Friday, 30 December 2016

The Year in Review


Attacks on women in Cologne and other places in Germany. I am wroth.

Burns Night. Shocked by traditionally misogynist "Toast to the Lassies." Wroth again. The dancing is fun, though.


Jan Ghomeshi trial. Wroth. 

Misogynist American-sex-tourist-in-Poland blogger plans international blognic. Wroth. 

A gazillion others  also wroth, so Misogynist Pignic cancelled.

Annual visit to Canada. I learn to ski. Skiing is great fun, and for once in my life I learn something easily. 

Pope Francis praises Emma Bonino. Wroth. 


My pianist brother buys us a piano. 

I think a lot about the Migrant Crisis.

Islamist bombings in Brussels. 

Islamist Easter bombing of Christians in Pakistan. 


Amoris Laetitia released, and I read it as soon as the embargo is lifted. What a day. Chapter 8 seriously dodgy. I tell my Toronto readers to set it on fire. 

I am invited along to Girl Guide camp and do useful things. 

Big Eucharistic miracle in Poland.

The Queen turns 90. 

My podiatrist says my strangely deforming foot will never straighten out. I add a restored foot to my hopes for heaven. 


I go on the Chartres Pilgrimage and am sorry until it is over.  After two cold nights of roughing it under canvas, the modest Chartres hotel room--a bed! a loo! no queue for the loo!--is paradise. 

I also lose a lot of weight, thanks to not eating sugar, or bread, or very much at all. 

Someone brings up Women Deacons again. Wroth.

Polish Pretend Son comes to visit, giving me a chance to speak Real Polish before I panic and forget everything like I always do.


Brock Turner trial. Like a gazillion other women, I am deeply moved by the Victim Impact statement.

Orlando Gay Nightclub Shooting. Not sure it was Islamist as the Shooter was not just Muslim but gay. I don't write the world's most PC post myself, but I am shocked by the "Satan will eat his own" comments at other Catholic blogs.  

Leslie Rasmussen stands up for Brock Turner and is shot down. I object to her concerts being cancelled. In the end Rasmussen grovels. I still object to her concerts being cancelled.  I think Turner was as guilty as hell, but I don't need to take it out on the witnesses for the defense. 

Brexit results. We are gob-smacked. Byłam bardzo zszokowana.

B.A. and I go on a weekend walking holiday. We stop fighting when we reach the little cottage. 

The Archbishop comes to visit our TLM community. As you see, it was a red letter day. 

I found a Polish reading club to which I am slavishly devoted until I go to Poland in November.


Pope Francis says something that shocks me so much I don't blog what it is.

I buy a Swatch. As I haven't had a watch in 9 years, this is a big deal. 

Girl Guide Camp. I fuss a lot about Health and Safety and cook the best campfire meal I've ever cooked, thus saving face in front of a lot of teenage girls. 

Islamist attack in Nice: Algerian truck driver. Horrible. 

My parents come to visit, and my mother stays for a month or so, washing the dishes every day. 

My sister comes to visit for a day or two. We go to Glasgow and visit two of the national cathedrals: Hampden Park and Celtic Park. 

Munich shootings by insufficiently integrated New German. 

Fishwrap leaks the names of the 45 Theologians, one of whom is one of BA's and my best pals. 

Murder of Father Jacques Hamel in France by Islamists.  I positively froth at the mouth. 

Hired on (so to speak) by Scottish Catholic Observer.


Islamist assassin knifes American tourist in London, passing the cab of two Scots, a friend of ours and her mother. 

Islamist in Strathroy, Ontario (of all places) is shot by police after detonating a device. 

National Catholic Register fires Simcha Fisher.  Young American Catholic mothers everywhere discuss this. I congratulate myself on my strict Facebook privacy protocol and having been brought up never to write or say ****, ***** or ****** in public, taber****, hos***.

Islamist "French national" knifes English backpacker in Queensland, Australia. 

Catastrophic earthquake levels Amatrice, rocks Norcia. 

Burkini fuss in France. 

Paul Hollywood dunks a Jaffa cake in his tea on Great British Bake-off. It is a national scandal, which would be funny if B.A. himself had not expressed outrage. When in the UK, don't dunk a Jaffa cake in your tea. 

A Pole is beaten to death in Harlow, Essex by a mob. Brexit is blamed, as if nobody has resented the Poles even once since they first arrived in 1940, let alone 2004. (Hollow laughter.) Anti-Polish sentiment in the UK is so widespread, there are anti-Polish rants on telly by Asians. I kid you not. Poles are white, so nobody points out how racist that is. There are 813,000 Poles in the country, but I never hear one on TV. Despite the incredibly right-on political correctness of UK TV, nobody is interested in making sure  a proportionate number of Poles are represented in the media (as anything other than rapists, burglars and careless drivers). Strange, that. 


Apparently Pope Francis told the Argentinian bishops to go ahead and give communion to the divorced-and-remarried-without-annulment. If I hadn't been so devastated by the 2014 Mid-Term Relatio and then shocked by Amoris Laetitia, I might have been perturbed. 

B.A. and I go to Norcia. We ride donkeys, eat scrumptious food, drink delicious drinks in the main piazza and are glad that the earthquake hadn't knocked down the Basilica of S. Benedetto. I write two articles encouraging other people to come to lovely Norcia and restore its tourist trade. 


B.A. and I go to Firenze and then to Rome. Firenze is hot. Rome is rainy. 

I am very rude about the Cover Girl Boy, but mostly because he is made up to look like a boy prostitute. He even painted on freckles. Um.

Norcia is devastated by a massive earthquake. Nobody is killed, but that's it for the Basilica of S. Benedetto, not to mention the tourist trade and the relevance of my last two articles. 


USA election results. We are gob-smacked. All my Canadian relatives, friends and acquaintances light up Facebook and do not take kindly to my declaration that the USA is not the boss of us, so why do we care? I have been away so long, I have forgotten to remember that the USA could invade any minute. I must check and see if my old sniper position is still there by Highway 401. 

I go to Poland for two weeks and lose 80% of the sight in my left eye for a day.  When I wrote that I go to Poland to be challenged and grow, that's not what I had in mind. Anyway, I learn a lot about traditionalist Catholics in Poland, and about tribal and political rivalries in Poland, and about Polish clericalism, and how sometimes bald Italian guys at European nationalist rallies look like skinheads because they are really are skinheads. 

I see Polish Pretend Son and then Polish Pretend Daughter, so that is nice.


I spend most of December being depressed. I cheer up only after I write my Polish teacher a long email in Polish about how I think I ought to go back to second year instead of going into fourth year. Although this is probably chock-full of stupid errors, it is still recognizably Polish, and my teacher advises me to go into fourth year. 

An Islamist carjacks a Polish lorry, murders a dozen people in a Berlin Christmas market, plus the Polish lorry driver.

There is also an Islamist suicide bombing in a Christian church in Egypt, and God only knows how many people have died in Aleppo. 

B.A. and I have a quiet Christmas and eat our Christmas Dinner with a nice trad Catholic family.

I prepare to become a teacher of Ancient Greek. 

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Princess Leia & Her Wardrobe

I am old enough to have seen the first three Star Wars films when they first appeared in the theatre. Star Wars came out in 1977, so Princess Leia's modest white maxi-dress was not odd, although certainly her hairdo was original--and easily copied by a generation of little girls who dressed as her for Hallowe'en.

Leia's ski suit and other uniforms in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) were similarly familiar to girls growing up at the time. We wore a lot of clothes back then, and baggy, oversized clothes were considered cool by 1984. Naturally she still looked feminine because of her pretty face and long, artistically-looped braids.  (Her braid-crown reminded us that she was a princess.) These were also easily copied by little girls.

Therefore, when Leia appeared onscreen in The Return of the Jedi (1983) in a copper-and-leather bikini, I was horrified.  This was not at all how grown women dressed in public at the time. Naturally, it didn't make me feel any better that Leia was attached to a collar, a chain and a giant anthropomorphic slug. Whatever the adults intended, it was obvious to a child that Leia's outfit was a mark of degrading slavery.

I was thinking about this the other day when I heard that Carrie Fisher had had a heart attack. "Slave Leia" is a theme of much joking today, but when I was a child in the cinema, I was frightened for her. And all of a sudden a great mystery was solved: why it was that, when I was a muscular twig of 26, a lean, mean, fighting machine, I couldn't bring myself to buy a bikini. Other girls probably have happier bikini memories--watching old Gidget movies or having glamorous bikini-wearing aunts. But mine was of Leia---the small and feminine yet brave and adventurous princess--who preferred to dress for dignity or comfort but was stuffed into harem-wear when captured by an enemy.

Update: Carrie Fisher on the "slave bikini" : The father who flipped out about it, ‘What am I going to tell my kid about why she’s in that outfit?’ Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.” Which is exactly what I thought.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Merry Christmas!

Tree up, decorations on, baking done (for now). Good night and merry Christmas!

