Sunday, 28 December 2014

Old Year's Retrospective

Tomorrow we are fleeing to the countryside where there will be no internet connection. And thus I must bid you a Happy New Year now and wax retrospectively on the past year.  I have beside me my diary (engagement calendar) to remind me of the highlights.


January: Annual visit to wee mother-in-law. She looks just like B.A. only smaller, prettier and beardless. A friend's elderly father died (not a highlight, of course, but important), and first we went to his Communist funeral and then we went to his Requiem Mass. Fun fact: Scottish Communists of the old school were very often Catholics of Irish extraction. Began 5/2 Diet.

February: Annual trip to Canada. Super-amazing book parties in Toronto for Ceremony of Innocence.

March: Swore to become better at housework. Started Pilates classes. Calvinist Cath's bridal shower. Seminarian Pretend Son stayed for a weekend. Suddenly Homeless Student Pole came to stay for a few weeks. Polish friends came north for the Knights of Malta Ball and to stay for a weekend. Their photo appeared soon after in Tatler magazine. Words cannot express my

April: Cath's Wedding: psalm singing and a super-Scottish Presbyterian minister. Very romantic. Aelianus and the Future Mrs Aelianus stayed for Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Easter. Trip to Kraków. CANONIZATION OF JAN PAWEL II!!! And the OTHER GUY!!! Trip to Wrocław and environs with Polish Pretend Son. We went to see Saint Edith Stein's house. It was very moving. A monolingual guide asked Polish Pretend Son if we were related. "Powiedzieć", said PPS cryptically.   PPS's real mother gave me a woolly (soft toy) sheep which I clutched, having been driven to see her at 290 km/hr.

May: Back to Kraków for "Dzielne Niewiasty" (Brave Women) retreat. I gave four lectures and RASHLY promised to translate one or two into Polish. Fifth Wedding Anniversary, for which I am slim, thanks to 5/2 Diet and Pilates. PPS came to stay for the weekend and shout at B.A. for not coming to Poland and shout at me for using "THE MACHINE" to translate my lecture into Polish. I exaggerate a bit. But there was a lot of shouting when PPS said he wouldn't check my Polish translation of my lecture if I continued using The Machine. Shouting, wailing, gnashing of teeth, banging of own head on table--and that was just B.A. and I, arguing over whether or not I should be imposing on PPS at all in the first place. PPS watched us with great interest.

June: Went to London to meet Fiorella Di Maria and sell books with her. London is extremely cool  and utterly expensive. As usual what I liked best was eating food with friends. I cannot decide which was better: eating Haute Polski Cuisine at "Ognisko" with B.A. or eating Haute School Food with B.A., Seminarian Pretend Son and Polish Pretend Son at Seminarian Pretend Son's club. Both were splendid events and something to think about when things are kicking off on the Rough Bus.  Mum arrived from Canada, and so we decamped to Falkland Palace.

July: Unthinkable horrors unleashed on the Chaldean Christians.

August: Masses for them said throughout the world, including Edinburgh. I read from Ceremony of Innocence at Blackwell's Bookshop during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I met Reader Kate on holiday in Edinburgh.  Seminarian Pretend Son stayed a weekend.  Closed "Seraphic Singles".

September: Polish Pretend Son stayed a weekend. B.A. and I went to Rome for a week. I voted "No" in the Scottish Referendum, and was very impressed by the lack of violence and bad feeling in Scotland during and after the Referendum. I started to drag  my feet to swing dancing.

October: B.A. went to Aelianus' stag weekend and shot real guns. Dawid Ogrodnik--what? Oh, I saw "Ida" which was good except for the part near the end which would make any devout Catholic woman roll her eyes, suddenly realize the story was written by men and reflect that men just don't get devout Catholic women.  Funeral of one of B.A's elderly colleagues--a real adventurer. It was an honour to know him.  Unfortunately I was squeezed out of the now-overcrowded Pilates class. I fell off the 5/2 bandwagon, too. Worse and worse. Aelianus got married in real life. Sigh sigh sigh.

November: B.A. and I go ancestor-hunting in the graveyard with limited success. Polish Pretend Son for a weekend. "Bus incident"--uh oh. I wonder what that was. Oh! I was Pole-baited by two bad little boys. Polish Class supper--much vodka and hilarity.

December:  A snazzy 40th birthday party in a local bar for B.A.'s uni pal. Archbishop's media party. "La Double Vie de Veronique." Quadrophonic arrives for Christmas, then Mum, then Dad. Wigilia. Christmas. Św. Stefana. Cocktails with Expatriate Housewife, home for Christmas.

So that was a rather good year, I think. Full of food, friends and travel. And I really did become better at housework. If I have time tomorrow morning (doubtful), I will entertain you with my New Year's Resolutions. If not--all the best in the new year!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Belated Boxing Day Pledge

Okay, I'm off sugar now.

No more sugar.

More resolutions anon.

Thursday, 25 December 2014



Midnight Mass. Cab ride back to the Historical House. Helping Mum prepare the Sacred Family Christmas Chelsea Bun. Trying to sleep. Up at eight-thirtyish. Making coffee and baking Bun. 

Coffee. Bun. Presents. Super-amazing red leather saddle-bag style shoulder bag from B.A. made in Edinburgh by a husband-and-wife team who have their own shop. More Bun. Walk around the Historical Grounds. The cloudless sky and the Firth of Forth are very blue. 

Leftover barszcz for Lunch 1. Leftover salmon on toast for Lunch 2.  Making Sacred Family Christmas Vegetable Soup. Making Sacred Family Christmas Curried Carrots. Making Sacred Family Christmas Green Beans with Red Pepper. 

(My mother has already finished the Sacred Family Christmas Alaskan Trifle. B.A. puts the finishing touches on the turkey, the roast potatoes and the gravy.)


Washing the dishes. Many many dishes.

Skyping far away family in ten-person conference call. 

Trying to get the curry stains out of crocheted Christmas doily handmade by Mum.  (Mum is currently watching the "Downton Abbey" Christmas Special, the HUMANITY!)

Pondering Boxing Day order to Empik....


Cue wonderful piece sung by Schola last night (not Schola in file!)

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Our Christmas May Begin. After My Nap.

Merry Christmas (and Wesołych Świąt) to all my readers! I have cooked all my contributions to Wigilia supper, washed the dishes, helped decorate the tree, hoovered the needles, wrapped the presents, folded the laundry and listened obediently to the King's College, Cambridge University carol service.

Now I shall nap.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Our Tree for 10 P

I am happy to report that Christmas preparations are more or less on track. The fridge is full. There are a dozen tins of cookies homemade by my mum, who is currently putting threads through the heads of gingerbread men baked for the Christmas tree. My brother found a nice blue spruce going for ten pence.

As last year the tree man tried to give us a tree for free, I have concluded that the twenty-third is considered ridiculously late for tree-buying. Oh, those crazy (post-) Presbyterian Scots. After four hundred years of condemning Christmas as Catholic, they have taken to trees and tinsel with a vengeance, beginning their celebrations around December 1. Well, at least they keep on celebrating until January 1, when they spend the day in bed, muttering something about never drinking again.

Naturally I do not mean the traditionalist Presbyterians, who still disapprove of Christmas, and it is time for Calvinist Cath to nail her anti-Christmas thesis to the Christmas tree, so let's see if it's up yet. It isn't. Oh, boo. [ALERT: Link to Protestant heresy coming up.Well, let us look at the official media then. Scottish Christmas wouldn't be Scottish Christmas without some Scottish Christians explaining why they think it is all nonsense. Naturally they are wrong, but I admire their guts.

But to move on to my other favourite Europeans, I have already made kompot and kompot juice for tomorrow's modified (i.e. small) Wigilia supper, and the dried mushrooms for barszcz z uszkami and the wheat berries and poppy seeds for kutia are dumbly soaking. I found a bottle of krupnik (honey vodka liqueur) last week, and currently I am drinking some. So I am feeling rather calm--much, much calmer than last year. My mother, though, says she feels a bit fraught. Maybe she needs some more sherry.

"Would you like some more sherry, Mum?"

"Yes I would, thank you. That would be very nice."


Antidote to Television News
Yesterday I went completely mental and started shrieking that someone turn off the news. In the end I just rushed out of the room.

"Scary wife," said B.A. later, which was a very unwise thing to do.

The BBC, as usual, was describing the plight of the poor Yazidi while ignoring the poor Christians. This time, though, it was describing the "slave markets", with such loving details as how the blue-eyed girls would cost more and how how much virgins would go for. They showed footage of excited young wannabe rapists giggling with excitement about the next day's "slave" sale: inshallah this, inshallah that. The BBC called the Islamic State the "so-called" Islamic State, perhaps so not to offend the Islamics at home.

I'm too downcast to look up "rape and Islam" online. Besides I know perfectly well that this will turn up a thousand repetitions of the Koranic verse about men not being allowed to have sex with anyone but their wives and slaves. Critics of Islam will say Islam is therefore an incredibly rapey religion, and Islamic missionaries will assure the reader that rape is completely forbidden by Islam.

