Thursday 23 November 2023

Personal Time

This is a terrible confession to make, but my two best pals are my budget book and my desk diary. The former is our protection against an improvident old age, and the latter is my memory aid, journal, habit tracker and sketchbook. Its lovely blank, holiday-free spaces can be filled in with only those days that are special to me: birthdays, Easter, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mothering Sunday, Canadian Mother's Day, Canadian Father's Day, and a very few others. 

I looked forward to buying the same version of the desk diary, but when it arrived and I looked inside I was terribly disappointed. It was like discovering a beloved friend has become a preachy scold. The month-at-a-glance section is littered with alleged holidays, some of which I have never seen before, and whole months are assigned tasks like "Hispanic Heritage Month"--which seems rather odd in the UK. Perhaps there is an enormous Spanish-speaking population in London. Needless to say, two whole months have been dedicated to the celebration of homosexuality. 

One of the selling points of this journal--and indeed of the stationary company that makes it--is that it can be personalized. You can have your name added to the front. I enjoy this. However, the ideology of time behind my name has nothing to do with me. And it's worse than relativist: it is ideological. 

The designer's own idea of what the year should look like intrudes. Millions agree that January is the month of the Holy Name of Jesus. However, the designer believes it is National Mentoring Month. February, for Catholics, is the month of the Holy Family. The designer instructs me that it is LGBT History Month. March makes me think of St. Patrick and St. Joseph. The designer prompts me to remember National Women's History Month. And so the whole year goes. 

I stopped following a friend on Twitter because I was so creeped out by his posting pages from the French Republican (or Revolutionary) calendar. This calendar was used by the murderous French government between 1793 and 1805 and was meant to sweep away from the French mind the Old France of royalty and Catholicism. This new calendar must have been very disorientating to those Frenchmen who could not avoid it.  

Naturally this reminds me of the changes to the Calendar of the Saints between 1960 and 1970. That, too, must have been a rug-pull to the Catholics around at the time. My own saint, St. Dorothy of Caesarea, had an enormous following in Northern Europe but was nevertheless dropped from the General Roman Calendar in the 1960s and replaced by St. Paul Miki and Companions in our collective devotions. These heroic Japanese martyrs do indeed deserve our veneration, but February 6 is still St. Dorothy's Day, just as February 14 is still St. Valentine's Day, as important as Cyril and Methodius were in the evangelization of the Slavs. 

If pressed, I could also carry on at length about downgrading the long season of Pentecost to Ordinary Time, a strange expression that returns my thoughts to the French Revolution where they shift uneasily and fidget. 

I admit that I am enormously privileged in my isolation. Working from home, I am cloistered from the British workplace, and therefore celebrate only my own holidays--and, in a small way, American Thanksgiving. I am not sure how strictly secular celebrations are enforced, but it is possible that many UK workplaces enliven their grey carpeting and desk pods with decorations celebrating Mental Health Awareness Week or Sharad Navratri or Movember. Certainly they decorate with rainbow ribbons and decals in summer (and to a lesser degree in February). 

Meanwhile, the UK's commercial Christmas is about to start; its Advent began in late October when the "Advent calendars" (that is, gift boxes containing 24 overpriced items) became available. I am reminded of my Canadian childhood confusion about Cadbury's Easter Creme eggs (as they are not called here); you could buy them only until Easter, which meant that those who had given up sweets for Lent ran the risk of never eating one. (Happily for my sugar-craving junior self, they turned up in our Easter baskets.) Christian Advent is a penitential season; the "Advent calendars" tempt me not at all, and a Polish pal shared her shock that people in Britain have Christmas parties before actual Christmas.   

I should be grateful that Easter was (in my childhood) still so much part of local culture, as Christmas is  in Britain today. In fact, I see that the designer of my year has not bothered to write that December is Universal Human Rights Month. That has been presumably trumped by Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa--and great is my surprise that anyone in the UK wants Kwanzaa on their desk diary.  

Strange to say, I was absolutely furious about changes to my desk diary, a fury that has abated only now. Perhaps it is because I now realize how fortunate I am to have the freedom to acknowledge only the calendar I prefer. I have ordered a wall version from the Monks of Papa Stronsay, and I hope it arrives before this year's FSSP one runs out. 

Meanwhile, a very happy St. Clement's Day to you all ! I shall now send greetings to a young blacksmith of my acquaintance.   

Friday 17 November 2023

Etiquette for Ladies

Benedict Ambrose, who watched videos of graduation ceremonies the night before his own, told me that his attending his graduation in person was very important to his mother. 

History does not reveal if he told his mother that his attending his diploma graduation in person was very important to me. 

Happily, we both accepted with alacrity B.A.'s invitations to his graduation ceremony, were pleased that he received Distinction and, if possible, were even more pleased that he managed to climb the stairs, get across the stage with grace and not fall down when bopped on the head with a bonnet.  
Being bopped with a bonnet while graduating is a Scottish thing. (The bonnet is not a Little House on the Prairie ladies' bonnet but a tam o'shanter.)

I am very proud of B.A.'s years of diploma work, to which he stuck in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, and that he managed to finish his last course with honour, despite the new diagnosis, the radiotherapy, and the evil steroids. 

The ceremony--which I was rather dreading, having gone to a number of them, all very long--was surprisingly lighthearted and truly celebratory. There was an organist playing pop music, and there were screens flashing the photos and heartfelt messages of the graduands. There was a sense that a whole new world was opening up before them and that all their dreams would come true. 

These dreams, I reflected, were probably much more practical than those I spun when first I sat in Toronto's Convocation Hall. At the same time, however, I was delighted to see an elderly, stooped man shuffle across the stage to get his PhD in History. This was clearly the pet project of someone in later life, and good for him.

Having a lot of time on my hands, I asked myself if I still dreamed of a PhD, and the answer was no. I originally wanted to get into a PhD program, and I did, and then I wanted to teach at my theological alma mater, which I didn't. The PhD program was an obstacle to overcome, not something I wanted for itself. ("Just get your union card," Fr. Lonergan apparently said of persevering to a doctorate's end.) My goals for old age are financial freedom, the ability to climb up and down stairs, and the strength and wit to fight off whoever tries to put B.A. and/or me in a nursing home. 

During our celebratory lunch, I received a message that a baby very dear to my heart is ill. As it was all we could do, B.A. and I got off our train home a stop early and went to a Mass dedicated to her recovery. It was the Feast of St. Margaret of Scotland in Scotland, which for various reasons was apropos. 

We arrived early, and the priest handed me a book he had found and thought I would enjoy: Ward Lock & Co's 1930 Etiquette for Ladies. B.A. made a joke, the young men around chuckled, and I reflected that although it was once an insult to give a woman an etiquette book, I was delighted. It bridges the gap between Mrs Humphry's 1897 thoughts and those 1962 strictures of Mrs Maclean. 

Interestingly, it has nothing to say about comportment at dances except that the hostess should "stand just inside the ballroom, and with quiet dignity and charm is on the alert to receive the guests are they are announced by the servant" and that she "looks round and makes every possible effort to ensure her guests having a good time."

Servants are mentioned several times in this volume, and there is a long and complicated chapter about calling cards. If anyone is wondering what women with servants between 1800 and 1962 got up to all day, it was paying calls. Foodies weep over the decline of fine French (and Italian) home cooking by women's near-universal entrance into the workforce, but the visiting tradition was utterly pulverized. 

I cannot even imagine calling upon all the Edinburgh women of my acquaintance all morning. The bus rides would take longer than the calls themselves, and almost nobody would be at home. The ones who were home would probably be shocked to have a visitor turn up uninvited, and they might not have any biscuits in the house. 

That said, I like to imagine that there is still a set of Edinburgh women--so rich and socially remote as to be entirely unknown to me--trotting about the New Town and/or Morningside to drop off calling cards and drink cups of tea in elegant drawing-rooms.  

The photograph is of fine Scottish patisserie, which also featured in our very busy day. Scotland was once as famous as France in England for fine baking. When here, find a Fisher & Donaldson's if you can. 