Friday, 23 December 2016

A Child's Christmases in Toronto 5: The Big House With the Black Roof

That was our last Christmas in the little white house. In January my parents packed up and moved their goods, chattels and five children into a bigger house about three miles north, a few blocks shy of Toronto's northern border. It was not a beautiful house, but it had a swimming pool. A swimming pool! It also had almost enough bedrooms for everyone and, what was more, these rooms all had doors. After our semi-dormitory existence, this was privacy at last. Meanwhile, it was on the same bus route used by my friend R, which meant I too had an excuse to hang out in the bus station waiting to see boys.


By my sixteenth Christmas, I was much less self-absorbed than I was at fourteen, but home was still mostly the background to my Social Life. This was in transition, for my until-then best friend R had joined a new crowd and, according to her, I had blown all my chances of a proper boyfriend from my brother's school for having gone once to the movies with one of its pariahs. ("Everybody knows.") 

However, there were other boys' schools, and a fellow I was friendly with asked me out to the movies a few days before Christmas. He had previously told me he had fallen in love with a gypsy girl that summer while visiting relatives  (in Eastern Europe), so really I should been smarter with my heart. He told me all about Anika on our date, and also about the wickedness and proliferation of Albanians in his homeland.  

On Christmas Day, my stocking featured chocolates, four pairs of nylons, clip earrings, typewriter ribbon, a wide belt in red Stuart tartan from Le Chateau, and a tangerine. That must have been the year my sister Tertia and I shared a room, for my parents gave us half-shares in a tape deck/radio. They also gave me a big Italian-English/English-Italian dictionary and (via Santa) a desk calendar. My grandmother Elinor gave me black lingerie (why?), and my grandmother Gladys gave me pyjamas. Nulli gave me a Star Trek calendar, which I loved. "I think everybody likes the presents I got them," I wrote. "I am full of Chelsea bun."  I spent much of the day reading encyclopedia entries about Albanians and my crush object's hometown.

When NATO bombed this city twelve years later, I was shocked.  I was at work when I heard the news on the radio. I was the office expert on the wars in former Yugoslavia, and although it was industrial, this town was almost certainly a civilian target.  


I was very busy when I was seventeen. I had a part-time job before and after school as a barista, I wrote my high school's Christmas play (an adaptation of Little Women), I taught Sunday school and had written its Christmas play. I had a new gang of friends. The café brought me into more contact with the adult world, which included my boss, older employees, another franchise owner, neighbouring shopkeepers, mall security and regular customers.  Meanwhile, I took much more interest in the world outside my Social Life and began to write about other people's opinions and experiences. 

The Marches' Merry Christmas was a success. My parents were at the performance and took me to Pizza Hut afterwards. On the way there, I fussed about things that could still go wrong --like Sister Dorothy not getting her bust of Beethoven back. "Mum tried to calm me down, saying that the play was over, I was only the writer--not responsible for every detail, to stop worrying, to relax, wait until the [Sunday School] play on Sunday..."

 A Saviour was Born was less successful. Apparently "the costumes were magnificent, the audience was attentive, the kids had their lines was a mess. We had never had a proper rehearsal so the main angels and shepherds did not know when the angel choir was supposed to come in. Every time they went ahead Nulli [at the organ] and I had to figure out where to move the hymn to. The angel choir missed every cue and clue and had to be obviously prompted. 'Fidelia' forgot a couple of her lines, and there was a long awkward pause while I held my head in my hands and died a thousand deaths." When the play was over, I rushed out to cry behind the church. Then I went back and faked cheer, helping Santa give out presents and telling my students' parents how wonderful their children were. 

Nulli and I took our mum out to see Scrooged the week before Christmas. I bought Mum's ticket, and Nulli bought us all popcorn. He dropped his, so Mum and I shared ours with him. 

Christmas Day revealed a number of treats: "cool earrings, grey nylons, black nylons, typewriter ribbon...pyjamas, blue turtleneck, white blouse, 500 sheets of typewriter paper, a gorgeous, elegant shawl-scarf...a beautiful crucifix to put above my bed, a "Freedom jeanwear" oversize pullover (Tertia's into labels) that is terrific to write in, and a digital alarm clock with green numbers."

But the best was saved for last: Dad gave Mum a VCR. We children were incredibly excited. I never thought we'd get one. We watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Peggy Sue got Married. In the afternoon, we were called upon by two parish families, whose daughters were my friends, and later Nulli and I were dragged off to see my father's colleague and his family. 

Having gone on the worst-date-of-life-so-far with the eldest son of this family, I kicked up a tremendous fuss and even chanted HADES, MINIME, NOLO IRE! (roughly, "Hell, no, I won't go!"), but this was to no avail. We were supposed to be gone only an hour and a half, but my ordeal lasted four hours. "Look at it this way," said Mum, "It's grist for your mill."  True.

Nulli and I did our best to chat with the two boys-our-age, both of whom were absolutely brilliant at music and mathematics but sadly lacking in social skills. I felt it my duty as a woman to keep the chat flowing:

I managed to keep up some small talk to shorten the long, slightly embarrassing pauses in our  half of the room....  In one attempt to carry [stilted small talk] into a [conversation], I asked the boys what they got for Christmas. Nulli's favourite new toy was a mouse-pad. [Elder Son's] favourite is his Rubik's Revenge puzzle. [Younger Son] spoke with great enthusiasm about a painting of a Florida beach and a potted azalea. 

I believe I wore the mask very well until there was such an unfillable gap that Mrs B came over to suggest we watch a movie on their VCR. By now we had been there for somewhere around two and a half hours, and I wanted desperately to get back to [writing] my [new] play before I got tired. 

The movie, F/X, was full of senseless violence and the sound was turned down low so that the adults' conversation would not be disturbed. I could hear Mummy loud and clear from where I sat and silently berated my parents for making their children suffer like this. When we got home, Mummy congratulated me on my good, cheerful, interested behaviour. I growled. 

A few days later, I had a little Christmas party. Three out of the seven girls invited came. We talked a lot about other girls at school and once again enjoyed the story of what one enemy had told her cousin about his girlfriend's best friends, including me. (She said I was "queer" and the others were "strange.") The daughter of Italian immigrants claimed (again) that it was much harder for Italians than for anyone else to adjust to the New World.  The girl with Welsh parents told us all about Wales. We discussed the recent police shooting of a black teenager, and "not even" the black girl thought he had been shot because he was black. "Finally, we discussed what we thought the Feminist movement had really done or hadn't done and what we think of the school's religious program. We ate chips, pizza and coke. I think the party was a success."

And that was what Christmas was like when I was seventeen, all those years ago.  

Thursday, 22 December 2016

A Child's Christmases in Toronto 4: The Dancing Snowflake

When I was fourteen, the world revolved around me. If you were fourteen at the time, and you thought the world revolved around you, you were wrong. Sorry. I have the textual evidence in my own handwriting before me that I was of primary interest to the globe, thanks to my charmingly eccentric personality. I recognized the supremacy of God and that Our Lady was the best woman ever, but after that--me, me, me.

I must have been difficult to live with, but enough about other people. That Christmas was about me.

The fuse of my youth was lit on September 4 when I first stepped through the ersatz Tudor doors of my high school, and it exploded on October 19 when I went to my first high school dance. If I had considered my brother Nulli, whose school it was, I might have been more circumspect. But according to my fourteen year old self, happily recollecting my October debut in December, "I danced my wildest and flirted like crazy. [My friends] were in shock. [H] met [P], [R] met [L], and I met every guy there, forgot their names and danced with them." Oh dear. It gets worse. "Met [J] and [fatally--ed. JK] Slow dance with [JK] through [Cory Hart's] "Never Surrender". Nice fellow buys me a [carbonated] drink. I forget his name."  


These were teenage boys kept from girls for at least 7 hours a day, so I didn't do half-badly, which is to say I generally won an admirer at each dance I went to during my first term. It helped, of course, that although girls from my school were welcome at all the boys' school dances, boys were banned from any boys' school dance not their own. Thus, I could have surreptitiously dated a chap from every Catholic boys' school unless girls from my school found out and blabbed, which they certainly would have done. It was fortunate, perhaps, that although I enjoyed talking to my admirers at dances and on the telephone, I was less enthusiastic at the prospect of actual dates. I was allowed to date, but I was too young to date, and although my mother didn't know this, I did. Although it is good for girls to be wary of male teenage sexuality, I was inordinately terrified.

Suddenly Nulli's school Christmas Concert, which took place annually at Massey Hall, was no longer mostly dull but an exciting opportunity to see new male acquaintances, especially [JK], the one to whom I had sent a "candygram". (The exchange of messages and candy between local boys-only and girls-only Catholic schools was a time-honoured tradition.) I was not particularly enamoured of this Favourite at the time, and indeed I sent two other candygrams to a rival school. However, I was so beglamoured by [JK's] comic performances during his school's rendition of "Jingle Bells", that when my father whisked me away from under my Favourite's nose right after the concert, I wrote the latter a congratulatory letter.

Naturally I sent it by way of the Nulli Express. It would be years before I learned that one way men get at each other is through their sisters or by mocking their sisters' reputations. Fortunately for Nulli, only older boys were allowed to attend their own school dances, and these older boys tended to be fond of him. Thus, I may be forgiven that when my my friend R (now dating L) found out from my Favourite's friend (probably L) about this imprudent missive, I thought solely of myself.

R milked the situation of all possible Drama, so the way she broke that bad news was to claim, "My source says that [JK] was running all over the school with [the letter] and half the school read it. What did it say?"

