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.


  1. Or maybe your stomach is a little more sensitive than your friends'. Some people seem to have stomachs of iron.

  2. That is certainly a possibility!


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