Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Living in different worlds

I've been having very interesting and thought-provoking (for me, at any rate) discussions with this Poor Unhappy Soul. His responses have been intelligent, reasoned, reasonable and displayed none of the whining despair you might expect of a tortured soul ;¬). In fact, I get the feeling that in the real world we'd get on pretty well, especially if we steered clear of certain topics.

I've just been doing a bit of research to prepare my latest response to him (this time to a comment on his own blog - sorry, I'm not linking to it, but I have linked to his blog in the post that led to the earlier discussion - please take note of his content warning if you're likely to be offended by bad language etc). I've found some absolute knock-down arguments in favour of my point of view.

The thing is, though...

Well, the thing is, we don't actually live in the same world. And because we don't live in the same world, neither of us is going to be able to convince the other that our point of view is correct, unless one of us agrees to cross the divide and come into the same world.

I have the same trouble with some of my atheist friends in real life. If you accept the basic premise on which their arguments are founded, then the arguments are logical and often impossible to fault. If you don't, there is no way any reasonable person could hang onto those same arguments. And they see my arguments the same way.

The basic premise that underpins my view on absolutely anything in life is that God exists. I live in a world which was created by a loving God. He made me and everything around me, and He loves me, despite everything I can do at times to make myself unlovable. I don't reject the evidence of science, but I see its findings through the filter of God's Will. I live in a world where I have been given many great gifts, but the greatest gift of all is the love of my Creator and the fact that I have been given the grace to seek His face. And the greatest reward for me will come not in this life, but after I die, and in a form that I can't begin to understand fully now.

An atheist lives in a world with no God. I've never inhabited that world, and I can't really understand it or see what it looks like. What I do understand is that some of the views that I legitimately hold in my world will never make sense to the atheist in his world, because they start from the premise that God is at the centre of everything. He would have to come to my world and accept my basic premise to accept my arguments, but without the gift of faith, my world is closed to him.

And so on topic after topic, after an interesting and lively debate, we end up agreeing to differ. I finally realised, after a good hour of research on a particular topic this evening, that my arguments would never stand up if looked at through PUS's filter. Looked at through mine, they are the only arguments that I could validly hold.

So sorry, PUS, this is my way of saying I'm too tired to argue pointlessly tonight, but I'll be back for more when my batteries are recharged.

Your blog or mine?

Getting measured

I had my annual appraisal today, and in honour of people management generally, I thought I'd give you this little list of (supposedly true) quotes which have been included on people's appraisal reports. Fortunately, I escaped without any of them appearing on mine today...

1 Since my last report, he has reached rock bottom and has started to dig.

2 His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity.

3 I would not allow this associate to breed.

4 Works well when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap.

5 When she opens her mouth, it seems that this is only to change whichever foot was previously in there.

6 He would be out of his depth in a puddle.

7 This young lady has delusions of adequacy.

8 She sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.

9 This associate should go far - and the sooner he starts the better.

10 This associate is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

On not buying a sofa

A couple of weeks ago, a fairly momentous thing happened.

I didn't buy a sofa.

Here's how it happened. I don't have any furniture for my newly-decorated front room - at the moment, I'm making do with some borrowed garden furniture. I'd been looking at the Ikea catalogue and had seen a sofa I really liked. So once the decorating was finished and we had a bit of spare time, New Man and I went to Ikea.

We got to the sofa section, and I showed him the one I liked. There was a bit of a silence - the sort that means, "She likes THAT? Is she mad?!"

I said, "You don't like it, do you?" and he instantly responded, "Well, no, actually."

So I didn't buy it. Simple as that.

Now, those of you who've never been single might sometimes think it would be rather nice to be able to choose exactly the sofa you want without having to take anyone else's opinion into consideration.

You might have no idea what a thrill it was for me to be able to say, "Oh well - we'll keep looking and see if we come across one we both like." Of course, it's still my house, and I still live alone - but for the first time in almost 10 years I can see the possibility that this may not always be the case. It's a possibility I'd almost entirely given up on.

I love the fact that these days, I can't instantly accept an invitation without checking with another person. I love talking about "we" and "us" rather than "I" and "me". I love having someone to dissect the day with after we've been out somewhere. I love rushing home and waiting for the phone to ring. I love the fact that he just texted me to ask if I was OK, because he hadn't got the message that I'd got home safely after dropping him off. I feel looked after. I feel loved.

I'm so happy that I still don't have a sofa.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Remembering World War I

I've just come across this fascinating blog. Written by the grandson of Private Harry Lamin, a soldier who fought in the First World War, it's made up of transcripts of the letters which Harry sent home from the front, together with commentary by his grandson on Harry's life and the background to some of what he would have been experiencing at the time the letters were written. Each letter is being posted exactly 90 years after it was written.

