Friday, 20 April 2018

A Working Class Hero is Something to Be

This essay is not getting the attention I hoped it would, so please be little angels and read it. I'm not sure if the trouble is the headline, or too much coverage of the Alfie Evans case, or the mention of Liverpool.

Why should Americans be interested in Liverpool? Well, the Beatles came from there, famously, and I am sorry I didn't have time to do to any kind of "Beatles" sightseeing, for I am sentimental about 20th-century England. Then there's the "Irish" feel to the city, and thousands of Irish emigrants once made their way to the USA and Canada via Liverpool. There's also the residents' feeling of being ignored or looked down upon by the elites, which is something Americans from non-coastal areas might recognise. 

Liverpudlians--or Scousers, as they proudly call themselves--are on the friendly end of the British spectrum of amiability, with the Glaswegians. That made my job writing the aforementioned essay relatively easy.  Three out of four cab drivers were well-informed and willing to talk about the Alfie Evans case; the fourth was rather deaf.  The night receptionist at my hotel was informative, and the morning receptionist was willing to chat, too. Unsurprisingly, they were less candid than the well-informed cabbies. And then there was Alfie's Army.

Members of Alfie's Army were willing to talk, but they were not always easy to understand. From Edinburgh to Liverpool is quite an auditory jump, and I had to strain my powers of concentration to make sense of the new vowels. Writing down names was a nightmare. 

I also put my foot in it when trying to establish what family relationships were because I always assume siblings-in-law are actually married to the siblings. This engrained habit caused awkwardness when I met my own British in-law's partner's son's partner, and now I understand why so many people in the UK now say "partner." Nevertheless, I still tromp about in my dumb way, assuming all couples got married by their late-twenties, eat at a dining-room table, and were read Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes as children. 

The Alfie Evans story is more chaotic than my essay does justice to. For one thing there are duelling Facebook pages--one supporting the parents (Alfie's Army Official), and one supporting the hospital (Dignity4Life)--and it is unclear how many of these people are actually from Liverpool.  I certainly did not meet anyone in Liverpool who said "Poor little Alfie should be allowed to die", but that is the refrain of Dignity4Life when they are not sneering at Alfie's Army.  

When it comes to insults, AAO mostly confined itself to calling the good doctors and nurses of Alder Hey Children's NHS Foundation (hospital) murderers. However, now it rails against Dignity4Life, and with good reason. There are those on Dignity4Life who hold up the working-class roots of Alfie's Army for mockery. They also attack the characters of Alfie's parents and accuse them of this teenage incident and that. 

There is deep resentment that Tom Evans is a hero in the eyes of thousands of people across the world. Dignity4Life posters accuse Alfie's Army of being blind to facts (to put it politely), but they themselves seem blind to the fact that Tom Evans is a powerful symbol of responsible fatherhood and parental rights. They can sneer "Saint Thomas" all they like, but none of my cabdrivers would be taken aback by any teenage scrape a working-class lad got into as long as he is a model father and partner today.  

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

In Kensington Gardens

In future I shall try to arrange an annual mid-April visit to London. First, I am a big-city girl, and I feel energised by London. Second, spring comes to England before it comes to Scotland, and by mid-April London  has blooming gardens and flowering trees. There was magnolia tree in a garden under my hotel window, and I could smell it from my room.

Yesterday morning I had no appointments, so I went for a walk to Kensington Palace ("No Photographs") via Kensington High Street and through Kensington Gardens as far as the Round Pond. I sat on a bench, admired the swans, and tested my Polish vocabulary with flashcards

One can now visit Kensington Palace and traipse through its gardens, but I thought I'd rather not. I prefer to keep a respectful distance from the Royal Family, so as to retain the mystery. There are also a playground and a fountain in memorial of the late Princess of Wales. I was sentimental about Diana from her engagement up to her honeymoon and then on the day she died, and that was enough. I am currently sentimental about Prince George, Princess Charlotte and the Royal Bump.  

