Thursday, 30 April 2015

Happy Birthday to my First Friend Ever!

Parents and grandparents, you know, are authority figures, so they're kind of not your friends until you're grown up, if ever. And most brothers and sisters, if they're much older or younger than you, aren't your friends at once, for either they are bossing you around, or you're bossing them around. It's not what Aristotle would call a relationship of equals.

However, if you are only a year and a half (or less) older or younger than one of your siblings, chances are you might have become a real friend with them before anyone else. And I think this is indeed the case between me and my first friend ever, my brother Nulli Secundus.

I don't think I can remember a time before there was a Nulli Secundus. When I greatly amused myself by sitting on the well-sprung sofa and bouncing my head off the backrest, there Nulli was beside me, also bouncing away, to the great detriment of the sofa. When I stomped around the kitchen table in Cambridge, UK, in my halcyon near-infancy, blowing a whistle, there was Nulli banging a drum. ("WILL YOU KIDS QUIT IT!?" yelled our 30-something post-doc father.)

There is, sadly, evidence on film that I stole my brother's toys, and now that I think of it, I probably bullied him, but he was so good-natured, he didn't seem to notice or care until he was, you know, fourteen or so. And, even though he was so much better than me at music and math and computers and such other valuable and useful stuff, it never occurred to me, even once, to push him down the stairs or flush him down the toilet.

Sometimes it is hard to reconcile the memory of that little platinum blond boy with the contemporary reality of the hulking refrigerator-shaped man with the house, wife and kids in Estrie. The little boy was a trusting friend of all the world, and the big guy, although friendly, has learned enough about human nature to become deeply suspicious. (Frankly, I sort of hate the world for that, but at least I remember his happy days of innocent trust in the goodness of everyone and everything.) However, two things unite the boy and the man: the big smile and the piano. One of the great delights of my childhood, despite my own lack of talent, was waking up to the sound of my brother playing the "standard upright" on Saturday mornings--especially Smurf music, he loved Smurf music. Now one of the highlights of every visit home is listing to my brother wallop out Chopin on his grand.

One of the good things about being a year and a bit older than my brother is that I get the scary birthdays first. I'm like the penguin who somehow is the first to get nudged into the water while the other penguins watch to see if something eats him. Well, I had a very good time when I was the age my brother is now, so I can assure him it's all good, and I hope he has a very happy birthday.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

"You Can't Write About That!"

It's Artistic Wednesday, and I feel a rant coming on, so buckle your seatbelts. You're in for a ride.

The worst thing anyone can tell a writer about to plunge into a project is "You can't write about that!" The writer may very well stop dead, as though she's been shot in the head, and discover that she literally CANNOT write about "that" whatever "that" may be.  And not being about to write about "that", she may discover she cannot write about ANYTHING. This will lead to much suffering, especially the suffering of self-blame, e.g. "I'm so lazy."

"What's wrong with me?" the writer will wail as she doesn't write, and what's wrong with her is that her inspiration has been shot in the head by the person who said "You can't write about that!" The person's fear has become her fear. A fearful person cannot write. All a fearful person can get on paper is self-criticism and, if she is lucky, an SOS to the great Author of us all: "Help meeeeee!"

The only rule for a writer, besides knowing how to spell, and even that is optional, as fans of the Inner Child will agree, is to write the truth about human nature. The great irony of fiction is that while you make stuff up, you have to tell the truth. Sometimes the truth is surprising or painful or not obvious, but it is the truth, and you must write it. Besides keeping your audience's attention, that is the most important thing in writing.

Yes, audience first; truth second. Look at all the crap on TV; people love it. It makes them happy or dulls their pain.  Look at all those stupid romance novels; same thing. As much as I am committed to good writing, I put compassion for readers first. If a reader wants to read about a man who fishes a woman out of a pond, draws her a hot bath, gives her an enormous pair of his pyjamas and fixes her a hot water bottle and his grandma's chicken soup, who am I to judge?

However, even in a schlocky romance novel there are rules. There must be character development, and the characters must be worth caring about, and the characters should be consistent. In a magical world where a man lends a woman his pyjamas and makes his grandmother's chicken soup on page 134, he cannot kick puppies on page 145. He could have been kicking puppies before the soup incident, but after the soup, no way.

And I am talking about romance novels because we are told to look down on them, even thought they sell better than any other kind of fiction. The kind of fiction we are supposed to look up to is, in Canada, whatever wins the Governor General's Award or the Giller, in the USA, whatever wins the Pulizer or the Carnegie, and in the UK whatever wins the Booker and/or (if you are a woman) the Orange--which is now called something else, anyway. (How stupid. The Orange was a great name and easily remembered.) VERY FEW BOOKS WIN THESE PRIZES and incidentally it is amazing for the authors when they do, for otherwise they wouldn't sell that many copies.  High literature is all very snob, and certainly wonderful, but it doesn't sell as well as romance and thrillers. Personally, I aim at literary thrillers. God, make me good--but also money.

Anyway, so I did write a literary thriller and despite all its controversial aspects, sent it off to dear old Ignatius Press, who decided to take a chance, for which I am very grateful. And eventually a dear outspoken friend took my arm, perhaps to show that she would speak more in sorrow than in anger, and said,

"My dear, excuse me for saying this, but I believe there is fornication in your book."

And I said, "Well, Ann, yes. There is indeed that sort of thing in my book."

I hasten to say (if you have not read, or indeed, bought this book) that sexual sin is more hinted at than described although I discovered, one day while reading it aloud in a Catholic bookshop, that there is a scene which is rather uncomfortable to read aloud in front of the smiling faces of three popes, and although most of my readers do not understand German, it occurred to me then that Benedict XVI (whose photo beamed at my back) sure does.

However, I do not regret that scene at all, for it illustrates exactly the extent my heroine was willing to go to drug her pain, be it physical or be it emotional, and it is a fact that some people treat sex as a drug. Quite a lot of people, in fact.

Also--another fact--if a very charming and handsome twenty-something single man moves into the apartment of a lonely divorced thirty-something woman who was utterly humiliated when her ex-husband had a lot of affairs with younger women, the chances of them going to bed is much greater than the chances of them not. I don't care how religious they are or how long it takes; if each thinks the other is sexy, off to bed they go. It's called human nature, and to assume an engaged couple who claim they are living as brother and sister as they live alone in a shared flat are literally living as brother and sister, with no funny business whatsoever, is to be stupid.

Meanwhile, I know all this without having ever lived in sin with a twenty-something myself. Like Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, I have lived long enough to have observed trends in human nature, and like Chesterton's Father Brown, I can imagine myself as the killer. Indeed, I would be very surprised if, given a gun, I did not shoot an intruder between the eyes. I used to box, and I once hit the sweetest little blonde girl ever to set foot in the ring in the nose. I felt bad about it, but I still did it.

I could do a lot of things I choose not to do. Indeed there a lot of things that I would like to do even though I choose not to do them. I am sure you can say the same. And these may be the very things you want to write about. Would you like to walk up to the hipster barista at Starbucks and invite him to your friend's wild party where you will companionably drink shots of tequila and end up kissing by the fridge? Great! Write it. Change all the names and write it all out in the third person. Maybe you will even begin it with a dare.

Two well-dressed girls, one blond, one brunette, were sitting in Starbucks, shooting covert glances at the hipster behind the counter.

"I dare you to ask him," said blonde Belinda.

"Yeah?" said dark-haired Stacy, grinning. "That's only because you think I won't. But I'm telling you, today I feel so great, I'm actually going to do it."

"I dare you," chanted Belinda, passing a hand through her spiky  hair. "I dare you! I dare you!"

"You dare me?"

"I dare you."

"Challenge accepted," said Stacy and went to the counter, smirking as behind her Belinda gasped in surprise and choked on her frozen macchiatto. 

Keep on going. What do you (i.e. does Stacey) say? What does the barista say? Where does Stacey meet him? What is he wearing? What happens at the party to get them to making-out-beside-the-fridge point? And how, in heaven's name, are you going to write that part without it sounding icky and stupid?

For that, my friends, is really a challenge. I can't do it myself, and I don't need to to it myself, for if I ever write a juicy make-out scene, you can bet someone at Ignatius will yell "CUT!" Nevertheless, here am I, with my MDiv and all, telling you that if you feel inspired to write about asking that barista boy to a wild party, you should do it. I don't think you should ACTUALLY invite a complete stranger to a party, not to mention make out with him by the fridge, but if that's what your inner writer voice tells you to write about, you should write about it. Just change the names, and be honest about human nature. Maybe the barista will think he is in for more than a quiet snog, which means Stacey will have to deal with that. Maybe he stands her up, having forgotten all about her. Maybe she goes to the loo and returns to the fridge to find him making out with Belinda.

The interesting thing is if you change the names, they will cease to be the people you know (or sort of know) and become whole new people, your creations. When I was a teenager, I used to write stories about my friends, and part of the amusement for my friends was recognizing themselves and others and laughing because I "got them"--usually their turns of phrase--"to sound right." Well, guess what? People grow up and continue to write about their friends, only as adults they have the brains to change their names and tinker with them so much that they become less and less the friend and more and more a new creation. Lord Sebastian Flyte was based on  the Hon. Hugh Lygon, but he wasn't really the Hon. Hugh Lygon. Charles Ryder was based on Evelyn Waugh, but can you imagine Charles actually looking like Evelyn Waugh? Ew. No

My character Dennis is not just a male version of Graham Greene's Phuong but based on a real handsome German boy I knew in Germany and was not shacked up with. I had a crush on him the size of a planet, but fortunately nothing untoward ever happened, unless you count his uncle hitting on me. This was not because I was tremendously saintly but because I was afraid of my priest-professor (and dozens of other people) finding out. Boys talk, and one poor girl around was widely known as the... well, never mind.  It is taking me too long to write this as it is as I keep breaking off into giggles. Oh, the comfort of a clear conscience.