So never mind that for now. How are we supposed to respond to television news? The BBC is happy to give you the gory details but stops at suggesting what  you, the viewer, could do to stop the atrocities they are bringing into your cozy den. The presenters are often as handsome as actors. The footage is high production. The message is carefully crafted. For example, these people are Yazidis, completely unlike you or anyone you know; these other people say they are Muslims and occasionally they  appeal to Muslims in your country to attack you, but they aren't really Muslims. It's a humanitarian disaster, naturally, like a flood.

This sort of thing slowly drives me crazy. Thinking about what happens to thirteen thousand or so "unwanted" fetuses in Scotland (population 5 million) every year would drive me crazy, so I don't. I don't want to know the details of what is happening to the victims of Islamic State because it kills me that I can't do anything about it. Sending money is all very well but it does not rescue THIS girl or THAT girl from an excruciatingly painful and disgusting ordeal.

I also wonder if the British media isn't loving this story because of the sex elements. Rape sells tabloids. The tabloids love rape. I understand that British journalists show up at war zones yelling "Anyone been raped?" And not only is there a LOT of rape in this story, there are real-life slave markets. Wow-wee!

I won't watch films  or televisions with rape, but it's amazingly difficult to avoid them. The other evening we tried out my new computer by watching a film with elderly actress Charlotte Rampling. Well, wouldn't you know. Charlotte gets orally raped, and we see it all. Why do people think such things are at all necessary or appropriate in 90 minutes' worth of entertainment?

B.A. keeps telling me to stop blaming the BBC and that I would be equally angry if they didn't broadcast stories about Islamic State. But I think I am equally angry at television news and what it has become: entertainment. For our entertainment last night, the Scottish media made sure it interviewed as many people as it could about a road accident in Glasgow yesterday, offering sound bites from politicians about their thoughts and prayers. A "bin lorry" (garbage truck) went out  of  its driver's control and rushed down a busy shopping street, killing six people and injuring eight others. That's very sad, unthinkably awful for up to fourteen families affected, but it was over the top for the reporter to go on about how Glaswegians are resilient and they will come together as a city and come to grips with this horror although naturally Glasgow will never be the same again. That was the entertainment part, and it was disgusting.

I realize that this is not Christmas fare, but I am trying to get it out of my system so I can on with the preparations.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Spare a Thought, Prayer, Dollar for the Middle Eastern Christians

I am stewing in impotent rage against evil ISIL (ISIS, whatever they call themselves today).

Have we all been conditioned to think of ourselves as completely helpless before foreign events? Other than giving money to Aid to the Church in Need, I cannot think what to do. But I am pretty sure that if we sit around waiting for anyone else to do something, we will all be waiting a long time.

Aid to the Church in Need.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A Day Out in Glasgow

I have never adopted the Edinburgh disdain for Glasgow. Glasgow is so different from Edinburgh, I see no point to the rivalry. Edinburgh is a beautiful, timeless town of 500 thousand souls, and Glasgow is a battle-scarred modern metropolis of a million. Still, there are beauty spots in Glasgow--the Cathedral in the east and the University in the west come to mind--and with numbers and modernity comes much more of a night life. And, as I never tire of telling B.A., Glasgow reminds me of Toronto, albeit an old semi-mythical Toronto populated mostly by Scots.

So I took my brother to Glasgow, and the morning's stress and grumpiness fell from my shoulders as soon as we sat in our train. After grousing about this and that all the way to Waverley Station, I finally had a positive thought.

"I love trains," I enthused

"I love trains,"my brother caroled in response. "I love every kind of train..."

I don't love every kind of train, but I do love most intercity trains. I love travelling around the UK and Europe by train. My favourite train is the fast train galloping from Kraków to Warsaw. My next favourite train is the Edinburgh to London train, if I travel first class. My least favourite train is the slow train from Mazovian country towns to Kraków, which ambles through endless fields, bumping up and down for hundreds of miles, muttering po-CHONK, po-CHONK, po-CHONK.

The train to Glasgow is reasonably quick, quicker than the bus, and a lady comes by with a trolly laden with coffee, tea and snacks for sale. Looking at the green hills hoping to see sheep while drinking a hot coffee is one of the small joys in life.

But I meant to write about Glasgow. We got to Glasgow and we went at once to the Buchanan metro station to buy an all-inclusive travel pass. We were advised to go to St. Enoch instead, so we trundled down the busy shopping street to St. Enoch. My brother, henceforth Quadrophonic, had remarked upon men in track pants staggering into a pub.

From St. Enoch we took the metro (subway)--the Glasgow subway is just two rings, delightfully simple--back to Buchanan and took a bus towards Glasgow Cathedral, getting instantly lost. But we did find a post office, so I posted Christmas cards, and we took another bus, which did drop us in front of the Cathedral.

At first I thought the Cathedral was very impressive for a Victorian reproduction and I marvelled that Glasgow's immigrant Catholic community had managed to build such a glorious place until we got inside and I couldn't see Archbishop Conti's white-washing improvements anywhere. Only then--alas--did it dawn on me that this was not the Catholic cathedral and I should take out my guide book. And, lo, Glasgow Cathedral is the only mediaeval cathedral to have been allowed to remain standing during the destruction of the Scottish Reformation. Three Presbyterian congregations shared it, and in the 19th century the state took it over. By then the Church of Scotland had begun flirting with Catholic art, and as a result Glasgow Cathedral is decorated in quite a pretty fashion.

Of course it is also terribly cold, and after an hour we were happy to march off to Buchanan Station and go to the West End for lunch. Quadrophonic spied "Hanoi Bike Shop", apparently beloved of pop stars, so we had a delicious, if pricey, Vietnamese meal.  Then we went to the Botanical Gardens, for my brother likes plants, and toured the increasingly warm and delightful Victorian greenhouses. These were lit entirely by daylight, so I had a nasty turn when I discovered myself alone in the gloaming with a thousand plants and an Eccentric. My brother had gone on to the chamber of palm trees, so I quickly scuttle there to find him.

From the Botanical Gardens we went to the Hunterian Gallery, where we took advantage of its last half hour of opening to look at the architectural drawings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the collection of the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists. Then we were shooed out of the gift shop, so we went to the University Library to look at the map. I asked a bald and beefy security guard with what looked like the Scottish Covenant tattooed all down his arm for directions, and then we went to a hipster café for coffee and to ponder evening plans.

First we went to "Brew Dog" for a drink. Then we had a very good dinner at "Mother India's Café" on Argyle Street. Finally we walked the freezing length of Sauchiehall Street to find its famous bars and hear some live bands. We settled on the Box Bar and drank "Punk IPA" and Red Stripe while listening to baby-faced youngster play their instruments. Baby-faced Band 1 ended on a high by playing "Monster".  Baby-faced Band 2 was much better than Baby-faced Band 1.

The place was packed with young men, some of whom had mutilated their ears, and as the stage was beside the door, I got a good view of everyone coming in. Glasgow girls are wearing their hair long and straight, and some of them are very stout. My brother noticed that a lot of the young men were stout, too, and he wondered if this was a result of their drinking careers and if they never played football. I kept a wary eye on the ones who had grommets in their mutilated ears and the ones who wore sweatpants instead of jeans. (Honestly!) After all, it was Glasgow.

"We came here to drink beer and to fight, and we're all outta beer," said Quadrophonic, by way of observation, and decided we should go before Band Three began. So off we went to finish our walk down the length of Sauchiehall, passing a hundred drunken revellers and street musicians.

Naturally I had forgotten all stories about weekend night trains home from Glasgow until some huge guys with shaved heads and beer bottles in their pockets got on. Fortunately the seats across from us had been taken by two Edinburgh women who work in Glasgow and had been at their office Christmas party. One of the women began to talk to her friend about Toronto, and so it transpired that she was from Toronto and that Quadrophonic knew one of her classmates.

Our comfort in conversing was somewhat impeded by a gang of young drunks who insisted on presenting us ladies with cards advertising a strip joint and then noticed the one man with us. This made me rather anxious for my brother, especially when one drunk asked him what his favourite team was, and another asked him if he liked Rangers.

My brother, who knew enough to know that they were testing him, but not enough to know that this is how drunken Glaswegians identify members of the enemy tribe for beatings, told them his team was the Toronto Maple Leafs and that he was not from here. Naturally they asked where from, and happily they felt well-disposed towards Canadians, so all was well. They alighted at Croy.

Behind us a large group sang "Alouette" so long and so badly that I feared they were English-Canadians. However, they then sang "Flower of Scotland", which Canadians do not know, so I ceased to feel embarrassed. Then they sang various Christmas songs at the top of their lungs, one female reveller having an almost inexhaustible memory for the lyrics. She got out, still loudly cheerful and most definitely Scottish, at Haymarket.

We caught the first Night Rough Bus at about 12:15 AM. I did not know the Night Rough Bus began so soon after midnight, so it was one last happy surprise to end the day.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Dummies at Dalhousie

  Plato deeply regretting the stupidity of his adolescence
One of  the axioms I most often repeat to female readers is "You can ask men what they think, but you might not like the answer."

And so was definitely the case with a dozen or so male undergraduate dentistry students at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who had a "private" Facebook account called Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen. On this Facebook account, the soi-disant "Gentlemen" posted crude sexual remarks  and a joke about chloroforming a bikini-wearing woman and asked which women students the other members would like to, er, bed--bed being the quite the euphemism.