This turned out not to be strictly true, but it should have taught me never to write boys letters. Sadly, it didn't. Don't be like me, girls. Learn from my mistakes: they are legion. The conclusions I actually drew from the modified story were that JK must really like me a lot, which meant I had two, if not three, admirers that month. To paraphrase Olivia Dukakis in Moonstruck, what I did not know about boys was a lot.

My diary entry for Christmas Day was characteristically self-absorbed. I see, however, that it was "mega-amazing". I ate too much, forswore one of my crush objects, received a phone call from the most eager admirer and spent part of the day having an intimate conversation with a chum. My godfather dropped by my house and gave me a $50 gift certificate from my favourite clothing store. One of my grandmothers had given me $30, so I plotted a Boxing Day shopping spree with this enormous $80 sum.

Meanwhile, I had found in my Christmas stocking that morning a tangerine, an apple, chocolates, "gold" clip earrings, blank cassette tapes, batteries, pens and elephant earmuffs. Santa also gave me a waste paper basket for my room.

My parents gave me a tape recorder and white lace tights,  and my grandmother Gladys gave me pyjamas (which I needed) and fancy lingerie (which I didn't). My sister Tertia, who was only 10, gave me a heart-topped pen and a grape-scented eraser. Nulli gave me a 45-record adaptor and two "singles" or "45s", as we called two-sided, physical MP3s back then: "Small Town" by John Cougar Mellencamp and "Rock Me Amadeus" by our beloved Falco. My best girlfriends gave me a makeup bag with a brown eyeliner, two shades of brown eyeliner and a lip-gloss. Unusually, my father's cousins sent me a china angel.

My diary passes over the rest of the holidays in silence. On January 6th I minutely recorded the excitement around the candygrams my school had received from the boys' schools. I got three--two from bona fide admirers, and one from my gossiping Favourite. My admirers signed their candygrams with "affectionately yours" or "love", whereas my Favourite merely signed his with his name. I took this as a bad omen, but derived solace from the friendly little exclamation mark after his message. Fourteen years later he stood me up at 1 AM in the Gare de Lyon in Paris.

Let that be a lesson to you all.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

A Child's Christmases in Toronto 3: Concerts

As played by Dorothy C.
When I was a child I wanted to be a stage actress. As I was but rarely taken to the theater, I knew nothing about contemporary stage actresses. Everything I knew about the theatre came from children's books written before 1950. Thus, it is safe to say that I unknowingly wanted to be a stage actress in the nineteenth century.

My mother, who knew more about nineteenth century actresses than I did, tried to discourage this ambition by invoking the "Evils of the Theatre." I was confused, as none of my primary sources, Little Women, Jo's Boys, and Anne of Ingleside, mentioned these evils or found anything wrong with theatrical ambition.

There were three important stages in my childhood, all of them proscenium. The first was the stage in the gymnasium of my elementary school. The second was the stage in the church basement. The third belonged to Toronto's venerable Massey Hall. All three featured the Christmas concerts that were a traditional part of Toronto life. 

From fourth grade or so, I was in my school choir, and so I appeared at the school Christmas concert, which was given twice: once in the day for the delectation of the whole school, and once at night for the parents. However, I found this paled in glamour beside the glory of the School Play, which was usually performed by children in Grade 8. I terribly, terribly, terribly wanted to appear in the Grade 8 play, and so from the age of 9 or 10 set out to charm the Grade 8 teacher. 

In hindsight it is odd that a child destined to become THE social pariah of her classroom was so popular with teachers, but perhaps it was this popularity with teachers that led to my disgrace. At any rate, both my Grade 1 teacher (who became my Grade 6 teacher) and the Grade 8 teacher adored me; and the Grade 8 teacher (who married a friend's widowed mother) remembers my 10 year old self fondly to this day. Apparently I was a little ray of strawberry blonde sunshine who confidently took Miss M or Mr B by the hand when they were on yard duty and prattled with one or the other gaily about my theatrical ambitions. 

Mr B fell a victim to my charm and cast me in the Grade 8 Christmas play as the Christ Child.  As I was a girl, this confused my classmates and possibly everyone else  unfamiliar with iconography of the Christ Child as a feminine-looking child with long strawberry-blond hair.   

I hope the priests didn't mind. I think of them because the parish church was just around the corner from the school, and strict Father Robinson had famously walked out of the day performance of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which meant the evening performance was cancelled. Come to think of it, Mother Angelica of EWTN would have been horrified by my being cast as the Christ Child, but it was 1981 or so and, being in Alabama, she was blissfully unaware of our existence. 

My next performance was, I believe, as Amahl's Mother in a non-musical production of Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. Sadly, I did not write about this. Instead I have the faintest memory of the Senior Youth Group borrowing my infant sister Quinta to play Baby Jesus in the parish Christmas concert that year. Thus both Quinta and I have both played the part of our Lord and Saviour, although possibly Mother Angelica would not have minded Quinta as much. 

But I do have a full description of my bravura performance as King Saul in the choir's production of "Holy Boy". What follows will probably cause Benedict Ambrose great pain, but we must face the facts of my post-Vatican II liturgical upbringing. The choir master, a dear good man, was to blame.

The choir master, or our singing teacher, was a graduate of my brothers' cathedral choir school, which was founded in the 1930s. Although the school somehow kept the pre-Vatican II musical traditions alive--and thus the Cathedral had the best music in the Archdiocese--they also kept up to date on the latest trends. At least, I assume so. Our choir master certainly did. There was a rather dashing African (or "African") Lord's Prayer he taught us, and naturally we sang "Day by Day" and "Pre-ee-ee-pare YE the WAY of the LORD" too. Thus, it is not at all surprising that we performed Holy Boy, although I admit it is probably strange that I played King Saul.  

Here in the junior drag king's words is an account of the performance:

Being the king of Israel is hard work. Yes! As I hinted darkly last Thursday, I was chose to be the ill-fated King Saul for the choir's musical "Holy Boy". The actors didn't sing when acting--only the choir. Several practices were sweated through underneath the voice of Mrs. K. The little kid playing David was a rather stupid third grader named Michael H, who is the youngest in the choir because he does some grade four work. He also sings out of tune. During our two performances, 1. for the school (dress rehearsal), and 2 for the concert last night, he forgot one crucial scene:

And when David spared him his life with a grin/
He gave up the title and David was King (2x)

I was supposed to be collapsed in my chair when David with Danny's (who played Goliath) fake Bowie knife, creeps up on me (King Saul) and, with a grin (oh boy) throws it away. Then King Saul gets up and sadly places the crown on David's head who then grins like a ninny.

During the public dress rehearsal, David forgot to creep up. You see, I had done my scorn of the Lord (Neil, Grade 5), my defiance of Samuel (Michael McR), had done my madman pacing and temper tantrums, been calmed by my dear daughter (Nicole P) and by David's invisible harp, and the choir's song "The Lord is my Shepherd", paced again, silently watched Goliath get "killed" by David's trusty sling-shot (made in Taiwan) and had silently plotted David's death and this was to be my last scene. This is what happened to me.

"King Saul was flaming. King Saul was waning," sings choir.

I sink into my "throne", eyes covered.

"All his plans seemed to go quite astray/David was winning more battles each day" continues choir.

Okay, I think, he should be right in front of me now.

"And when David spared him his life with a grin..."

I open my eyes.  Where is he? He was staring, [still] in the choir, at [the choir master]. Aaugh! Quickly I save the day. 

"He gave up the title and--"

I walk across the floor and sadly and slowly place the crown on David's head.

"----Davide was kinnng! David was---KINNNG!"

David beamed affably. 

On the night of the concert, I see, I caused pandemonium by arriving at school wearing a beard and moustache painted on with my mother's ancient pot of eyeliner. The howling and screaming, which swept through the halls, brought the Grade 8 teacher out of her classroom to shout for silence.

Then she saw me. She stopped. Then she gathered herself together and ushered [the Grade 8 actors] into the classroom. 

There follows a long description of my interactions with the Lord (as played by Neil M). Apparently I copied my performance from that of Tim Pigott-Smith as Ronald Merrick in the Jewel in the Crown.
Potential BNP Candidate for Edinburgh South
David (as played by the dim-witted Michael H) forgot the coronation scene again. When David died and was replaced by Isaiah (played by Danny K), I hissed "You idiot!" 

When the concert was over, I pushed through the crowds in the direction of the washroom (as we called it) to scrub the beard off my face with the soap I had had the foresight to bring. The next day I was accosted by two Grade 5s in the nearby shopping mall, who told me that I was a bad king. I agreed.

"Why didja want to be a bad king? Why are YOU a king?"

"I'ts a dirty job but someone's got to do it," I intoned and walked on grinning. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

A Child's Christmases in Toronto 2: The Little White House

Let us flee from the alt-right and terrorist-studded present back to the distant past. Saigon has fallen to the Viet Cong, and my still-youthful parents have bought a house in a tree-lined street of modest houses in northern Toronto. My mother, still in her twenties, has had her third baby, a girl. My father, still slim with brown curly hair, goes back to work, aka "the office." I go to kindergarten on a minibus. My mother continues her project of painting walls, running up curtains, sewing quilts, washing and hanging out the laundry, cooking all the meals, grocery shopping, breastfeeding and a hundred other activities I took for granted.