At any rate, when I wanted to write about the issues of an older woman shacked up with a younger man in Germany, I just did it. As it was not biography and as I was not pretending this was a wonderfully glamorous and morally neutral situation (au contraire), I did not feel embarrassed about it at all. If I mined my own feelings of sexual attraction for material, well, so what?  Men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life, as I said when I was Single, say now that I am married, and will even think when/if I am a widow although perhaps as an old lady I will prefer decaf. Who knows?

Meanwhile I have just written an exciting romance about swing dance class, and I hope B.A. likes it. Of course, I may have to assure him that the hero does not actually exist. La la!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Great Review

I haven't read a new review for awhile, and I was delighted when my attention was brought to Emily Watson's review of Ceremony of Innocence.

It is always exciting to see what readers have made of my work, and if they agree or disagree with my own private views and hopes, and if they like or loath my experiments. And I was delighted that Watson liked Dennis so much, and saw what I did:

The beautiful Dennis, 22 years old, finds it difficult to make Catriona love him for who he really is—a man who knows his own mind and wants to marry her despite their difference in age and experience. There is an interesting gender reversal here:  it is the younger man who is objectified and patronised by an older female lover, as opposed to the unequal relationship between the cynical Fowler and lovely, docile Phuong in The Quiet American. His is a perceived, rather than an actual, innocence—his maturity and devotion make him, in my mind, the most sympathetic character in the novel.

Emily Watson picked a great photo, too.I always imagined Catriona as much more attractive than she let on.  

Was it the Mad Trads?

I really have a lot of hair. Michael has a lot of books.
Today is Traddy Tuesday, the day I address some aspect of traditional Catholic worship for the sake of disappointed would-be converts who go to their local parish Mass thinking "Flannery" and experience flummery instead.

It's a sad day for Traddy Catholics in my native Toronto because one of Canada's most widely read and talented Catholic apologists, Michael Coren, has joined the Anglican Church of Canada. Online the reactions of Catholics range from bored "Who cares? He was off the rails anyway" remarks to horrified "We must pray for him" exhortations. In one corner people are squabbling over whether doing a return swim across the Tiber to the Protestant shore counts as apostasy or whether you have to actually abjure Christ for that.

Traditionally Catholics make a big song and dance whenever we welcome a notable convert--it was worldwide Catholic news when Frances Chesterton set aside Anglicanism to enter the Church--but we are unsure what to do when we lose one, especially one who was a bestselling Catholic apologist. I mean, we were not talking a 1,000 print run at Novalis here, but reprints from Canada's most iconic publisher McClelland and Stewart, which is now owned by Penguin-Random House.

A dozen other Canadian Catholic apologists can only dream of such commercial success, and I am close to banging my head on the keyboard as I write. Naturally all the issues are all jumbled up in my head: spiritual, literary, commercial, apologetical, evangelical, ecumenical...

One of my fellow journos has asked me why I am still thinking about this (ten hours after finding out about it on Facebook), and it is because I have actually met Michael Coren, admired his talent, am grateful for his appraisal of my own work, and was glad to have such hard-working, high-profile journalist fighting our corner. I was even on one of his shows.

Michael's writing style is not my writing style; if I want to snark at bit at ideological opponents, I get out my stiletto. Michael, however, takes out a bazooka. At some wedding or other, I remember a very lefty Catholic prof--very passionate about ecumenism and interfaith dialogue--telling me he read my unlefty articles in the CR, but he always got too angry to finish Michael's. Well, Michael's always been a polemicist; I prefer telling stories.

The (or A) story of Michael is that some months ago, perhaps a year ago, he began to dissent on Catholic doctrine about homosexuality. He cites as the reason for this the really nasty things he has heard and read Catholics saying about homosexuals. I am not sure why 2014 would be the watershed year for that; many Catholics have been dead scared of homosexuals-in-the-abstract for decades, earlier because we thought they might hurt or corrupt our children--and the Catholic agony concerning issues around gay priests and bishops  is incredibly painful--and more recently because of the gay lobby's influence over (A) law courts and (B) how human anthropology as taught in schools. Meanwhile, of course, an estimated 2-4% percent of baptized Catholics probably have same-sex desires themselves, and so of course many Catholics have gay children and friends, et alia.  God only knows how many gay-marriage-opposing grandmothers are nevertheless completely untroubled by a campy or merely girly pastor or bishop.

Since Saint Paul clearly states that the Kingdom of Heaven is closed to sexually active homosexuals, and all branches of the Christian faith considered homosexual sexual acts to be serious sins until the late 20th century, the Catholic is left with the painful task of being faithful to Catholic doctrine and inclusive of homosexuals as fellow human beings made in the image and likeness of God at the same time. Michael seems to have found that too many Catholics failed at this task, and when he wielded his bazooka at these Catholics, they shot back.

Over Facebook, Michael has announced that he has been "a happy Anglo-Catholic" for over a year, which is certainly news to his Roman Catholic audience. He also characterizes the reaction to the news of his reception as "dripping with abuse and hatred" which is also news to me, for I watched the story break on Facebook last night and followed it until midnight when I went sadly to bed.

Even the most critical  remarks did not strike me not as abusive and hateful. There were no threats, no name-calling, no obscene photo-shopped photos, no obscenities--in fact, nothing like what I recently received from a gay "Catholic" (i.e. Scottish of Irish extraction) teenage stranger on Facebook for a remark I made about pastoral care for Cardinal O'Brien, At worse Michael's critics were angry and contemptuous. For the most part the comments I saw were shocked, surprised, doubting, sorry, disappointed, sorrowful, hurt and prayerful. I hope Michael balances those against the comments he finds "abusive and hateful."

Meanwhile, I know Vox Cantoris, too, and he is not an abusive, hate-filled person. He is a disappointed idealist who puts contemporary Catholic apologists on a pedestal, works hard to advance their interests, and feels terribly betrayed when they go wandering off. (Note to Michael Voris: Don't go wandering off.) Like many churchgoing Canadian Catholics, he feels increasingly marginalized--not only by secular society but by clerics--and often frightened that being too outspoken about his traditional beliefs will bring him financial ruin.

I am not sure the latest chapter of the Michael Coren Story has any clear lessons for tradition-loving Catholics except that faith is a gift that can be taken away, so perhaps praying that ours isn't, is a good idea. We should also pray for our lay apologists, perhaps remembering them when we remember our priests, bishops, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict. And we shouldn't take them for granted! Heaven only knows which angry email or tweet flicked Michael on the raw so much he decided to divorce us all while, er, still filling his engagements, as it were. It is not true that all journalists have skins like rawhide. I certainly do not!

So it is a sad day for the Roman Catholic Church in Canada,  and whether he knows it or not, Michael himself. My great hope is that Michael will take a long sabbatical from religious issues and concentrate on the political realm. Of course, these are deeply connected these days, so I will amend that to say that I hope Michael uses his energy--and very admirable work habits--to demand justice and protection for the beleguered Christians of Asia and Africa.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Enticing Men to a Nice Conversation

PART ONE: Enticing Men

Things got a bit preachy in the combox last night, as you can see, and an anonymous commentator cast aspersions on the Catholicism of the writer of my most recent "Dear Auntie Seraphic" email. She or he cited Thomas to prove that modesty is objective, not subjective, invoking dear old IIa IIae Q 169.2.

Naturally I have the Summa Theologica in both English and Latin, so I bounced up at once to review dear old Q 169.2. Naturally I skipped straight to the Respondeo, which can be summed up as follows: 

1. A woman's apparel sometimes has the power to incite men to lust.

2. Nevertheless a married woman may dress in such a way as to "please" (cough, cough, ahem) her husband. A married woman can do this without sin.

3. But unmarried women, and women who do not wish to marry, or  nuns, "cannot without sin desire to give lustful pleasure to those men who see them, because this is to incite them to sin." 

4. Women who do dress with the intention of  inciting men to sin, sin mortally. 

5. Women are inspired by frivolity or ostentation in their clothing choices--e.g. blowing the rent money on an Armani dress just to show off--do not necessarily sin mortally but sometimes venially. (Really, it's about your intentions.) 

6. The same applies to men in this respect. Blowing the rent money to impress the chicks with your expensive suit is a sin.

You'll never guess who it was who was okay with women dressing up with gold and costly attire. You'll never, ever guess. Saint Augustine. It's right there in dear old 169.2

7. CULTURAL EXCEPTION!!! In the case of frivolity and ostentation, some might be excused from sin when they wear frivolous or ostantatious clothes not out of vanity but out of some contrary custom. 

