Tuesday 26 October 2021

Kindness from all as the solution to baby noise at Mass

Let's go to the cathedral!

Too many issues are treated as if they were a football game. People almost demand that others take sides. I was just reading a Twitter conversation that began, roughly, "It's so cringe when a priest of a trad parish makes parents take noisy kids outside." Someone asked "Why is it cringe?" and then there were variations on "A parish not crying is dying" and even accusations that priests who ask people to take out children are infected with American Puritanism and that pews are a Protestant invention in the first place.

My thoughts on the last sentiments are the following:

1. Questioning your traditional Catholic priest's decisions regarding how the Traditional Latin Mass will unfold sounds imbued with American Puritanism to me.

2.  Thank you, Protestants, if you invented pews.  

I have been going to a Traditional Latin Mass for 13 years now, and I have seen the congregation transform from a small community dominated by adults without child-aged children to two congregations greatly boosted by both young and middle-aged couples with small children. It is truly a joy to see so many children, and the fact that parents with children have decided to join our congregation has led to at least one couple with children joining themselves. 

As a result, there is now a far amount of babbling and some weeping although I can't recall any full-throated wailing lately. I suspect the parents of the babies, being kindly, conscientious people, take out the babies when they really get going. And that is a very good thing because, as I suspect the Original Tweeter has never considered, it is hard for a priest to celebrate Mass in Latin (or, I imagine, any second language) when someone near you is screaming at the top of his or her lungs. Priests are not Mass-saying machines, and saying Mass is not as simple as reading aloud. 

On the other hand, babies do scream and toddlers occasionally yell if they're not allowed to toddle, and it is passive-aggressive and unkind for other people in the congregation to shoot meaningful looks at their parents. (Sometimes, by the way, these are just looks of curiosity, though, especially if it is the pathetic mewling of a very new baby. I love to look at new babies.) However, if the looker drove all the way from Aberdeen that morning just to get to the Traditional Latin Mass, changed a flat tire on the way, and got to Mass dripping wet, I can understand his frustration.

I used to sit at the back of our church in the choir stalls with the Men's Schola (which is no more: we now have a Mixed Choir), and the Schola, which sang many complicated things demanding much concentration, was put off by babies screaming, let alone by toddlers running up and down the aisles. At the same time, one of my friends was utterly suffused with agonised embarrassment whenever her own baby (and then babies) began just to babble.

My own Schola Wife plan, if God blessed us with a child, was to see if I were blessed with a screamer rather than a sleeper, and if so, to take him to the Cathedral instead. There he could scream to his heart's content to the strains of John Michael Talbot and the St. Louis Jesuits. 

No, I'm kidding. I would have taken him out to the Cathedral's cavernous foyer once he turned purple or, even better, stayed at home with him while B.A. was at Mass and then toddled off to the Cathedral's Polish Guitar Mass after B.A. came home. 

None of this came to pass, of course, so I cannot say if I really would have put this plan into action. But for me, the real rivalry at Mass is not between Families with Babies/Toddlers and Everyone Else but between the Priest and the Choir. If I were Queen of the Parish, instead of just the veteran After-Mass Coffee Lady, I would put "Reserved for families with babies and toddlers" signs on the pews farthest from the Altar, which means the pews nearest the Choir. 

In short, the only solution to the perpetual problem of babies babbling and toddlers toddling at Mass is kindness from everyone old enough to make that choice.

Parents of the under-4 set should be kind to the priest, first of all, by placing themselves as far from the Altar as possible. 

Other parishioners should be kind to these parents and the priests by leaving these pews free for them. 

Parents of the under-4 set would then be kind to the other congregants by taking their babies out (or to the door to more comfortably jiggle them) when the babies cry and by bribing their toddlers with chocolate if they remain in their pew for the duration of Mass. (Well, this worked on me.)

Congregants would be kind to the parents if they refrain from turning around and staring, let alone--as I know happens occasionally elsewhere--hissing their displeasure. I worry for the souls of people like that, and presumably their priests do, too, which is why they occasionally put themselves on the firing line by asking parents to take out their children when they scream. 

As a non-parent, the admonition that worked best against my desire for the Ultimate Mass Experience was the suggestion that if you want a monastery-like Mass, you should have joined a monastery. But as an old-fashioned baby-loving gal, the revelation that worked best against my siding completely with parents was that celebrating Mass is hard work. When my dad was doing serious mental work down in his home office, we kids were not allowed anywhere near him. It's a thought. 

Saturday 23 October 2021

Were Clubs Fun?

