrow.

Monday 17 August 2020

Sitting in the Back with Godling

My favourite of Godling's toys
I once read in a book about contentment that the most important part of a holiday is the end. It's the end that you remember most, the part that determines your memories of the trip and how much lasting happiness you get from it.

The way our holiday ended was a trip from Polish Pretend Son's house to the airport, with my Goddaughter (Godling for short) in the back with Benedict Ambrose on the left and me in the middle. We had a few car trips like this, for which B.A. and I are very grateful to PPS, especially as we have never driven him anywhere ourselves. I enjoyed all these trips, not least because they were on the normal (i.e. the right) side of the road, but I especially loved the opportunities to spend more time with Godling.

Godling is 7 months old and beautiful. She has dark slanted-down eyes, a lot of reddish-blond hair that is as yet so fine that she looks bald, two minuscule bottom teeth that have only recently appeared, and a lot of baby fat. She is at the stage where she can't crawl, exactly, but she can pull herself forward with her arms to get what she wants. When she realises she needs to employ her knees and lift her tummy, she'll be a speed demon. She hasn't said a discernible word yet, but she is certainly vocal. One of her monologues sounds like "Gid-gid-gid-gid-gid-gid." She can be entertained with such simple toys as a golf ball or a beer mat attached to a piece of string, and when I gave her a cardboard English-Polish book about animals, she was more interested in gumming the corners than in looking at the pictures. She is, usually, a very happy baby.

I am suddenly overwhelmed by a desire to get my passport, get on the bus, and get on a plane to see Godling again.

Godling's principal toy is a wooden fish inset with a row of beads that rattle back and forth. She had this with her in the back of the car when we went to the airport, but she found it insufficiently entertaining, so I rummaged in my handbag and found a small flashlight on a chain. I clicked this on and waved it back and forth, which distracted Godling from fussing. Entertaining Godling was how our holiday ended, and it was awesome.

I had lots of opportunities to entertain Godling during the week, especially thanks to impromptu dinner parties outside the country hotel we all stayed in. The hotel consists of two parts--a large butter-yellow "clubhouse" and stupendous butter-yellow mid-19th century ex-German Schloss. Between the house and the palace, there are beautifully landscaped gardens with a fountain in the middle, and behind the palace there is the smaller part of the golf course. The properly huge part of the golf course is across the rural highway, to which golfers scoot in buggies on the driveway between the house and a row of umbrella-covered tables. In the evenings,  we sat at one of these tables, drank prosecco (Italian champagne), ate filling and delicious Polish suppers, watched PPS spray wasps, and slapped at  mosquitoes.

A changing and fascinating array of PPS' family members and friends joined us outside the hotel as the week went on, and sometimes I held the baby. On one particularly memorable occasion, Godling's mother played folk tunes on her fiddle while my husband beat the rhythm on a tambour. The baby was passed around the table, but she soon stopped with me.

On an earlier memorable occasion, Pretend Polish Daughter-in-Law and Godling spent part of the afternoon on the small golf course, not far from where BA was reading his book and watching golfers contend with the water trap, rolling about by one of the holes, into which Godling threw a golf ball--her first hole-in-one. PPDIL wanted to go the driving range and practise her swing, so we went along, too. BA walked to the range, and I sat beside PPDIL in the golf cart, clutching the baby as she zoomed across the road and around the golf course. While PPDIL, now barefoot, taught BA how to hit the ball and proceeded to hit two baskets of balls herself, Godling and I played with a golf ball.

Apparently Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law would like me to  come back and entertain Godling while she does something else for a few hours of the day, and if they had a room to keep B.A. and me in, I would do it in a heartbeat.

BA and I were supposed to have a small dinner party yesterday, which I hoped would take the sting out of being suddenly alone again. Unfortunately BA picked up a tummy bug of some kind in Poland (no symptoms of the Vile Germ, I'm relieved to report), so we had to cancel our party. Instead we watched a film about a woman who runs an informal boarding house in 1970s California (the boarding is clearly to help pay for the beautiful old building's restoration) and often invites people to dinner. Seeing the crowd around the table, and the impromptu conversations with boarders and drop-ins in the kitchen made me feel intensely nostalgic.

Saturday 15 August 2020

Sweet Peas, Scarlet Emperors and National Pride

Hail, Scarlet Emperors!
Hello, Sweet Peas!
Benedict Ambrose and I returned from a week in Poland to find the Scarlet Emperors flourishingly mightily and some Sweet Peas finally making their way up the wooden fence. The apples falling  to the astroturf on our concrete patio are ripe. This is all very happy news.

