Thursday, 30 June 2016

Three Childhood Dreams Fulfilled!

1. I live in the UK. I dreamed of living in London, but Edinburgh is pretty darn awesome.

2. I have written books.

3. I bought a Swatch watch today. Yes, once I dreamed of a brand. Well, I was only twelve. Maybe thirteen. Colourful ads for Swatches appeared in Seventeen magazine, my portal into what teenage life was "supposed" to be like, and I longed to collect them all. Oh, for an armful of  Swatches! The idea that you could wear more than one watch at a time had never before occurred to me, and it seemed so COOL.

It was the Eighties. I also dreamed of wearing big white T-shirts with CHOOSE LIFE written on them in big letters of neon orange and/or green--and this wasn't even a pro-life thing back then; it was an actual fashion. Later I dreamed of owning a black-spotted green fun-fur Fiorucci coat. (Somehow I don't think I will ever have that coat, and even if I found it, I am not sure I would wear it. But of course I would buy it. Are you kidding? That coat has fed my imagination for decades!)

Heavens, I loved Seventeen magazine. I stored my collection lovingly so I could look at them again when I grew up, but unfortunately my mother seems to have chucked them out. All that 1980s pop culture history lost! Fortunately there are snippets preserved in my diaries for somehow I had the presence of mind to write down--and sometimes even draw--what I wore to dances. I also loved Le Chateau, and whenever I had enough birthday-Christmas-allowance money saved, off I went to Le Chateau to buy sleeveless turtleneck shirts; black, stretchy or tartan, pleated miniskirts; and giant clip earrings shaped like Cleopatra's head.

People make fun of the Eighties, and I admit the amount of hairspray used by boys and girls alike   was startling, but they were actually very awesome, and I'm glad I saw them out as a teenager.

Meanwhile I now have a Swatch, and after thirty year this really cannot be considered an impulse buy. In thirty more years I might buy a Smartphone.

Note to Family: If stuck for Christmas ideas, Swatch watches always welcome at the Historical House.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

On the Latest Papal Scandals and Social Media

Yes, I'm shocked, too. Yes, I too fear for faithful teachers and parents. Yes, like many of you, I am appalled. Much good that will do me or anyone. As a layperson, I have never felt so helpless.

Can you imagine what Mother Teresa would say, were she alive? Or Sister Lucia of Fatima?

Meanwhile, I was so disturbed by writings on Facebook after the Brexit vote--the seething hatred and simpleminded scorn for Brexit voters--that I may give up Facebook entirely. Like Twitter, Facebook seems to encourage anger, scorn, strife and snowballing mass stupidity. There are Facebookers who seem to get all their information and opinions from social media, which they then repeat on social media as unshakable fact.

A Continental priest I know lowered himself enough to publish the slur "Britiots."  If he had written that in the heat of anger about English football louts, I would have understood. But for Britons who merely wish to free their country from rule by bureaucrats in Brussels?

Worse, however, were Americans and Canadians joining in the two-day hate against British Brexit voters. Someone actually called Boris Johnson "the British Trump". Guess why? His hair. They were quite obviously  extrapolating the rest of what they thought they knew about London's former mayor from his hair.

This is the media world to which Pope Francis makes his "off-the-cuff" remarks. Whenever he says anything that suits the World's agenda--and I think we understand from St. John the Evangelist what the World is--it gets turned into a soundbite for the eager consumers of social media. I shudder thinking of the courtrooms in which judges will tell Catholics that their "ideas" are not protected under freedom of religion because even Pope Francis says, "[Social media soundbite]."

What an appalling situation. And it should not be a surprise to anyone, for the World did that with Pope Benedict, too: first with the Regensburg Address, which led to the deaths of a priest and a woman religious, and then with his supposed lift "of the ban on condoms," which was so laughable, I wonder now if it weren't a kind of media trial balloon. ("Can we get away with that much?")

As for social media, there was one bright light on Brexit Day. After a day of growing horror at the seething hatred and stupidity of, especially, Millennials who apparently have never heard the word "No" in their coddled lives, the phone rang.

It was Der Guter, whom you will remember as my silly, funny German friend if you read Seraphic Singles (the book).  Der Guter had been watching the German news with his parents, and German reporters had gone to Edinburgh to talk to cheesed-off Remain voters.  Looking at the beautiful shots of Edinburgh, Der Guter thought of B.A. and me and wondered how we were feeling about Brexit. So he picked up the phone and phoned us up.

Der Guter is no longer a child by any stretch of the imagination. He is 32 and finishing his last degree, looking forward to joining the work world. Of course, he is still of a generation that likes to say "I think [this] and I think [that]" on social media, regardless of who among his friends might be disturbed. However, he doesn't do that. He wasn't interested in telling the British what he thought. He wanted to know what the British he knew thought. And so he phoned up--phoned, used a phone--to ask.

Der Guter means the Good, and now I really appreciate how apt that nickname.  Yes, okay, I once threw myself out of a boat to escape his witterings. However, at least they were good-natured witterings, not the appalling soundbites of Facebook and Twitter.  Meanwhile, we had a good old old-fashioned conversation, the once normal one between friends who haven't seen each other in a while, laughing over the day we first met and catching up on each other's lives. No photographs were exchanged. There were no emoticons.  It was truly human. It was great.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Archbishop's Visit

June 19, 2016 will go down in the annals of our little Traditional Latin (Extraordinary Form of the) Mass community as a festal day of purple and gold, for that was the day the Archbishop of St Andrew's and Edinburgh, i.e. our bishop, came to our Mass.

This was the first time any ordinary of Edinburgh had ever come to the Edinburgh FSSP Mass, and so--despite the end of the university term--a record number of trads turned out to welcome him. B.A., with the Schola in the back, gave up counting after 90. (If you live in a city of Catholics you will laugh at that number, but Catholics make up  only 15% of the Scottish population, and Catholics who go to Mass are a minority of this percentage, and so Catholics who ever go to the EF... Well, you get the picture.)

I was delighted when I saw taxicabs of Glaswegians arriving from the railway station, for I had been haunted by the fear that the Archbishop would look out over a mere fifty or sixty of us (or fewer, if some families had gone on holiday or retreat) and think, "Is that it?" Some people can make it to our Mass only once or twice a month, either because of transportation difficulties, or because they have duties at other parishes, or because the after-Mass social scene is so beguiling elsewhere, e.g. the Edinburgh Uni CSU. (Well, that is where most of the eligible girls are, let's face it. The Girl Guides are as yet too young.)

Edinburgh regulars stood about outside or hurried in, most of them looking happy and some even excited. Someone official had asked me to take photographs, so I brought our new camera, which I was uncertain how to use. I'm not really a picture-taker, and I dislike being distracted during Mass by extraneous stuff. However, poor B.A. has to sing almost all the time, and the altar servers spend Mass run off their feet, so I suppose it is fair.

While the Master of the Schola played a prelude, the Archbishop came out of the vestry door, preceded by John the Grizzled MC, into the car park, and went in the door to the porch where he blessed a crucifix and was inexpertly photographed by me.  Then he processed up the aisle to where our priest and the altar servers where already waiting for him, while I scurried up a side aisle taking more photos and feeling like a lemon. He genuflected and sat in a chair over on the left, i.e. the Gospel side, and everyone looked at him. He, however, kept his eyes on Father for the whole mass, except when he had to acknowledge a genuflecting altar server or bless something or give us the homily.

Just before the homily, Father introduced him and gave the announcement that Elaine, one of our tea ladies had died. Elaine, a large round lady with white hair, had been a part of the Edinburgh Latin Mass community for over thirty years. Father said that today's visit was a fruit of her work for the TLM, which intrigued me for mostly what I had seen Elaine do for the TLM--and this is actually very important--was heft a heavy teapot at the after-mass Cup of Tea of Peace. I don't remember Elaine ever taking holidays, and she was rarely ill, so she has been inextricably part of my Sunday life. From the pew beside me, our most frequent Glaswegian visitor gasped.

I thought about Moses, who was allowed to see the Promised Land and yet died before he could go in, for Elaine had known about the Archbishop's visit, but had died a week before he came. However, this is a false analogy for the supernatural end of human life is not episcopal blessings but the true Promised Land of union with God.  And then the Archbishop gave his homily, which was a good, juicy, stern one, with lots of Latin quotes from the Gospel, which was the one about laying down your offering before the altar to go and make peace with your neighbour before continuing worship. He told us that it was not enough to love the Mass; we had to live in charity with our neighbour. Being trads,we lapped it up, and when he was done, we sang the Credo at the top of our 90+ voices.

After Mass had ended and the Archbishop had followed the rest of the sanctuary party down the nave and up the side aisle into the vestry, the MC came out to chivy the altar servers (or something). He was grinning from ear to ear. Was he relieved all had gone well? Was he flushed with power of being allowed to boss a bishop around a sanctuary? Perhaps he was just reflecting the general mood.

