Tuesday 8 June 2021


B.A. did not like yesterday's post, for he thought I was expressing discontent and (worse) nagging him passive-aggressively about the lawn. You would think after 12 years of being married to me he would know there is nothing passive about my aggression. Ha ha! 

Meanwhile, B.A. mowed the lawn this morning in lieu of peddling away on the stationary bicycle in the kitchen and, edified, I went out afterwards to cut the long bits around the edges with the massive hedge clippers. Afterwards, I carefully wiped the hedge clippers, fit the lethal points back into their orange plastic guard, and carried them back into the house. They cost a bomb, and sometimes the local thieves target sheds. 

Look, I am not unhappy with our neighbourhood. It has many good points, and before yesterday no neighbour in any of the neighbourhoods in which I have hitherto lived have come outside to give me a loaf of home-baked bread. It is just an ordinary Scottish neighbourhood with ordinary Scottish working people, and people who read this blog must be interested in what it might be like to live an ordinary Scottish life. If you have a certain baseline amount of dosh (or are lucky), it involves owning a garden shed, and everyone on our street has a garden shed. 

Five years ago, our life was a lot less ordinary, since we lived in the Historical House (and did not have a garden shed), but it wasn't necessarily better. For one thing, I was depressingly underemployed, and for another, random curators and plumbers used to come upstairs into the Historical Flat as if it were the communal property it actually was. Also, the fire alarm went into fault quite often, usually in the middle of the night, and it stepped this up when B.A. was in the hospital. Of course, it had its marvellous points, too. We had wonderful parties and pretend country house weekends. My dear friend A lived just across the fields in her own historical house. She has since died, which has very much closed a door on the most glamorous, arty part of our lives. 

So here we are, and I quite like it, and I will remind B.A. that when I first started writing "Why Seraphic Hung Up Her Gloves" (aka "The Flyer's Ring"), it was in basement of my brother' Nulli's two-floor flat in Montreal, which shared the scuzzy street with a goodly number of addicts and dealers. That said, the first house Nulli actually bought was on the same street as the house of a well-known Canadian politician, and now he has a house with a view of a lake. I do not know, however, if he would trust one of his next-door neighbours with the keys to the house or has even been given a loaf of bread by the other. 

Top characteristics of Ordinary Scottish Life

1. Almost everybody around is Scottish. 

2. Garden sheds.

3. Nobody, no matter how poor, keeps broken down cars, etc., on the front lawn. 

4. Flowers in gardens, flowers in pots, flowers everywhere----or spending the Covid savings  to concrete the whole garden over and putting in bricks or tiles because you couldnae be bothered. There is definitely a baseline tidiness to Ordinary Scottish Gardens. 

5.  Work the curse of the drinking classes. Full-time work. Part-time work. Looking for work. Hiding from work. Work, work, work. 

6. Weather as the usual beginning of a conversation. Apparently people from Anglo-Saxon countries are known for this and others find it strange. 

7. Chinese takeaway within walking distance.

8. Indian takeaway within walking distance.

9. Three or four pubs within walking distance. 

10. Tesco, Lidl, Aldi. 

Monday 7 June 2021

Our Neighbourhood

Today I went to my Italian class outdoors in a sunny spot and then very much enjoyed the walk through my neighbourhood back home. I contemplated the newer-built home that are larger than, but probably not better built than our own. We have a nicer view, too. We like our neighbours. We probably would like the other neighbours, a few streets over. 

It's not a bad neighbourhood, really. I wouldn't want to work in one of the nearby shops, mind you, and toolboxes occasionally go missing from the backs of vans. There was, of course, that stabbing and also that xenophobic attack on that Eastern European. A woman, clearly off her meds, stopped us on our way to the railway station the other day to complain that she couldn't get her meds. But it's not a bad neighbourhood, really. It's cautiously friendly. It doesn't put on airs. It abounds in small dogs and large children.  

Nevertheless, it's the kind of neighbourhood where, when I was about to hang up my regular uniform out on the clothesline, I knew my long, barely frilly black dress would startle the neighbours, and I had better put on leggings and a long white T-shirt instead. 