But I am even more sentimental about my parents, who arrived in London with my brother Nulli and me a very long time ago. My mother was taken to London by her parents about 17 years before that, which is another sentimental thought. Her father had been on leave from his regiment in London on VE Day some years before that. Family legend said he stayed in his hotel and slept through the riotous celebrations. I pondered whether or not his father had been in London during (or before, or after) the First World War, and reflected on how different London must have looked a hundred years ago.

Yes, I had quite enough sentimentality to be getting on with, and it's a miracle if I didn't mutter "Centre of the Empire" again. 

Naturally, as I sat on a bench in the Centre of the Empire, I was vastly amused to hear passers-by speaking to each other in Polish. One pair of Polish conversationalists were two women in sports clothes, one older, one younger, and the younger one carried a hula-hoop with knobs on it. I couldn't imagine what it was for, and I still cannot. 

I did not do particularly well at understanding all the Poles around--the Polish businessmen in the hotel breakfast room, the tough Polish youths in Ealing, the Polish families in parks--but I did have some success on the Tube. On that particular Tube journey, some very noisy Polish girls erupted into the carriage and settled around an elderly Englishman trying to read the Telegraph and me. 

"I am sitting here!" announced one, in Polish, plunking herself down beside the Englishman. "You sit there," she advised her friend, who sat on his other side.

"And I am sitting here!" said a third girl, dropping down behind me. 

There was some conversation about Michał. I believe the girl beside me said she liked him. He was, at any rate, the grammatical object of the sentence. As for the rest, they spoke too quickly for me to understand, and I couldn't guess the context, which is usually a help. Then they came to their stop, and there were Polish cries of "Let's go!" and "Come along!" 

These Polish girls really made my day although probably not that of the elderly Englishman, who looked a bit squashed. Tube carriages are rather narrow. 

When I returned to my hotel from Kensington Gardens (and I did not, after all, go into the Kensington Hobbs of London, for I have an Edinburgh Hobbs of London to spend too much money in), I packed up my laptop in my old kit bag and left them with reception. Then I went to Kennington, which is south of the Thames, to visit the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and lunch with a friend. 

Although Kennington is south of the Thames and therefore too far from Brompton Oratory for true comfort, it has some very elegant streets and, what is more, gardens and flowering trees. After half an hour of photographing SPUC, I went to a very pleasant salad place with my friend, and afterwards on the way back to the Tube station, I admired the sun, and the gardens, and the trees, and the quirky little streets and felt the kind of happiness I believe I felt when I was four. 

For, lo, the crux of the matter may be that I remember being four--and being three, for that matter--in England.  I have a goodly store of memories of England--quite apart from all the false memories bookish children get from English children's books. For the rest of my childhood, I  wanted to go back there.  And although people often tell me how awful London is--how unfriendly, how expensive, and how big--I think I could live there quite happily, especially in the spring.  

That said, I wasn't particularly interested in England after I got into the direct train to Scotland. Instead of looking out the windows all that much, I studied my Polish textbook and then wrote out first sentences of travel stories, to see how proper travel-writing is done. But four hours later, when we had passed Berwick-on-Tweed, I got rather excited about Outdoors again, and stood for the rest of the journey, looking out the window at Scotland. It was great fun recognising the coastal towns of East Lothian and then, to my great joy, I saw the Historical House flash by in the distance.

So maybe I love Scotland best of all. Hmm. 

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

London Work Day

Today was a very odd day for me. It was like living someone else's life.

First I woke up in a tiny, sightly smelly room in the Kensington district of London. It wasn't even 6 AM yet, so I got an hour's work in. Then I had a shower, took my bag to the desk, got a double macchiato at "Paul", and headed for the Tube.

I took the Tube to Westminster, while idly trying to guess people's jobs from their clothes, and then I went to the Court of Justice to see if I could get in yet. I couldn't, so I went to Pret-a-Porter  (free wifi) to do some work.

At 8:50 I went back to the Court of Justice and attempted to chat with big, tough, chummy paparazzi who looked at me as if I were a multi-coloured squirrel, so I meekly subsided. At 9 I went in and found the courtroom. The security guards were very amiable and kind.