The Archbishop stood in the sunny car-park and greeted the flocks that hung about shyly, in twos and threes, in couples and in family groups, getting up the courage to go and shake his hand or kiss his ring. I was so busy taking photographs, I couldn't think of anything to say when my turn came except, "May I introduce some of our friends from Glasgow?"--which totally ruined the impression that  all 90+  sheep were his sheep. Bien lá, as my nephew Peanut would sigh.*

I took lots of photos in between greeting and chatting with fellow parishioners (as we aren't really, but parishioner is such a useful word and we don't have a real parish of our own, weep weep) and then pursued His Grace to the parish hall where I took more photos. I do hope he didn't mind, but it just meant so much to us that he came to visit.

Many of us keep up with our "parishioners" who go to London or abroad, and I put my photos on my Facebook page so they could see them. A trad mother of two now living in South Asia wrote to me that she almost jumped out of her chair when she did.

The Archbishop mentioned in his homily that he has been trying to meet everyone in the past few years he has been our ordinary, perhaps so we would not get the wrong idea, but as a matter of fact, I think we were just so pleased that we were being treated like everyone else, instead of merely being tolerated or ignored as those embarrassing people, as in years (and bishops) past. And of course as trads we were highly enthusiastic about having the Peter of  St.Andrew's-Edinburgh among us. Personally, I enjoyed hearing the Archbishop's Scottish accent laying down the law (in English and Latin) from the pulpit. Not to put too fine a point on it, there are not a lot of Scottish priests, let alone bishops, in Scotland.

*Nulli, Ma Belle Soeur, Peanut and Popcorn are all at the Historical House, currently sleeping off their jetlag. They are staying with us for a bit before continuing their trip to Berlin. Peanut and Popcorn are the most Frenchified Canadian children I have ever met. Their parents shout at them in parks in both English and French and the children reply in either Anglo or Estrie. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, that great architect of Canadian bilingualism, among much worse things--hopefully he made it into  Purgatory at least, poor man--must be proud.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Edinburgh Film Festival

So I dressed up and went off without B.A. to the Filmhouse for the 9 PM showing of "Córki Dancingu", which turns out to be--well, not Polish mermaid slasher porn, but if I were a guy I'd probably have to go to confession before Mass tomorrow. The Polish lady behind me marched out, taking her Scottish date, right after the mermaid breastfeeding tableau. From the remarks fizzing behind me earlier, I gather my neighbour wasn't happy about the semi-comic musical lesbian communist cop scene either.

My favourite lines--delivered by a merman (I think)-- were "They're just humans. We're here on vacation." I shall remember this when I am also in Warsaw on vacation although not (like the mermaids) working in a strip club.

Anyway, after the fairy tale ending (not a Disney fairy tale ending), I got on the Rough Bus and soon after me a jakey (Scottish drunk) did too and then there was a barney (trouble) and some pushing and a lot of Scottish shouting and I got up and sat beside a brave man who tried with some success to make peace. He (the brave peacemaker) looked (and sounded) like either one of the Proclaimers.

Really, if you're wondering what women without children do on Saturday nights, believe me, you are better off where you are. At any rate, you are better off NOT on the Rough Bus--and perhaps several other buses--in Edinburgh on a Saturday night after 10:30 PM.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Walking Holiday

Edinburgh is an architectural jewel set in the countryside. You do not need a car to get into the countryside. You can just start walking down an old railway path or you can take an ordinary bus that stops not far from your door. Last Sunday B.A. and I packed two rucksacks, walked through our woods and caught the bus to Haddington.


Our Lady of Haddington
Haddington is a nice little town whose principal claim to fame is that John Knox was born there in 1513. It has a splendid pre-Reformation church that was half-ruined and then, mirabile dictu, architecturally restored in the early 1970s. Although owned by the Church of Scotland, St. Mary's protectors are aware that it used to be a major Catholic pilgrimage site--Our Lady of Haddington--and encourage ecumenical use of the church. The Lauderdale Aisle, in which the various Earls, Countesses and Dukes of Lauderdale are buried, is a High Episcopalian stronghold reattached to the chancel. It contains a copy of the original Our Lady of Haddington statue. More about the church anon. 

It was raining heavily when we got to Haddington but fortunately we were prepared for this. We marched to Tesco and bought groceries for supper, breakfast and lunch. (Ever expectant of disaster, I had packed enough fruit-and-nut bars and trail mix to keep us from starvation.) Then we slogged four miles down quiet roads to the hamlet of Morham and our rented bothy.
The bothy. The door is to the kitchen end.

How happy we were to reach this little hut! B.A. slid back the wooden shutters, opened the windows and lit a fire in the iron stove as I made cups of tea. The hut has a sink, a cooker, an electric kettle, a large toaster-oven (put under the stove like a proper oven), a mini-fridge under the sink, and all the dishes, cups, glasses, utensils and non-mechanical cooking things one needs in daily life. There was even a metal French press (coffee pot) although it had been put away dirty. (Tsk, tsk, tsk.) I scrubbed it at once. 

The hut is like a one-room cabin only attached to a tiny bunkhouse with six bunks, three on each side. For some reason we picked the middle ones. However, before bed there was tea to drink, supper to eat and the internet to check--for despite its 19th century air, the bothy had wi-fi. More on this anon.

The fire heated up the place very quickly and we were soon down to shirtsleeves. I felt overly warm when I went to bed and left my sleeping bag unzipped. However, I woke up freezing in the middle of the night and so the bag was zipped.
Six bunks, a ladder and an emergency door way in the back.


The bothy is attached to a covered corridor, stacked high with firewood, and washroom with a toilet. It is an incredibly civilized washroom--with a space heater on the wall! Standing under the hot shower in the chilly mornings was simply heavenly. 

We both woke up early on Monday morning and had a massive fry-up before setting out at 10. First we went to have a look at Morham Church, first built in the 12th century, where we prayed for the souls of the Christian departed--not forgetting the famous Presbyterian family buried in the crypt underneath, and sang the Salve Regina. I was interested to see that the list of "ministers" framed on the wall began only in the mid-16th century, and I wondered if the first one was an ex-priest. I am curious about why Lowland Catholics gave up the faith so enthusiastically, and I wonder if it was mostly a case of their admiration for charismatic heretical priests and then doing what they were told. 

Indestructable Denim Skirt of Female Traddery
Then we returned to the bothy to top up the water bottle and walked about four more miles in the beautiful countryside to the small village of Garvald, which the map said had its own post office (and therefore shop). Sadly, it no longer has a post office or a shop and the pub is closed on Mondays. 

Rain poured down so we took refuge in what may have been a former bus shelter and shared a sausage and fruit-and-nut bars. Then we walked to (the new) Nunraw Abbey, hoping very much that the monks produced things to eat and drink and sold them in their shop. Well, they may produce things to eat and drink, but they do not sell them in their shop. We found this out after "the Afternoon Office" (i.e. Nones, we think, and in English), and very disappointed we were. Fortunately, a lady chatting with a monk in the shop was a local and knew that the nearest shop was in the village of Gifford. So off we walked  the four miles or so to Gifford.

Halfway to Gifford I remembered that it was Monday, I owed the Catholic Register my biweekly column, and it was now two hours late. The air around me turned virtually blue. We didn't have B.A's little computer, and Scottish villages tend not to have internet cafés. How I seethed. But there was nothing for it but to wait, so I calmed down enough that we could both enjoy our beer in "The Goblin Ha'" when at last we reached Gifford. We bought groceries in the Co-op, and then we tramped back to Morham, B.A. having luckily found a direct, if rough and scratchy, route on the map. When we got to the bothy we had literally come full circle. 

I rushed indoors, wrote an apology to my editors, and typed out the column I had more-or-less already written in my head. One thing about blogging so often; the writing-habit comes in handy in emergencies like this. 

Windows, tea, fire, wine, supper, early to bed. 


We woke up rather later on Tuesday and left the bothy at 10:55 AM. We walked five miles, partly over quiet roads and partly through disappearing trails, to East Linton, stopping for a break at Hailes Castle and to test the acoustics of the bridge-tunnel. We reached East Linton at about 2 PM, walked past the Crown Inn (mistake) and left the village to have a look at Preston Mill and lunch at Smeaton Nursery Gardens and Tearoom.

Get there before 3 PM!
Alas! We reached the Tearoom just after 3, which is when the servers stop serving lunch. The end of lunch service is a perennial danger in our country walks. The tearooms of Scotland's abandoned or destroyed country houses care less for making an extra £10 than for sticking to their lunch schedule. As I am usually ravenous when we arrive, this makes me furious. However, my fury makes B.A. unhappy so I swallowed it, a cup of coffee and--shocker--a cup of ice-cream. Well, it was that or a scone--there was nothing else but cake, and ice-cream for some reason has a low GI. Also, it was S. Luca ice-cream (famous throughout the Lothians) and so totally pure and good. Except for the wicked sugar, of course.