It is also in great contrast to social media. I was on social media only two or three times this week to say we were well, but after coming home I did a thorough survey of Twitter and Facebook and came to the conclusion that everyone hates everybody. How terribly depressing.

Therefore, I will do my bit for internet-reading humanity by posting pretty pictures and telling amusing stories about our Polish holiday--although not all at once. We had many adventures--if such gentle activities can be called adventures--so it will take me some time to tell stories about them all.

My favourite story involves an open-air museum called a "Skansen" in a small rural village in Southwestern Poland. This Skansen celebrates traditional country life and so has a paddock of ponies and goats and a large wooden building, a bit like a log cabin, with a red pitched roof, decorated on the outside with wagon wheels and on the inside with a number of antiques, like old phones and communist era television sets. The TVs surmount the door to the inner, biggest room and are surmounted in their turn by a big painting of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. In the centre of this "chata" (cottage) is a four-sided fireplace and chimney, and there is a kitchen on the far end, and long low windows around the sides, through which you can see fields, ponies or goats.

We were there because my Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law had a folk group choir practice, and I know what you're thinking, but Southwestern Poland is not as anxious about coronavirus as where you live.   (I had a minor panic attack at church on Sunday for that particular congregation clearly didn't believe in social distancing, let alone pieces of tape on the floor or roped-off pews. Everyone was all squished in singing Latin together, germs everywhere, and I fled. It was too much normalcy all at once.)

Anyway, the ladies and girls of the folk choir were seated at a big wooden table near the kitchen, and the men of the band were seated near them. The leader of the group, who was, I seem to recall PPDIL saying, called Mr. Czesław, came to greet Polish Pretend Son, his pal The Economist, my Goddaughter (age 7.5 months), B.A. and me. Mr. Czesław explained in rapid Polish that the group was going to rehearse Christmas songs as they were going to produce an album in time for Christmas. Then he handed those of vodka-drinking age shots of vodka and glasses of coca-cola to drink after them. B.A. very much liked this.

There followed rollicking singing from the choir and band. I understood almost none of the lyrics, but it was great fun and PPS bounced the baby and occasionally danced with her around the cottage. Then there was a break, with more shots of vodka (and Coca-cola for B.A. who doesn't drink vodka neat*), and a fat, red-faced saxophone player told me that PPDIL was going to make her debut with the band. And I felt very proud to see beautiful PPDIL take her fiddle and sit beside the elderly fiddle player for the next set of songs. Listening to the old songs and music while looking at the fields through the chata windows was almost as good as having travelled through time.

When it was time for our party to go, the band decided to play a contemporary wedding tune without which no Polish wedding is complete, i.e. "Ale, ale, Aleksandra." So central to Polish life is "Ale, ale, Aleksandra" that even B.A. knows the refrain. Time for a link. So we the guests all bopped around to the verses and loudly sang the refrain, which in English amounts to "Oh, Aleksandra. Oh, so pretty. So modest. Such a sex-bomb."

Disco Polo is not known for its intellectual content.

After a good deal of smiling and hugging and hand-kissing from band members delighted that even foreigners know the refrain to "AAA", I toddled off outside after PPDIL and The Economist. But where, we wondered, was BA? Where was PPS? Where, in fact, was the baby?

It turns out that they were in the kitchen drinking shots of vodka. Eventually my husband came tottering out with Mr Czesław, each with an arm around the other's shoulders. They looked positively radiant and like long-lost brothers who had found each other again.

"United Europe," cried Mr Czesław.

"Narodowa duma!" cried B.A.


Narodowa duma means "National pride" and it is the sort of thing young Polish men yell through red and white smoke when they get together in groups of forty thousand and march through Warsaw setting off firecrackers. It is also the only Polish B.A. knows after "Yes", "Hello," "Please"  "Thank you" and the refrain to "Ale Ale Aleksandra" for complicated reasons involving me listening to a recording of a Polish Independence Day speech over and over again to understand it. While hardly a fringe sentiment in Poland,  it expresses a concept particularly dear to the hearts of Polish folk groups.

"Narodowa duma!" Mr Czesław repeated with glee.

"Duma!" shouted B.A. "Narodowa duma!"

PPS, standing beside them with the baby, roared with laughter, as did PPDIL, The Economist and I.  Benedict Ambrose, usually a cheerful man, was positively triumphant in his joy.

"I ate a pickle," the vinegar-phobe informed me as he stumbled to The Economist's car. "It was a salt pickle. It was good."

In short, B.A. had fallen into the hands of Polish men, who love to make foreign men drink lots of vodka, either to see how they measure up to Polish standards of manhood or out of sheer international goodwill (or both). Clearly these ones had also fed B.A. a pickled cucumber, a traditional vodka-drinking snack, for B.A. would never have eaten one voluntarily.