Eventually I met some young journalists, and they were amiable too. I suspect the one from the Daily Mirror was surprised when I said, "Daily Mirror? That's AWESOME!" Not something he probably hears every day, but then he probably hasn't written almost exclusively for the Catholic/Christian press for twelve years. There was a young man from the Liverpool Echo there, too, and two or three people from the BBC. One of them was using actual shorthand.

Then court was in session, and everyone in the press gallery just wrote like mad. The hearing was, of course, very sad and rather complex, and I wondered how I was going to pull stories out of all this sad and complex stuff. I managed not to puff and sigh until near the end, i.e. about six-and-a-half hours later.

I understand why the judges think dying is in Alfie's best interests, but I can't get my mind around why they think his "privacy" is so sacred. He is 23 months old; even a fully functioning AGPAR-acing 2 year old has no real concept of privacy. In Liverpool I mentioned the privacy question to a cabdriver, and he reacted as though privacy was abuse and neglect and assured me that Alfie would never have any privacy even when he dies, for the whole city will go to his funeral.

Anyway, they managed not to mention privacy until about 4:30 PM, and I sighed before I could remember about contempt of court and stop myself. Fortunately it was a quiet sigh.

There was a two hour recess, during which I gobbled a sandwich at Pret-a-Porter and wrote messages to work, including my notes. Then I went back to the Court of Justice, and was there until 5 or so.  As it was too late (and hellishly expensive) to get a direct train to Edinburgh, I took the Tube back to Kensington. They gave me a nicer, non-smelly room, and after dinner at Wagamama (don't ask), I went back to work.

So that was my 9-5 work day in London. I wore my excellent grey tweed suit and not my rain boots.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Oranges and Lemons

In a moment of sheer serendipity, I was outside St. Clement Danes, City of London at 6 PM. The famous church rang the hour and then burst into a chorus of "Orange and Lemons". Could there be any child brought up on "Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes" who could fail to be moved by that?

That's the thing about London, "centre of Empire" as I muttered aloud while waiting to cross to Westminster Tube Station. The woman beside me might have thought I was a bit crazy.  Not crazy--but tired. In another serendipitous moment, I found myself at Westminster Abbey in time for the Evening Service. Having been at Mass at the Brompton Oratory already, I took a programme and went in. My family has a devotion to Saint Edward the Confessor, and Saint Edward is, of course, buried in the Abbey. He decreed that it be built, too.

I went to "High Mass" at Brompton Oratory, which is at 11:00, according to the Novus Ordo, but in Latin. Splendid choir. The homily preached against the media, especially "the Catholic media", and gave "the blogs" a good drubbing. We are not to trust in the media but in the Gospel, which we should read instead. Something along those lines. All very sad for your humble correspondent, who was having a hard enough time praying instead of worrying about whether or not her computer was being stolen at that very moment by Kensington hotel thieves.

After Mass I saw absolutely no-one I knew other than the famous Andrew Cusack, who wanted to know the Edinburgh gossip and was delighted to hear that his favourite Edinburgh priest had not changed. The homily was very down on fake news, so I won't use scare quotes for Cusack, but I said something like "Father [redacted] is exactly the same" and Cusack said that this was the best possible news. That was literally the first piece of gossip that came to mind, in part because people who love Edinburgh are always happy to hear that it is just as they left it.

We walked along Cromwell Road a ways, and then Cusack disappeared, probably to some amazing luncheon party whose photographs will end up in Hello or, if not that, the champagne-fuelled launch of some exciting book about gentlemen's hats or shoes or jackets or some such.

I, being a "poor b... reporter" (as Salcombe Hardy in the Lord Peter Wimsey stories would say), bought a "meal deal" from Marks & Spenser, sent a few messages, and went to Ealing to take sad photographs.  Then I went back to the Brompton Oratory to buy a copy of the Catholic Herald, which I adore now that it is the Catholic Spectator.  Then, because it was nearby and has loos, I went to Harrods for the first time in my adult life and had quite a shock.