There are a rash of articles in the UK newspapers about young women left reeling or semi-paralysed after their drinks were spiked or, even more chillingly, after they were injected with date rape drugs. My first thought this morning, on seeing the latest story, was something like "Holy cow! Stay out of pubs and clubs!" But my next thought was "Easy for me to say when I have stopped going to clubs and never go to a pub without my husband." 

Spiking drinks is not new, of course, and when I was a slim young thing frequenting Goth clubs (see above) and, much more rarely, Top-40 places, I either finished my drink before I left the table, or I yelled "Watch my drink" over the music at my most capable companion. I remember the Age of AIDS, so the idea of strangers stabbing the unsuspecting with syringes horrifies me on many levels. 

How fun were clubs? When I was a child reading about clubs in Time or the Toronto Star, they sounded like the most fun in the world. I couldn't understand why my parents, who had money and IDs, didn't go. When I was a young teen, my mother strictly forbade me from going to clubs, so my guilt when the parish youth group snuck into "Sparkles" was intense. 

"Sparkles" was incredibly boring, by the way, and I don't think it lasted long in that residential neighbourhood. Most teens or 20-somethings living within 20 miles of downtown Toronto and looking for noisy fun on a Saturday night made their way there. It took me forever to realise this, however, so I had more than one extremely boring evening under a glitter ball in a noisy suburban box.  

Downtown clubs could be scary, though, and even revolting. I enjoyed dancing, but I did not enjoy being approached by strangers. I enjoyed drinking too, if I was with friend who were also drinking. I vaguely recall a boozy night in the Queen Street West dance clubs with my pal Lily while home from Boston College. I also seem to remember us having taken a Jesuit scholastic to Velvet Underground although surely I am making that up. Surely we did not do that. Surely not. 

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that clubs were fun although it took me a while to figure out which clubs were more fun than they were dull or distressing. They were rarely as fun as I'd thought they'd be, though, and my advice to a young beginner is to have a taxi company on speed dial and go home as soon as she sees ennui creeping around the corner.  

Some readers will object that young people should not be in clubs at all, for they are dungeons of sin and vice, but I'm afraid such talk will imbue them with dark glamour. When I was a teenager, a much more effective means of convincing the young was telling them that something was boring. One of my religion teachers discouraged our class from watching The Last Temptation of the Christ by telling us that it was boring. My mother discouraged me from wanting to go to rock concerts by telling me that they were boring and if you want to hear the music, you should buy the album. (My mother had the chance to see The Beatles at Maple Leaf Gardens but chose not to go because she knew she wouldn't hear anything except girls screaming.) 

Another deterrent, if you are determined to keep youngsters out of dance clubs, is to explain that they are not primarily a place to cut loose on the dance floor--as the innocent young probably think--but a warehouse where sex-minded adults seek other sex-minded adults for sex. Therefore, a young lady should not be shocked if, for example, a very drunk young man wearing comedy breasts dances up to her and shouts "Touch my breasts!" And this sex-mindedness is also the reason why they have to guard their drinks. 

The religion teacher who successfully put us off watching The Last Temptation of Christ also said that when he saw what we wore to dances, he wanted to kit us out in suits of armour. After reading these injection stories, I feel the same way about young women in general. Of course, they will not understand this, just as we didn't understand our religious teacher and some of my classmates were affronted. ("Men should control themselves," etc.) Innocent or ignorant, we just couldn't understand the Niagara River that is adolescent male sexual desire and the lengths to which some men, especially evil ones, will go for relief. 

It seemed--and is--incredibly unfair that men would resent young women for being simultaneously attractive and unwilling to have sex with them. Didn't they know that we could get pregnant? Didn't they know that our immigrant parents would throw us out of the house? Didn't they know that we wanted to get married one day? What were they thinking?

Yeah, so, male desire throws "thinking" right out the window, something extremely hard to explain to a teenage girl who thinks she knows everything.

At any rate, to get back to pubs and clubs, pubs are a deeply beloved feature of British life, and they function as a sort of communal neighbourhood living-room. It would be sad if young women just stopped going to them. My advice to anyone worried about being drugged in pubs is to pick a reputable local pub and make it her own. She could go with friends always to the same pub, or only to pubs at least one of the friends usually goes to, and get to know the staff. If the pub is okay with dogs, she could bring her dog.  She should never leave her drink unattended, and she should have a taxi company on speed dial. She should know her limit--mine is inconveniently 3/4 of a pint--and stick to it. Historically women in Scotland didn't go to pubs and, although this might be overly cautious, I won't sit in one alone.  

