Monday, 30 November 2009


I was battling the Christmas shopping crowds over the weekend, looking for a birthday present for a two-year-old friend of my children, when I bumped into two seminarians I know from Faith. I was so completely distracted, what with trying not to run the pushchair over people's toes, ensuring I did not lose Hugh in the melee and keeping a close eye of Francesca's hands in case she started putting shiny objects in her pocket, that I failed to notice until one of them said my name.

I pondered to myself after the welcome conversation, whether the sight of a flustered mother absorbed in a cloud of domestic trivia is one of those celibacy affirmation moments I sometimes hear spoken of. An Australian seminarian I met at my in-laws once said that the correct term for such moments was 'celibooster' (he had appeared in the house just as Francesca was settling down to an episode of the Tombliboos, Hugh was having a hair cut and somebody else was racing around the kitchen).

Of course, you don't have to have children to create a celibooster (I assume I am using the word correctly here - perhaps it is a verb, to celiboost. Doesn't sound right). I was once pouring tea for a group which included several priests and told one of them off for mumbling when I asked him if he wanted milk or not, to be greeted with a cheery voice behind me going: "Three cheers for celibacy! Hip hip..."

Anybody got any celiboosters to share?

Sunday, 29 November 2009

First Sunday of Advent

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Swedish Chefs etc

I showed a Swedish friend this clip of the Muppet Show's very own Swedish chef making doughnuts, to see what she made of it. She said she thought he sounded more Danish than Swedish...

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Crying Rooms

I have always had mixed feelings about the presence of crying rooms in church, but I am coming to feel that they are more of a hindrance than a help to families with small children. There is an excellent crying room at St Joseph's, well equipped with toys and books, which I have used many times with my children, but since we often travel at weekends and find ourselves worshipping at other Catholic parish churches, many of which do not have crying rooms, I have noticed a number of things:

1) The children behave better if there is no crying room or 'play room' as they see it. They sit in the pew next to us, leafing through books or drawing. If they get disruptive, one of us takes them outside to calm down before they come in again.
2) There are more young families present, possibly because they do not feel duty bound to sit apart from the rest of the congregation like outcasts because they have embraced the Church's teachings and been open to life.
3) People are more accepting of the fact that there are children in church because they do not expect them to be shut up out of hearing in a glorified cupboard. When an old lady attacked me for having 'distracting' children, she kept saying, "there is a facility, there is a facility. Your children should be in there."

There may, of course, be space in your average parish church for a whining room, sound proof and preferably invisible as well, for intolerant, self-righteous individuals who think they have a right to attack exhausted parents and drive young families from the Church. Just a thought for parish councils to ponder.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Back to Guildford (and blogosphere)

I am back in Guildford after a wonderful long weekend in Cambridge, mostly spent rushing about catching up with as many people as possible. Some of our friends had not seen Francesca since she was eight months old and were quite surprised when she walked through the door, chattering at the top of her voice.

One friend I met up with for coffee is writing a science fiction book. Sci fi is a genre I know very little about as it has never been a great favourite of mine. Anyone know anything about the sci fi market at the moment? Who publishes it/reads it?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Books, pancakes and good company

The book launch was great, even though I found standing for any length of time quite difficult and I really REALLY fancied a glass of wine, nice though the elderflower cordial was. It was good to meet up with a few friends I haven't seen for ages like Mulier Fortis, his Hermeneuticalness and Sr Gemma Simmonds. I was sorry to hear from Sr G that one of my old teachers has been battling cancer for a year and had to undergo horrific surgery. Prayers would be appreciated.

After the launch party, a group of us went to a Polish restaurant for a quick meal and I indulged in a plate of potato pancakes with sour cream and apple sauce. Heavenly after a long day.

(...and yes, I have shamelessly pinched this photograph from Mac's blog)

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Book Launch

I am off to the Brompton Oratory this evening for the launch of English Catholic Heroines and an evening of orange juice and canopes. I do enjoy book launches and the good thing with being a contributor rather than sole author is that you don't feel under quite so much pressure and get to enjoy the whole experience.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Dr Edward Erin

A senior doctor has been jailed for six years after being convicted of spiking his pregnant mistress' drinks in an attempt to cause an abortion. Dr Erin had - by all accounts - made strenuous efforts to persuade the lady to undergo an abortion and took matters into his own hands when she refused. Despite his failure to kill his own child, it was a horrific case, clever and calculated in its execution, which a friend of mine described as "the kind of bizarre evil which Agatha Christie writes about."