From the outside, this south-facing house looked like an ordinary two-storey Toronto dwelling, built in the 1950s. It had a green tar-shingled roof, a red front door and was painted with white harling. A short flight of sideways steps led to the front door. The front garden was staggered,  a flagstone wall supporting the smaller upper lawn, and above this wall a black lamppost. A number plate hung from a slender arm jutting from the post. 

Alongside this garden and the house, separating them from the red brick next door, ran a gravel driveway, each stone a pointy-sided pebble rather painful to naked feet. The drive ended shortly before the side door and, across from this door, the wooden tool shed. Built into the bumpy white wall to the right of the side door was a little wooden door to an old-fashioned milk- or post-box. (My grandmother's house had one, too.) The post went through the slot in the red front door, however. 

Behind the house was a long back garden with trees, bushes, flowerbeds and a white arbour which supported grape vines on the west side and climbing purple flowers on the east. To the north of this structure was a round raised flagstone flower bed from which tiger lilies grew year after year. The yard wasn't even--at a certain point it rose, which created almost enough of a hill for toboggans to slide down. 

A swing set was soon placed between the pussy willow and a much taller, smoother tree with inaccessible branches. To the south of the smooth tree was a pear tree surrounded by a massive bush of dry white flowers grouped like snowballs: I had no interest in flowers, so I cannot remember what they were called. Beyond the pear tree was a narrow band of grass running past the west windows of the dining-room towards a fence attached to the front of the house. My parents planted climbing roses here. Below the south windows of the dining-room were raised gardens of ferns and a mock-orange tree. Its scent on summer evenings was heavenly. 

The landscaping was rather clever and included a raised flagstone platform behind a large (and climbable)  maple tree growing on the south-east side of the garden. My father constructed a sandbox there. Meanwhile, the whole was visible from the large north-east kitchen window, and when my mother thought her children were being naughty, she banged on the glass. 

There was a flight of stone steps at the centre of the north (back) side of the house leading from the garden to the cellar. My father constructed a winter cover for these steps to keep the cold out of the house and the children from falling down icy stairs. (His basement office window was high in the wall and looked out at the garden.) When the cover came off in the spring, my mother would emerge from the cellar door every fine Monday with a big yellow plastic tub of wet laundry. She hung it up to dry on a laundry line operated by a pulley. In winter the laundry was dried in racks in the immaculate furnace room. 

The house was unusual inside, however. The top storey had been fashioned as a "railroad" apartment for the previous owner's married child. The staircase led to a landing with two doors. One door opened onto a small west-facing room which years later became a nursery. The other opened on a suite of three connected rooms running towards the back of the house in an L-shape. 

The first room, probably a sitting-room, became my green-and-tan bedroom. The second room, whose sink hinted at a former kitchen, became the baby's pink-and-white bedroom. The third room, which was separated from Tertia's room by a short corridor the length of two built-in closets' width, became Nulli's bedroom. For years it had the brown carpet and orange walls for which 1970s home design is notorious. Eventually Nulli (and our younger brother Quadrophic, who was moved there from the nursery when Quinta was on her way) would create some privacy from sisters by opening all the closet doors. Otherwise, we lived in semi-dormitory conditions. 

My parents' bedroom was on the ground floor on the west side of the red front door. It had its own lockable door to the one bathroom. Its other door opened to the front hall and looked towards the primary sitting-room. Meanwhile, it had a big window that looked onto the street, but was screened by bushes and was rather dark whenever the lights were off. It didn't get much sun. I thought it gloomy, which is just as well as it was usually off-limits. 

The primary sitting-room also had a plate-glass window and besides that a long chimney piece, built in bookshelves,  a fireplace and a wide doorway leading to a smaller sitting-room, which we called the TV room although it became dominated by a standard upright piano/torture device. In summers when the TV room's window was open, the lady in the brick house would have her housekeeper open her own window so that she could listen to Nulli play the piano. Mrs Brown had been a radio star. 

The west doorway of the TV room led to the hall. Staircase to the north, windowless bathroom to the west, window-lined dining-room to the northwest, kitchen to the north and stairs down to the side door on the east. Agatha Christie would just have drawn you a map. 

What I hope all this description gets across to curious (as opposed to nostalgic) readers  is that we lived in a small and increasingly crowded but very pretty house with a splendid back garden to cultivate and banish children to. My parents were both enormously hardworking although the world would have credited only my father, for he made all the money and climbed the only career ladder. My mother was "just" a homemaker--unfortunately in the decades of history this was least fashionable--and what a beautiful home. When I dream about home, home is always that pretty white house. It even has its own flavour, for my parents made jam from the pear tree. 

My family celebrated ten Christmases in this house, although some of us fewer than that. Sometimes my foreign relations--including a grandmother and an uncle--would make the journey, and sometimes they sent large, hopeful, brown paper parcels instead. My father always went to fetch my Canadian grandmother on Christmas morning. The Christmas tree was set up in the larger sitting-room, and my mother decked the mantelpiece first with golden tinsel and later with cedar rope. In those days, the tree was always decorated with gingerbread doves entirely covered with white icing. The birds dominated less and less as the years wore on and the Christmas tree decorations became more numerous. I am sure most families like mine have similar boxes of decades-old, instantly recognizable Christmas baubles. 

What I remember most vividly about that first Christmas in the little white house was the baby-stroller under the tree. As this was for my mother--and newborn Baby Tertia--I don't know why it made such an impression, other than that it was large and unwrapped. I cannot say for certain which Christmas we got the two wooden sleds--maybe when I was seven--but they also made an impression. 

Christmas Day (or Midnight) Masses of the 1970s may have made a strong impression then, but I don't remember them very well now. But I was a pious child from early on, and my mother says I evangelized my newborn sister by pretending to read her the Christmas story from my child's Bible--the Good News about the Baby Jesus "and his Mother Marty."

Turning to a material artifact, I close this section with the description of a blue hardcover, formerly blank book. At the bottom of the spine is the motto "GRUMBACHER 7194.1" in gold. On the front cover are the remnants of gold stick-on letters that once spelled "DOROTHY."  On the inside of the front cover is my maiden name, address and telephone number written in pencil. The frontspiece bears a crayoned self-portrait and the penciled information "My name is Dorothy. I'm 7 years old. I received this on X-mas." The first dated entry is marked Friday, December 29 of the same year. 

Amusingly, the tops of the pages have December 25 and December 26 written in and crossed out. Apparently I had intended to write every day. But however infrequently I wrote, I provided us with the following glimpses of Christmas that year:

1. I liked playing in the snow. (I no longer do unless skiing counts.)
2. We enjoyed a very rare dinner at a Chinese restaurant shortly after Christmas. 
3. Nulli and I were taken out tobogganing at a public tobogganing hill. I fell off the toboggan a lot, and I found this unusually painful. 
4. In January I attempted poetry suspicious reminiscent of that of Canadian poet Dennis Lee, so I strongly suspect Nulli and I received Alligator Pie and Garbage Delight that year. 

Sadly--for fans of these memories--I did not write again about Christmas until 1984. Without my childhood books to jog my memory, I'm afraid other Christmasses are just a blur. However, Christmas 1980 stands out in my mind as the Worst Ever (insofar as Christmas could ever have been bad) because our beloved uncle died that Advent. 

With our absorbing crayon drawings, Nulli and I weathered our grandfather George's death with nary a tear. And as you may have surmised from our lovely home and all that clean laundry, we had a relatively cloudless existence through our share of the 1970s. But the police officers' knock on the door ripped a hole in our hearts. Here was Early Death and Loss and Pain. I'm glad now, come to think of it, that in our baby way we shared in our elders' sufferings. But whenever I get on a plane, I pray "Not yet, Lord. Not until the children are older." 

The little white house, by the way, most of its trees, its gardens and its driveway, were all apparently destroyed to make way for a soulless, pretentious monster home.  (Its hideous back patio stretches past the surviving pussy willow,) I say "apparently", for as long as we remember it, it still exists.

Murder at the Christmas Market

See Update (below).

As long-term readers know, I am not a fan of the "No Borders" movement. I think it sentimental, brainless and dangerous tosh. Speaking as a migrant myself, the hoops I jumped through to get my spousal visa and indefinite leave to remain made me less sympathetic to illegal immigrants. As I filled in all the paperwork and waited out my period of banishment, I grumbled but I respected the laws of the United Kingdom and the right of its citizens to be protected from foreigners who wish them ill.

Although I have lived in the UK for seven years, I don't believe I have a moral right to live here. My British husband, however, has a moral right to live in the country of his birth with his wife, no matter how foreign she may be. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has never disenfranchised Canadians who are permanent residents, so I vote in all applicable elections. I also participate in Scottish public life as a Catholic journalist, a volunteer, and a guest at Robbie Burns Suppers and other cultural gatherings dear to Scottish hearts, including Edinburgh's German-style Christmas Market.