As for dance clubs, I have no applicable up-to-date advice except "go with responsible friends" and "discuss how much to drink beforehand" and "never leave anyone in the group alone", "have a taxi company on speed dial" and "find something else to do during Freshers' Week."  I keep wanting to say I stopped going to dance clubs after my friend Clara and I got followed around Edinburgh's The Hive by what seemed to be an uncle-nephew tag team, but that wouldn't be true, for I went to Balkanarama after that, and when it wasn't boring or tedious (the queue for the grubby loo was eternal), it was quite fun.   

Thus, the answer to my question is that clubs were sometimes fun, and sometimes distressing, and often dull. But I had so much fun in a dance club in Frankfurt-am-Main, I wrote a Graham Greene tribute novel about it. (I hasten to say, however, that I have neither lived in sin with the grand-nephew of a German archbishop nor indulged in club drugs.)  

Update: In reading another story, I was moved by the words of a teenager who said that she was "just trying to enjoy her first year of university." The illusions of the young--encouraged by the entertainment industry--are so sad, as is the fact that many of the activities we turn to in search of enjoyment we would find unbearable without alcohol. 

Update 2: And I would add to my advice to go to small clubs where people clearly go for the music itself--a speciality interest place, like where salsa-fans go to salsa--not to a big, sweaty Top-40 warehouse. Frankly, I am now wondering how to convince young folk not to go anywhere associated with drink-spiking and syringe attacks.

Update 3: I think it might be through convincing them that dance clubs are SO over and that they can think up much more consistently fun things to do themselves. 

Friday 22 October 2021

Fourth Language

When we came home from our holiday in England, I wrote down all the languages for which I have study materials and worked out which ones I use most. I have several kits, lined up like a firing squad, that stare at me accusingly from my desk. 

Deep, deep down, I know that I should get through all 100 lessons of Assimil's German, for German is a family language, spoken recreationally by my parents. 

And I also have Assimil's Spanish because some time ago Benedict Ambrose voiced a desire to go to Spain instead of Italy for once. 

I have Assimil's Ancient Greek, too, but I think we can all agree that finishing this right now would not be practical.  

For some reason, I don't have Assimil's French, even though, as a Canadian with family in Quebec, I really should recover and improve my French. Half my Christmas list comprises people who are fluent in French. French would be even more practical than German. I really should get back to French. French, French, French.

But I have had Teach Yourself's Get Started in Russian on my desk, and it has worked itself subliminally into my consciousness. Fellow language nerds tell me that Russian is a snap compared to Polish, and my buddy is marrying a Russian-American, so someone on her side of the aisle should really give a short speech in the language as a since of good will ....

And then of course my neighbourhood back home has long since been Russified, which reminds me of an amusing story about my mother.

About a thousand years ago, around 1987, my youngest brother would play with the neighbourhood kids. Many were Jewish and sometimes Russian-speaking to boot. (Nowadays there are as probably as many Christian, or post-Christian, Russians as Russian Jews around, but this was not so in the 1980s.) Anyway, boys will be boys and quarrel as well as co-operate, and one of my brother's pals got into a snit and then on the kitchen phone to complain to his (the pal's) mother about my brother. 

He did this this in Russian, secure in the belief that our family was as Anglo, white and boring as supermarket bread, parboiled rice, and mashed potatoes, all of which he could have eaten at our house, and one of which my mother was probably preparing for dinner as the boy complained about her son into the phone across the room. 

"Now is that really true?"snapped my mother, or something similar, in Russian, and my brother's pal dropped the receiver. 

I was not there, but in my mind's eye, I can see him jump. Little did he know that my mother had studied Russian in both high school and university, presumably to become a spy. (She also studied German, which made for a super cover story when she went to Germany shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, allegedly to work in a nursing home. She denies to this day that she was a spy.)

As it happens, I learned my first Russian phrases at my mother's knee. The first was "Иван идет на фабрику," Ivan goes to the factory, and the second was (roughly), "Здравствуйте, человек, купите мне пива," which I believed meant Hi, boys, buy me a beer. It's not quite as grammatical as that, I now know thanks to my new best friend DeepL Translate

Studying Russian is much easier now than then, for now after I finish work I can just go to YouTube and  entertain myself with training materials like this little video, whose soundtrack sounds suspiciously like it was produced by the American military back when Mum was sent to went to Germany. The "Okay, fellas, thanks for your time," is pretty much a giveaway. 

