Friday, 23 September 2016

Bona Sforza

This doesn't end well.
It is Polski Piątek, but this weekend I must not think about Polish stuff but about getting Benedict Ambrose and me to Norcia. This means immersing myself in Italian so that Italian, not Polish, first jumps to mind when I need to say something in Foreign. When I was in Belgium last year, I disgraced myself by answering various French and Flemish greetings and directions in Polish. English, aka Globish, would have been more appropriate.

However, it being Polski Piątek, I will bring your attention to an Italian-born Polish queen named Bona Sforza. She is often credited with Italian influences upon Polish cuisine. She is also blamed for the death of her daughter-in-law, the beautiful Barbara Radziwiłł, and was apparently herself poisoned---possibly by an agent of Philip II of Spain. As Philip was the devoutly Catholic king consort of Mary I of England, this rumour is eye-opening. Really, Wikipedia is dangerous--you click on one thing, and then you click on another, and then it is noon already.

According to this, Queen Bona was disgusted by 16th century meat-heavy Polish feasting habits and ordered her own court to adopt a sort of Nouvelle Cuisine--less food on the plate, but more expensive, better quality and including vegetables.  (NB Meat-consumption was, as usual, for the rich. According to Wiki, the medieval Polish poor subsisted mainly on grains--like kasza--and beans.)

The Italian queen had oranges, lemons, pomegranates, olives, almonds, broccoli and cauliflowers imported from Italy. The article says, however, that Italian recipes weren't widespread in Poland for another two hundred years. Meanwhile, long before Bona got to Poland, the sons of rich Polish families travelled to Italy to be educated, so it is likely they brought back at least "a stick of celery." (Wiki claims King Jagiello had plenty of vegetables at his court 80 years before Bona turned up.)

Apparently Bona hired Italian chefs, so continued eating Italian food through her married life. Meanwhile, I have wasted much time reading Wiki's list of regional Polish dishes, defeating the purpose of my Polish to Italian mental crossover. Here is an article about Umbrian cooking instead.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Unexpected "The Unexpected Professor"/Brideshead

I have finished reading The Unexpected Professor, which challenged many of my ideas, but was nevertheless quite enjoyable if, ultimately, unconvincing. I am all for grammar schools and merit over the inherited privilege of the children of the rich, but he lost me when, on page 310, he admitted to having had Anglo-Saxon made optional for first-year Oxford students of English Literature. Not only does this seems like an outrageous dumbing down of Oxford and of students of English Literature, it is a posthumous slap to  the woman who so kindly praised his Viva examinations: the great Anglo-Saxonist Dorothy Whitelock.

I was named (in part) for Dorothy Whitelock, and my father began his career as an Anglo-Saxonist, so perhaps I am taking this too personally. On the other hand, when I contemplate my rich, crazy, agonized year at the Graduate School of English at the University of Toronto, the courses I did that seemed the most scholarly and least subjective were those in Anglo-Saxon. 

(I am suddenly reminded of the superiority of Christian Latin to all other classes when I was attempting a PhD in Theology.) 

Starting a serious study of English Literature without Anglo-Saxon strikes me as ridiculous as beginning a history of Canada with Confederation in 1867 or of the United States with the Declaration of Independence or of Scotland with Kenneth McAlpin. 

Anglo-Saxon is English without the French; it is the source of our most basic everyday language--house, roof, child, kin, sheep. It tells the English and Lowland Scots who we are, deep down in our cultural cells: not French but Germanic--and Christians, to boot. Those of us who have forsaken Christ worship not Venus on vendredi but Freya on Fridays. Chaucer's English is a linguistic compromise with a foreign oppressor. Wyrd bith ful araed.

The other revelation to which I strongly object is a disbelief in objective standards for art. Benedict Ambrose is tremendous well-read in the philosophy of aesthetics, and I am not, but even I know there is such a thing as "techné", or craft. 

I am willing to believe that anything anyone puts together deliberately for display is "a work of art", but not that it cannot be dismissed as trite, cheap, or even a bullying, exploitative demand for attention. I am also willing to believe that "conceptual art" is art, for any expression of a new idea is a creation. However, you can sign a urinal only once: you can paint the "Coming of the Magi" any number of times, and when you do, training, hard work and technique really matter. 

Thinking about Brideshead Revisited again--whose attitude toward Oxford and privilege Professor Carey indirectly and  unconsciously condemns--I see it as a paean to Youth, written by a man who was so desperately unhappy when he left Oxford, he attempted suicide. Its nostalgia and us-against-Hooper snobbery is so potent that it sets up the too-young reader to look upon university not as an apprenticeship to professional life but as a superior social club where one lives one's best days. 

Charles Ryder, as much as any girl going to Franciscan U. for the M.R.S., goes to university not to be trained in a discipline but to fall in love. He becomes a painter in spite of, not because of, his Oxford education. The same can be said for Sebastian Flyte and all their friends. Charles' cousin, whom we are invited to mock, and Charles' former pal, whom we drop when Charles does, actually enter into college life instead of using it as stylish backdrop for their social lives. In terms of the realities of university training, Brideshead Revisited is Animal House for the bookish. (Be sure to cite me when you quote that)

That said, it provides excellent lessons in sensitivity to surroundings and celebrates the ardours of youthful friendship. Anthony Blanche recites "The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock" through a megaphone, and sometimes when I was an undergrad I drank deeply of the vine and strode through the St. George St campus declaiming the same poem with my best friend. I also founded an all-female poetry club: we met in each other's rented apartments, drank a lot, read a lot of poetry, annoyed a shared ex-boyfriend. Some of us were pro-life Catholics (including two ex-Muslims), others were deep-dyed pro-choicers: we all thought of ourselves as feminists, naturally. I admired the dappled sunshine, pouring through leafy trees, by day, and I wrapped myself in the electric-starred darkness by night. Brideshead promised aesthetic experiences for those who sought them, and I found them. 

However, swimming about in aesthetic experience is not enough to achieve good art, as I discovered when I tried to write funny stories. My mistake was to try to write about Catholicism and lampoon Catholic feminism instead of writing prose about the student world I was living in. It's a pity, for my landlady, the late Mrs P, could be the basis for a great comic character. 

Mrs P was very suspicious of her upstairs renters, and I eventually discovered she feared catching AIDS from us via the house plumbing. In short, she thought we were the most awful sluts, but eventually she discovered that I was a Nice Catholic Girl and, after some tragedy in my personal life which I have since forgotten, she tried to comfort me with dry little Portuguese biscuits and a photo album of life back on Sao Miguel. I have rarely spent such a boring afternoon.

But to return to The Unexpected Professor, John Carey has considerable writing techné himself, and so I heartily recommend reading this autobiography and look forward to grappling with What Good are the Arts?