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Work Nightmares

"Last night I dreamed that someone had tweeted photos of me dressed inappropriately for the Rome Life Forum," I told Benedict Ambrose this morning. 

They were doctored, though. One of these photos--very unflattering--was taken from below and showed that I had very long rusty-red braids falling past my denim-skirted waist. My braids are nowhere near that long, and I looked unusually tall, as if in a funhouse mirror. 

Another one showed me wearing some sleeveless blouse of a shiny fabric quite unknown to my real-life closet. There was an outdoor pool quite unlike the one at the RLF, in which nobody was allowed to swim. Naturally these dream-photos were accompanied by thundering denouncements from whichever imaginary Americans had posted them on dream-Twitter and their viewers.

As I spend almost all my working hours on the internet, I think this counts as a work nightmare. As far as I can remember, it's the first one to feature Twitter. How very 21st century of my psyche.

Benedict Ambrose also had a work nightmare. In his he was in the basement of the Historical House with a group, and the ghost of a crying baby circled around and around his head. 

"Of course it was really a demon," said B.A., who believes all the ghosts of the peoples are demons, so he hotfooted it out of there. 

That was really quite interesting, as I used to get nervous in the Historical House basement, especially after a mysterious cold breeze blew down my neck, and prayed the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel on my way to or from the laundry room.

There was also, occasionally, Something creepy lurking at the bottom of one of the ornate staircases, or at least I thought so, and once telephoned B.A., who was at a boozy men's party, to tell him that there was a Thing and he must come home. It was 2 AM or so, and B.A. had the phone on speaker, so there was great hilarity among the men and B.A. didn't come home for hours.

We preferred not to say anything to anyone about the cold breeze and the late January visits of the Thing out of respect for The (departed) Family and to avoid the visits of ghosthunters. I seem to recall there was an application of people who wanted to conjure up spirits in the drawing room and B.A. threatened to leave if they did. 

Demons and trolls. To cheer us up, I will relate that one of my sisters will land in Scotland on December 27, and I am now planning excursions, revels and sprees. 

What would readers like to do if they were going to spend 10 days in Scotland? Whenever I think of winter holidays I always want to go on a sleigh ride, but of course there is rarely enough snow anywhere but Quebec for such delights. 

Saturday 11 November 2023

The Order of Charity

Here are some thoughts of St. Thomas Aquinas that have particular resonance this Armistice (or Remembrance) Day, touching on who first deserves our love and loyalty: 

... [W]e ought out of charity to love those who are more closely united to us more, both because our love for them is more intense, and because there are more reasons for loving them. Now intensity of love arises from the union of lover and beloved: and therefore we should measure the love of different persons according to the different kinds of union, so that a man is more loved in matters touching that particular union in respect of which he is loved. And, again, in comparing love to love we should compare one union with another. Accordingly we must say that friendship among blood relations is based upon their connection by natural origin, the friendship of fellow-citizens on their civic fellowship, and the friendship of those who are fighting side by side on the comradeship of battle. Wherefore in matters pertaining to nature we should love our kindred most, in matters concerning relations between citizens, we should prefer our fellow-citizens, and on the battlefield our fellow-soldiers. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix, 2) that "it is our duty to render to each class of people such respect as is natural and appropriate. This is in fact the principle upon which we seem to act, for we invite our relations to a wedding . . . It would seem to be a special duty to afford our parents the means of living . . . and to honor them."

The same applies to other kinds of friendship.

If however we compare union with union, it is evident that the union arising from natural origin is prior to, and more stable than, all others, because it is something affecting the very substance, whereas other unions supervene and may cease altogether. Therefore the friendship of kindred is more stable, while other friendships may be stronger in respect of that which is proper to each of them.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae IIae II, Q. 26, Art. 7

There are two men whom I remember in particular today. Both risked their lives with other Canadians (and other Scots) to help stop German atrocities in Europe.

The kilted man in the photograph, furious over the Rape of Belgium (which was not a myth: historians say those horrible things did indeed happen to Belgian women), left behind his wife and four children. He returned and fathered a fifth child, the youngest of my great-aunts. 

The little boy sitting here on a stool grew up and left behind his new bride, first to guard the coast of British Columbia and then to shoot down the Luftwaffe. Nine people exist today because he, too, returned. 

I remember also that Canadian casualties (per capita) were so heavy in the First World War that entire towns were essentially depopulated, and that we lost about 45,400 men and women (beginning with Hannah Baird, the stewardess who went down on the Athenia) in the Second.* 

The casualties for World War I were very heavy for the British Empire Army as a whole--as they were for other armies. (Russia lost the most soldiers, I believe, and after Russia France.) The War to End All Wars was a civilizational disaster and, obviously, did not end all wars. It should have been avoided. 

The Second World War was impossible to avoid, even though Britain and France tried to do so. (That was "not being rooted in reality" writ large.) It, too, was a civilizational disaster. 

What a century. 

There is a third man I think about today, rather to his embarrassment. That is my brother Nulli Secundus, who gladly took the Queen's shilling when he was 16 years old, could take apart and reassemble a rifle blindfolded by the age of 20, and now has a deep-seated disgust for firearms. He never saw action but--to once again quote Milton--"they also serve who only stand and wait"--and service took its toll all the same. Thank God he is growing old "as we who are left grow old" and as indeed our great-grandfather grew old (our grandfather, a chain smoker, died at 65, which no longer seems old). 

I never met my great-grandfather, but I think about him and my other ancestors and relations born in Scotland fairly often. If I am near their old addresses, I go out of my way to look. 

According to my mother, my husband sounds like my Edinburgh-by-Perthshire great-grandmother. I am not sure what my warrior great-grandfather sounded like. Perhaps he sounded like the men crowding into Baynes' at 7:30 this morning to order coffee and filled rolls. I had popped in to look for rowies, which I'm now afraid can't be found south of Aberdeen. And for a moment I felt like I had my finger to the pulse of real Scotland, flesh-and-blood Scotland, Scotland of the Scots, and not just tourists, foreign students, job-filling English-and-Europeans, and random New World-born immigrants like me. 
*Canada's population was about 11.5 million in 1939. 

Thursday 9 November 2023

The Trouble with Invitations

The days are short and cold but sunny and bright with yellow leaves. Yesterday I very much enjoyed my walk to the post office. There I posted a thank you note (written on a postcard) and a long letter written on notepaper. 

Mrs Humphry's Manners for Men (1897) thinks "over-ornament" in the "embossed or printed" address on personalized notepaper is "in the worst taste," and I have just had a nervous look at mine. I think Mrs Humphry might say it would do for a lady, but teal ink is pushing the boundaries. 

Mrs Humphry doesn't have much to say about writing invitations, except that sending them out three weeks before the planned dinner party is "usual."  Sarah Maclean (no relation) of The Pan Book of Etiquette and Good Manners (1962) says that it no longer a solecism to have them printed instead of engraved although the latter are still necessary for "very formal occasions such as coming-out dances and elaborate dinner parties." 

Mrs Maclean spells out how to write invitations for weddings, cocktail parties, dinner parties,"bridge or bottle" parties and dances, but the advice for this last is confusing:

For an informal dance an ordinary 'At Home' card can be used, filled in in exactly the same way as for a cocktail party except that 'Dancing' and the time to start dancing is to start is put where the word cocktails usually goes. For a formal dance all the information is engraved and the card is longer. 

I have lived in Britain for almost 15 years and although I have admired many an embossed or printed invitation propped up on many a chimneypiece, I have never seen an "ordinary 'At Home' card." In addition, almost nobody I know in Britain has a space large enough at home for informal dances. When I hold an informal dance, it is in a parish hall.

For reasons both legal and sociological (the latter explained in a previous post), these informal dances are private parties. To underscore the privacy and the total lack of legal responsibility of the archdiocese or any priestly fraternity for these parties, I used to write invitations--that is, I would put the details in the least embarrassing children's party invitations I could find and hand them out. I filled in the RSVP space with my email address.