My mother claims she never got as far in Russian as she did in German and French. She used to knit while reading through massive nineteenth century novels in both languages, which is just as impressive as it sounds, and must have come in useful for code writing (or code knitting) while spying in Berlin.  All the same, she seems interested when I told her about my progress last night

"До свидания," she said as we signed off on Skype.

"Do svidanija," I replied.  


Tuesday 19 October 2021

A Week Without News

Sweet triumphalism.

Hello, dear readers! Benedict Ambrose and I returned from our travels on Friday afternoon, and I plugged in my dead phone. Soon after, my phone began to buzz and I found out about the shocking murder of British Catholic MP Sir David Amess and, the next morning, the horrid revelation that a priest who knew him had rushed to the site to give him Last Rites and the police wouldn't let him in. 

That was the end of my news-free peace, but for once this was news the public (or the Catholic part of it, anyway) really needed to know, so that we could do something about it. The more useful thing I did was shoot off Tweets about it, at least one of which got forwarded on to the police. The less useful thing I did was yell at B.A. for trying to calm me down. 

But to lower my heart rate again, let us consider our lovely holiday down south. On Sunday we took a bus and a train, and then another train, and then another bus to the cathedral town of Ely, where a good pal of ours lives in a duplex originally built in the 19th century. We drank beer in a good old-fashioned pub decorated with horse brasses, picked up two pizzas, ate them and went to bed. 

The next day I made soup and pumpkin pie, and B.A. and I went to Evensong at Ely Cathedral while our pal was busy in Cambridge. We had a lamb tagine for supper, and it was very good. 

The day after that was Tuesday, the day we had designated observe Canadian Thanksgiving (which had actually been the day before). This was a lower key affair than I had planned, for B.A.  is a big Evensong fan and the one Evensong he wanted to go to was that evening at Kings College Cambridge. We had a  lovely afternoon in Cambridge, therefore, looking at painting is the Fitzwilliam Museum and scarfing Chelsea bun in Fitzbillie's across the street before queuing up by the College gates. 

Cambridge was beautiful, by the way, despite the rain. 

Then on Wednesday we all went to an antique market in Ely where I bought a number of Christmas presents, for I am avoiding the last minute Amazon scramble this year, and then my pal and I took care of a dog. I think it was a Labrador retriever of some sort, about 13 months old, and extremely energetic. We took it on two walks and played with it in the garden, and it was some hours before, tuckered out, he curled up beside me on the sofa and put his head on my knee. It was then that I realised that I really don't have time for a dog and will have to wait until I have retired before I can get one. 

We had duck for supper. 

Thursday was another Cambridge day. B.A. proposed visiting my childhood home which, incidentally, is probably one of only two of my childhood homes still standing. This time I sat down a lot to try to see the woods, the "field" (i.e. grassy square), and the duck pond from my earliest perspective. I'm afraid the woods and field were still weirdly small, but the view of the duck pond was correct. 

Our next Cambridge port of call was Our Lady and the English Martyrs Catholic Church, which is a beautiful structure built in 1900, very much in the face of disapproving non-Catholic Cantabs. There's a whole row of windows dedicated to Cardinal John Fisher, and you can tell who Margaret More is because her handbag is embossed with MEG. The high altar is still intact, for when Catholics who hate Catholic tradition try to destroy such things in Britain, the government says No. Ah, irony. Irony is not just a course I took in grad school, but a living, breathing thing. 

Next we went to Heffers Bookshop to buy more Christmas presents and a new Italian textbook, for I love to buy language books even more than I love to study languages. B.A. mostly sat quietly in a comfortable chair and read. He carried on this activity in the Cambridge University Press bookshop, where I was almost afraid to breathe, so rarefied was the air inside. I looked for friends in Theology and family in Linguistics, but found only our enemies. The top-of-the-line language books in CUP were too expensive, and they didn't have Polish in their "Using..." series, so I wasn't TOO tempted. (The Italian "Using..." books were less tempting for I had already bought an Italian textbook.) 

Then we went back to Fitzbillie's to meet our pal and have a snack before we all went together to St. John's College to hear Evensong. We sat right behind half of the choir in the choir stalls, and B.A. liked this Evensong best. One of the readings was from the writings of Sr. Joan Chittister, which was a surprise, but the main thing was that the music was Elizabethan, just the way B.A. likes Evensong to be. 

Dinner, I see, was leftover duck with ginger and spring onions. 

On Friday, we all got up at 6AM so B.A. and I could catch the train to Peterborough, where we caught the train to Edinburgh. I read a pal's manuscript all the way home. 

