Thursday, 29 November 2007

That's all, folks!

I've enjoyed the last few months of blogging, and I don't think I can bring myself to delete my blog yet - but I think this is going to be my last post. I'll still visit the blogs I enjoy, and I don't know if this will be a permanent disappearance, but at the moment I have no plans to continue with this blog.

It's been great 'meeting' so many people while I've been doing this - thanks for reading, and for your very welcome comments.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Real life...

... is interrupting my blogging. All my time and energy is needed elsewhere.

I'll be back when things settle down a bit.

Friday, 23 November 2007


I love looking at Statcounter to see how people have found their way here. I do wonder today whether the person who googled "best top 100 stripper songs" found what he (I'm making an assumption here) was looking for...

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

For those of us over here who have to go to work tomorrow and don't get to eat turkey till Christmas Day... here's a little video I found on YouTube to tell you all about the first Thanksgiving.

And to those of you over there who are getting turkey and time off, have a wonderful day.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

It's a while since we had a blonde joke

A blonde psychologist gets a job in a school.

On her first day she spots a boy who spends the whole of his break time standing around on his own, and not running and playing around with his classmates. She asks him if he's all right, and he says that he's fine.

The next time she sees him, he's standing on his own again. She goes up to him and says, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," he replies.

She's a little concerned, but he obviously isn't ready to talk yet, so she leaves him alone.

The next day, there he is again - standing all on his own, while all the other children run around together. She walks up to him, crouches down to his eye level, and gazing deep into his eyes, she asks, "What's the matter? Won't the other children play with you?"

"Look, I told you, I'm fine," he replies.

"So why aren't you running around and playing with all the other children?"

"Because I'm the GOALKEEPER!!!"

How green is green?

Last night, as I sat in the dingy semi-darkness cast by my energy-saving lightbulbs, I came to a decision. Buying energy-saving lightbulbs is all very well, but if you then have to turn on extra halogen spotlights in order to be able to see well enough to read, and if you rather like reading, then you're not actually doing anything for the environment at all.

So the halogen spotlights are going, and so are the energy-saving lightbulbs - and I'll be back to switching on a single light and actually being able to see.

The government also makes much of the virtues of people who buy a new car every two or three years and choose vehicles with low emissions. I've never bought a new car in my life, and probably never will - that may mean I never have the latest, greenest model, but it also means I'll be reusing someone else's cast-off, and no factories will be belching out pollutants or using up precious resources to make a car just for little old me.

Our increasingly authoritarian government persists in trying to promote a single way of life, a single form of consumerism, and a single type of 'green' product - but on what evidence? Consumerism is wasteful, whether I'm buying a brand-new 4x4 gas guzzler or a brand-new Toyota Prius. Now they're talking about increasing rates of taxation on cars which are too old to have advertised emissions rates from the manufacturers.

How about encouraging people to make do and mend, rather than encouraging them to spend more and more in pursuit of the greenest possible technologies? Surely that would help keep rubbish out of landfills, reduce pollution from factories and from transporting raw materials and finished goods, and give repair and maintenance jobs to skilled labourers in all areas.

And how about encouraging people to use the most appropriate technology for the job at hand, rather than plugging a one-size-fits-all approach? I might well be content to sit in semi-darkness if all I ever do is vegetate in front of the television/Playstation/X-box, but reading, knitting, sewing and other activities actually require a certain level of light.

This weekend, I'll be buying a supply of good old-fashioned 60W lightbulbs - quickly, before they get banned. Let there be light, I say - and I don't think I'm the first to say that...

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Big sister and little sister

As a little girl, this was one of my favourite books. I loved looking after my little sisters - entertaining them, singing them to sleep, bathing them, feeding them, walking them to school when they were a bit older, teaching them to swim and to ride their bikes... When I was 8 and my first sister was about a year old, I once sang the same song to her 100 times over in the hope that it would eventually bore her to sleep.

When I was 14, and my sisters were 5 and 7, my father was hosting a major work event. Some of the visitors who came for this event stayed at our house, and while I was washing some dishes in the kitchen the wife of one of the visitors wandered in and started to chat.

"Let me get this straight," she began. "There are five children in the family, aren't there?"

"No, six," I replied.

She then listed the names of all five of my brothers and sisters, and asked who she had forgotten.

"Well, me," I answered.

"Oh, really?" she shrieked. "I thought you were the nanny."

When mothers who have just one or two children hear about a family with several, they frequently say things like, "I don't know how they do it", "But it's so much work", "I've got my hands full with just two", etc.

Sure, there's a lot more laundry, you have to cook larger quantities, and there's a lot of juggling to get different people to their different activities on time. But what they don't take into account is that a mother with a toddler and a baby can't leave them alone for five minutes without worrying about what might be happening. Just to give you a few examples of situations I've come across, the toddler might have glued the baby's eyes shut with her Bob the Builder stickers, drawn with markers all over the baby's face, managed to drag the baby up onto the sofa (by one arm) to give her a cuddle and then left her on the edge of the sofa ready to fall off... You get the picture.

But if you have a baby, a toddler and a couple of older children, you can actually turn your back for five minutes. A couple of times in the last week or so I've been able to observe older siblings looking after their younger siblings while their parents were occupied elsewhere, and I love to see the interaction between them.

Of course, it doesn't always work. My littlest sister was Not Good about going to bed. On one occasion when she was about a year old, my parents had gone out to a work function, leaving my older brother, then aged about 14, and me in charge of the little ones.

Halfway through the evening, my brother picked up my screaming sister, left me looking after the other little ones, and marched down the road to where the function was in full swing. My father's colleagues gaped as my brother appeared in the dining room, walked up to my mother and dumped my sister in her lap, saying, "I believe this is yours", before turning on his heel and marching out again.

Still, we did look out for each other. And we still do. Guess who's been on Skype again today...

Today's World

When I was little, my brothers and I used to be allowed to stay up late to watch a programme called 'Tomorrow's World'. It was a fantastic programme, from which we learnt about all sorts of technological advances and new space-age equipment. We would gasp in wonder as we saw demonstrations of such amazing things as a machine which enabled you to listen to music tapes through headphones while you walked down the street, a camera that enabled you to create your own video films, and one of the things that amazed and excited me the most - a video player from which you could print still pictures from the film. We never expected actually to see these things in real life.

Every so often in the last ten or fifteen years, I've wandered around an electrical shop with a sense of awe, seeing equipment which I first encountered on Tomorrow's World, and which is now not only available for the public to buy, but is within my price range.

I was recently looking at a book which my sister bought for my father. It was a collection of letters home written by a young woman who had emigrated to South Africa in the latter half of the nineteenth century. One letter to her mother in particular leapt out and illustrated the reality of emigration in those days. It was dated 16 March, and it began, "I received your letter of 4 October four days ago, and was very sad to read of Father's death..." If the response took as long to reach its destination, a single exchange of letters would have taken almost a year.

It's easy to forget how lucky we are to live in this age of instant communication. When I was growing up and my father was serving in the Middle East, an exchange of letters would take about three or four weeks. Even that would be inconceivable to a child growing up today. Over the last five years or so, I've seen photos of each of my nephews and nieces on the day they were born. Last night, my sister e-mailed the picture from her first scan around the family, and in South Africa, America and England, we all admired this little person.

Emigration today doesn't mean losing touch with the family, and although it's sometimes hard to live in this global village and have to rely on electronic communications, how much easier those electronic communications make it to keep in touch.