Someone brought the "private" Facebook account to the attention of the female students, to Dalhousie University and to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which is currently notorious for having harboured a star who beat the living daylights out of women unfortunate enough to have gone home with him.  Result: official hysteria and grown men weeping. In other news, Taliban.

A dear friend of mine brought my attention to the story by posting about it on Facebook, saying that such stories made her struggle not to fear or hate men as a group. And I feel awful for her, for I used to feel the exact same way and it made it very difficult for me to get along with men as a group. I also feel awful for the dental student dummies at Dalhousie who kept the Facebook page because their earthly punishment is likely to be disproportionate to their crime--if it was a crime, not just stupid, imprudent and uncharitable behaviour.* But to be honest, I feel worst for the victims and survivors of the latest Islamist massacre, the one in Pakistan.

 I do not know how old the dentistry students are--they were in fourth year, apparently--but presumably they are in their twenties. By their unpleasant remarks and imprudence, I assume that they are  (or were) in an extended adolescence, too. And because they are medical students, I assume they are unmarried, and because they are twenty-something unmarried males, I assume they think about sex 1140 time a day.

This is a conservative estimate, given that there are only 1140 minutes in the day.

"How did you cope?" I once asked B.A., who used to be a twenty-something unmarried male.

"You get used to it," said B.A,, and added that men can shove distracting sexual thoughts into the background of their minds to get on with other stuff.  Talking about such thoughts with other men, let alone publishing, he said just now, is a very bad idea.

From the wreckage of my Classical Civ degree, I recall Plato repeating something an old man (Cephalus?) had said to Socrates about old age having liberated him from the "mad master" of sexual desire. But it took me a long time to realize that what the old man was talking about was an almost universal male condition because men rarely talk to women about it. Nice guys do not want to frighten and disgust women, prudent guys do not want to get into trouble with women, and resentful guys do not want women to know they think we have that much power over them.

But we don't have that much power over them. We are even more helpless over their adolescent sex drives than they are. And therefore it is really unfair when young men rebel against the Mad Master by talking smack about women. If he hadn't gone to work, leaving me in my bathrobe to a day of ease, art and writing Christmas cards, I would ask B.A. if he used to talk smack about women. But to tell you the truth it is very hard for me to imagine B.A. and his college pals-- now scholars, professionals, family men--talking smack about women. Regarding the clever haikus he sends to and receives from certain pals I prefer not to speculate. (She shuts her eyes in holy horror.)

I remember my brother expressing his disgust with the way the boys at his high school talked about women, and I recall other men expressing their disgust with the way boys at their high schools talked about women, and imprudent uni men of Edinburgh have let slip to me how other uni men of Edinburgh talk about women, and I find it all interesting data. They are deeply uncomfortable with the power sexual attraction has in their life, but I am not deeply uncomfortable with the much weaker power sexual attraction has in my life. As long as it doesn't come to my ears that one or more has been sharing bizarre sexual fantasies about little me, it's no skin off my nose. Sucks to be them.

But it really sucks to a member of the Dalhouse Dental Studies Class of 2015 right now. Adolescent men have a tendency to tell crude jokes (aka Locker Room Talk) to deal with their discomfort with the Mad Master, but they don't have to PUBLISH them. How incredibly stupid and unkind to the women named. It's not that the women's marital prospects were destroyed--the old reason men weren't supposed to bandy  women's names about--;it's that the men's crude thoughts about them were forced upon their attention and their sunny, optimistic view of their colleagues as almost-women has been ruined.

It's very hard for women to believe that men think and say a lot of garbage they don't really believe and will forget about in hours. But actually men do think and say a lot of garbage they don't really believe and will forget about in hours. Unless, of course, they put the garbage on Facebook for the CBC to find and publish. They still don't believe it, probably, but now they won't forget it.

If women could see what random men are something thinking when they look at us, we (and they)  would probably all die from horror--trains and buses full of corpses--so it's a good thing we can't. It used to annoy me to think that ex-boyfriends et alia were probably inventing horrible sex fantasies about me, but I swiftly realized that there was nothing I could do about it if they were, and now the idea makes me laugh. Okay, I'm sorry they committed  (or commit) sin with my image attached, but that's between them and God. I'm just laughing because it's good to be free from a sexual Master that Mad.

But I am sad for my friend who is sad and tempted to hate and fear men as a group because a dozen of them are crude-joke sharing idiots. That is giving their idiocy way more power than it deserves. And even if all men between 17 and 25 talked smack about women, the answer would be simple: don't take seriously anything men between the ages of 17 and 25 say about or to women and pity them for their mental sexual slavery--at a distance, if need be.

In place of fear and hatred for All Men, I suggest compassion combined with a firm assertion that, as uncomfortable as adolescent male sexuality can be for men, they must not blame it on women or punish women for it. And why? Because fear and hatred for All Men is itself another Mad Master and it can seriously blight a woman's life.

Update: Canada's (heck, Nova Scotia's) Frank magazine weighs in using (ALERT!) bad language. But still no clue as to how old these guys were.

*Update 2:  I read a suggestion that these men were older than 25. My compassion for them is in inverse proportion to their actual age. The "should have known better" factor for locker room garbage  really kicks in after age 25.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Hope for Christmas Prep

I have been out all day with my brother, buying things.  On Broughton Street, on Leith Walk, on the North Bridge, on Nicholson Street, on whatever Nicholson Street turns into.

When we returned with all our packages, ready for a good rest and a drink, my mother asked if we had gone to the Christmas Market, and I realized--with great joy--that we had skirted Princes Street  (Edinburgh's main street) altogether. This explains why we had such an uncrowded and relatively stress-free time of it. We didn't get cross until we discovered how comparatively hard it is to find maraschino cherries. (Tip: Tesco, among the olives.)

Here are all the things we bought today:

Shop 1: Real Foods

For Christmas Eve kompot:

dried apples
dried pears
dried plums
dried cranberries
dried apricots

For Christmas Eve kutia:

wheat berries

For immediate snacking:

small package of Balti mix

For dinner:

bottle of wine

Shop 2: Polish grocery

Old Krupnik liqueur (at last!)
Dried Polish forest mushrooms (for Christmas Eve barszcz)

Shop Three: The Yellow Bench Restaurant

Fizzy water
Vegetarian crepe
Three potato pancakes with sour cream

Shop 4: Valvona & Crolla

Christmas present
One marron glacé (to be shared between us)

Shop 5: [Secret!]

Christmas presents

Shop 6: Brew Lab

2 long black coffees with milk on the side
1 almond croissant
(We ate the marron glacé, too.)

Shop 7: Holland & Barrett

Wheat germ (for cookies)
Vegetarian soup cubes (for Christmas Eve barszcz)

Shop 8: Bona Deli

Cherry compote (in case we never found maraschino cherries)

Many Other Shops.

Shop 9: Tesco

Dark soy sauce
Puff pastry

Three jars of maraschino cherries.


Victory was ours re: the maraschino cherries, and we went home to the Historical House on the infamous Rough Bus.

The cherry compote purchase was very funny and also in part because I didn't want to disappoint or scandalize the sales clerk, who didn't seem to speak English.

Me: Przepraszam!? I am looking for cherries in syrup,

Pani: Ser? (She rushes to the cheese section.)

Me (alarmed): Ale nie.  Szukam czereśnie z syropy.

I have no idea if that is grammatically exact, but understanding dawns in the eyes of the shop assistant.

Pani: Ah, tak. (She rushes to the canned fruit section and triumphantly bears aloft a huge bottle of bleached-looking cherries bobbing around like eyeballs in a jar of blood.)

Me: Ooooo. (I take the bottle with a lying Anglo-Saxon smile.) Dziękuję bardzo!

After such fulsome thanks, I had to buy the cherries, you understand. However I am sure I will find something to make with them. At worst, I will pour them over chocolate cake.

Update: The mental health professionals among you may be wondering why I am making Polish dishes for Christmas Eve when no Polish guests will be partaking. The answer is because I like Polish Christmas Eve dishes, and I have always wanted a proper Christmas Eve supper tradition, like those of French Canada. Sadly there seem to be no ready-made British-Canadian Christmas Eve traditions, unless we count hunting for the Scotch (cello-) tape.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A Clever Man

Congratulations to Benedict Ambrose are in order, for his article on 18th century controversies around Scottish diction has just appeared in the Scottish Literary Review!

I find this particularly exciting as my stuff has never appeared in a peer-reviewed academic journal, unless you count the one on whose editorial board my baby sister was.....

Well, anyway, congratulations to B.A. on his second foray into academic journals. I am proud of you and deeply thankful I have a man who actually knows what he is talking about when he talks about philosophy, etc., on call.

Hope for All Single Girls

My littlest brother--who is not so little anymore, being over thirty--has been showing me funny videos on his smartphone.  The one that really caught my attention was of "Debbie the Crazy Cat Lady" both the original and the musical version.

I have since discovered that "Debbie" is an act and not a real eHarmony customer trying to find the love of a good man while showing tremendous lack of judgment. I am both relieved and disappointed. I am disappointed because I rather liked poor Debbie, and I wanted to know if she had, despite being inordinately attached to cats, attracted dozens if not hundreds of men. She's very pretty, and some men are absolutely goofy about airheads--even ones with MBAs from Villanova, I imagine. But I wondered if even the goofiest would immediately contemplate what it would be like to live with such a woman.