8. Thomas doesn't think much of such a contrary custom. 

Meanwhile, I'll tell you what Thomas did not rule on: spaghetti straps, hemlines and necklines. Because "modest dress" is a cultural construct and changes from culture to culture, era to era. Naturally Thomas, not being used to the sight of women's legs, would have been very disturbed by the forest of female legs now on the streets of Paris. However, being of his own century, he would not have noticed scooped necklines much. He probably would have found it odd that we allow our hair to float about unbraided and uncovered, and most definitely odd that we cut it short. In fact, he would have been severely annoyed that, by twelfth century standards, we dress like men. This would have bothered him a lot more than public breast-feeding, which almost every mother everywhere used to do.  Prominent breasts---no big deal. Shoulders--bigger deal. Ankles--Eeek! Eeek! Eeek! 

But to get right back to Thomas's point, it's about intention. If you put on a strapless sundress because it is hot out and you want to look feminine and pretty as you putter around downtown with your shopping bag, then all power to you. If you put on a strapless sundress because you're in Morocco and want to anger/incite to lust all the Arab men around, then you're an idiot. If you put on a black dress with slits up both sides to go to a college Hallowe'en party as a sexy vampire, then bad. If you put on a black dress with slits up both sides to go to a tango milonga, then okay. 

Sundress and tango dress mean different things in different places. And naturally nobody should ever harass you because of your clothes although of course they will if you offend community standards in a place that believes in both community standards and yelling at strangers. I saw a woman in the mall yesterday who was outrageously offensive to community standards, for she had a black mask tied over her face to go with her hijab and robe. However, Edinburghers do not yell at strangers, unless either party is drunk, so I merely rolled my eyes.   

PART TWO: a Nice Conversation.

It would be a lie to say that men have never stopped me in the street for a conversation, so I won't pretend this never happens. Strangers have approached me in the street since I was a child to talk about my hair. It is never about my clothes; it is always about my hair. This is because I have unusual hair. I have spent my life feeling very self-conscious about my hair. However, I can now see the benefits of having hair that interests people. It makes for an easy topic of conversation, even cross-cultural ones, as people from more outgoing cultures try to reconcile their beliefs about "white people hair" with my hair.  Believe me, I don't have big hair to incite anyone to lust; I have big hair because of genetics. 

However, even these hair-chats have been unusual occurrences because I have not lived in countries where (white) men just walk up to (white) women and start talking. Even in super-chatty Scotland, you have to be standing beside them at a bus stop or something. And then the man is usually not as interested in meeting you as he is in talking. Really, I have never been around such a chatty people in all my life. It solves the mystery of why my Scottish-Canadian granny used to talk to bus-drivers all the time. 

Thus, if your  first language is English, and your expectation of social life is that young men are going to stare at you appreciatively or wolf whistle or say "Looking good" or humbly introduce themselves to you on the bus or subway, you watch way too many movies. Meanwhile, it used to be utterly unheard of for gentlemen to talk to unknown ladies in public. And women who spoke to unknown gentlemen in public were assumed to be hookers. You just didn't do it. Once upon a time, when men were more interested in women, in part because women looked up to men as demi-gods and saviours, nice young men would scramble to find someone to introduce them to a certain young lady at a PARTY or after MASS. If desperate, he would go gulping up to her mother, excusing himself and saying that he believed Mrs X was a friend of his mother Mrs Y, and he hoped Mrs X wouldn't mind if he said good morning and perhaps (gulp, gulp) came to call. We have not made the transition from British/American formality to foreign bonhommerie with grace.  

Therefore if you want to meet young men, and naturally you do--even I don't mind it, as to widen my social circle--you must forget all about meeting them on busses and trains and the street and possibly even the beach--and go to social events, preferably local ones. And I suggest that, while preparing for them, you dress with a certain amount of originality and flair. At recent dances, I remember a girl standing out from the crowd (literally) because she was wearing a crinoline, another because she had very defined curls, and another because she was wearing an unusual grey bell-skirted wool dress with a ghost pin. It was a cute little wee ghost; a real conversation starter. 

If you are interested in meeting certain young men from sub-cultures, for example, if you are a committed Goth, then naturally wearing full Goth rig-out will get you noticed by the brotherhood, especially if (at a Goth gig) you have some bit of Goth kit nobody else has, or show up in a ruined wedding dress. Actually, taking any effort to dress creatively for any social event can get you noticed. I went to a Balkan music event--one quite notorious for wild dancing and drinking--in full pretend Gypsy rig-out and was approached for conversation by men and women alike.

Then there are the homesick. Nine years ago in Boston a sad, sad Gael asked me in a bar in heartrending tones if I were Irish. If you are partial to Czechs (et alia), you can wander around your town with a Czech (etc.) dictionary and homesick Czechs may just suddenly ask you if you are learning Czech and why. (At swing dance, the coolest of the Cool Girls did a double take in the ladies' when while unpacking my handbag to get out of my lipstick, I set my Polish dictionary by the sink, and now we are on greeting terms.)  When abroad, you can go to places where the men of your nation hang out. (In Rome, Canadians and Americans go to the Scholar's Pub, which is nominally Irish.) 

To return to Saint Thomas, he would have been confused by the concept of women going out by themselves hoping to meet men. In Thomas's day, and in every day until the 20th century, young women whose fathers could read (or could employ someone to read for them) never went out by themselves hoping to meet men. Young women who went out among men unchaperoned were almost always prostitutes. In Thomas's day, your parents sorted out your marriages themselves, or at least supervised the process with due diligence. 

Thus, although Thomas was assuredly right about not dressing or acting in such a way because you intend to incite men to lust, he doesn't have much to say as to how to encourage them to talk to you in the first place, as nice men making friends with nice women for nice reasons. 

I will say, however, that conventional, mass-produced boring old clothes from H&M, et alia, no matter how short, long, clingy or tight, are unlikely to spark anyone's interest in you whatsoever. You will be just another girl in a spaghetti strap top and a denim skirt or khaki trousers. (Zzzzzz.)

Meanwhile, looking interesting is not enough. You must BE interesting, too. Fortunately, women can very often be interesting just by being good listeners and reading up a bit on their friends' interests, so as to ask intelligent questions. However, let's face it, at social events it is very unlikely that men will discover you are interesting unless you LOOK interesting, too. And naturally that does not mean looking like a stripper, except to the sort of men you don't want to meet anyway.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Not Another Modesty Lecture

Waiting for the Rough Bus after a night on the Toon.
I got a very amusing letter today complaining about modesty lectures. The author had a lot of really good points.  To sum up, her arguments were basically: In my culture, men go to strip clubs and ogle women who look like strippers, i.e. surgically enhanced women. They do not ogle or chase after me or women who look like me, i.e. ordinary young women with natural bodies. Clearly I am not a clear and present danger to the morals of the men of my culture. Why, therefore, do I have to worry about being "modest"? Why can't I wear whatever the heck I want, as I'm not going to turn men on anyway? 

Six years ago, I would have fired back, "Don't be silly, you 20-something whippersnapper. For good biological reasons, most of the young men around want to drag you off to their caves, and would if they could get away with it, or didn't fear God, etc., etc." However, internet porn apparently messes with male brains so much that the men cease to function normally as sexual subjects. The poor things actually stop being interested in the girls their grandfathers would have done their best to chat up and instead become psychologically fixated on ginormous fake boobs, etc. Sad, really.

So I have to concede my reader has a point there. Meanwhile, she was given a counter-argument by a priest who said that she should dress modestly not just to preserve the purity of men (which she quite cogently argues they are throwing away with both hands their very own selves) but for herself. She does not know what he means by this, but being over 40, I bet I do.

There is such a thing as dignity, and whereas a slim 24 year old girl can look like a nice girl in a micro-mini and black tights, 40+ Seraphic cannot. My town is crammed full of older women on the prowl, and I find them a little embarrassing, especially when they are drunk. It's not that they don't look good--they often look quite surprisingly good--it's the lack of dignity. Whatever age you are, you should dress with dignity.

Interestingly, guides on how to dress so that men will ask you do dance do not mention modesty at all and yet they are all about appropriate shoes, only one layer on top, covered backs and small jewellery. The swing guide even advises dressing vintage, which means wearing clothes, hairstyles and make-up of earlier (and more modest, incidentally) decades. All this is to show men who like to dance that you are serious about dancing and will be fun to dance with.

What looking like a stripper tells men is.... Well, I am not sure, but I am not sure it is good. And looking like a stripper is a a lot different from wearing the spaghetti strap top some modesty mavens get anxious about. Wearing a spaghetti strap top when you take a 32 B bra is quite a different thing from wearing a spaghetti strap top when you take a 40 DD, isn't it?

I suppose, if you are a Searching Single, social life may sometimes feel like a constant audition for a show called "Wife Material".  Saint Augustine thought this a tremendously sad situation, and I must say I agree with him. It might be more helpful to think of it as a show called "Girl Next Door" because all the married women I know, aged 24 to 65, whether they were pretty or striking or merely belle-laides when they married, were all Girl Next Door types. (Hold the phone, one was an Exotic Sultry Temptress from Abroad with the Soul of a Girl Next Door. You know who you are!)

The bigger problem, of course, is that not as many men wish to be in the "Wife Material" show, for increasing numbers of men are utterly terrified of marriage. All the more reason, I think, to dress like the Girl Next Door because the Girl Next Door is [more likely to be] a loyal soul who would never have an affair with her salsa instructor and divorce her grieving husband after taking him to the cleaners and poisoning the minds of his children against him.

