It was my birthday recently, and we made up for last year's rather locked-in occasion by going to one of Edinburgh's most celebrated restaurants, The Kitchin in Leith.
Incidentally, it occurs to me that some of my readers may still be locked in themselves. One of the wonders of the internet is that all of us with access to a computer can see what is going on all around the world. Obviously something things are by design harder to find out about, for example, underground Masses, but if there is anything that should be obvious, it is that different countries are handling the COVID emergency differently.
In Scotland we are free to go to restaurants without having to disclose our medical history at the door. The public pressure to continue wearing masks on public transit and in shops is still strong here, however. Fortunately, there is no directive to buy single-use plastic masks made in China, so I wore one of the 3-layer denim masks my mother made us almost two years ago.
The Kitchin has a number of menus, including the lunch menus, which are very good deals for people on a budget. There is a carnivore lunch menu, and a vegetarian lunch menu, and a wine menu, all of which we pursued online before we even got to the restaurant. Benedict Ambrose was enamoured of the thought of cod, but I was strongly attracted to the idea of black truffle grated all over cauliflower done two ways. Thus, he went for the carnivore menu, and I went for the veggie, and we were both very happy.
There were a number of amusing surprises. The first was that there were special chairs for handbags, covered in faux-sheepskin. Presumably this is very nice for the ladies with the status bags, and I thought this high honour for my humble little saddlebag from Leatherworks rather funny. The next one was amuse-bouches: a haddock tartlet with very crispy pastry, cheese, cream, and tiny cubed potatoes, followed by a little pot of cold beetroot veloute with horseradish, apple, and dill. The first was like a delicious summing up of daily Scottish cooking, whereas the second was delightfully Polish. We were also brought a small loaf of hot bread and a quenelle of butter: delicious.
Then came our actual starters--oysters for B.A. and cauliflower with truffles for me--after which I was feeling rather full. Fortunately there was a pause (too long, B.A. thinks) before our main dishes arrived, the cod and octopus mousse in squid-ink tortellini for B.A. and pumpkin veloute with cheese tortellini for me. All splendid. Then there was pudding: we both had rhubarb crisp souffles.
Later young friends joked at B.A.'s supposed parsimony in ordering only half a bottle of wine, but actually I was pleased, for he picked one that was under my mental budget. (The young friends did not seem to consider the cheapskate might be I.) This meant I felt perfectly free to call for coffee, and when coffee came (served in the bar area), it came with two little French almond cakes called financiers. So that was a final nice surprise. Well, not totally final: with tip the whole bill came under budget, and thus I rolled out of The Kitchin feeling both full of delicious things and wonderfully responsible.
Another exciting event of the day was the Synod on Synodality gathering at the Catholic Cathedral's church hall/cafe. We knew that a number of young Catholics we see every Sunday would be there, but we went there, too, to add to their numbers and lend them support. I certainly thought it was going to be open warfare between white-haired 68ers and 20-something traddies, but I was wrong. The situation was very well organised and managed, with everyone encouraged to join tables of people from different parishes, a heavy emphasis on listening, sheets to fill in, and minutes of silence for prayer.
By the way, there was a rather scolding prayer to begin with in which we all admitted we were sinners, promised not to be disruptive, and professed (rather dodgy) that we had only the Holy Spirit to guide us. (It occurred to me that hitherto we have also received much guidance from the Word made Flesh, and that the Holy Spirit, about Whom there is a whole field of study called Pneumatology, is Someone rather more than the deeply cherished hopes of the current pontiff's favourite advisors.) I recognised the style of the prayer, so I acquit anyone in this archdiocese of having written it.
I confess that I was too much of a coward to leave B.A. and join a table dominated by the elderly, and instead found myself at a table with under-50s, including two tradition-friendly young things and three Poles. (B.A., for his part, avoided catching the eye of a famous left-wing octogenarian he knows.) We all got along very well, and I was surprised that the biggest issue for everyone at the table was the atheism/agnosticism of children in local Catholic schools, which we thought could be ameliorated by better catechesis, less dumbing down of the faith, more cooperation between Catholic parents in modelling the faith to their children, and better modelling in general.
The other question we were to discuss was welcoming back lapsed Catholics, and there was more surprisingly frank and truthful talk, for example, that people who have left the Church don't consider themselves Catholics (or Christians) any more and resent being told that they are. We agreed that we should take what they say about their relationship to the Church at face value, listen to their complaints--or very real pain--without feeling responsible for having the "right answers," not lie about what the Church teaches, but do apologise for the scandals and abuses, making it clear that believers, too, are ashamed and angry about what has happened.
Interestingly, someone brought up the scandal caused to non-believers when even the Catholic churches shut down during the pandemic. A non-believer husband exhorted his wife on the subject, saying there must be underground Masses somewhere. Alas, she did not know if or where they were.
Afterwards some of our friends met at a pub to compare notes, and we all had had a good time--it was even "heart-lifting," B.A. said--- and none of us was at the table from which one of us overheard the elderly saying things like "The Church is mean to LGBT people."
By the way, Benedict Ambrose took what I wanted for my birthday at face value and bought me Made-in-Scotland boot socks. If you are in Scotland and feel, as I do, that supporting local industries is important for the well-being of both your own communities and the environment, check out Moggans for your sock needs. If not in Scotland, why not check out what things you can buy made from your own local factories and workshops?