Tonight, my mind has been blown by another Tomorrow's World moment. I downloaded Skype and spoke to my brother in the US. I don't have a webcam at the moment, but he does - and I was able to see him, my sister-in-law and all seven of their children, and watch them having their tea. I feel so close to them tonight, and I'm so grateful to live in an age where this sort of thing is possible. I'll be back at PC World tomorrow, buying a webcam so they can see me too.

Friday, 16 November 2007

The Christmas pudding suit

When one of my nephews was born in 2003, my aunt sent a Christmas pudding outfit like this one for him to wear for his first Christmas, and he duly wore it on Christmas Day in the US.

The following year, my sister had her first child, and the Christmas pudding suit was sent back to England for my niece to wear on her first Christmas Day.

In 2005, my brother and sister-in-law in South Africa had their first child, and the Christmas pudding suit was sent to South Africa and worn (briefly, because of the hot summer weather) on Christmas Day by my nephew.

In 2006, there were two babies - one in the US and one in the UK - but the American baby was too big for the outfit by Christmas, so it was worn on Christmas Day by my sister's second child.

When New Man and I went to South Africa last month, we took the outfit with us, and it will be worn by my brother and sister-in-law's second son this Christmas.

There was a certain amount of discussion about this well-travelled and well-worn little suit, and we wondered if it would continue to get such good wear in future. 2008 is a little early for New Man and me, but we're hoping very much that we'll be claiming the suit in 2009.

Well, my sister announced recently that she will be the one to claim the suit for 2008. One of the difficulties we had with selecting a date for our wedding was that she thought her due date was about 15 June, and we had hoped to get married in June.

Today she had her first scan - and guess what? Her due date is now 31 May - the day New Man and I have booked for our wedding. 90% of babies aren't born on their actual due dates, so we're not changing the date again.

But I'm now torn between wanting my sister to be able to attend my wedding and thinking that it would actually be really quite fun if the best man were able to announce the arrival of the latest little family member at our wedding reception...

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Proof revisited

This post started life as a rather long comment in response to a comment that my favourite Poor Unhappy Soul wrote to this post. But I'm not sure how many of you read the comments, and I'd actually quite like some input on this, because my ramblings may not make a lot of sense.

The whole point about faith is that you believe something even though you have no proof. I don't BELIEVE IN the cup of tea on the table beside me - I have objective proof that it's there, and I would be stupid to deny its existence, as would anyone else who was in the room with me.

You, on the other hand, have no way of knowing whether I have a cup of tea beside me or not. It would be reasonable for you to assert whether or not you believe that I have a cup of tea here. You could then share your belief with another person, and they could also choose whether or not to believe you.

There is an objective reality there, but you would have no proof that your belief was true. In fact, you could be wrong about it and never know - perhaps there is no cup on the table beside me, or even no table, or perhaps there is a cup, but it contains coffee rather than tea.

I could be wrong in my belief that there is a God - I have no way of objectively proving that I'm right. If I did, that would be knowledge and not belief. As it is, I KNOW what the Church teaches, and I BELIEVE it to be true. I can't prove it to you, and any attempt to prove it would contain the sort of false logic you see in my arithmetical example.

The fact that you wouldn't be able to prove to a third party whether or not I have a cup of tea on the table beside me (because you can't see me, don't know who I am, don't know where I live, and so have no way of objectively verifying my assertion) doesn't alter the fundamental and objective truth. Either there is a cup of tea here or there isn't.

And either there is a God or there isn't. I believe there is. Drac believes there isn't. Only one of us can be right. And neither of us can genuinely prove it one way or the other. The absence of a rock solid proof that is accessible to both of us does not disprove the existence of God.

We have a date

It's taken a lot more effort than I expected, and you wouldn't believe the number of different people's needs we had to take into account in choosing the date, and the number of places we tried before we found somewhere that was available on the required date and could take the required number of people... but I think we're there.

This is where we're getting married.

And this is where we're having our reception.

And this is how excited I am about finally having it booked.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Tagged a long time ago

Way back in the dim and distant past, before I went off on holiday, Amy Caroline tagged me for a meme. All you have to do is share seven things you like about yourself. Simple!



Do tags expire if you don't do them within a certain timeframe?

OK, well, I suppose....

Why IS it so hard to admit that there are things you like about yourself? Isn't false modesty just a form of pride anyway? Well, here goes:

1. Babies and small children seem to like me - not just my nephews and nieces, but friends' children too. I get a big kick out of being able to get a crying baby to sleep (New Man overheard my brother telling my sister-in-law, "Good Lord, my sister's a baby whisperer"), get a difficult toddler to eat, or be asked to join in the wonderfully involved imaginative play of a pre-schooler.

2. If someone I love needs help, I'll drop everything to be with them and do what needs to be done. Some of the things I've done have been quite big, sometimes it's as simple as entertaining my nieces while my sister has a nap, but it's always appreciated, and I'm lucky enough to have a number of people I know would do the same for me.

3. I never put work before friends and family. This does sometimes mean I have to put work before sleep or 'me' time, but that's OK - work puts food on the table, but friends and family feed my spirit.

4. I'm not obsessed with how I look. Or with how other people look. To me, everyone I love is beautiful.

5. I'm able to appreciate the beauty around me. If I'm travelling through beautiful countryside, I'll stop - or at the very least slow down - and enjoy the view, and try to remember to thank God for that moment.

6. I know the difference between luxuries and necessities. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy having luxuries, but I appreciate that having them is a privilege, and that I could live without them. I can still get a thrill of pleasure from putting my laundry in the washing machine or turning on a tap and having hot water come out of it.

7. If I say I'm going to do something, I don't give up until I've done it. As evidence, I present to you this post, which I said I'd do about three or four weeks ago.

Actually, this is quite a fun meme to do - it's nice to blow one's own trumpet every once in a while. I tag anyone who feels the need for a little ego massage - and please do let me know in the comment box when you've done it, so I can come and read about what a great person you are and then agree with you. :¬)

Monday, 12 November 2007

Time zones

My niece has visited her American cousins this year, and occasionally talks to them on the phone, so she's not unfamiliar with the idea of people living in different time zones.

I phoned "Bob's Building Yard" (less than 20 miles from my home) at about 4:00 this afternoon, and when my niece answered the phone, I asked her, "What have you been doing today?"

There was a short pause, and then she said, "Well, actually, today hasn't finished yet at my house."


There are those who demand 'proof' that God exists before they will believe in Him, and those who claim to have 'proof' that He doesn't exist.

I just found this little mathematical trick which shows that 'proof' is not necessarily infallible - I'm not a mathematician, but it all makes sense to me.

Theorem : 2 + 2 = 3

Suppose: a + b = c
This can also be written as: 4a - 3a + 4b - 3b = 4c - 3c
After reorganising: 4a + 4b - 4c = 3a + 3b - 3c
Take the constants out of the brackets: 4 * (a+b-c) = 3 * (a+b-c)
Remove the same term left and right: 4 = 3
Therefore, if 2 + 2 = 4, then 2 + 2 = 3

The point is that once you have a hypothesis, it's very easy to 'prove' it one way or another. But God doesn't ask us to believe because we have proof - He asks us to believe because we have faith.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Remembrance Day

In Flanders Fields
By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

An answer to prayer?