And now all my male readers have fainted, for I have typed out their worst fears in black and white. Oh, the humiliation of such a fate! In my mind's eye I can see them all shudder. Yes, women can be very wicked, very wicked indeed. We should strive not to be, and meanwhile we should stop going to modesty talks, unless to meet boys.

But is this wise? Ironically, there are fewer things more sexually arousing in Catholic circles than modesty talks. All that earnest discussion about uncovered female flesh when the boys are seated right next to soft-skinned, sweet-smelling, glowing young women with anxious questions. "Can I wear my skirt to here...? How about here...? And my neckline? Here....? How about here...?" (Male readers faint again.)

In short, I think it is outrageous that ordinary young Catholic women are made to feel terrible for wearing ordinary summer clothes when the real problem in society, which is having a devastating effect on the souls of men and on their families, is pr*n and pr*n-related businesses. If anything, ordinary young Catholic women should be warned against frumpiness instead. Let's dress like the heavenly-home heroines we aspire to be and give the hussies a run for their money.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Polish Soap Opera About London

This is (or was) actually a thing.

 From clicking around, I see that Ewa's life is really quite a mess.

And so far the clips I have seen have been killingly embarrassing, e.g. "Polish girls are so sexy. Why are you here?" "Our girls are here."

Update: Ooh. It tanked. That's sad. It could have been great. If I am ever fluent in Polish, I should propose one for Edinburgh. It would be a scream:


Ewa: Chang Bao: why do you not pay rent this month?

Chang Bao: I not pay? I pay. Yes I pay.

Ewa: No. Bank transfer not working. And you, Jacek! (po polsku) The landlord says you must stop smoking indoors or he will throw us all out.

Jacek (po polsku):  He can stuff it in his ear.

Ewa: (po polsku) This is not a positive attitude.

Chang Bao: I not understand but I not like stinky cigarette.

Maria: I have found the Chang Bao's cheque under the Jacek's sweater.

Torquil : None of you people has the least idea how to use the definite article.

Jacek: Six students in three bedroom flat is too many, and you are last to arrive so you must be first to go.

Ewa: Nie! We need all rent monies!

Torquil: Oh, I say, Jacek. Be reasonable, there's a good chap.


Today is Polski Piątek, and I am CROSS.  I spent two hours yesterday afternoon writing a description
in Polish of last week's jollifications and discovered when I got to class that instead of helping me think in Polish for the rest of the evening, the essay had tired out my poor brain. I was at pains to describe aloud my more recent activities. Indeed,my pains were so painful that another student--indeed the most advanced student, a student who has been attempting Polish for decades--laughed openly and corrected me seconds before the teacher did.

Naturally murderous feelings filled my heart, and I remembered how much I had enjoyed class the week before, when this student had not been there.

There are a number of ways one can avenge oneself on the British in such situations, ways that fly right over the innocent head of a Polish teacher, but although an opportunity soon presented itself--thanks to a rather juicy class indicator--I decided it was beneath my dignity. Instead I decided the the best revenge is to excel in spoken Polish. Instead of reading and writing so much Polish I will concentrate on actually speaking it out loud, which is of course the very hardest thing to do. When I speak with the tongues of Poles and angels, she will be sorry.

My mood was not improved by the evening's political article to be translated, which was entitled Przewodnik po moherowych beretach. This means "Guidebook to the mohair berets." According to the rather satirical article, the mohair berets are not just warm hats but elderly conservative Polish women who listen to Catholic Radio Maryja.

"I listen to Radio Maryja," quoth Seraphic, po polsku. "Jestem moharym beretem in training."

"Aaah!" reacted the teacher in pleased horror.

And then I went on at great length about how rotten it is that historically men and young people think elderly women are stupid and ridiculous and how marvellous it is that in Poland they are actually a powerful political group.

Had I had the opportunity, I would have also pointed out that the feared moherowe berety had lived through the entire Communist regime,  some of them had survived the Nazi occupation, and even more of them had survived the Stalinist one, so they might actually be worth listening to. What I did say is that I had heard my own name mentioned by my friend Alicja on Radio Maryja, something of which I was quite enormously proud and boastful.

Then I remembered something Polish Pretend Son had said about political divisions in Poland--and how much I would be hated by the Polish Left were it known I had been interviewed by Nasz Dziennik-- and I hastened to admit that I didn't understand Radio Maryja's politics. (In actual fact, I usually listen to Radio Maryja only for the Angelus.) In Polish class, as in Edinburgh social life, I want to get along with people.

And I became so absorbed in getting along with people, to make up for admitting my spiritual solidarity z moherowych beretami , that I stayed too late and missed my bus.

I will confound my enemies after I finish this coffee.
Ironically the little old Polish lady I knew best, which is to say, at all, before she died, was an atheist who voted Far-Left to the end of her days and had done very well under the Communist regime.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

More Ponderings of Male Psychology for Self-Serving Purposes

Last night I had a particularly good time at swing dance. First, there was a surprise guest: B.A.! Sadly, he didn't stay to dance, but it was nice to see the dear chap in the ballroom. There is no-one I'd rather dance with than B.A., but strangely now that we're married he doesn't care so much for dancing. Let that be a warning to you all.

Second, I was asked to dance by the best dancer on the  floor, which  was undoubtedly way more exciting for me than for him, but it is no doubt in his interest to dance with promising newbies to help us become better and better and one day actually desirable dance partners. Meanwhile, his generosity may have been inspired by my shameless flattery of last week. In my view, it is okay to tell a guy he is clearly the best dancer in the society around when he actually is. 

N.B. When I was young, I thought insulting men a little bit was super-charming, and now that I am no longer young, I realize that this was perfectly ridiculous and instead women must tell men we like what is good about them. Try not to do this when the other ones are listening in, however.  

This may sound very funny, but this is the first weekly occasion I have frequented a male-and-female environment where men and women (as men and women) are equally important to the smooth functioning of the planned activity.  Yes, sometimes women are "leads" and sometimes men are "followers", but most of the time men are leads, and women are followers, and very few men seem to be comfortable dancing with other men, that's just the way it is. 

As I mentioned before, the problem with having fallen in love with swing-dancing--after having hated dance classes all my life--is I'm back to caring about what men (as men) think of me. Naturally, I want them to ask me to dance. Of course, at swing-dancing women ask men to dance all the time--even my friend and inspiration Alisha Ruiss asks men to dance--but I was long ago indirectly cautioned not to do this imprudently by a chap who had thought a lot about the issue. 

To paraphrase, or blatantly make it up from memories, the authority said something like, "The job of the man is to lead, and the job of the woman is to follow and make it all look nice. The job of the man is also to ASK, and the job of the woman to say yes or no. If a woman says No to a man, he does not like it, but he just asks some other woman. But if a women asks a man, and he says No, she is devastated. So naturally a gentleman does not like to say No and dances with the woman even if he does not want to, and then he is resentful, especially if she tries to lead or is a really bad dancer in some other way. And then of course he will never ask her to dance, and so she will just ask him or some other man, and the situation gets worse and worse."

YIKES! And yet even Alisha, who won second place at the Lindy Hop International Championships in 2010, feels she has to ask men to dance, so who am I to sit prissily on my chair all night when I want to dance? And, of course, the best way to become a better dancer--especially a better follower--is to dance with people, as many different people as possible, as often as possible. 

So I consulted my expert again, and once again to paraphrase/blatantly make it up, he advised:

1. Be as good a dancer as you possibly can be.
2. Be young.
3. Be good-looking.
4. Be well-dressed.
5. Be young.
6. Be good-looking. 
7. Be interesting to talk to. 

This is where I repeat my mantra that we can ask men what they think, but we will not always like the answer. Fortunately being young and being good-looking are secondary to being a good dancer in this schema, which is also my experience. One of the most popular regulars at swing-dancing is a 45+ Frenchwoman who is not only a great dancer, she could charm the birds from the trees. As she leads as well as follows, I have learned a lot from her about the zany spirit which animates swing,which apparently can be expressed by chanting "A-whoop-a,-a-whoop-a, a-shooby-dooby-dooby-doo" while dancing.

My attitude is that the shy, the beginning, the quirky, the older-than-me and the female leads are fair game for my invitations, whereas I should wait for the really great male leads, and the confident young whippersnappers, to ask me--or not. There is no point sulking about not being asked; it's a free country, and men can ask whomever they want, or they can go outside and smoke, or they can stand on the sidelines like Mr Darcy and glower.*

As for being interesting to talk to, I suppose that all depends on your environment. One of the great advantages to Edinburgh social life is that there are so many Poles in it, and if you, a non-Pole, say, for example, "Litwo! Ojczynzno moja! Ty jestes jak zdrowie", you will instantly get the Pole's attention, good or bad. Of course, the Edinburgh swing scene is so international, reciting a bit of super-famous Spanish, French, German, Estonian, or Italian poetry could also have the same result I achieved last night, e.g. "That's so cuuuuuuuuute!" In short, tailor your conversation to what other people, not just you, find interesting, e.g. very rarely your job or children. 

 I know I have long recommended dance classes for meeting people, but  people who go to swing-dancing (and tango, etc.) week after week, year after year, go because they love the dancing so much. Making friends is obviously secondary and takes time. To "break into" the social dancing social club, aka the Cool Kids (who might be total nerds off the dance floor, but on the dance floor they are obviously the Cool Kids), you have to be patient and persistent, good-natured, show up week after week, and figure out the unspoken rules. 