So those are the highlights of our travels. My primary thought was that I will not spend retirement (when it comes) reading Twitter but doing the kinds of things I do on holiday: visiting friends, going to religious services, cooking, going for walks with a dog, staring at paintings with B.A., correcting manuscripts, studying languages, and spending money in bookshops and tearooms. 

By the way, we went to the Vigil Mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh on Saturday night, and I felt a bit teary singing "One Bread, One Body," for it reminded me of when I was a child. This, I realised, was that nostalgia people who dislike people who love the Traditional Latin Mass keep accusing us of. It is a bit silly, really. I'm no spring chicken, but I started going to the New Rite the Sunday after I was born. Of course, I also felt a tad teary because when I was a child, I thought all Catholics really were "One Body in this One Lord," but now I can't imagine a Mass celebrated by Fr. Martin, say, in which Massimo Faggioli shared a hymnbook with Peter Kwasniewski. So that's a bit sad. 

But the plus side is that I didn't feel at all uncomfortable in the Anglican Evensongs, possibly because the buildings were so old all yr cthdrl & chpl really belong to us. Also, I was with B.A., the ex-Piskie, and he knows his way around a choir stall. In the choir stalls of Ely Cathedral, I thought how nice it was to be totally ignorant of contemporary Anglican politics--with the exception of Michael Nazar-Ali swimming the Tiber, which B.A. told me about during my internet fast. 

Friday 8 October 2021

Internet fast

I'm not going to be typing for a whole nine days. Yes, it is time for my October holidays, and although I will not be spending them in Golden Poland or Glorious Rome, I will be spending them offline. 

My plans are to copyedit an English translation of a Polish novel (on paper with a pen) and to do all the exercises my physiotherapist said to do. I will also be making pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkins found at Tesco and plotting new ways to save money. 

Hopefully my arm will be restored to health, and my brain will become all pink, spongy and pliable again.

Wednesday 6 October 2021

Traditional Catholicism Offline

Yesterday I read recent tweets by a Catholic former apologist (or a former Catholic anti-apologist), and I was dismayed by a remark he made that suggested he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ only because the Church told him to. 

Now call me crazy with Protestant grandparents, but that is giving the current generation living way too much power. And it's unclear whether by "Church" the writer included his own parents or grandparents or whoever told him about the Lord Jesus Christ in the first place. 

Like most cradle Catholics, I imagine, I was evangelised by my Catholic parents. They to me from a  children's Bible and gave me pretty children's devotional material to read  look at during Mass. They always said Grace before supper (but only at supper and only at home), so from infancy I learned that A) there was a Lord who could hear us despite being invisible B) who might choose to bless us, what ever that meant C) and who had produced the food before us D) and owned all of Nature and E) Christ was another Lord, or this same Lord, whom we addressed in the Name that/this Lord. Somehow, this never confused me. 

My parents also taught us to pray before we went to sleep and took us to Mass, which was in the Ordinary Form and, in fact, at one of the most "progressive" parishes in the city. There was a folk choir and altar girls and when asked in Junior Kindergarten to draw God I drew the priest and my brother drew the cantor. Despite Mass being in the oh-so-holy vernacular, I was more interested in what I could see, and so I knew what was going on at the altar was The Most Important Thing Ever and that, therefore, it was a tad problematic when the priest said he was going to cut his homily short because of the upcoming football game.

(That said, this priest remained at his post when others fled and is still at his post today. The associate priest I admired for his obvious piety left to get married.)

Something else thing I could see, and from which I learned much, were woodcuts of the Way of the Cross. Presumably they were modern, but they definitely told the story, and they presented a wiry Craftsman who suffered really a lot, but in the end it meant something great. Any number of fat and venal Churchmen may tell us lies, but those woodcuts did not. I strongly suspect the maker was very, very aware that Jesus, too, worked with wood. 

Not only can children absorb faith in the Lord Jesus Christ before they set foot in any official catechism class or listen to a single apologist, they can learn traditional Catholicism in the middle of the most right-on guitar Mass in town. 

The reason why I am writing out these personal details (which long-time readers will have read before) is to root Traditional Catholicism in the lived experience of a child who grew up and was 37 before she was properly introduced to the Traditional Latin Mass. But I want to underscore that I am only one of tens of thousands of Catholics who go to the TLM on Sundays, and that many (if not most) of us don't speak English as our first language and most of us aren't blogger, journalists, or social media personalities. 