To my very great surprise, very few obeyed the RSVP.  I was thus also surprised to see who turned up. (I moreover suffered an early death in the church car park after I realized there were 11 young men to 5 young women and 3 chaperones.) And I am beginning to think that people born after 1990 do not actually know what an RSVP is, let alone that it is (or was) an iron-clad social rule that you do not simply ignore a personal invitation or turn up without telling the host or hostess that you mean to do so. 

Therefore, youthful readers, RSVP is an anagram meaning répondez s'il vous plaît which is polite French for "Please reply." If you get an invitation to something, it means that the host or hostess is paying you the compliment of thinking you are, or might be, an ornament to society. Anyone who goes to the trouble of having a planned party or dance wants it to be a success, so being personally invited to it is a great compliment. The first way you say thank you for this compliment is to respond to the invitation as asked: Dear Mrs So-and-So, Thank you very much for the invitation to your dance party. I will certainly attend. Could I bring anything? Yours sincerely, Hope of the Future. (The second way is to post or email a note afterwards saying Thank you so much. I had a wonderful time. Elegant Baby Boomers still sometimes telephone [on a landline!] their thanks as a substitute for a note; I wouldn't expect that of Gens X, Y or Z.)

According to Mrs Humphry, the rule in 1897 was that "notes of invitation should be replied to within twenty-four hours." Mrs Humphry also says this to the young man, lest he think he is all that and a bag of chips: "To be invited is an honour to the young man who is just beginning his social life." 

The other problem with my invitations, though, was that I couldn't always find the invited, as I don't know their addresses and they don't always come to the TLM on Sundays. Sometimes I would entrust invitations to other guests to hand out at the university, should they find the absent invitees there. They didn't always find them, which led to disappointments and many wasted envelopes. 

Thus, I switched from store-bought invitations to the little white cardboard flashcards I have in profusion and just wrote 25+ invitations by hand. Sadly, our pastor found one of them scrunched and thrown under one of the tables in the parish hall, a response to the RSVP I wasn't expecting. And after the Michaelmas Dance, I moved the whole business of invitation to a super-private Facebook group, stopped expecting RSVPs, and now look on the bright side when men outnumber women 2:1.  

In conclusion, restoring the social graces of the pre-conciliar era, let alone those of 1897, will take a group effort. Someone is going to have to write a book to assist in this. It will probably have to be me. But maybe I can interest the prolific Dr. Peter Kwasniewski in the task.  

Tuesday 7 November 2023

The Church and the Railway Station

The Church

In the course of my work duties yesterday, I watched a stupid pop video. A journalist had submitted a story about the Bishop of Brooklyn saying a Mass of Reparation and disciplining the priest (a monsignor, even) who had allowed his church to be used in the making of this video. 

In the video, a plastic-looking blonde wearing cartoonishly tiny and tasteless outfits attempts to convince viewers that multiple men might follow her down the street begging for her attention, fight each other to the death over her in the local boxing gym, and photograph her barely-clad bottom in elevators. All these men die gruesome deaths on camera. The men on the street are dispatched by an enormous speeding truck. The men in the gym spatter the singer with gore as they kill each other. The man in the elevator dies bloodily after the singer catches his tie in the doors. Blood streams down. The singer is delighted.

The scenes in the venerable Brooklyn church apparently represent the funeral of this young woman's last relationship. She drives there alone in a pink hearse. She enters the empty church wearing a sheer black veil, a black net crinoline pulled up over her chest as a "baby doll" dress, and black stockings. Several pink coffins are propped up against the altar, which is covered with pillar candles. The singer mimics prayers and squirms around in a quasi-dance before the altar and in the aisle. She goes out again and drives off in her pink hearse.  

The whole thing is so ridiculous that I'm not sure it's not all an elaborate joke. The speeding truck dispatching the three eager suitors in the street was straight out of "Bugs Bunny." In the gym, the singer shrugs over her inability to learn to punch and takes selfies of herself pouting and preening as men fight all around her. Her revealing outfits are more silly than sexy. Nevertheless, the whole thing struck me as satanic. The use of blood clinched it. 

People throw the word "satanic" around a lot, so I'll explain what I mean. I mean that the video attacks the goodness of creation and profanes the sacred. The video tells lies about what it is to be a "beautiful" woman or a woman worthy of love and suggests that men's attraction to women is evil. It suggests that men who approach women deserve violent deaths. It uses a Catholic church as cheap symbol of (here meaningless) funerary rites and as a place for the singer to move lasciviously for the enjoyment of her viewers. 

I won't link to the video, but here are the lyrics of the banal and self-contradictory song. In short, the singer feels as light as a feather because she isn't thinking about a man anymore, except that she is quite clearly thinking about him, as she's singing to him. To see how far the art has progressed, here's a pop song first published in 1612.

If today someone asked me why I organize parties for partner dancing, I would say that it is to cancel out the nightmare world of that pop video. In God's world, young women wear pretty but respectful clothes, young men ask them to dance, friendships develop, and from some friendships love. 

In this world, women wait for those men willing to sacrifice their lives to us and, having with our whole hearts accepted them, stick with them through thick and thin, prosperity, poverty, health, sickness, fertility, sterility, normalcy and oddity. We do not murder them, shrug at their deaths, or dance at their funerals.

The Railway Station 

Last night I discovered the easy way that a mob of demonstrators had occupied Edinburgh's principal railway station to express their displeasure with Israel. In doing so they inconvenienced and frightened not Israelis but Edinburghers. In fact, an 78-year-old ex-serviceman, a veteran of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, says that one protestor stepped on him, splitting his toe, and that he was punched more than once. Apparently the demonstrators were yelling against the British government, British people and Jews. 

Jim Henderson, who was in uniform, had been selling poppies for the Scottish Poppy Appeal, which is unsurprising, given that it is November and both Remembrance (Armistice) Day and the Sunday nearest Remembrance Day are sacred in the United Kingdom--or were. The First Minister for Pakistan Gaza Scotland, Humzah Yousaf, is all for pro-Palestine marchers disrupting Armistice Day in London. He seems not to mind that tens of thousands of people angry about Britain's role in the creation of the state of Israel, some of them in full sympathy with a terrorist organization, might clash with thousands of British soldiers and veterans, including Scots.  

Dear me. To think that Gaelic-speaking Kate Forbes lost the Scottish National Party leadership elections because she is, like the vast majority of Scots between 1535 and 1965, a believing evangelical Christian. The next national election cannot come fast enough. The strain of deciding whom I despise more, Humzah Yousaf or Justin Trudeau, is just too much for me. 

But to return to the railway station, in which I have often been encouraged by a recorded voice to be on the lookout for terrorists ("See it, say it, sorted."), I am appalled that in the name of a region 2,473 miles away, a presumably (but not necessarily) British mob shouted out against the British, made it very hard, if not impossible, for fellow British to travel, and knocked about a British veteran selling poppies. 

I repeat: this discommoded Israel not one whit. It hurt and frightened Scots and other people who live in or work in or travel through Edinburgh. It attacked one of the few shared traditions held as sacred by almost all British people since 1919: the poppy-seller. It was noisy, violent and rude in a country where it is considered gauche to speak loudly on the bus. My one comfort is that the demonstrators might conceivably have all been entitled-feeling foreign students. It seems unlikely, though. 

If this protest had been in the official public square--outside Bute House in Charlotte Square, for example--it would have been unobjectionable, depending on what the protestors were calling for, of course. (Yousaf Humzah, amazingly enough, is a great fan of stringent Hate Speech laws.) But it was in the railway station, a necessary and yet vulnerable locus of order, the place where we are frequently reminded of terrorist attacks because that is where terrorist attacks are likely to happen. 

I see today that the the Current National Threat Level is set at "Substantial." I would say that, in terms of neighbourliness, it's at Critical. It seems incredible to me that a Briton can claim to love the Palestinians when he hates his British neighbours. 