My parents were trying to get hold of a priest friend who has recently moved parishes. Although they knew which town he was in, they couldn't remember the name of his new parish, so my father decided to call each parish in the town concerned, in the hope of either finding him or finding someone who knew where he was.

It being Saturday morning, several of the numbers rang unanswered, but eventually my father found the right number and managed to speak to the priest he had been looking for.

Shortly afterwards, the phone rang at my parents' house. My father picked it up, and nearly fell off his chair when he heard a deep, gruff Yorkshire voice on the other end, saying:

"Hello, this is Our Lady of Lourdes. Were you trying to contact me?"

Blah blah blah blah blah

Have you ever spent hours explaining a task to someone, only for them to go ahead and do exactly the opposite of what you asked them to do?

Or received a response to something you had said or written which indicated that the responder has clearly not taken in a word you said?

Or had someone tell you something as if it was new information, when you had told them the exact same thing some time earlier?

Or found out that something you thought had been agreed several weeks ago is actually still up in the air, because the other person didn't realise it had been agreed?

Or had someone repeat to you dozens of times that Option B is the best solution after you have made it clear that Option B is out of the question due to factors outside your control and you're trying to decide between Options A and C?

Or had someone demanding to know why you're aren't available at a time when you've already told them three times that you're going to be busy doing something else?

All of these things have happened to me this week, and I've found it quite frustrating.

Listening - it appears to be a dying art.

Chad Varah RIP

Chad Varah, the founder of the Samaritans (and their affiliate, Befrienders Worldwide), has died aged 95. He was a vicar, who founded the Samaritans after conducting the funeral of a 13-year-old girl who had committed suicide.

The Samaritans offer confidential emotional support 24 hours a day by phone, e-mail, letter or face-to-face, to anyone experiencing feelings of distress or despair. Their website includes the following quote from a caller:

"There's very few places you can go to in the world where you can pick up a telephone and another human being, no matter why they're doing it, will listen to you unconditionally. If you want to pour out in a phonecall, they will listen for hours."

Chad Varah's son explained how his father saw the work of the Samaritans:

"My father described this befriending of the suicidal thus: There are in this world, in every country, people who seem to be 'ordinary', but who, when meeting a suicidal person, turn out to be extraordinary.

"They can usually save lives. How? They give the sad person their total attention. They completely forget themselves. They listen... and listen... and listen, without interrupting.

"If asked for advice, they say: 'You're the only person who can advise you well - what do you think you should do?' They have no message. They do not preach. They have nothing to sell.

"We call them 'Samaritans'."

More details here.

What a fantastic legacy this man has left. May he rest in peace - and may we all learn from him to judge a little less and listen a little more.

Friday, 9 November 2007

In the middle of the night

My one-year-old niece has some teeth coming, and isn't sleeping too well at the moment. The other night, she started yelling at about two in the morning.

My sister rushed into the children's bedroom, to find the baby sitting up in her cot screaming, while from the other bed came a little voice, "Will you please be quiet - you might disturb me."

Thursday, 8 November 2007

From a recent parish bulletin

Several years ago, a preacher from out of state accepted a call to a church in Houston, Texas.

Some weeks after he arrived, he had an occasion to take the bus from his home to the downtown area. When he sat down, he discovered that the driver had accidentally given him a quarter too much change.

As he considered what to do, he thought to himself, "You'd better give the quarter back - it would be wrong to keep it."

Then he thought, "Oh, forget it - it's only a quarter. Who would worry about this little amount? Accept it as a gift from God and keep quiet."

When his stop came, he paused momentarily at the door, then he handed the quarter to the driver and said, "Here, you gave me too much change."

The driver, with a smile, replied, "Aren't you the new preacher in town? I have been thinking a lot lately about going somewhere to worship. I just wanted to see what you would do if I gave you too much change. I'll see you at church on Sunday."

When the preacher stepped off the bus, he grabbed the nearest light pole, held on, and said, "Oh God, I almost sold your Son for a quarter."

Our lives are the only Bible some people will ever read. Always be on guard and remember that you carry the name of Christ on your shoulders when you call yourself "Christian".

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Mmmm, endorphins

Not long before I went on holiday, I joined a gym. Now, I could bang on about how special, unusual and altogether ideal this gym is - but it would probably be the endorphins talking, as I've just got back from a good workout. Suffice to say, it offers a programme which suits me down to the ground.

One of the things they do at this gym is to weigh and measure you once a month and produce a graph for you of how you're doing. In the first month, I exercised for a week and a half, spent half a week babysitting and getting ready for my holiday, then ate red meat and cheesecake and drank Castle lager for two weeks, almost without stopping. So when I had my first weigh-in yesterday, I was not displeased to find that I had lost a whole pound.

At this rate, I should reach my target weight by about March 2012. Fortunately, though, I haven't yet managed to persuade my boss to give me two weeks' holiday every month, so I'm hoping the rate of weight loss may pick up a bit this month. One of the side effects of exercise for me is that after exercise, I can't bear to eat anything that might undo the good I've just done, so I've just eaten a very nice salad with king prawns.

Of course, I did say after exercise I can't bear to eat anything unhealthy. We won't mention what happens before exercise. I mean, it was my colleague's birthday, and it would have been rude to refuse those cream cakes.

Yes, that was plural. It was another colleague's last day in the office before he went off to get married. Well, having accepted the cake to celebrate the birthday, it would have been even ruder to refuse the cake to celebrate the wedding.

OK, maybe March 2012 is a realistic date for reaching my target weight, then. I don't care. I feel gooooood. They should bottle endorphins and sell them as a cure for depression...

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

How to put off the cold callers...?

My three-year-old niece loves answering the phone, and these days when the phone rings, she usually beats her mother to it.

I wonder how many double glazing salesmen and market researchers have hung up in confusion on hearing the little voice on the other end of the line announce confidently, "Hello, Bob's Building Yard."

Monday, 5 November 2007

Animal pictures

Although we didn't get out into the bush, we did manage to see a bit of African wildlife. Just out past my brother's house, there's a very small game reserve with a selection of impala and wildebeest.

One of the wildebeest even obligingly posed for me. They're not the most attractive animals ever - in fact, African legend has it that the wildebeest is made from the bits and pieces that God had left over after He had finished creating all the other animals.

When we were in South Africa for my brother's wedding, my mother in particular was fascinated by the weaver birds, and would sit out on the verandah with a cup of tea in the mornings, watching them weave their nests. I took these pictures of masked weavers for her.

At Phezulu, as well as the Zulu dancing, there was a snake and crocodile park.

As I looked down into the first couple of crocodile pits, I said to New Man, "You know, I'd be a lot more impressed if they just had the live crocodiles here and didn't try to pad them out with lots of stuffed dead ones." Then the "stuffed dead ones" started to move, and I was suddenly very impressed! Notice the weaver bird nests in the tree here above the crocodiles.

After we had seen the crocodiles, we were a bit peckish, so went off to find the restaurant. One of the items on the menu was called 'Fear Factor' - you could allegedly go into one of the crocodile enclosures and sit at a table amongst all the crocs while eating a crocodile kebab. I don't know if they would really allow tourists to do that - we wimped out and just ordered the crocodile steak. It was reasonably tasty- a bit like chicken, but chewier.

The park also had tortoises...

... rock python ...

... green mamba ...

... and snouted cobra.

But the most fearsome hunting animal of all was back at my brother's house...