The blog has been going for a while, so I've got some reading to do... can't stop and chat here.

Friday, 27 July 2007

A new collective noun

Apparently there's a new name being bandied about for the members of Gordon Brown's Cabinet. Following the story last week that several members of the Cabinet had admitted that they smoked cannabis in their youth (amongst other things - go on, read the linked article; it made me laugh like a drain), they are now being known as ...

The Hash Brownies.

And she understands builders

My sister just phoned to tell me about an elaborate game my niece has been playing this afternoon. My niece is Bob the Builder, my sister is Wendy, and the game involves each of them having something they can pretend is a phone. My niece then goes into another room and "phones" my sister by shouting loudly through the door into her toy phone.

In the first call, my niece said, "Hello Wendy. I'm just building a new play park."

The second call, a few minutes later, was, "Hello Wendy. I haven't finished the play park yet. I'll meet you at the pub in seven minutes."

Funny, the builders who worked on my flat a couple of years ago were just like that...

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Oh yes, that!

My sister came over for lunch with my nieces today, as I was working from home. They all need a bit of a break - the three-year-old had chicken pox a couple of weeks ago, and now the baby has it, so all normal social activities have been somewhat curtailed. To make the lack of sociability even worse, the three-year-old came out in spots the day after they got back from a visit to her seven American cousins - real feast to famine!

So I made the three-year-old her favourite meal, and when I put it in front of her she smiled and picked up her spoon and fork.

"What do you say?" prompted my sister.

My niece immediately put down her spoon and fork and gabbled, "BlessusohLordandthesethygiftsweareabouttoreceivefromthybountythroughChristourLordAmen", picked up her spoon and fork again and began to eat.

My sister sighed wearily and said, "Actually, the word we were looking for was 'thank you'!"

Bye-bye girl guides

When I was a little girl, I was desperate to be a Brownie. Most of my friends were Brownies, and I was on the waiting list as soon as I was old enough. But we moved house about every year to 18 months because of my father's job. Before I reached the top of the list, we moved to another area, and I had to start again at the bottom of a new waiting list. By the time I reached the top of a waiting list, I was too old.

So I have some lingering affection for the Girl Guide Association generally. Unfortunately, if I ever have daughters, I won't any longer be wanting them to get involved with this organisation in the UK, because of this.

The claim is that the Association should be not just teaching girls as young as 10 about safe sex, but training up older girls as "peer educators". Where will morality and the "option" of total abstinence come into this? Won't it just reinforce the view which so many young girls already get from the media and from their peers in the playground that if they're abstaining, they're the only one?

Worse still, the information pack to be given to trainers on this topic contains the words, "What you consider to be an inappropriate relationship may not be inappropriate to others." In other words, anything goes and don't you dare try to bring value judgements into your discussion.

So what of the claim that they're only responding to what the girls have asked for? Apparently "safe sex" came fourth in a poll of 1,000 members (out of 580,000).
Well, I understand that this poll was a "tick box" questionnaire: tick which of the following issues you would like to see covered. Any tick box questionnaire gives results that are skewed in favour of the prejudices of the person who designed it.

I wonder how many of these girls, asked to make a list on a blank piece of paper of things they would like to learn about from Girl Guides, would independently have chosen to include safe sex in their list?

I suspect it would have been a lot fewer than 80% - but with the way "safe" sex is pushed as the solution to everyone's problems at every possible opportunity in the media and educational circles, I bet many ticked the box unthinkingly, assuming that it must be a good topic because they'd heard the phrase mentioned so often in a positive context.

Oh well, never being a Brownie didn't hurt me that much...

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

More blogger issues

Someone who hasn't commented before put up a really nice, long comment this morning. I skimmed over it and thought, "This looks good", before pressing "Publish" - upon which the comment instantly disappeared, never to be seen again. (Before you ask, yes it was "Publish" that I pressed - the other comment I published at the same time was NOT lost!)

So if you tried to comment this morning and are wondering where your comment went - me too! The only comments I have ever rejected are ones that the poster has asked me not to publish, and I certainly wouldn't have rejected this one, as from what I read of it, I think it was a really great comment.

I'd love it if that person (I don't even know who it was) would leave another comment. I'd love it even more if someone could tell me a way to get back a comment that's been eaten by the hungry Blogger Bug.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Some poor unhappy soul

Every so often, I find that I've had a higher than usual number of hits in a day and I do a little ego search to see if it's because someone has linked to me. Imagine my surprise tonight when I found this link! I'm touched at the way this person has described me: "Meanwhile for my atheist chums, I found this on some whiny god-botherer blog which I think will give you a giggle".