Therefore, when you go a class or an activity to "meet people", you should pick something you are really going to be interested in, be willing to work at  (which includes coping with feeling stupid for the first few months) and will stick to even if all the men have girlfriends.

Update: Another guy's eye view. Don't forget my mantra. Meanwhile, that's tango. Don't wear dresses with slits in them to swing. Swing is for the good kids in saddle-shoes. Tango is for those scary sexy people.

Update 2:  Man on salsa. Sweaty backs--who knew? I guessed about the shoes. As soon as I go to London, I am getting proper swing shoes.

Update 3: An interesting and useful quiz for followers.

Update 4: Interesting advice for swing.  Sadly, it is really very hard for me to achieve vintage hair, unless "vintage" means 1970s, in which case I rule. And one of the Coolest of the Cool Girls in Edinburgh is always in perfect vintage make-up, hair and clothes.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Hustings in Plato's Cave

Not long ago, I went to a hustings. What is a hustings? I'm glad you asked, for I had to myself. A hustings is a political meeting in which candidates for office sit at at table and present themselves and their ideas to the electorate. It might be sponsored by this group or that.

I was invited to go to a hustings sponsored by "Women for Independence" and the very unusual thing about it, I thought, was that only women were invited. The only men in the lecture hall were candidates. The other unusual thing about the meeting, for me, was that there was a cash bar open, and I was very glad of it, for I was hot and thirsty by the time I walked to the town and wanted a gin and tonic. The women could take our glasses into the lecture hall, too, to my great comfort and joy. I guess it never occurred to anyone that a fight could break out, "Women for Independence" (and I, a unionist) glassing each other left and right.

Being so much of a part of my new Scottish community as to attend political meetings is a great thrill for me. I have met very interesting people through politically active friends, people I would never have met through church or the university because, not to put too fine a point on it, these have mostly been left-wing, non-Catholic Scots. And being Scots, they are very friendly and chatty and enjoy a nasty bit of gossip or joke about some ideological rival, and it would never occur to me to contradict their political opinions or, indeed, to discuss them. I was a pro-life activist in ab*rti*n-mad Ontario and an orthodox Thomist at Boston College, and I have learned that the best way to get on with most people who hold left-wing opinions is either to keep my mouth shut, or to shut it at the least sign of trouble, or to agree with them as far as I can. After annoying people my whole life, I really do like getting along, to say nothing of feeling like I really do belong to my community, no matter what I think or believe.

At the hustings were a male Independent candidate, a female Labour candidate, a female Lib-Dem, a male Scot Nat, a male Green candidate, and a male Tory. The local UKIP candidate refused the invitation, and if he wasn't just booked up already, I can certainly see why he might have. Whereas Tories are feared and despised in most of Scotland as the great oppressors of our race, Kippers are mocked as racist English uber-Tory nutters.

The Independent candidate did terribly badly, poor man, despite saying up front he had not come from a privileged background. He was a unionist, which naturally put him at a disadvantage, but instead of trying to charm the "Women for Independence" he mulishly argued with them. It was rather like he was in some horrible pub argument instead of trying to win votes. His worst moments came when he said there was nothing wrong with the NHS in Scotland and that men and women already have equal pay. Great murmurings ensued, and the Independent looked vexed. By the end of the debate, his shirt was undone to the third button as if he were so clueless about his audience, he had resorted to winning our votes with chest hair.

The Labour candidate was shallow and glib. Whereas the Independent was no politician, she was too much of one. She played the "woman card" at once, jibing at the no-show UKIP man, saying that perhaps he thought we should all be at home cleaning behind our fridges. Ah ha ha ha. (Meanwhile, if she doesn't employ a cleaner, I will eat my kitchen sponge.) She told a lot of sob stories about what this sad man on the doorstep told her, and what this sad woman had told her, and wasn't it awful, and Labour would do something about it. And I thought, Labour has been in charge of this area for over 40 years, so if the area is miserable, that could be Labour's fault. Staggeringly, she spoke as if the SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party) were the Establishment, which just goes to show the brass of the Scottish Labour machine.

The Lib-Dem candidate did very well. She spoke honestly and clearly, and never pulled any "women card" nonsense despite being deeply interested in such woman-dominated issues as respect and pay for caregivers. She had spent her life as a community activist and an environmental activist and as a carer for ancient parents, her children, etc. She looked like an aged hippy, but the kind that has kept the hippy faith since 1967 and you sort of respect when she turns out to be your new boyfriend's great-aunt. She wants to do away with oil, which seems impractical for the Scottish economy, however good for the environment that might be. Her audience thought it an admirable idea, however.

The Scot Nat candidate was very brainy. (Full disclosure: he is a friend of mine, a very decent and open-minded old bean who lost his temper with my conservative views only once, when I was very drunk and casting aspersions on Andrzej Wajda, of all people. He is deeply committed to social justice, including for the Middle Eastern Christians.) The Scot Nat was obviously an economist, for he talked a lot about numbers, and kept up a steady flow of facts, figures and concrete ideas and plans. It was slightly dizzying, but he was the only one who talked to the group of women as if we were actual thinkers, actually weighing ideas and proposals, instead of just having an interesting evening out, judging people on their performance.

The Green candidate also did very well. In the charm department, I would say that he won with the audience, and I was not at all surprised to find out afterwards that he had had a career in radio. A really splendid public speaker, and much too attractive in himself to need to undo his shirt buttons. Like the unbuttoned Independent, he hinted at a background of deprivation--and indeed the place he is from is deprived--although both are army/air force brats, actually, which can't be THAT horrible. He said the benefits system is broken, which it certainly is.

The Tory candidate was a walking Tory stereotype, and so I thought he was terribly plucky to show up and air all his unpopular views. He was young, callow and English and had the wrong accent for a chap announcing that his father was a "Tyneside shipyard worker." Apparently his family "worked their way up" from its working-class roots, which was not a felicitous thing to say to a left-leaning audience. (That "up" was a terrible blooper.). But at least he didn't describe welfare as a "begging bowl" like the Independent chap, eek. At any rate, he was almost charming in his apologetic stance although actually, now that I think about it, if he had been an Old Tory type, he would have been even more charming with it, like Clarissa Dixon-Wright. Maybe his accent was more Geordie than my untutored ear could detect, for he certainly sounded Public Schoolboy to me. At any rate, I would have liked him better if he had worn the Young Fogey uniform of tweed-wool-pullover-tie-and-red-cords instead of that horrible blue suit.

As for the ISSUES, the women  seemed to be most interested in improving life for those on benefits (welfare), in affordable housing, in the much-hated bedroom tax, in the much-hated Trident nuclear deterrence program,  in the proposed "right-to-buy" council housing at a tremendous discount which, of course, leads to much less council housing, in issues surrounding the aging population, in respect and decent pay for carers, in federalism (i.e. all the countries within the UK having home rule), in centralization (e.g. of the police force), in protection of historical landscapes (that was my question) and, to my great shock and discomfort, in ab*rti*n.

Blast. I had been having such a good time, too. Someone had to bring up aborti*n, and it wasn't even a pro-lifer, as far as I could tell, although I was busily trying not to listen because I was hideously embarrassed by what was about to happen.


To explain, the right-to-life is almost a dead issue in the UK. Despite the efforts of SPUC, legal ab*rti*n isn't going anywhere.  Women who want (or whose parents/partners/mothers-in-law want them) to get rid of the baby growing inside them have to get two doctors to sign the certificate attesting to this being a good idea, and technically a baby can't be ab*rted after 24 weeks or just because she is female. However, there are people who want to get rid of the checks and balances, and spare the doctors from all the winking-and-nodding going on, and just have ab*rtion-on-demand. The question at the hustings seemed to be about whether or not ab*rtion rights would be more or less restricted in Scotland if  the issue was devolved here.

By the way, here is an illustration of a living 24--no, let's make it a 21 week old unborn baby:

Anyway, one after the other, the candidates all burnt their pinch of incense before Moloch. I made my notes in thick uncompromising words and symbols: "Labour-pro-aborti*n; Lib Dem-ditto; Green--ditto; PC--pro-ab*rti*n, however doesn't want a change to the time limits, or there to be different time limits across the UK." (Scot Nat: There already is, i.e. Northern Ireland). The Scot Nat wants "termination" "evolved", whatever that means, and I bet it doesn't mean what I would mean. My idea of evolving the issue is extending human rights to all humans, especially before extending them to chimpanzees.

I didn't bother writing down what the Independent thought. And Labour got the microphone back so she could spout all the code words through her heavily lipsticked mouth: "It's not a health issue, it's a woman's issue." (The Lib Dem, who was not made-up, didn't feel a need to repeat shopworn slogans.) Then there was all the stuff about "human rights", such a sick joke to anyone who allows herself to admit that unborn babies are human and as such perhaps ought to have rights.

And I was sad because I was reminded that I live in a civilization that keeps two sets of books when doing the human life accounts. There is the book for expectant mothers who intend to keep their babies, and there is the book for unhappy women who want to have them removed. In the first book, the baby is a baby, and in the second book, the baby is an embryo or a fetus. In the first book, the baby is human, and in the second book, the baby is subhuman. In the first book, the baby is growing, and in the second "a pregnancy" is "terminated."