Well, as Orlando Gibbons sang in 1612, "More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise."

Monday 6 November 2023

The November Waltzing Party

On the way to my bus stop and as night fell on Edinburgh, a young man asked me what my goal was with the Waltzing Parties. 

"I wish to restore Western Civilization," I announced, which probably sounded rather grandiose in a short middle-aged woman who lives in a two-bedroom flat. 

However, there are so many things about traditional dances that encapsulate so much of what was (and is) good about social life in the West and contradict the new ideology tearing Western societies apart. 

The first and most obvious to me is the careful balance between inclusion and exclusion. Because the Waltzing Parties are by necessity private (and definitely not sponsored by any priestly fraternity, the archdiocese, or anyone but me), there is a hostess who invites some people and excludes most people. 

As these are private parties, I am free to invite people solely because of their religious beliefs and good reputation in the community. This ensures that my guests will spend two or more hours in close physical proximity only with people who share their values and who can be trusted not to go beyond the line of what believing Catholics consider decent. This is particularly important when parents entrust me with the care of their underage children. My parties are, to use the language of the world, a "safe space."  

At the same time, I am eager to be introduced to other people within our religious affiliation who might enjoy my parties. (For reasons that will be come clear, I just wish I were introduced to more young ladies.)    

The second is that traditional dances encourage relationships between men and women that are friendly, respectful, and self-sacrificing. To the man falls the challenge of asking a woman to dance. To the woman falls the difficult task of following. The gentleman must lead his lady about a room without stepping on her; the lady must smile and forgive her gentleman when he does. Staggeringly, men are expected to dance with all the ladies, not just the prettiest ones, and women are expected to dance with all the gentlemen who ask, not just the ones they could sort of imagine marrying one day.* 

In a way it is odd that traditional European culture (and indeed religion), which is very strict about chastity and monogamy, is adamant that a kind man dances with as many ladies as possible at a dance--and that the ladies turn down invitations to dance but rarely. Of course, for centuries European dances involved only hand-holding, and there was a hue and cry when the wicked Austrian waltz was first introduced to Britain. However, I would argue that the waltz, with its forced closeness, gets young men and women used to face-to-face social communication with different men and women without any ulterior (or romantic) motive. 

Frankly, I think it builds friendship, and I'll tell you why: my dance parties always have a break in the middle for tea and conversation, and I used to worry during the tea-breaks that So-and-So wasn't talking to anyone and Such-and-Such looked a bit forlorn. To guess from the noise during the After-Mass Tea, and before the Waltzing Party, and during the Waltzing Party Tea-Break, I don't have to worry about this anymore. (If I should, though, please do let me know.)

The third is the reenforcement gentle reminder of traditional social roles. Yesterday's Waltzing Party was divided into three: Waltzing, Intermission, Swing-dancing. As a wild experiment, I had engaged professional swing-dancing teachers, and I was not at all surprised that instead of speaking of "men" and "women," they gave instructions to "leads" and "followers." My heart swelled with pride when all 14 of the men went over to the lead side, and all 7 women formed the followers' row. In fact, there was even a friendly chortle when one of the young women went in the wrong direction and then hurriedly joined the ladies' followers' side. 

This is important when you believe that a husband is the head of his family, and yet the whole outside world is telling you that such a belief is next-door to Nazism. This is not really the place to get into it, but  it is a difficult challenge for contemporary young women to wait for men to take the lead. It may even be  harder than the challenge for contemporary young men to take that lead. Traditional partner dancing is training for this challenge, a challenge that can be excruciatingly painful and yet those of us who believe in the traditional Christian family must all rise to it. 

(Incidentally, I believe there would be no priest shortage if girls and women stayed out of the sanctuary and allowed men and boys to do what [some of the] girls and women might possibly do better.) 
The fourth is the importance of making introductions, so that everyone who is indeed invited into a community feels welcome, and so that the community itself is soon at ease with the (vetted) stranger in its midst. At a traditional dance at which ladies and gentlemen are not ordered by instructors constantly to change partners, it is the host's or hostess's duty to introduce a gentleman to a lady who doesn't know him before he asks her to dance.  (Curiously, in the 1890s, you were not expected to keep up a ballroom acquaintance afterwards if you didn't wish to.) Naturally anyone who hopes a host or hostess to invite his new friend to one of their famous parties absolutely must introduce him to the host or hostess beforehand. (It goes without saying that any such new friend would be someone he would introduce to his mother and sisters.) 

The fifth is respectful and elegant dress. After the party was over, and I was busily washing cups, the dancing instructors told me that they had never taught such a well-dressed group. I am so used to this that I had barely noticed, but I think all the young men were wearing jackets, and many of them were wearing actual suits. The young ladies were wearing skirts or pretty dresses; the youngest had on a particularly beautiful blouse. The vast majority of my guests were university students, lecturers, and recent graduates. I doubt any of us are wealthy; the fact is that lovely secondhand clothing can be had for a song, and it takes only a minute to polish your shoes. In fact, I polished my three-year-old ones in the kitchen before I left for Mass while I was actually wearing them. 

A sixth is the vanished tradition of the parish hall dance. My questioner may be forgiven if he thought my ultimate goal might be to encourage marriages among the unmarried. As a matter of history, a goodly number of Catholic grandparents and great-grandparents in Canada, the USA, and (at very least) Glasgow did marry people they met at parish dances. Those, were, however, very pro-marriage times. 

Although I can scheme about restoring Western Civilization, I am shy about encouraging people I actually know to sacrifice their lives to one other, shooting off like fireworks into the hard discipline of marriage and parenthood. I can give parties, find teachers, bake cookies, make introductions, give private advice, and promote a certain social code. Anything having to do with making marriages, I leave up to the glorious and beautiful young themselves (but do hope they will buy life insurance when it happens).

UPDATE: I had a question about someone coming to Mass being sufficient evidence that a person is well-intentioned. The answer, sadly, is no. In both Canada and the United States, I have encountered  ill-intentioned people at or after Mass. Their motives for going to Mass were not devotional. I would rather go to jail than introduce them to a young person.  

*Unless they have a super-good reason. If that reason is that the man is not a gentleman but a creep, the hostess should be told. It is not a sin to tell someone responsible for a group about bad behaviour harming a member of the group. In fact, it is a painful duty, particularly when the group includes the young and vulnerable. 

Saturday 4 November 2023

Home from Rome

Benedict Ambrose and I have returned from Rome after almost two weeks away. We began our travels by bus and we ended them by taxicab, for we overestimated B.A.'s strength and general health. 

There was a terrible, terrible moment on October 22 when I looked behind me on the endless Roma Termini platform towards our train and saw B.A. struggling under the weight of his small knapsack. His poor face was red and sweaty, and he was literally staggering. I did not then recall that famous line from Withnail and I-- "We've come on holiday by mistake!"-- but it was clear that an error had been made, most likely by me.  

The errors compounded when we caught the Pisa train and I brooded on B.A.'s exhausted face instead of watching out the door for our station. Normally I would have counted exactly how many stations the train was supposed to stop at, especially if (as in this case) there were no announcements and no electronic signs. And indeed it was almost impossible to see our station (let alone its sign) when we stopped at it, for it is under refurbishment and was almost entirely dark. I didn't realize where we were until I saw the very familiar buildings slide by, and in fact, from the hubbub I gathered that other people were caught out, too. We all alighted at the next station, where I had a very noisy cry. 

Is this where the middle part of middle age loses sight of youth and meets old age? It certainly felt like it. However, not even when I was 27 could I have carried a backpack, a knapsack, my handbag, and a man weighing 10 stone (168 lbs), shrugged off missing a foreign railway station after dark, and summoned a taxicab as if I could fluently avoid being cheated over the fare. Fortunately, I had the sense to check my phone and accept our landlord's offer to pick us up. 