There's even a German version - somehow the German sounds even better: "Mittlerweile für meine Atheistenkumpel, habe ich dies auf einem whiny Gott-botherer Blog , das ich denke, wird geben Ihnen ein Gekicher gefunden".

For me, a post so dripping with vitriol indicates unhappiness on a fairly deep level. Despite my occasional whinges, I'm a pretty happy person, and I've posted before about how daily prayer has helped me to achieve that.

Unfortunately, I have no answers which will convince this person - the nearest I've come to an answer on this blog is in this post here.

Perhaps some of my more regular readers would like to join me in praying for this poor chap.

In the meantime, now that I've been in my new house for over six months, I'm thinking of changing my name from Newhousenewjob to Whiny God-botherer. What do you think?

Monday, 23 July 2007

Evangelical baptism

An Irishman is shambling through the woods, totally drunk, when he comes upon a preacher baptising people in the river. He stumbles into the water and almost bumps into the preacher.

The preacher turns around and is almost overcome by the smell of alcohol. He asks the drunk, ''Are you ready to find Jesus?''

The drunk answers, ''That I am.''

So the preacher grabs him and dunks him in the water. He pulls him up and asks the drunk, ''Brother, have you found Jesus?''

The drunk replies, ''No, I haven't found Jesus.''

The preacher, shocked at the answer, dunks him into the water again, for a little longer this time. He again pulls him out of the water and asks again, ''Have you found Jesus, my brother?''

The drunk again answers, ''No, I haven't found Jesus.''

By this time the preacher is at his wits' end and dunks the drunk in the water again, but this time holds him down for about 30 seconds and doesn't pull him up until he begins thrashing his arms and legs wildly in the water.

The preacher again asks the drunk, ''For the love of God, have you found Jesus now?''

The drunk wipes his eyes and catches his breath and says to the preacher ...

"Are you absolutely sure this is where he fell in?"



Round yellow thing usually found floating around in the sky.
Normally answers to the name "Sun".
If you see him, tell him it's July already!
Please find attached an artist's impression released by the police earlier today.

"Find a place for God in your life"

Until last night, I don't think I'd ever heard of Our Lady of La Salette. Now, her shrine is in the news because of the tragic death yesterday of 26 Polish pilgrims in a coach crash when they were on their way home from a visit to the shrine.

Pope John Paul II wrote about La Salette on 6th May 1996:

La Salette is a message of hope - a hope sustained by the intercession of her who is the Mother of all peoples... The arm of Mary's Son will not weigh upon, will not condemn, the people who walk humbly in the pathway of the Lord. Christ will take the outstretched hand into his own and lead to new life the sinner reconciled by the grace of the Cross...

At La Salette, Mary clearly spoke of the constancy of her prayer for the world: she will never abandon the people created in the image and likeness of God, those to whom it has been given to become children of God. May she lead to her Son all the nations of the earth".
In the parish of La Salette before the apparition, Mass attendance was down and people were neglecting the sacraments, failing to keep Sunday holy and taking the Lord's name in vain. The message of Our Lady of La Salette was, in brief, "Find a place for God in your life, otherwise things will get out of hand". The greatest miracle of La Salette was spiritual - after the apparition, people attended Mass faithfully, confessed regularly and returned to a pious and devotional life.

The world remains in need of conversion today. Blasphemous books such as The Da Vinci Code and the works of Philip Pullman top the bestseller lists. Shopping centres and leisure complexes have better attendance on Sundays than churches. We hear the Lord's name used as a common profanity all around us. We have as much need as ever to pray the Memorare of Our Lady of La Salette:

Remember, Our Lady of La Salette,
true mother of Sorrows,
the tears you shed for us on Calvary.
Remember also the care you have taken
to keep us faithful to Christ, your Son.
Having done so much for your children,
you will not now abandon us.
Comforted by this consoling thought,
we come to you pleading,
despite our infidelities and ingratitude.
Virgin of Reconciliation,
do not reject our prayers,
but intercede for us,
obtain for us the grace to love Jesus above all else.
May we console you by living a holy life
and so come to share the eternal life
Christ gained by His cross.

We should also remember the victims of the coach crash:

Eternal rest grant unto them, oh Lord
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Lonely sky

You mention it, I find it for you... This guy does a brilliant job of matching pictures to the words. Enjoy it!

Pi Approximation Day

Forget any other celebrations you might have scheduled for today - this is the one that matters! Today's date (written European style) is 22/7 - the fraction which represents an ancient approximation of the mathematical constant pi.

My American nephew was invited on 14 March (3.14 by the American way of expressing dates) to celebrate Pi Day at school. He and his classmates were invited to bring pi(e)s to school that day - he chose a rather tasty apple pie.