Not to put a fine point on it, Harrods is not very British. Harrods is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in department store form. I went in thinking of Paddington Bear and found myself plunged into the playground of billionaires. No wonder the Saudis live in South Kensington.

There is--get this--there is literally a Hall of Perfumes in Harrods and when you walk in, you are almost overcome either with the combined scent of all the expensive perfumes of the world or one special scent Harrods spritzes into the air from hidden vents.  Meanwhile, in the ladies' loo on the first floor--the floor dedicated to women's clothing and I barely dared to look--one can douse herself as liberally with Coco Chanel or a number of other scents as she ought to use soap. The bottles are just sitting there above the sinks.

Having decided that this excess was actually pagan and part of the worship of Mammon or Baal or goodness knows whom, I did not dose myself in perfume but headed for the exit to Brompton Road as soon as I could. I swiftly marched away from wicked Harrods in my rain boots without a rest until I was safely in Exhibition Road. I then spent £6 on a double macchiato and a pain-au-chocolat.

After this restorative refreshment, I went to the Courts of Justice and took their photograph. Then it was 6 PM and the serendipitous moment happened in from of St. Clement's. I had a look at the Thames, which was grey and populated with tour boats, and then I went to Westminster. Poor Big Ben is still covered with scaffolding and his hands are missing.

The theme of the sermon during the Westminster Abbey Evening Service was "identity through stories." And you'll never believe it but there were special prayers for the media and subtle hints about our "fake news", as if we were all engaged in writing the "Hilary Clinton Space Alien Sex Shocker" stories that apparently so influenced the U.S. presidential election.

Now I am back in my slightly-smelling-of-drains hotel room, and I am pretty tired. I have also forgotten to have any dinner, woe is me, poor b... reporter.

W Londynie/A Londres

I am on assignment in London, which is not something I thought I'd be writing today. If I had, I would have fetched my Oyster card from the Historical House, not just my tweed suit. By Friday morning I knew there was a good chance I'd be sent to Liverpool to cover the Alfie Evans protests. On Saturday morning my editor and I were in agreement that I'd go to London next.

Naturally nobody I know in London has any space to keep me in, so I booked the cheapest room I could in Kensington. Kensington still carries the cache (in my mind, at least) of being safe, and my hotel is only a 30 minute walk away from the Brompton Oratory.

Strangely, it is sunny out.  Although I am in a tiny semi-underground room, I have a gauze-curtained window and the sun is shining through it.  Soon I will stop this blogging nonsense and go to church via Hyde Park.

It was sunny when I arrived in London yesterday evening, too. I was surprised at how light it was, and had a confused idea it was because London is so much further south than Edinburgh. Actually it's because at that hour I am usually in another small room writing up dark news. But all the same, I felt exultant and happy and remembered a line of poetry my mother used to declaim, "Oh to be in England, now that April's here."

A one-way underground ticket from Euston railway station was an eye-watering £4.90.

I found my hotel and after a struggle got online and then got the receptionist to call Ognisko and make a reservation for one. This saved me the embarrassment of being rejected, should the popular Polish restaurant feel disgruntled about single diners. However, Ognisko said I could come at 8:30 PM, which was fine by me, as it gave me time to call my husband, have a shower and walk to Exhibition Road.

Thank heavens for the shower, for I was exhausted. And thank goodness for Ognisko, as I hadn't eaten since 9AM. I spent most of Saturday taking cabs across Liverpool, rushing hither and thither and talking to Scousers about Alfie Evans. The cab drivers of Liverpool seem unanimous in their support for Alfie's parents and their disdain for Alder Hey Children's Hospital. Two cabbies told me they were sure Alder Hey doesn't want Alfie to go to "that Italian hospital" for fear the Italian doctors will find some hideous mistake Alder Hey made in Alfie's treatment. The cabbie who took me to my 3:50 PM train had been at the spontaneous 1000-person strong rally on Thursday night.

