Tuesday 31 August 2021

Slugs and Sundries

It's my favourite day of the month! It's Total Up the Expenses and the Savings Day! I cheated and did it before the end of the working day, leaving just the Groceries tally blank. I'm not expecting us to spend money on anything except groceries. 

I enjoy tending the accounts even more than tending the garden because there are no slugs in the accounts. The horrible slugs and wicked snails have been feasting on our blackcurrant bushes and the rhubarb I lovingly grew from seed, and I'm not having it. 

There is a can of slug poison in the shed, but I did not buy it and I won't use it. The various gardening chemicals in the shed were there before we got here, and I suspect they are the reason the soil in the original raised bed is so rubbish. 

I am a 100% organic gardening true believer, and I'm becoming a permaculturist into the bargain. This is great news for B.A. for I want to sow wildflowers on our lawn, which will turn it into a wildflower meadow he will not even be allowed to mow. When the neighbours say something, we will say we are trying to attract the birds, the bees and the butterflies. Saving the birds, the bees and the butterflies is very PC, so I think we'll get away with it. 

But what to do about the slugs and snails? Tomorrow I will order a packet of slug-killing parasites and scatter them on the raised bed. These parasites hurt only molluscs, so my mind is at rest. It would be nice if birds came by day--and hedgehogs came by night--to eat the slugs and snails, but they don't. Thus it will be up to the tiny wormies, who will cost about £15, and I will record the cost under "Sundries." 

The soul of minimalism is not buying objects that you don't eat, read or really do need for your capsule wardrobe. Therefore, I don't have a lot down under "Sundries." This month's Sundries are as follows:

1. Family membership in Una Voce Scotland

2. Bicycle pump

3. Moth-stop hangers

4. Metal cannoli moulds

While that list may look a bit random, they contain worlds--or maybe just a blogpost each. But as I don't have time, I will just write short summaries.

#1 was on account of being radicalised by Traditionis Custodes. Surely someone must have warned Pope Francis about this. 

"Oh no, Holy Father! If you do this, the Trads will pray more! They'll go to Mass more often! They'll send more money to traditionalist orders! They might even take out memberships in Una Voce and subscribe to Mass of Ages!"

However, I am told that the Italian bishops were hellbent on stopping out our little base communities (base as in Liberation Theology, not as in low-minded), and PF acquiesced. Alas, cui caput dolet, omnia membra languent.

#2 was in celebration of Canada being in the Green Zone, so B.A. and I may see our Canadian parents sooner rather than later. We hope. At any rate, Aged P keeps a bicycle, a pair of hiking boots and a blue cardigan here. This morning I took the recently pumped-up bike for a spin along the river, and the ride was quite exhilarating. I haven't bicycled in years. 

#3 represents domestic life in this part of Scotland. Alas. Fortunately the moths have so far not shown any interest in my wedding dress (silk) or in our tweed suits (wool) but only in my secondhand green wool sweater, which is now living in the freezer. 

#4 is utterly frivolous, of course. But we do like cannoli and if we can't eat them in the Eternal City, we might as well eat them at home. Probably on the Feast of St. Pius X according to the Old Calendar, which is clearly more radicalisation. Take that, Enemies of Tradition! 


Monday 30 August 2021

Apple Update

Last week two young men came by and pruned down our beech hedges to manageable shape. It was a great relief when they turned up, and our neighbour--whose garden had been impinged by one of the leafy monsters--was satisfied. The tough love had resulted in a dozen or so apples falling from the adjacent tree, so Benedict Ambrose gathered them up and I made the first apple pie of the season: a szarlotka, recipe from Sugared Orange by Beata Zatorska.

The thrill of eating our own fruit and vegetables never palls, so I am embarking on a Five Year Plan for the garden. 

Meanwhile, I have bought the metal tubes necessary for the manufacture of cannoli. If we can't go to the Nonna Vincenza in Rome,  we can at least summon up the spirit of Nonna Vincenza in our own kitchen. 

Sunday 29 August 2021

The Price of Sanity

I am feeling much better, and indeed felt much better by yesterday afternoon, thanks to sunshine, other people, and judicious spending. The price of sanity turns out to be £14.40, which is a fraction of the cost of a session with a good psychotherapist. 

The first stage in sanity (which was threatened by a frenzied dash around the flat looking for my cash card) was taking the bus (£1.80) to Portobello beach for a language exchange meeting. I was forced to snap out of English-language gloom to concentrate on my new friend's Polish-language account of her week. As we sat on the seawall with our legs dangling over the sand, the sun poured down, and my thoughts were filled not with far-away horrors but the everyday difficulties and dreams of Polish migrants in Edinburgh. 

After an hour-and-a-half of this bilingual tutorial in the lives of neighbours, we went together to Twelve Triangles where I hoped to make up for Friday's scream-whispering by buying pastries (£4.60). My language exchange partner listened with interest if I asked a woman staring longingly in the window at the various delights if she were part of a queue. 

This led to a short lecture on the use and spelling of "queue" as we walked to the library, so I could return my books. This duty done and my bus arriving, my new friend bicycled away back to Leith and I went home (£1.80). Benedict Ambrose greeted the pastries with joy and a cup of tea, and we scoffed them hurriedly for we had a 1 PM appointment to meet a young friend with a puppy. 

This didn't cost anything, for the young friend drove to our neighbourhood and we went for a long and scenic walk among trees. Our conversation was almost entirely about the puppy, and that was fine with me. The sun continued to pour down, and there was not a breath of wind. My arm didn't hurt, and I felt positively sane, if thirsty. 

Our young friend had parked near B.A.'s favourite pub, so after we said our good-byes, I led B.A. to the pub and we drank a pint and a half of ale (£6.20) in the partial shade of the pub garden. As I sipped my half-pint, I had a definite sense that, even if not all was well with the entire world, it was very well in our neighbourhood, which was a good place to be--just as good as Rome, when you get right down to it, at least on such a sunny, still Saturday. 

Sanity restored, the beer tipped me right into liberality, and so spying bicycle pumps in the window for £4.99, we got one so we could pump up the tyres on my mother's British bike. And somehow we ended up looking at a pretty house for sale (offers over £215,000) and then at the ice-cream shop for waffle cones (£5.20). 

We didn't make an offer on the house, but we did eat the waffle cones while actually sitting outside the shop instead of just walking to our next destination, and that was also very nice and sanity-enforcing. We bought some groceries (£17.15) and went home. B.A. pumped up the tyres and oiled the chain of Mum's bicycle and took it for an experimental ride. Canada is in the "Green Zone" at last, so the filial pressure on my parents to visit is huge. 

In the evening we watched a comedy full of pratfalls and devoid of Nazis and ideological anachronisms, and that too was very good for sanity. However, I then looked at The Kennel Club's webpage where I found a recent litter of Tibetan Spaniels in nearby Bo'Ness, and B.A. had to talk sense back into me.  The price of sanity may be only £14.40, but the price of buying and raising a puppy is too much. Sigh, sigh, sigh. 

