Saturday 17 September 2022

Cider Day 2022

New record! Today we gathered 200 apples and made 11 litres of apple juice. Our production this year was made much, much simpler and more pleasant with our new toy, the apple crusher. The apple crusher was a bit of a splurge, but this is our fifth cider season and I thought we deserved it. Making apple cider is hard physical work, and grinding up quarter apples in our temperamental blender and tiny food processor was the worst part. 

This year our operations were almost entirely outdoors, and although it was initially chilly, the sun shone throughout. I gathered up what good windfalls there were and then got to work picking apples from the tree. Benedict Ambrose assisted in this from a ladder; I enjoyed my annual climb among the branches. As we worked, we spotted a new neighbour on the other side of the tree--a hipster-looking young man with a big beard and a baby in a pram. The young man and then his wife ambled over after we hallooed at them; we encouraged them to make the most of the apples on their side. (They were, in fact, already doing this.) For some reason, our neighbours to our left and right seemed to think they need our permission to take the apples hanging over their gardens.) 

Apples got, we washed and counted them in the bathroom, and then  B.A. lugged them back outdoors in a large blue IKEA bag. I followed to cut the big ones in halves--and cut the badly bruised bits out--and B.A. took great delight in turning the wheel of the apple crusher. At one point we decided to let me cut all the apples before we crushed any more, and I got B.A. to sing me "The Apple Tree Carol." We both got a bit choked up. Point to 17th century Protestant hymnists. 

Apples crushed, B.A. assembled the press, and we made guesses on how much of the thick red-brown apple juice we would get. We thought nine and hoped for ten, and so we were delighted when we got just over eleven. We drank the "just over" bit and it was utterly delicious--sweet and flavoursome, tasting uniquely of our own apples. Meanwhile, I drank a bottle of last year's cider--which B.A. thought was too sweet--as B.A. pressed away. The elimination of the food processor chore had really filled him with energy.

After that we began the labour of washing, disassembling and storing everything. I had two cups of coffee and then set about turning 3 pounds of particularly battered windfalls into apple pie filling. Now there is apple crumble in the oven, and eleven litres of juice in the sitting room awaiting de-yeasting and re-yeasting. 

UPDATE (October 16): We bottled it late (yesterday, October 15), adding 50 g sugar to each of the 2 demijohns a few hours beforehand so that the second fermentation will happen in the bottles. We filled 20 bottles (a record) and a glass from the bottom of each demijohn. Somehow B.A. was able to separate the cider in the glasses from the lees (dead yeast), and it was quite delicious. 

Tuesday 13 September 2022

The Curtsy

Last night Benedict Ambrose and I dressed in tweed and wool and went out after 8 PM to join the queue to see Her Majesty's coffin in St. Giles's Cathedral. B.A. wore a black tie, and I had on a warm purple shawl. We got on a bus near our home, and I periodically checked social media on my phone for updates.

I had had the presence of mind to text a patriotic friend, and he said that he and his wife had waited for 2.5 hours from Summerhall, were now in George Square, and expected to wait another 90 minutes. B.A. and I decided that we were up to waiting for four hours--five, in a pinch. We were amused rather than  discouraged when, as I had been warned, we saw the slowly moving queue inching around every path in the 58+ acre Meadows towards the wristband station. 

It was dark now--getting on for 9 PM--and at a far corner of the Meadows, acrobats were juggling with fire. There was no rain, and it wasn't very cold. The atmosphere was patient and expectant, determined and almost cheerful. We followed the crowd--which included all ages and races but seemed predominantly adult and Scottish-- backward almost to its beginning, when something happened.

The something was a short, retired academic who made a bee-line for my husband, presumably because birds of a feather flock together and B.A. was wearing not only a tweed suit but a watch chain. The  man informed us that he was off, for the security women had told him that the wait would be 12 hours, and that this was too long for him. 

"But what a slap in the eye for the SNP, eh?" he demanded jovially, and we agreed that the 12-hour queue of patriots was a glorious sight and that the separatists, republicans, and other enemies of the Realm must be entirely downcast. Our interlocutor then gave us his opinion of the First Minister of Scotland, the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and His Majesty the King, and we felt a bit embarrassed. His "partner," still in Greece, to which he has retired and where he normally lives, had told him that--given this trio--Britain is doomed, etc. 

As he continued on, I excused myself to ask the security women how long the wait would be, and they told me, too, that the wait would be 12 hours. After five years in news journalism, I don't trust anyone, so I asked another security guard farther along, who said 13. And the police officer I quizzed at the beginning (that is, where we would have taken our places) of the queue said 13 or 13 and a half. 