After our rest in the lovely gardens of the tearoom (or amid the picnic tables of the gardens), we retraced our steps back to the bothy. We passed the clock tower in East Linton at about 4:45 PM and reached Hailes Castle at 5:25 PM. In the bridge-tunnel outside East Linton, B.A. repeated his experiments. After he sang the three notes of a third, the notes came back to us as a resonating chord. This is the sort of thing classical singers adore, I suspect, especially when they are male. 

When we passed Traprain Law again, B.A. terribly wanted us to climb up it, but I vetoed the idea on the grounds that we had already walked 7 or 8  miles that day. As a compromise, he suggested we climb to the Balfour Monument instead. I agreed, so when we go to the official road (the fields were full of cows and probably steers), we turned left and went up the hill. Sadly trees blocked our view of the bothy, but we enjoyed very much looking at all of East Lothian and, in the distance, various famous peaks and the elephant shape of Edinburgh's Arthur's Seat. 

B.A. internetting
Then we climbed back down, marched straight to the bothy, arrived shortly before 8 PM and began all our window-opening, tea-making, fire-lighting and supper-cooking.  We had steaks and half a bottle of wine. Then we read and internetted. 


As much as I love B.A., on holidays I enjoy waking up early and having some alone time. The trick is to do this without waking him up. Usually he has to pretend to himself and me that he is still asleep.  At any rate I made my morning cup of coffee and read more Baltic, pies który płynął na krze ("Baltic: The Dog who Sailed on an Ice-floe") until B.A. made another fry-up breakfast. Delicious. 

At 8:30 we stepped out without our packs to have another look at Morham Church, and then we returned and cleaned the bothy for the next guests. Sweeping the dust out the kitchen-side door reminded me of Auntie Em and Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz. It was really country living. 

We put on our packs and left for Haddington at 12:20 PM. It was an unusually hot and sunny day. We arrived at Our Lady of Haddington (i.e. St. Mary's) at 2 PM and finding the church open, we went to the Lauderdale aisle, prayed the perfectly orthodox prayer on the High Piskie prayer card and sang the Salve Regina.  Hopefully we did not offend the chap reading his Bible near the front of the restored if Presbyterianized chancel. Then we toddled about the chancel and nave reading the educational placards and looking for Catholic traces for almost an hour. Finally we thanked the ladies in charge of welcoming visitors and went to the riverside pub for a pint. 

Through Sunday's pouring rain I had seen a pair of low heeled sage suede pumps and a matching bag in a Haddington charity shop window--as one does even when one is carrying 15 pounds of stuff on one's back--so after our beer we found this shop and bought the shoes and bag. Finally we caught the first bus back to Edinburgh, did a quick grocery shop and walked the last mile home.  We arrived at 5:30 PM, and I was happier than ever to see the Historical House.

Although I am always happy to see the Historical House, and although I did enjoy our three-day country walking holiday, returning home was positively blissful. I suppose this is what Biritish walkers felt like in the old days, when country walks were a lot more popular. They loved being out in the countryside, and they loved reaching home after thoroughly tiring themselves out. One of the joys of walking in the British countryside is that I cannot help but think of Tolkien and all the walks in Middle-Earth. No doubt Tolkien was thinking of England when he wrote of the Shire, but I should think the Lowlands of Scotland come pretty close to the terrain in his mind. 

Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit Impulse Buy

Mermaids in Warsaw go nude.
I was planning to write "This morning I woke up, as usual, in the United States of Europe", so you can imagine my shock that Brexit won the referendum. I couldn't believe it. I knew it would be a squeaker, but I thought it would be a squeaker in which the UK just gave Johnny Foreigner a good scare and then all returned to the status quo. But no.

This almost inevitably means another Independence Referendum in Scotland--eye-roll--and the "I feel Scottish AND British" set might not be able to pull off another miracle on behalf of the United Kingdom. For one thing, a goodly percentage of it  is elderly (my husband's generation and his mother's generation not having had that many children), and young Britons are already all but broadcasting "Death to the Aged!" on Facebook. They point out that the elderly have only 20 years max to live with their Brexit vote; they do not consider that elderly have been paying taxes for 40 + years.

Sadly, many of the English-and-Welsh think they can go it alone without Scotland, and the annoying thing is that they probably can because we are only 5 million people and if there's anything last winter taught us, it is that North Sea oil wealth means zilch when the Saudis feel like punishing someone.

The Scottish Nationalist Party (which is not entirely Scottish and not nationalist like other people are nationalist) does not want to go it alone but be part of the European Union, which is why last night's result means another Referendum. Of course, if the European Union collapses, that's us alone--"an alcoholic madman clinging to a rock in the middle of the North Sea" as one of our parishioners once defined a crofter. And instead of encouraging Scots to have more children--for the SNP isn't into that kind of nationalism--Holyrood will import a new population of tax-payers who won't have the slightest idea who Robbie Burns is or give a damn either.

In related news, today I was in an Edinburgh hipster café owned by a Latin American trying to write a letter in Polish while behind me a black Londoner preached Islam to some white guy and assembled Americans, including a waiter, discussed how racist the Brexit-voting English are and how rich they (the English) were after World War 2.  (A Paddington Bear-style hard stare appeared from behind the English-Polish dictionary at that one.)

Meanwhile, the virtual screaming and yelling over Facebook is unbelievable. People with PhDs are actually posting charts to show how the elderly have shafted the young by voting according to their consciences: it's the most frighteningly ageist thing I have ever seen. I have seen only two posts of joy from Continental Europeans, both of them political science PhDs  from ex-communist countries who hate socialism with a hot white flame. The other Europeans are full of grief, horror and fear, and I do feel badly that they are frightened although I do not believe for a moment anyone will tell a European working or studying in Edinburgh that she or he has to go.

Ryan Air, which was firmly Remain in its EU Irish way, was so sure that the UK would remain that it sent me an email this morning saying "Celebrate remaining in Europe." Amused I clicked on it, and found the following:

"1 million seats from £9

"Celebrate Europe
As the UK's largest airline, we hope the UK will vote to Remain in the EU. To celebrate what we pray will be a big Remain majority, we're launching a 1 million seat sale with fares to Europe starting from just £9.99 – less than the UK's £13 travel tax – for travel in October and November, just after midnight tonight until midnight (GMT) Friday.
Just like the EU Referendum, these fares are once in a lifetime and will be snapped up quickly, so customers should log onto before they sell out. And if the Leave side do win, then these will be the last low fares the UK will enjoy for a very long time.

So in a massive attack of mingled panic and greed, I bought a round-trip ticket to Warsaw for £20. The catch is, of course, the two weeks between the departure and the return and, er, the fact that B.A. had stepped out to get the post so I couldn't get him to stop me consult him. In my defense, I tried calling his phone. 

Oh dear. What have I done? The tickets are non-refundable, so this probably means buying an extra, earlier ticket home. Dear, dear, dear.
No naked mermaids allowed in Krakow.

Update: Okay, so I have bought a ticket back to Edinburgh from Krakow a week earlier than my £10 flight from Warsaw-Modlin. At £47, it won't break the bank either. The moral of the story is never to impulse buy a ticket abroad without talking to someone about it first.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Back from Holiday!

We're back from our walking holiday in East Lothian. We took a camera, so watch for photos. We visited many pre-Reformation village churches. When they were unlocked, we went in and sang "Salve Regina", heedless of the evidence indicating that they have been cared for by Calvinists since 1560 or whatever.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Od 5 Lat

Polish class has ended for the summer, and as I stood on the doorstep of the uni building, zipping up my raincoat, I felt a little sad. As usual my energy had plummeted during the lesson, for I am a morning person, and it had been a long time since lunch.

"Quare tristis es, anima mea?" I asked (if not in those words) and realized that this was the end of four years of night classes and I had studied Polish for five years.

"And I'm still not fluent," I inwardly grumbled.

However, the number 5 cheered me, for some years ago I vowed I wouldn't quit Polish until I had studied it for five years, and here we are. I haven't quit. Vow fulfilled.  My present to myself was going to be an intensive, total immersion language course in Poland but...that's not going to happen this year. (Maybe an intensive, total immersion weekend?)

Success with Languages suggests the learner do a lot of self-reflection on why he or she wants to learn the target language chosen. The answer to why is quite embarrassing as it is "Because [Polish Pretend Daughter] said I couldn't do it." Since then Polish Pretend Daughter has completely revised her opinion on the abilities of foreigners, having married a Frenchman who now speaks Polish. Obviously there has to be a better reason to learn Polish, and I suppose "I want to know what Polish people on the bus are saying on their mobiles" could be one.