Saturday 28 August 2021

Unhappy laughter

I don't know whether it was persevering through The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society film or  the news that a British official had escaped Afghanistan with a plane load of dogs and cats but not his Afghan staff, but I really lost it last night. Benedict Ambrose and I had a quarrel about COVID tests and why I wanted a pricey saliva test instead of the free Made-in-China stick up the nose, and I scream-whispered in several bursts.

It was past 11, and although I wanted to scream for real, I did not want to disturb the neighbours. They thoughtfully reserve their rows to Saturday nights before 10. 

I have sworn off news for the weekend, but this morning I've been reading the latest Spectator.  I found myself tittering at something, but it was not a happy sound. 

COVID restrictions + German occupation of Guernsey + Biden abandoning Afghanistan to Taliban + U.S. State Department actively preventing rescue of Afghani Christians + confusing tale about cats'n'dogs = Too Much. 

Clearly we live in terrible times, and if I had known by 1995 or so they were coming and that such a place existed, I would have fled to a certain Benedictine convent in the South of England and taken the veil. How peaceful and sane to polish already gleaming wooden floors and go out to tend the bees and the apple trees. 

On the other hand, I might have invested all my before-and-after-school earnings in Microsoft and then Apple, in which case I would be living in a gated villa on Capri, gently mocked by my friends for not having a wi-fi connection. 

Four common threads to these belated and therefore pointless ideas are gates and walls but also the South and sunshine. 

The comforting thought I had last night, when I strove for sleep, was that at least I help expose them--which theoretically should stop them from getting worse, or at least slow them down. For example, various people do not want you to know that many women experience changes to their monthly cycle after taking a COVID-19 jab. They do not want you to know to such an extent that I was thrilled when someone  wrote about it in the respectable Spectator last week. In the Letters section this week, someone who asked for his/her name not to be published and said he/she was a clinical assessor at London vaccination centres, said that "a conservative" 1 in 5 women report such a change to him. But when one 24 year old asked her pals on Instagram if they had experience this, and her post was instantly blocked.

Anyway, this is confusing work with fun-blogging with abandon, but dare I say that it is hard not to go crazy when we live in such crazy times? 

Thursday 26 August 2021

The Club

Not the Club, but near the Club.

Yesterday I had an unusual day in that I worked according to British Summer Time, not--um--Newfoundland Time. That is, I started at my own 9 AM and I knocked off at 5 PM instead of starting at British noon and stopping at 8 or 8:30 PM. Benedict Ambrose and I had been asked out to supper at our host's club, so I got permission to do this. 

For once I took a proper lunch break, the kind during which you get caught up on correspondence and go to the post office. As I walked home, I felt a frisson of novelty. Look at me on the High Street after noon on a work day! Wild!

I was rather rushed at 5 PM, though. I threw on a decent dress and the one pair of comfortable shoes that wouldn't swear too badly at it and followed B.A. out the door (in the bright sunshine!) to the bus stop. However, we arrived at the elegant Georgian address two minutes before we said we would, so all was well.  No sooner had the receptionist, sitting behind glass (or plastic) in the hallway, informed us that our host was there already than he appeared. We went through the usual members'-club warren of rooms to a staircase and climbed up to the dining-room. 

On our way, I noticed a lovely watercolour of "The Princess Royal," presumably Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood.  Up the stairs, I saw a rather glamorous photograph of the current Princess Royal, Princess Anne. In the dining room, there was a portrait of the young Princess Margaret. The prettier Royal women seems to be the Club's decorative motif. There are also cabinets full of silver trophies and the china has EIIR emblazoned on it. The floors are richly carpeted, and everything is elegance.

I think I was buttering a piece of bread when I was suddenly visited by the ghost of Magic Past, which is to say the Alice-in-Wonderland feeling I had the week I came to Edinburgh for a visit and met B.A., the Historical House, the Old Town, the New Town, the Traditional Latin Mass, Edinburgh dinner parties and all the rest of it. As the world of work and recycling bins slid away, I felt that I was back in September 2008. The feeling didn't last very long, but it did inspire me to look up the membership fees. 

Conversation was, of course, fascinating, and at one point I rushed away because something B.A. said reminded me of a story a colleague was working on, and I wanted to text him a potential lead. So that felt rather glamorous, too. When I emerged, B.A. and our host were preparing to sit by the empty grate in the Members' Lounge. In we went, to sit in large, buttoned, leather club chairs, surrounded by dark bookcases and more silver trophies. 

The party broke up after 9, I think. B.A. and I said good-bye to our host and walked through the New Town towards our bus stop. When we got there, I checked work messages and B.A. hurried on to Tesco to get a pint of milk. It had become a little chilly, so we had walked more quickly than I otherwise would have, for I love to look at New Town windows and admire any furniture or art visible. (Edinburghers should really close their curtains if they do not want the interested stares of passersby.) Unusually, the most prominent thing I saw in a New Town window last night was a clothes-drying frame, which doesn't hint at unfathomable glamour. 

This morning I am pondering how to get a little more of that Alice-in-Wonderland feeling back into my life, and I think it may involve an adjustment of my schedule so that B.A. and I can go out in the evenings more often. There is something deeply satisfying about leaving work before you are too tired to do anything but eat and then rest your head on the table. Also, the New Town is phantasmagorically wonderful in the evenings, and if we could afford to, we would move there in a shot.   

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Adventures in Babysitting/B.A.'s Birthday

Rome: frequent conversation topic.

My right arm aches, and so I have been keeping typing to a minimum. I am working though--I got an email from a concerned reader whose wife had noticed I haven't written any articles for work lately. It's because I've been pulled up into the editorial team. My decision-making powers are limited to my colleagues' sentence structures and diction, though. 

Recent excitements include babysitting a four-year-old who has put his parents on the stage and thus needed to be entertained while his mother workshopped in London and his father played two performances here. Torquil, as he is not really named, informed me that his mother is not on the stage, but on the floor, and only his father is on the stage. I presume this is a reflection on their most habitual concert venues. Torquil also resisted being called a Stage Child, saying that he is too young to go on the stage. 

Torquil and I got to know each other on the bleachers (stone steps, really) at an open air venue, and our most exciting moment came when he picked up a tiny spider and was thoroughly grossed out. He asked me if I had ever picked up a spider, and I had to admit that I had never picked one up with my bare fingers and that he was very brave.  Our next exciting moment was when one of Torquil's markers went rolling down the rain-slippery steps and I chased after it. I looked back up at Torquil to see that, for the first time, he was laughing. 

Another excitement was Benedict Ambrose's birthday, and so I took the heavy chains off the coffers and sprinkled money liberally on cocktails and supper at an Italian restaurant B.A. says is "fun." In the morning he got to open his card from me (which included the promise of new trousers, which naturally I could not buy on my own) and a box from my parents, which included brand-new bedroom slippers from Barbour. We were both very impressed, and there is even a chance the slippers (being Barbour) were Made in Britain. 