In British society, as in Canadian society, it is considered extremely rude to talk about unborn babies being killed, although that is exactly what happens to them, without anaesthetic--which might be an issue to the 2% of ab*rted babies killed at or after 20 weeks (i.e. an estimated 3,706 in England-and-Wales in 2013).* No decent Brit--the Brits love animals--would do to a frog what happens to unborn babies.

Of course, many doctors really, really hate doing those things, and although the time limit is (almost always) 24 weeks, I see that the NHS advises it before 12 weeks, and really would prefer before 9 weeks, when the pregnancy has fingers.

Well, I'm sorry to have brought up such an unpleasant subject, and I know all the counter-arguments about all the horrible things women will have done to themselves if they don't have access to "aborti*n services", and I am horrified that women have ever felt they "had" to do that, just as I am horrified that palliative care is still so unevolved that people want doctors to kill them. We should be creating a society in which women never want to undergo ab*rtions, for this is the only way to stop them. What would a world in which women never want to have them look like?

But the world we have now is the world in which we live, and justice includes admitting what it looks like, even if I kept my mouth dead tight shut at the hustings.

*Then again, it might not. So far as we know right now, we can at least hope that the poor things don't feel it.

Update: And here's a Canadian baby born during his 22nd week, just so you know.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Traddy Heroines

I was looking at the masthead (or margin, really) of the New Liturgical Movement blog, and something struck me about it: only one woman has stepped up to the NLM plate to write about traddery. Naturally I do not blame the NLM blog for this; I blame myself. Why have I not done the hard work and reading that would help me to serve such an excellent resource as the NLM?

Sometimes there is a lack of creativity among Catholic women, most obviously in those who think the holy grail of Catholicism is not the real holy grail but the priesthood or, rather, womynpriesthood. Women who are THAT interested in the priesthood per se give birth to sons and then chuck them at it. If we don't have sons, we hint at our brothers and nephews. (How happy I would be if my nephew Pirate were to become a priest. That would be so awesomely awesome. I would actually go work in the biscuit factory to pay for his seminary training, if need be.) If we have given up on our brothers and our nephews are too young, we might hint at the altar servers: "Dear me, you look sharp in that black cassock. You're fluent in German, aren't you? How CONVENIENT should you ever have a look at WIGRATZBAD. And you! I hear YOU'RE fluent in Spanish! How convenient that there is still a Scottish SEMINARY in SPAIN!"

To the seminary! 
But Traddy women get also get stuck. There is, in female traddery, an overemphasis on veiling, never mind clothes. Hat? Veil? Mantilla? White? Black? Liturgical colour of the day? And then: Is this skirt too short for Mass? Will mean men give me a hard time about trousers? Will British trads snigger if I call them pants? (YES.)

Fortunately in Edinburgh, nobody gives a whoop what women wear on our heads at the TLM, least of all the priest. The one and only place I have ever been given a hard time about head wear in church was by a South Asian security guard in St Peter's Basilica, who indicated that I must take mine off.

"Ma sono una donna," I said, outraged, but the security guard merely smiled and indicated that I must doff my hat. Horribly insulted, I apologized to Saint Jan Pawel Drugi, before whose tomb I was praying, for backing down in my assertion of my femininity and took off my hat. Later I complained to an employee of the Curia, who reflected on the abject stupidity of security guards in St. Peter's Basilica. Travel tip: the guards don't harass scarf-wearers, so in St. Peter's, go for the scarf or mantilla option. But I digress.

Naturally traditional altar service is closed to women, as Christian priesthood is a male privilege granted by God as much as Christian motherhood is a female one granted by God. Traditional altar service helps to foster vocations to the priesthood in the hearts of boys and men. (Being gently nagged by motherly women to Take the Next Step is the price bachelors pay for the incredible privilege of assisting the priest at Mass.) However, this restriction does not let us off the hook. We might have all kinds of skills that could be used in the celebration and propagation of our beautiful liturgical heritage.

Sadly I was put off embroidery at a very young age, but if I could embroider, and was even very good at it, you can bet that I would set to work embroidering a nice new vestment of some kind. Traditional vestments are incredibly expensive, especially if they have real, good, needlepoint designs on them done by human hands. Indeed, if I were good at any kind of textile art, you would see me in museums, busily sketching 18th century vestments, plotting out a nice new mass set for some deserving priest.

Alternatively, if I were good at any kind of whitework, I would do something nice in linen for an altar cloth, or make some bobbin lace with which to hem a cotta.

Because, let me tell you, after six years of listening to Trad men talk, there is little they love more than a really splendid set of hand-sewn, hand-embroidered vestments, and if you are capable of making them, you will no longer be vaguely invisible (if you are), but Saint You, Abbess of the Sacred Needle.

I want to stress that I would not offer my work until an expert embroideress/seamstress told me it was good enough for the service of God.

Aspiring female theologians may weep at the idea of forming an Altar Guild, but if that Altar Guild included actual sewing, whitework and embroidery--whew! Mad traddy props! Meanwhile, there's a real art to washing and ironing fine linen, and even if the boys and Gloria Steinem don't know that, God certainly does.

Then of course there is sacred music. If you care about sacred music at all, you have received proper training in it before you attempt it, of course. The great test of your ability is the opinion of other musicians, of course. For me a good rule of thumb is my brother Nulli's expression. Nulli suffers from perfect pitch, and if Nulli winces with pain, the cantor is no good. Either that, or I'm singing sharp again.

It is one of the sorrows of my life that training in sacred music was de facto closed to girls when I was a child. As the one place in Catholic Toronto that gave two hoots about the liturgical riches of traditional Church music was a boys' school, the best girls in the Catholic system were trained to sing was Veni Creator Spiritus plainchant. (That was for the outdoor Papal Mass of 1985. Naturally we also sang "Here I Am Lord"--duh.) Sucks to be me.

But there are women who have been wonderfully trained in classical music, who know their Mozart from their Monteverdi, and they must be pressed into service, either bribed with cash or, if all else fails, converted to the One True Faith. Perhaps some mother, reading this post, will look thoughtfully at her songbird of a daughter and stump up some cash to have her trained properly, naturally after receiving the teacher's solemn oath that her daughter will never attempt a Whitney Houston anthem.

There is also iconography and fine classical painting. Again, if you are very good--like, people-pay-you-good--and you paint in a classical style, you might contribute to traditional public worship with your paint. Again, let an expert/mentor be your guide. Don't be one of those women. You know who I mean.

And then there is writing and missionary work. Naturally you cannot write during Mass, although occasionally I do make a note of something, and were I to be struck by a wonderful devotional verse or phrase as I prayed, I might write that down, too.  But there are newspapers and journals  longing for "new voices" and if your "new voice" wants to chat about why you love the traditional Latin Mass, the newspaper might let you.

SPECIAL OFFER: If you, a woman, send me your 800 word (max) Why-I-Love-the-TLM article, indicating which reputable journal you wish to send it to, I will waive my fee and proofread it for free. Yes, 800 MAX. I have to suffer with an 800-word limit, so you do too.

As for missionary work, this takes myriad and sometimes astonishing forms. The most famous Trad Catholic alive in Britain at the end of the 20th century was Jennifer Paterson, the fatter of the Two Fat Ladies. I can think of few British women of her age and size who were so beloved, and yet Jennifer, a professional chef, was an in-your-face Catholic and Trad. (The other Fat Lady, Clarissa Dixon Wright was also Catholic--of a very liberal variety, but fond enough of Jennifer to respond to her riffs on Saint Peter, etc.) There is a hilarious scene where Jennifer kisses an Irish mother superior's ring, and the mother superior (or general, or sister superior, or chair, or whatever she called herself) making the usual mistake of conflating self with office, titters a little and says something like "Those days are over" and Jennifer says, "Not with me, they're not."


Another great traddy missionary was the author Alice Thomas Ellis, who became a novelist simply because she hated the destruction that befell the Church after the Second Vatican Council. She was so lost and angry, to her pen she went. She wrote, in fiction, all about what it was like to be a Catholic before the Second Vatican Council, and what it was like to be one afterwards, a thousand cures for one's own evil ripped away. Alice Thomas Ellis was a personal friend  of Britain's The Catholic Herald's Father Lucie-Smith when the latter was a young seminarian, and he shows up in her writing.

Then there was Anne Roche Muggeridge, the Canadian who wrote THE Canadian Traddy Catholic cri-de-couer The Desolate City. Knowing Toronto as I know Toronto, I know that was a very gutsy book to write. Lefty Catholics had their own newspaper and controlled the school board and made rude remarks about the Cardinal Archbishop with impunity, but everyone fell upon lippy liturgical conservatives--with the possible exception of Saint Michael's Choir School--like a ton of bricks. Toronto conservative Catholicism was of a ultramontanist variety, and if you were more Catholic than the Cardinal (be he Carter or Ambrozic) you were most certainly considered a nut.

I am sure there are many other Traddy Heroines, so please mention your favourites in the combox to inspire us all. By Traddy Heroine, I mean that they had or have a marked and public love for the Traditional Latin Mass after 1963, but did not turn their backs on Peter, no matter what he got up to in Rome or (cough) Assisi.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Conquering the Citadel

Yesterday I had a most exciting lunch, for it was in the Mecca of Edinburgh Fogeys, Young and Old, the New Club. It was founded in 1787, but Our Chap, i.e. our favourite member of the family who once owned the Historical House, did not bother to join, for he had given up social life by then, says B.A.

It comforts me strangely that Our Chap did not want to join the New Club.  