Out of all the happy moments of our holiday, I think the one I really liked best was B.A. coming out of the living rural museum, positively beaming, with Mr. Czesław.

*B.A. contests this claim. He says he does drink vodka neat, and he just likes to drink a cola chaser right afterwards.

Saturday 8 August 2020

Travel in the Age of Corona

Benedict Ambrose and I will soon be embarking on a voyage to Poland, and I have been instructed by a reader-in-the-know to warn my small audience, so that you are not constantly refreshing for updates.

There are some hoops we have to jump through this time. First, we had to not get sick, and we have managed, thank heavens. Second, we have had to fill out a form informing Polish health authorities where we are going and where they can reach us, should our plane have been full of contagion. Third, we will have to fill out a UK government online form no earlier than 48 hours before we return to Britain.

We have our top-quality homemade cloht masks, but these are difficult to breath through after half an hour, so I broke down and asked B.A. to buy the standard made-in-China blue ones. It hurt me very much to contribute to the Chicom economy, especially as the spread of the Wuhan flu is the Chicoms' fault. B.A. also bought two small bottles of hand sanitiser, made in the UK.

A short trip to Kraków from our idyllic country retreat is in the cards, and I have already bought and printed our train tickets, as the Polish train website earnestly encouraged me to do. I was assured by one of the train companies that I would not be made to prove that my travel is essential. To be honest, I'm not clear on this week's sentiments about moral justification for travel, either in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, or  that of Mr Duda & c. As it happens, not going to Kraków would now be a gross social solecism, as I have made two appointments to see fellow journalists there.

I have also printed small maps, both of the route from our Kraków hotel and of the route from the nearest railway station to our country hotel, in case of emergency. I even know what time the sun will set the day an emergency might befall us. Walking 45 minutes along Polish country roads is one thing, but doing so in the dark is quite another.  I am not worried about vampires and ghosts or even chicken-slaughtering farm dogs; I'm worried about Polish men drivers.

Sadly, my conversational Polish is not in as good nick as my conversational Italian. For the past five months I have faithfully been phoning up my Italian tutor for hour long conversations about Arcivescovo Vigano, il nostro povero papa Francesco, and going for long country walks. I have recently been listening to Polish stories while pedalling away on our exercise bike, but I am not certain I have a thick enough layer of Polish overlaid on my consciousness to keep the Italian emerging or, indeed, from forgetting everything I know the moment I am introduced to someone's mother.  

However, I have my books to take with me, and presumably I will be able to do a solid two hours of Polish reading on the flight. My primary goals are to relax, to read interesting books, to write descriptions of beautiful vistas, and to eat delicious things, so I will not be striving with might and main to converse in Polish. I will, of course, do my best, and I hope to see some old films. I am partial to old Polish films.

A week's holiday from the internet! On the one hand, heaven, but on the other I wonder if I will fall off the wagon and make B.A. pass me his laptop.

Friday 7 August 2020

Married Women who Work Outside the House

I came to the "Tim Gordon on Married Women Working" controversy a year after it happened, and I hope this post does not rekindle the conflagration. Tim lost his job as a well-respected Catholic school teacher because he criticised the Marxist BLM, and I don't want to pile on him months after most people have probably forgotten about his controversial interview.

As a matter of fact, I have heard denunciations of Married Women Working since I was 18 years old, and before then I read countless books that presented Married Women Working as objects of pity or scorn. My father's mother  worked as a full time bookkeeper or accountant, but I had it in my head that this was to pay her sons' Catholic boarding school fees. My mother's mother, who lived in the era of the family wage (and good public education where she was), worked a bit for amusement and pin money. My mother had five children and so didn't have time for work until I was deep in my twenties, and then she got a job that paid for her younger son's private school fees.

About ten years ago, someone gave me a book from the 1940s or 1950s about Catholic Etiquette and there was a section about Married Women Working. The book stressed that a Catholic woman's primary obligations were to her husband, children, and house, and that she did no wrong by working outside that house as long as she did not neglect her sacred duties.  At the same time, though, the book saw her needing to work as a calamity and counselled her husband and children to lighten her burden by taking part in the housework, etc.

This reminds me, by the way, of a priest who very much annoyed my mother in the 1970s when he preached about the messy state he found his parishioners' houses in when he paid calls. Can you imagine? Well, I can, for my father has a store of funny or alarming stories about the autocratic priests of his 1940s/1950s youth. But I digress.