My parents, frugal all their days, have begun to splash out on presents in their old age, and not only is B.A. now tromping round in Barbour slippers, we spend a good chunk of our mornings wrapped in white terrycloth robes with "ARMANI" written down the arms. This is such a contradiction to the shouts of "You'd only be paying for the label!" I heard throughout my childhood that I find it worthy of mention here. Meanwhile, the children of this neighbourhood are sometimes given designer labels as Christian names, so we are not shy about going outside in our Armani bathrobes to pick an apple from the tree or a slug off the rhubarb. 
The restaurant B.A. finds fun is called Bar Napoli, and I suspect its most diverting quality is its decent house red, which costs less than £17 a bottle. That said, the servers are actually Italian and speak enough tourist-aimed Italian for B.A. to understand, and we speak Italian back at them. The food is not the kind of Italian food we eat in Italy but the kind the more daring non-Italian Scots have eaten since 1965 or so. At the table next to us, a family ordered their dishes by the numbers.

We had asked our parish priest to join us, and he demurred as he thought it would be too noisy, and actually he was right. He would not have enjoyed the Aerosmith in the background, or gotten misty (as I did) at John Waite's "Missing You." 

B.A. ate everything on his plate and 2/3s of what was in the bottle, whereas I saved half of my dish and demanded a box (una scatola per domani!), just so I would have room for a cannoli. (That would be a cannolo, spellcheck.) Despite saying he couldn't and being in actual pain from overeating, B.A. helped me eat the cannoli, which came with ice-cream and whipped cream and a wafer and a small Italian paper flag. 

So yes, that was very fun. We talked about Rome, and when we are likely to go back, and about the fact that his Italian teacher there and my Italian teacher here are coincidentally from the same small town. We pondered the idea of visiting this small town, and we reminisced about our Christmas in Umbria. In Umbria, unlike in Edinburgh, we feasted on chestnuts, truffles and wild boar. 

The bill for this meal, including la mancia, came to £70. 

This morning I am contemplating renting a holiday flat in North Berwick in October, since it seems highly unlikely we would be able to go to Italy or Poland for our autumn break without a great deal of expense and unpleasantness. Another subject of B.A.'s birthday supper conversation was how grateful we are we spent the entire month of October 2021 in Rome. 


Thursday 19 August 2021

Planted the Rhubarb

Today I planted the rhubarb, and they must be relieved. I noticed that the one in the big pot has been doing a lot better than the one in the small pot. They were also looking a tad dry, poor things. However, this morning as I was doing dumbbell presses in the kitchen, I saw a video that inspired me to go out at once and make them a proper home. 

Here's the video:

The proper home is the raised bed beside the ivy-bound shed, between the black current bushes. One section has been covered with cardboard for several months and the other was a riot of sweet-smelling weeds. I did sow that bit with lettuce and rainbow chard, but it was really not to be. Really, that bed is useless for tender things. 

Anyway, I lifted the cardboard and pulled out the weeds,  turned over the dirt, got some leaf mould, dug it in, watered the whole, and put in my poor thirty rhubarb plants. Then I watered them again. They must think, in their plantish way, that they are in heaven--or at very least a lovely spa. 
Speaking of recovery, the latest rumour I heard is that Cardinal Burke is responding well to treatment, so hoorah! Keep the prayers going, as it would seem they are working (as it were). I brought up the issue of the dodgey concept of changing God's mind at theology school, and it was explained to me that by praying  we participate in God's will for the person, which is what God has invited us to do. 

To return to gardens, today I will make another apple crumble---if Benedict Ambrose goes out and picks me another lot of the six ripest. If it were a holiday I would bake a tarte tartin, but making puff pastry is too much of a challenge today. Our local Tesco doesn't have all-butter puff pastry, so perhaps it would be a good idea to pick up some the next time we are in Waitrose. (Cue angelic harps.

Poor Benedict Ambrose has promised to mow the lawn next week when he has finished his current diploma assignments, but this morning I was half-seriously thinking of buying a scythe. Now that's old school. Then, when I was enjoying myself making a home for the rhubarb, I gazed over the grass and pondered putting in six raised beds for more vegetables. This way, we'd have more vegetables and less lawn for B.A. to mow. We'd have to keep some lawn, for like everyone else around we dry our laundry outdoors whenever possible. 

I don't want to get carried away, however, as all the permaculture videos I've been have featured either California or Australia. Sure you can grow almost all your food in a suburban yard in Australia. Serious food gardening in Scotland involves polytunnels and horticultural fleece, and as they are made from plastic, I disapprove of them---for me, that is, not for the professional farmers. 

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Praying for Cardinal Burke

Yesterday Benedict Ambrose and I got on our very knees and prayed for Cardinal Burke's recovery. Normally we are pray-while-lying-in-bed kind of people. Sometimes we might go on a Rosary walk. Sometimes we might pray from our armchairs. But on special occasions we get right down on our knees.  I got right down on my knees when a social media call went out to all relatives, friends and acquaintances for information on a young British mariner, lost at sea. (He turned up the next morning. Whew!)

Everyone I know who actually knows Cardinal Burke is writing about what a kind, warm, accommodating man he is, and it's true. B.A. and I met him last October at the church given to the FSSP in Rome, Santissima Trinità. It was one of those meetings that stay with you for life. 

I had been sent by work with a message for His Eminence, and I wasted a goodly amount of time lurking outside his apartment building before concluding I could just speak to him after the Pontifical High Mass he was going to celebrate for the Una Voce pilgrims. My message was an important one, and so I was rather nervous about it. I was also nervous about taking photos of Cardinal Burke at Mass because it was, you know, Mass. (I can't remember now why I felt I should take these photos, but I'm glad I did.) 

Anyway, after Mass, we saw people slipping into the warren of rooms behind the sanctuary and perceived that Cardinal Burke was receiving visitors. Therefore, we hastily made our way to the hallway outside the sacristy where, I believe, I was addressed by a Seraphic Singles fan. That was totally unexpected and very pleasant. 

Anyway, when it was our turn to go in, we went in and Cardinal Burke was sitting in a chair. Being old school, B.A. plunked down on his knees, and so I did, too, and then B.A. kissed Cardinal Burke's ring, so I did, too. B.A. made rapid introductions and a sort of speech of gratitude to His Eminence and after what seemed like an age mentioned that I wrote for LSN. At this the Cardinal turned to me, a picture of wifely silence under my black veil, and asked me what my name was again.

Before I could say anything, B.A. told him my name again, this time pronouncing all three elements with care, and--no word of a lie--the Cardinal's face lit up. 

"I know who you are," said the Cardinal, or words to that effect. "I always read your articles." 

His Eminence admitted to not reading all LSN articles (and what the hey, neither do I), but mine he did read. 

So that was very nice, and I delivered my message, and listened very carefully to what His Eminence had to say in reply, and that was that. We got up, probably still assuring H.E. of our very great devotion and gratitude, and toddled back out the sacristy door. I felt stunned, like we had won the lottery. Then we went to St. Peter's Square to interview Alexander Tschugguel and a journalist from a rival organization elbowed me hard in the ribs. (Ribs here is a euphemism.) 

It may sound funny that we had our whole meeting with Cardinal Burke on our knees, but it was either that or tower over him, which would have felt very wrong. He was clearly tired---the word is all the clobber cardinals have to wear if they celebrate a  TLM is very heavy and he only wears the weighty cappa magna to make liturgy nerds happy. When else would we see the cappa magna, eh? I don't think he wore it on that  occasion, but I think did when he said a TLM in Glasgow back in 2017, and we were all "Squee!