That said, the perpetual experience of being a foreigner has slowly led me to find common cause with the biggest migrant group in Scotland, as you may have noticed. (I hasten to add that as members of the European Union, to which the UK still belongs, the Poles DO have a a moral right to be here.) I have also joined the most traditionalist Catholic community recognized by the local Ordinary and become even more conservative in my views. Having a tendency towards mood disorders anyway, I have been on anti-depressants for years.  All these things--gravitating towards other migrants, religious traditionalism, conservatism and even psychological disorders--may be (may be) normative to the migrant experience: Ed West wrote an interesting book on the subject. As the native of a high-migration city, I am perfectly familiar with the phenomena of  close-knit immigrant communities and post-migration conservatism. Ed West's findings about mental illness and migration were the biggest revelation. Whether  a tendency towards joining parallel communities--or becoming more conservative--is more good than bad, I do not know. Can it be problematic? Certainly.

This is all a prelude to this morning's news with is that the man who murdered an innocent Polish lorry driver and plunged his steel-filled lorry into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin was a "Pakistani asylum seeker."* I am furious on behalf of the dead, the dying, the maimed, the bereaved and the frightened in a way I would not be had the murderer been an honest-to-God refugee from a war-torn country.

I would still, of course, been angry that an Afghan, Syrian, Iraqi or Nigerian refugee had repaid German generosity with murders and maiming. I would still deplore Merkel's ridiculous invitation--which effectively weakened the borders of all the countries between Turkey and Germany. However, the murder was not a refugee from a war-torn country, but an opportunist---rather as the Frenchmen of African and Middle Eastern heritage who abused women in Cologne last New Year's Eve were opportunists.

That said, France belongs to the EU, so the French citizens among the men had the right to be in Cologne. They were opportunists only in that their French citizenship made it easy for them to go to Germany and assault local women. The Pakistani murderer, however, was an opportunist in that he took advantage of the confusion caused by hundreds of thousands of so-called "asylum seekers" to enter Germany (on, incidentally, New Year's Eve), reside there, and carry out his attack. Pakistan is not at war. A 23 year old Pakistani may indeed be an "asylum seeker" but unless his life is truly endangered by living in Pakistan, he is scarcely a "refugee."

What kind of monster would murder an innocent lorry driver and then plow his lorry through a crowd of merry-makers?  Germany is no stranger to terrorism, and a German neo-Nazi bombed a Munich Oktoberfest fairground in 1980. But this lorry-driven-into-Christmas-market-by-asylum-seeker aspect is new--or nearly new, as it sounds suspiciously like the lorry-driven-into-Bastille-Day-crowds-by-Tunisian massacre earlier this year. The most significant differences--for me, not (obviously) for the victims and their families--is that Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had--at least--a proper residency permit and had been living legally in France for ten years.

Naturally many pundits will see "Pakistani" and jump at once to thoughts of Islam. However, there is no evidence as yet that "religious" motives played any role. I am thinking merely of Germany's compromised borders and the sheer idiocy and immorality of putting one's own countrymen--and other members of the European Union--at risk to accommodate hundreds of thousands of strangers who could find (or had found) refuge rather closer to home. The primary task of the state (and for some, the sole justification for the state) is protective services. Migration is normal, desirable and inevitable, but it must be controlled. 

*Update: The police are no longer sure the murderer was this "Pakistani asylum-seeker". Thus, my whole post has been robbed of immediate relevance, for there seems to be no clue as to who murdered the Polish lorry-driver and all those people. For all we know, the murderer was a native German of German parentage. But given the various terrorist events of 2016, I doubt it.

Update 2: The cousin-boss of the murdered Polish lorry driver wants people to know that the victim went down fighting. He says the police confirmed that his cousin had injuries consistent with self-defense. The victim was six feet tall and weighed well over 200 lbs, so his boss-cousin thinks it took more than one guy to subdue him. In some cultures, this is still a very important consideration. Cześć i chwała bohaterów. 

Monday, 19 December 2016

Reading Milo

Less conservative photo of Milo.
I am in a Facebook discussion about Mr Yiannopoulos.  This time I am in the unusual position of defending the young scamp. I pointed out that if we discounted all Catholics who committed sins of impurity--which IMHO includes the use of a.b.c.--we would have a very small Church indeed. My interlocutor then countered by observing that Catholics who use a.b.c. don't construct an identity based on their sins. After that I was stumped. After all, Mrs Tony Blair, who wrote so frankly about the circumstances that led to her youngest son's accidental-to-her conception, isn't anyone's idea of a Catholic heroine.

Anyway, the point is that Milo has come to the attention of International Traddery, in part because he made a joke about the horrors of having to go to Mass in English. How very Trad: "Wait, is this openly homosexual, potty-mouthed, Greek/Jewish, Cambridge-educated, well-spoken celebrity a proponent of the Traditional Latin Mass? Would he like to come to the next Una Voce meeting? We need a new secretary."

I have receive pro-Milo emails from Polish Pretend Son, who approves very much of Sinéad's thoughts, so congratulations, Sinéad. I have rarely heard or read PPS utter such positive comments about a woman, and they were all inspired by your actual female brain.

Anyway, having received these emails, and  after having looked at dozens of photos of Milo, I decided I should give his oratory another chance. I watched five minutes of a video before getting bored and read this recent Christmas speech. My conclusions are that Milo is really good-looking when he lays off the bleach and that his language is not actually that bad. However, he merely skates across the surface of his subjects, pirouetting here and there.

Milo is very handsome, I have to admit. I would like to sit across from him at a dinner party just for that. However, if I had risked a beating by fellow students just to see him, I would want a bit more depth and a few more laughs. Reading Milo's Minnesota State U. speech, I did laugh two or three times, and as for what LSN assured me was an outrageous misogyny----Sinéad is right. This is a lot less offensive in the UK than Americans would imagine. [Update: B.A. disagrees. He says this word is absolutely vile, misogynist and offensive even in the UK.] Here the worst thing you can call a woman is--believe it or not--a cow (or, more likely, an f***** cow). Here men call only other men by that other C-word--who knows why? It's "cow" that is the deplorable name for a woman. British women burst into tears when called a cow, but as I am a Canadian, the epithet doesn't bother me at all. What really bothers me is being called a liberal feminist, which is no doubt why PPS calls me one so often.

Anyway, Milo starts off his Christmas speech by discussing what happened during his last appearance and, not being Justine, I thought he was moderately amusing about it. Good point about "violent speech". It is true that speech in itself is not violent although I personally draw the line right at "Death to the Enemies of Poland." Although I cheerfully joined in with "Smierć Wrogom Polski" at the Independence Day March, I wouldn't feel comfortable threatening to hang communists or any other  identifiable group from the trees. And frankly, I think Poland's biggest enemies are consumerism and the birth control pill. Let me see.... Estimated Polish Population Growth for 2016: -0.11%. Tsk, tsk, tsk.  Oh look, the UK has a higher birthrate than Poland does. Golly. Goodness me.

The "Why all white men are literally Hitler" joke is amusing because of the oft-misused "literally" and the frequent comparison in the past year of Trump with the German Stalin.

Good point about universities trying to quell freedom of speech by raising security fees.

Does Milo look dangerous to me? No. But he does call his act "The Dangerous Faggot Tour", so he shouldn't complain if somebody thinks he is dangerous.

Good points on advertising  and respect for customers. Good point regarding breakfast cereals; it's a better idea to eat porridge, really. Scrambled eggs are even better.

Wishing people a merry Christmas... On the one hand, that's an easy topic. But on the other hand, I haven't been a student in a politically correct campus for ten years. When my Polish professor complains about politics, I am irritated and bored, but not frightened for my grade. There are no grades. There are no exams. There is only showing up in a Warsaw hospital unaccompanied and having to explain in Polish that one has no Polish insurance. So I grant that university students might enjoy hearing someone on their campus riff on Merry Christmas. Also, it is a handy way of introducing the topic of Christianity. Meanwhile, he is right that normal people just say "Thank you, you too" or (to "I'm Jewish") "Oh, Happy Hanukkah" although I believe my mother--who lives on the eastern border of the biggest Jewish neighbourhood in Canada--says, "Have a merry Christmas anyway."

I laughed at the Hillary Christmas Card joke.

Hong Kong is a bad example because actually what is going on there IS diversity. It is, however, natural diversity driven by fashion and interests, not a forced thou-shalt-not-sing-Hark-the-Herald-Angels-Sing-in-Yon-Publicly-Funded-School.

The Ebeneezer Award stories were very interesting. The Starbucks story is a decent canary-in-the-mineshaft, but my reaction, when that canary croaked, was to say that nobody should be drinking their overpriced swill anyway. It's undrinkable without milk, and personally I don't like having to pay £3 for a cup of hot milk.

I personally would not joke about dreadlocked lesbian baristas having their throats cut.

I am not so sure of his sacramental theology. Twelfth century sounds awfully late to me. Amusing about Christmas parties although I do not know what "having a train run" on you "by six drug dealers" means. Probably something very bad. [Update: I have just been informed via combox it is very bad indeed.]

Good points about Scrooge. Prosperity gospel is a Protestant heresy, but he's probably kidding. I think he's quite right about capitalism fostering charity. Lightly-taxed Americans are much more charitable then heavily-taxed Canadians. Amusing point about young people and Amazon which speaks to my current predicament. Good point on the media being stupid about religion, and good reference to David French.