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Worldly Goods

A reader mentioned the charms of secular stuff in the combox, which naturally made me wonder what they could be. Although himself rumoured to live mostly on tinned soup, my chaplain extols the good things of the world--like wine and fine paintings.

Our Lord made wine and fine paintings can be found in churches, so I ask myself if I should consider these among the charms of the secular world. Indeed the word "secular" is itself problematic, as there are "secular" priests--meaning that they live in the world, not in a religious order, and especially not in a monastery. Therefore, one might argue that "secularity" belongs to those class of good you would not find in a monastery.

Now I have never lived in a monastery as a nun, but I have visited the Benedictine Sisters of Cecilia at Ryde, so I can take an educated guess as to what I would have to give up, should my husband "put me aside" to become Abbot of Monte Cassino, or something equally unlikely.  Among them are things I consider "secular" and my favourite good things of the world.

1. Excellent Coffee

The greatest privation of living as a guest in a monastic institution that I have experienced so far is having to drink instant coffee at breakfast. I used to enjoy instant coffee for its evocation of past visits to Poland, but now I am, like, "Seriously, this is just brown water. Gdzie jest naj-closest café?"

2. Sitting in a Café with Excellent Coffee

Have you ever dreamed of living in a cosmopolitan European city and dropping into the local snazzy café to read interesting books in obscure languages as around you students and intellectuals chat and drink macchiatos? Yes, it is as cool as it sounds, although lately in Edinburgh the students sit across from each other staring at their laptops or smartphones.

 I used to frequent a snazzy café in homely old Hamilton, Ontario in the days before smartphones, and that was good, too. I drank cappuccino, exchanged greetings with fellow writers-and-artists, wrote bad poetry and bobbed my head along to Wheatus' "Teenage Dirtbag".

3. Rock

When I was twelve, I read in Seventeen magazine that Christian pastors routinely condemned rock-and-roll as the devil's music. I was very excited when one of our parish priests finally did.

I think, however, he was taking a pop at heavy metal, which I didn't like then anyway. From the moment I was permitted my own radio, I remained glued to Top 40 until  I started dating a metalhead. I changed the dial to the Almighty Q, and there it remained until we broke up, I became a part-time Goth, moved downtown and spent my very small resources on one glass of plonk a week at the ironically-named Vampire Sex Bar. I have had a soft spot for Gothica ever since.

Despite some tolerance for Praise & Worship music--I am, after all, a woman--I agree that there is no place for rock-and-roll in the sanctuaries of the Church. My kitchen is a different story, I do not think I would have the strength to cope with the dishes the morning after a dinner party without The Killers' Hot Fuss.

4. Dance Clubs

I almost never go to dance clubs, and when I do they are almost always staggeringly boring. That said, some nights they are magical and give me a lot of writing ideas. OMG! I am SO going to a dance club in Warsaw.

But by myself....?

Okay, maybe I am not going to a dance club in Warsaw. If I were ten years younger I would definitely go to a dance club in Warsaw by myself. Ten years ago, I went to Goth bars in Boston by myself.  In Frankfurt I went with a German school classmate. And put the club in my Red Baron in Valhalla novel.

I really want to go to a dance club in Warsaw now.

I am definitely too old, though.


5. Travel

Almost everyone loves travel. It is not, however, the sort of thing monastics indulge in. Roaming the earth, gawping at sights, listening to foreign chatter, tasting new tastes, feeling new weather, buying things to get through the boring bits... It's very worldly indeed.

I have four kinds of travel: homecoming, work, recreational  and adventure.

Homecoming travel means going home to Toronto or to visit my brother and his family in Quebec. This is the most relaxing kind because I don't have to do anything except occasionally wash the dishes. Everyone loves me. I love everyone. I leave before the novelty of having me home wears thin.

Work travel means going as a speaker to some venue where I am shepherded around like a prize lamb and prevented from getting lost, falling downstairs, etc.

Recreational travel means going places, foreign and domestic, with Benedict Ambrose. This is more strenuous, mostly because of (A) leadership issues and (B) I have to perform the more complicated communications and (C) I feel like an ass when I fail at these complicated communications.

Adventure travel means having to depend on myself in highly foreign circumstances. Work travel often has adventure travel elements. My two greatest enemies in adventure travel are taxi drivers and boredom. My suspicion of taxi drivers borders on paranoia, and the boredom has much to do with the lack of television in monastic guest houses. Going to the theatre in Krakow despite DARK and BEING ALONE was a revolutionary act. Unfortunately, by the third dramatic act, I was thinking, "Die, Romeo and Juliet, die!"

Er, I think I have forgotten why travel is one of my favourite worldly goods, other than when it takes me to family and friends. Oh, I like being able to communicate in foreign languages. When it works, it is a thrill.

6. Modern European Languages

Well, English, Italian, Polish and German. Modern English, however, is by its very post-King-James-Bible nature a Protestant language, an opinion that makes ex-Anglican converts to Roman Catholicism grumble and frown. One might argue that Standard Modern German is also Protestant, although not in Bavaria or Austria, I imagine.

At any rate, I do enjoy language classes, and my language club, and reading about becoming better at learning languages.

7. Worldy Books

Currently I am reading a wonderful book by John Carey, an atheist (or agnostic) retired Oxford professor of English Literature. It is called The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life, and it is delightfully readable. I wish I had read it before Brideshead Revisited, but this, alas, would have been impossible, as I first read BR as a child, and The Unexpected Professor was published in 2014.

Julia asked an excellent question on the advisability of keeping pre-1950 books away from impressionable children. I think it would be wrong to do so, but I think it would be helpful for the parent to keep track of what his or her child is reading and to discuss ways in which the world has changed since the book was written, or how the structures of fiction are markedly different from teh structures of real life.

One might also try to get at the heart of what the child likes so much about an influential book. I very much like Georgette Heyer's Cotillion because the heroine exchanges her boring clothes for exciting finery and jewellery she doesn't have to do anything onerous to get. Also I am a little bit in love with Freddy, who is basically just Bertie Wooster with sex appeal instead of Jeeves.

I liked Brideshead Revisited so much because Charles and Sebastian thought they were all that and a bag of chips, and I wanted to be like them. As [SPOILER ALERT] Charles ends up a mediocre painter and Sebastian a balding dipsomaniac, I must have been mad---or eleven years old. However, I didn't realize the real harm Brideshead Revisited does to young people (not just me)  until I got to Britain.

I really like The Unexpected Professor because it is entirely against such mindless snobbery and the author worked so hard to get to Oxford he innocently took benzedrine. The truth is a lot of soi-disant "Catholic literature"--or literature written by Catholics--can be really bad for you, which is a frightening thought for a Catholic author. Nevertheless, literature is one of my favourite worldly goods.