Naturally Catholics who want to sing a new church into being have written poison pen posts online about Cardinal Burke and the cappa magna, and they may be the same people who are writing poison pen posts now about his illness. However, the cappa magna, which represents martyrdom and the office of cardinal, really is a good symbol for Cardinal Burke because he refused to violate his conscience by taking a COVID-19 vaccine and yet he still put his health at risk by travelling back and forth, doing his duties as a cardinal. On this subject, I highly recommend reading this heartfelt post by my colleague in France, who spoke to Cardinal Burke many times. 

I know Catholics who have a very high bar for determining which Cardinals are real believing Catholics who would die for the Faith like St. John Fisher.  Nobody I know doubts that Cardinal Burke is the real deal. I remember reporting on a homily His Eminence gave at the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Wisconsin. If I remember correctly, he encouraged all families to have images of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart in their homes, and now B.A. and I do. 

Suddenly I feel very sad, so I will stop and just ask those of you who pray to stop reading now and say a prayer for Cardinal Burke. Tens of thousands of Catholics want him to recover completely and carry on being a good shepherd to us. Presumably he would rather go to the Lord sooner rather than later, but we know he will shoulder the heavy cappa magna for our sake, so we hope the Lord will let him continue to do so for at least a few years more. 

Tuesday 17 August 2021

England, Scotland, Languages

First Apple Crumble of the season

One of my favourite things to do is travel by train, and we certainly have had a lot of train travel in the past week. On Wednesday we took a train from Edinburgh to London and then to Reading and to Woolhampton. On Sunday afternoon we travelled from Reading to London and then to Edinburgh. As always, we got a bit excited whenever we crossed the Tweed River (i.e. the Border) and admired the great cathedrals of the Eastern Line--principally Durham and York--through the windows. 


The weather in England was very good. London was hot and sunny when we briefly emerged from train stations on both Wednesday and Thursday. I love London, so it was a shame we had less than an hour to get from King's Cross to Paddington, or from Paddington to King's Cross. West Berkshire was warm, mild and comfortable. We walked a mile from the railway station uphill to Douai Abbey. 

Old & new parts of Abbey church 

Corridor in guest house

Later I was driven to the TLM and back through narrow winding roads through tall hedges and past thatch-rooved houses. (B.A. stayed at the Abbey and went to the N.O. in the Abbey church.) My colleagues and I even drove as far up the road to Highclere Castle (aka "Downton Abbey") as we could before we were chased away by a stone-faced security guard. We saw the tops of the towers and had to be satisfied with that.       

On Saturday we stayed in a little white cottage with a rosebush in front and an iron stove in the great brick fireplace between the sitting-room and the dining-room. The view of the hills was charming, and one of the nearby sheep had a voice like Louis Armstrong. We went for walks amid the beautiful old houses (more thatch) and less beautiful new houses (commuter distance from London), examined the construction of an old church with local stone, and admired the beautiful horses and their straight-backed riders. 

It was the sort of England one thinks about when one reads books set in England pre-1963--only our version was a lot more Catholic, as daily Mass featured. On Sunday we went to the SSPX church frequented by our hosts, and their celebrations for the Assumption were lavish, joyful, and positively iconic. 

First, I had rather a jolt when the Asperges began, for Holy Water has been banned everywhere we've been, and singing has been rather muted. Well, the congregation roared out DOMINE HYSSOPO as if the phrase "air-borne virus" had never been invented. The chapel was full, not to say packed, and there was no social-distancing that I noticed. I had the distinct impression that the congregation did not believe that death is the worst thing that can happen to you and spiritual health trumps physical health, hands down. Funny that. 

Then there was Mass with Priest, Deacon, and Sub-Deacon, and naturally it was utterly beautiful. It was followed by Marian hymns in English and Latin and a Marian procession out of the church and around a field, with the recitation of the Rosary, with little girls in white First Communion dresses and veils strewing rose petals on the ground. When we all processed back into the chapel, we sang another Marian hymn, which was followed by the Litany of Loretto in Latin and the Divine Praises in English during Benediction. After that, it must have been around noon, and we went back to the little white cottage for breakfast. 

It was all very heavenly: traditional Catholic worship and traditional Catholic household with delicious food and books, conversation, walks, board-games and whist for entertainment. 

Incidentally, I went to the FSSP Mass on Thursday morning, and there were 13 children, if I remember correctly, 4 of them teenagers. There were quite a number of children at the Sunday SSPX Mass, too, of course. How difficult it is to extricate ourselves from the "Does it attract YOUNG PEOPLE?" mentality. However, it probably is a good yardstick to measure the life and health of a Catholic community. 

Sadly I forgot both missal and mantilla in my rush to leave on Wednesday morning, so I assisted the Abbey, FSSP and SSPX Masses with one of B.A.'s clean handkerchiefs tied around my head. You can see it early in the Twitter video of the Dominican pilgrims at Douai Abbey.  Blink and you'll miss it. (You'll need to hit "full-screen" and look for 0:06, far right [cough].)


We got back to Scotland on Sunday night despite the weekly Sunday railway strike, caught our bus despite the massive roadworks, and picked up a lovely Chinese takeaway supper despite the lateness of the hour. Our favourite nosh is "prawn toasties" which is not on Chinese (or "Chinese") menus in Toronto, but should be. 

On Monday we went to Tesco for groceries and came across this (thankfully anonymous) shopping list in the carpark. (I apologise for the unshined state of my shoe.)

Presumably this Monday shop was merely a top-up after a proper weekly haul of groceries. However, we found it delightfully evocative of our neighbourhood--especially the combination of vodka, cheap rose, toilet paper, and Iron Bru. For those who have never been to Scotland, Iron Bru is roughly like Orange Fanta, only worse. It is also, after whisky and a cheap tonic wine called Buckfast, the national drink. 

Also on Monday, B.A. picked six of the ripest apples he could see on the tree, and I made apple crumble (crisp). We may not rejoice in a little white cottage with roses and neighbouring sheep, but we DO have the apple tree. 


I had two conversations about language-learning last week. The first was from someone whose son has married a Pole and gone to live in Poland and whose daughter is now seeing a Pole. My English acquaintance foresees moving to Poland one day and asked me how to begin learning Polish. 

I launched into my How to Learn Polish advice, which begins with Pimsleur for pronunciation, continues with Teach Yourself Books, progresses to Night School Classes, and advances with private tutors. I suggested that, unless he works hard at Polish every day, it will take him about 10 years to acquire fluency. However, my acquaintance said that for now he really just wanted to know how to get around by train and buy things in shops. 

My second conversation about language-learning was with an Englishman who has married a French lady and wants to chat easily with her family. My advice was completely different. It began (as always) with Pimsleur for pronunciation and then recommended illiteracy. The wonderful thing about the Englishman is that he knows exactly what he wants from French, and it is conversation en famille. I assume he would love to be able to read French Literature in the original, but his number one goal is Chatting with French Family. Because, as I have painfully discovered, when you try to learn how to speak, hear, read and write a language, you are actually learning four languages, you can save a lot of time by focussing on just one--or two, since clearing your in-laws are more charmed if you listen to them as well as talk to them. 