Or do I? One of the characteristics of men of the so-called Greatest Generation is that many of them objected to their wives working for reasons that made sense to them. Some of them make sense to me, too. For example, working women were sexually harassed an awful lot. If homosexuality were not illegal for so long, I bet working men would have been sexually harassed an awful lot, too. But this sexual harassment was real, and the father of a former flame of mine once complained to him that things had come to such a pass that you couldn't tell a woman at work that she had nice breasts anymore.

Another characteristic of Greatest Generation men was that they thought Women Working suggested that their husbands were not Good Providers. Being thought a Good Provider was a big, fat deal for Greatest Generation men. And the fascinating thing is that, if employed, most of them really could provide for their families. Some of my favourite stories about life in post-war Edinburgh are told by the son of a union organiser.  His father was also a builder of some description, and he managed to support his wife and children on his wages. If he stayed too long at the pub, his wife would bring his dinner and bang it down on the counter in front of him.

Unfortunately, millions of men in the West are no longer assured of a wage that will keep them, their wives and their children housed, fed and shod. I don't pretend to know why that is, exactly, and although as a child I thought we must be poor, I now realise we were very well off in ways that did not include designer clothes or ponies, my twin obsessions when I was 12. One of the ways we were rich was that my father had a career he enjoyed instead of a job or jobs, which is the lot of most people today, and another was that we had a proper house with gardens, front and back.

One of my most enduring memories is of my mother hanging out the washing on the ingenious twisted-metal line in the sunny back yard. The line worked on pulleys, and so I could see my young mother's impressive arm muscles working as she pinned up a piece of laundry and then pulled the line along to put up the next piece. My mother's arms were a testament to all the housework and child-lugging she did, and when she was in a good humour she was the most fun mum in the world.

However, my mother was not always in a good humour because she also had a first class, university medal-winning mind, and if you have such a mind, housework and childminding are terribly boring, especially when you are under thirty in the 1970s. My mother's mother yakked to the woman next door over the fence, and her eldest daughter now yaks to the woman downstairs over the fence, but the woman next door to my mother worked all day, and so there was no-one to yak to. It was frustrating. Also, my mother was both behind and before her times. Being a housewife was suddenly incredibly unfashionable, and there was no online community of mommy bloggers to encourage her because the internet had not yet been invented.

Therefore, women longing for paid employment simply because they are bored, lonely and unhappy to be at home all day with children have an advocate in me. And happily for primary obligations to husband, children and house, quite a lot of paid employment can be done from within the home, if necessary, especially now that the coronavirus lockdown has proved that. I recently read an hand-twisting essay by a man worrying about the Demise of the Office.

Naturally, this is not the only reason why married women work. One of the thing traditional Catholic women really need to understand about the traditional Catholic men they seek to be married to is that they are highly fragile. They are men, so they get sick. When I survey my family history, I come across all the calamitous early deaths of my ancestors or their siblings and--guess what? Those who die before 60 are disproportionately male. Most of the women seem to live well into their 80s.

You may laugh, but I have noticed that my friends' husbands aren't necessary blooming with health, and there is evidence that Benedict Ambrose's brain tumour was quietly, slowly and secretly growing even before I met him. Before B.A. got sick, I was a relatively lazy freelancer (although, you must admit, a very committed blogger). After B.A. got sick, I grabbed the first full-time job I thought I could get.

This turned out well: now I write for a living, and for a company that does not fire its employees for saying surgery and hormones do not turn men into women, etc. My job is more stable than my husband's job, not just because of the current epidemic of Woke but because the lockdown caused by the other epidemic has ripped the guts out of his industry. He has been at home for months now, atoning for the government-backed pay-cheques babes yet unborn will have to cover by working day and night to save his union members' jobs.

Just like male illness, male unemployment is a thing. It's a very terrible thing--apparently they suffer more than we do when they're unemployed, and there are various theories for why this is. If young men were at all likely to listen to me, I would tell them all to work and save as much as they can before they marry, fitting in university/college classes around their paid work, socking everything into an investment portfolio. Oh, what it is to know at 40-something what I should have learned by 18. Woe.

My pin-money earning grandmother told my mother c. 1965 that her B.A. would be something to fall back on if she didn't get married. Naturally I hyperventilated in feminist horror when I heard that in the 1980s. Now that I move in hyper-trad circles (although I must point out that the staunchly family-friendly company I work for employs many young mums who work with babies on their laps), I would say that professional or vocational training is something to fall back on if your full-time stay-at-home-mum dreams don't come true.

Important advice there, I think, is that if your one dream is to marry at 22 and become a full-time stay-at-home-mum, for heaven's sake, don't take on hundreds of thousands of dollars/pounds of educational debt. I'm a bit nervous about this advice, though, as I have just looked up the tuition for a Newman Guide approved American university, and yikes. Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, in Ontario, is nowhere near as expensive, though.