8. Worldly Conversations

For me blogging is a form of frivol, which is why I don't blog all that much on What-Is-Francis-Saying-NOW-It-Is-The-End-of-The-WORLD. I was brought up not to get too excited about popes, and when I married I shared my husband's devoting Pope Benedict, and then Pope Benedict broke both our hearts by abdicating, so now I have returned to the family lack-of-interest-in-popes which, if you think about it, is so traditional as to be pre-Napoleonic, until you live in a (former) papal state. If I write about Important Church Stuff like Francis, I expect to be paid for it. I am, after all, still paying off my M.Div.-era student debt.

Meanwhile, I am not that good at pious chat. St. Theresa the Little Flower could do it and make men weep, and a gazillion bloggers attempt it and make women hurl. My heroine St. Teresa Benedetta a Cruce's (Edith Stein's) most profoundly pious statements were short. The first--about the Life of St. Teresa of Avila--was "This is truth." The last--upon being arrested by the Gestapo  was--"Come, Rosa, let us die for our people." I'll never top that.

This leaves worldly conversation, of which talking about Single issues is a subset, for if we were all unworldly, we would all go into convents at 18. I can make worldly conversation in two languages now. I highly enjoyed myself arguing in Polish that Brigitte Bardot certainly wrote Adam Buczynski a mash note, and discussing how old she must have been at the time.

Well, what are your favourite worldly goods?

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

A Trad Catholic Holiday

Benedict Ambrose and I are soon going on holiday to Italy. I have studied earthquake survival tips, for we are going to Norcia, the town in Umbria near the epicentre of the St. Bartholomew's Day disaster.

By the way, it turns out you are NOT supposed to stand in a door frame. If in bed, you stay in bed and hide your head under a pillow. If out of bed, you dive under a sturdy table and hang onto the leg. If outdoors, you stay outdoors as far from decorative elements and shaky walls as possible. When the quake is over, you go outside because suddenly buildings are not your friends. During the 6.2, the Nursini fled to the piazzas.

This may sound rather stressful for a holiday, and you may well wonder why we do not return to the beaches of Santa Marinella instead. Well, the answer is simple: the Monks of Norcia. We want to go to the Extraordinary Form of the  Mass with the Monks and hear the Monks sing the Traditional Benedictine Offices. We also want to drink the monastery beer, and see what is new in the monastery shop, and contemplate the statue of St. Benedict in the piazza.

St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica were born in Norcia in 480. A shrine was later built over their birthplace, and Benedictines first came to live here in the 10th century. One Benedictine community or another lived in Norcia until the Napoleonic suppression. The monks were driven out, but almost 200 years later, the Nursini petitioned for their return. (See my article here, with the correction that the monks are celebrating Mass and praying Vespers in the Scavi, not the crypt.)

Norcia's tourist industry--which took a big hit, thanks to the earthquake--centres on the wonderful produce, wine and cured meats of the region. It is on a plane surrounded by hills, just adjacent to the Sibylline national park (yes, where the Sibyl lived), so it also attracts hill-walkers and fresh air fiends. Benedict Ambrose and I both love regional Italian food, and we both enjoy hill-walking, so Norcia provides us with many opportunities to share our mutual interests.

Of course, I am not quite as excited by the Offices at B.A. is. For our Norcia Christmas I bought him a monastic diurnal, which was the perfect present, but I haven't got one for myself yet. Benedict Ambrose is a church musician through and through, so he takes a special artistic as well as spiritual joy in monastic chant. Me, I'm still exulting in the fact that I'm married to such a good Catholic. If this means I'm in church more often than I like, so be it.

For his part, the language study-adverse B.A. actually exchanges greetings in Italian. He even used his small store of Italian vocabulary to buy my Christmas present, which meant more to me than the thoughtful gifts!

Norcia is a good place to celebrate Christian Christmas if you loathe the trappings of the secular jamboree. Christmas is not the principal midwinter feast in Italy; their big day is Epiphany. B.A.'s idea of the perfect Christmas is romantic solitude in the countryside, and my idea of the perfect Christmas is being surrounded by family and friends, so Norcia--a favourite retreat of Rome-based friends--provided a bit of both. I recall the Norcian December as cold (but not too cold, unless the heating is off) and a little noisy--as children kept setting off firecrackers in the piazzas--but friendly.

There is at least one crook--there's a café I like, but in future I won't be paying with notes any larger than I can possibly help--but the vast majority of townsfolk seem gracious, not grasping. I was horrified that the 6.2 quake affected them, deeply relieved that none of them were killed, and determined that Benedict Ambrose and I would return and give them our business again.

What Norcia is like in the autumn, I do not know, but I am looking forward to finding out!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Paradox Clarification

Last night I made the mistake of Googling myself--a strong temptation for a writer--and I discovered my immature self being roundly abused on a Catholic forum for this post a post I've  removed. I was comforted, however, by the memory of my mother saying, the first time I came crying to her about this sort of thing, "If you stick your head above the parapet, expect to be shot at."

Words to live by, especially if you are dumb enough to write about yourself on the internet. 

The point of my post was to muse, for the sake of the Single-and-panicking, on Phyllis Schlafly's warning to career-minded women that if we don't get married and have children, we will have a lonely old age. 

A more direct answer to her warning is, "Eligible bachelors haven't been knocking down my door, Phyllis."

I said something similar in an open letter to Mark Steyn years ago. 

Most women want to get married. That is, the majority of women in the west want to fall in love with good men we respect, live in tolerable economic circumstances, and enjoy a happy life of companionship with or without children resulting from our unions.  Sadly, infatuation or desperate loneliness will make us settle for less, if we let it. 

Having been unhappily married in my 20s and being now happily married in my 40s, I am a true believer in not settling. Childlessness has put this belief to the test, and I have concluded that I still believe in not settling. I'm glad I have Benedict Ambrose, and if I'm all alone in the nursing home, I will tell the nurses how great Benedict Ambrose was. Given the Scottish birthrate, the nurses will all be Polish, so it's a good thing I'll be fluent in Polish by then. I will be their special Polish-speaking pet, fed on cake smuggled in from the kitchen.

This, by the way, is the paradox: I'm simultaneously glad I married B.A. and sorry I didn't have children.

In my post I pondered why it was that I felt marrying any of a number of suitors would have been settling, and I observed that I myself was not mature enough to marry until 32, which my critics found blameworthy. Perhaps I might have pointed out that a bad marriage, divorce and annulment process can knock you right back to gibbering infancy, if you're unlucky.  The experience is why I have spent so many years writing variations on "Don't settle." 