By the way, I had a terrible nightmare last night that B.A. and I were trying to buy an apartment in Toronto, but we could not be approved for a mortgage because I do not have a proper job, which was rubbed well into me by one of the current owners of the flat, a guy who had gone through male-to-female "transitioning" and who lived with a woman who was practically his/her twin and their children. Talk about multi-layered anxiety dreams.

Anyway, I was  happy believing in Debbie, for Debbie was an illustration that sometimes (NOT always), sometimes, men and women persist in being Single because they have a serious habit or way of engaging the world that bores, antagonizes or frightens people.  Of course, some people with terrible habits or antagonistic or scary ways of engaging the world end up shacked-up or married anyway because the rocks in their heads match the holes in others.

Having written primarily for Singles for years, I still think a lot about why so many people are Single for longer than they used to be, but I never voice my opinion on why a particular individual is Single unless I am asked. One of the worst things you can say to a Single is "No wonder you're Single because blah blah blah blah blah." Not only is it deeply insensitive, you might be terribly wrong. The one exception is if it is a male friend at university and you know he is Single because he doesn't wash every day and thinks clean clothes are optional. I think in such a circumstance, it is kinder just to tell him.

An aside: I was on the Rough Bus yesterday, and I mentally redressed everyone in view, gave them better haircuts, and made them sit up straight. Vast improvement, and the most unemployable-looking one was actually quite striking. Clothes do make the man.

There are so many reasons no-one has much control over that has delayed marriage for millions, and they are not all bad. The best one is that fewer people feel that they will be a shame and a disgrace if they are not married by 22. If we were still all treated as virtual adults from the age of 14, as in the Middle Ages, then most of us would be ready for marriage at 22. But we aren't--and someone would be doing the Western world a real kindness if he or she wrote a bestselling book about how to raise children so that they really are adults by the age of 18, not teenagers until age thirty.

But at the same time, it is very sad that self-absorbed adolescence lasts so long for so many, and so many women have to unwillingly wait until their reproductive years are almost over for the right guy to come along or to grow up or for themselves to grow up. And from an aesthetic female point of view, it is sad that fewer men marry when they are still wonderfully good-looking with full heads of hair, etc.

So it is almost a comfort to realize that sometimes the reason why one persists in being Single is because one is doing something wrong that one could cease doing. Personally I changed many mental habits on the path to meeting B.A., and I decided at the age of thirty-two that it would be good to stop emphasizing all the "guy stuff" I was into (e.g. boxing) and start learning from very feminine and pretty women about "girl stuff."  Somewhere along the line I noticed that all the "feminine" stuff second generation feminists hated--make-up, skirts, pretty dresses, impractical shoes, shopping, deep interest in babies, a former deep interest in ponies, attraction to sparkly objects in jewellers' windows--men seemed to like in women--and not because it makes men feel all superior, as various feminist writers wrote again and again.

Men in general are not as good at women in expressing how they feel, but over the years, I collected enough naive male remarks--accompanied by goofy, fatuous facial expressions--about heterosexuality to get a clue as to what marriage-worthy men think is attractive.

But that is enough from me for now. As a married lady who works from home, it is now my duty to do the housework, starting with the dishes. Clean kitchen fanatic B.A. has already put a pork roast in the oven.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Hope for the Sydney Hostages

I'm horrified. Just horrified.

So horrified I don't know what to say.

I guess I'll start with my old obsession.

When I was in elementary school, teacher banged into our heads a "new and improved" mythology about Canada. In place of the one my mother and her parents grew up with--Canada the dutiful daughter of the proud British Empire, Canada founded by the English, Scots and Irish--we got Canada the land of First Nations People and Immigrants.

Both mythologies were based on unthinking sentiment and the shift reflected a shift in the status quo and in what politicians wanted Canadians to think. The Empire stuff led to Canadian fighting and dying in the Boer War, the First World War and the Second World War. The "We are all Immigrants" stuff, which was probably meant to keep born-Canadian kids from beating up immigrant kids, led to a form of cultural relativism and a weird provincialism in which the children of Italian immigrants  (for example) were brought up in a sort of mental 1950 twilight zone divorced from the realities of contemporary Europe. It also, of course, dismissed the heritage of one, two or three hundred years of family life in British North American some children were actually growing up in.

People are trying to force "We are all immigrants" on the poor English in England, too, which would be ridiculous if it weren't so sad. Occasionally people say this in Scotland, too, observing that Highlanders "emigrated" to Glasgow in large numbers. Not convinced, but nice try. Have a nice day.

In Canada the dismissal of families' long historical association with British North America (the pre-revolutionary Thirteen Colonies, Upper Canada, Lower Canada and Newfoundland) and the provincialism always stuck in my craw, but it is the cultural relativism that has turned out to be deadly.

At first it was only uncomfortable. In the community college system, I had to deal with an angry Muslim woman with a chip on her shoulder, but a friend of mine had to deal with angry Muslim men who were disgusted that they had a woman instructor. It never occurred to us that this was going to be a problem in Canada from the end of the 20th century.

As a writing teacher, I had the privilege of asking new students for their stories, and they often wrote about the day they arrived in Canada. One African immigrant in a hijab wrote of her surprise that in Canada you could have a boyfriend and not be executed for it. My blood ran cold. What kind of people had she come from? Now I wonder, Had they come with her? Have they arrived since?

 I have thought a lot about the anti-racism, pro-tolerance training I got as a child and, despite its flaw, what a pity it is the millions of adult migrants to Canada don't get it, too. I imagine it would be very helpful in Australia  also which, since 1976, has fully opened its gates to the Asian world majority its leaders once feared would completely dominate and destroy Anglo-Australian heritage and order. Although they may have been small-minded racist jerks, they also knew how to count.

Thousands of people migrate from Muslim majority countries because most Muslim majority counties are an absolute bloody mess, lacking in the stability, prosperity, social mobility and ethos of Christian or formerly Christian nations. I suspect most are incredibly relieved to have been brought into the Anglo or European order, and their children are horrified when they go "home" to visit family and discover fly-encrusted dogs dying in the street, etc. However, others--it must be said--try to continue their native chaos in their new countries. The bearded weirdie in Sydney appears to be one of them.

And I think every current resident of Australia, Canada, the UK, and anywhere else where Muslims-with-chips-on-their-shoulder have taken guns out of bags to wreak havoc has the right to demand what our governments are going to do about this. Would I have taken a mandatory course on British values? Yes. In fact, to stay here I had to pass an exam on them.

Update: The other big enemy, incidentally, of Anglospheric civilization is the disgusting moral laxity to be found here, epitomized by the moral morons taking selfies at the scene of the hostage crisis. I cannot even begin to imagine what my "The Maple Leaf Forever" singing grandmother would make of such callous and self-absorbed behaviour.

Update 2: I'm so sorry two of the hostages have been killed.

Update Three: Mark Steyn writes about the attack.

Update 4: I am seeing a lot of tender, sensitive, heartfelt stuff on Facebook appealing for people not to judge anyone or be rude or violent towards anyone in the face of this quite obviously Islam- and ISIL inspired terrorist attack on Sydney. As this tender, sensitive, heartfelt stuff is in English, not Farsi, it is quite as if  an Aussie had been holding up a café full of Iranians.

By the way three people did not lose their lives. Three people had their lives taken from them, two while protecting others, and at least one at the hands of the jihadist, and the jihadist at the hands of the police after opening fire. These people were KILLED, and they were killed because the religio-political beliefs of the gunman led him to take a café hostage.

The woman who was killed was a successful married working mother of three. There are three Australian children under ten--the youngest is four--who have been robbed of their mother, and their father has been robbed of his hard-working wife.

Update 5 (Tuesday): I'm still furious. I'm particularly furious at the way some Australians cannot accept the fact that sometimes non-Muslims are victims of Islamist colonial oppression and that Anglo-whatevers are not as all-powerful as we prefer to think. Hence the weepy, paternalist "I'll ride with you" tweeting.

It is just perverse to need to believe that Anglo-Australians (et Anglo alia) are omnipotent--either the PROTECTORS of the poor little victim peoples or the PERSECUTORS of the poor little victim peoples but never ever, ever, ever victim peoples ourselves. Hey, remember what happened to Australians taken prisoner by the Turks? No? Remember what happened to Australians taken prisoner by the Japanese? No? Remember the Bali Bombing? No? Seriously? Not even the Bali Bombing?

The only woman who was killed as a result of the Islamist terrorist attack in Sydney was not wearing a headscarf. Ignoring the real victims of the Islamist terrorist attack to worry about imaginary victims of imaginary comments on Australian buses--even while the terrorist attack was still going on--- points to a bizarre racial/cultural superiority complex. On the other hand, such people may have been in shock and so were desperately seeking to reassure themselves that, for good and for evil, their group still has all the power.

But no. There is no super-race, people. Just cultures that promote the human good, and cultures that do not, and the balance of power goes with whoever has the better weapons.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Hope for Christmas Travellers

My brother Quadrophonic has arrived in Edinburgh--hooray! Sadly he was affected by the computer glitch in Hampshire that grounded all planes in London on Friday afternoon.  I sat in front of my own computer for hours waiting to find out where he was and what he would do if he missed his connecting flight. One hundred years ago I suppose I would have been pacing outside a shipping office. Reading that he had just seen my last Facebook message was like seeing smoke on the horizon. Found! Found!