I mention this because there have also been recent tweets bashing this "Trad" personality and that "Trad" writer,  and to me it all looks like men snarling at other men over hurt feelings or worries over money. (There is a cruder expression which would disgrace my cloth, i.e. the Indestructible Maxi-skirt of Female Traddery, if I used it.) And what very much annoys me about all this is that the communications that appear on toxic Twitter are represented as the "Tradosphere," when the very real, very rich life of the worldwide TLM Catholic community happens offline. 

Of course, there are communications online. For example, I was asked by email to cater a TLM Catholic community event in another town, and after two face-to-face conversations with pertinent men, I sent another email explaining why I could not and what I could do instead. 

But this lacked all the high drama of Twitter: the misunderstanding, the blaming, the frustration, the disappointment, the score-setting, and the score-starting. And in reality the important person in this story is whoever does cater the TLM Catholic community event in the end, and I am 99% sure it will be someone of whom the general public has never heard, but is deeply loved by the people he or she most cares about.

To return to this whole idea of believing in Christ only because the Church tells us to, I want to mention a convert I know who turned to Christ because a lifetime of dabbling in the occult had left her terrified, terrorised, and in real, immediate need of a Saviour. She is, as a matter of fact, now safe in the bosom of the Church, Mater et Magistra, but for her--and I know because I asked about this when she first told me she was thinking of fleeing there--Jesus came first. 

Tuesday 5 October 2021

Pool and Shelf

Photo by C. Dowson: a neighbourhood landmark.

A question from a reader from a sunnier district of North America: Is it practical to have a backyard swimming pool in Toronto?  The answer is that Toronto has three seasons: rain, winter and July. July sometimes visits in April, melting the snow. Then it goes away, and the mercury sinks into a depression. Then it comes back, and the mercury soars.

July spends what other people call spring going back to and forth from Toronto like a Western University student who wants Mum to do his laundry. July then settles in more or less around the Feast of John the Baptist/the Summer Equinox and begins to steam.  

Given a choice, my own mother prefers to spend the hottest part of July in gentle, constant Europe. But sometime in May, my father goes out and takes the cover off the pool, tinkers in the pool shed (aka "the pump house" which sounds he is in Georgian Bath), and turns the green water blue. However, for months the pool will have been full of life and interest, thanks to the various avian visitors, especially the ducks. Ducks love the pool and swim around the deep puddles in the pool cover. Sometimes it attracts lovely little birds, too, like lemon-yellow American goldfinches. It seems that the pool is a rest stop for birds on their way to and from a wilderness conservation park. This makes staring out the very large kitchen window a profitable activity. 

Jealously, my mind races back to another large kitchen window, the one in the Old House, through which my mother could easily watch her numerous children running around or lazily swinging in the back yard. (Now that my half-British ethnic background is the daily foreground, I am more inclined to call it a back garden. However, such a thing would never have occurred to me when I lived in the Old House.) Then we did something she disliked, she would rap on the window, scowl, and wave her finger. 

But I didn't plan on writing about windows but shelves, specifically the shelf over the dining-room door, which was (now that I think about it) more of a cubby hole. It is October, so naturally we in elementary school would have thought of little else but Thanksgiving for the first half of the month and then Halloween thereafter. Catholic school though it was, we spent art classes making colourful graveyards  with chalk-white ghosts and animated skeletons out of construction paper.

Since my mother was against everyday candy--and how right she was---Halloween was a kind of Mardi Gras in our house. The normal ban on candy was lifted, and candy could be consumed--slowly--until that sad day there was nothing left but molasses kisses, which even we would (unless desperate for a fix) leave be.

How to stop children from eating all their Hallowe'en trick-or-treat candy at once? Put it on a high shelf and forbid them from touching it. This works when they are very small, but it is less effective when, if they stand on the kitchen stool, they can just touch the edge of their baskets.  I don't have any clear memory of doing this myself, but I have this deep intuitive knowledge that suggests that I did. I wonder if I mentioned it in confession. I am reasonably sure I would have thought it a very bad sin to pilfer something from one of my sibling's baskets, and I hope I didn't do that. 

Incidentally, I hope I do not have to tell my adult audience, who all presumably have money for their own sweets, how wicked it is for parents, who can just go to a shop whenever they like, to steal their minor children's Hallowe'en candy.

At any rate, the normal procedure for getting candy out of the baskets was to ask "Can I have a treat?" and wait until a parent had retrieved our baskets and offered us a choice. Naturally the first choice would be the Hostess potato chips, as chips were just as rare in our daily life as, say, Glossett chocolate raisins, or Reese's peanut butter cups. The Reese's pbc would, of course, be second choice, and then we would gradually munch through all the little chocolate bars, the M &Ms and the Smarties, and then on to the tootsie rolls, the lollipops, and the red liquorice. The hard candy, though someone disappointing, would do, but the black liquorice and the molasses kisses were, as it were, merely cigarette butts scrounged from the sidewalk. Fortunately, by then we were almost at December, with its promise of candy canes and chocolates disguised as coins or Santa Claus. 