As for the gay jokes, well. He refers to himself as "Mrs", which is an appropriation of female privilege which sits ill on someone about to mock a "transgender" guy. He jokes that he has a complicated relationship with Santa, but as he mentions his sins, this could merely mean he's on the naughty list. Saying he's not a cheap date--well, I was never a cheap date either. I think I ate two whole student loans at fancy restaurants. Saying he was destined to  go to Mankato because there is a MAN in the name.... Okay, that's not Catholic humour. When Milo takes over Courage, he won't say things like that anymore. Meanwhile, I suspect the train thing is extremely rude and that if I made a joke like that, I would get a furious email from Polish Pretend Son.

This brings us to the subject of Milo's persona. I am hoping against hope that Milo's jokes about his love life are just jokes because he cannot plead invincible ignorance. If he claims to be a conservative and a Catholic, he knows the rules. But whether they are jokes or not, I suspect that they are a rhetorical device. After all, Milo says that if he "took a straight pill", his career would be over. Milo thinks he "gets away with it" because he is openly gay. However, if you read unflattering in-depth pieces about Milo, like this one, not only do you come to my first conclusion that Milo is a very naughty boy, but that he thinks so too. "I'm seven," he says. "It's my [unique selling point]."

Full disclosure: I don't agree with the Bloomsberg article on the so-called European so-called "far right." "Far right," I have been credibly told, is merely an insult. And certainly it is mad to think that Nigel Farage is "far right" or even that Geert Wilders is "far right." "Far right" is merely a synonym for "literally Hitler". Neither of those men is anything like Hitler. Nigel Farage gave up leading UKIP as soon as the UK voted for Brexit. His work there was done. And Geert Wilders is merely a Dutchman who wants Holland to be free and safe to live in; his political idol is apparently Margaret Thatcher. I'm sure people would love to call the late Baroness Thatcher "far right", but that would leach the words "far" and "right" of any meaning whatsoever--besides "I hate him/her", that is.

A Child's Christmases in Toronto 1: Prehistory

Knitting pattern good looks.
"My theme is memory," wrote Evelyn Waugh in the voice of Charles Ryder,"that winged host that soared about me one grey morning of war-time. These memories, which are my life--for we possess nothing certainly except the past--were always with me. Like the pigeons of St. Mark's, they were everywhere, under my feet, singly, in pairs, in little honey-voiced congregations, nodding, strutting, winking, rolling the tender feathers of their necks, perching sometimes, if I stood still, on my shoulder or pecking a broken biscuit from between my lips; until, suddenly, the noon gun boomed and in a moment, with a flutter and a sweep of wings, the pavement was bare and the whole sky above dark with a tumult of fowl. Thus it was that morning."

 My first memory is a very early one indeed. It is from my crib, and therefore was formed before the end of the American war in Vietnam. Fittingly, it is of my mother, who was still in her mid-twenties, a beautiful girl with long, wavy chestnut hair, green eyes, a delicate nose and dark-framed spectacles. She is holding a yellow doll, probably homemade, whose body is merely a velvet hooded onesie to which a smiling plastic baby face has been attached. The name of this doll is, appropriately enough, Baby. The girl--whom I know to be my mother and my infant heart contracts with adoration--makes swooping movements with Baby.

"It's a bird," cries my mother. "It's a plane! It's----SUPERBABY!"

And down comes Baby into my crib, and I am delighted.  

Where this was exactly, I don't know. My young parents had a mildly peripatetic, rental-accommodation existence until shortly before my fifth birthday. Churchgoing Catholics, they married 13 months before I was born, and from an early age I have enjoyed looking at their wedding photos. 

They married in Advent, and my mother carried a bouquet of red poinsettia. Her maid-of-honour wore a dark red dress and carried white poinsettia. My mother's white wool "medieval" dress was trimmed with rabbit fur, and she wore a fur band in her wavy hair instead of a veil. Outside the church--built in 1856--the confetti on the newlywed's hair and shoulders looks like snow. In one photo, the 29-year-old groom puts on his homburg hat. He is tall and slim, has short, dark curly hair and looks like an Irish-American.* The groom is a doctoral student with teaching duties, and he has married during the university's Christmas break. The bride, I think, is a foreman at Dunlop Rubber & Co.--an unusual job for a woman at the time. Her career with Dunlop will be cut short by my own advent. While pregnant, she will type my father's PhD thesis. 

Besides the episode with Baby, I remember when my stuffed blue whale was new, and the arrival of a plaid octopus wearing a plaid cap. If these were Christmas presents, that is all I remember of that Christmas. I also have a very vague memory of a Christmas visit to the USA, and feeling uncomfortable and cross. 

As far as I know, there are no home movies of this visit, but I most certainly could be wrong. Very early on, my father took an interest in making home movies; these later filled me with mortification. The most embarrassing one is of my infant brother Nulli Secundus--probably on a Christmas Day--striving to reach a toy. His eyes are full of interest and joy, and he drags himself in an elementary crawl to the object. Just as he is about to reach for it, the plump red-haired toddler who was me notices his intent and takes the toy away. Ha ha ha. Hilarious.

My brain did not start accumulating memories in earnest until I was almost four and Nulli was two. My father, now an assistant or associate professor, took a sabbatical and signed on to do post-doctoral research at Cambridge University.  He brought along his young family and a number of steamer trunks. Going abroad for a year was enormously adventurous for my parents, and to my great disappointment, they never repeated the experiment. Possibly they were worried about the logistics of moving a growing family. I have a very vague memory of my brother being airsick on our first Atlantic crossing, and according to my mother, the very first words he ever uttered were "I want to go home." 

Not to be sentimental, but Cambridge became for me even more than a home. As the years went on, it figured in my imagination as a lost paradise. This is in part because our row house--married student housing--was built on the ruins of an old botanical garden, and woods, a common, and a raised duck pond all feature in my memories. I remember visiting one university quadrangle, and thus have an impression of old stone walls in my mind, but I was too young at four to understand that Cambridge University carried enormous significance for the world. When I did understand, I prided myself highly on having spent a year on its edges. 

It was also paradise because, although I knew there was God, I didn't know there was death. My merry Canadian grandfather (source of the red hair) was only 64, and no-one knew this was the last year of his life. Meanwhile, I don't remember a cross word from my mother--although two admonishments from my father, once because my brother and I were messing with his film canisters and once because we were marching around the breakfast table making a tremendous racket with toy instruments--or any quarrel with Nulli, who was a cheerful, friendly, easy-bossed little cherub. Strangely, we were allowed to roam freely in the woods and the common without any adult oversight. When my hair got caught in a climbing frame, I had to send Nulli for rescue. 

This I remember very well on my own, even without the often repeated story of how Nulli burst in on my mother crying "Dorothy duck" and thus my mother flew in a panic to the duck pond. I was very lonely there on the bit of green, stuck to the climbing frame. I passed the time by moaning and blowing spit bubbles. It was drizzling. I sank into a luxurious depression. Typically, I remember my sufferings but not my rescue. 

Our Cambridge Christmas I do not remember. Instead there are photographs which explain the origins of common objects in our resumed Toronto life. One is of my father in a highly unfashionable red nightshirt and nightcap. The nightcap had a white pompom and became the "elf hat" that distinguishes whoever's job it is to hand out the Christmas presents. Others feature the woolly elephants my mother knitted for her children, complete with our first initial sewn to the elephants' jumpers. Nulli's hair is thick, straight and platinum. My hair is soft, wavy and strawberry blonde. We looked like British knitting pattern child models, and we were dressed like them too. Possibly we sounded like them; we played with local children on their common and picked up their working-class accents. 

There was one serpent in this paradise, and it was a supernatural being I called The Weatherman. I was terribly frightened of him, and I thought he was responsible for the strange coloured dots and squiggles I could see in the dark of my room when I went to bed. If pressed to identify him, I would have said he was an invisible wizard. He was certainly evil and meant me no good. Although as I got older I dismissed these impressions as sheer imagination, I wonder now if this was not some very early recognition of the Enemy of Mankind. Perhaps I unconsciously sensed his presence in news reports. Although I myself was entirely sheltered from the concept of death, there were constant IRA bombings that year--so many that there was palpable anti-Catholic (to say nothing of anti-Irish) feeling in Cambridge. According to family legend, a neighbour saw us emerging from church and snarled "Catholic bastards." 

Fortunately, I do not remember this at all, and unfortunately, I now know exactly how he felt because right after I watched the Twin Towers fall--live--on television, my eye fell upon a perfectly innocent and harmless woman in hijab walking along an Ontario street and I felt murderous rage. Thank God I didn't say anything. 

Unless I am mistaken, our year in the UK was from September to July or August. When we returned to Canada, my mother was heavily pregnant and my parents began to purchase a house. Before we moved in, we stayed with my mother's parents---devoted Gladys and funny George. I believe I remember sitting on one end of a "teeter-totter" swing with my grandfather on the other end. If so, this is my only memory of him, as he died in early September, shortly before my sister Tertia was born. 

