Wednesday 20 September 2023

The Late Cider Day

Benedict Ambrose and I spent the weekend we probably should have made the cider painting our front door and railings. Thus, we did not get to the cider until September 16, which I note in bold for future household discussions. In reality, we should probably take our cue not from the calendar but from the apples themselves. 

In the end, I collected 104 apples from the tree as B.A. sterilized the equipment, and we turned them into 6.5 litres of delicious pink-brown juice. Now they are living in large fermentation bin, having been robbed of their natural yeast (and any evil bacteria) and given new yeast from a packet. 

Yes, this September we have been distracted from our cider-making by many things: making apple crumble, the wear-and-tear of B.A.'s second course of radiotherapy in five years, a delayed bout of house decoration, and--of course--the Michaelmas Dance. 

The rental place I consulted about tableware proposed to charge me £40 for pick up and delivery. Thus, I threw my minimalist values to the winds and bought enough wineglasses, plates, cups and saucers to refresh a squadron. I now have enough of the above to last me the rest of my life. Tablecloths, though, are still an issue. 

I am also the proud possessor of many little pencils on strings and an equal number of dance cards of my own design. I picked up the latter at the printer's yesterday and did a little waltz before the counter. It has occurred to me that organizing a dance is as creative as writing a novel and probably more satisfying and definitely less work. 

Before and during the design of my dance cards, I consulted many articles about--and many photographs of--them online. I noted but did not read the essay condemning them as a patriarchal tool for oppressing women. The women I have consulted think dance cards are delightful. Meanwhile, I have enough for the men, so everyone can keep track of their dance partners and have a nice souvenir afterwards. Perhaps these cards will be offered for sale on eBay or its descendent in a hundred years ("Dance cards dating from the Early Restoration--authentic and rare").

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Dancing on Lá Fhéile Michíl

It is September, and our tree (see photo) is spangled with red apples. Saturday will be cider day. COVID killed our local brewery shop, so I hope we can find new yeast in time. I didn't like last year's yeast; I like my cider sweeter. 

Meanwhile, Michaelmas approaches and with it a dance. I'm organizing this event for Catholics in Scotland who love the Traditional Latin Mass and for those who like the former. It's the first time I embarked on such an undertaking since I came to live in Britain, and I am learning a lot. The most recent lesson is that I must establish with owners of a hall--even a church hall--that they supply glassware, silverware, and crockery before I sign on the dotted line. 

I think this quite serious because I have sold tickets to people as far west as Greenock and as far north (so far) as Dundee. Coming from such a distance, they deserve something special when they arrive at a dance. I don't want to foist plastic upon them. Thus, I am now the purchaser and guardian of dozens of metal cake forks and coffee spoons, and I will soon sally forth and acquire dozens of wine glasses. I'm still contemplating what to do about the crockery. Finding a tea set for 50 is a special kind of First World problem.

Car-free, I've sent out an S.O.S. about transporting all this to the hall. There will obviously be food and drink, including wine, to carry, too. 

"On a Friday?" asked a Polish lady in Dundee, looking at my flyer, and I was swift to explain that Michaelmas is traditionally a very important feast in Britain. This was once particularly true in Scotland; I am discovering many different customs that have certainly died out on the east coast, if ever they were here. In the Hebrides there were for centuries Michaelmas horse races and digging up wild carrots and the baking of the struan.

There will indeed be carrot cake on offer; I'm not sure yet about the struan. The latter was often given three corners to represent the Blessed Trinity. Spanakopita triangles, replacing non-Friday sausage rolls, could be our contemporary substitute.

Amusingly, the Sunday before Michaelmas was once known as Carrot Sunday. I shall call it Carrot Sunday from now on and peel piles of our orange friends for soup, salad, and cake. 

Another seasonal foodstuff is blackberries, which in England have to be consumed before Michaelmas when they go sour. The growing season in Scotland is later, so there will still be millions of sweet and juicy brambles in the hedgerows when I go out to get them for my chocolate cupcakes with blackberry frosting. 

I held a Waltzing Party last Sunday, and I invited everyone in our local TLM community who is going to the Michaelmas Dance. Thus, for the first time, an infant cast a baleful eye on our proceedings and, as I expected, distracted two of the dancers. I would love to come up with a solution for parents of very young children who want to come to dancing parties, but our usual hall has only one room.  (That said, it does have a kind of sliding shutter that could presumably close, and I could work out a rota of parents to oversee the wee sprogs. Watch this space.)

Through prayer and training, I have stopped panicking about the male:female ratio before every dance. I breezily leave it up to the Lord, as there is really nothing I can do about it, and the younger generation doesn't seem to believe in RSVPs. On Sunday, we had 10 men and 8 women, but one of the men was Benedict Ambrose, and he had no wish to dance. Instead he counted out ONE-two-three for me as I inexpertly led a review of the waltz. Somewhere in Canada a ballet mistress turned gracefully in her grave.

The world's most unlikely dance instructor, I studied an online dance lesson for hours last week and made notes. Unfortunately, the YouTubers were teaching the American Waltz, whereas we have been learning the English Waltz and the Viennese Waltz, and there was a murmur of rebellion from our best waltzer that it was wrong for the man to start with his left foot. 

How sadly I regretted the disappearance of our usual instructor, a 100% authentic Austrian. When he appeared, fresh from the airport, at the After-Mass coffee, it was as if St. Michael himself had appeared before me. However, it turned out St. Michael hadn't had more than 5 hours of sleep a night in days and was even contemplating taking a taxi home. Thus, maintaining the Viennese flame was still left up to me.

I fear I have done harm as well as good. Nevertheless, everyone got in some practice, and then we were led through the figures of three Scottish country dances by a much more confident teacher.

Incidentally, I had an amusing exchange with a newcomer to Scotland who--when at After-Mass Tea I hopefully asked another potential waltz instructor if he were staying for the party--remarked that the dance would need all the men it could get. 

"Ha!" said I. "Not in this community"--and swept her away to a table of young men to be entertained. If you are a young woman who likes young men who love the Traditional Latin Mass, I highly recommend coming to the diocesan-approved Edinburgh TLM for we have at least a dozen of them.