Anyway, the New Club has moved about Edinburgh a bit, and most recently had a whole new building built for it in the brutalist 1960s, when there was a plot afoot to destroy all Princes Street and turn it into a fashionable concrete wasteland. Fortunately this plot was thwarted before Princes Street was entirely demolished and some pretty buildings have been allowed to remain. 

The effect of the newest New Club is rather odd, for  it looks like it was built for the more important members of the Soviet Communist Party, with lots of mirrors and paintings and china stolen from British aristocratic houses by unsavoury servants/spies. However, after being in it for fifteen minutes, while a Pretend Son sorted out some paperwork, I decided it reminded me of the modernist academic buildings of my extreme youth: lovely fabric panels on the wall, very tall windows, wall-to-wall plum carpeting. The "ladies' powder room" has lovely thick paper towels, but no chaise longue, alas. (The "ladies' powder room"--more of a "ladies' powder warren"-- at the Oxford and Cambridge in London has a most satisfactory and dramatic chaise longue, for fainting on after having been broken up with/propositioned at lunch.)

I first saw the New Club  on Wednesday, and I thought that even if I were never invited for lunch, at least I could use it as the backdrop to some story--like a bit of fluff about Amy Brown of Craigmillar whose head was almost turned by Wicked Cedric who took her to lunch at the New Club and was rude about her plebian origins. ("I'm proud of my dad," flared Amy, etc.) However, on the way to Mass, the visiting Pretend Son invited Benedict and me to lunch, and great was my joy.  Members are always proposing to take me to the New Club and never do.  It's like they are saying "How are you?" and expecting only "Fine, thanks" in response.

Member:  Have you never seen the New Club? I should invite you for a drink/lunch.

Seraphic: I am sure I would enjoy that very much.

Member: We must fix that up one day.

Seraphic: What about now?

Member: Ha, ha, ha! 

However, at last Benedict Ambrose (who had already been) and I were properly invited and I, who had started to worry that there was something terribly wrong with me that nobody wanted to be seen with me in the New Club, realized that I was wearing orange rubber boots and had not brought shoes. 

The difficulty was brought home to me by another Member, to whom I chatted at after-Mass tea, who suggested that orange boots might look unusual in the panelled dining-room. "Of course, it might be different if you were the Countess of  [Such-and-Such]," he reflected. "She might arrive in orange wellies." 

"Oh dear," I said, thinking that that which was permitted to the Countess of [Such-and-Such] would not be permitted to Mrs McAmbrose. So I abandoned B.A. and the Pretend Son to walk to the New Club on their own and prevailed upon this Member to drive me to an adjacent shoe store where I bought a pair of feminine flats, having hurt one of my feet on my long trek to the RBG on Friday. Then I met B.A. outside the Club, Pretend Son already being in, and divested myself of my coat on the Ladies' Coat Rack before following P.S. to the exciting antechamber where one fills in one's lunch request on a little card (or tells one's host what to fill in for one) and then into the panelled dining-room with its Raeburns, club servants and elderly lunchers in tweed. 

The dining-room looks like a miniature version of a dining-room in a London club, only with a very funny white 1969 sky-lit ceiling that looks as though the architect cried when the New Club insisted on keeping the wooden panelling from the old dining-room. The chamber also has a huge portrait of Queen Victoria, who was rather small, and therefore her portrait was literally larger than life. There is a portrait of Earl Haig, too, which was cozy, as I have never been able to shake the impression, formed in childhood, that Earl Haig had been a leading light of my Toronto neighbourhood, "Earl" being his given name. A waiter appeared wordlessly with baskets of bread, and I hesitated, being unsure if I was supposed to take a whole basket or just a slice of bread. Fortunately I guessed correctly, but then disgraced myself by attacking the butter with my fish knife.

The fish knife was eventually taken away and replaced by an asparagus knife, for I ordered asparagus wrapped in Serrano ham, 'coz of having seen Seranno ham on telly the other night. And I also ordered roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and gravy because if there is one thing a British gentlemen's club should know how to do better than anyone, it's roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Yummy, yummy, yummy. I was offered a sauce boat of horseradish, too, which I love, and we all drank down a flask of the club claret. Slurp, slurp, slurp. By the time I finished my claret, I was holding forth on the importance, for a clergyman, of having grown up in a house with a dining-room table. This wounded healer stuff, I announced, was all bosh, and really what helps you help people in all kinds of terrible situations is the dining-room table right smack in the centre of your psyche.

"No, thank you, I don't think I had better have any more."

B.A. ordered pudding, and P.S. ordered a savoury, and I ordered coffee only to be told I could have that afterwards in the coffee bar, which was almost as crushing as the mistake with the butter, for it proved that I had never been in the New Club before, the shame. But actually, the coffee bar was great fun because it was just a MACHINE sitting on the bar, and to get your coffee, espresso, cappuccino or what have you, you press a button--just like in the hockey arenas of my youth, only the machine being much smaller and one not having to pay. And we took our coffees into the "Ladies' Sitting Room" and admired the Jacobite paintings, the fabric panels and the wonderful view.

Naturally having conquered the citadel of the dining-room, my brain puttered away thinking of how I could become a Member myself. It is not all that terribly hard on paper although it is All Very New for women to become members. So it occurred to me that actually the proper Fogey thing to do would be to make lots of money so to pay for B.A's membership, should he stand for membership, and then come to lunch with him and withdraw to the Ladies' Sitting Room to drink cappuccinos and read the club copy of Vogue all afternoon.

The New Club was very quiet both times I was there. (B.A. says it isn't like that in the evenings.) I think it must be the perfect place to be elderly. It's so peaceful, and the club servants, though slightly scary, are helpful, and there are magazines and nice views of the street, and equally quiet members lurking about in tweed, plus Club notepaper. 

I proposed to make a fortune writing romance novels, so as to secure us a happy old age in the New Club, and B.A. agreed that I should get on that. 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Inner Child at the RBG

Today is Seraphic Singles Saturday, but I want to talk about Inner Children. Everyone has an Inner Child, or should. Your Inner Child is the part of you that still likes to jump in puddles and/or piles of leaves, write stories, draw pictures, bake brownies, knead bread and squidge minced beef between your fingers while you are making hamburgers. Your Inner Child is also the part of you that make you popular with children: she likes to buy and wrap toys, do kooky dances, sing kooky songs and even tell kooky stories on demand.

If you totally ignore your Inner Child, and just do Grown Up Things all the time, bad stuff happens. You spend too much watching or reading stuff no responsible adult would let a child read. You stay up too late. You get cranky. You eat too much or not enough. You might even drink too much booze and not enough water. And you expect other people to entertain you, even if that's just the people on TV. You might even think a man is the solution to your feeling cranky and uncared for, and feel discontented with the one you have, or feel worse that you don't have one in the first place. 

Julia Cameron's The Artist Way adds that you might also be blocked creatively or artistically and invites those following her program to go on "weekly artist dates" with their "inner artist" who is, naturally, their Inner Child. And if you particularly like children, and miss having children of your own, it can be enormously comforting to talk to the Inner Child within and listen to what she says in return. It's kind of make-believe, and it's kind of not. Meanwhile, in terms of life, even married life, there are some things other people just cannot do for you. If you are always uncomfortable doing things "alone", then you are...well, not really free. 

Artist's dates cost something in time, but they don't have to cost much in money. One of the really nice things about art galleries and museums in Edinburgh is that many of them are free. (Donations gratefully accepted, of course.) Libraries are also free, and if they don't stock the book your Inner Child terribly wants, well, children's books are not that expensive, especially in used book shops. If your Inner Child wants to ramble in an old cemetery (and we have rather exciting ones in Edinburgh), cemeteries also have free admission. And sometimes you will discover that all your Inner Child really wants to do is sit in a café, draw a picture and colour it in.  

So far the Inner Child and I have gone to the Museum of Childhood (okay), bought and read Dancing Shoes (excellent) the Dovecot (closed too early), the Rice-Talbot Museum (weird and grown-up), the Edinburgh Museum (very cool, especially the poor dead Viking in the floor) and even the hipster café to draw a Madonna and Child. (We still have finish them and colour them in.) And yesterday we had perhaps our most successful artist date so far, which was to the Royal Botanical Gardens, even though I couldn't find the bus and got lost on the way.

"This isn't very clever, is it?" asked the Inner Child.

"No," I admitted. "But cleverness is not always the most important thing. Sometimes the most important thing is perseverance."

"Is that why there are so many trashy novels?" asked the Inner Child.

"Absolutely," I said. "The most important thing when writing is not being clever but finishing the piece of writing. If you finish, you can go back and clean it up. But if you never finish, it's not really anything except practice for the next thing. Meanwhile, you should have some idea of where you are going before you start to go there. For example, I know the Botanics is farther away than Stockbridge, but not so far away as Leith."

And within the hour, we had found it, and discovered that it was FREE unless you wanted to see inside the greenhouses. I didn't want to see the greenhouses because I had a special treat for the Inner Child, quite apart from the lemonade I ordered at once in the restaurant. Meanwhile, I pulled Harry Potter out of my bag, so as to have something to read while I rested.

"I'm sorry it's in Polish," I said to the Inner Child, who hates school.

"It's okay because it's Harry Potter," said the Inner Child. "Besides I understand what is going on now. It's Tom Riddle and he's pulled Harry into the past and Harry is listening to his conversation with the old headmaster."