My T-shirt says "Phil. Theol. Hochschule Sankt Georgen Frankfurt am Main Seit 1929" which would shock the stuffing out of your average German trad, but the neighbours almost certainly don't read German, so no worries there. 

Leggings rate as modest dress for women in our neighbourhood, and I am probably really going out on a counter-cultural limb by wearing an ankle-length denim skirt 6 days out of 7. It just occurred to me that the neighbours might think I am off my meds when they see me wearing my navy blue French scout hat. (It is the only wide-brim hat that actually fits my 60cm-round head I have ever found.) 

As a matter of fact, the only neighbours I saw today at all were the Moppet Next Door's Eastern European father (partner of her Scottish mother), who was in his pigeon cage, and Sandy, the oil rig chef, who came wandering out of his flat to give me an extra loaf of bread he had made yesterday. I reminded Sandy that he may make free with the herbs in our herb garden, and he assured me that he had recently taken some of the coriander. 

Everybody on our street hangs up their clothes on fine days--including Sundays--in their back gardens, which is to say, their back yards. I padded through embarrassingly high grass (B.A. cut it just two weeks ago) to pin up "the darks" and hope the the pigeons from two gardens over would not spatter them from on high. This happened last week, in fact. I was glad Sandy saw me wearing my arm brace, for it suggested an explanation for the overgrown state of our beech hedges. 

In my dreams, the grass is as manicured as one of the bowling greens in which our neighbourhood abounds. But also in my dreams, everything hanging from the clothesline would have been "Made in U.K." The clothes pegs would all be wood, and none plastic, and I would actually be hanging them up either in the New Town or outside our country cottage in some bucolic locale featuring lambs and chickens instead of pigeons and extremely lost fawns who eat pea shoots out of my veggie trug.  Also in my dreams, the neighbourhood cats would not use my raised garden by the shed as their outdoor litterbox, nor would they get squashed in the street and brought to the pavement to die in decency by poor Sandy. That happened to one of them last week. 

Really, I need to do something about the lawn and the beech hedges, so I might as well get stuck in first thing tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, I am slowly replacing cheap foreign clothing with quality British clothes, and the plastic clothes pegs keep breaking, so their replacement by wood ones is inevitable. The New Town will have to wait until we win the lottery, I'm afraid, and the country cottage is not really practical for non-drivers. Lambs and chickens are impractical for a couple whose idea fixé is to spend as much time in Rome as they can without going broke. But the cats I have manage to keep out of my raised garden by planting wooden skewers all over it. I feel badly for the squashed one, but at least it wasn't Lightning Next Door. Lightning is so desirous of human companionship that he actually invaded our house without a warrant and got as far as the hallway before we shooed him out. 

One last story about our neighbourhood for the evening, in case I didn't tell you last year. So last year we were all supposed to stand on our front stoops on Thursday nights at 8 PM and applaud the NHS. It was a tad alarming, for weekly state-organised community expressions of gratitude for state departments are just a tad Orwellian. Anyway, one Thursday last midsummer when people were enjoying the evening sun in their gardens, 8 PM struck and there was scattered applause for the NHS and a bonus: cheerful live bagpipe music from one street over. 

Live bagpipe music is not actually fake shortbread tin tartan tat Shhhhcottish, Moneypenny; it is actually part of normal Scottish life, with bairns learning it in school, and people practising it in all kinds of odd locations, like water treatment centres. When it suddenly bleats out, spontaneously, from somewhere unseen on a summer's evening, we listen and approve. When the piper finished his five minute tribute to the NHS, the whole neighbourhood applauded twice as hard as it had for the NHS. 

Friday 4 June 2021

Sharing Core Values

"Do you share the same primary values?" I asked a young person who had approached me for advice about marriage. "For example, are you both Christians from the same denomination?"

The young person assured me that they did and that they were. This sounded satisfactory although I must admit that this does not always matter. (In this case it would, though.) If you take a nominal Catholic whose real core values are vegetarianism and earning money and a nominal Presbyterian whose real core values are also vegetarianism and earning money, then there is less likely to be marital friction and disappointment, however their devout or orange sash-wearing parents may feel about it. 