We had a lovely three days by the sea. We ate one huge lunch in the sun, a smaller one which watching the rain and wind whip up the Mediterranean, and a small one in a tavola calda near the railway station. We then spent a week at a luxury hotel (deep bathtub AND shower cubicle; very large bed), attending a press conference and then the Roman Life Forum. We went from there (by taxicab) to an AirBnB on the Via dei Pettinari, which is beside the FSSP church in Rome, Santissima Trinità. We went to the latter for Mass three times: once for Sunday, once to pray for the late Fred Stone (a former leader of Una Voce Scotland), and once for the Feast of the Holy Souls (see photo). 

I reflected at one point that we had been in our usual holiday town this year both before the tourist season began and just as it was ending. We were therefore spared crowds and oppressively hot weather. In May B.A. had just received his new cancer diagnosis, but after a day at the seaside, he physically felt great. In late October, having been weaned off his beloved steroid medication, he really did not. However, when he felt well enough to be out and about, he was, and when he didn't, he stayed in bed. I, his penny-pinching wife, fought down my detestation of cabs as a waste of money. We hailed one at Stazione Roma-San Pietro on Thursday, near Chiesa Nuova on Friday morning, and at Haymarket Station on Friday afternoon.

I'm afraid this is not much of a travelogue. I was at work, really, so the one tourist destination I spent much time in was the park around the Villa Doria Pamphili, which is huge and dotted with umbrella pines. It has lovely 18th century landscaping and romantically battered buildings, as well as Romans young and old going for jogs or walking small dogs. It shares in Rome's perpetually running public faucets, from which B.A. drank the one time he felt well enough to walk in the park with me. We strolled from bench to bench, taking long rests. It was very pleasant. 

My computer had Netflix as usual. I stayed up very late watching the 2019 Little Women, the 1994 Little Women, and then the 2019 Little Women again. Clare Danes was a fantastic Beth (though Eliza Scanlen was very good), and Florence Pugh actually made Amy sympathetic, although I wish she had been paired with Christian Bale's Laurie, not Timothée Chalamet's. The latter seemed a tad too pixie-like for Laurie, but otherwise Greta Gerwig's film was perfect. We all know it was a huge artistic error for Louisa May Alcott not to let Jo.... Well, you know what I'm talking about. When I was 11 or so, I rewrote the ending to Little Women, and so I thought it so cool that Gerwig did, too. 

Any similarities between Beth and B.A. have occurred to me only now, and I have discarded them.  

Saturday 21 October 2023

The Importance of Community

The mystery of happiness and longevity has been solved: the chief worldly good that keeps us happy and alive is social relationships. This, Dr. Jordan Peterson might say, is why you want to "raise kids you actually like." If you like (not just love) your children, then other adults will like them, and the children will get the message that they're likeable, and this will bolster their capacity for, er, likability. This will make them capable of sustaining family ties, making friends, and developing other social relationships in the wider community. 

Finding people who like you

Of course, not everybody likes everybody else, and we should not seek to be liked by everybody. In fact, we should accept that we don't like everyone, and so that it is fair (or inevitable) that not everyone likes us. When we really love, for example, the Traditional Latin Mass, we accept that there are people who dislike us for expressing our devotion to it in ways they consider challenging or unkind or even just because we are not getting with their program. 

There are also going to be people who dislike us simply because they were taught to hate Catholics at Granny's post-Protestant Communist knee. Or because they learned at school that a Good Person believes in a whole list of medical atrocities and carnal behaviours that faithful Catholics deplore. By the time you are my age, you are used to this and either avoid those people as much as possible or learn to manage conversations so they never fall into the pit of discord. 

And because it is dreadful simply to skate on the surface of social life, we seek places where we can plunge in deep. If you are a committed vegan, that is going to be with fellow vegans. If you spend all your leisure hours thinking about the Lindy Hop, that will be with fellow swing-dancers. And if you are a Catholic who loves traditional Catholic life, including the Traditional Latin Mass, that very well may be the people who frequent the nearest church where the TLM is said. 

That community may be rather small, though, so the TLM Catholic will probably want to be open to spending social time with Catholics who on the whole prefer some other form of the Catholic liturgy, like the Anglican Use, or the Novus Ordo, or the Alexandrian, Armenian, Byzantine, East Syriac, or West Syriac Rites. (They will also be interested in divining if their companions' interest in the Christian Church is limited to the aesthetics of her liturgies or social-climbing.) 

Thus, the TLM Catholic seeking to expand their social ties should be on the lookout for social and intellectual events and groups of interest to Catholics. If a college or university student, you should find your institution's Catholic chaplaincy or Catholic Student Union. If not, you should look at church bulletin boards for (or simply call up the pastor and ask him about) interesting events. There will almost always be a welcoming soul--or several welcoming souls--to greet you because Christians want our Lord to say, "I was a stranger, and you welcomed Me," not "I was a stranger, and you were too caught up in your iPhone to notice." 

The most likely welcoming souls will probably be, all appearances to the contrary, the organizers of the event or the people behind the tea table. The organizers will be rushing around, but the success of their endeavour depends largely on the happiness of those attending, so if you catch them in a rare moment of standing about, you might introduce yourself, congratulate them on the event, and tell them you don't know anyone. Could they suggest someone to talk to? You could say this to someone behind the tea table, too. Another safe bet: clergy and religious. 

Nota bene: Invite likely people to meet your friends in your primary communities. Take a merely vegetarian friend to your charming vegan cafe. Invite a new jazz-loving pal along to Lindy Hop. Take your Novus Ordo buddies to the TLM. Shield them, the first few times, from any notorious cranks. 

Controversial advice for travellers

If you are a foreigner, do keep in mind local social standards. Hopefully you have read about them before turning up in Scotland, or Australia, or wherever. Europeans studying in Canada are surprised when the warmest welcomes, the deepest effusions, and the most serious confidences do not betoken lifelong friendships. Their shock when, returning a few years later to the site of their golden scholarship year, they discover their Canadian pals have moved on and have no time to meet up is very sad. And Americans who come to Britain are confused at first when their generous suggestions about how to do things better are not adopted and when their new friends are not as forthcoming about their emotions and family traumas.  

Here is a brief explanation for better understanding: most people in the New World by definition come from immigrant stock. And we are now used to travelling long distances without thinking much of it. For generations we have moved state or province or city for work. We make new friends wherever we go, but somewhere in the back of our minds, we know we will probably leave them one day. (Look at me: I left my entire family for a man across the ocean.) But in the meantime, we want to be happy, helpful members of the community, so what can we do for you? May I suggest a better way of making tea?  

In the Old World, most people do not move quite so much, or if they do (a recent phenomenon) they keep the bonds to their old home strong. They make their friends at school and, if applicable, at university, and over the course of years may develop friendships at work or--thank God--church. They are slower at making friends because when they do make friends they keep them for life. They do not want to share the contents of their heart, or be stuck forever, with weirdos. They can't just move town to escape them.

Or so is my pet theory--particularly about German-speaking countries. You may reject the above, but I strongly advise Old Worlders not to lose your heart to shallow locals while visiting the New World, and New Worlders to maintain a friendly reserve when first introduced to strangers in the Old World. (You may discover that most of your friends in an Old World capital have also come from abroad.) I credit the fact that I am married to the happy coincidence that I caught a very bad cold on the plane to Scotland, which left me unable to talk very much or too loudly. Of course, it was also very important that I strongly resembled my now-husband's favourite singer when she was young and, of course, that I was a Catholic. I was a Jesuit-trained, lifelong Novus Ordo Catholic, but I was charmed both by Benedict Ambrose's TLM community and by B.A., so here I still am. 

 Marriage stuff

In case it is possible you don't know, I will mention that I wrote a book about being a 30-something Catholic Single, which is called Seraphic Singles in Canada, The Closet's All Mine (yes, I know) in the USA, and Anielskie Single (no, ja wiem) in Poland. In that book I explore the possibility that some of us just aren't getting married, and so the way forward is to find meaning and happiness regardless. About three years after I came to that conclusion, I was married--probably because I had striven to find meaning and happiness regardless. 