My grandmother was devastated, but again we children were protected as much as possible from the sorrows of adult life. Either my brother or I--or both of us--drew a picture or pictures [entirely fictional] of our late grandfather being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. We were admonished not to show this (or these) to our grandmother, as she would be sad. Thinking about this as an older child, I was shocked by our insensitivity, but now I understand this is simply a way children process tragic events beyond their comprehension. Meanwhile, my parents' and grandmother's sorrow did not throw the slightest hint of shadow on our Christmas three months later. However, that is a story for tomorrow. Another thing I wish to say about Cambridge is that when I first set foot in the Historical House, I smelled the ancient-damp-British-house-smell for the first time in over 30 years. In a strange but real way, I felt I had come home. Meanwhile, I have no idea what cleaning products they use, but when, a few years later, I walked into the local library loo, I was transported to the WC of my Cambridge nursery school and remembered all the bottles of milk lined up before the frosted window.

Once when I was naughty, I was given my milk--a government-funded ration, incidentally--but not my daily cookies. My brother Nulli voluntarily--and happily--shared his. If I possess any memories the day I die, I am sure that will be one of them.  My brother has given me many presents over the years, but nothing has made a deeper impression than that spontaneous, joyful, authority-thwarting act of loyalty. According to family legend, when (in Cambridge) I was informed that I would soon have a new sister or brother, I was terribly troubled, thinking this meant I would have to give up Nulli in exchange.

*This is hard to explain, but if you have male relations who are at least 75% Irish-American, you can guess what I mean.  

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Advent of Christmas Spirit

Your poor correspondent has been rather fraught since she came back from Poland. ("My eyes! My eyes!") Many things have been hanging over my head, including the dreaded Amazon Christmas shop. One year I bought all the family presents in Edinburgh, wrapped them lovingly, packed them in a box---and discovered that sending them by Royal Mail cost half their collective price . Since then, I have bought Christmas presents for overseas via Amazon---which is enormously stressful as each and every Amazon gift has its own "estimated delivery time", and as there are limited goods available, it is not as simple as finding something nice on a shelf and buying it. Meanwhile, my faith in Amazon's speed disintegrated in October when I was purchasing books for All Saints Day.

Because buying things on Amazon causes me so much mental anguish, this year I flogged B.A, into it. Sadly B.A. is just as much of a procrastinator as I am, so it was only yesterday that B.A. logged onto Amazon and discovered we were Too Late. We were not being promised delivery-by-Christmas unless we signed up for Amazon Prime, and Amazon was very hedgy about how much this cost. And so we made the decision to buy one big General Family Present and defer "personal gifts" until Candlemas, when I will bring them myself.

Then we went to the post office with a large handful of Christmas cards and to the cathedral for Confession.

I went to Confession soon after I came back from Poland, and since then I have been too busy to notice my sins, so instead I prayed over my Christmas Present Fail. On the one hand, the children will get so much stuff on Christmas Day, they won't miss our presents, and getting a present in early February will be a nice treat in the holiday desert between Christmas and Valentine's Day.  But on the other hand, my parents and brothers and sisters have got it together to send us stuff on time. The General Family Present may smack a bit too much of desperation and not enough of thought. What to do?

When thinking about what my parents would most like for Christmas, I thought they might best like Mark and me to be there. This is impossible, alas, so it occurred to me that the next best thing would be to entertain them by blog. My dad enjoys reading my stories about our family, so for the last week of Advent, I will pull out my diaries and write about past family Christmases. I didn't start keeping a diary until I was almost 8, so I may be a bit vague about the earliest ones.

After I made this resolution and B.A. finished his penance, we bought a lottery ticket and went to the Edinburgh Christmas Market. It was about 4 in the afternoon, so it was very dark. It was also cold but not unpleasantly so. The Christmas Market, which now stretches the length and breadth of the Princes Street Gardens, was packed with people, booths and fairy lights. It was truly breathtaking, and B.A. was intent on eating the over-priced German street food, so we really got into the spirit of the thing.

B.A. had a pork steak on a bun (I had a bratwurst) and bought two lots of fried potatoes with bacon, and then rushed off to another stall to get a beer (and a gluhwein for me), and after that insisted on going to the German doughnut stand. There we had freshly fried doughnuts--crunchy on the outside, soft and almost creamy on the inside--and I discovered that all my angst and worries had been chased away by Christmas Spirit.

But now I must get ready for Fourth Sunday in Advent Mass. If I have time, I will update to tell you more about this amusing Edinburgh Christmas Market.

Update: The Edinburgh Christmas Market has a two storey structure, entirely covered in white fairy lights, called "The Bothy Bar." We went in after we eat our doughnuts to see what it was like. It was like a chalet, really, only full of young couples drinking Christmas-themed cocktails. None of them had children, and it occurred to me that this is the sort of thing couples without children do.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Object of Happiness 8 : A Clean Kitchen

The excellence of a clean kitchen reminds me of the prayer "A clean heart create in me, O Lord."  If the heart is the center of the self, the kitchen is the center of the home. I'm afraid, though, that when it comes to the cleanliness of a kitchen, one must take a Pelagian point of view, pull oneself up by one's own bootstraps and scrub the blessed thing.

As my kitchen is in the heart of a 330 year old attic, cleanliness is a relative term. I am in awe when I look at the shining surfaces of the restaurant kitchens of Master Chef. Where do the chefs keep the spice rack? Or the spice shelf? And who cleans the grease off the walls? For me, the cleanliness of my kitchen is not a daily given but a work in progress.

In general, I am satisfied with a tidy kitchen. There is nothing like walking into the kitchen the morning after the night before and discovering that I washed every last dish and scrubbed the counters and even swept the floor before I went to bed. I should probably mention that we don't own an automatic dishwasher. I am the dishwasher although not, alas, automatic.

There are women who vent their rages or assuage their depressions with therapeutic bouts of scrubbing. I am not them; I wish I were.  How wonderful it would be if, when the red mist or blue funk cleared, the flat sparkled! However, even when I did three hours of  housework every day (a wonderful period BA remembers fondly), the flat didn't sparkle or even shine for the floors are covered either with 10 year old sand-coloured wall-to-wall carpets or with dull blue linoleum. How I wish the lino was tiles and the wall-to-wall was varnished wood. Still, I cannot complain, for the house is historical.

Well, I will complain an little bit about the kitchen, for it has not been painted with kitchen paint (and so the paint has flaked like mad) and the counter is not entirely water-resistant (and so one fights a perpetual battle with grot). Most maddeningly, there is not always hot water when I want it. For reasons I do not fully understand,  to get hot water at most times of the day,  I have to push a button twice and wait an hour.  However, in most other ways, the tidiness and cleanliness of the kitchen is up to me, and in my dreams I have the energy to rearrange every pantry shelf and wash the walls at least once a month. Maybe there is some drug one can take to make this possible.

For the time being, I rely on The Killers. When the pile of dirty dishes has reached a certain height, or I can no longer stand the disorder of the spice shelf (which runs along the length of the wall behind the stove, counter and sink), I put Hot Fuss in the portable CD player and crank it up.

Meanwhile, the clean kitchen is a work in progress. As dishes keep getting dirty and leftovers keep moving into the fridge, cleaning the kitchen is a Sisyphean task, but recently I have made inroads in the overall tidiness by throwing out broken appliances. This is not as easy as it sounds, for all rubbish bags and recycling must be carried the length of the flat, down a few flights of slippery stone stairs, through a courtyard, past the woods, and through at least two gates to an enormous bin that is not always in the same place. However, the removal of seven years' worth of broken appliances has made a great improvement, even though I feel guilty about the landfill aspect of it all. Possibly one should never buy cheap appliances but work and save so that one can buy appliances with lifetime guarantees.

The sad irony of married life is that when I lived in a bachelor flat with a tiny kitchen, keeping the kitchen spotless was no trouble at all.  On Saturdays I positively enjoyed pottering around my small domain, sweeping and scrubbing. Now I have to goad myself into it. Really, it makes no sense---except, of course, for the lowering effect of turning on the hot tap and getting nothing but cold water.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Muslim "Reality" TV Show

The clever people who brought The Great British Bake Off to our screens had another brainwave and recruited ten Muslims to live in a house together for a week or so. B.A. and I watched with great interest, and we often felt sorry for these poor people. After watching each of the two episodes, I went to Twitter to see what others thought, and so many people demanded a "Christians Like Us" show that nightmarish visions of disparate Catholics all screaming at each other in the kitchen about Pope Francis danced in my head.

Because I once wrote about a British TV show and at least one of the cast, Googling himself, read what I wrote about him and wrote something confused in the combox, I won't mention the Muslims by name but by archetype.

Praying in Front

The Neo-Trad. The Neo-Trad was a young Black British convert from Christianity, a boxer. He has been in prison for attempting to travel to Syria on a fake passport. He upset all the others by citing the Koran and the hadiths for his beliefs and was therefore the focus of everyone's attention.

The Bully. The Bully was a supposedly good-natured young Black British convert from Christianity, a comic. He runs a soup kitchen and won hearts of viewers in the first episode by crudely saying that his religious philosophy included not being a  "d***". He lost those hearts by going insane when someone else took the onions he had bought out of his own pocket (for probably no more than 89 p) and cut them up.  "Who's the Bully cooking for?" I wondered. More on this theme anon.