Meanwhile, I did not (as is alleged) suffer menopause at 38. As far as I know, I'm still not there.The kind functionary who phoned up to smash my dreams of motherhood merely said I had hormone levels consistent with peri-menopause; I think I was over 40. It's not a day I treasure, so I'm not sure of the year. My mother had her last baby when she was 35, so fertility issues at 40+ was not a surprise. 

To return to the painful issue of immaturity, it was in hindsight a blessing, for like everything else it somehow led to marrying B.A. However, it is not something I would wish on anyone else, since you are not going to marry B.A.  Let us leave me out of it, except to use my experience to figure out how to cure immaturity. Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the combox. 

How to Cure Your Own Immaturity

1. Stomp on the idea of serial dating.

Thanks to books about teenage life in the 1950s, I honestly thought that the point of dating was to go out on dates with as many boys as possible so as to figure out which was the best one to marry. This possibly made sense in the 1950s when the social trend was to marry young. 

It sort of made sense within Catholic circles, where the social trend was to marry soon after university graduation, although not really because there was no agreement among the boys that if Mary agreed to go out to the movies with Mike on Friday, Pat was still with in his rights to ask Mary to the college ball. Bad feelings could and did ensue.

If I knew then what I knew now, I would have said, "Sorry, So-and-so. I'm flattered that you like me, but I'm getting married to a Scottish guy in 2009." But, naturally, I didn't know that. 

Make a lot of friends of both sexes, but put off "dating" until you are a grown-up. I'm not sure how to tell when you have actually grown up. This will take more thought.

2. Understand ASAP that boys have feelings. 

Thanks to an unusually violent and profane group of elementary school classmates, I had doubts on this score. I did not know at the time that these boys were unusual. Meanwhile, thanks to the female pecking order, I absorbed the idea that as rotten as boys were, the more of them who were attracted to you, the more social caché you had. It didn't matter if you liked them or not. 

Although this may sound stupid, it was an idea reinforced by Gone with the Wind, almost all romance novels, and the works of Louisa May Alcott.  Louisa May would have been horrified, of course, as Polly in An Old-Fashioned Girl gave up trifling with an eligible bachelor for the sake of her best friend's feelings. Still, LMA did present "scalp-hunting" as normal feminine behaviour. 

We need to take responsibility for our sexuality and be aware of its effect on others. It has been fashionable for some years to blame everything on boys. If boys are uncomfortable with your top, or can't keep their eyes off your pushed-up bazooms, that is entirely their fault, etc. You can wear however little you want, and they just have to deal with it, etc. One of the many problems with this point of view is that it denies your moral agency. 

That said, it is true that there are bad men, and you should stay away from them.

Meanwhile, if you're not sure what is appropriate wear for any given social group, ask a trusted authority. For example, you don't have to wear a mantilla, hat or anything else on your head at the 12 Noon Edinburgh EF Mass, but if you wear skin-tight leggings with a little T-shirt, we will look at you funny.

3. Understand ASAP that you have agency. 

Maybe you don't feel "like a girl". Maybe you're a real tomboy. If you were a guy, you are absolutely sure you would not be attracted to a girl like yourself. Therefore, there is no danger if you hug and squeeze random guy friends, (pretend to) flirt with them, wear the sexy Hallowe'en costume (as a joke), ask them to marry you if you're both Single at 40---right?

Wrong. See 2. You're a girl. Sometimes you may wonder if any guy notices this. Believe me, they all do. All. That said, not all of them will find this wonderfully exciting.

You are not the football of fate. You can make things happen in your life, either through carelessness or through serious thought. Your choice.

4. Understand ASAP that boys don't have it all worked out either.

I have many readers over the years who just want to get married and have children. They are not interested in alternative careers. They expect their future husbands to have careers. They expect their future husbands to make enough money to support a wife and family. 

I have suggested to such readers that in this case they do their best to meet men who are somewhat--maybe a few years--older than they are. Boys of 22 are more unlikely now than ever to have the financial means to support a wife and a child, and although sometimes this is their fault, it usually isn't. Any man who says "I really don't know what I want to do with my life" is not marriage material. But he isn't Hitler, either.

5. Understand ASAP that you will not be defined by your husband's job.

Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, has been defined by her husband's job. She is one of a very few women in England of which this is true. It would cease to be true if there were a Revolution and the new communist overlords sent Citizen Windsor to a reeducation camp and then employed him as a plumber. Citizen Kate would then be free to define herself as she wished, either as the mother of Citizen George and Citizen Charlotte, or as a Hardworking Member of the People's Republic of England and Wales 

Because most books written before 1950 were more real to me than real life, I honestly worried about being stuck as Proletarian's Wife, well down the social scale from Doctor's Wife or Prime Minister's Wife unless through my own efforts I managed to get my own professional title. 

This was, of course, complete unadulterated, out-of-date, snobby nonsense, Mrs Doctor Dear. All the same, I knew deep down that I would not be happy married to someone who didn't dazzle at dinner parties. B.A. dazzles at dinner parties--or at least makes everyone laugh like drains. 

Well, I realize I may regret this post, too, but I am a great believer in encouraging the young to learn from my folly. Because it is increasingly unlikely that I shall ever have children, I am really very pleased that various friends and readers give me partial credit when they marry and have babies of their own. I do love babies. May my words help bring more babies into the world.

Update: I've removed my post. Indeed, I may shortly remove this one, too. There was just something so awful about self-professed Catholics discussing another woman's fertility (or lack therefore) like that. Ugh. I know you meant well, Xanthippe, but reading that conversation was like finding slugs under a rock.

Update 2: And I've taken down Edinburgh Housewife. After all these years, I think it's time to ring down the curtain on my unhappy twenties. If it is true that many other "conservative" Catholics are spreading the message of "Wait for the right man, don't panic and settle" there is no need for me to do it anymore. 

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Arise, Sir Cake!

Sugar is stealthily creeping back into my life, and I will have to Take Steps. Seed-and-nut bars from the health food store appear to be a gateway drug: how sad.

Nevertheless, the big bag of caster sugar will remain on the shelf, for cake is an essential element of British hospitality, and making cake without sugar is an extremely fiddly business. Naturally, one can always cut the amount of sugar the recipe demands, which one should do for guests who hail from lower-sugar regions. This week I had four guests: a Scot and a Polish-American (dinner party)  and two Polish-Poles (coffee klatsch). I imagined the Scot and American were acclimatized to sugar, but I cut their dosage anyway.