Showered and in my nice blue wool dress, I walked to Ognisko and had a splendid dinner: trzaski (deep fried pork crackling) with pear and horseradish sauce, barszcz with a tiny croquette of pate, smoked salmon blinis, and a shot of the house's pear vodka.  I had never eaten in Ognisko alone, but I've been there with Benedict Ambrose and with Polish Pretend Son, so the elegant dining room was full of deeply amusing memories.

As I munched I reflected that if I were to die at a restaurant, as trad heroes sometimes do, I should like it to be at Ognisko, although not until I had eaten the trzaski. The barszcz, by the way, tasted as though it had been stewed from the bones of the oxen of Mt Olympus, or so I wrote to PPS afterwards. Quite a heady soup for a lady used to the vegetarian Christmas Eve version.

Then I walked back to my hotel to assure my Edinburgh-loving, London-hating husband over Skype that I had not been killed. Cromwell Road has unintentionally funny real estate ads for Saudis, featuring Dad-Mom-Child photos of Saudis in full Saudi dress sitting in a field with an English palace in the background. I passed a live Arab Dad-Mom-Child family on the street, the Mom all in black with a face veil. There were also other young Arab men on the street, but also a dozen other people from all over the world, it seemed, usually carrying shopping bags and looking heartbreakingly tired.

Earls Court Road teemed with Poles. I passed an incensed Polish woman just as she yelled "----JUZ alkohole!" at her man, and a couple of young Polish men conversing in very drunken Polish. This morning the neighbourhood seemed less Polish. Soon after the fire alarm went off in my hotel, I sauntered off in the direction of "Paul", a French (or "French") boulangerie and cafe, having spotted it last night. (When you're as addicted to coffee as I am, you look out for these things in advance.)

Paul has a very large variety of croissants, doughnuts, breads and colourful little cakes shining like jewels behind high plastic windows. The counter is staffed by pretty women from various places in Europe and (indirectly, I am guessing) China, and the espresso is very good. The large "Americano" was less good, but that serves me right for being greedy.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The Joy of a Truly Free Press

"Listen," I said. "I come from a small country, too, a country with a big neighbour,  and so I understand. And yes, Poland got squashed several times by its big neighbours. But you mustn't care so much about what other nations think about you. You should concentrate on your achievements."

This advice did not seem to console my interlocutor one jot. Living in the UK, she bears the brunt of other people's misconceptions about Poland and the Poles. The misconceptions come mainly from the media, and I am not talking just the Daily Mail here. I am talking about the oh-so-correct Guardian and all the rest of the British establishment media. The woman who told me that Polish must come in handy for speaking to workmen at the Historical House does not read the Daily Mail.

Reflecting on what the western mainstream media has published about Poland, the woman sitting beside me seemed to be on the point of tears. Therefore, I was once again glad that last November I was able to publish this.  If I never again write anything of any importance, at least I wrote that.

One of the problems with contemporary journalism is that most newspapers can no longer afford to keep offices in several foreign countries. That is one explanation for the scandalous and appalling fake news about Poland that was foisted on the British, the Canadians and, especially, the Americans about the 2017 Polish Independence Parade in Warsaw.

There are other explanations, of course, and I remember when I first lost my touching faith in mainstream media: it was while watching a Toronto TV station's coverage of a pro-life demonstration. I had been there, and I knew that something City-TV said about it was not true.

I also flinched at the unmistakable contempt in newscaster Mark Dailey's universally beloved voice. The fake news I don't recall, but the contempt left a permanent scar. By the age of 18, I knew that lots of Torontonians despised pro-lifers, but it hadn't occurred to me that Toronto's big-voiced sweetheart did, too. I thought the press would be like, you know, neutral.

Goodness knows why I thought that after years of reading Doris Anderson in the Toronto Star. Anderson was a famous feminist, but that did disturb me until I came up with a bang against her sneering prediction that Pope John Paul II's play would bomb on Broadway but be a hit in church basements. Somehow I remember that and not all her abortion apologetics, probably because the slam was just so bizarrely petty.