Most Catholics who want to get married do, in fact, get married. We just some of us get married later and older than others. This is only a problem if we want children, but most of us do want children. Childlessness is a suffering I would prefer the young people of my community called to married life to be spared. Therefore, I hope they do take part in as many social activities as that community offers, slowly develop friendships, and expand their social circle to other young traditional Catholics in the United Kingdom (or abroad, if they return to their homes abroad). 

They have the advantage that our community believes in marriage, motherhood and fatherhood, whereas increasingly the rest of the UK does not. Naturally our young people share many of the disadvantages of their generation (e.g. the economy, infantilizing pop culture), but I cherish not unfounded hopes that they, at least, will flourish. 

Meanwhile, I hope they do not feel pressured to do anything they do not want to do, knowing when they are not ready for marriage, and not being afraid to say so. It would be splendid if our families and societies were such that we were all ready to take vows by the age of 25, but they aren't and we aren't. 

This is why I have always stressed friendship and repeated "It's just coffee" in my writings.

Thursday 19 October 2023

Pearls before swine

This morning I made an error ruinous to my peace by skimming the Daily Mail headlines and then reading an article by a former sex counsellor (and now YA author) Holly Bourne. (Update: She originally wrote her story for the Standard.)

To summarize as quickly as possible, for two years Bourne received daily emails from teenage girls as young as 14 confused and hurt over what they thought were unpleasant sexual encounters and Bourne identified as rape. Bourne blames hardcore pornography, and she had a hard time writing professional responses when boys wrote to her to ask why the girls they had violated were now acting so strangely. 

My intellectual response to the horror was to think about these children's parents. (My emotional response was fear for teenagers I know.) After all, these boys and girls almost certainly live with adults who are responsible for them and must be at least fond of them. The majority of these adults will be  parents--a mother and father, or a mother, or a father--and when not parents, grandparents. The parents (or parent or grandparents) will have made many decisions, guided by love, towards the well-being of these children, and yet these decisions will have led to 14-year-old rapists and victims. 

How is this possible? 

First, it is possible parents have no idea how much pornography and violent sex is a part of teenage life today. When I was a child, only kids living with adult porn consumers had access to dirty magazines. Kids couldn't buy them in stores, and they were presumably hard to shoplift as they were kept on the highest racks or shelves. To watch a pornographic movie, kids would have to go to an area of town their parents or friends would have warned them was dangerous, and they would have to get past the ticket seller. If they managed to get past the ticket seller, they would find themselves in the company of "perverts"--as we called all solitary salacious men back then. Video shops sprang up when I was a teen,  of course, but the porn was kept in a special section where kids weren't allowed, and again there were clerks running interference.

When I was a teenager, the culture still believed that elementary school children should be innocent and not know more of the sexual realm than how babies were made, if even that. I went to a Catholic high school with a large population of girls who more or less believed that if they lost their virginity before marriage (and got caught) their Italian immigrant parents wouldn't love them anymore. The public morality of the locker room veered between "It's okay if you love the person" and "If he loves you he will never suggest such a thing!" If there were girls who truly believed in sex-for-the-fun-of-it they didn't announce it in the hallways.

There were also rumours of wild weekends, of pregnancies, and of abortions. These were, however, absolutely the exception and not the norm.

The morality of the boys' Catholic schools and the (post-Protestant) secular schools, I can only guess at. 

And this, by the way, is something I value. I am an inveterate enemy of co-education. I simply cannot understand why teenage boys and girls are locked up together for six hours a day to their mutual distraction when they should be concentrating on their studies and/or vocational training. It may have worked when society had comparatively strict standards about the way boys and girls related to each other (i.e. before 1963/4), but I cannot see that it works now. 

So my first (and most charitable) thought is that too many of today's parents simply do not understand how dangerous and dirty the world has become for even the most privileged children. The internet is not the Encyclopedia Britannica; it is a Metropass to every nook and cranny of a dangerous port city. There is no affronted cashier to stop kids from looking at the dirty magazine or renting that video. There is no ticket taker frightened of police involvement.  

My much less charitable thought is that too many of today's parents just keep doing what is easiest. It's just easiest to give into children's demands for smartphones or their own computers. It's just easiest to send children to the nearest state school. It's just easiest to let them do whatever they want and to take non-answers for answers when asking them where they're going. Or so I assume, not being a parent myself.

But I was a teenage girl, and ever since then I have firmly believed that teenage girls are as beautiful and valuable as they are vulnerable. Teenage boys seem to me more complicated, mysterious, and alarming than girls, but they are also valuable and vulnerable. Why on earth are they left so open to moral and physical attack? 

"Am I really beautiful, or am I just young?" I shouted at my mother about 35 years ago. 

"It's the same thing," yelled my mother, who was younger than I am now. 

And, you know, it's true. It doesn't feel true when you're a teenager unless you're one of the minority who are told their whole lives by everyone that they could be models or movie stars. But it is objectively true. Today's children and teenagers are beautiful and precious pearls rolled before swine. This cannot go on.


Wednesday 18 October 2023

Not in 1897, not in 1962

Ladies do not ask gentlemen out on dates. For the sake of the algorithm, I'll add that women should not ask men out on dates.

It was so obvious in 1897 that ladies did not ask gentlemen out on dates that the authoress of Manners for Women didn't mention it there. Mrs Humphry confined her remarks on the subject--which were detailed and sweeping--to Manners for Men.  

Manners for Men reveals that in the United Kingdom of 1897, well-bred women did not did not talk to men to whom they had not been properly introduced. Obviously they went into shops and spoke to attendants, but if they were so unfortunate as to drop their umbrellas or gloves, and gentlemen picked them up for them, the gentlemen had to raise their hats "and withdraw at once." 

"Such trifling acts as these do not by any means constitute an acquaintanceship, and to remain by her side when the incident is over would look like presuming on what he had done, as though it gave him a right to her continued acknowledgments," warns Mrs Humphry. "This would be ungentlemanly."

Mrs H is not blind to the fact that young women (although "hardly ever gentlewomen") have been known to drop gloves and umbrellas on purpose to scrape an acquaintance with a good-looking young man. But Mrs H is so disgusted by the practise that she rolls up her sleeves and engages in class warfare: 

Picking up promiscuous male acquaintances is a practice fraught with danger. It cannot be denied that girls of the lower middle classes are often prone to it; and there are thousands of young men who have no feminine belongings in the great towns and cities where they live, and who are found responsive to this indiscriminating mode of making acquaintances. But they must often hesitate before choosing as wife a girl who shows such little discretion as to walk and talk with young men of whom she knows nothing beyond what they choose to tell her.

Perhaps you find this depressing. I do, too. I'm not a fan of the "You'll never get married if..." school of argumentation. I'm definitely not a fan of young men tempting young women to do things that the young woman feels she really ought not to do and then despising her (or worse) if she does. This latter thought, however, warms me to Mrs H's overall idea that young ladies should have nothing to do with young men to whom they have not been introduced. 

Single girls (but by definition not single ladies) in 1897 could be a wild lot, and so Mrs H has much bracing advice for the would-be gentleman wanting to avoid their charms and just marry a lady. These unladylike girls would attempt to make dates by letter, writing such commands as "Meet me at the tea-rooms, No. 440, Bond Street, to-morrow afternoon." The poor lonely chap, his dear mother and sisters out in the countryside or wherever, is naturally flattered and perhaps "careless of everything beyond the gratification of [his] own vanity." However, giving in to the invitation of a girl to whom he wasn't enough attracted to invite to the tearoom himself could lead to disaster: 

It is not at all necessary that a man should accept invitations from a girl to meet her at restaurants, subscription dances, bazaars, or any other place. If a girl so far forgets herself, and is so lacking in modesty and propriety as to make appointments with young men in such ways as these, she cannot be worth much, and may lead the young man into a very serious scrape. A public horse-whipping is an extremely disagreeable thing, and yet cases have been known when such have been administered by irate brothers and fathers, when the only fault committed by the young man had been to obey the commands of a forward and bold young woman...