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Battlefields, berg and beaches

Right, here's the post where I bore you with my holiday snaps - make yourself a cup of tea and settle down, because it won't be a short one. I also have some animal pictures (crocodiles, snakes, etc), which I'll put in a separate post tomorrow.

One of the first trips out that we had was to a park called Phezulu. It was a bit of a tourist trap, but had a great view over the Valley of a Thousand Hills, which is a traditional Zulu area. One of the attractions at this park was a visit to a mock-up of a Zulu village, where various aspects of Zulu culture were explained to us, culminating in the performance of a dance which showed the courtship and marriage of a young couple.

In this photo, the man is trying to woo the woman, who is disdainfully responding that he's not all that special and asking if he has the eleven cows for her bride-price. The edge of the performing area is a sheer drop into the Valley of a Thousand Hills.

Another of our trips was into Pietermaritzburg, which, although smaller than Durban, is actually the provincial capital. It's an attractive smallish town, with a lot of old colonial buildings displaying the typical cast-iron lacework known familiarly as broekie lace (literally "pantie lace") which was very popular here in late Victorian times.

This is the old courthouse, outside which to the left you can just see a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

Here's a closer view of the statue - it was erected on the centenary of the occasion when Gandhi was thrown out of the first class compartment of a train in Pietermaritzburg because it was reserved for whites only. Gandhi described this incident as the starting point of his "active non-violence".

This is a memorial to the British soldiers who fell in battle against the Zulus in 1879. There was also a memorial to the British soldiers who fell in the Boer War - you can definitely tell this was a British colonial town.

This next picture is of the town hall, and is notable for two reasons. First, this is the largest red-brick building in the southern hemisphere. Second, both the national flag of South Africa and the springbok flag of South African rugby are flying from the town hall - this was taken a week after South Africa won the World Cup. I won't go into the politics, but rugby is traditionally a white sport, and it's practically unheard of for a local government which is dominated by the ANC to fly the springbok flag.

This quaint little tin-roofed building is the old Cathedral of the Holy Nativity, which I think has now been upgraded and extended (we saw the complex from front and back, but didn't have time to actually go in).

This is just a random street in Pietermaritzburg. I took it because it gave quite a good view of the purple blossomed jacaranda trees, which were everywhere and which I loved. They are not a native South African plant, though, which means no more can be planted. Fortunately, the ones which already exist are permitted to stay - there is another category of 'invasive alien' plants, which must be rooted up as soon as they are found.

Since this was New Man's first visit to South Africa, my brother and sister-in-law also took the opportunity to take us for a day trip to the place where they got married - a hotel in the Drakensburg Mountains. This is the view over the terrace - if you look at the mountains in the distance, the one in the middle is called the Bell, and the one immediately to its right is Cathedral Peak.

This is the little chapel at the hotel. When you go inside, the entire wall behind the altar is made of glass, so you really feel as though you're in the mountains. I saw on a wedding website the other day that this was listed as one of the top 10 most romantic wedding chapels in the world.

You'll see from the top of this next picture that I actually took it through the windscreen of a car. We were climbing down into a little river valley in the mountains, and passing small groups of schoolchildren on their way home from school. Over on the far slope, you can see a small group of Zulu homes. The Drakensburg Mountains are also very much Zulu country around here.

From there it was a short drive to Spion Kop, the site of a major battle in the Anglo-Boer War. Although the British eventually won the war, they suffered a significant defeat at this battle. Hundreds of soldiers were buried in the trenches where they fell, and there are several memorials to the fallen soldiers around the top of the hill.

The Liverpool FC football ground at Anfield is known as the Spion Kop (usually shortened to the Kop), after this hill.

Our final day out was into the centre of Durban. This is a picture of the very impressive war memorial, with the town hall in the background.

On the beach front at Durban, you always see a few people making sculptures out of sand. They pick out details in the sand with bits of shell, and make some fantastic models. Strangely, on this trip the majority of the sculptures seemed to have a rugby theme...

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Holiday in KwaZulu Natal

New Man and I had a great time in South Africa, where we stayed with my brother and his family. We enjoyed getting to know my latest nephew, born in July, and his two-year-old brother, whom I last saw at Christmas. The baby was baptised while we were there - I'm his godmother, and New Man stood in for the godfather, who couldn't make it there. Here's the present I gave my new godson.

In the evenings, I worked on something which I started to make for the two-year-old soon after he was born. Well, when I say started... I bought the canvas and some wool. I actually got round to finding a suitable picture and tracing it onto the canvas last autumn, and by the time I left for South Africa it was about three quarters done.

I managed to finish it while we were there - and here's the finished product. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Thomas the Tank Engine stories, this is James the Red Engine. It's a lovely soft rug, and I love seeing my nephew curl his toes into it.

KwaZulu Natal is famous for the "Four B's" - battlefields, berg, beaches and bush. We didn't really get into the bush, although we did see some animals, and we managed to get through the other three - quite a feat for New Man's first visit to Africa, with a three-month-old baby in tow. I'm off out for the evening now, but I'll post some photos either tonight or tomorrow.

Something worth coming back to

I've got dozens of photos to show you from my holiday, but first I had to tell you about this message I had on my answering machine when I got home. It was from a good friend who was my next-door neighbour for about 10 years.

When I first knew her, she was not a happy person, though she was always very kind to me. She drank too much, and had a knack for attracting unsuitable boyfriends - in typical English fashion, we usually used to chat on the doorstep, and the first time she actually came into my flat was in the middle of one night, when I gave her a packet of frozen peas to put on her broken nose after her latest man had been knocking her around.

Over ten years, I saw her getting her life together. She has a son and daughter about my age, and we shared all the news about our respective families - she remembers the names of all my many nephews and nieces. She stopped drinking, and as her self-respect increased, the violent boyfriends melted away. After her mother died a couple of years ago, she was able to move to a better area, closer to her daughter, and when I speak to her these days she sounds very contented.

I would often bump into her on my way to Mass, and she asked me a number of questions over the years about my beliefs. She was baptised in the Church of England, and about three or four years ago she started going to church. Since she moved, I knew she wasn't as happy with her local Anglican church, and was still searching for her spiritual home.

The message she left me while I was on holiday was: "You'll be pleased to know I'm taking the journey of faith to become a Roman Catholic."

I am - I'm chuffed to bits!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

How not to impress your students

Subtitle: How I know I reeeeeeally need a holiday

I think I said the other day that I was getting fairly tired - it's been a very busy few months. Well, at the end of this week's teaching, I picked up my glass and took a sip of water. Someone asked me a question, and I opened my mouth to answer it - having forgotten to swallow the water first. Dribbling down your chin just isn't a professional look...

So I'm off on holiday today - I'm hoping to have internet access while I'm gone, but if not, I'll see you in about 10 days. Hopefully my brain will be functioning again by the time I get back.

Friday, 19 October 2007

These things happen

Another niece-ism, which she has obviously picked up from the reaction she gets when she's had a genuine accident (and consequently doesn't get into trouble).

Yesterday she was confronted with the evidence that she had not been confining her drawing to the paper. Her arms were covered in red ink from a marker pen, and she had drawn various pictures stretching from her wrist to her elbow.

My sister said, "How many times have I told you that you're to draw on the paper and not on your arms?"

My niece looked down at her highly-decorated arm, shrugged and said, "Oh well, these things happen."

Yet another birthday

Today is the first birthday of my youngest niece.