I recall asking my mother about it and my mother saying something about Anderson being from out West (where anti-Catholicism presumably festered). But the objections of the lady columnists of the Toronto Star also included the saint's Polish birth. (I forget which one it was, exactly, attributed John Paul's alleged dislike of women (!) to being Polish. It probably was Anderson, but it might have been Michelle Landsberg.)  "Polish jokes" had recently been banned from the schoolyard,  and I was surprised to see such an obvious ethnic slur in the Star. 

As a matter of fact I had very little interest in Poland, but things I heard about it in childhood did linger. For example, I still cannot shake the impression, formed in 1977, that Poles (all Poles) are desperately poor. The beautifully paved road from the John Paul II airport to Krakow was, therefore, quite a shock.

I'm not sure if there's a moral in that, other than that one needs to be intelligent and be cognisant of historical changes in the countries one visits or one risks sounding stupid or even offensive.

My real point in writing this post is to celebrate the existence of a truly free press--which in English-speaking countries may mean the online press--that interrupts the unjust or merely craven narratives of the mainstream press.

I don't mean to abjure all the MSM. As long as The New York Times continues to publish Ross Douthat I will have some respect for The New York Times. But I am highly suspicious of any British, Canadian or American MSM narrative about Central and Eastern Europe right now.

Meanwhile, I am deeply contemptuous of how the British mainstream press swallows the abortion industry's lies about the British pro-life movement. (It really astonishes me how an obvious INDUSTRY has the British press in thrall, but I don't discount the role of blackmail. In Canada, abortionist Henry Morgantaler  blackmailed Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.) That, however,  is a topic for another time.

Update: The Spectator is good value, though. See this article from January, for example. It looks okay to me.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Dating a Russian Man

A young Russian friend alerted me to the following video, which was apparently made in Canada. If so, I have a pretty good idea where, since the Russians invaded it by their thousands after 1990 and without founding any good restaurants.

Video here (Safe for work, little brothers, et alia)

 I have never been on a date with a properly Russian man, only with an ex-Israeli cantor from Minsk with a German surname, and it's a very long story. It is also a dull story and ends with a Slovene music conductor grilling me over the phone about what I had done to his poor friend. The Slovene was not dull, but that is an even longer story.

Anyway, the young Russian friend also sent me a link to the next video, which is about dating (anglophone) Canadian women.

Video here (Safe for work, slightly more dodgy for little brothers)

I know rather more about Canadian women than about dating Russian men, and the very amusing thing about the video is that it is true--especially for Toronto. Toronto women don't do eye contact with strangers.  We are perfectly capable of pretending that we are lesbians to put off prospective suitors. We are incredibly offended when men offer to help us carry ludicrously unwieldy things like mattresses until we have half-killed ourselves lugging them up four flights of stairs. And we do tend to have a sporty streak. (I had to give up watching sports soon after marrying B.A. because of football rage. My own football rage. B.A. doesn't have football rage. B.A. doesn't have football.)

Anyway, I was vastly cheered watching all this generalising because I greatly enjoy generalising myself. Also, it reminded me of a book on divorce I once read, in which the author--a retired divorce lawyer active before 1986--strongly advised against Canadian women of British or Irish descent ever marrying Russian, Polish, Yugoslavian, Czechoslovakian, Romanian or Hungarian men. (Apparently, it was fine for Canadian men of British or Irish extraction to marry Russian, Polish, etc., women.)

While watching the Russian Man video, I was very irritated by the Russian Man tutting and sighing and shaking his head, and I am very meek compared to what I was like in my twenties. Also, I cannot think of a more boring way to spend an evening than dancing in spike heels in a North York condo with a bunch of Russian-speaking girls while all the men sit a a table getting drunk.

Unfortunately there does not seem to be a "You know you're dating a SCOTTISH man when" video. However, I do not think it would speak to my experience as much as a "You know you're dating a TRAD CATHOLIC man when" video.