Here is a brilliant video about acquiring a language without getting bogged down with reading, writing and grammar. It inspired me to sign on with a language exchange group and now I have a new Polish language buddy. 


Wednesday 11 August 2021

Trip (real and metaphorical)

1. I'm going to England today, so blogging--as they say--shall be light. I'll take photos, though. 

2. I made the mistake of getting involved in a Twitter conversation about a celebrity's wife, mother of five, who wants to use IVF. A pro-life acquaintance highlighted the story, and I agreed that mothers should be grateful for the children they have. I also mentioned that infertility was a heavy cross, and I disliked how the NHS dealt with mine. (Update: They kept offering me IVF as if it was my only option and as if I had not already refused it several times, citing my religious faith.) Eventually a "Catholic" told me that refusing IVF was my choice, so I shouldn't "castigate" women who have it.  Her actual message was insensitively written, shall we say. 

It was an ideological rug-pull. Caroline was told (in short) she couldn't say anything about IVF because she doesn't know the pain of infertility. I was told (in short) I can't say anything about IVF because, although I do know about the pain of infertility, I refused IVF. 

The two pro-IVF women in this conversation identified themselves as Catholics, but when I brought our Lord Jesus Christ into the conversation, the first had the grace to admit that she had lapsed. This may be a discovery that when someone who clearly doesn't believe one of the harder teaching says she is a Catholic, one should mention Our Blessed Lord and see what she says then. After all, Catholicism is not veganism. It's not an ethical code (let alone an ethnic group): it's a relationship. 

What made me angry about the remarks of the second non-Catholic Catholic was that she assumed I feel pain over refusing IVF. I feel no pain over refusing IVF. I'm proud that, under God, I refused IVF. Of course, it wasn't a struggle, as I found the concept stomach-churning even back when I first found out such a thing existed. 

This is not, by the way, a rejection of anyone, least of all the innocent human beings conceived that way. God can and does bring good, in this case babies, out of such evils as extramarital sex, rape, and IVF. 

No, I'm proud I refused IVF, and it gives me something in common with the brave women who continue to trust in God after their 12th pregnancy. The pain is about not having children--a bruise the unbelieving second Catholic walloped. However, I have learned my lesson, and it is not to reveal my weak spot on Toxic Twitter, even in a good cause. 

Update (August 13): I didn't have time to say so, but when a Christian woman is so desperate to have a child that she turns to IVF (knowing what moral compromises that entails), her choice is reminiscent of Milton's version of Adam, who chose Eve over God. In this scenario, the woman choses what child she might have (who does not as yet exist) over God. God in His mercy sometimes gives that woman what she desires so badly anyway.  (Of course, there are some women who might think that God gave man the intellectual gifts to develop IVF for the better flourishing of mankind, in the way man developed the polio vaccine, and it is a brave Catholic who steps in to explain why this ideas is wrongheaded.)

Tuesday 10 August 2021


On Sunday evening, I sat down and bought a joint membership in Una Voce Scotland. Una Voce is an international organisation--comprised mostly of laypeople--for the support and advancement of the Traditional Latin Mass. I put off joining for years and years, in part because an elderly member of our community advised me not to do so, in part because the meetings always seem to be in Glasgow, and in part because I worried that I would at once be asked to become Secretary and have to take minutes. Ick.  

However, I have been radicalised by Traditionis Custodes, so I joined the west coast-dominated UVS, and presumably if I live to be old and retired I will make the organisation my life and become a real trad battle-ax, feared by bishops from Galloway to Aberdeen.

Of course, the iron first entered my soul in October 2014 when I read the mid-term relatio (report) of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family and realised that something very, very wrong was going on in the Holy See. Thus, in a certain sense I've been radicalised for almost 7 years. It was as if, when he clapped a meaty Slovenian hand down hard on my shoulder during my Confirmation--a not-bad substitute for the ancient slap--then-Bishop Ambrozic had passed on the trigger word that would turn me into a doughty fighter against the anti-JP2, anti-Ratzinger forces currently running amok. 

Speaking of growing old, my father had a shock 18 years ago or so when I mentioned I had spoken to a Jesuit professor in the university weight room. My poor dad reflected that such a thing would have been unheard of when he was young, and perhaps he belonged back in the 1950s, etc. Well, I had a shock yesterday, and it was this short video, filmed in the White House apparently to encourage more young people to accept COVID-19 jabs. I felt sad, and that such a thing would have been unheard of when I was young, and maybe I belong back in the 1990s, etc. 

However, I don't live in the USA, and I don't know young people like that, and I work from home, so I am free to live--and fight for--a life of indefatigable traddery. By the way, not only did I sign Benedict Ambrose and I to sign up with Una Voce Scotland, I encouraged another Trad to do so, too. 

But I do think that the most important thing to do is to remain cheerful, hopeful and friendly; to dress distinctively (mantilla, Padre Pio-approved skirts) but not eccentrically; to continue learning about the Traditional Latin Mass and perennial Catholic doctrine; to continue supporting traditional Catholic parents and their children; to live apart from the world, but not become a total weirdo; to pray, fast, and give alms, but also live as the laity should. 

If you love the Traditional Latin Mass and are similarly galvanised by the recent motu proprio, I strongly encourage you to join your national branch of the International Una Voce Federation.  

Sunday 8 August 2021


Yesterday Benedict Ambrose and I went on a trip to Edinburgh's Morningside. We started, however, by buying two bacon rolls from a nearby cafe. I was interested in the fact that they cost £2 each, but B.A. was   much more interested in their (to him) excellence: soft white rolls; salty, lightly fried back bacon. Bacon rolls are a Scottish national dish. 

We went a certain distance by the Rough Bus, and I silently wondered at the black teeth of the young lady in the seat in front of us, and we alighted the stop by a certain pub so as to walk in the leafy, rather grand Marchmont neighbourhood. Marchmont abounds in enormous four storey stone Victorian houses, riotously floral front gardens and hidden back gardens of (I imagine) indescribable lusciousness. There is also a Michelin-starred restaurant, about which more anon. For the time being, we were walking to the Gillis Centre, which is where the Archdiocesan offices are,  The oldest buildings, including a large chapel, were designed by James Gillespie Graham and finished in 1835. 

Today there is also a young apple orchard and yesterday a group of pretty, slim young women, including two nuns, sitting on chairs in a circle near the rosary chapel. B.A. recognised one of the girls by her bright hair, and we pondered, in our gossipy middle-aged way, what cause the group was serving. Nobody expects the McLeans just to turn up at the Gillis Centre and sit on a bench, but there you go. The only time  I ever went to Morningside in a miniskirt, I ran into an older person, and it was all over the  parish news by Sunday. Don't trust anyone over 45, that's what I say. 

Anyway, after we tired of our bench, we continued our walk, luxuriating in the stately row houses and their bright gardens, walking past the Archbishop's Palace and its wreckovated chapel, and heading towards cozy Morningside. We popped into charity shops, making me feel ten years younger, but did not buy anything until we sailed into Waitrose. In Waitrose we bought a couple of pastries to eat on a bench; tea we had brought with us in a thermos. (We also bought a couple of small ersatz 'cannoli' in a new, very not-Italian pastry shop, and only honesty compels me to confess this.) 