The learner is also supposed to celebrate his or her successes. As for successes, I guess I have come far from the day I first sat in our library (actually a Regency-era linen closet filled with our books) with Pimsleur Polish 1 and nervously began to learn the apology word "przepraszam" ("Szam...praszam...przepraszam...") Thanks to its ubiquity in the Polish language, the sound "psh" now holds no terrors for me.

What else? I can get the gist of Polish children's books without a dictionary and the gist of some Polish conversations on the bus. I can shop, order food in restaurants and buy tickets in spoken Polish and order books online in reading Polish. I am really, really good at using Polish-English dictionaries. If presented with a Pole who spoke no English whatsoever, we could probably have a pretty good Polish conversation although presumably I would sound like the anglophone equivalent of Long Duk Dong.

I also know more than the average non-Pole about the history of Poland and contemporary Polish politics, and I read everything a non-Pole (or a Pole employed by the Guardian) writes about Poland through the hermeneutic of suspicion.

But to get back to language, I have learned a lot about language-learning while doing it, so here are my observations:

1. Unless you have a rare gift, learning a language outside an immersion context is very difficult. 

2. There is only so much you can do outside an immersion context. With the help of audio material (crucial), you can learn a basic vocabulary. With the help of a decent textbook, you can learn quite a bit of grammar. After that you need to go where almost everyone speaks the language and speak it there.

3. You have to get over thinking you sound stupid. Nobody thinks you sound stupid. Native-speakers think you sound foreign. They may even think you sound attractively exotic. In some cultures, native-speakers think you are a wonder for attempting to learn their language at all. Of course, you may run into a native-speaker who says learning his language is a complete waste of your time. Fight him on this by mentioning the brilliance of a few of his national literary heroes, whose writings can only be properly appreciated in their original language. One of the secrets of life is NEVER to agree with someone who has just run down his own country/culture.

4. Weekly classes outside an immersion context are helpful if the teacher is a native speaker. However, weekly classes are at least 50% listening to a lot of non-natives slowly murder the language. If you can afford a private tutor, hire a private tutor instead of taking classes.

That said, if you enroll in a for-credit university course in a minority language (like Polish or Italian) in a multicultural metropolis like Toronto, you may discover that most of the other students grew up speaking a version of that language at home. In this case, you may have a dozen unpaid young profs all around you as well as the official prof, an excellent situation.

5. Anyone who wants to improve their language skills must be plunged regularly into an immersion context. The child must be sent to immersion school or, at very least, immersion camp. The high school or university student must go on that course offered abroad (or if an anglo Canadian learning French, Quebec). The working person must go abroad on holiday or into a family that habitually speaks the target language at home.

Why? Apparently the human brain is so efficient, it throws away information it doesn't need. Apparently all your memories are not buried in your brain and if only you were smarter/took a magic pill, you STILL would not be able to access them all. Apparently, most of your memories are gone. Only in an immersion context does your brain say, "Holy guacamole! To cope I am going to have to hang onto all these weird new words and linguistic structures!" Only in an immersion context are you forced to repeat often enough the same physical movements of your mouth and tongue needed to make the properly foreign sounds. Studying for exams is so hard because you are fighting your own brain.

This may not be true of reading the language, for when you read a foreign language, it prompts the English in your head. However, having to remember foreign words unaided is a different kettle of fish. This brings me to my next point.

6. When you learn a language, you are actually learning four languages: the language as read silently, the language as heard, the language as spoken and the language as written. People find one skill easier than another. Not surprisingly, I find reading and then writing Polish easiest, thanks in part because I can (and do) use a dictionary so often. Others, however, may find listening and speaking easiest and struggle with reading and writing.

7. Balancing out the easier activities with the harder activities takes serious discipline and motivation.

8. Unless you are in an immersion context, you must study every day. You must besiege your brain with recordings, reading material, the sound of your own voice speaking the language and the efforts of writing something original in it. Why Saint Francis called his body "Brother Ass" when the real ass is the brain is a mystery to me. But maybe Saint Francis, born long before Descartes, didn't make that distinction. The brain is PART of the body and therefore it must be exercised daily to do what you want it to do.

9. To learn well, you have to feed your brain. Here's a list of brain-boosting foods. Apparently 8 oz of coffee helps it learn better, too. I always drink coffee before class and often when I am reading Polish.

10. This may sound extreme, but marrying someone who is fluent in the language can be a huge help. (It can also hinder, however, if he or she discourages you.) First of all, you associate the language with happy feelings (very important). Second, you may have ample opportunities to practice with a native or (at least) advanced speaker. Third, the target language spouse may want you to learn his/her language because he/she wants to raise bilingual kids and wants you to be able to speak to his/her parents, grandparents and other relations or even reside in his/her country of origin. You could end up like Monsieur Chopin, who started off French but then somehow spent most of his adult life in Poland and his half-French, French-speaking child Frederik became a national Polish hero.

Naturally I do not know this first hand, but I do know some determined wives and girlfriends of Polish learners and the student in my class with the best accent is a woman married to a Pole who, she says, is very strict about her pronunciation. Fortunately, she grew up with boys and prefers men as friends, or I would say "Yikes!"

Update in response to today's primary Francis-scandal: Not only am I sure my own marriage to B.A. (contracted when we were in our late 30s) is valid, I am sure my parents' marriage (contracted when my mother was a baby-faced 23) is valid. However, I would not be surprised if many marriages between western people of my own messed up generation are indeed invalid. Without a rigorous scientific or theological study, I wouldn't dare to say "most", though. My hypothesis is not a reflection on marriage but on the decadent, confusing, culture-clash, post-Christian society in which my generation and subsequent generations grew up.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Go to Joseph

After I heard about the recent massacre in Orlando, there was really only one Catholic voice I wanted to hear on the topic: Joseph Sciambra's. I kept checking his blog (not safe for little brothers) to see if he had written about it yet. You see, Joseph Sciambra is the one  Catholic blogger I know who loves men who have embraced what he calls "gay" and goes to the center of their world (i.e. the Castro district of San Francisco) to help them out of it.  Joseph credits our Lord Jesus Christ and the help of good priests for his own escape. He also has a huge devotion to Saint Joseph.

Today I discovered that he had just given an interview to Steve Skojec of OnePeterFive (here). He doesn't say that much about Orlando, actually. What struck me is that he called the victims "those poor guys...and gals", seeing them FIRST as men and women and only then reflecting that places like Pulse is where they have found love and acceptance.

The interview is 1 hour and 22 minutes, so you may want to find some household chore to do while you listen. It actually is safe for little brothers, so you need to the sound down for fear of PC types.

I was struck by Joseph's gentleness but also by his story about being rejected as a speaker at a San Francisco Catholic parish. Unfortunately, Catholic churches are not interested in Joseph sharing his story or his message. Maybe they are afraid of the shock factor (which you could understand if you had read some of the sad stories on his blog). But maybe Joseph's traditional message about rejection, sin and redemption is not what they want to over there in San Fran. Joseph is never rude, but he did speak rather frankly about men not needing to be coddled by religious sisters.

When a parish told Joe no thanks, he walked the short distance to Castro and started his own street ministry. Sometimes that's just what you have to do, and Joseph did it. He gets a certain amount of abuse, but he seems rather nonchalant about it. As I said, he really loves the men he talks to, never forgetting that he used to be in the life himself.

Strange Bedfellows

Once or twice a week I go to the public library with the small knapsack that has replaced the handsome wool-and-leather shoulder bag I gave B.A. and then stole back. (Another lesson of the Chartres Pilgrimage is that carrying a heavy bag over both shoulders is really more comfortable.) After my latest visit, I reflected that the contents of the knapsack reflected the content of my character, as they included:

1. Polish missal, which I forgot to take out on Sunday.
2. Polish dictionary, which I was going to use soon.
3. Polish children's book, which I am reading in depth.
4. Polish notebook, dedicated solely to the aforementioned children's book
5. Gruffalo-themed pencil case with motto "Everyone is afraid of me."
6. The 5:2 Fast Diet Cookbook
7. Delicious Dishes for Diabetics
8. High Heels and a Head Torch: The Essential Guide for Girls who Backpack
9. The Abolition of Britain from Winston Churchill to Princess Diana
10. Success with Languages
11. Teaching and Learning Languages: A Practical Guide to Learning by Doing
12. Survival Handbook in association with the Royal Marines Commandos
13. Wallet
14. Keys
15. MAC "Russian Red" lipstick 
16. Old grocery store receipt
17. Umbrella
18. Water bottle

I felt guilty that there were no novels in this collection. I know I'm supposed to be reading novels. I'm supposed to be saying "Aha! Good opening sentence. Excellent sketch of surroundings. Masterful character development." Etc. 

As you can see, my extramural interests lie with Polish, low-sugar diets, backpacking and life in the UK. I am not actually a diabetic (thank heavens); I've just chosen to eat that way. My daytime slap has been reduced to lipstick because "You look better without [the whole nine yards], darling."  

