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 RafaƂ. 

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

Tuesday 3 October 2023

The Michaelmas Dance

Photos? You want photos? Someone took photos, but I haven't seen any yet. However, I can assure you that it did happen. 

The Michaelmas Dance took place on Michaelmas from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM in a much-developed 19th century parish hall quite big enough for the 60 people (including musicians) who came. There were two duos: a pianist and violinist to play the polonaise and the waltzes and an accordion player and guitarist for the ceilidh dances. There was an interval from about 9 until about 9:55 for wine, savouries, cake, tea and cake. At the end of the dance, everyone sang "Auld Lang Syne" and then "Salve Regina."

We began with the Prayer of St. Michael, a reproduction of whose portrait by Guido Reni sat on easel. The 27"x 20" paint-brush print was dwarfed by both the room and the easel, which I didn't expect. Next time it can stand on a chair. 

There were 64 dance cards, 50 of them attached to little blue pencils. Next time I will think to appoint an MC, and the MC will be able to explain that anyone, not just ladies, can use them and take them away as souvenirs. When I collected the unused ones afterwards, I discovered that only 28 had been taken, which was the number of non-musician ladies at the dance. 

Indeed, I had thought of everything except an MC, and thus the dancing began rather quietly (with W. Kilar's "Polonaise from Pan Tadeusz") and, like Mrs Dalloway, I feared that "my party" would fall flat. However, I told myself that I was too tired--and it was too soon--to make such a judgement, and I should try to see the event from the eyes of the guests. Happily, by the end of the first hour, I was convinced that the dance was a success, thanks to the smiles of the guests and--thank the heavens--the mingling of Edinburghers with visitors from other Scottish cities and towns.   

I made too much food and Benedict Ambrose bought too much wine, but that is no bad thing, as we happily sent a carrot cake for 36 home with a tall undergraduate with flatmates and took home a chocolate cake and 25 bottles of wine for ourselves. I do regret, however, the hours I spent making 163 spanakopita triangles. Making and freezing them was rather fun, but baking all of them on the day of the dance was tiring and stressful and by the time a kindly Polish lad put me, B.A., the wine, 64 wine glasses, and a good many other things into his car, I was exhausted. 

However, I was also nicely dressed, having found a green-blue silk dress with an ornate, jewelled collar on eBay and wound my Maclean tartan sash around it. My freshly washed hair was in a bun, and I made a concession to jollity by wearing lipstick. B.A. was wearing his kilt and a "day jacket" as the event was semi-formal, not formal, although I am glad this did not deter those men who own dinner jackets from wearing them. 

As B.A. and I are car-free (poverty, not politics), it was a rare trip (in both senses of the word) to speed along in a non-bus to central Edinburgh feeling like everything was now out of my hands and only Divine Providence could ensure that all the musicians would be there when I arrived. I checked my phone for messages and found it comical that people had sent me last-minute messages. What is the postal code for the hall? We cannot come after all for we are ill. Father won't let anyone in until you arrive

When we did arrive, I found the musicians, a family of guests, and a much-needed volunteer waiting for us. Father let me into the hall, gave me a sheet of instructions which he explained thoroughly, and then bid me a successful event. Then I let the early birds in, put "SOLD OUT Michaelmas Dance" posters on the doors to welcome guests and deter strays, and the began to disembowel the dozen boxes and bags of their wine glasses, cups, plates, saucers, forks, spoons, cake slice, tablecloths, dance cards, paper cups, paper napkins, squash, tea, coffee, wine, carrot cakes, chocolate cakes, cream cheese frosting, buttercream frosting, milk and sugar. Fortunately, guests hovered about asking if they could do anything, so the tables were covered as if by magic, and various glasses, cups, and plates appeared on the two tables in front of the galley kitchen. (Note to self for next time: order three or four.)

After the dance, for which I will be ever grateful, a guest platoon invaded the kitchen, washed everything and packed it away in the various boxes and bags. Thus, I was able to shut and lock the door on the last guests at 11:50 PM and mark that down on the instruction sheet. My heart was in my mouth for, in fact, I had only rented the hall from 7:30 PM until 11:30 PM to save money. 

Ah, the money. So if we included only those things that I originally budgeted for, we did turn a profit to divide between Una Voce Scotland and another TLM society who prefers not to be named. However, the hall turned out not to have those things which, as a tea lady, I have come to expect, and I was incensed by the pick-up-and-delivery charges of a local crockery-renter, so I bought them. But of course, B.A. and I now own all that stuff and have all that wine. Thus, we will send donations to UVS et alia anon. It's all very robbing Peter to pay Paul, but pay or play, as they say in Georgette Heyer's novels. 

My reward, if we want to think in those terms, was seeing dozens of Catholics--none of them over 60, by the way, and most of them under 35--who love the Traditional Latin Mass (or like Catholics who do) galloping up and down and around the hall in "The Flying Scotsman" and "Strip the Willow," which I watched with great contentment from the apertures between the kitchen and the hall. 

I was also delighted to see young men crossing the floor to ask women, young and middle-aged, to waltz, and my cup ran over when I overheard a young man ask a young lady if she could reserve one of the spaces on her dance card for him. My plot to bring back the best of the 1890s was clearly working. (Later I discovered that girls had lobbied other girls to ask their brothers to ask them to dance, which was probably also very much according to pre-war mores.)


I spent Saturday cleaning the house, literally scrubbing the kitchen floor with an old nailbrush and pine disinfectant. On Sunday Benedict Ambrose and I went to Mass, I served the after-Mass tea (with much help, especially in the cleaning up), and then we made dinner for my usual Waltzing Party dance instructors. Over supper we all discussed the Michaelmas Dance in great detail, deciding what worked and what could be improved and when we should have another one.  

Stay tuned.