I'm a fan of both women's higher education/training and women marrying young enough to have children in the only manner God intended, and this is further complicated by my honestly acquired horror of debt. I'm also a huge fan of love marriages because I really don't believe western marriages can work without a golden, shiny founding myth to sustain the spouses as they get fat and cranky. Like me, my reader is likely to fall in love with a clever, funny, amiable man without either a job-for-life or an independent income. Oh, in what an age we live. Deus in adjutorium meum intende. Domine ad adjuvandum me festina. 

Thursday 6 August 2020

Singles Advice: Stepping Up or Chilling Out

Today I counted how many times I have been to Poland in the past ten years: 12. Lucky 13 is coming soon, if I can keep myself from catching the Dread Germ beforehand. The tickets cost at least three times what they cost in March, so the idea of falling sick now really terrifies me.

Yesterday I was speaking to a friend from the days of my youth, and we talked about the different needs of Nice Catholic Boy Singles and Nice Catholic Girl Singles. My pal runs a house for young Catholic men to learn to cook, clean, and generally learn to live with people not their parents before they attempt to get married. It's a wonderful apostolate. There's daily prayer and (before the pandemic) occasional very well-attended parties.

Naturally I am a big fan of this house, but it struck me that Nice Catholic Girl Singles don't need to live together to prepare for marriage although it is (or should be) a fun thing to do. (I wasn't even officially living with some of my friends before one first one got married, but it felt like I was living there. Good times. Amazing parties with photos as evidence.)

No, what Nice Catholic Girl Singles need to do is learn to chill out.

My pal agreed with this enthusiastically. He thinks (and has for some time) that modern girls have their education and career plans worked out long before modern boys have, and what modern boys must do (besides learn to wash, cook and clean) is "step up to the plate."

Basically NCGs have to stop worrying so much and wait for NCBs to get their acts together. Clearly different NCBs do this at different times, of course. I think it has been some years since I have typed the words "It's just coffee", so it might be worthwhile to assure new NGG readers that when a NCB asks you out for coffee, it really is just for coffee. If you agree to have a coffee with an NCB, you have not verbally signed a contract to go out for dinner to, or to get pre-engaged, or to get married. You can go out for coffee with Joe or Mike once, and never say more than a polite "Hi" to him in passing for the rest of your life. It's allowed. It's okay.

That said, if you do have coffee with Joe or Mike, blurt out all your deepest, darkest secrets, and THEN never say more than "Hi" every after (or hide whenever you see him coming), that's not very nice. Having become chilled enough to accept coffee with Joe or Mike, you must advance to the next stage of chill, which is to talk only about fun, lighthearted topics at your first coffee. Incidentally, make a non-breakable appointment for an hour after your coffee, so you don't talk forever.

"But I am not a talker!" I hear you wail from behind your screen. "Talking too much is not my problem. It's not have anything to say that is the killer."

I feel your pain, but there is an easy way out of this: talking to Mr Coffee as if you were interviewing him for a newspaper. I did a fun interview last week, and I started off with "Where were you born and brought up and where did you go to university?"

I learned many interesting things just from those questions, and the conversation could have gone fruitfully in many different ways. However, I had an agenda, so "How did you get into politics?" was my next question. In Mr Coffee's case, if the "born/brought up/university" thread snaps, you could ask "How were you introduced to Tradition?" or whatever it is you know you have in common.  Actually listen to the answers, of course, and notice whether or not he listens to your answers or, indeed, asks you any questions.

Long-time reader Tiny Therese mentioned frustration with men not making it clear if an appointment is a real date or "is hanging out". I'm feeling cynical today, so I would say that if he clearly took pains with his appearance, it's a date, and if he didn't, it's just hanging out. I would also say that if the appointment was his idea, it's a date (unless it becomes clear that he thinks it is a free psychotherapy session), but if you asked him, it is probably hanging out. One of the facts of life is that although customs change, human nature doesn't, so if you ask a guy out you will not know for a long time if he really likes you back, or if he just lazily enjoys female company. If a man wants to ask you out, he will ask you out.

My classic advice for coping with my ban on NCGs asking NCBs on dates is to throw parties to which you invite the NCBs you like best. As the hostess, you are expected to talk to all your guests, so you will be able to talk to the NCB you like best, just as if you were on a date, only in a much more relaxed way. Make sure he is not the last to leave.

Relaxed and happy is the best way to be if you are a NCG Single, which is a terribly hard saying, but I am telling you from experience that this is the zone to live in as much as possible if you wish to cease being Single.