It feels a bit risqué to encourage nominal Catholics to just admit to themselves that their faith is not really a core value and to look for fellow adherents to their real religion (money, animals, Gaia) when seeking a marriage partner. I will make up for this by pointing out that religious Catholics are often much more interested in actual marriage than nominal Christians are. Of course, it is extremely unfair for marriage-minded nominal Christians to go seeking spouses amongst devout Christians--unless, of course, they have an inner voice telling them that they really need to do that. 

Happily, earning money, vegetarianism, love of animals and stewardship of the earth are not incompatible with Christianity.  

Anyway, I know of perfectly happy "mixed marriages" which for Catholics has always meant religiously mixed, not biracial, and of marriages in which the Protestant or agnostic spouse has eventually converted to Catholicism. Presumably there were other core values that brought them together--or kept them together--all those years: marriage itself, mutual love of their children, etc. 

I deeply believe that when you know and embrace what your core values are (pick the two deepest), you should not settle for different ones in a life partner.  (Marriage is hard enough. Really.) You should also listen when you get a crush on a handsome or beautiful person and they level with you that they can never marry someone like you because, for example, they must/want to marry someone from their own ethnic background. 

The correct thing to do, in such a circumstance, is to thank the person for his or her honesty, cut your losses, and buzz off. The incorrect thing is to get all huffy, deplore his or her "racism", and attempt to change his or her mind. For many--if not most--people, marriage, family and ethnicity are completely intertwined. 

Also, there were a goodly number of genocides in the 20th century that made the survivors very committed to replenishing their numbers. In short, for some people, their very ethnic nation is their primary value, and when it comes to looking for a marriage partner, I think you should respect this. When a very decent and handsome Armenian chap told me twenty years ago (when I was still dumb enough to ask men out for coffee) he could only marry an Armenian, I got it. I got it because after a lifetime in Toronto, I had realised that other ethnic groups are much less likely than mine to "marry out." 

But again, this all depends on core values. The biracial Catholic wife of a Catholic man from a separate ethnic group once contacted me because she was horrified that a Polish-Canadian in her Catholic mothers' group (or whatever it was) had stated that she would be very upset if her children married non-Poles. My friend-from-way-back had heard similar remarks from Eastern Europeans, and she was shocked such views existed in modern Toronto. (If my memory does not betray me, she married very young and thus was spared my adventures in multicultural dating.*) 

Well, I wrote her an entire essay on the topic, which may have killed her, as she never got back to me. But at any rate, that Polish-Canadian mother will probably make a hellish mother-in-law unless her children all share "Poland" as a core value and marry only other people who have "Poland" as a core value. Chances are, though, that she may have given birth to someone who falls in love with Japanese culture, goes to Japan to "teach English", and comes back to Toronto only at Christmas with his Japanese wife and three beautiful Shinto-Catholic children. And good for him, say I. 

If you can think of "shared core values" which absolutely would not work to foster a marriage (besides "open marriages", i.e. sexual promiscuity), do let me know. I was going to say consumerism, but if a couple are united in their love for the earn-to-spend lifestyle, it might not be fatal. I suppose it depends on their degree of honesty and ability to share. For example, if a man loves to collect Matchbox toys, he can't really kick up a fuss if his wife loves to collect shoes. 

*Being told over a friendly lunch that my East Asian luncheon companion was attracted only to East Asian women of his own ethnicity felt rather old, though, as I was in my 30s and actually had no designs on the chap that I can recall. But what a relief to have understood at last that only men who are "into redheads" will ever be interested in little me. "Redhead" is not a core value, but it is a basic attraction thing, which seems to be way more important for visual men than for imaginative women.)

Thursday 3 June 2021

Buying Security

Today Benedict Ambrose went online and made a lump-sum overpayment on our mortgage. He waited until I was in the room so I could feel the buzz. I suspect the endorphins caused by overpaying the mortgage will increase as the interest projections decrease, and I will be as high as a kite the day we make our last payment. I hope there's a lot of B.A.'s homemade elder flower champagne around when that happens. I won't need it, but we can serve it at our party. 