The question that is not being asked in the wake of this disturbing case is the extent to which Dr Erin's behaviour is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to coercive and forced abortion. His actions may have been extreme, but I know from experience working in the pro-life movement, that there are plenty of little Dr Erins around who persuade, bully and emotionally blackmail their girlfriends into abortions and get away with it. Look at a website like Abortion Changes You, where women post their experiences of abortion and so many of them refer to a boyfriend who 'said he'd walk out on me', 'told me I was stupid to forget my Pill', 'said it was all my fault and I'd let him down' or 'just told me to get rid of it.'

During a campaign at Cambridge, the argument "most of us just wouldn't have a choice" was used with wearisome regularity by people who in the same breath defended their position with "it's all about choice." The boyfriend is not always the culprit. I once had a tearful student tell me that when she told her mother she was pregnant, shortly before travelling to England to start her studies, her mother frogmarched her to the doctor to get the RU-486 drug and commanded her to take them, telling her she was a stupid girl who had let everyone down.

The dogma of choice is trotted out as though it were infallible and beyond question, but question it we must. We are obliged to ask - whose choice are we talking about? The boyfriend's choice? The pushy mother's choice? Society's choice?

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Fish and Chips

I have been camping out with the children at my parents' house all week as our boiler is awaiting repair and the house is absolutely freezing - not good since both children had streaming colds earlier in the week.

Last night, thanks to a babysitter, we all went to St George's for a parish fish 'n chip supper and quiz. We called our team The Knights of Malta (I originally thought of The Guildford Five but thought it would be in rather poor taste). We won and the prize, appropriately enough, was a box of Maltesers...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

C.S. Lewis on Love

I can't say I agree with everything C. S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves but I was reminded of this quotation earlier today when I was looking up a friend on Facebook and found it on her profile.
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one. Not even an animal. Wrap it carefully with hobbies and luxuries, avoid all entanglements and keep it safe in the casket of your selfishness. But in the casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable".
I suppose it strikes a chord with me because I feel that my generation were brought up to be very cynical and emotionally detached from everything. At school, being passionate or sensitive was treated as though it were a character flaw that needed to be ironed out. Admirable people were calm, cold, more likely to greet the world with a sneer than a smile, the sort of people who 'didn't let anything get to them' and were safe behind their wall of ironic detachment. Mature people didn't let their feelings get a look in, they didn't even do foolish things like get married because it could be 'such a lonely and depressing existence' which presumably involved giving your heart to someone else and taking the risk it might be broken.

Looking back, I am grateful for my Maltese upbringing and the gift of the Catholic Faith for ensuring that, when I faced two choices - a safe, heartless hinterland or the adventure of love with all its risks and struggles - that only one choice was possible.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Now I walk alone...

The Wind on the Downs

I like to think of you as brown and tall,
As strong and living as you used to be,
In khaki tunic, Sam Brown belt and all,
And standing there and laughing down at me.
Because they tell me, dear, that you are dead,
Because I can no longer see your face,
You have not died, it is not true, instead
You seek adventure in some other place.
That you are round about me, I believe;
I hear you laughing as you used to do,
Yet loving all the things I think of you;
And knowing you are happy, should I grieve?
You follow and are watchful where I go;
How should you leave me, having loved me so?

We walked along the tow-path, you and I,
Beside the sluggish-moving, still canal;
It seemed impossible that you should die;
I think of you the same and always shall.
We thought of many things and spoke of few,
And life lay all uncertainly before,
And now I walk alone and think of you,
And wonder what new kingdoms you explore.
Over the railway line, across the grass,
While up above the golden wings are spread,
Flying, ever flying overhead,
Here still I see your khaki figure pass,
And when I leave the meadow, almost wait
That you should open first the wooden gate.

Marian Allen

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Cambridge Medical Ethics Forum

I paid a brief visit to Cambridge yesterday evening to give a talk to the Catholic Medic Ethics Forum at the Chaplaincy. The debate in the taxi from Cambridge station to Fisher House was almost more animated than the discussion after my talk, as the driver insisted on quizzing me about 'this view that women have to have as many children as possible and sit at home with them. Then when the kids grow up, sit at home with the grandchildren.'

I did my best to explain the Church's teachings and battled the feeling that nothing I said would make any difference. By the end, however, he sounded slightly embarrassed about bringing up the subject in the first place, perhaps because he had not expected me to argue with him. Good to know that none of the Church's other teachings - the divinity of Christ, the Resurrection of the body etc - are remotely problematic, since I never get questioned about them by members of the public.