Brothers and fathers are no longer given to horse-whippings, at least not in traditionalist Catholic circles, although I understand something similar occurs in interfaith communities in Yorkshire. Mrs Humphry makes a much more universal argument later in Manners for Men when she says something in the first sentence that takes my breath away as I have been saying something similar since 2006:

Sometimes a girl falls so wildly in love with a man that she creates a kind of corresponding, though passing, fervour in him, and while it lasts he believes himself in love, though is emotions are only a mixture of gratified vanity and that physical attraction which needs true love to redeem it from the fleshly sort. Should marriage follow upon such courtships as these, where the girl takes ever the initiative, the union is very seldom a happy one. The wife never feels sure that her husband really loves her or would have chosen her. She knows that he was her choice, rather than she his, and a racking jealousy seizes her and makes her not only miserable herself, but a very uncomfortable companion for him. He, too, often finds when it is too late that she fulfils none of his ideals, and is in many ways a contrast to the girl he would have chosen if she had not whirled him into the vortex of her feelings.

I would not go so far to say that the marriage will be an unhappy one. I'm more inclined to think the marriage won't happen at all, at least not without a lot of sulking and temporary break-ups and ultimatums. If it does, however, I am inclined to hope for the best. Often wifely dynamos race around ultra-relaxed husbands and each appreciates the other's contrasting philosophy of living. I will reflect, though, that my own gentle and mild-mannered spouse has roused himself to action when need be, asking me to marry him after 10 days' acquaintance (probably a local peace-time record) and fighting to keep his jobs and going out and getting new jobs if need be. 

If I had known, as a young woman, that I had a perfectly lovely husband waiting for me in the 21st century, I would not have wasted so much time and energy asking young men on dates. By the 1980s, it was considered acceptable--at least by seventeen magazine--for girls (nobody talked about ladies in seventeen magazine) to ask boys out on dates. Older now than the mothers of those boys were then, I cringe to think what the immigrant parents thought of me. What I did know at the time was that "having a boyfriend" was thought very glamorous and distinguished among the girls in my high school, and I recorded sadly in my diary that a cooling friend had told me a number of our set were going to a party--"those of us with boyfriends, that is."  

By the way, the best rejection I ever received was from a very pleasant young Eastern Catholic who explained that he could only ever marry someone from his own (very persecuted) ethnic group. That was tremendously (and unusually) face-saving for me. (Sadly, when I subsequently told suitors that I could only ever marry a Catholic, they were not as gracious as I had been. In fact, one impressed upon me that I was a terrible bigot for this desire. Do not let anyone convince you that you are a bigot for wanting to marry someone of your own religion or ethnic group. You are not a bigot; you are eminently sensible. The more you have in common with the person you will have to live with all your days, the better.)  

When having a boyfriend seems necessary to social success even among one's fellow teenage girls, it is no wonder that girls try to hurry boys along by calling them up, or texting them, or sending them photos on Instagram or whatever you do now. But such things were not considered the done thing even in 1962--at least not according to The Pan Guide to Etiquette and Good Manners

Mrs Maclean (no relation) discusses the issue under the sub-heading Chasing a Man. Mrs M does not mince words: 

Few people today hold the old-fashioned view that a woman who indicates a preference fo a man before he's shown any special liking for her is making herself cheap. But though a girl may no longer lose the good opinion of her friends, she may lose the man if she hunts him too obviously. Most men still like to think that the initiative is theirs. 

You meet a man at a party you considered may very well be the man for you. But time goes by and he doesn't ring up to ask you out. Can you ask him? No. But what you can do is invite him among a group of other people to supper, drinks or coffee. After that it's up to him. 

I am quite fond of the concept of dinner parties for this reason. It's not that I think they prompt men to ask women out, it's that they give women something to do with our overwhelming desire to ask men out. We have been trained from birth to go out and get what we want; we have almost no training in sitting back to wait. Perhaps a return to the 3-meals-a-day-no-snacking would help--or instruction in other forms of hunting and fishing. (The idea of stalking a deer by running after it in a short skirt is rather comical.) 

Right, so if a young lady can't ask men out on dates, and a commitment to returning to the best manners of the 1897 prevents her from talking to those very few men who march up to her on the street*, what can she do? My first thought is that she should go where she will be introduced to the sort of man most likely to want to marry women like her, but this will take another blogpost to explain.

*By the way, if you are sitting in a place set aside for socializing, like the Catholic Student Union or a parish hall or a drawing-room, you are not now--and probably never have been--duty-bound to snub a male stranger who marches up to you to say hello. Street, yes. CSU, no. But it would be so nice for everyone if young men would go back to finding a mutual friend to make introductions. Even horrible men can turn up at church or at events of interest to Catholics, so for goodness sake, don't assume anyone is a good sort just because they appear among Catholics. In the course of my long life, I have met atheists and libertines at church.  

Saturday 14 October 2023

Dance Etiquette Then and Then

After the success of the Michaelmas Dance, I was fired with enthusiasm to work towards the restoration of the best of British social behaviour.

One of the spurs was the confession, by yet another young Polish man, that he had expected to find "the English gentleman" when he first came to Britain. "The English gentleman" seems to be a legend of some sort in northern Poland, and although I am not myself English I'm frightfully embarrassed that he is now so hard to find. 

He still exists between the covers of Mrs Humphry's Manners for Men, which was first published in 1897. I have obtained a facsimile edition published in 1993 and found it greatly entertaining. The British middle classes flourished in the 19th century, and they seem to have had great opportunities for upward social mobility, thus necessitating such books to tell them how to get on in upper-middle class society. (Mrs Humphry is acid about the morals of those the next rung up, the aristocrats.) 

Mrs Humphry also wrote Manners for Women, which is very interesting and improving while not repeating the material to be found in Manners for Men. More on Manners for Women anon. I'll just say that Mrs Humphry thought that young ladies in the 1890s had unprecedented freedom and were bicycling towards a glorious future. 

The chief interest for me in Manners for Men is gentlemanly behaviour at balls, and I am delighted that the young men who came to the Michaelmas Dance measured up rather well.  

"The etiquette of a ball-room is not difficult to acquire, and yet there are thousands of young men going into society constantly who flagrantly fail in it," sighs Mrs Humphry. "Their bad manners are conspicuous. They decline to dance unless the prettiest girls in the room are 'trotted out' for them, block the doorways, haunt the refreshment-room, and after supper promptly take their leave. Could any course of conduct be in worst taste?" 

"No," says Mrs McLean, thinking of the 163 spanakopita triangles she baked on the afternoon of September 29. "That is pretty bad." 

"The delight of the average hostess's heart is the well-bred man, unspoiled by conceit, who can always be depended upon to do his duty," continues Mrs Humphry. "He arrives in good time, fills his dance card before very long, and can be asked to dance with a plain neglected wallflower or two without resenting it. He takes his partner duly into the refreshment-room after each dance, if she wishes to go, and provides her with whatever she wishes. Before leaving her, he sees her safe at her chaperone's side." 

Needless to say, he also claims his partner for the next dance when it begins, not halfway through. 

"The truth is that society demands a never-ending series of self-denying actions from those who belong to it, and the more cheerfully these are performed, the more perfect are the manners," says Mrs H, leading Mrs M to contemplate that 6% of the adult male population of the British Empire would be killed or die of wounds or war-related disease within 25 years of the book's publication. 

Where is the British gentleman? Under Flanders Fields, dear Rafał. 

But nobody knew that in 1897, so let us cheer up. Back to Mrs. Humphry.

Our preceptress says that young men must learn to dance before going to dances. (I am overseeing the waltzing end of the business, and ceilidh dances are very often taught as they are happening.) When they arrive at the dance, young men are to find the local version of me.

At a private ball the guest enters and greets his hostess before speaking to any one else. She shakes hands with him and passes him on to some one to introduce him to partners, perhaps her husband, perhaps her son. With this beginning he will probably get on very well and may half-fill his card, and he should take care to do so at once, for at some balls the nice girls are immediately snapped up and engaged for even the extras before they have been twenty minutes in the room.