Even a shelf over a dining-room door can have absolutely magical properties when you are a child, something C.S. Lewis must have intuited when he described Diggory and Polly exploring the joined attic of a London row house and Lucy opening the wardrobe door. Naturally I tried to find Narnia at the back of my parents' closet (who doesn't), but my mild disappointment has been replaced by a sense of wonder at the oddness of that narrow tunnel. My own closet, which was only about 3 feet high, was rather strange too, now that I think about it. 

The Old House, let's face it, was weird. It began existence as a small bungalow, and then a granny flat was added to the top, and then (if I have the order right) a kitchen and dining-room were added to the back. The sidling panel by the back door revealing boots almost concealed a passageway to the basement and my father's pile of lumber.  The basement, which was very big, contained a cool and dismal room where the furnace sulked and the laundry dried in winter. The laundry room (also in this cellar) had a sink and a toilet and counter on which my brother Nulli and I played with the chemistry set. My father's workshop, across the narrow cellar passage from the lumber pile (and behind the boots) was set into the wall, and my mother carried the laundry past it and up concrete stairs into the garden back yard. In winter those stairs and that door were covered up by a kind of wooden false front with a plastic window: perhaps Nulli could explain it better. 

In short, we traded many quirky details for the pool and the private bedrooms. If I could, I would buy the Old House back, just for the sake of keeping it in the family, but it has been demolished and replaced by a monstrosity worth over $2,000,000. The New House (with which I have in fact been acquainted for 35 years) has its own interesting quirks, I suppose, although it lacks the deep and only lately appreciated weirdness of the Old. 

Monday 4 October 2021

Dad's Birthday Party

Prior to events described.

I'm in a nostalgic mood, perhaps because the leaves are falling and also because I haven't been to Canada since January 1, 2020. Every time I think about Christmas 2019, I thank God Benedict Ambrose was finally well enough for transatlantic air travel. That Christmas was the first time ever all my brothers and sisters and their children and my parents and B.A. and I were all together for the holiday. 

For Christians, Christmas is always special, no matter what year it is, but some stand out more in the memory than others. The same goes with birthdays, especially other people's birthdays. The one family birthday I remember more than any other was my father's 40th because my mother organized an old-fashioned men's dinner party, the food cooked by her and served by my 8 year old brother and 9 year old me. But I also remembered it because it was the first time I was seized by fear for my dad because he was so old. Time having sailed onwards, I am older now than he was then. 

I like to write about the house we lived in then, in part because it now exists only in memory. My parents have lived in their current house since the mid-1980s, so perhaps for them (and my two youngest siblings) that is truly home. However, when I think (and dream) about home, what comes to mind is a little white house, bumpy with harling, a lamp post on the small and sloping front lawn, a gravel driveway, and a green milk box by the side door. (That was where, before my time, the Lansing/Willowdale milkmen left milk orders. My neighbouring grandmother had one, too.) 

It was an eccentrically ordered house in that the top floor had been built, or converted, to contain a home for the builder's adult child. This became, I now realise, the general nursery. There was one private room, on the west side of the landing (the house faced south towards the CN Tower and Lake Ontario), and the rest of the rooms created an L:  a former sitting-room, a former kitchen (with a sink), a four foot corridor, with closets on either side, the former adult's bedroom. Until I started high school and requested the private room, I lived in the former sitting-room, my sister in the kitchen, and my brother in the bedroom.When the fourth baby, who got the private room, was dethroned by the fifth baby, his older brother had to share his room. The boys and their middle sister got a modicum of privacy by flinging open the closet doors; sadly, my sister and each other had no privacy from each other, and we both had tempers that would try the patience of a saint, let alone each other. 

However, it could not be helped, for the only door leading to the stairs, the bathroom, the kitchen and freedom belonged to me, the ogre at the gate. When my parents (whose bedroom was on the main floor, under the baby's room) decided their family had outgrown their house, I was delighted at the idea of everyone having "their own room."  And when I was taken to see the top contender for New House, I was utterly beglamoured by the outdoor swimming pool. 

I say "outdoor" swimming pool for a house on the other side of the park had an indoor swimming pool, which even now seems impossibly luxurious. As a child, an outdoor swimming pool was luxury enow. It became one of my father's hobbies: not the swimming, but the covering, uncovering, cleaning, and tinkering with the mysterious machines in the pool shed. 