It felt surprisingly normal to be back in the oh-so-familiar library where I spent so much time as a student and I was impressed by the group who turned up. I was talking about abortion, the law, the Church's position, conscientious objection and common arguments in the abortion debate. There was time for questions afterwards and some informal chat before a friend dropped in to take me back to her house for a bite of supper and an early night.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday

Ninety-one years since the Armistice, the First World War has finally passed out of living memory and this is the first Remembrance Sunday where there are no First World War veterans to lay a wreath for their fallen comrades. I thought it would be fitting to commemorate the occasion with one of Wilfred Owen's poems, as so many of us first learned about the horrors of that War by studying the poetry of men like Owen, Rosenberg, Brooke, Nichols and Sassoon, few of whom lived to see the Armistice.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Society of Authors

I am now officially a member of the Society of Authors. The membership card arrived in the post this morning, along with the membership pack and I felt more than a little excited to have joined a community of authors. The membership fee is well worth it for the free legal advice they offer, particularly as I still qualify for the youth rate.

On top of this, there are discounts at certain bookshops and they offer regular seminars and workshops on different aspects of the writing profession. I am particularly keen to go to one of their workshops on how to do a reading. I am used to public speaking, but there is something peculiarly terrifying about reading your own fiction in public. Not sure what it is exactly, but the very idea fills me with a certain panic.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Something nice to say about priests

I have been tagged for a meme by Kate on the subject of 'say something nice about priests.' Hmm. This is a difficult one, not because I can't think of anything nice to say about that most maligned of vocations but because it is always difficult to shower anyone with praise without sounding sentimental or, well, a bit like you're engaging in a huge buttering up exercise. But, for the sake of the many priests who have been so generous to me throughout my life with their time, patience, humour, learning, understanding and compassion, who have impressed me by their wisdom, humanity and holiness, for the sake of the priests who baptised me, have heard my confessions over the years, prepared me for First Holy Communion, Confirmation and Marriage, who have been there for me during my darkest, loneliest, most wretched moments, whom I frequently hear being casually insulted and abused by members of the chattering classes, let me take this opportunity to say how profoundly I respect and admire all those men who have the courage to answer the call to the priesthood. They have my thanks and prayers. The (very) few rude, grumpy, spineless individuals in clerical collars I have occasionally had the misfortune to spar with also have my prayers since, let's face it, they are doing God's work too, even if they are making rather a pig's ear of it.

Father William's Daughter was to some extent my way of saying thank you to the priests who have helped me in the past but who are never spoken about because modern literature holds little place for Catholic priests who are heroes.

I tag: Mrs Pogle, The Crescent and Mac

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Words words words

I came across the wonders of Wordle via Bridges and Tangents and, as promised, it has turned out to be completely addictive. Just for fun, I tried putting my latest short story, Viaticum, into wordle and this was the word cloud it produced.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Dante and the Holy Souls

Most people have heard of Dante's Inferno, even if they have never come across the poem, but my favourite poem from the Divine Comedy is the Purgatorio, which was the set text for the Italian paper in my first year at Cambridge. I felt the urge to take it off the shelf today, it being the Feast of the Holy Souls and stumbled upon this passage, shortly before the story of Buonconte, in which a crowd of souls surround Dante and Virgil.

Shouting they came: "a little rest thy step.
Look, if thou any one amongst our tribe
Hast e`er beheld, that tidings of him there
Thou mayst report. Ah, wherefore go`st thou on?
Ah, wherefore tarriest thou not? We all
By violence died, and to our latest hour
Were sinners, but then warn`d by light from Heaven;
So that, repenting and forgiving, we
Did issue out of life at peace with God,
Who, with desire to see Him, fills our heart."

Sunday, 1 November 2009


We were with my parents this weekend and took the children out to witness Warminster Carnival. It is a jolly event with lots of dancers, beautifully-decorated floats, bands and one or two clowns, and the children seemed to enjoy themselves.

The Swedish friend who was with us was, however, intrigued to know why Warminster celebrates Carnival in October rather than on, erm, Shrove Tuesday like the rest of Europe. I suspect what happened was that Carnival was banned after the Reformation and in about 1890, somebody thought, "oooh, wouldn't it be nice to have a carnival celebration? When shall we have it? Not much happening in October..." Anybody know the real reason?

Still, the one advantage of it coinciding with Halloween this year was that it kept the trick or treaters away and I didn't feel compelled to spend the evening handing out sweets to kids dressed as vampires.
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