B.A. informs me we have to leave for Mass in 15 minutes, so I will say only that we walked back though Morningside and then Marchmont to get our bus, and when we got home I made peanut butter brownies again. It was a very nice way to spend the day.

And yes, the Motherwell TLM has been totally cancelled, and I look forward to soon meeting the discommoded faithful young families being punished for their attachment to Catholic tradition.

Saturday 7 August 2021

Small Economies

Today let us meditate upon the Gospel according to Matthew, Matthew 6:25-29 (King James Version), to be precise:

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say until you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  

What I find fascinating about this today is that my own maternal culture, in which you can participate by reading Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne novels*, has all this off by heart (and according to the KJV) but also thought a good deal about eating (without waste), drinking (without drunkenness),  raiment (no sparkling gems before 5 PM), toiling (Protestant work ethic), spinning (as it were) and putting money by for a rainy day. 

Summoning to mind my paternal culture, I can see only approved way of living to the letter of Matthew 6:25-29, and that is in a monastery. If you're trying to do this outside of a monastery, you may be a dirty hippie, not that we would ever be so rude as to say so. 

I'm amused by the contrast between Matthew 6:25-29 and my money-haunted devoutly Christian cultural backgrounds. It is one of the interesting tensions of life---although, admittedly, it is more painful than interesting when I burst into tears because I have to buy something costing £29.99 for work and I won't be paid back until September. It's not even because we'll be in the red at the end of the month (I think); it's that there will be less green. 

That's the downside of getting so tremendously excited about household accounts. 

There are rewards, though. Yesterday I enjoyed a quiet and relaxing quarter-of-an-hour sewing up the holes in the toes of my blue striped socks. Then I shined my navy blue granny shoes, to make them look newer to the physio. In the evening, my heart rejoiced when Benedict Ambrose, after scouring Gumtree for a bargain on ergonomic chairs, illustrated that the one I bought four years ago is not, in fact, broken. 

"You fixed it," I cried, delighted to have saved a minimum of £60.

'I didn't fix it; I used it," he grumbled. 

I am currently saving more money by writing on a desk that is too large for our dining-room but turns out to have (as I had forgotten) a drawer that folds out into a typing table. I would like to rid myself of the behemoth, but then I would have to buy a new one, and it would cost more than free.  

Such small economies warm my descended-from-several-generations-of-Scots-Presbyterian-women-and-a-1969-Catholic-convert heart. My parents are, naturally, also good at small economies, and the photograph illustrates one of them. 

I cannot remember on what occasion I cravenly suggested to the earthly authors of my being that they  give me an iconic Hudson's Bay Company blanket. Perhaps I suggested it as a hostess present: what a stinker. The HBC blanket, white wool with those stripes, is evocative of the Canadian Dream, which is to own a cedar-smelling cottage in the woods by a lake. It costs a bomb, which is to say, $325-$450, but in my defence I didn't know that when I hopefully asked my Aged Parents to bring us one.

The Aged Parents cleverly divined that the Canadian nostalgia I was looking for was contained not in the white wool but in the stripes. They therefore sent or brought us a tall ceramic coffee mug emblazoned with the HBC stripes. It is too lovely to shut away with the other coffee mugs, so we use it for our everyday silverware.  

It stands on the kitchen counter, not only an evocative symbol of Canadiana, but also a tribute to my parents' good sense. If we had to flee with only 100 possession in a suitcase, I would certainly pack that mug.

This may be as good a time as any to admit that the Made-in-Scotland fine wool blue cardigan my mother gave me for Christmas has worn a hole in the left elbow. Benedict Ambrose, who keeps his clothes pristine for decades, says this is because fine wool cardigans are not suited to everyday use. He suggested I buy smart leather patches to cover the elbows, but I have saved us £4.50 or so by simply sewing up the hole with blue thread. 

*I'm not even kidding about the Anne books, the literary distillation of Scots-Canadian Presbyterianism. And I will now once again indulge myself by repeating that the Woke generation, like my own PC generation, will never be able to write The Great Canadian Novel, for it has already been written and it is Anne of Green Gables

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Friday 6 August 2021

The Fallout

News drifted from nearer the west coast: TLM restricted. 

There were, of course, lightning-fast reports from England and America: bishops quick to chide or swift to bless. But matters in Scotland are being settled more slowly, hopefully with a good deal of thought and even more prayer. Those who have the most to lose are reluctant to say much in public. Nobody wants a kind bishop punished for his goodness or a craven one rewarded for his ... compliance. 

I got the message while on my way to the physiotherapist. There was fallout there, too, of a milder kind. I must stop typing on my laptop. I must buy a new ergonomic desk chair. I must do my arm-strengthening exercise. My physio doesn't want me to keep coming in. She wants me to get better. 

Unlike the new restrictions on the TLM, these instructions were to help and heal. 

As nothing glues together a community like rejection from the outside, traditional Catholics are likely to become even more united with each other. This could be bad as well as good, for we run the risk of becoming insular and overly eccentric, and thus unattractive to Catholics seeking respite from the baby-talk homilies the camp priests, the bullying lay ministers, and congregations' self-worship. 

"Body of Christ, Glenda!"

"Ay-MEN, Tracy!" 

I hope, therefore, that we have the grace and the hope to sing the Te Deum as we leave our old churches and find refuge where the TLM is allowed. In Scotland, this could be quite nice, even, as new young people mix and mingle, bringing friends or girlfriends from different universities (despite their chaplains' screams). There will probably be more weddings and then more babies, and our numbers will grow even more. 

Our cups will flow over, and eventually even the pandemic will end, and I will be able to serve after-Mass tea once again.   

Update: Meanwhile, in Argentina....

Thursday 5 August 2021


In my patch of neighbourhood, laundry is not a dull or mindless task. It is dependant on the weather because nobody has a dryer. You can tell because on sunny days every back garden has darks, brights and whites hanging or flapping on the clotheslines. 

B.A. has a theory that once upon a time, when all the buildings belonged to the Council (e.g. local government), the back gardens were one vast drying green. This thought is not farfetched; most neighbourhoods like ours have drying greens, and not private gardens. The point is not the green grass (or hard concrete) underfoot but the plastic-coated wire above. Energy bills are expensive.  

Our washing machine is small, but I try to keep loads to three a week: whites, darks, brights. These days it is usually Benedict Ambrose who fills up the big blue Ikea bag with wet clothes and hangs them up outside. It's a task I enjoy, though, as I like pinning them up in a logical order, using the most economical number of pegs--except for socks. I like every sock to have its own peg. It is also social, not only because neighbours come out to say hello, but because I can see all the neighbouring laundry.

It is usually B.A. these days who takes them down, too. I like this task less because I find the wrinkles depressing. 

Last weekend I went to the closet and packed three bags full of old clothes, two for the charity shops and one for recycling. After 16 months of a pandemic, there were many, many clothes I had not worn for a year, one of the rules of thumb for wardrobe-thinning. There were some sad good-byes: a green corduroy jacket, a blue evening bag, a funny 40th birthday gift (see above), a grey-blue gown with poppies and other field flowers embroidered all over the gauzy front layer. I never actually wore this dress anywhere, and it is a happy accident that I did not wear it to Polish Pretend Son's wedding because Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law's reception dress was embroidered with poppies and other field flowers. But mine was the prettiest dress I never wore, and packing it in a bag felt like shutting a door on--what? A younger, thinner, more embroidered self probably. 