"Um, yes."

"See? I don't hate all school. I just hate it when school ignores ME. Okay, well, I also hate it when it's really hard, but I don't mind later when it's easier. ROFL."

We paid for the lemonade.

"And now," I said, "we will go to the super-artistic bit."

"That is the part I can't figure out," said the Inner Child. "I mean I like flowers, I guess, especially when I remember what they are called, but this is supposed to be an Artist Date. Where's the art?"

"Horticulture is an art in itself," I said. "Gardeners design flower gardens and they even make new kinds of flowers by breeding them. But meanwhile there is something very special in the Queen Mother's Memorial Gardens--if I remember correctly, that is."

Off we went in the direction of the Queen Mother's Memorial Garden. It was a sunny day, but not really warm. Mild, at best. I was a little sorry I hadn't worn a proper coat and jolly glad I had brought a warm shawl. The flowers, shrubs and trees on the way to the Memorial Garden all had signs attached or planted among them to tell people what they were. That was very cool.

And then there was the Queen Mother's Memorial Garden, featuring a clever, if currently leafless, bog myrtle maze of interlocking "E"s, and four corners corresponding to the four corners of the Earth the Queen Mum had travelled around. And behind the maze was a little stone hut flanked by young olive trees planted in terracotta buckets.

"It's a SHELL HOUSE," shrieked the Inner Child.

You see, the Historical House once had a beautiful shell house, a little stone hut all inlaid with shells and semi-precious stones. The outside was similarly decorated, and it was a lovely little thing until the 1950s when trespassers began to vandalize it, stealing the shells and the semi-precious stones, and knocking in the stones. Now our shell house is an utter ruin, and when as part of a school project children put a papier-maché mermaid into it, someone jumped in and set fire to her. 

The grounds of the Historical House have had a rough time since the Second World War. 

Anyway, I read years ago that the designer of the shell house in the Queen Mother's Memorial Garden had studied our shell house (and presumably photos of it before it was destroyed) before making one for the RBG. Thus, the Inner Child and I got to see for the first time how nice ours must have been. This one had polished wooden window seats with church-like windows behind and a bronze medallion of the Queen Mother (born Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later Queen Consort of George VI) set in stone. The walls were covered in scallop shells of matching sizes, mussels, whelks and pebbles. The ceiling was covered in a pattern of pine cones, some quite huge.

Naturally the Inner Child was delighted by the whole thing, including the incomprehensible and almost worshipful affection of the UK (and Canada up until about 1980) for the Queen Mother during the last 80 years of her life, leading to this pretty temple. The Inner Child even insisted that I pick up the shiny red candy wrapper polluting the stone floor. Then we went to see what all the flowering plants  around were called. The ones we liked best were the berberis "Apricot Queen" and the berberis "Orange King", the magnolia stellata "Royal Star" and all the various narcissi.

"Oh look, Outer Adult", said the Inner Child with bliss. "There's a great door pruned into that enormous hedge."

We went through it to look at the Alpine Section, and after admiring the brilliant red and yellow tulips and various narcissi and muscari. Then we wandered towards the duck pond, admiring the various different rhododendrons and the wonderful primulas. There were ducks in the pond, and human babies wailing beside it in their prams, being soothed in English or Polish, depending on the babies. There were also many interesting trees, including six giant sequoias near the "Rocky Mountain" section. And the last very pretty tree we noticed was a shapely "Kazakh Pear" covered in lovely white blossoms.

"Can we go to the gift shop?"

"Yes, of course," said I, as this was after all, the Inner Child's weekly treat. However, we didn't buy anything until we found ourselves in Stockbridge, whereupon we bought bread and tonic water for B.A. and Seminarian Pretend Son and a coffee and mazarin for ourselves.

The Inner Child was almost beside herself with bliss. We had seen a snow-white heron on the way, too, skimming over the Water of Leith.

While I was in the Botanics, I thought it was a shame I hadn't paid more attention to the natural world when I was a child. I was in in all the time--being a Brownie, Girl Guide and Pathfinder--but my usual outdoor activity was day-dreaming, constant day-dreaming. Of course, the day-dreaming was very often about coming back to Britain, where I had lived  as a very small child and idolized as an older one.  So possibly the Royal Botanical Gardens would NOT have been wasted on me as a child!

At any rate, the Inner Child really loved our trip to the RBG, and I think we shall go at least once a month in the spring, summer and fall, to see what is new. Maybe we will even take B.A., but we rather doubt it as he is not so much into cultivated flowers. He does like wildflowers, however, which shows he has a soul.

Friday, 17 April 2015


me and my outer adult went to the royal botannix today and it was the best everrrrr! naychur is buetiful and in the royal botannix it is even art. serafik will x-plane tomorro.

meenwile as artists dayts go the royal botannix has the inner child starr of aproval.

by the way it is me the inner child and i rool!!!!!

thank you outer adult for tayking me to the botannix and then giving me that super pastrie in stokbrije you are the best.

ps swing is guid too becos it is silli and also verrie fun. another inner child starr of aproval from me.

ps2 this peotess is my wyld wichy frend. yes she messes arownd with cards etc but she is nyce. i am prowd.

The Most Difficult Language in the World

Yesterday I went to my favourite hipster café and wrote about 180 words in Polish, mostly about Easter Sunday supper. I hadn't written anything in Polish in a while, and I don't want to get out of the habit. It was my practice to write gossipy letters to Polish Pretend Son, but as he hasn't sent me his new mailing address, I stopped. Writing emails in Polish is not much fun, as it entails a different keyboard. Meanwhile, I hope PPS is not living in a cardboard box. You can never tell with London. Friends go to live there and then are too proud to tell you that they are living in a hovel in Tower Hamlets, woken at dawn by the muezzin.

I find food an endless source of linguistic inspiration, so Polish Pretend Son has received an awful lot of menus. 

For one dinner party, a host cooked 'zupę (soup), pieczony udziec jagnięcy (roast leg of lamb) oraz "bread and butter" pudding czekoladowy ( chocolate bread and butter pudding)'.  

On Mothering Sunday, I ordered pasztet (paté), strzepiel z frytkami (seabass with french fries) and budyn (pudding). 

Yesterday I noted that for Easter I prepared 'żurek (Polish sour soup), udziec jagnięcy, groszek (peas), ziemniaki (potatoes), bułki wielkanocne (Easter buns, i.e. hot cross buns), i dwa ciasta (two cakes): baranka wielkanocnego (a three dimensional lamb cake) i Simnel Cake...tradycyjny brytyjski keks z marcepanem (a traditional British fruitcake with marzipan). 

While I was rewriting my scribbles into correctable form--for sometimes I get my Polish teacher to correct them in the break--a young barista came by to take away my coffee cup and tell me the café was closing for the evening. 

"Are you learning Polish?" he asked with interest.

"Yes," I said, gesturing to the dictionary, the verb book, the grammar and the notebook.

"I'm learning Bulgarian," said the poor young man with pride.

"Gosh!" I said with fellow feeling. "Bulgarian!"

"I can read Cyrillic now," said the fellow. "It uses Cyrillic."

"How long have you been studying Bulgarian?"

"A few months. My girlfriend is Bulgarian, and we're going there in a few months. Hopefully I'll be able to speak it by then."

"Gosh," I said, silently pondering my almost four years of toil. "Good luck!"

Fifteen minutes later, I told this tale to the classmate already in the new classroom (for Easter term has just begun) with some amusement. But he reflected that Bulgarian is simpler than Polish, for Polish has more cases and besides, everyone says that Polish is the hardest language in the world. But even as he said that, he looked dubious. I looked dubious, too. We are not convinced that Polish really is the most difficult language in the world.

"Poles love to say that Polish is the most difficult language in the world," I observed. "I think they're proud of the idea, so it's best just to agree."

My personal theory about squabbling with Poles is that unless you're willing to kill them, you have to just lose graciously and as soon as possible. Otto von Bismark said that they only way to deal with them is to beat them until they lose heart, which was a rotten Prussian thing to say. However, the big exception--I believe--is anything having to do with love of Poland, Polish or Polish culture. If you are determined to make the best pierogi in the world and a Pole tells you this is fundamentally impossible for a foreigner, go ahead and try to make the best pierogi in the world. As a frightfully stubborn people themselves, Poles in general admire perseverance if not out-and-out competition. Naturally loving Polish geography so much that you wish to take some away from Poles is not admired. 

For all I know, Polish is the hardest language in the world for a native English-speaker to learn, although I hear Arabic is a real headache, alongside Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean. Polish is certainly harder to learn than swing-dancing. Plowing through Harry Potter i Komnata Tajemnic (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) is still very, very difficult, and reading is the easiest thing to do, followed by writing. This is why Polish class is so very important: a good teacher forces you to go and talk to other students in Polish. Ours forces us to  have little Polish conversations. As they are generally also about what we like and dislike, or about our daily or holiday activities, we quickly find things to say. For example, my favourite activity with my "partnerem"--as modernity has sadly added to the Polish language--note the obvious English origin of the word--can be expressed as follows:

Wolę lecieć do Rzymu z mężem i zjeść ogromny obiad w restauracji.

That most definitely shows my priorities in life and, meanwhile, finding the ć button, plus trying not to reverse Y and Z, has completely worn me out, so off I go to get on with the rest of the daz.