I went over to see them yesterday with a party hat and a 'Happy 1st Birthday' helium balloon. Her 3-year-old sister's eyes lit up covetously, and she said, "She won't wear that hat, you know."

To prove her point, she manhandled her little sister, got her in a headlock, crammed the hat down on her head and pinged the elastic under her chin. The moment she had managed to wriggle away, the baby tugged at the hat and pulled it off.

"You see," said her big sister, in tones of great wisdom. "I knew she wouldn't wear it. But don't worry. I'll wear it instead."

I can't remember how she managed to take possession of the balloon as well, but I think I've been well and truly ambushed...

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Application - and frustration

The summer I turned 10, we lived in a place which had a great outdoor swimming pool. Children under 10 were not allowed to visit this pool without an adult, and every day, I would beg my parents to take me swimming. At the end of the summer, the day I turned 10, I went along to the pool to take the swimming test which would allow me to visit the pool unaccompanied.

The test involved jumping in at the deep end and then swimming eight lengths of the pool. I was a slow swimmer, but could plod along for hours if I chose to - and that day, I did choose to. Having done my eight lengths, I kept going, and didn't get out until I'd swum 100 lengths.

On hearing about my 100 lengths, my second brother had to go down to the pool and beat my record. He has always been very sporty and competitive and was a strong swimmer. He set off like a bat out of Hell, and after about 60 lengths he was flagging. Fortunately for him, at that point everyone was required to get out of the pool for some sort of routine maintenance, and having caught his breath, he got back in and did another 60. That 120 lengths tested him to his absolute limit.

The next day, I went down to the pool again. In my slow, plodding way - a girlie breaststroke in which I failed ever to put my face in the water - I knocked off 123 lengths. When I got out of the pool, my lips were blue, but I was deeply satisfied with my achievement.

My mother wouldn't let my brother try again - she knew how competitive we both were, and how unwilling to admit defeat, and my brother had really struggled to complete his 120 lengths. She put an end to the competition before one of us drowned rather than give in to the other.

The memory of this long, pointless swim has stood me in good stead many times in life. I know I'll never be the fastest or the best at anything I try. But I also know that, like the tortoise in Aesop's fable, I'll plod along until I complete whatever I've started.

This time last year, I was training for a marathon. I was overweight and unfit, and when I started training, I had never run more than half a mile in my life.

I completed the marathon in a little over six and a half hours. I walked most of the last six miles, and even when I was running, I was so slow that I was being overtaken by walkers. But I completed the 26.2 mile course within the time allotted (the course closed after eight hours), and I got exactly the same finisher's medal and t-shirt as the super-sporty people who finished in half the time.

My mother always tried to teach us that talent and knowledge alone are not enough to make a person successful, and that what you really need in life is application.

As a teacher, I've absorbed that lesson. I'll give hours of my time to a student who is prepared to follow advice and put in the effort needed to pass their exams, and I'll do everything in my power to try to help them to succeed.

But at the moment I'm frustrated. I have one student who is failing. My colleagues and I have given this person endless amounts of time, energy, concern and sympathy. In return, we get lies, excuses and missed deadlines.

Maybe it's time to chuck her in the pool and tell her to start swimming.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

16 October 1978

Ramblings about family

After Mass on Sunday, New Man and I went to visit a very dear friend of mine. This was the first time New Man had met her, and the two of them sat for a while discussing me - always fun to listen to! Anyway, my friend is Nigerian, and the greatest compliment she had was actually for my family - she talked about how close-knit my family is, how we will all drop everything just to be together and will always help each other, show an interest in each other's lives and get to know each other's friends. In fact, she said, we're such a close and loving family, you'd almost think we were African - high praise indeed.

Over the next two weeks, my parents will be visiting one of my brothers in the US, I'll be visiting another brother in South Africa, my youngest sister will be coming back from her travels in Europe and will probably end up living in my house for a while, I'll be spending two days babysitting my nieces before leaving for South Africa, and numerous e-mails, phone calls and text messages will be exchanged around the family. We'll also be celebrating the birthdays of one of my brothers, one of my nephews and two of my nieces and the baptism of another of my nephews. There's never a dull moment in a family like ours.

And the thing is, a loving family can't help attracting more people to it. When my Nigerian friend lost her own father, she adopted mine. Several other friends of various members of the family have unofficially adopted one or other or both of my parents.

When each of us has married, the entire family of the spouse has been absorbed as well. So tonight I had dinner with my sister-in-law's two sisters, and whenever I'm in the US I see or speak to my other sister-in-law's siblings. And over the course of dinner, I took a phone call from a godson of my father's (no blood relation), who is going through a hard time and phoned to talk through it with me.

The greatest gift that you get from being part of a large, loving family is the knowledge that there's always room for one more person, and always time for one more person, and that making that room and giving that time is one of the most important things you can do. Being part of a large family teaches you that any investment in a relationship will be rewarded a thousand times over, and that people and relationships are more important than money and power.

I'm exhausted tonight. I taught all day, then rushed home to give the house a quick clean and cook a special meal. As soon as we sat down to eat, the phone rang, and by the time I got off the phone, my food was cold and everyone else had finished - but they enjoyed the meal, had a good time, and appreciated why I needed to take the call and not put him off till a more convenient time. Despite everything, I've had a satisfying evening, and I feel truly blessed. I love my extended 'African' family.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

The gift of immigration

This morning I went to Mass in my old parish. The congregation is predominantly black African, with the two largest groups being of Ghanaians and Nigerians.

When I lived there, I often complained about the noise level, the number of people who arrived late, the aura of chaos that often seemed to descend whenever there was a 'special' Mass - a First Communion, Easter or Christmas vigil, visit from some group or other...

It's true that the church is often chaotic, and that we used to be driven mad by the use of 'African time' by members of the choir, which meant that choir practice could never start on time. But you know what? The reason they were working to 'African time' is because they're African. And they're the ones who were running the Legion of Mary, turning up week after week (albeit late) for choir practice, producing huge cauldrons of food for the parish socials, and volunteering for all the little things that make parish life tick over.

They would bring their families to Mass, and their children would invariably be beautifully dressed - as would the parents.

They brought to the parish the African habit of celebrating the feast of Mary, Mother of God with a Mass at midnight on 1 January - the perfect way to bring in the New Year, and one which I will miss in my new parish (unless they do it here too...?).

I noticed a family in front of me this morning, all of them bowing deeply and reverently whenever the priest said the name of Jesus. It reminded me that this was the first parish I ever lived in where you could actually see the entire congregation bow during the Creed.

Immigration brings new life to the Church here in the UK - Irish people (including my grandparents and New Man's parents - yes, I suppose I must declare a vested interest in immigration), Africans, Sri Lankans and Poles in particular have been absorbed into parish life in large numbers, and each brought gifts of simple but profound faith which were sometimes at odds with the 'sophisticated' English Church.

As I watched people leave after Mass today, I realised how much I learnt from this community in the ten years that I lived there - about showing reverence in small, simple ways, about never being ashamed to let people know that I believe, about generosity of spirit and cheerfulness in the face of adversity, and above all, about what a great gift immigration has been and continues to be for the Catholic Church in this country.

I'm not superstitious, honest!

Yaaaaay!!! England are through to the final of the rugby world cup. So next Saturday evening, I'll be biting my nails, folding laundry, flicking through the newspapers, washing the dishes, having a bath and doing everything else I can to keep away from the television.