By this time, Benedict Ambrose had escaped our imperfectly monarchist new pal, and we agreed with relief and sorrow that we would have a drink and go home, as B.A. had to start work in 12 hours. And, bizarrely, I felt furious because I didn't really believe the wait would be 12 hours and I hate quitting.

I really hate quitting. Quitting is my pet peeve. I get annoyed when other people quit. I even get annoyed when B.A. says, in a cheerful and completely inoffensive tone, that he doesn't understand the point to space exploration. When he says things like that, my American ancestry comes to the fore and says things like "The problem with you British these days is that you don't hustle," like a cartoon Yank in an Agatha Christie novel. And I hate quitting so much because  I quit my Ph.D, and although I was literally mentally ill at the time, I still think that I shouldn't have quit. 

That said, I thought when I was on the bus this morning, instead of entirely quitting, I retreated from the horrors of contemporary academic theology until I started working for LSN, and now I give comfort and support to traditional theologians like Peter Kwasniewski and edit reportage on the machinations of the German Synodal Way. Being a believing John Paul II Catholic (with strong traditional tendencies that flowered later), there is no way I could have flourished in the Americanist Catholic theological establishment. However, I lived to fight another day. 

I got on the bus at about 7:30 AM, bound once again for George Square. To my infinite relief, there was no queue at all in the Meadows. I went straight to George Square and followed the queue there backwards to the edge of the Meadows, where there were security guards handing out wristbands. I got a blue wristband (green wristbands were fast tracked, interesting) and hurried with the scattered crowd down Potter Row past the Edinburgh University Chaplaincy building and then down West College Street where the queue firmed up. Before long, I was on Chambers Street, silently praying my Rosary outside the National Museum of Scotland.

It was (and is) very sunny, and it was certainly cold enough then for me to be glad of all the tweed and wool I was wearing, not to mention my purple shawl. Two young police officers, cheerful and going off shift, joked that the wait from there was 12 hours. One of them asked the queue how we were feeling, and a woman said "Jolly!"

"Oh, the poor wee sweetheart," said the young police officer, presumably meaning the late Queen. But it is true that the queue, though relatively quiet, was not particularly sad. I wondered to what extent social media and FOMO (fear of missing out) had brought the crowds out, especially when I heard American accents on George IV Bridge. 

I also heard Italian and beheld a very tanned young man with a video camera. There were a number of journalists and camera people on George IV Bridge, and I studiously ignored them. My hair was (and is) a total mess, and I arguably have a tourist accent myself. At any rate, I escaped journalistic notice and placed the contents of my pockets (rosary, wallet, passport, paperback, phone) into a plastic box. A burly security guard waved a wand over me, I collected my things and turned a corner, and St. Giles's appeared before me. It came as a complete surprise. Despite living here for 13 years, I had forgotten it was so close to George IV Bridge. 

So the moment came. I pulled my shawl over my sadly messy bun, about which I can do nothing until I have two free hours, bid good morning to a uniformed man on duty at the door, and went in. The old Cathedral, which began Catholic (of course) and has ended up Church of Scotland, looked better than usual. Indeed, with flowers and the standard-covered coffin, it looked majestic. I slowed my pace so I didn't just trot past the Queen like an automaton, took in the ambo--at which my own Archbishop read the Epistle at yesterday's Service--and the Crown of Scotland, and curtsied before the coffin.

Benedict Ambrose saw me. Amazingly, he had the live-feed on and looked up just as my face appeared on the television screen. He saw me bob up and down and then walk on with a sorrowful face, purse-lipped.  Somehow, he stopped the transmission (I haven't worked this out) and rewound. 

Thus, when I telephoned to say I had been successful, he explained why he knew. I looked at the time: it was 10 AM. 

So I must conclude that our anti-SNP interlocutor, the security guards, and the police all did B.A. and I a favour by telling us the wait would be 12 or 13 hours. My wait today was probably no more than an hour and half. Having never met the Queen or seen her in person, I was at least able to pay my respects to her coffin, and thanks to the miracle of technology--and Providence--Benedict Ambrose was there with me, too.

Monday 12 September 2022

Just like ten years ago

Polish Pretend Son has been in Edinburgh with his wife and child, my god-daughter. or c√≥rka czestna. as I described her to my summer school teachers. Yesterday was their last day in Scotland, so I made the ultimate trad sacrifice by going to my local parish Saturday Vigil Mass, and spent the morning making Sunday lunch. And hoovering. I hate hoovering. 