The library books are currently swearing at each other. The big troublemaker is, of course, Peter Hitchens' The Abolition of Britain, which compares how poor, colourless, clever and morally upstanding the British were in 1965 to how rich, colourful, stupid and base they were in 1997. 

The problem is not so much Hitchens' ideas--some of which are echoed by Theodore Dalrymple in Our Culture, What's Left of It--but the discomfort that lingers in the brain when reading anything else involving his themes. The first chapter, "Born Yesterday", was very entertaining, but I read his second chapter denouncing contemporary teaching methods just after a chapter of Teaching and Learning Languages: A Practical Guide to Learning By Doing. The focus on students rearranging their desks and talking to each other is the sort of thing Hitchens complains about and, as a matter of fact, when I was a child in Canada, basic French was banged into our heads not through teamwork but by group chanting of "Je suis, tu es, il est, elle est, ON est, nouzzzz avons, vouzzzz avez, ils sont, elles sont." Today I long for a mind-numbing, but effective, recording of Polish verbs.  

That I will ever finish  Teaching and Learning Languages is now in doubt. 

In the evenings, when my brain is less suited to philosophy, foreign languages and spleen, I have been turning to the Survival Handbook in Association with the Royal Marines Commandos and  High Heels and a Head Torch: The Essential Guide for Girls who Backpack. These are very different books. 

The first book is brilliant, serious, well-illustrated and full of excellent advice about how to deal with a number of gruesome possibilities. I am working up the courage to read the First Aid section, but meanwhile I have learned how to predict rain. I have also been inspired to assemble a survival tin, even though B.A. says such things as, "We won't need it just for walking in East Lothian." Ho! Confident words for a man who was slowly chased by cattle just the other day.

The second book isn't really about backpacking, it's about BACKPACKING, which is to say travelling  around the world from hostel to hostel in search of thrills, including sex with strangers. Instead of assembling a survival tin, the author of High Heels and a Head Torch stuffed her backpack with condoms. 

The transformation of British sexual morality is another subject at which Peter Hitchens gets all very gloomy. When I finished High Heels and, still sleepless, reached for The Abolition, I stayed my hand. Another dose of Hitchens after Duke's cheerful promiscuity would have been much too depressing. The Royal Marines Commandos are surely not prudes, but they completely neglected the subject of sex in their tome, possibly because in a survival situation you're not supposed to waste your energy on such frivols. (They even advise against over-reliance on rabbit flesh as you would spend too much energy digesting something much too low in fat.) Here is High Heels' top survival advice (besides never taking a taxicab from the airport in Delhi at night):

"I know I keep banging on about this (no pun intended) but it's easy to forget when you're away from home in an exotic location, you've had a couple of drinks, picked up a gorgeous guy, gone for a romantic walk along the beach and are about to get down and dirty in the sand. Pausing the action to ferret around in your bag for a condom may not be your first concern--but it should be. Especially with a partner you don't know. You probably wouldn't trust them with your money, your credit cards or your passport so don't trust them with your health either. The effects of losing that are far more long term  (p. 152, emphasis mine). "

High Heels has a usually enjoyable tone, provides some interesting tips and provokes some giggles, so I am searching around in my mind for kinder adjectives to describe it. Louche, perhaps. It was written for girls travelling after their secondary education (i.e. high school), so the target audience is about 18 years old and--to judge by this book--drugged up to the eyeballs on the Pill. It is curiously classist and racist in that the author assumes that you would put out for a tall blond surfer/fellow backpacker in a heartbeat but not for an Indian rickshaw driver. This is especially interesting when you come across her joke/information that British friends might give the backpacker points for "each different nationality you get through."

Naturally I do not think an 18 year old English girl far from home should put out for an Indian rickshaw driver, either. I am even willing to admit that, for cultural reasons, he may be more dangerous than the Aussie surfer of the author's dreams. I have read rather less about gang-rapes by blond men in Australia than I have of gang-rapes by dark-haired men in India. Still, if you wouldn't trust a man with your money, credit card or passport, I don't know why you would trust him with the tenderest bits of your body. What would the Royal Marines Commandos have to say about it, I wonder. 

The philosophy of High Heels is rather strange from a Catholic, or a Britain-in-1965, point of view, but may explain why so many men in hot, poor countries think white women/British women are barely different from prostitutes. (High Heels has much advice for white girls, especially blondes, to avoid being groped by colourful natives.) It also leads me to suspect that saying, "I'm not comfortable with this conversation; I'm a Catholic" will elicit white hot screams of "Are you judging me?" from your fellow (literally speaking) travellers. 

My advice to Catholic backpackers would be to travel with another Catholic pal or another traditionally religious pal of good will and to seek out backpackers from cultures in which female chastity (at very least) is acknowledged as a sensible (if not desirable) choice. This is just a guess, however, as I never did backpacking of the hostel-jumping sort. In my youth, my few holidays abroad were never longer than two weeks in duration, and I always chose hotels over hostels. I also paid extra for First Class train tickets, thinking this would make me safer as well as more comfortable. This was done at the expense of food--which, by the way,  the Royal Marines Commandos think should be avoided in the first 24 hours of your survival situation. Clean drinking water is more of a priority.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Fasting, Abstinence and Compassion

It's Traddy Tuesday, and so a good time to repeat that the traditional fasting and abstinence laws are not only penitential, they are good for human health. As I am not a doctor, you can take what follows solely as an amateur's enthusiasm.

The best known contemporary proponent of fasting is Dr. Michael Mosley whose 2013 "Fast Diet" propelled a fasting craze among dieters so widespread that the expression "5/2" is a household expression in the UK. The diet is popular because it assures dieters that they need only restrict their calorie consumption twice a week and "just eat normally" on the other days. When the dieter has achieved his or her goal weight,  he or she is expected to restrict calorie consumption only once a week--but for the rest of his or her life. The dieter can pick whatever day he or she wants to fast in, so naturally Friday comes to mind.

Dr Mosley claims that the health benefits of intermittent fasting include protection against diabetes, dementia and cancer, which makes me think of stories about monks and nuns who live very long and healthy lives.

This year's Mosley diet craze is called the "Low Blood Sugar Diet", which regular readers all know about, since I am on it. In this diet, the poor dieter is supposed to get by on 800 calories a day, every day, for eight weeks--a bit longer than Lent---and abstain from sugar, white bread and anything made from white flour. As most prepared foods--even stock cubes, I discovered to my chagrin--now include sugar, the dieter eats a surprisingly natural diet.

Sugar is so terrible for you, it turns out that giving up sweets and puddings for Lent was a very good and useful discipline after all.

What does not jive with tradition is the inclusion of meat in both diets. Vegetarians (and those who abstain from meat on Fridays) can still follow them, of course, as long as they consume enough vegetable protein in place of the necessary meat protein. Meat-eaters will probably find themselves consuming smaller amounts of meat, so as not to eat too many calories. (I see that there are 239 calories in 100 g of chicken, which is how much chicken I consumed in Sunday's chicken soup. Weighing your food is important in calorie-reduced diets.) Meat-eaters will consume less meat if they give thought also to animal welfare and consume only those birds and animals who were raised humanely, for their meat is rather more expensive than the meat of their less fortunate brethren. However, there are ways around the expense, and you can shop like a traditional grandma, looking for the "cheaper cuts" of  ethical meat, which turn out to be even more flavoursome than the expensive cuts, if you cook them properly.

Naturally there are convents and monasteries where the monks and nuns never or almost never consume animal flesh, which is something to consider, and I do consider that at Lent. A low-carb, sugar-free, meat-free Lent strikes me as challenging, but it's still Pentecost, so I shall put that thought aside. Meanwhile, Lent at the Historical House can never be fish-free, for my husband has put his foot down on that. (He's from Dundee. He cannot cope without the flesh of something.)

I suspect we would all be better off at a healthy weight, eating a healthy number of calories, with some fasting (e.g. on Friday) to ensure we aren't going overboard on the calories and then some periodic long-term fasting or abstinence from sugar and other unhealthy foods (e.g. fast food, ready-meals) during Advent and Lent. There is quite a range of "healthy weight", I see from the NHS's BMI tool. Apparently someone my age and height has a 30 lb range to play with. Thus if I, being at a healthy weight, were to lose a bit of weight during Lent, and then gained it back before Advent, I should think it no big deal. Meanwhile, there is always a bit of suffering in not eating tasty things you would really like to eat, so there is the necessary Lenten penitential component. Learning to live with discomfort is a crucial Christian discipline.

There is another spiritual challenge involved in successfully returning to a healthy weight, and it is refusing to feel smug and judgmental about one's overweight neighbours.  After all, it turns out that to return to a healthy weight you don't even need to spend money for a gym membership, trainer or club. You just need to reduce calories and stuff as much nutrition as possible in every calorie you do eat. It would seem that anyone could do that, so why don't they? And surely that almost spherical young Polish woman on the Rough Bus didn't arrive in the UK that way? What would her grandmother say? Tsk, tsk, tsk.