He had missed his connecting flight, but he got a new one. I raced his plane to Edinburgh Airport and met him outside the arrivals gate. My family always meets ME by the arrivals gate, so it is a point of honour for me to meet them outside the arrivals gate. Besides what is more beautiful to the eye that a loved one appearing through a door? I was edified by a small child, accompanied by an elderly couple, who shrieked "Mummy!" as a lumpy woman with dyed red hair came through the doors. Few would give that woman a second glance, but to one little atom of humanity, she is the center of the world. 

"Would you like to go the [Christmas Swing Dance in Morningside]?" I asked my brother as we waited for his luggage.

My brother, who had had two hours sleep in thirty-six hours, said that this would be wonderful. So--ah ha ha ha--I am going to a swing dance with an amiable male. He won't dance, but that's okay. Hopefully he enjoys the music and watching the amazing dancers. I'm sorry it's not a live band, but I'll take him to see live bands later. 

It was wonderful to catch up on family news, especially the adventures and misadventures of our nephew Pirate. Pirate's mother tries to limit his access to violent video games, but with limited success, as the parents of his pal down the street couldn't care less what garbage little boys get their hands on. 

And this is one arrived, two to go. Next up is my mother, who doesn't want to be met at the airport. An old Edinburgh hand, she has her set travel routine.

"Quadrophonics and I are going to Glasgow on Monday," I told her. "Or would you like to go to Glasgow, too?"

"No, I don't want to go to Glasgow," said my mother. "I want to bake cookies." 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Hope for Robustness in Children

Yahoo News presented me with the story of a happy, bubbly 12 year old boy who was allegedly bullied for becoming a cheerleader and allegedly killed himself. I trust there was a full police investigation, for thousands of children are bullied and yet very few of them commit suicide. The numbers are going up, however.

Naturally I despite bullying, and despite the Christian emphasis on forgiveness,  I am not inclined to forgive the adults who didn't take seriously the bullying endemic to my elementary school class. Neither am I inclined to forgive the laywoman teacher who was infamous among my generation for her bullying and hatred of children, although I have long since forgiven Sister W at high school for her rather out-of-date disciplinary methods and I hope that she forgave her last students--who bullied her right back--before her mind collapsed, poor woman. 

My class was 18 or 19 when Sister W walked out of the classroom forever, and although I am relieved to say I was not involved in That Incident, I had developed bullying tendencies myself--albeit only towards those English Lit teachers I thought were stupid. I have been wandering around in the textual remains of my 19 year old mind,and it is not fun. I feel rather sorry for my stupid English Lit teachers and wish I had been nicer.

But I had a lot more fun at 19 than I did at 12, and the day I began all-girls high school was the happiest day of my life so far, for I had escaped the Class of  '85 forever and ever. I was acutely miserable at school from about age 11 to age 14 and to escape I spent 80% of my waking moments daydreaming. 

But it never occurred to me to commit suicide. I must have known about suicide, but.... I haven't the slightest recollection of any mention of suicide until I went to high school. Perhaps I heard the story of Cassandra throwing herself from the walls of Troy, or vaguely worried about the soul of the original Little Mermaid. But suicide was just not something in books for children, or television shows for children, or movies for children. Oh! I must have known about Judas. Judas committed suicide. Not exactly a role model. 

Suicide never occurred to me as a solution to my problems. I knew that the solution to my problems was Father Time.  I firmly believed that once I was in high school, I would no longer be bullied. This turned out not to be true, however, as along with the rest of the girls in her classes, I was bullied by Sister W, and also, as an individual by a physically bigger girl, who became friendlier over time.  

In hindsight, my brothers had a worse time of bullying than I ever did because when we were children adults turned a blind eye to boys beating the hell out of each other. I remember it was particularly bad for my brother Nulli, whose musical and artistic gifts drew jealousy and whose small stature and trusting, open nature made him a target. When Nulli was a child, he didn't have a violent bone in his body; it is all the more astonishing and admirable that he joined the militia the minute he legally could. 

So we coped. Of course it is a shame we were bullied in the first place. And, yes, I would say that the experience had a detrimental effect on our future happiness and attitude towards humanity. But we coped. When I was twelve and volunteered to try out for the school's ice hockey team, I was informed by male classmates that they would beat me to a pulp if I did. So I didn't. And I didn't kill myself either. It would never have occurred to me.

Why does it occur to other poor children?

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Blessed are the Poor

I am not a fan of the American Culture Wars, which spread to the Catholic Church in the USA long, long ago.  And I particularly loathe how they are used within American Catholic academic theology to punish the weak. e.g. students, and flatter the strong, e.g. American senators.

I am also not a fan of graduate programs in the humanities, which strike me as a kind of pyramid scheme. Programs accept too many students, knowing full well there are too few academic jobs. Even if an intelligent, talented, hardworking lay man or lay woman (i.e. not funded by a diocese or religious order) can manage to support him/herself and his/her family through a long program, weather departmental politics without going insane and complete all the work demanded, resulting in a usually unsaleable if splendidly expert book-length essay, there is no guarantee that they will get a decent job afterwards.

Caught between the American Culture Wars and the academic job market is lecturer, theologian, blogger, Polish translator and Polandball fan Artur Sebastian Rosman, a married father of three and author of The Catholic Imagination of Czeslaw Milosz.   

(I know Artur solely through the internet, and the only thing I know we can agree on, besides the basic tenets of the Roman Catholic Church, the beauty of Kraków and the talents of Miłosz and Herbert, is that Polandball cartoons are funny. We have some Jesuits acquaintances in common, and so we are Facebook friends.) 

Meanwhile Artur has a blog, Cosmos in the Lost, which was snapped up eventually by the American blogger conglomerate Patheos, who pays. I suspect they wanted something brainy to be leaven in the populist lump. I notice that they have never approached ME.

Anyway, as Artur struggled with post-thesis defense joblessness, poverty and stay-at-home fatherhood, he was stuck for things to blog about. So, sensibly, he wrote about his joblessness, poverty and stay-at-home fatherhood. He pondered ways in which the Church could help families like his at the parish level, which I think fair enough. I seem to recall that the Church in its earliest days helped its poor families at the parish level. Three children, HELLO!

However, Artur's ideas stuck in the craw of another Catholic blogger, which does not surprise me, as some of Artur's ideas are not to my taste either. But this blogger went after Artur in a big way, using tactics not even the Mafia uses, e.g. attacking him through his wife and kids. He called Artur a freeloader and even... 

an unemployed Polish Catholic immigrant who, instead of showing gratitude for his new home and the higher education he’s received here, fantasizes about establishing a centralized Church-State that punishes his American neighbors as “heretics” for daring to form a political order that isn’t obedient to the Vatican. 

As a matter of fact, Artur arrived in the USA when he was eight and grew up in...wait for it... DETROIT, where not only was he caught in the middle of the not-so-subtle racial war, being neither bird nor beast, he was the butt of Polack jokes. So it is not like his new home was a bower of bliss; I wonder if he wouldn't have been better off in Warsaw. Meanwhile, I didn't realize Artur was into the social kingship of Christ the King, so good for him. (Interestingly, the critic's sole fan in the combox comes this close to calling Artur a Polack. Instead he just hints that Artur, being proud of his Polish heritage, is a fascist, which is, like, sooooo much betterrrrrr, eyeroll.)

Artur's critic also cast it up to Artur that his wife, who "bears his children", also "earns the family bread", and I don't think you have to be a man to know what that feels like. But if you don't, Artur blogs about it here. And speaking as a wife, (A) I would be HORRIFIED if someone used my work to hurt my husband and (B) I am myself haunted by the thought that I am not pulling my financial weight, and why did I do an M.Div. instead of something more practical,  I don't even have children who need a parent at home, etc., etc. 

Apparently Artur's critic is politically to the right of Artur, but I bet he is politically to the left to me, since I have a vague feeling that it would be cool to have a Catholic prince to be loyal to and pay rent in exchange for basic security services. But never mind that. The point is that a married Catholic father of three has been kicked by another Catholic when he is down on his luck--BECAUSE HE IS DOWN ON HIS LUCK--and what are we going to do about it? 

As for me, first, I am going to read Cosmos in the Lost every single day in the hopes of adding a penny or two to the mite Patheos pays its content providers.

Second, I am going to think about what else I can do.

Update: Thought of something. Could all readers on Facebook link to Artur's post on Facebook? I think it is quite uplifting in itself, though I was horrified to find out someone did that to Artur.

Dancing Queen Young and Sweet Only Hmm

It's not that my husband never dances. For example, when we were waiting at a bus stop on Princes Street after the Archbishop's Christmas party, B.A. began to whistle "Singing in the Rain" and then seized me in his manly arms and began to waltz. It was indeed raining, and it was freezing cold, and Edinburgh Castle loomed above, and a woman standing near us smirked, and I suppose it was all very romantic.