The reward for divesting myself of all this cloth was more space in the closet, an empty small suitcase and a nearly empty large suitcase.  I could have pruned harder--and ideally I would like the minimalist wardrobe of a navy blue nun--but the thought of getting rid of any cardigan that did not actually have holes in the elbows made me strangely nervous. 

Wednesday 4 August 2021

Languages on the Beach

Yesterday I fulfilled three of my daily goals by going to the beach to speak Polish and English to my language exchange partner. (The goals are spending time outdoors, exercising, and practising foreign languages.)  

It was a lovely sunny day, and my language partner told me about her weekend and her career thoughts. I told her about Monday's excursion and once having spoken to Cardinal Dziwisz in a Kraków street. We also exchanged thoughts on generational differences when it came adherence to Catholicism. I am less clear on what we talked about in English, but I hope my language partner found it profitable. 

Eventually we walked over to where B.A. was sitting, exchanged greetings in English with him, and said our good-byes. I then walked all the way home with B.A. (who had walked all the way there) and felt rather too tired to start work. Nevertheless, to work I went. 

Work involved hours and hours of transcribing rapid American medical opinions about COVID-19, its treatment and its vaccines. As my interview subject had described various do-it-yourself prophylactic methods, I was quite terrified that if I misheard and therefore wrote the wrong words, readers might take the wrong thing and do themselves an injury. I also looked up the medical use of very, VERY dilute sodium hypochlorite, and it is actually a thing. (But for heaven's sake, I beg everyone not to swig bleach.

Presumably because once I protested the arson of Catholic churches in Canada on Twitter, someone tweeted me her opinion that Catholics must tell Pope Francis to apologise for Canada's residential school program. She was not happy when I tweeted back that Pope Benedict apologised for Catholic involvement in Canada's residential school program (which ended before I was born) in 2009. 

The young woman also did not enjoy my reflections on child mortality rates before WW2, Jane Eyre, and my inability to find my great-great-grandfather's gravestone, possibly because his widow couldn't afford one. Neither did she enjoy Tomson Highway's account (to which I tweeted a link) of the wonderful time he had in residential school. 

Unsurprisingly this led to the young woman calling me a racist and ascribing me "Catholic guilt" (that is, a new mark of Cain Catholics apparently bear). Rather more surprisingly, she said she had made a donation to the preservation of a residential school in my name. She said she hoped I'd enjoy it, so I will certainly swing by the next time I am in that part of Ontario and have a look. It was run by Anglicans.

I found her behaviour strange, but then I have been relatively lucky in avoiding online abuse---presumably because, in my blogging heyday, I hit the "Delete" button in the comments section without an iota of guilt.  I also find it sad because she clearly hates Catholics and may even think that this hatred is a way to flourish as a person.

In my experience, dwelling on historical injustices isn't psychologically helpful. To give one very minor example, I very much resented being reviled as a "mangiacake" by Italian-Canadian kids in my elementary school and I glommed onto a new friend's disdain for the Italian-Canadian subculture known in the 1980s as "Ginos and Ginas." Today this does not sound much different from calling someone a Guinea, but it seemed perfectly fair back in the 80s, when there were Ginos, Ginas, metalheads, mods, punks, goths, et al. Anyway, to sum up this very old story, I was rescued from this unpleasant habit of mind by taking Italian classes. [A more general example would be that of the young woman who decides from unfortunate early experiences that "men are scum" and then discovers Mr Right only after abandoning her radical feminist separatist commune.)

I'm not sure what I would suggest for my critic, though. Hearing both sides of the story--FN stories of love and success as well as FN stories of abuse and trauma--might be helpful.  

Tuesday 3 August 2021

Likeable Children

Our pupils suffered an acute Covid regulation-related disappointment, so their maths teacher and I met them yesterday for another excursion. It was a beautifully sunny Bank Holiday Monday-- a marvellous day to be outside, marching children to lunch and then to historical sites, full of food and education. 

I think we all had a very good time. My colleague insisted in ordering escargots so that the children could try them. They tasted like rubbery mushrooms. The children, unsurprisingly, were underwhelmed, but at least they can say they have eaten snails (or A snail) and perhaps they will remember, even unto old age, a sunny day in Edinburgh, the 16th century apartment building, cappuccino or hot chocolate in the hidden park off the Royal Mile, the threat of being thrown into one of the pools outside the Scottish parliamentary buildings. 

This morning I remembered a video of Jordan Peterson talking about how necessary it is to raise your children so that adults will like them. This is absolutely true, not only because (as he says) adults will smile at them honestly and make them feel welcome in the world, but also because adults will be happy to take them off your hands for a few hours and (if you have introduced the children to the right adults) impart your values to them from another direction. At the same time, such adults can expand their horizons in beneficial ways: feeding them snails, talking of other countries, exhorting them to save 50% of all money that comes their way, explaining the talent vs practice debate. Normally these adults would be uncles and aunts, I imagine.  

When I got home, shedding hat, mask, and even hair elastic on the way from the railway station, I found B.A. reading a magazine and drinking elderflower champagne on the little porch at the top of the stairs overlooking the garden. I was so tired I just plunked down on the stairs and drank from his glass. He very kindly got me a chair and some peanuts and put another bottle of elderflower champagne to cool in the freezer. So I sat with my back to the sun, which kindly warmed up my head, and was enormously grateful to be so tired in such a good cause. 

The photo is of our apple tree yesterday. I think I will start posting apple tree photos to mark the passage of the seasons, now that I am properly blogging again. 

Monday 2 August 2021

Excellent Brownies

Good morning! I am posting my new peanut butter brownie here so that I can easily find it later. Last week I went to the internet to find my old banana bread recipe and, lo, the only place in the web it was lodged was Seraphic Singles. 

First, credit where credit is due: this excellent recipe is from "And Also the Crumbs Please". The one difference is that I halved the recipe to fit into my 20cm (8"x 8") tin and feed two people for no longer than 3 days. If you have children and a 9" x 13" tin, you should use the original recipe (link above). However, if you are making these for a grown-up dinner party (which I recommend), stick to my recipe.

Peanut Butter Brownies (8 big pieces)

Chocolate part

1/2 cup melted butter, cooled 

1/2 cup granulated white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 med-to-large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup plain flour (UK okay) via dip-level-pour method

1/2 cup good (e.g. Green & Blacks in UK) cocoa

1/2 tsp salt

2 oz/60 g of dark chocolate bar (Tesco okay) broken into small pieces

Peanut butter part

1/2 cup 100% peanut butter (mix it up in the jar with a spoon before measuring)

1/8 cup melted butter, cooled

1/4 sifted (or sieved) icing sugar

1/4 salted peanuts (B.A. hides ours, so I had to leave the kitchen while he got them out)


1. Preheat oven to 350 F/180 C.

2. Line 20 cm square tin with enough baking paper so that you can pull it out afterwards.

3.  Just blend the butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla with a whisk.

4. With the whisk, stir in the flour, cocoa and salt until just combined, and then fold in the small chocolate pieces. Too much stirring is bad, apparently, making the brownies more "cakey" and less moist. 