Would it be in poor taste to have a mortgage freedom party? 

Increasingly young people have been asking me for marriage advice lately, and I keep mentioning being financially prepared for ILLNESS and DEATH. I'm not sure that's what the young people expect or want to hear. 

Before B.A. got sick, I concentrated on the just-being-a-decent-person stuff. For example, if you suddenly feel acutely pleased with your spouse and grateful this spouse is in your life, you should tell him or her at once---if Spouse is not at home, send Spouse an email or text message. You should tell other people, too, although not in a gushing way or in a way incongruous with the local culture. When I was growing up, my mother used to tell me, my brothers and sisters that my father was very clever, often just by exclaiming, "Oh, clever Daddy!" or variations on that. My father would extol us to thank my mother for the wonderful meal.  They're still together, seven hundred years later. 

While B.A. was sick, I concentrated on keeping him alive and me sane and employed. Fortunately, being a writer I could write about B.A. being sick when I couldn't make myself write anything else. This led to some very poignant articles about marriage that have made people, including me, cry. 

During B.A.'s illness, I learned a lot. One of the things I learned was that his death-in-service payment would actually be enough for me to bury him and buy me enough time to get the rest of my life together---if only he had joined the pension plan. Oops. 

So while B.A. was still lucid, I brought him the pension plan paperwork, explained it, and got him to sign. That wasn't really the hard part. The hard part had already happened: calling up the HR guy--in Britain, where we don't really talk about money, let alone death--to ask "How much?"  

I don't want anyone to ever feel the shame I did making that call at that time, and so now that B.A. has recovered, I bang on about the importance of being rooted in the realities of family finance. And the big daily question of family finance is "How much?" 

Yes, in the West we marry for love, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm not sure how marriage could work in the West any other way. But even so, love can survive and thrive only under certain conditions, and one of them is mutual tranquility about finances.  B.A. and I are mutually tranquil about paying off debt--and a mortgage is indeed a debt--as soon as possible. We have learned our student loan lessons.

In 1990, I remember young men in the pro-life movement saying "My wife should not HAVE to work," and I heartily approved of this opinion. It definitely makes sense if a young engaged couple is planning on having children, and if they are believing Catholics under 35, children they will almost certainly have. 

However, life is not as easy as all that. In fact, the very summer I first heard someone say that, the market crashed, ushering in a recession and Reality Bites. (This guy was okay, though, because he A. had a good job, B. bought a house and rented out its rooms to other bachelors until the mortgage was paid, C. married a good woman, had kids and as far as I can tell from social media, has lived happily ever after.) 

B.A. and I were lucky in that we had saved enough for a down payment on a two-bedroom flat in a not-horrible neighbourhood by the time we left the Historical House. I remember feeling sad, though, the first time I saw it because I was still in "entitlement" mode and, deep down, wanted to live in a magnificent Georgian flat in Edinburgh's New Town like everybody else while knowing that this was the best we  could do.  

Now, though, I am thrilled. Our mortgage lender, looking at our past record, may have thought it was dealing with a couple of financial ninnyhammers and would make gazillions in interest over the next 20 years. What it did not know was that I had made a deeply humiliating--and therefore life-changing--phone call to a (very kind, by the way) Human Resources man, and was therefore never, ever going to stop thinking about money for the rest of my puff. 

By the way, I have changed the title of this post from "Buying Freedom" to "Buying Safety" to "Buying Security." Never having to pay for housing (beyond taxes, insurance and repairs) again sounds like a giant step towards security to me. It sound better than travel, eating out, fancy clothes and a host of other things I really like. 

Meanwhile, the roof maintenance man has called to say he's free to come tomorrow, and I just cheerfully invited him over. We've got "roof money" in our savings account; we're good. 

Gardening Update: My French beans all withered. This is probably from being brought outdoors to "harden off" too soon, but this could also be down to some illness. Thus, I have thrown them in the garden waste bin and planted 5 new beans in the veggie trug.