However, my husband refuses to go to dance class or dances because he is sure he would be bored. This disappointed me at first because when I first met B.A. in person he took me to a ceilidh (pron. KAY-lee) at the Assembly Rooms on George Street and gave every impression of a man who loves to dance. He had claimed to love the Dashing White Sergeant more than any other dance as if he was fond of them all. However, I reflected that husbands are famous for giving up dancing, theatre, going out, etc., etc., the minute you put a ring on their finger, so I accepted his surprising lost of interest as a fact of married life.

Meanwhile, it is not like I am a tremendous fan of social dancing after my various hideous forays into salsa classes, tango classes, Irish dance classes, and even belly-dance classes. However, as I always treated these classes as a way to meet new people, I agreed to go to Edinburgh swing classes with a friend so she could meet new people.

"Oh no," I thought during Class 1. "This is soooo embarrassing. And I have to touch strange men. Ugh. And they get to touch me. Bleah. And this one is already sweaty and smelly. And I have absolutely no idea where my feet should be."

But I smiled. The only way to survive social dancing is to smile gaily, apologize for mistakes, and tell your dance partner he was marvellous or that you have it now, thank you so much. Rather like dancing itself, you have to fake it till you make it, "it" being a beeline for the door.

However, I noticed the last time I went to swing class that it wasn't terrible, and that the latest male instructor made dancing look relaxed and fun, and that seeing how popular my youngest protegée was, was a delight to my maternal soul. And then on Sunday, one of the altar servers mentioned that he had also been going to swing, only on the nights I had bunked off, and thought it was fun.

I goggled at this news. If the altar server and I went to class at the same time, one of the men I danced with would be someone I actually know and like. And if he went to the dance, I stood a very good chance of being asked to dance by someone I actually know and like. Meanwhile, my youngest protegée piped up that there as going to be a live swing band, and suddenly I found myself looking forward to swing night.

"Both classes and the social, please" said I to the doorkeeper for the very first time. And although none of my protegées or altar server acquaintances turned up, I enjoyed class tolerably well. And then, despite some clumsiness and daydreaming when I ought to have been paying attention, I enjoyed the next class almost as much. I was glad when it was over, though, and would have skipped the social had the live band not arrived.

"I shall stay until ten," I decided, sitting all alone in my best blue dress, and then my youngest protegée turned up after all. What a relief!

And then, to my surprise, for the altar server never turned up, I was asked to dance. And then I was asked to dance again. I may have been asked to dance as often as my youngest protegée. Naturally, I was terrible, but one nimble-footed fellow actually asked me to dance again, which was incredibly kind of him. I mean that quite literally. But one of the rules of social dancing is that old hands should be kind and ask for dances with, or accept dance invitations from, clumsy newbies, for this is the only way newbies will improve.

It was a good band, and I enjoyed watching the best dancers dance when I myself was not dancing. Sometimes I liked it better. During one of my dances,  I was thrown around so much that my perma-grin was hiding the thought "I hate this sooooo much." However, while watching my dance instructor of two weeks ago, I remembered for the first time how much I loved dancing in high school. This dancing was never more sophisticated than the twist, but I really loved it. When I was old enough to get in, I loved dancing at clubs, too.

Then I thought: "Wait! Maybe that is the whole point of all this. The point is to get good enough to recapture the enjoyment I had dancing at high school dances."

And then I thought: "This is the first time in my life I have gone to dance class to get better at dancing."  I stuck with ballet because of my ballet friends. I signed up for ballroom as a present for a dancing fiancé. I went to swing and salsa and swing again to meet people. I went to belly dance to... Actually, I cannot remember why on earth I went to belly dance. And lately I have been going to swing dance to be company for others.

And now I think, "Is this what singleheartedness is about?"

Singleheartedness, if I have this right, is when you enjoy something for its own sake and not as a means to something else. And now I am determined to enjoy swing for its own sake because it looks like fun and is currently a little fun and will become very fun when I can do it properly.

Which thought leads me back to B.A., for the best way to improve at dancing is to have a lead at your command to practice with. But alas! He is not interested.

That said, he was waiting to fetch me from the bus stop last night, and he had baked a chicken pie.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Double Life of Veronica

I liked this post so much, I thought I should give it to IP Novels. Go on over and add your two cents to the comments box, giving good cheer to the brave editor.

Incidentally, I began my writing career with a huge blast of censorship and disapproval. I completely forgot that until I began rereading my high school diaries.

When I think of how brave and "transgressive" young male poets in the 1990s thought they were by reading their hooting fans sexually hostile poems about Margaret Atwood or religion, I have to laugh.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Seraphic Goes to the Palace

Party season has begun, and as B.A. has the job outside the house and has lived in Scotland all his life, parties often mean I meet a lot of people who know B.A. from their work, or have known B.A. for a long time, or knew him long ago and are interested to see how he turned out. I was at a snazzy birthday party in a chic restaurant-bar--the place being closed to the public for the evening--and a goodly number of people  there had known B.A. since his university days. One of them is now a radio journalist and has interviewed a host of exciting people who have visited Scotland, like Beyoncé.

"Have you interviewed anyone interesting?" asked her amiable spouse. 

"I interviewed a Ukrainian priest who is mad at Putin," I said. 

I felt a bit embarrassed because,  you know, Beyoncé, but the spouse looked--could it be?--vaguely impressed. It occurred to me that although Beyoncé is a super-star, the thoughts of  a Ukrainian priest about Putin represent hard news. And so we had an interesting conversation about Putin and Russian expansionism, and I did not feel like the lady who writes the jokes for the parish bulletin back home.

One of the drawbacks of traditionalist movements is that even if you agree that the greatest vocation of women is motherhood (either physical or spiritual) and that women have no place in the sanctuary, this leaves the childless, middle-aged, non-nun traditionalist woman--especially one far from her home country--with a vague sense of being at the periphery of Church.  

Thus I had the most tremendous shock when, out of the blue, I got an invitation to the Archbishop's Christmas party for the Edinburgh media. 

I, Seraphic.

"May I bring my husband?" I replied. 

The invitation was extended to B.A., and I made a nuisance of myself at the after-Mass Gin and Tonic party: "I got invited to the Archbishop's Palace. Did I mention? I got invited to the Archbishop's Palace." 

I mean, I got invited to the Archbishop's Palace. 

N.B. The official residence of the Archbishop is called the Palace. Scotland is awash with palaces. And castles, naturally. 

A friend of ours, being a well-known journalist, was also invited, and I was encouraged by my host's secretary to nudge him along. I didn't have to do this, actually, as my friend isn't a Catholic and had also never been to the Archbishop's Palace and also thought the invitation very exciting.  

When the great evening arrived, B.A. put on his best grey suit, and I put on my best blue dress, and B.A. laced up his shiny black dress shoes, and I put my navy suede pumps in a vegetable bag. We planned to go the whole way by bus, but in the end we took a cab from the center of town. 

I was terribly nervous, for I didn't think we would know anyone but our friend and his wife, and I have never written anything for the Church in Scotland. Absolutely no-one was going to have heard of me (why should they have?), but at the same time, I thought this might be an opportunity to be a good ambassador for the TLM to the highest echelons of the Archdiocese. This is to say, to give the impression that we are friendly, normal and good. 

The cab drove through the twisting streets of Morningside and past a bleating bagpipe, when B.A. realized that we had passed the Palace--in truth, just a large house with a domed chapel--and the cabbie turned around. We got out of the cab and nodded at the woman piper blaring away just outside the gateway. 

We went into the antechamber, gave up our coats and my boots (which had holes for the kilted butler to see, alas), signed the guest book, and waited in the reception queue to be introduced to the Archbishop. B.A. sneaked a look through the book to see who was there.

"There's Thomas," he said, and I sighed with relief. "Oh, no. That's from this summer. But George is here already."

"Oh good," I said and looked longingly at a distant doorway.  I didn't recognize anyone until we moved up the queue enough to be in the room where the archbishop was amiably chatting. Then I recognized his secretary, source of our invite. 

Long pause, during which I admired B.A.'s suit and we made desultory married people conversation. ("How was work?" "It was fine." "Anything interesting?" "No, just the same." "Ah huh.") And then it was our turn, and we were introduced by the secretary to His Eminence. I shook the Archbishop's hand, and B.A. kissed his ring. The secretary, after my short description of my writing gigs, gave a fulsome encomium to Seraphic Singles the Blog, which led me to make a few remarks about the pastoral importance of remembering Single People in Their Late Twenties and Older.  

And then off we went past the staircase to the drinks table and then to the room with the buffet, where I nervously scarfed sausage rolls and, ultimately, a small glass cone of prawns (shrimp) in Rose Marie sauce. 

The room was very warm. Very warm indeed. Our friends were there, hoorah, talking to a BBC Scotland man, whom I recognized from television. The Archdiocesan chancellor, a friendly man, came along to introduce himself to us all and discuss media. B.A. recognized him as the friend of a Trad friend, and so began amiably to discuss our wonderful TLM community while I thought about how much I wanted another drink. But the room was very crowded and the drink was on the other side of the door and what was I to do?  

Then we were all invited to the domed chapel for a little carol service. There were no seats or, come to think of it,  an altar or any furnishings: just the Tabernacle decked in purple with a wee choir of perhaps 15 children in front of it, an electric keyboard and, to the left of the keyboard, a music stand. The guests stood about where they could without blocking everyone's view. I scuttled to the front of the available wall, between the music stand and our non-Catholic pal. 