The Victim. The Victim was an Asian Scot who was filmed brushing his beard a lot. He was there because he identifies as gay. He insisted on a "coming out of the closet" ritual, which divided the Muslims in the room, naturally. There was some discussion if you can be gay and Muslim. "Surely not if being gay is your religion," inwardly snarled little Dorothy. When the Victim wasn't brushing his beard, stealing onions, entertaining gay friends or explaining what "a bear" is, he was pawing at:

The Ambiguous. The Ambiguous was a bear-like Asian Brit whose family told him he was marrying his cousin, and his reaction was surprise and acquiescence. He has never met this girl but chats with her often on the phone. For an guy soon to be married he was strangely passive about all the hugs and caresses he received from The Victim. When the house was entertaining an English Young Fogey, the Ambiguous did an entertaining impression of a bashful young miss in a hijab.

The Philanthropist. The Philanthropist was a young Syrian visitor of a peaceful and heroic disposition. In the first episode, he helps the Neo-Trad in his attempts to convert the people of York to Islam, and on his way home attracts the attention of a self-described member of the English Defense League, who wonders what the filming is about. The Philanthropist is delighted and attempts to befriend the EDL guy. When the EDL guy says he hates ISIS, the Philanthropist declares that he also hates ISIS, as they have destroyed his country. The EDL guy is taken aback. It's clear he doesn't want to think a Syrian Muslim could ever be his friend, but it was obvious The Philanthropist had made him think. When the joyful Philanthropist goes home to tell everyone about this, he is given absolute hell by The Bully.  The Philanthropist replies something along the lines of "You are right, brother. I apologize."

Incidentally, there was no evidence the kid was a paid up member of the EDL. The British poor love to shock people by claiming association with far-right groups. Friends canvassing in my area were often told by tenants that they were voting for the BNP. There wasn't a BNP candidate for miles. More on the indigenous British poor anon.

Praying Behind

The Beauty. The Beauty was a polite but self-assured young South Asian Londoner, a genius with the make-up bag, fashionably dressed, and if she wanted to be the friend of any one of us, we would be in awe that anyone so cool wanted to be our friend. She didn't wear hijab, and got angry when the Neo-Trad gave her pamphlets against "Free-Mixing" of the sexes and modest dressing.

The Intellectual. The Intellectual was the one woman who covered her hair. Unlike the Beauty, she seemed to have a scholarly interest in Islam. She was South Asian and went on at length about British values being racism, colonialism--all those things we would never associate with, e.g., the Mughals or the Ottoman Empire. She believes music is "haram" but to show good-will went along to the Beauty's planned karaoke night.

The Shia. Like the Intellectual, the South Asian Shia woman gave evidence of having read Muslim scriptures. She has a star turn in the second episode when the Neo-Trad refuses to condemn the murder of Shias by other Muslims and she is so mad, she cries. The Neo-Trad apologizes off-camera, and the Shia tells the tale, once again putting the focus on Mr Neo-Trad.

The Elderly Hippy. The Elderly Hippy was a "well-spoken" Englishwoman married to a South Asian man. She  is now about 70 and wears a light shawl over her head, Pakistani style. She shouted a lot and threw her meagre weight around, possibly under the impression that because this works for Pakistani grannies, it would work for her. It didn't. She was livid whenever the conversation returned to racism. B.A. couldn't stand her, but I felt sorry for her until she said "Wear a hijab on your tongue, girl" to the Beauty. Maybe Asians find this lovable in old Asian ladies, but nobody with an ounce of English or Scottish blood thinks this is charming in aged English hippies.

Not actually praying

The Lapsed. The Muslim twitterati were in stitches over her explanation that she doesn't pray in traditional Muslim ways but by writing letters to Allah. In short, middle-aged, West Asian, possibly Muslim in Name Only, as doesn't have much interest in religion, actually

Here is a link to the episodes, so I can go straight to my general observations now.


First, the dominant figures of the show were the Neo-Trad, who gave the impression that there was something more to Islam than feeling good about doing good, and the Beauty. The Neo-Trad and the Beauty were clearly attracted to each other. This is hardly surprising as the Beauty was the most feminine woman around, and the Neo-Trad was the alpha male everyone else was afraid of.  Scarily, the Neo-Trad was the only man who made Islam sound interesting and life-changing. The Philanthropist merely reminded me to be a better Christian.

In the last minutes of the second episode, the Intellectual binds the Beauty's hair up in a cloth, and the the Neo-Trad practically blushes. The Beauty herself seems a bit overwhelmed by the Alpha Male's delight, and I was pleased to see more evidence for my pet theory, which is that religious conservatism hands womanly  certain kinds of women power on a plate.  Meanwhile the Bully was too obsessed with his own victimhood (including at the hands of other Muslims) as a black man to take the Alpha Male mantel from the Neo-Trad.

Second, the official charity shown was mighty cold. The Bully was supposedly a good guy because he runs a soup kitchen. One wonders how pleasant this soup kitchen is, for when he was about to cook for his housemates, he made that incredibly unpleasant scene about the onions. The Victim took it very personally and then went out into the garden for a cry.

The Beauty was annoyed when the homeless Englishmen she met in a York soup kitchen blamed their homelessness in part on immigrants--first mentioning the Poles, incidentally--because of the battle for social housing. The papers did not bother to report that these homeless guys also admitted their own fault. The Beauty looked miffed as soon as they mentioned immigration, and to do her justice I think she would have thrown a strop even if they hadn't mentioned "the Asians." They did, so she did throw a strop, which the homeless guys were probably hoping for. (I suspect they mentioned the Poles thinking the Bollywood-pale beauty might be a Pole.) Maybe in Pakistan the homeless crawl at the feet of their benefactors, but this is Britain. The British poor don't crawl.

Not having heard of the Preferential Option for the Poor, the Beauty told them that if her parents hadn't come to Britain, she wouldn't have been there, and they wouldn't have had lunch that day.  Twitter was delighted at her sass, but this was--of course--total nonsense. Not only do British soup kitchens predate the Beauty, they probably predate Islam.

I am of two minds about shouting at the homeless for their political opinions. If I were serving soup to homeless Mohawk Indians in Toronto and they complained about white people hogging Social Services, I wouldn't throw a strop. I wouldn't feel at all menaced by the opinions of  homeless indigenous people. On the other hand, maybe that is because I have so much social privilege, it would be like a duke dueling with a footman in a Georgette Heyer novel. By telling off the homeless, the Beauty showed she thought she and the homeless Englishmen were social equals, and if so, good for her.

Third, I am not sure what lessons the BBC wanted us to take from their show, but here's what I got out of it: Muslim women do not have to wear foreign or offensive clothing to be considered "good Muslims." At the end of the day, wearing a headscarf (let alone the ugly black bag, as one Muslim woman called the jilbab) is a matter of personal choice, just like wearing a political button or a mantilla at Mass. You can argue on feminist grounds that Muslim women can wear whatever they want, but you can't argue this on Muslim grounds without annoying all the Muslim women who prefer to wear western dress in the west---or, indeed, their own non-Saudi indigenous costumes.

Fourth, I am glad the organizers cast a Shia, for FINALLY the ideas of sect and sectarianism in Islam have been introduced to the great mass of TV-watching British people.

Fifth, I was disappointed in Episode 2 that so many of the cast refused an invitation to see a Second World War memorial. (Naturally the Elderly Hippy was one of them.) You could almost read the RACISM COLONIALISM MURDER thought balloons over their heads. The irony is, of course, that the thousands of British (which at the time included vast numbers of South Asians) who lost their lives in the Second World War were fighting a staggeringly racist, colonialist, murderous regime. Saying no to a night out in a bar is one thing, but turning up your nose at a war memorial--in Britain--is something else entirely.

UPDATE: You will no doubt wonder why I have called someone all the newspapers are calling a fundamentalist, disgusting, outrageous, etc., etc., etc. a Neo-Trad. It is because I don't feel a need to distance myself from the young man and pretend he doesn't represent anybody else in the whole of Britain. Quite obviously he does, and he even has an argument. It might not be a good argument, but it is an argument. We were rather cross that he was not allowed to finish his sentences. "You should wear the jilbab because--" "SHRIEK BOO HORROR STOP!" "But homosexuality is haram because---" "OH! ARGH! SHRIEK!" One felt a bit sorry for the man.

 As a traditionalist Catholic, I am interested in what my religion has actually taught ubique et semper. As a neo-traditionalist Muslim, the young man is interested in what his teachers say "the purest form of Islam" is, but it's actually more Neo than Trad because it arguably dates from the eighteenth century.

The scariest person on the show was actually the Philanthropist because although he was a truly decent, humble man, he bowed down and kissed the feet of hatred because a stronger man told him to. Not good.

UPDATE 2: While mulling over who I liked in this show--besides the Beauty--I decided I also liked the Shia because she was able to shut up the Neo-Trad with a real argument, which was along the lines of "How can you complain about discrimination [against Muslims] when you discriminate against Shia?" I also liked the Young Fogey because he exhibited the old-fashioned English aplomb and humour one once expected English Like Him to have in social situations. Chippy class-conscious Twitter hates him, but he reminded me of my favourite Young Fogeys, and as for the disdainful remark about Nando's, B.A. also never wants to go to Nando's.