The first cake (for the dinner party) was the plum cake or placek from the Applebaum-Crittenden Polish cookbook. It vastly diverges from the Standard British Cake (i.e. the Victora Sponge) in that it demands only half a cup of butter to the cup of flour, cup of sugar and 2 large eggs. Ann & Danielle were, let's face it, writing for Canucks and Yanks, not Poles, so I reduced the sugar to 3/4s of a cup. I didn't have two large eggs, so I used three medium eggs. Meanwhile, Americans and Canadians are not fans of "self-raising flour" and sure enough A&D asked for 1 tsp baking powder instead.

Normally I turn up my nose at such newfangled things as electric beaters, but as my butter wasn't very soft, I decided to do as they said and use one. This made for a much runnier batter than usual, which is what the ladies wanted, and after poking in the plum halves and drizzling the top with sugar and lemon juice, I popped the pan in the oven and prayed that it would rise.

The problem with Standard British Cake, with its 1:1:1 ratio of butter, sugar and so-called self-raising flour, is that the blessed thing doesn't rise very much. The Victoria Sponge would look really pathetic if one didn't pile one cake on top of another with a thick layer of whipped cream and/or jam in the middle. Even then it does not achieve the heights of the standard North American layer cake, especially my mother's.

My mother makes excellent cake. The first time I was engaged to someone, my grandmother was very sentimental about it, and as it was my birthday, my mother had baked a layer cake--light, fluffy, rich, covered with smooth butter icing, "Happy Birthday" written in delicate letters--delicious.

"Do you think you will ever make cake as good as your mother's?" asked my grandmother, inspiring me with murderous thoughts, as I was very embarrassed to be engaged and dreaded such domestic questions. However, I politely said that I didn't think that was possible, and my father heartily approved my answer, and peace reigned. Had I been a bit more cocky and cheerful about take particular engagement, I might have said, "Well, she's got 24 years on me, so check back in a couple of decades." Ha ha ha!

Still, though, after a happier engagement, I migrated to the Old Country, and had to cope with a fan-assisted over, British flour and no electric mixer. It was a good day when I did get an electric hand-mixer although by then I was so used to beating everything by hand, I used it only in meringue-making emergencies. Thanks to the climate, better recipes and sheer repetition, my (often meringue-topped) pastry now now rivals my mother's, but the perfection of her layer cakes eludes me.
An hour after I put my dinner party placek in the oven I had a look and, lo, it had risen beautifully. The plums had all but disappeared into the batter, so high did it rise. I looked at the electric hand mixer with new respect. Or was it the extra egg? Or the baking powder?  Regardless, the Polish-American had two pieces and spoke about his mother. The missing sugar was not remarked upon: baked plum halves are plenty sweet.

Today I decided to use the placek recipe to make a chocolate Victorian sponge for my morning kaffeeklatsch*, and was miffed to discover I had only two medium eggs. Nevertheless, I plunged ahead, making things up as I went along. This time I used about 3/4 of a cup of butter, no more than 2/3 cup of sugar, 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup Green and Black's cocoa and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. I employed the beater, and put in both eggs. The batter didn't look runny, so I put in two heaping spoonfuls of soured cream. That did the trick. I poured all into a paper-lined cake tin and spread the top with red currant jelly (made by my mother, 2015).

An hour later, I had another beautifully risen cake, and I waited impatiently for my Polish-Polish guests to arrive so I could try it. When they arrived I did. In terms of texture, the sour cream worked beautifully--resulting in a cake that was moist but not squidgey--and in terms of flavour, the red current jelly worked with, not against, the cocoa. What a relief.  It is a cake that needs neither cream nor ice-cream, neither of which are appropriate at 10 AM.

The British love to pour cream on their cake. My Polish guests (girls) and I commented on this as we compared Polish, British and American cake. It does seem a pity to drown a beautiful cake with cream--unless it is dry, and then the baker can only be relieved that cream covers a multitude of sins. We also agreed that British baking is insanely sweet--brownies, muffins, all the ghastly things at Caffée Nero--although a Brit would find this opinion rather ironic, coming from a North American.

I feel that I have had made some excellent progress in my journey towards cake perfection. Again, sugar is the enemy, but as it is culturally necessary, I must keep a bag of it. Instead I will toss the useless self-raising flour and stick to baking powder and sour cream.

*Suddenly I feel all nostalgically German-American. My German-American Great Aunt Tilly weighed more than 300 lbs. I love stories about Great Aunt Tilly. The Scots-Canadians were rather less interestingly from a food point of view--except for my mother, who is practically fluent in German. Wypadek? Nie sądzę.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Dobra Zabawa

It's Polski Piątek, so what else is new? I may have to quit the Polish Friday feature because most of my leisure time is taken up by Polish seven days a week and I need a break.

This is thanks to Polish Club, which was my own brilliant idea, and little did I know then that taking charge of your learning by organizing fellow obsessives students into a weekly study club is, according to research I have since discovered, one of the best things you can do to learn.

It is definitely one of the best things I can do, since I was born to teach until cruel fate interfered. Naturally I cannot actually teach Polish, but I can facilitate like a pro. But enough about me.

The club has had 12 meetings, and every one has centered on a book about a dog. When we ran out of book, we read a news article about the dog and then a book review. We shall end our dog days of summer next week with a theatre review, for the book about the dog was made into a play.  Little does my club know that I have been employing a Jesuit educational technique called "Ignatian Repetition". Basically you keep applying the same terms over and over again in different contexts. It's how my beloved Canadian Jesuits profs bang Lonerganian concepts into their students' heads. I learned as much about pedagogy as about theology from these wonderful men.

(In case you are fainting at this encomium to the SJ, you should understand that not all Jesuit Provinces, let alone not all Jesuits, are the same. For example, everyone can agree that St. Ignatius of Loyola was a stellar guy, even if you take Thomistic exception to his take on 'thinking with the Church'.)

Needless to say, I approach all meetings with great seriousness and was so devastated when error appeared in my vocab lists that I took to sending them to a Polish proofreader before handing them out. And yesterday when, for the first time, we followed up our vocal Polish readings with our own English translations, I was momentarily confused when, during my turn, fellow club members laughed merrily. I had just given the English as, "I recommend this book for children of five or six years of age."

For a moment I thought I had made an error, but no! Their mirth was (obviously, in retrospect) triggered by the fact that we anglophone adults are well out of the age range. Hey, listen, I challenge any Polish six year old to read this book on his or her own. Forget it. They will need an adult to read it to them. I mean, "wścieklizna"(rabies). No way.