The carol service featured a Gospel reading by a child and then an appropriate carol by all the children, and then a prayer, to which the Christians present said Amen, and then a teenage girl sang "O Holy Night." We applauded. The Archbishop began to make a speech, and I began to see spots.

Once upon a time, I ate lukewarm mussels and was very, very sick. Since then, I have been very careful about mussels, although perhaps not as careful as I ought to be about shrimp, or anything else on a buffet table because when it comes to canapés, I am regrettably greedy. I love canapés.  I only remember that I have retained a sensitivity to shellfish that isn't either still partly frozen or piping hot when I suddenly feel like I am about to faint, throw up or repeat the truly horrible catastrophe of the Lukewarm Mussels episode. I remembered right then, in the front of the chapel, as the Archbishop was speaking.

The Archbishop told the assembled media, that while we were in the business of spreading the news, he was in the business of spreading the Good News. 

"Oh God," I thought and prayed, "I can't leave in the middle of the archbishop's speech. But on the other hand, I am seeing spots. And I think I am going to be sick---in front of the archbishop, the chancellor,  sixteen schoolchildren and the Edinburgh media."

"Seraphic," said God, not literally, but you know what I mean, "I give you permission to leave the chapel. I am quite sure the Archbishop would rather you scuttled off to the loo than threw up in public."

So I edged out carefully and scuttled off to the loo where, in fact, nothing happened. I just felt lousy. 

When another guest knocked on the door, I tottered out on my high heels and exchanged polite remarks with people on my way to fetch B.A.  But then I never had a chance to talk to B.A., for when I found him, he first renewed my acquaintance with one priest, and then suddenly introduced me to another, the youngish friend of a nun friend.

The spots had flown off by then, and I no longer felt so sick, so I had a good conversation with the youngish priest, and discovered that I might be able to help him with a fundraising project. I started to give him names and http addresses, and finally he decided that it would save time if I typed my own contact details into his phone. This I gladly did, for it is a cause near and dear to my heart, and I am so glad when I can actually be help---

"Ooch," said a lay man (I hope) behind me jocularly, "You'll have to get in line!" 

"What's that?" I asked, as I carefully punched my name into the unfamiliar phone.

And the lay man waxed merrily about the number of lassies who are all longing for this handsome young priest to phone them, banter, banter, etc., while the young priest looked a tad uncomfortable.

"Well, perhaps I will be the lucky one," I replied unthinkingly, typing away, as this is the sort of  answer expected when men in Scotland make remarks about lassies like me throwing themselves at the men, and only today did it strike me that this was rather like joking about rope in the houses of the hanged, not that the lassies were Cardinal O'Brien's problem, poor man. 

It also occurs to me that priests, bishops and the Holy Father himself have been going out of their way these days to make women feel that we are useful, appreciated and fully part of the Church. Indeed, this may have been part of the reason I was included on the guest list: now that I think about it, the place wasn't exactly overflowing with woman journos. Gone are the days when elderly priests joked that women would chase a broom if you hung a Roman collar on it. The bantering chap behind me--in lay clothes, so very probably a lay man--might not have got the memo. 

Sadly, shortly afterwards I began once again to see spots and to feel incredibly queasy. I excused myself  and look about for B.A. This time I grabbed him as he was in the middle of a chat with a Dominican, and barked "Bad shrimp! Bad shrimp!" before fleeing once more to the loo. \

IMPORTANT UPDATE: My friend says that she and her husband had the prawns, and they never felt ill. So it very well might not have been the prawns. It may most certainly have been my greed.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Hope for a Chilled Out Christmas

I have just written my annual "What Happened Last Christmas" column for the CR, and now I am full of nervous energy because last Christmas was just that stressful. Living it over again makes me feel like I have had five cups of coffee.

As I hope I make clear in my column, this was not at all B.A.'s fault. Poor B.A. Every year he tells me to take it easy, and every year I yell at him for telling me to take it easy, and every year I go nuts and end up weeping somewhere, usually on the kitchen floor.

Well, I am not going to do that this year! This year I will listen to B.A. and take it easy.

It helps, of course, that my mother is coming and therefore will do some of the baking and cooking. Oh, what bliss! She can cook and bake, and I can wash dishes and everything else, and I will not get stressed out.

That reminds me that I have forgotten my nerve pill.

Okay, I have taken it.

Not to be unappreciative of the wonders of Polish culture, but I am seriously glad I am not making the traditional twelve-dish Polish supper this year. I cannot believe I did it two years in a row, and I cannot believe it never occurred to me until too late that Polish women never make all twelve dishes by themselves. Generally all the women in the family (and sometimes some of the men) contribute something.

So although I am very glad I have done it, and it was very interesting and the dishes are quite delicious, I am also glad I am not doing it this year or, indeed, ever again. That said, I think a special Christmas Eve supper is a wonderful idea, especially if one has to stay up so late to go to Midnight Mass anyway. So this year I will have Wigilia soup with Wigilia dumplings, plus the salmon with orange that B.A. does so beautifully, plus kutia, a poppyseed pudding which I think is really delicious, plus kompot, stewed fruit juice, which is also delicious, plus--No. That's it.

Most of all, I am going to stop trying to make Christmas perfect, as perfect as my parents made it every year. If I am ever in prison, or in hospital, or somewhere else unpleasant for a long time, I will think about how wonderful Christmas was when I was a child, and how lucky I was to have parents like that and an increasing number of brothers and sisters to share them with.

Even when I was as old as eighteen, Christmas was bliss. On top of the food and fun traditions, according to my diary, I got everything that I asked for:

two rolls of typewriter ribbon
a year's worth of typing paper
The Riverside Shakespeare
Some Great Reward by Depeche Mode
the soundtrack to Amadeus  (from Nulli, incidentally)

In addition I received purple "slouch socks", a perfume atomizer, black nylons, bath stuff, blue pyjamas, a hair clip, a gold-metal belt shaped like a double headed asp, a china goose (from my 10 year old brother) and a handkerchief.

That belt was AWESOME!

Wow, it's kind of amazing now thinking about the energy in a house with nine or ten closely related people, five of them under 19, opening presents in a decorated room with the smell of coffee and baking in the air. So much love and excitement and generosity in one room.

My parents have done many impressive things, but at the moment, what impresses me most is they made up to five children simultaneously supremely happy every year.

Not being called to do that, I will do the next best thing, and concentrate on making B.A. happy, which means having the most chilled out Christmas I can manage.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Silly Little Hares on the 26 Bus

Living in a multicultural city like Toronto can be exciting for the young, but exhausting and dispiriting for the old. The social links are weak, one culture's ordinary behaviour is potentially confusing and offensive to another, and "home" is somewhere else, if only the past. For me, the apotheosis of multiculturalism out of control is my parents' neighbourhood bus in winter. jammed full of miserable-looking people bursting into terse speech to their mobile phones, completely incomprehensible to everyone except, perhaps, five other people on the bus. It's Babel, the next day. 

Foreign-to-me behaviour has included a furious-looking Russian playing Russian folk-pop at a high volume on his phone, and a Pakistani or Bangladeshi man shoveling snow across the street from the bus stop in thin traditional Pakstani clothing. Once a sad-looking elderly man asked me, at that bus stop, if I spoke Russian.  I have blue eyes, so the odds were pretty good.

Therefore, as B.A. was quick to point out, I am not a fan of  mass migration or hyper-multiculturalism. One of the things I love about Scotland is that the vast majority of people are Scots, with a shared culture, shared expectations, shared language (English), and a lot of social cohesion. Ironically, I myself am a foreigner, although as a Canadian of Scots ancestry, many people do not think of me as a foreign foreigner, just a colonial, almost British. 

And again ironically, I rather enjoy the exceptions that prove the rule to Scottish monoculture--Scots suddenly breaking into Italian and young Poles yammering away into their mobile phones.  Living in a place with a clear ethnic majority who set the social norm and a few well-defined ethnic minorities, whose languages I can (or could, should I take up Urdu) generally understand, suits me down to the ground.

All that said, I have been shocked by anti-Polish remarks I have encountered in Edinburgh. On the one hand, I understand discomfort with difference, especially the linguistic difference that suddenly turns one's familiar world unfamiliar. But on the other hand, I very much object to bullying and general disrespect, especially of women and children. Polish men--let's face it--can take care of themselves. When a drunk Scot confronted my local Polish shopkeeper, I felt terribly protective of the shopkeeper, which was pretty stupid, as the Polish shopkeeper was much bigger than the Scottish kid. However when drunk Scots shout Polish obscenities at Polish women on the bus, that is a different story.

So after all that preamble, here is what happened on the 26 bus. An edited version of this story appeared in  Toronto''s Catholic Register on November 28, 2014. 

The Silly Little Hares

This past week my Polish class was asked to translate a poem by Jerzy Harasymowicz, “Orchard, January”, and it made me feel homesick for Canada:

Here’s an apple tree in winter. /Here’s a bullfinch drowned in crimson./ The finch has a heart like an apple pip. /The finch is a winter apple

In the bark of the tree silly little hares/ with sharp little teeth cut wedding rings. /It is still, and there’s silence all around,/only sometimes a rook, like a marshal, shouts something.