Note, by the way, that in 1897 (as chez nous in 2023) men too had dance cards. If a man found himself "high and dry," he went to the "gentleman of the house" and asked to be introduced to another young lady---which custom is very kind and practical, by the way. 

I think one of the most awkward things about any social event is not knowing what to do, or who to go for help. I remember one particularly awful wedding at which I fled to the bathroom at intervals to remove my fixed smile. This is also an argument for mixed-generation events. The older men and women, whose lives are settled, paths clear, and nerves relaxed, should keep an eye on the younger ones--their futures still a yawning abyss of unknown possibilities--and make sure they are all dancing or enjoying a nice conversation. 

Back to Mrs H. 

"In asking a lady to dance, it is usual to say, 'Will you give me this waltz?' or 'May I have this barn-dance?'  ," she says. "Some young men say, 'Would you like to dance this? Come along then!' but such a form of address is suited only to intimates. When the dance is over, and the partner left with her friends, the man says 'Thank you,' bows, and leaves her."

For some reason, Mrs H doesn't give corresponding advice to women, but I know perfectly well that the only acceptable answers to 'Will you give me this waltz?'  are "Yes," or "I'm sorry: I have promised it to someone else."

"Thank you, I'd rather sit this one out" may be true, but it sounds rude, and unless you have a heart condition or have hurt your foot in the last dance, you really shouldn't say that. However, I think you could atone for your non-dancing sin by adding "... But please do ask So-and-So, as I am sure she would love to dance." 

Fearful of becoming ridiculous, I thought I should also read an etiquette book from 1962, the year before the Deluge. But The Pan Book of Etiquette and Good Manners is comparatively sad and its only treatment of dances is in a chapter called "The High Life," which was surely closed to most people anyway. Sarah MacLean's (no relation) description of Debutante Balls seems calculated to avoid provoking class envy:

The ancestral home may have been turned into a lunatic asylum or a tourist curiosity, death duties and income tax may have slashed the family income so that capital will have to be sold, but Caroline still 'comes out'.

And poor Caroline had to get to know and be accepted by the "best people" and find a husband among the men who had gone to the "right" schools, had the "right" accent and the "right" connections. She had to do a "full season"--going to up to 7 dances a week--and now that everyone was comparatively poor, the whole thing was frantically organized by "Mums," some of whom clubbed together to put on a single "coming out" dance for their daughters.  

There was still a problem in 1962 with young men only wanting to dance with the prettiest girls, and the author--now definitely writing anthropology instead of giving advice--reports the following:

Changing Partners: As there is rarely any break in the music, this is a tricky operation. It's all done at the bar. You suggest a drink to your partner and at the bar you give him the slip for someone else. Ideally that is. But at the beginning of the season a girl who still knows very few young men may well find that it's her partner who suggests the drink and who nips off with someone else, leaving her alone with her glass of milk and her asparagus sandwich. 

Her only chance of picking up another partner is to remain where she is. As one deb says: "If you take refuge in the ladies, you're sunk. It needs a lot of courage to come back when you haven't got anyone waiting for you. And if you subside on to a little gilt chair on the edge of the dance floor, everyone can see that you've given up all hope. The best you can do then is to persuade one of your girl friends to keep you company."

Best people. 

I was somewhat cheered to see that dances in Scotland were kinder to young ladies, for Mrs Sarah MacLean says that all the debutantes hope "to get asked to some of the Scottish dances in September."

These have the advantage from the deb's point of view that dance cards are still used. Embarrassing thought it may be to show a blank card when the first man asks to see it, a girl does know where she is. She can always take refuge in the ladies' cloakroom when she hasn't got a partner and emerge when she has. 

In  Mrs Humphry's books there is no talk of hiding in the ladies' cloakroom--or anywhere. The impression I got was that it was a lot more fun to be an upwardly mobile middle-class man or woman in 1897 than a sprig of the decaying gentry in 1962. No wonder the Swinging Sixties happened. 

Naturally I will have to do more research, but so far I am confirmed in my belief that what we need to restore is not the best of our civilization from before Vatican II but the best of our civilization from before World War I. 

Saturday 7 October 2023

How to be Trad

Polish Pretend Son is here. In fact, I think he is still asleep in the spare room/office/dining-room. Packages addressed to me but really for him preceded his arrival for days, and Benedict Ambrose has just handed me a damp plastic envelope with my name smeared over it. It seems to contain a silk pocket square, so I'll hand that to him, too. Britain is full of luxury bargains if you know where to look, and PPS does. 

Some time ago PPS and I casually agreed to write a book together called How to be Trad an instant before realizing we would fight over every point. PPS could observe that I'm not very Trad myself as I am the main breadwinner at home. I could then say that it is jolly well traditional for women to become the main breadwinners when our husbands fall ill or are made redundant or have only part-time work. In fact, women in my husband's birth city worked in the mills from 1793 until 1999 and worked on steadily wherever they could during periods of male unemployment. B.A's great-great-great-grandmother slaved away weaving jute beside the future missionary Mary Slessor.  

This, as usual, brings me to ponder the role economic circumstances--not to say social class--play in what we think of as traditional roles. Traditionally, only very poor women scrub floors or tend infants for money. Traditionally, only rich women spend their time organizing charity balls. Naturally romantic North Americans like me imagine ourselves amongst the latter, not the former. However, the only people I know who organize charity balls have solid 9-to-5s.

I'd really like to get away from such considerations, however, and write about those things that, traditionally, people of all economic backgrounds in a particular community have shared, or should have shared. Some of these things are preserved in religion and folk culture. Rich or poor, revellers dance the Dashing White Sergeant the same way, any Catholic may assist at the Traditional Latin Mass can, and tweed jackets or wool skirts can be got at any secondhand shop in Edinburgh for less than £20. 

Then there is food. A good--if not foolproof--guide to tradition, I often think, is what a financially stable family eats for major holidays, like Christmas/Christmas Eve. Naturally these differ from culture to culture (carp in Poland, goose or turkey in the UK) and are subject to fashion. I very much doubt even the wealthiest of my Edinburgh ancestors were eating chipolatas wrapped in bacon back in 1880. (In fact, they might not have celebrated Christmas at all, as they were Presbyterians and their high holy day was Hogmanay.) This British Christmas staple seems to have been first mentioned in 1954. 

One thing I think could be a "trad" universal is the eschewing of packaged convenience foods (aka ultra processed foods) for ingredients and actual cooking and baking techniques. There is an effort, led from the left, I believe, to preserve or restore local cuisine, and I wholeheartedly approve of the Slow Food movement. 

Preserving and restoring traditional pastimes, crafts, and behaviours is obviously much more controversial. I wouldn't advocate for the decriminalization of dog fighting just because it predates the Roman invasion. However, it would be extremely cool if every British child were taught traditional skills like building (or repairing) a stone wall and crewel embroidery. And of course there is the very thorny--but utterly essential--topic of how the two sexes should relate to each other.

Yesterday Polish Pretend Son and I went on an excursion that ended up in the clubhouse of a golf course. I had never been in, and as we went around to the front door, it suddenly struck me that I might cause embarrassment by entering. I know there are still Scottish golf courses that are single-sex spaces, but I can never remember which ones. Conveniently, this was not one of them, so inside we went for lunch. Had it been one, however, I would not have minded at all. Lunch could have been got elsewhere, and I firmly support the right of men have spaces reserved for them, just as (for different and usually more pressing reasons) women have the right to spaces reserved to us. 

Thus, it appears that the first traditional relationship between men and women that I think about is the right to get away from each other. (That's very 1990s of me. Today the first concern is to maintain that men are not women and women are not men, and that boys always grow into men and that girl always grow into women.) After that I think about how we come together again. Naturally this often depends on our age and state in life. However, I think one universal should be modest dressing that reflects respect for oneself and everyone around. 


A reference for myself for later: Heritage Crafts