The cure for such self-congratulation and small-mindedness is a book called Fat Planet: The Obesity Trap and How to Escape It. It begins with the female co-author getting into a fat suit and living as an obese woman in England for a day. Not only was she incredibly physically uncomfortable, people kept staring at her and making rude remarks. It left her thoroughly depressed. Many obese people are depressed and one easy way to feel better is through comfort eating. Some people get addicted to comfort eating, but naturally to get the "high", as with all drugs, they have to eat more and more. Incidentally, some nutritionists think chocolate should be reclassified as a drug.

Meanwhile, Fat Planet makes a very good case that the overweight and obese are only marginally responsible for their predicament. In short, society is to blame. This is a society that seriously messes with our natural cues regarding food consumption through advertising, food additives, and delicious smells cynically pumped into the air. If the High Street were all clothing shops, it would be much easier to maintain a healthy weight than if the High Street didn't feature a dozen fast food restaurants, cafés, pie shops and bakeries. Whenever we watch television or walk down a shopping street or in a mall, we are barraged by subtle messages of "EAT. EAT. EAT."  A current McDonald's advert on UK TV is selling McDonald's as a locus of family-, friend- and even first romantic love. Well, it certainly may be, but only because it has spent a gazillion dollars of advertising itself that way.

In the United Kingdom, there used to be strong cultural conventions about when it was time to eat. If you were a working-class person (and we would most of us be working-class people), you had your supper (or "tea") at 6 PM. If you were a woman of leisure, you might not eat until 8 PM, which explains the popularity of the 4 PM meal, called "afternoon tea", invented by the Duchess of Bedford in 1840. At its inception consisted only of tea, bread and butter.  Meanwhile, snacking was not a thing. I have just discovered that in the USA snack foods were once considered shameful.  I suppose children have always consumed sweets and snacks when they could get them (robbing apple orchards, etc.), but adults weren't supposed to do that.

However, traditional conventions regarding self-control in the UK have thoroughly broken down, as you can see on the High Street of any British city any Friday or Saturday night, and so UK residents, whatever our origin, are in danger of becoming fat, drunk, and chased around a table in Marseilles by a fascistic Russian wielding a metal chair leg.* The best way to prevent this is by cultivating self-control though the traditional tools of fasting and abstinence.

*Update: Okay, some people won't find that funny. Naturally it was not the fault of the majority of the English fans who were set upon by Russian football hooligans. However, it may have been the English reputation for hooliganism that led to the apparently premeditated attack. Is this reputation out-of-date? I was in German during the FIFA 2006 World Cup tournament, and English fans behaved atrociously. It was if English civilisation had completely collapsed, and somehow it was 594 AD again.

Monday, 13 June 2016

On Nightclubs, Decadence and Violence

The news cycle has changed with a barrage of gunfire. Good-bye, Stanford Rapist; hello, Orlando Shooter. Or Orlando Jihadist, depending on how you interpret his actions. He called in to give ISIS some credit, which ISIS enthusiastically took, so no doubt he preferred Orlando Jihadist himself, as he pondered Sunday's headlines.

I have never been in a gay dance club at 2 in the morning, but I have certainly been in dance clubs at closing, especially Goth bars.  In university, I went to "Sanctuary: The Vampire Sex Bar" which was then on an untamed stretch of Toronto's Queen Street West. The name was an ironic play on a singles' bar a block or two east called "The Bovine Sex Club."  I was in the Bovine only once; the sex consisted of sleazy Japanese cartoons played on screens above the bar. Sanctuary was a much more chaste place, believe it or not. It gave off a scary noir vibe, of course; while there I made up a darkly romantic version of 19th century Paris in my head. When I wasn't dancing in the far room, I was writing poetry by candlelight in the lounge, influenced by Baudelaire, while never (of course) having read Baudelaire. Quelle poseuse.

The entire club was in a cellar. Although there must have been a fire exit, I have no idea how anyone would have escaped had the stairwell been blocked. When Sanctuary moved further west down Queen Street West, it occupied a ground floor and a cellar. The dance floor was in the cellar. I disguised my mother as a Goth once and smuggled her in. She observed that the place was a fire hazard and a death trap. Once again, I cannot remember where the alternate exits were. There surely must have been some; perhaps they were chained shut. Mum was worried about fire and stampedes; I don't think fear of indignant moralists with rifles ever crossed our minds.

No doubt the Sanctuary habitués were a scary-looking set. That was the point, really. But there was no ideology behind Gothica, at least, not according to the Goths I asked. It was about the music and the clothes. It was purely aesthetic. I don't even remember drugs. The one time I saw E making the rounds, it was on the way to a rave. Incidentally, it was in Toronto's "Nocturne" that I discovered how bad Smirnoff vodka is and why Canadians generally dilute vodka with orange juice.  (Never, ever drink Canadian vodka straight.) 

As for sexual license, well, when Nocturne was still Savage Garden, some pals and I trundled hopefully up to the door to be warned that it was "Fetish Night." But what strikes me now is not that Savage Garden hosted fetish nights but that its bouncers kindly warned us away. 

Naturally we were disappointed because the Top 40 clubs on Queen Street West were hormone-drenched sleaze-fests where complete strangers might start grinding on us. However, we probably next went to the Velvet Underground, which was Goth-positive and therefore less sleazy. That said, when two girls dancing together in Velvet Underground (one evening, if not that evening) started making out in the middle of the room, they were soon surrounded by young men who stood stock still, staring at them as if they were a porn film. Their faces and their stillness were among the creepiest sights I have ever seen. The girls did not seem to mind, though,  and as they continued their free show, I moved away. 

I suppose some Goth girl outfits are pretty sexy. I always went in for the Victoriana myself, which nevertheless included (to family chagrin) a cute little red PVC bodice that admittedly I would not wear anywhere but in a Goth club. When it went the way of all ten-year-old PVC this February, my Toronto friends and I had a short funeral service as I dropped it in the bin. We are all practicing Catholics, so how ironic if during my never-to-be-forgotten Goth-themed birthday party, a self-righteous madman had climbed the stairs of Savage Garden and shot us full of holes for being Satanists or whatever.   

Once again, this never crossed my mind. Canada has strict, strict gun laws and apart from gun collectors and hunters who live in town, the only Torontonians who seem to think guns are cool or necessary are gangbangers. Occasionally a gangbanger shoots someone in or outside a night club, but these are clubs that feature certain kinds of music and not others. Not Goth or Industrial, for example. And ideologues (like Gamil Gharbi aka Marc Lepine) seem to prefer to shoot up schools and colleges. 

So what do I think of the Orlando shooting? 

Well, first I think poor mental health is not an excuse for murder but it is a darned good excuse not to A) hire a man to be a security guard or B) sell him an AR-15. 

Second, I feel uncomfortable when gay men share caresses in public--at a classical concert I attended yesterday, for example, two young men seated in front of me billed and cooed, held hands, gazed into each other's eyes, one kissed the other's shoulder, etc., and eventually I changed my seat so I could see the performers instead--but same-sex caresses do not lead me to thoughts of violence. My one fantasy at the concert was to self-publish a pamphlet called "How to Behave at Concerts" and give copies to the young men and anyone else who annoyed me at concerts in future. I will not actually do this. 

Third, although my culture, my religion and my philosophy have certain strictures about manliness and how to express sexuality, they are all very much against cold-blooded murder, not to mention treason. This was an American who declared allegiance to a foreign power just before killing Americans, and so he was a stinking traitor to his country as well as a murderer. 

What, besides mental illness and discomfort with homosexual sexual relations, may have led the Orlando Jihadist to think it was a just and noble deed to (A) betray his country and (B) shoot 100 homosexuals and their friends?  This is not a hypothetical question to which I expect you to answer Islam, though I am no fan of Islam. Although many Islamists use Islam to justify murderous violence (rape, slavery, etc), I am  concerned with ANY environment which makes violence and treason romantic, including cinemas.

UPDATE: I am horrified by the "Satan eats his own" type remarks at a couple of other Catholic blogs. Okay, there is feeling discomfort with gay PDAs, and there is sorrow at sin, and there is non-violent resistance to unprecedented cultural change, and there are even warnings to the living about the dangers of hell. But demonizing all people who experience SSA, or anyone who ever set foot in a gay dance club, let alone the ones who were killed or wounded on Saturday night, is just shabby.  To delve into Saint John Paul's Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

UPDATE 2: More hell-fire posts from Catholic blogs. I think Father Hunwicke strikes a good balance. No, we don't want more persecution of Christians who articulate the teachings of Scripture and the Church.  And yes, we do want to hope for the souls of the departed. 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Tale of the Tape Week 6 (?)