5. Clean off the whisk to whisk together in a separate bowl the peanut butter, 1/8 c melted butter and icing sugar. Then fold in the peanuts. 

6. Randomly throw big spoonfuls of the chocolate batter and the peanut butter batter into the pan. 

7. Draw a swirl through the batter with a knife, but don't mix it up. 

8. Put the tin in the oven and bake just until it no longer jiggles when you shake it. For my oven, that was exactly 30 minutes. Start checking at 23 minutes, says the author. If you put a fork or toothpick in, it should come out dirty. 

9. Take out the tin and check that even the top-middle is firm to the touch. Then leave to finish baking, as it were, in the tin outside the oven for 10 minutes. Then take the brownie bake out with the baking paper to cool in the paper on your cooling rack. Don't give into the temptation to scrape sweet peanut butter off the paper with your finger, or you will burn yourself.

10. When it is throughly cooled, cut it into 8 bars with a bread knife. 

Sweet and salty, it goes very nicely with vanilla ice-cream. It is also reminiscent of the excellent peanut butter chocolate brownies at Edinburgh's Stockbridge's "The Pastry Section". Naturally it would be banned from every primary school in the West. 


Peanut butter is not the staple in the UK that  it is in the USA and Canada, but fortunately we can get the peanuts-only version in Tesco as well as the kind with nasty palm oil. 

As children, my siblings and I loved Reese's Peanut Butter Cups advertisements on television, which usually involved some sort of slapstick in which quarrelling chocolate and peanut butter fans collided and accidentally invented the chocolate + peanut butter concept. During one of B.A.'s hospitalisations, I went to a Hotel Chocolat outlet for some expensive comfort in the form of chocolate-and-peanut bars. They were very fattening, but whatever gets you through, eh? 

Sunday 1 August 2021

Home Economics Edition

This, though, is free.

Happy August! It's a brand new month of penny-watching for me, keeper of the household accounts, with four blank pages of my paper Expense Tracker to fill in. We're now eight months in to my ten year project, which is to pay off the mortgage and lay a nest egg. The nest egg will hopefully hatch a golden goose to keep us safe and warm in our childless (weep, weep) old age.   

Naturally I ask myself why we didn't start this ten years ago. As a matter of fact, we began taking stabs at it in 2017, which is how we managed to save up a down payment. One interesting thing about money is that if you don't watch it, it completely disappears, but if you do watch it, some of it sticks around. 

I emphasise "some." Life in the UK is expensive, perhaps notoriously so. It is probably one of the best countries in the world for rich people. There are so many delightful things and pastimes here for the rich. If we were rich, we would buy an 18th century townhouse in Edinburgh's West End, go stalking after deer, and pop down to London for the opera. B.A. would frequent the great auction houses, and I would indulge my passion for clothing Made in Britain to a greater extent.  (She sighed.)

To return to reality, I read a lot of personal finance blogs of my fellow not-rich, and I love poring over their household expense accounts. It's fascinating, and the authors are usually pseudonymous, so they don't mind. However, I am no longer pseudonymous, so we will just look at our monthly food bills. 

The excitement! 

I have picked the food bills because they belong to one of the few areas of monthly expenses that we can actually control. The energy bills are somewhat unpredictable, as they are not based on our actual use as much as what the energy companies think they can get away with before we change providers. The phone/broadband bill is like that, too. We halved our phone bill by calling British Telecom and threatening to go elsewhere. 

Another reason to pick the food bills is because it is a major contrast to living expenses in the southern parts of Canada and the entire USA. That said, we do not usually go to the very cheapest supermarkets, which are Aldi, Lidl and Iceland, but to middle-of-the-road Tesco, and we take occasional forays into snazzy Waitrose and high-minded Real Foods.

The reason for this is not snobbery but opportunity: we simply live closer to Tesco. Also, the cut-rate supermarkets don't always have everything we need when we need it. And Waitrose has my favourite coffee, and sometimes even puts it on sale. 

Right. Now steel yourselves. January was a doozy. RCBT means Restaurants/Cafes/Bars/Takeaway.

Food-and-drink Expenditure in 2021

January 2021: Groceries--£455.47; RCBT--£112.65; Coffee subscription: £12.95

February 2021: Groceries--£299.70; RCBT--£45.15; Coffee sub.: £12.95

March 2021: Groceries--£308.75; RCBT--£25.30; Coffee sub.: £12.95

April 2021: Groceries--£361.71; RCBT--£69.03; Coffee sub. £12.95

May 2021: Groceries--£350.34; RCBT--£344.45; Coffee sub. £12.95

June 2021: Groceries--£389.75; RCBT--£67.60; Coffee sub.--CANCELLED

July 2021: Groceries--£321.52; RCBT--£150.80

Explanatory Notes

I didn't start writing down what we spent when and where until April, so I am not sure why we spent so much in January. That we weren't paying attention is my best guess. 

The dramatic dip in February and March is thanks to Lent. 

The jump in April is thanks to Easter feasting. 

The massive RCBT bill in May is thanks in part to a April/May holiday in North Berwick and in part to a May trip to Cambridgeshire to see friends. A takeaway fish supper for two in North Berwick costs £17.90, and a sit-in Thai supper for four in that particular English town costs £85.90. Both, incidentally, were exquisitely delicious. We had TWO fish suppers in North Berwick, as it happens, because--let's face it--the North Berwick Fry is itself a good reason to holiday in North Berwick. 

I cancelled my coffee subscription when I found the same coffee on sale at Waitrose and reluctantly admitted to myself that it has been some time since the harshest lockdown had been lifted. 

Speaking of lockdown, the RCBT bill also increased thanks to lockdown lifting. For the time being, we can go to pubs, bars, cafes, and restaurants almost as normal. Booking ahead is usually necessary and naturally we have to sign in with either a pen or our smartphones. To a certain extent, social life has returned indoors, and that means "paying the rent,"  as it were. 

(I'll never forget handing over thermos flasks at a pub to fill with beer and then drinking the beer with B.A. on a bench by the river. It was very cold, and I got very tipsy.)  

In July, B.A. and I celebrated Canada Day in a Canada-themed restaurant and that Saturday splurged in a cocktail bar. The next week, B.A. picked up the tab at the pub for himself and his mates, and we had breakfast rolls in a humble cafe. Mid-month, I met my pupils and their maths teacher for a pizza lunch, and B.A. met some friends from his former workplace for sodas. In between there were a snack attack at the "Mac Shack" (which sells macaroni-and-cheese), a Gregg's savoury pastry, and two scrumptious Sunday pastries. As you see, it doesn't take much to spend £150.80 on eating out in Scotland.  

Meanwhile, as B.A. will undoubted say as he reads this post, fresh food is expensive. Not so homemade apple cider and elderflower champagne, however, thank goodness!

UPDATE (August 3): They do say you should never compare, but I was excited to see the June food costs for the Fire Shrink, as he too lives in the UK: He's beating himself up for spending just north of £500.