Two members of the Men's Schola (besides Benedict Ambrose), which took its talents to the Anglican Ordinariate some time ago, were present as well, so it was a party of seven, including my 2-year-old Godling. She was rightly indignant when she did not (at first) get a starter. 

PPS and family are the opposite of vegans: they eat almost nothing except animal products and fermented foods teeming with lactic acid bacteria. Apparently the infant amuses people with her hungry demands for meat, and I did note her excitement in our local butcher shop. (The senior butcher was charmed; he noted with professional pride that she looked a lot older than two--and indeed, she is usually tall, slim and graceful.) When the carnivores first arrived, B.A and I ate rather more meat than we usually do, and the morning after a blow-out featuring black pudding, lamb chops, hamburger patties, and steak, I was horribly ill. Therefore, for this dinner party we took it easy and served guacamole before the   gammon and a chocolate meringue tart (aka "Poison," to use PPS's expression) afterwards. 

Mrs PPS seemed impressed by my ability to turn out a variety of [poisonous] sugar-laden cakes and bakes,  and rather swiftly, too. When B.A. and I were staying with her last month, she set me to making low-sugar shortbread, which after 13 years in Britain, I could do like winking. Not for nothing did Emma Thompson call the UK "cake-filled." If called upon to describe traditional British culture as still lived today, I would say "Cake, biscuits, scones, trifle, chocolate meringue tart." If called upon to utter a traditional Scottish joke, I would repeat the sally I heard across the table and ask:

"Is that a chocolate tart or a meringue?"

The answer to this is "No, you're right. It's a tart," and the joke only works if you ask the question in a Scottish--indeed, a Morningside--accent.   

We do not go for party games at my house, but there was a higher level of rambunctiousness than usual because of the Godling. This entailed much use of our Lion and Unicorn masks (bought for a Jubilee Party) and there was a tragic-comic moment when a member of the Schola inadvertently pulled the horn off the Unicorn, and the horrified infant burst into tears. 

Reading ghost stories is a more traditional entertainment, and I went digging in boxes and computer files to find a popular favourite. I have an entire manuscript of unpublished, and often rejected, ghost stories. They were written to amuse a very select and old-fashioned audience, so I don't have much hope that they will ever appear in a magazine. However, our guests were that audience, so I found "The Sanctuary Spider of Milan" and one of the guests read it aloud.  

Apparently as I was in the closet with the boxes and Mrs PPS was in the main bedroom putting the infant to sleep , PPS--standing by an open window living-room smoking--said happily that the scene before him was "just like ten years ago." Considering that ten years ago B.A and I were living in the long, many-roomed Georgian attic of the Historical House and we were last night crammed into the sitting-room of a small two-bedroom flat built in 1929, this was a somewhat far-fetched statement. However, I know what he meant. 


It was in tribute to The Old Days that we kept our Sunday Lunch plans despite the death of our Sovereign Lady last week. We covered the table with our Lenten purple cloth, and the guests departed at 11 PM--very early by The Old Days standards. The crown I made to for the Jubilee Lion was already reposing under my black mantilla. 

Like most people in Britain, we were shocked by the Queen's swift death, and I read with interest an article about journalists scrambling to get the news ready without publishing too early. This was exactly my experience. At about noon, the news came out that the Queen was sick and her family was travelling to Balmoral to see her. That sounded rather serious, so I informed work and volunteered to write a short paragraph in case she died. Then I was in an online meeting when a Tweet informed me the the BBC was interrupting its usual programming until 6 PM. At that I excused myself from the meeting and started writing an obituary. It did not mention the 1967 Abortion Act: someone else added that the next day. Instead it focused on her marriage, children, life of service, role as Sovereign and role as the head of the Anglican communion. At the time, I wasn't sure how to mention the AA without looking like were were dancing on Her Majesty's grave. (Edward Pentin hit absolutely the right note, I believe.)

Ten years ago, I could not have imagined I'd be writing the Queen's obituary for LifeSiteNews, and it was certainly a surreal experience. It was all done and ready to be published (in my opinion) when 6 PM came and went  and I popped into the sitting room where B.A. was watching the BBC. Suddenly, the newscaster Huw Edwards appeared on the screen, and B.A. said "Why is he already wearing a black tie?" The answer was that the Queen was dead, and I rushed back to my office to hit "Publish."

I felt very sad--and then very reassured by the ancient formula, which this time is rendered "The Queen is dead. Long live the King." It's totally unlike the death of a pope: there's no uncertainty, no speculation, no worry, no voting, no delay. The history of Britain flows on throw the present into the future.  And the King's face is also very familiar; I have seen it age over the course of my entire life.