All the feasting stopped my fat cells from further shrinkage last week but this week my fat cells are back on track. Although my powder blue circa 1961 vintage dress doesn't quite fit (especially around the upper arms, oddly enough), it fits better. As the fabric is a bit scratchy, it will have to fit perfectly before I actually wear it. (When did I buy that dress?)

A friend wrote to ask if I am still on 800 calories a day, and I must admit that I am hazy on that point. (I'm not even sure if this is the end of Week 6.) Every once in a while I try to total things up with the aid of calorie counters on the computer, but as Hemsley + Hemsley don't believe in calorie counting, their cookies mess things up. Although naturally they have more nutrients, ground almonds are higher in calories than wheat flour. 

Generally I stick to the following guidelines:

1. No cane or beet sugar, and honey, maple syrup and date syrup are only for Hemsley + Hemsley recipes. 
2. Don't eat more than two Hemsley + Hemsley cookies a day. 
3. Don't eat anything made from white flour and eat as little potato as can get away with.
4. Include half an avocado in lunch. 
5. Consume full-fat yogurt and if I consume milk, full-fat milk.
6. Oily fish at least twice a week. 
7. Think protein. 
8. If get the munchies, drink a glass of water or cup of herbal tea.
9. If still have the munchies, eat a small handful of nuts. 
10. Eat blueberries every day, preferably in oatmeal porridge. 
11. Drink water all day, either cold or made into herbal tea.

We should be eating more veg. I will have to make veg more of a priority when I go to the supermarket. We are eating more soup, especially now that I have fallen in love with the "Pablo's Chicken" recipe and need something to do with the drumsticks. (The most economical way to buy free-range chicken is in big packages of thighs and drumsticks, which are sold separately from the much more expensive breasts.) 

Benedict Ambrose is still losing weight and closing the husband-wife weight gap, which I find slightly annoying but what can I do? Men lose weight faster (and with less effort) and they gain muscles faster (and with much less effort) and that's just the way it is.  

Two or three weeks ago I bought a digital scale that was on sale at Tesco; it is our new toy. I plugged the number it read this morning into the National Health Service BMI tool, and the NHS says I am (finally) once again at a healthy weight for my age and height. Hooray, hooray!

That said, I shall continue not to eat sugar and other simple carbs at least until my mother, wonderfully thin from months of daily cardio and tomato sandwiches, arrives for her holiday. As I have no tremendous exertions awaiting me, I can't think of a reason to eat simple carbs. It would be different if I were going to Quebec or France because in those happy nations there are croissants it is a crime not to eat.  

Friday, 10 June 2016

Dill Soup

It's Polski Piątek, so let's talk about soup.

The Poles are justifiably proud of their soups which are varied, unusual and delicious. In the summers they sip cold fruit soups, and in the winters they eat hot meat-and-veg ones. Catholic Poles also have strictly vegetarian soups for Fridays as the Friday abstinence from meat was never lifted in Poland. Traditionally Polish Christmas Eve is a day of total fasting until the first star appears in the sky. The Poles break this fast by sharing specially prepared wafers made of unconsecrated host-bread, and then they eat delicious vegetarian beet soup with tiny mushroom-stuffed dumplings.

A good Polish hot soup for spring is called koperkowa (pronounced kop-err-KO-fa, i.e. I hope so).  Its most important ingredient is fresh dill, and my recipe is based on this one at You will notice that the English of the recipe is rather idiosyncratic, so there was some guesswork involved on my part.

The recipe calls for meat-on-the-bone, but I have always substituted good quality prepared vegetable broth, to which I add the Polish soup vegetables (włoszczyzna).  Also I never make the string dumplings, opting for the boiled eggs instead.  All this ensures that the soup can be eaten on Fridays and by vegetarians and the gluten-intolerant. It is pointless to serve this soup to a vegan, even by substituting dumplings for the eggs, for thick Polish sour cream is a necessary ingredient.

You don't need to peel anything because the veggies are going to be chucked in the bin.


2 litres of good quality veggie stock, made up and brought to boil
onion, roughly chopped
carrot, roughly chopped
celery stick, roughly chopped
leek, washed thoroughly and roughly chopped
parsnip (optional), roughly chopped
handful of parsley
bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
200 mL Polish sour cream for soup, or the thickest sour cream you can find.
big bunch dill, chopped and divided in half
hard boiled egg per person (plus extra for seconds)

1. Chuck all veg except the dill into the boiling veggie stock and simmer for 45 minutes.
2. Strain the soup into another pot and throw out the cooked vegetables. (Alternatively you could mash them and nuke them in the morning for a hot veggie porridge, I suppose. But take out the bay leaf first.)
3. Fry half the dill dry in a hot frying pan for 2 minutes, not letting it burn. (You can use a bit of butter, but I like it better without.)
4. Throw fried dill into soup.
5. Pour a quarter cup or so of soup into the sour cream and mix it up. Then pour the mix into the soup and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. (There may be a lot of salt in your stock already, so do taste first.) Heat up soup again until it is piping hot but not boiling.
6. Just before serving, add the raw chopped dill and stir.
7. Peel hard boiled eggs, cut each in half, and put two halves in a bowl before ladling soup over.

Serve with delicious rye bread (if guests can take the gluten), and refrigerate the leftovers, if any. Still good to eat two days later.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Opposing the Lynch Mob

Sexual assault survivors and otherwise sensitive readers may be disturbed by the themes in this post.

Yesterday my only tasks were to clean the flat, do the shopping and prepare a special supper for a party of eight. It's a miracle I managed them all, for once again I was glued to the internet reaction to the Brock Turner sentencing. Now I'm surprised that I never stumbled across the case when the trial started. Honestly, I had never heard of it until the Victim (as she is called in the police report) read her brilliantly written, heartbreaking testimony to the court and it was published online.

If your first acquaintance with the Brock Turner Story is the Victim's testimony, the story in your head will differ from the story in the heads of those who  read about it from the witness statements the police recorded. No wonder the woman was so traumatized by what she read online. I read the police reports yesterday, and they were metaphorically soaked in urine and booze. Cheap and nasty booze.

The party the Victim went to was in a frat house, named in the official report, and having read this report I now understand why Turner and Turner's dad emphasized the college culture of booze and promiscuity.  That said, the fact that Turner was drunk and promiscuous is not an excuse. It does suggest, however, an explanation. It provides the answer to Why did a 19 year old a dozen people swear was gentle and sweet rape an unconscious woman?

To understand the story, you need to read two documents: the Victim's testimony and the police reports.  Maybe you need to read Leslie Rasmussen's letter, but only if you want to know what Brock Turner was like (or was perceived to be like) before he went to Stanford University. The police reports contain statements about what he was like on the night of the rape: aggressive and wanting to "hook up" with a girl. (Any girl.)

To understand Leslie Rasmussen's remarks to the judge, one needs to have read the police reports and her subsequent statement. In my opinion, having read the police reports, she gets the alcohol stuff right, but she glosses over Brock's promiscuity. She attempts to answer "Why did a sweet and gentle 19 year old I've known most of my life rape an unconscious woman?" Clearly unable to grapple with the idea that even habitually sweet and gentle people can be incredibly and even criminally selfish about their sexual wants, she blamed the booze. Hoping to save a boy she believed was sweet and gentle from a long stretch in an American prison, where he would most definitely not be okay, she hung onto a "shades of grey" notion about drunken sex.  For this--or rather, because "a source" slipped a New York journalist her letter-- she has attracted the ire of the American public, which I think really is political correctness gone mad.

The villain of the story, after Turner, who not only raped a woman, he put her through the humiliation of his trial, is the media,  and I include anyone who puts fingers to keyboard about this trial and writes untruths. I have read outright lies about the Turner family and outrageous speculation.

One big issue is class, which in the USA means money and privilege. I have read that Brock Turner had a free ride at Stanford. He didn't. His scholarship covered only 60% of his Stanford education/swimming servitude. I have read that the Turners are rich. They aren't. Brock's grandparents wrote to the judge that they are on a "fixed income" and can't help Brock's parents, who, though hard-working, are only middle-income. Brock Turner is guilty of rape, but he is not guilty of wealth. Nevertheless, there are journos and keyboard warriors whipping themselves up into hatred of the rich boy.  Meanwhile, the actual victim doesn't hate Brock Turner.  I wouldn't have been surprised if she did, but she doesn't.

I've read that although Brock's mother hasn't said anything, she must have approved her husband's letter to the judge. Really? We need to hate his mother, too?  We are going to make up stories about a silent woman? We're going to substitute our voices for hers? What we think she wants is more important than what she really wants? Gee, what does that remind me of?

Anyway, I hope this is my last rant about the Rasmussen---I mean, the Brock Turner Trial. I have great admiration for the Victim not only because she stood up for herself but because she is such a talented writer she moved millions of people.