My conclusion is that I am beginning to have serious sense-of-humour failures, and it is a good thing B.A. and I are going on holiday in ten days. Off I go to our linen closet/library to find my Italian cassettes.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Tip from the Husband Whisperer

Last night's dinner party was a great success. I am fonder of dinner parties than B.A., but he knows that every dinner party is preceded and succeeded by a tremendous house-cleaning effort on the part of his wife. Despite my best intentions and consulting of bestselling housekeeping books, I am still not a great housekeeper. But the idea of visitors coming to a messy house fills me with horror and shame. It's a bit like Christmas when I automatically go into Baking is my Honour and Privilege and Proof of Femininity mode.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Housework & AL

I am up to my ears in housework and have nothing to say.

Except that I find the latest Amoris Laetitia news--and the lame responses of bishops--very distressing. If I have this right, Argentinian priests are to sneak those married-and-divorced-and-remarried-without-an-annulment communion secretly while breaking down the resistance of other Catholics to such sacrilege. Or do I complete misunderstand the goad to "grow in a spirit of understanding and welcome"?

I suspect we are working with two different--and opposed--sets of Eucharistic theology here. Oh and never mind the theology of marriage. And of reconciliation. That's three whole sacraments dragged into question. Oh, and the sacrament of orders, too. What devout Catholic would become a priest knowing that he might be ordered under pain of obedience to administer the sacrament sacrilegiously?

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Remember, Remember Eleventh September

Any system of thought that thinks that sins can be wiped away through murder-suicide can only appall.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

The Friday Night Language Soak

The answer to yesterday's pop quiz was odcisniętymi. It means "imprinted". It falls in the sentence  "Są tablice z odcisniętym rękami słynnych polskich aktorów i reżyserów," i.e. "There are tablets with the handprints (imprinted hands) of famous Polish actors and directors."  Odcisniętymi was the hardest word to remember and pronounce, so I tried the picture method, with mixed results.

ODD + Cheech + knee + Ent + Timmy is as close as I could get to it. However, by focusing on the photos, I get the spelling wrong and keep leaving out the knee.

I discovered myself tongue-tied when I tried to pronounce the fatal odcisniętymi to Poles last night. We were in the Polish veterans' hall, which was rapidly filling with Poles of all ages, waiting for a controversial Polish journalist to give us a speech. My friend was there with her boyfriend, and he wanted to know what I found most difficult in Polish. To give an example, I tried to trot out odcisniętymi, and as my friend had just told him how well I spoke Polish, it was embarrassing.

Oh gosh, it was hot in there. It was very humid outside, and so very humid inside and my dress stuck to me and I was terrified someone--the speaker, for example--would ask me a question. I had already been asked questions in the hallway and naturally got the answer wrong the first time. I could answer "Dzień dobry" (Hello!) perfectly, but when asked if the meeting was upstairs, I said "Nie znam na pewno." ("I don't have acquaintance for sure.")

"Ahhhh....nie rozumiem," ("I don't understand") said the woman who actually had a right to be there.

"Nie wiem na pewno," ("I don't know for certain.") I corrected myself, and rushed up the stairs as much to escape as to find out.

I was very, very, very, very, very relieved when my friend turned up; I was irrationally concerned that I might be mistaken for a spy or a hostile journalist or someone who ought not to have a seat as she was unlikely to understand much anyway. (Personally I estimated that I might understand 30%.) She introduced me to her boyfriend, I explained about odcisniętymi, and then I played Polish vocabulary games on my tablet until the speaker was introduced.

Well, I think I did better than 30%. The speaker had a clear, expressive voice, and if I didn't hear a word (as a word, not a noise) it was because I had never heard it before. Taken individually, I understood most of them. The problem was that he spoke at a normal (i.e. rapid) pace, so I usually didn't have enough time to put them together. I most definitely got such emphasis words and phrases as "However", "and so", and "Please, ladies-and-gentlemen".

I also got what the speech was about. There was a whole hour about the Polish constitution, how it could be changed, and how one defines democracy. There was about twenty minutes on what was holding back the Polish economy. Then there were about ten minutes on either insurance (ubezpieczenie) or security (bezpieczeństwo). Then there were questions.

Two hours of solid Polish, people. And no word of a lie, my attention did not flag once for the first hour, for I was in the second row, and I didn't want the lecturer to know I couldn't understand what he was saying. I thought it might put him off his game: he didn't use any notes. He just talked off the top of his head for an hour and a half and then for most of the half hour of the question period I was still there. (Half an hour in, I was done. Done like Polish Christmas Eve dinner when the first star appears.) The questions seemed a bit aggressive, so I'm glad I left when I did.

I might have been mistaken for a keen student of Polish political science, for I took several notes. These notes, however, were merely jottings to anchor my attention and reassure myself that I did actually know the outlines of what was going on. There was a lot about monarchy versus republic, the Russian Empire, Baron de Montesquieu, democracy ("Nie prawda, że democracja jest najlepsza...." --"It is not true that democracy is the best...")... Oh gosh, then there was a bit about how the Cardinals elect the Pope and how the Pope appoints bishops as an example of an alternate state.

There was also some stuff about the European Union, which is headed by Donald Tusk, and the Sejm (Polish parliament) and bringing the Sejm to heel ("co do nogi!"), and something about the UK, and a lot about France, and (I think) a call to return to a proportional system of government. There was a mention of Bonapartism, whatever that is, and a slight on Lech Wałęsa, I'm pretty sure. There was an awful lot on "wyborcza", which I see is not just a newspaper but another Polish word for "election". And when a question seemed to worry about Poland's reputation for intolerance, there was a lot about Gramschi, homosexuals and the normalization of what is actually not normal.

And that's it. I will have to ask my friend to fill in the very large gaps; I am sure she is wondering how much I understood. Two hours, people.

It was not at all like watching a foreign film, for not only to foreign films have subtitles, the kind of foreign films you can buy at your local store tend to be visual. It was more like listening to a Polish homily, except with much better delivery than usual and no mention of love.

This is a stage of language-learning to which I am a stranger. As a teenager learning Italian I was taken to a play by Dario Fo, and as soon as I discovered how hard it was to understand, I went into a dream and waited it out. When I finally got a work ethic, I listened to advanced Italian conversation tapes, but those I could play (and do play) over and over again.

I have sat through relatively short French, Italian and Polish sermons, and I am working on sitting through whole Polish films (without subtitles), but that has been the extent of it. Listening will all my strength to a foreign language lecture on politics was a completely new experience, and it was certainly interesting to see that I could so much more quickly comprehend such words as dlaczego (why), dlatego (because), no... bo  (well, because), jednak (however), natychmiast (immediately) than most nouns and verbs.

Friday, 9 September 2016

The Altar of Truth

Oh, how nice. My  latest Toronto Catholic Register column is not behind a firewall.  As this is Polski Piątek, you'll never guess what it is about!

Update 1: Pace mother on the ten talents stuff. (She loves the traditional interpretation of that story.)