I wrote the original Polish on cue cards to study on the bus, and on Sunday afternoon after  eavesdropping on a Polish family—the young mother would leave her little boy in his father’s care when she alighted—I took them out of my bag. The young father moved from his seat beside me to the mother’s seat beside their son, and I looked at my cards. Oto zimą, jabłonek.  

A noisy gang of  Scottish boys got on the bus, and a few raced each other to the upper deck. One nabbed the seat beside me, and his hefty pal crowded onto the edge. The first boy looked at my cards.

“Is that Polish?” he demanded.

“Yes,” I said, not surprised at his correct guess. Poles are the largest ethnic minority in Edinburgh after the English.

“Are you Polish?”  

“No. I’m Canadian.”

There was a stunned pause. (“She’s wha’?” muttered the fat friend on the edge of the seat. “Canadian.” “Wha’?”)  Obviously that was not the answer they expected.

“Is Polish hard to learn? What does that mean?” asked the first boy, looking again at my cue card.

“It means, ‘It is still, and there’s silence all around’.”

There was another pause, and I was all set to read him the poem from the beginning when his pal piped up.

“What does [short Polish obscenity] mean?”

“Yeah,” said the first boy, deadpan. “What does [****] mean?”

My thoughts flew to the tiny child in front of me, to his father, to my friend Mateusz bragging that his father had not once in his life used that word, to young Scottish men shouting it on the bus to harrass solitary Polish women.

“That,” I said, “is a very bad word, as bad as the N-word. It is extremely offensive, and you shouldn’t use it in public.”

“What does [longer Polish obscenity] mean?” demanded the first boy.

“Yeah, what does [*****] mean?” repeated the second boy.

“That is even a worse word and you shouldn’t be using it in public, especially when there are little kids around,” I scolded. “Have some respect!”

There was silence, then giggling, and then the second boy scampered down the stairs to their pals below.  The tale of our conversation, obscenities and all, drifted up the stairwell.  I stared miserably out the window, cards limp in my hands.  Surely I am too old to be bullied by ten year olds.

Suddenly the young Polish father stood up. “Shut up,” he shouted, like a marshal, down the stairwell. “Shut up! You think it’s funny? It’s not funny.”

His accent betrayed him, and there was a mocking chorus of “FAN-nee, FAN-nee!” from below and behind. The man sat down again and put a protective arm around around his son.  God only knows what else he has had to put up with. This was the fourth episode of Pole-baiting I had witnessed in five years—the fifth, if you count the spectacle of a middle-aged, brawling, drunk Scotswoman pulling the hair out of a young Polish girl’s head while screaming “You Jew!”

The policeman to whom I related that particular tale years later, the case having been reopened, looked up from his notebook with swift interest.  Nobody had reported that at the time, and it could have meant an additional charge: racial hatred.  I had been too shell-shocked to think of mentioning it. My most vivid memory was of helping the girl collect the strands of her hair.

The failure of some Scots to accept the changing demographic is incredibly sad, and as I forced myself to look at my apparently provocative cue cards again, I thought what a pity it was that the second boy had piped up. It was just possible that the first boy had suddenly realized that there was something more to the newcomers’ language than obscenities, something else worth learning. “What does that mean?”, he had asked. A minute later he could have seen how a bird is like an apple.

The bus stopped and the Polish father picked up his son. He carried him down the stairs. The silly little hare beside me watched them.

“Bye, squarehead,” he said.

And my stomach flipped over because I have never in my life heard anyone say that word aloud. Where I come from, it's understood to be a derogatory term for Germans and Swedes. And in a way it's funny. Poles have been here in large numbers for such a short time, there is no local derogatory term for Poles (that I know of) whereas in Canada and the USA we have one alright.  

A bigger problem in Scotland than resentment-of-foreigners is poverty. Poor Scots in Edinburgh are called the "Socially Excluded". The impolite term for young boys from the "Socially Excluded" class is "Neds." It occurred to me that the child beside me was a Ned, or on his way to being one. And I also occurred to me that, unlike the wee Polish child whose ears I was determined to protect, he might not have a father at home, a father who gave him a good example of how to behave in public. 
So, all things considered, the real object of pity is not the Polish migrant and his child. Unless they get the Polishness beaten out of them by the state and the school system (another story), they'll be fine. 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Hope for Women's Peace with Current Singleness

When I was eighteen, I thought maybe I'd be better off as a perpetual Single. It makes me sad, now, to read about my worries about dating and boys when I was eighteen. I was eighteen. A very young eighteen.

A big problem in my life was the pressure to be popular and "successful" with boys. My mother very much wanted me to be popular and successful with boys. It's a theme running through my teenage diaries. I don't think my mother quite understood how different the 1980s were from the 1960s. She went as some boy's date to the prom when she was 14, so she thought dating from the age of 14 perfectly fine, reasonable and even desirable. She once told me, in perfect innocence, that she had learned something interesting from everyone she ever dated, by which she meant things like motorcycle maintenance.

Well, I definitely wanted to go out with boys like that. My mother seemed to have been so popular with boys, I wondered what was wrong with me. And I definitely thought having a boyfriend would be a solution to something--e.g. feeling so unpopular with boys. N.B. For someone who went to an all-girls' school, I definitely worked hard at meeting boys. 

In hindsight, I realize that the boys my mother went out with in the 1960s were really just a kind of good friend, not the kind of pre-fiancé 1980s girls had. And this may be why, when at eighteen I was trying to negotiate how to discourage a 27 year old pizza chef from phoning me, my parents were not much of a help. What was also not a help was that he was an Italian Canadian, and my parents were not Italian Canadians, and my father would rather have cut himself shaving than told a young-ish man over the phone to stop calling his 18 year old daughter, who simply was not ready for a romantic relationship with an adult, which is what my Italian Canadian friends' fathers would have done, in a heartbeat.

While reading my diary (and when I was 18), I felt really terrible for the poor 27 year old of whom I was, on one level, so frightened. He was probably a really nice guy. Only this morning do I realize what a terrible situation that was for an eighteen year old girl to be in. It's not like my parents ever gave me the slightest indication what they really wanted me to do was give up on university and marry out of high school. Other than, of course, my mother's and grandmother's questions as to whether I had met any nice boys lately.* 

"I'm too picky," wrote a teenage girl to me the other day.

Teenage girls still write to me, what with the book and all. 

"Good," I wrote. "Be picky. You're still a teenager. You could marry a millionaire."

"I'm never getting married," wrote the teenage girl. 

"Yes, you are," I wrote back. "According to statistics, you are most probably getting married. Only according to the averages, you are not getting married until... Let me see."

I looked up the statistics on  Age for First Marriages on Wikipedia. Like my mum, this girl's mother had married really young. There have been times in history, sometimes depending largely on the place or the community, when women married really young. But the when and where of this girl was not one of them.

Women in UK 28.5 years old

Women in Canada  29.1 years old

Women in USA : 27 years old

Women in Australia: 27.7 years old

Women in Ireland: THIRTY-TWO years old (Yes, dear old Catholic Ireland. THIRTY-TWO.)

Women in Poland: 25.6  years old.

The men are always older.  

I wonder if Wikipedia has a chart for Age for First Shacking Up. It has one for Who has Lost Virginity by Age 15, which is both sad and funny, for in more "trad" countries (most notably Israel), there is this HUGE gap between  boys and girls whereas in places like Canada, they are 50:50 in their sin, and in the UK, there are more non-virgin girls than boys. (HOLY CRAP. Almost 40% of the English 15 year old girls had had sex, whereas fewer than 10% of Polish 15 year old girls had.)

Oh dear. I am supposed to writing about hope, not sending myself into a head-slamming-into-desk depression.  Here is my hope:

My hope is that young women everywhere shelve the whole question of sex and romance until they are in their mid-twenties and just concentrate on making friends--female friends, male friends--and excelling in their studies or trades. The early 1960s have been over in Canada for a very long time, and they ended in Poland after 2000. Early marriage is now RARE.

I also hope parents raised in more family and marriage oriented times understand that, with some exceptions, like romantic Young Fogeys who love watching films from the 1940s, the modern young man thinks romance and dating = sex, not pleasant path to marriage in his twenties. This is not just the jerks. Depending on the country, and most definitely in the UK, this is almost all of them, including a lot of Catholics. 

And it would astonish the boys to know this is wrong, terrible, exploitative, when according to the standards taught to them by their own parents, schools, media, government, sometimes even priests, they are perfectly nice guys who want nothing more than to get pleasure, give pleasure in return, and have a loving relationship suited to their age, with proper and loving precautions, etc., etc. 

The solution is neither trying to isolate children from the rest of all society or shaming girls into marrying young to the first young man who looks game for it. The solution is to promote and support girls in developing mature, chaste, mutually respectful and affectionate friendships with both sexes, without pressuring them to have "love lives", while assuring them they they probably will get married one day. Almost everybody does.  The important thing is for a woman to marry the right guy-- and to be the right girl--the first time around when she is still young enough to have children.

*To be fair, teenage girl culture itself seemed to revolve around Being Found Attractive By Boys. And yet there was another constant theme, which was If You Get Pregnant, Your Life Will Be Over.