I have great sympathy for Leslie Rasmussen, who expressed her thoughts badly and is unfairly being crucified for it. Gone are the days when rock musicians sported swastikas or bit the heads off chickens and their fans yelled "Cool."  Political correctness shows no mercy even to young people who express loyalty to their friends (in my youth a supreme value) and try to get them out of trouble with Johnny Law (another old-fashioned value).

Incidentally, as I expected, I was called "an apologist for rape" for defending Good English. I shall put it among my trophies, i.e. names I have been called while exercising my freedom of speech.

I have also great hatred for the stupidity and debauchery of campus parties that feature so much consumption of alcohol (cheap and nasty alcohol that you wouldn't drink for the taste) that even girls end up going outside to pee on trees, and boys and girls make out with multiple people on the same night. What the hell is that? If parties are so boring that you need to drink to blackout, kids, don't go.

I feel very sorry for the Victim's sister. Know why she wasn't with the Victim? She was seeing a dangerously intoxicated female friend home. The poor girl was running around trying to take care of all the drunk women she cared about and, unsurprisingly, she failed.  This was not her fault, this was not her fault, this was not her fault.

My disgust with men, however drunk, who do what they want with the bodies of women without the woman's say-so should go without saying. Every time I see Brock Turner's goofy face, I want to slap it.  However, as a Christian, I recognize that it's the act we need to condemn, even though justice demands that we punish the wrong-doer. The Victim's statement was not about Brock Turner being a bad guy. It was about the Victim being a human being who deserves to be treated with dignity.

Update: Online media knows the public is angry, and online media acknowledges that the public enjoys and wants to be angry. Take this question from, for example, "Want to get even more pissed off?" My answer is another question: "Are you profiting from my anger?"

Update 2: The various people writing in comboxes that they hope Brock Turner is raped in prison are not even just "rape apologists." They're rape promoters, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Good English

Once again, survivors of sexual assault may find the themes of this post upsetting.

It's turning into Stanford Rapist Week here on "The Historical House", showing that I too have been sucked in by the Greek Tragedy aspect of it all. However, the iconic character who has now caught my attention is that of the woman who defends a man who has done the indefensible and pays a heavy price.

The rape survivor had a lot to lose, and it was stolen from her. Now the rapist's childhood friend has lost her band Good English their gigs.  That is to say, people found out what she wrote to the judge, and they are taking it out on her band.

Her bandmates are also her sisters. There are a lot of sisters suffering collateral damage in this story. The sister of the rape survivor, the sister of the rapist, the sisters of the rapist's character reference ...

I feel sorry for Leslie Rasmussen and even more sorry for her sisters. Did she have any idea that the letter she wrote to the judge pleading for her friend would be made public? Was she only 19 when she wrote it? Yes, what she wrote about rape was stupid, but no more stupid than Whoopi Goldberg's "rape rape" remark (she was in her fifties), and WG still has a showbiz career. So does Roman Polanski and a host of his defenders. I don't think Martin Scorsese should be forced to stop making films, and I don't want Good English to be forced to stop making music.

The idea that a budding female artist has blown her chances to perform and create because she wrote a letter defending a friend really bothers me. When I was 19, I had a male friend or two who really didn't deserve my friendship. I went to great lengths to help one write his essays, and I spent a lot of hard-earned money funding the meals of the other, the leader of our gang.  It was just so cool to be around boys, you know? Good Catholic Boys who didn't pressure me for anything----except my help, my money and my support in their battles and causes. I vaguely seem to recall other boys, quieter boys, telling me I shouldn't be so generous, but did I listen? No. Loud, strong-minded women can be suckers, too.

So I feel very sympathetic to Leslie Rasmussen even though her character reference for her friend included a stupid lecture on what rape is and who rapists are. If one were brave, one would argue that Rasmussen did America a favour by illustrating the dumb ideas about rape the Stanford Rapist and his high school friends grew up with.  (I note she said she could think of other people they knew in high school who might have ended up in  Brock's situation.)

Calling a 20 year old girl a "rape apologist" for a letter in which she tried to convince a judge her friend wasn't capable of rape and then blackballing her band strikes me as getting close to lynch mob behaviour. She thought her friend was incapable of rape, and she was wrong. That shouldn't wreck her life. She didn't hurt the rape survivor. The rapist hurt the rape survivor.  If he deserves six years in the state pen, then he should get six years in the state men. The public shouldn't take out their righteous indignation on a woman.

Update:  Rasmussen's statement, which has been removed from Facebook. That's too bad, as it is necessary corrective to her letter to the judge.

Two months ago, I was asked to write a character statement for use in the sentencing phase of Brock Turner’s trial. Per the request of the court, I was asked to write this statement in an effort to shed light on Brock’s character as I knew it to be during my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood when I interacted with him as a classmate and friend. I felt confident in my ability to share my straightforward opinion of him and how I knew him. I also felt compelled to share my deep concern over the misuse of alcohol that was a well-established contributor in this case. Beyond sharing my personal experience with Brock, I made an appeal to the judge to consider the effect that alcohol played in this tragedy.
I understand that this appeal has now provided an opportunity for people to misconstrue my ideas into a distortion that suggests I sympathize with sex offenses and those who commit them or that I blame the victim involved. [My Thought: But the word "directly" suggested she blamed her indirectly.] Nothing could be farther from the truth, and I apologize for anything my statement has done to suggest that I don’t feel enormous sympathy for the victim and her suffering.
Perhaps I should have included in my statement the following ideas that explain my perspective on the complexities of what may have happened. As a young female musician who has spent years (since I was in fourth grade) performing as a drummer in live music venues, clubs, and bars with my two sisters, I have had the unique opportunity to observe over 10 years of public American drinking culture and the problems that invariably arise through alcohol misuse. I have watched friends, acquaintances and complete strangers transform before my eyes over the course of sometimes very short periods of time, into people I could barely recognize as a result of alcohol overconsumption. I am currently 20 years old. I have made these observations through sober eyes. I have been repeatedly reminded by my family and coached by police to hold my personal sobriety closely and seriously because of the industry I work in and the risks to my own life that I could face as a young woman playing regularly in venues across the country where alcohol is served. [MT: This is convincing testimony against American drinking culture.]
Additionally, I have grown up and currently reside in a university town that is affected every year by the tragic consequences resulting from undergraduate students’ excessive enthusiasm for binge drinking. Student arrests, violence, injuries, and sexual assaults occur with some regularity, and I have often wondered why this culture continues to thrive seemingly unquestioned and unchecked. [MT: And so do I.]
There is nothing more sad than the unnecessary, destructive and enormous toll that
overuse, misuse and abuse of alcohol and drugs play in people’s lives, and I don’t think my effort to point this out in confidence [MT: Why did she think it was in confidence?]to a judge while commenting on Brock Turner’s character, as the sober person I knew him to be, was an irresponsible or reckless decision. [Unfortunately, due to the overzealous nature of social media and the lack of confidence and privacy [MT: It does seem that she believed it would never be made public] in which my letter to the judge was held, I am now thrust into the public eye to defend my position on this matter in the court of public opinion. Now, my choices to defer college to write and play music, to finally introduce 10 years of hard work to a national audience while working consistently and intentionally on my own personal and professional integrity, has led to an uproar of judgement and hatred unleashed on me, my band and my family. [MT: This is a little more serious than Brock's lost appetite. She didn't rape anyone.]
I know that Brock Turner was tried and rightfully convicted of sexual assault. I realize that this crime caused enormous pain for the victim. I don’t condone, support, or sympathize with the offense or the offender. I was asked by a court in California to provide a character statement as a standard and necessary part of the sentencing process. [MT:  My emphasis.]
I believe that Brock’s character was seriously affected by the alcohol he consumed, and I felt that the court needed to consider this issue during their sentencing deliberations. 

UPDATE 2: I just argued in the combox of Metro that Rasmussen and her sisters don't deserve to be blacklisted, so I shall be moderating my combox today. Naturally by defending Good English I am running the risk of being called an apologist for a so-called "rape apologist". Righteous indignation is a virtue, and the rape survivor's brilliant letter has roused America to righteous indignation, as well it might. But then there's fury roaming the world, seeking whom it may devour, looking for fresh blood, forming lynch mobs. 

How did the statements of Turners' family and friends fall into media hands? Does anyone know? Oh, so far I see that a Stanford professor named Michele Dauber was the one who posted the father's statement on Twitter. Apparently she is an authority on campus sexual assault. But are such character reference statements usually in the public domain?

The Cut credits only "a source" for the leaking of the Rasmussen letter. "A source" did real harm to Rasmussen. (The rapist's dad read his statement aloud in court.) I'm really curious about that. That strikes me as the story behind the story. Who wants to throw so much fuel on the fire that Turner's family and friends burn up too?