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. 


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