Update 2: Another super book for teaching yourself how to study 20+ years late is How to Improve Your Memory for Study by Jonathan Hancock (Pearson, Harlow--UGH, town of Pole-bashers, 2012).

I love his ideas about drawing pictures to remind yourself of words. Guess what the following means:

OD +


Doesn't have to be Lech, of course.

Hint: genitive instrumental case, plural. Answer tomorrow. I don't imagine anyone could get it but me--or a Polish-Canadian of my generation!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

A Very Dangerous Woman

UGH! I have shivers. This woman is actually walking around out there.

Every Sunday I pray for my Single readers that their/your loneliness and impatience don't lead you to sin, exploitation and...well, pretty much everything in this story. 

I felt very sorry for this woman up until she began--with controlled hysteria--to show how very, very sorry she is for herself.

You may also be thinking that I should be examining my own moral standing for being party to adultery. As the daughter of a vicar, I have some background in taking social and personal morality seriously. I have adopted as a creed J B Priestley’s 1945 play An Inspector Calls, which tells of a day of reckoning for one powerful family, the Birlings. They all have variously known a vulnerable young woman, Eva Smith, that day dead by suicide. The Inspector’s purpose is to show the Birling family the cumulative effects of their individual behaviours in Eva’s life. Individually, collectively, the Birlings’ actions are responsible for deepening Eva’s vulnerability to the point of hopelessness. 

She clearly thinks she is Eva, and perhaps the Birlings are her lover's family, which includes a strong woman--who would not put up with garbagey treatment if she knew--and three children. I hope she didn't mean that innocent family and just means men in general--which is bad enough. In assigning blame for her life, she starts with her vicar father and older brothers. 

God knows it is awful to feel unsettled and unloved in your late thirties, let alone your forties. It was, of course, a lot worse to be single-at-35 before women were able to earn a decent living outside of domestic service and farming. If you're 35-and-single, you may be sad, but at least you aren't totally despised by society. Thank God. 

I write as one who was single at 35, 36 and even 37, and blogged on single issues for years. Being single and unhappy can land you in grimy situations but, even worse, it can also twist you into a kind of monster. I have written several times about "the badness of bitterness", and if some Single goes postal because he (it's usually he) is single, I write about it. Since I refuse to remember the names of mass murderers, I will remind you by link of the Health Club Shooter and this little worm. Both of them left writings full of Single self-pity. Both thought they were victims. 

Don't get me wrong: I have not lost my sympathy for Singles. I think the Sexual Revolution was simply terrible for women--and for men, too, my husband often reminds me. I think its horrible that the ancient rhythm of marriage, childbearing and grandparenting has been so violently disrupted. Men and women who don't want to have sex before marriage are in a terrible situation because current courtship rituals simply assume sex as a precursor to marriage. "What if you're not sexually compatible?" is a question the defenders of the current mores have asked me more than once, although it really makes as much sense as "What if he's a vegetarian? What if he doesn't like pickles? I love pickles!" 

To put it bluntly, if you take your pants off, you are complicit with the Sexual Revolution and are part of the problem. Sexual Revolution 1; You 0.  Of course, some men and women are lucky and they personally do not suffer any obvious negative consequences. Pimples forming the words I am in a state of mortal sin  do not appear on their foreheads. This will give the about-to-be-seriously-unlucky false hope.

The writer of the Telegraph piece has been seriously unlucky, and now holds the happiness of an innocent wife and three children in her hands. Naturally I think she should keep her mouth shut and her idly typing fingers busy doing something else. She walked into an affair with a married father of three; he didn't kidnap her. Common decency still includes saying, "But you're a married man! I'm no homewrecker, thanks."  If she does vengefully destroy her lover's marriage with her revelations, there will be three children whose attitudes to the opposite sex could be warped and tarnished forever. "My mother never forgave my father: women are unforgiving." "A woman destroyed my parents' marriage and my home life: women are evil." "My father cheated on my mother: men can't be trusted." "My father left us and got a new family: men will leave me too."

Being single can feel absolutely awful. Loneliness is horrible. Involuntary childlessness hurts a lot. However, these things are not justification for terrible behaviour. Unfortunately, a perfectly ordinary Single person is at risk of becoming a monster of selfishness thanks to self-pity and bitterness. The only cure I can think of for a Single who feels so sorry for herself that she wants to destroy a family---yes, the man is a moral weakling, but the children shouldn't know that--is to take a long hard look at herself, admit that she got herself in her abysmal situation, read what Our Lord  Jesus Christ said to the woman taken in adultery, draw a line through her past and take steps to ensure her future is different. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Men as Prize-winning Garden Plants

No doubt I am oversimplifying Men in General, but I have been happily married for over seven years, so I feel have more right than ever to air my hypotheses about men. The only difference is that I can get into trouble for doing so. Therefore, I will proceed with caution.

There are simple, straight-forward men, and there are men who are so complicated, they might as well be women. Try to wean yourself off the latter and train yourself to be come more attracted to the former. Learn to love the fact that they either say what they think flat out, or don't say it because they think they will be in trouble if they do. Believe them when, after you foolishly ask them what they are thinking, they say "Nothing." Men can literally sit or walk along for whole minutes not thinking about anything. As this is the point of exotic meditative practices, we should perhaps admire them for it.

Men are not women, which is one reason why we women like them so much. Why, then, are we so disappointed when they don't act/talk/listen like women? I suppose it is because, once we are married to them, we delude ourselves that they are an extension of ourselves. I am not sure what St. Paul meant about "one flesh" but I observe he said "one flesh" and not "one conversation style." And so our shock when instead of just going along with our expectations, they do their own thing and even have bizarro expectations of us.

We are also disappointed when they don't solve all our problems as neatly as the Earl of Worth in Georgette Heyer's Regency Buck. This is partly because men are very rarely early 19th century multi-millionaires. Georgette was a master psychologist--of 20th century women. If she knew anything about 20th century men, she knew perfectly well that they were not at all like her creations. However, she certainly knew that her creations were the kind of men her female readers wanted to read about.

That said, there is a stage of love in which a perfectly ordinary chap, despite not being a multimillionaire with a staff of poorly paid servants and, no doubt, vast sugar plantations in Jamaica worked by slaves, seems even more desirable than the Earl of Worth or the Earl of Rule, or whichever of Georgette's earls most takes your fancy. When you discover that this paragon, whom you secretly love, loves you, too, it is better than all of Georgette Heyer's novels put together. If you are like me, you even go a bit crazy and occasionally cry our of fear that the Paragon's plane might crash before the wedding.