I'm not saying I'm entirely responsible for the results this team are getting. I mean, obviously the 15 men who are actually on the pitch play their part as well. But let's just say that throughout this world cup, every time I've been watching it's gone disastrously for England. I watched the whole match against South Africa in the group stages, when England lost 36-0. And I didn't watch a single minute of England's win against Australia last weekend.

Tonight, I started trying to watch. Josh Lewsey scored a brilliant try in the second minute (the fastest try in world cup semi-final history, I believe), and I thought the jinx might have ended. But when England went behind 6-5, New Man banished me from the room. He had the telly on loud enough that I could hear some of what went on, and about 70 seconds before the final whistle, I knew England were ahead and set off back downstairs.

As soon as he heard me, New Man snapped, "Get back upstairs NOW!" As he explained afterwards, France were in an attacking position, and 70 seconds is 70 seconds. I mean, look what happened in the Six Nations this year - first France scored a last-minute try against Ireland to beat them at Croke Park in February, and then France scored a last-minute try against Scotland to win the Six Nations championship on points difference. And who were England playing today? France.

I immediately retreated - and the French player dropped the ball. And England won the match.

So as I said, next Friday the England team can rest assured that once again, I shall do everything in my power to avoid watching the match.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

No offence, but...

It's a common observation that when someone says, "No offence, but...", they expect what they are about to say to be offensive to the person they are talking to, but want to take the sting out of the tail in order not to seem so rude.

This morning I thought of a brilliant idea for a post. It was an angle on something that I'd never seen before, and I was sure a lot of people would have agreed with it. As I stood in the shower, I thought about exactly how I would phrase it.

As the shampoo disappeared down the drain, I realised that I would have to put a disclaimer at the beginning of this post. Despite the fact that my intention was not at all to upset anyone, there was a possibility that some people might be offended at what I wrote. I restarted the post in my head, with the words, "I hope this doesn't offend anyone."

Then I realised that if I need to say that, I don't want to write that sort of post. I know I've written things in the past that have offended people, and I've no doubt I will in the future, because different people have different sensibilities and different life experiences.

But this isn't consciously that sort of blog. I don't set out to stir up controversy, to act as devil's advocate or to start a debate. There are plenty of other blogs out there which do have that aim, if people want to be shocked or challenged. Any post that needs to start with a disclaimer is a post which I don't need to write.

So I'm sorry, but this morning's post will not be seeing the light of day. You'll have to wait until I think of something nicer to say...

Friday, 12 October 2007

Quick prayer request

I've just heard from my sister-in-law that her grandmother is in heart failure and is close to death. My sister-in-law's father is on his way to be with his mother. Please pray that he gets there in time to be with her in her final moments, and that she has a peaceful end.


OK, I may have been tired last night, but not as tired as this. I'm sure you mothers out there will identify with this hilarious post about the five stages of exhaustion.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Time for an early night

I had a bit of a Mac Moment last night. I went to bed with the course I was due to teach today weighing heavily on my mind.

At some stage during the night, I was chatting with a colleague, and he offered to teach it for me. He was quite insistent, saying that he was really interested in the subject and would love the opportunity to practise it a bit. He didn't even want a copy of my notes, as he said he knew the topic inside out. Eventually, I was persuaded and accepted his offer, as I still have quite a bit of preparation to do for next week's course (on a completely different topic).

If nothing else, the fact that he offered to do it without seeing my notes should have alerted me that it was a dream - but it was so real and vivid that when my alarm went off this morning, I turned it off, rolled over and went back to sleep.

Good job I set more than one alarm and was a bit more compos mentis when the second one went off, or I'd never have made it to the class in time. But as I'm teaching again tomorrow, I think I'd better have an early night...

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Get that voting finger going

Thomas Peters, the American Papist, is in the running for a $10,000 college scholarship, awarded by The list of finalists is here, and the blogger who receives the highest number of votes wins the scholarship. His is the only religious blog nominated this year - if you haven't done so already, why don't you nip over there and have a look (his name is second from bottom in the list of finalists).

Public voting is open until midnight on 28 October.

H/T Red Cardigan

Updated blogroll

I've finally got round to updating my blogroll. I've deleted a couple that don't update much or have closed to the public or moved, and added some that I've been reading regularly since I discovered them:

Bara Brith
Colleen's Green Grass
Gem of the Ocean
Shoved To Them
Therese's Roses
View From The Pews

Also, Florida Wife has a new blog, the Roving Medievalist has moved again to here, and Jen of Et Tu has a new blog in which she posts links to interesting posts she has read.

With all that lot to check out, you don't need me to post anything else today...

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

To labour and to ask for no reward

I've been thinking of the prayer for generosity of St Ignatius of Loyola:

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and to ask for no reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

He doesn't ask for much, does he? I mean, I know the theory. I try to be generous, to do things for others, to give up my time, energy and other resources when they're needed, and on the whole, I do it willingly.

The real sticking point for me is that penultimate line. Quite often, someone else has taken the credit for things that I've done, or they've been given the credit and haven't put the other person right. If I were doing things purely for love of God, or even for love of the people I was serving, this shouldn't bother me. The point is that the thing has been done, and as my mother always says, "You'll get your reward in Heaven." The fact that I get no recognition for it here on earth is immaterial.

But... it's not. When someone else is getting publicly congratulated and thanked, it shouldn't bother me. I know what I've done, and Jesus Himself told us that our Father sees everything we have done in secret, and that the left hand shouldn't know what the right hand is doing.

The crazy thing is, often I have done these things in secret. I didn't want to be rewarded in the first place. I just wanted to make someone happy, or to help someone who needed help, or whatever. But as soon as I see someone else being congratulated for something I did, I want to stand on a chair and shout, "No, you've got it wrong! It was ME! ME! ME! Give ME a pat on the back!"

I think I really need to pray the prayer of St Ignatius more often, and think about what it means. And when I'm in a "ME! ME! ME!" moment, I'll try to shut up that inner voice and remind myself "To labour and to ask for no reward, save that of knowing that I do Your Will".

Monday, 8 October 2007

Sometimes I despair...

Did you ever feel like your religious beliefs have been hijacked? Or maybe trampled underfoot?

During the residential course last week, I was playing Trivial Pursuit with some of my students one evening. There were several of us playing, and we were in teams of three. The question came up, "What is the English equivalent of Mardi Gras?"

The following discussion ensued between the members of the team:

"Oh, that's in New Orleans, isn't it?"

"Yes, and San Francisco I think. Isn't it that gay festival?"

"Oh yes, that's right, so the English equivalent must be Gay Pride."

"Of course - that's our answer, then."

And sure enough, that was their final answer. The English equivalent of Mardi Gras is Gay Pride.

At least the students had the grace to look slightly abashed when they saw that the answer on the card was "Shrove Tuesday".

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Watching the rugby

My eldest brother is a very vocal viewer of rugby matches. He actually gets a copy of the latest rules up on the internet, and whenever he thinks the referee has made a mistake, he will consult the rules and point out which rule has been broken. Like my father, he also spends a lot of time yelling at the television screen. When watching matches separately, the two will phone each other whenever there's a particularly questionable decision, to have a little rant together.

It appears that this habit is being passed down to a further generation. My two-year-old nephew doesn't actually say anything recognisable yet, but last week my sister-in-law took him to a coffee shop during one of the World Cup matches. My nephew was playing quietly and apparently paying no attention to the television screen which was showing the rugby in the background - until the referee blew his whistle. Instantly, my nephew was on his feet in front of the screen, pointing his finger at the referee and yelling something loud and incomprehensible.