The pool shed became the new place of imaginary punishment: where a fractious child would theoretically be sent if he or she did not stop kicking his/her brother/sister and finish his/her dinner. The old place of punishment was the basement stairs of the Old House, and as the basement was deep and dank and the stairs rickety, this threat carried much fruit.  However, I don't think anyone could be frightened of the pool shed, even though it is dark, for it is so full of memories, both recent and historical, of my father working cheerfully away in it. It's also a cheerful thought that I associate my father with a clear, blue, rectangular pool of water.  

This year I will not be at my father's birthday party. This will not be unusual, for my annual visit is usually in February. This year, however, I am particularly sorry not to be there, for I have never been way for this long, and never imagined I would go a year, let alone 21 months, without sitting at the dining-room table. Fortunately, one of my sisters and one of my brothers will be there, and my mother will make one of her traditional birthday cakes. And Thanksgiving is coming, and the whole family--minus B.A. and me--will be together again next weekend, which is also a (mostly) happy thought. 

Friday 1 October 2021

Home Economics: September Report

Apple tree on October 1.

It has rained almost every day since I put little wormies on the raised bed to eat the slugs and snails, which  tokens well for my beleaguered rhubarb and blackcurrant bushes. The instructions said to keep the worm-treated area wet for two weeks after application, and the recent weather has saved me the bother of watering. 

I am feeling much better about my skills as a gardener, for I used to compare myself to the reputation of a former occupant, who kept the garden very nicely apparently. I have since concluded that he did this with all kinds of ghastly chemicals, leaving behind dead soil teeming with pests. 

The little wormies, marketed as "Nemaslug," only cost £13.50, but they were perhaps our weirdest purchase this month. Our most life changing purchase was a television for, lo, we have not had one since we left the Historical House over 3 years ago. Televisions have become very large and very flat, but we went with a relatively smaller one, marketed for kitchens and bedrooms, so that it would not dwarf the Interwar Flat. Now we can watch "Montalbano" without getting cricks in our necks from peering at a computer on the coffee table. And of course our most elegant purchase was my boots.

Various expenses piled up, so I was sure we had overspent on food. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that we were under budget on groceries and just over on wicked old restaurants, bars, cafes and takeaways.

September 2021: Groceries--£296; RBCT--£156.89

(August 2021: Groceries--£288.35; RCBT--£153.22)

Groceries are a relatively boring expense, but the RBCT fund was happily spent on (and during) our trip to the Borders (Chinese takeaway; beer and crisps; bottled water from W.H. Smith); Cafe Nero on the way to Carfin; a spontaneous late lunch at the pizzeria after Mass at Carfin; pastries from Twelve Triangles; Chinese takeaway after cider making; B.A.'s pub date with pals; coffee and pastries at La Barantine; and beer and meat pies at the pub where it all began. If that doesn't sound like a lot--well, this is Britain. It's expensive. 

Fuel is going to be super-expensive here this winter, and we can't all go to The Elephant House to keep warm, like J.K. Rowling way back when, because it has been badly damaged by fire. I took a picture, deciding that it's not disaster tourism when you actually live there. Behold:

Apparently there are many reasons gas and electric are going to cost so much in Britain this winter: a combination of not fracking the North Sea, wind farms without wind, having only a two-day reserve, and Russia being mean and sneaky. We are also going to have food shortages because of COVID, the Polish truck drivers and fruit pickers going back to Poland (aka Brexit), and a lack of CO2 to pump into meat. Apparently this CO2 is necessary to extend the shelf-life of meat, and since meat is already kept in cold fridges as it is, this makes me think Lent can't come soon enough. 

One of my financial goals for October is to not turn on the heat. I thought this terribly brave until I found out that most people in Britain don't turn on the heat until we set the clocks back, which this year is on October 31. Nevertheless, SSE took our money right away, so this month we paid £90 in advance for gas and electricity, and a further £9.50 to SSE in boiler insurance. 

A specifically household goal is to always have enough food in the house to weather other people's panic buying. We have many tins of tomatoes and--that reminds me--I must find some tins of pumpkin puree before Canadian Thanksgiving. 

I went to Real Foods today to look, and they were out of pumpkin. A helpful salesgirl told me that the new pumpkin might not arrive until the end of October, and although my eyes bugged in dismay, I did not tell her how unfair it is to have pumpkin in time for the special day for one Edinburgh minority group (Americans) and not for that of the smaller one (Canadians).