Fortunately--and I read this somewhere, this is not a thought original to me--this "Crazy in Love" stage doesn't last very long because if it did, you would never eat properly, or sleep properly, or pay attention when crossing the street, and your brain synapses would burn out. The whole point to the "Crazy in Love" stage is to get two people so different that they could be from different species, i.e. a man and a woman, to agree to live together long enough to reproduce and ideally raise children together. Apart from massive family and social pressure, I don't know why anyone would do it otherwise. Surely it would be more comfortable to live in a sort of collective of people as much like you as possible.

Ann Landers or her sister Dear Abbey likened romantic love to friendship caught fire, and the flames of the initial attraction are supposed to burn down a bit and keep the fire going until has burned down to the very hot coals of old age, which go out only with death. It's a nice image, but overly dramatic for everyday life.

In everyday life, you have two people who want to be happy and live with a happy person and, if applicable, happy children. To me this is less like a fireplace and more like a garden. My high school Italian textbook said that if you want to be happy for an hour, get drunk, and if you want to be happy for a day, get married, but if you want to be happy your whole life, become a gardener.

It's a thought.

It's a particularly good thought for the UK, for the British really love to cultivate flowers and actually watch the Chelsea Garden Show on television when they do not attend it in person. In Canada or the USA, a man may resent being likened to a prize orchid, but surely he cannot be annoyed about this in the UK.

Indeed, in the UK it is a good thing to be treated like a dog, never mind a plant, for the British love dogs and in general are most kind to them. I doubt the people who take their pedigreed pets through the Historical Grounds expect much for all their endeavours on their dogs' behalf, save that they be happy, healthy and come to heel rather than savage the other dogs. Presumably the British expect even less from their prize plants.

When it comes to happiness, I expect it to come, first of all, from the will of God regarding my brain chemistry and then my own efforts. I happen to be married to be a very nice man with an interesting job and a splendid flat, but I know I could nevertheless be quite miserable if I chose, or if my brain chemistry went wonky. I do not expect--and I think this is a very important law of marriage--my husband to make me happy. However, I do see it as my job to remove as many obstacles out of the way of his being happy, insofar as this is a holy happiness, if you see what I mean. If some nasty poacher came purring around, I would see her off the property with a pitchfork, if I could find one.

In a way, being married is like being blessed with a really splendid garden specimen that could win a medal at the Chelsea Garden Show (i.e. heaven) as long as you water it and feed it and give it enough sunshine and make sure it is nipped by neither aphids nor frost. It has to be kept safe in the greenhouse (i.e. marriage) and poachers must be kept away for if it is stolen and replanted somewhere else, this will be very bad for it indeed.

This is not to say that this is always easy or that I am the best of gardeners myself. However, I think it is a useful metaphor in a time when we expect so much from marriage without, perhaps, knowing how to grow one.

Friday, 2 September 2016

At The Risk of Becoming Very Boring

It's Polski Piątek, and I must admit that every day has been Polish Day this summer, which is very boring for most non-Poles around, especially poor Benedict Ambrose. It has been helpful for my Polish club, however, for whom I strive by making vocabulary lists and crossword puzzles. It has also been at least mildly diverting for local Poles who have volunteered to listen to us anglophones stammer our way through their beautiful language. Possibly they are reminded of their own, rather more youthful, struggles to learn English.

I hope I am sufficiently diverting and not imposing on my Language Mother down at the café. Her dog has been ill recently, and after she told me that she was going to call the vet on Friday and feared she wouldn't be able to get an appointment until next week, I nodded, said "Yes, yes" and asked how her dog was and if she was going to take it to the vet on Friday.

Hugh sigh. Involuntary eye roll. Patient repetition of everything she had just said.

You know, there aren't a lot of stories like this in the  Fluent Forever -type books. Bestselling polyglots' manuals--always by men, I notice--stress how the polyglot studied for half an hour and then started speaking Polish, Turkish, etc. to a startled Pole or Turk, et al., who thought him truly marvellous.

Well, it is true that people-not-the-French are surprised and pleased when the Mighty Anglophone deigns to speak their Heathen Tongues, but come on. It's a long, long road from "Hello, how are you? What's your name? I would like six pierogies and a beer, please" to  "In my opinion, Poland's PIS party is centre-left, not right-wing, and there's an article in Standpoint you should see." Along this road there are many sighs, involuntary eye rolls and patient repetitions; I don't care how large and efficient the polyglots' electronic Leitner boxes may be.

At the risk of becoming very boring, I cannot but stress again the importance of developing a thick skin or, rather, bearing the pain when your self-love is stabbed to death yet again by a native language speaker, especially your professor, and even feeling grateful for the stabbing. The worst, however, is giggles from classmates. I really hate that, but I have chosen to believe the gigglers can't help it.

Humility, I have just opined in an article freshly sent to one of my editors, is not self-abnegation but facing the truth about yourself and wanting to improve. Therefore humility is absolutely essential to learning. You need to know and assert the truth about your strengths, you need to know and asser the truth about your weaknesses, and you have to base your self-esteem on something other than "I am wonderfully gifted and smart". It's probably a better idea to examine exactly how God put the human mind together and think of yourself as a learner who, like everyone else, has to learn at least some things through bloody hard and intelligently focused work because that is how God made us.

If someone tries to cut you down maliciously, you must not feel ashamed but contemplate the truth about yourself, which may very well be that you have worked very hard and have come very far since you first set off on your intellectual journey. It seems very odd to me now that there was a time in which I could not read or write in English. And yet I recall being five or so, and my mother being cross that I couldn't read, and my working my way through her own frayed orange primer.

To spice up this homily, I will ask for everyone's opinions of this carry-on knapsack. I mean, £88 is a lot of money for us, and yet this has got some stellar reviews and it fits the Ryan Air carry-on limit. I keep thinking I could get a durable wheeled carry-out suitcase for less, but I prefer the ability to carry my stuff wherever I go. I will be in Warsaw for 1-2 weeks in November, so I will have to pack a lot of tights and warm shirts and more than one skirt and, if humanly possible, my favourite Polish dictionary, which weighs 450 g.

Save the Historic Field

Conservation in Scotland does have its challenges, that is for sure. See below.

Brunstane Fields are the last piece of Green Belt land preventing the coalescence of Edinburgh, Musselburgh and Newcraighall village. Building on them would damage the local environment, harm biodiversity, spoil the setting of the historic Brunstane House and the Newhailes Estate, and greatly exacerbate the traffic congestion on key routes (including the A1, which runs to the west of the Fields). The projected increase in traffic on Newcraighall Road is around 60% - which more than twice the impact of any other housing site identified in the Local Plan. Building almost 2,000 new houses in this small space will create severe traffic congestion across the local area - with an attendant increase in air pollution and in the risk of accidents.

 Go HERE for the whole story.