Suddenly, my brother isn't looking forward with such enthusiasm to my nephew's first recognisable words!

The world according to a 3-year-old

The party this weekend was great. Lots of people turned up for lunch, we had a bouncy castle for the children (big and small - even a couple of my aunts, one of whom is a grandmother and the other a great-grandmother, went on it), there was a 60 inch television screen on which to watch England win the rugby, we had a curry together in the evening while watching the France-New Zealand match, then several of us were staying in the same hotel and we had a nightcap in the hotel bar and breakfast together this morning. My parents, sister and her family and New Man and I went to Mass together and then to a sports bar for lunch, where we watched South Africa beat Fiji before going our separate ways home.

I printed off messages from other members of the family who couldn't be with us and some family photos, and a couple of my aunts also brought photos of my grandmother to go on the walls with them. We drank to Granny's memory, many stories about her were exchanged, and there was a lot of laughter and fun.

This morning, my niece went to get into the car and found that her car seat was missing.

"Daddy, where's my seat?" she asked.

Her father explained that one of my aunts had travelled home from the party in the car last night (my nieces were already in bed back at the hotel, with my mother). He said, "I had to move your seat, because Great-Aunt X was sitting there."

My niece thought for a while about the implications of her seat being moved. Usually, there are only two reasons for this to happen - if it has been put in someone else's car so she can travel with them, or if the cover needs to be cleaned. She knew she hadn't been travelling with anyone else since arriving at the party.

Light dawned, and she asked in her piercing 3-year-old voice: "Did she wee in it?"

Saturday, 6 October 2007

This one's for Esther

I'm guessing you'll score higher than me on this one...

You Are 19% New Jersey!

You are not New Jersey, based on this score. You're probably not from this great state. And if that is true, then you are missing out, my friend!

How New Jersey Are You?
Make Your Own Quiz

Friday, 5 October 2007

Happy birthday to my father

My father tells the story of overhearing one of my older brothers at the age of about five having an argument with a friend about who had the best daddy. He heard all the usual, "My daddy's bigger than your daddy", "my daddy's cleverer than your daddy", and was starting to feel pretty special.

Then my brother produced the clincher - the point with which there could be no argument, the absolute winning statement: "Well, my Daddy can make black fried eggs!"

The story tells you most of what you need to know about my father - his children adore him and are inordinately proud of him, he enjoys being around his children, he loves telling a good story, and he's humble enough to tell that story even if it's against himself. I have to tell you, though, that it's years since he made a black fried egg, and he's actually quite a good cook these days.

He has always been a family man - although his job took him away from us for long periods of time when we were growing up, he kept in touch by sending us recordings of his voice that we would listen to until the tape was practically worn out, sending each of us postcards with pictures of the places he was working in long before we could read, and exchanging long and newsy letters with my mother.

A few years ago he said, "You know, I always thought I loved children per se. I don't think that's true. It's my own children and grandchildren I love." He has a very special relationship with his grandchildren, who all adore him. His sons look up to him and see him as a role model. His daughters love him and seek his advice on everything in life.

Our friends love him too, because he's always welcomed them to his home and made them feel special. One of my friends "adopted" him as her surrogate father after her own father died, and he always asks after her and refers to her as "my other daughter".

My father can't stand carrots. I only discovered this comparatively recently - for over twenty years, as his children grew up, my father regularly ate carrots without complaining whenever my mother served them up (probably about once a week), so that we would grow up unfussy eaters. I could give you so many examples of sacrifices both big and small that he made uncomplainingly to give us a happy and secure childhood and help us begin to make our way in the world.

We always tease my father about the songs he sang to us at bedtime, and continues to sing to my nephews and nieces. He doesn't always have a good handle on the tune, and hardly ever knows the words - but we still love hearing his gentle, loving voice as he sings the old familiar songs. And we sing them the way he did, with "la la la" and "dum di dum" in all the same places, because we learnt them from him.

There's one song he never got wrong, though - our special little song which he would sing just for me: "Darling, darling, sweet Elizabeth, say you'll be mine, for ever be mine." The answer was always yes - and it always will be.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Not what my teachers thought...

You paid attention during 97% of high school!

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don't get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
Create a Quiz

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Update on Bloggers' Meme

I see I have now been banned by Spirit of Vatican II, along with some of my favourite blogs - I'm in excellent company! I've been banned for the following reasons: Phariseeism (not sure how they test that one), being offensive (described as "anti-womyn, anti-GLBTNA, etc"), republicanism and traditionalism.

I'd just like to defend myself against the charge of republicanism. I am a loyal subject of Her Majesty the Queen, and not some left-wing rabble-rouser. Honestly, if we didn't have the queen, who would be our head of state? Tony Bleurgh?

100th birthday

On 3 October 1907, my grandmother was born in Ireland. She didn't have an easy childhood - when she was 11 her mother died, and as the eldest of five children, Granny had to look after her younger siblings.

After their marriage, my grandparents came over to England and settled in Lancashire, where they brought up their seven children. They had high and low points, and through them all Granny prayed for her family. She was particularly devoted to Our Lady, and when there was an illness or other crisis in the family she would often 'bribe' Heaven with the promise of a daily rosary for the rest of her life if her prayers were answered. By the time she was in her 90s, most of her spare time was taken up with praying the rosary.

When I was growing up, every time there was an exam, an illness, a new baby, or anything else going on in the family, the person concerned would receive a card from the nuns of the Cen.acle Cru.sade of Prayer, saying that Granny had enrolled them in the Crusade and the nuns would be praying for success in their exam, a speedy recovery, the health of the new mother and baby, or whatever. With seven children, 22 grandchildren and increasing numbers of great-grandchildren, Granny kept the nuns busy.

Granny was tiny - a key stage for each of us in growing up was when we overtook Granny in height, and it usually happened around the age of 10. But she was strong, firm and loving. She only ever smacked three of her grandchildren - and as my mother never ceases to remind me, I was one of the three (clearly a case of mistaken identity, I believe).

Having nursed my grandfather through Alzheimer's, Granny survived him by almost 20 years. We all thought she would live for ever - she would always say, "I'll just hang on until the next baby's born", and there was always another baby on the way somewhere in the family. My mother prepared a family tree for my grandparents for their Golden Wedding anniversary - a picture of a tree with my grandparents at the roots and all their descendants branching off the trunk. Every so often, she would update it, and there were always several new members of the family to add to the tree.

By the time she died at the age of 97, Granny was survived by six of her seven children (all still married to their original spouses), 22 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. Since then, several more have been added to the family, and her latest great-great-grandson was born two weeks ago in Australia.

Her descendants have lived in Australia, the US, South Africa, China, France, Germany, Holland, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Romania, Chile, Oman, Belize, Ireland and the UK. Most are practising Catholics, and all have inherited from her an appreciation of the importance of family and a love for their own extended family.

This weekend, 30 or 40 of her descendants will be getting together for a party to celebrate Granny's 100th birthday. One of my cousins can't make it to the party, but he'll be visiting her grave and putting birthday flowers on it from all of us. Granny loved a good party and was devoted to her family, and I know she'll be there in spirit and loving every minute of it.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Something else I probably don't deserve

With effect from today, I would appreciate it if you would bow and scrape, and maybe tug your forelock, as you enter my blog. I got promoted at work today. My official job title has gone from "Manager Grade 30" to "Manager Grade 25". They don't have much imagination, these accountants...

I don't deserve it, but thank you!

Wow, this is so nice - both Cy of Therese's Roses and Mac of Mulier Fortis have nominated me for an award. Here's what it's all about:

"Mathetes is the Greek word for disciple, and the role of the disciple (per the Great Commission) is to make more disciples. I'd like to take the opportunity to award five other bloggers with this award and badge for acting in the role of a disciple of Christ. These five all share the message in their own creative ways, and I admire them all for what they do.

In the spirit of this award, the rules are simple. Winners of this award must pick five other "disciples" to pass it on to. As you pass it on, I just ask that you mention and provide links for (1) this post as the originator of the award (Dan King of management by God), (2) the person that awarded it to you, and then (3) name and sites of the five that you believe are fulfilling the role of a disciple of Christ.

If you know of other deserving recipients of this award, and would like to start a new string, then please post a link to where you've started in in the comments to this post. I would love for many deserving bloggers to be blessed with this recognition."

I'm sure I don't deserve this, but I'm very flattered. I hope I can live up to it...

I'd like to give it to Esther and Mac, but they already have it. That means I get to choose seven people - here are the other five:

Amy Caroline at Knit Together In Love
Beth at Beautiful Day (and I hope Madeleine feels better today)
Ma Beck at Ward Wide Web
Florida Wife at An Uncertain Path to Pregnancy
Jen at Et Tu

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Another meme

I've been tagged by Mac and Esther. The rules are easy: just post the quiz on your blog and answer the questions, then pass it on to five other bloggers, and link to them in your post. Be sure to link back to the one who sent it to you.

1. Do you attend the Traditional Latin Mass or the Novus Ordo?

Depends. I love both, but I think my favourite is actually a reverently celebrated Novus Ordo Mass in Latin. New Man doesn't actually like the TLM very much, but we usually end up attending it when we're here, since we both like the parish and he knows I like the TLM. I'll go a long way to avoid having to attend a Mass with 'inclusive' language and trite modern 'hymns', but if I stumble across one by accident I'll make the best of it - the Mass is the Mass however much some people try to mangle it.

2. If you attend the TLM, how far do you drive to get there?

About a mile and a half. I know - I should walk. We never seem to leave early enough for that.

3. If you had to apply a Catholic label to yourself, what would it be?

Traditional. The people who have a problem with some of the things I do - not eating meat on Friday and not living with my boyfriend being the main ones - are usually Catholic themselves, and when I say I do these things because I'm Catholic, the response is often, "Well, I'm Catholic, and I don't do it." Despite what I said in my last post about responding to throwaway comments, sometimes the easiest response is, "Well, I'm quite a traditional Catholic."

4. Are you a comment junkie?

Yes and no. I love receiving comments, and get really disappointed when I don't get any. But I'll only comment on another blog if I have something to say - and on some blogs I'll never comment, because it feels like interrupting a private conversation (not that it stops me from reading that private conversation!).

5. Do you go back to read the comments on the blogs you’ve commented on?

Yes - I like to see how people have responded.

6. Have you ever left an anonymous comment on another blog?

I once tried to. Someone else had written a comment which I found extremely objectionable and just plain wrong, and I wrote quite a strong response to it which drew on my own personal experience and expressed feelings that I haven't expressed to very many people. It wasn't nasty, just deeply personal to me. The attempt at anonymity didn't work - it wasn't a blogger blog, and the system this person used automatically picked up the URL of my blog and posted that with my comment.

7. Which blogroll would you most like to be on?

Whenever I see that I've been added to another blogroll, I feel really flattered. I particularly love being on the blogroll of people whose blogs I enjoy - so I suppose I'd be delighted to be on the blogroll of any of the blogs that are on my blogroll, if that makes sense. Mind you, my blogroll needs updating at the moment - perhaps I'll get round to it once this stupid course is over.

8. Which blog is the first one you check?

That depends. It's always one of the following: Mulier Fortis, And Sometimes Tea, Blessed Among Men, Beautiful Day, Catholic Mom in Hawaii, Et Tu?, Ma Beck, St Fiacre's Garden or the newly renamed An Uncertain Path to Pregnancy.

9. Have you met any other bloggers in person?

Mac from Mulier Fortis and Matt and Wendy Doyle from Lacrimarum Valle. I've also met Fiona and Isabelle, who have commented on my blog.

10. What are you reading?

'Teacher Man' by Frank McCourt, 'Love Over Scotland' by Alexander McCall Smith (very short chapters, so great for reading on the Tube), and I'm just starting 'Jesus of Nazareth' by Pope Benedict XVI, which New Man gave me for my birthday.

Bonus Question! Has your site been banned by Spirit of Vatican II?

Sadly, no - I'm obviously not working hard enough. I presume this site is a joke, and being on its banned list is actually a sign of approval. If not, how sad...

Right, I'm going to be late for Mass if I don't stop now. I tag any of the people in my answer to question 8 who haven't done this yet and are interested.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Answering the critics

Yesterday I was chatting with a couple of my students. A propos of nothing, one of them said, "Of course, I have real issues with the Catholic Church. It's because I went to a Catholic school."

I mildly responded, "I went to a Catholic school, and I have no problems with the Church."

She explained the areas in which she has issues with the Church. It was all the usual suspects - the Catholic Church is responsible for the spread of AIDS in Africa because it doesn't encourage the use of condoms and its aid organisations don't give them out free; the Catholic Church forces young girls who have been raped to go through with the pregnancies that result; the Catholic Church makes people have too many children because it opposes contraception...

For each statement she made, I explained the Church's teaching and pointed out the flaw in her arguments. On the issue of AIDS, I referred to this article. I also pointed out the logical absurdity in claiming that people who refuse to adhere to the Church's teaching on abstinence and monogamy should be catching AIDS because they ARE adhering to the Church's teaching on the use of condoms. She accepted my argument that the Church can't be blamed if people suffer the consequences of behaviour which it actively discourages.

We moved on to abortion, and I agreed with her that hard cases make bad law. I then said, "The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception. If you accept that basic premise, then how can you possibly say that because the mother has suffered, it's OK to take a human life? At what point would you draw the line and say it's no longer OK to kill that baby, despite the hardship that its existence might cause its mother?"

Again, she accepted the logic of what I said (though not necessarily the basic premise on which the argument was built). And for every other "I hate Catholicism" argument she came out with, she ended up accepting that there was no inconsistency in the Church's teaching on that issue.

I'm sure we've all had hundreds of conversations like this, and it's not really noteworthy at all. What made me stop and think was her final comment:

"Nobody has ever explained these things to me before. When you say it, everything makes sense. But all the so-called Catholics I've talked to in the past just told me that's the way it is, they don't know why, and they won't discuss it. And most of them don't follow half the rules they bang on about anyway."

God gives us the most unexpected opportunities to evangelise - and I do believe it's our duty to know what the Church teaches, to be able to explain it, and to take the time whenever possible to respond clearly, thoughtfully and appropriately to people who don't understand.

Because of our conversation yesterday, there's one person in the world who understands a bit more and feels less hostile as a result. She may not come back to the Church, but at least she'll think twice before rubbishing its teachings in future. Thank God for throwaway comments and the opportunity to respond.