In honour of Pi Approximation Day, I'm eating an approximation of a pi(e) - otherwise known as ... cheesecake.

This is my piece - what are the rest of you having...?

Saturday, 21 July 2007

One of those really good days

Today I had a little reunion with some people I knew in China. We worked for a voluntary organisation, and of the people who came today, the nearest to me lived about three days' travel from where I worked. We would meet up and travel together during the holidays, write to each other during termtime, and meet together for conferences and training. From experiences like these, lifelong friendships are made, and even though it was more than ten years since some of us had seen each other, it was as if we had seen each other yesterday.

We've all acquired a bit of baggage since then - as well as New Man, there were a couple of husbands there (and more left at home), and altogether I had 10 adults and 10 children here for the day. The children, ranging in age from 10 months to 12 years, got on brilliantly together, and although it poured with rain for much of the afternoon, the weather couldn't put a damper on the barbecue. I put up photos all round the house from my time in China, and we sat late into the night telling the children stories about our past exploits and adventures.

Two families are staying the night, and I'm about to settle down for the night on the sofa downstairs.

I love days like this, and feel so blessed that I have these wonderful friends and that I now have a house which is big enough to accommodate a party like this.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Not in the club

I must warn you now, this is going to be a bit of a rant. It's something that has been brewing for a while, as a result of various smug comments and snide criticisms of single people that I've seen elsewhere on the blogosphere, but it was brought to a head tonight.

I've written before that what I have always wanted most in the world is to be a wife and mother, and that it's one of the great sadnesses of my life that it hasn't happened yet, and quite possibly never will (the children bit, at any rate). However, I have never wanted to let myself be defined by that sadness, and I know I have received many blessings and had many experiences that I couldn't have had if I had been given the life that I imagined and hoped for as I was growing up.

But I come from a large family and have a wide circle of friends, and at the last count I had 11 nephews and nieces, 6 godchildren, and scores of other babies and small children in my life. At various times, I have been the main carer for one baby and lived in the same house as three others for extended periods, largely in order to be able to help out with the babies (as an aunt or surrogate aunt, not as a nanny or au pair).

I would say I almost certainly have more experience of looking after babies and small children than the majority of new parents when their first child is born, and this experience includes caring for three newborns.

The parents of my acquaintance roughly divide into two groups - those who treat me with great generosity and are delighted that I'm willing to help with nappy-changing, feeding, entertaining, bathing, putting children to bed, keeping them quiet in church, etc, and those who think that because I'm not a mother myself, I know nothing and can't be trusted to hold their precious baby the right way up.

The latter are the ones who say, "You can't possibly understand, because you're not a mother" and have no appreciation of how much that hurts someone who would do anything to be a mother but hasn't been blessed with children. Some clearly believe that the very fact of having children is an achievement of theirs rather than a gift from God, and that I am a failure because I haven't managed to do it.

Having interacted regularly with children from a number of different families, and helped to look after a number of different children, I know that sometimes there's nothing you can do to make a child behave. I totally understand and respect that, and would never criticise a parent simply because they're having trouble keeping a baby or toddler quiet in Mass.

I also know (for instance) that it is possible to teach a child to behave in church without bringing a fresh packet of biscuits to church with you every single week, making an incredible amount of noise ripping that packet open every single week, and letting the child munch its way through the entire packet during the course of Mass every single week. In fact, I happen to think that's not a very good way to teach a child to respect the Blessed Sacrament. Nor is it a particularly good diet for the child. I'm sure many parents would agree with me on that - I know that the parents of all 11 of my nephews and nieces would.

And if anyone thinks I don't have the right to say that because I'm not a parent myself and haven't experienced the problems of teaching children to behave, perhaps they should try living my life for a while before criticising me. They might see that life as a single person has its own difficulties, and isn't always a barrel of laughs.

Not everyone who is childless is childless through choice. And not everyone who is single is single through choice. It can be incredibly lonely having only yourself to think about, because it also means there's nobody else who thinks of you first, nobody who shares the burden when you're having problems, nobody you can depend on and nobody who notices and sympathises if you arrive home late after a dreadful journey or if you wake up feeling like death warmed up.

I'd like one of my commenters in particular to remember that.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

My grandmother's favourite hymn

Lord, for tomorrow and its needs
I do not pray;
keep me, my God, from stain of sin
just for today.

Let me both diligently work
and duly pray;
Let me be kind in word and deed,
just for today.

Let me be slow to do my will,
prompt to obey;
help me to sacrifice myself,
just for today.

Let me no wrong or idle word
unthinking say;
set thou a seal upon my lips
just for today.

Let me in season, Lord, be grave,
in season gay;
let me be faithful to Thy grace,
just for today.

And if today my tide of life
Should ebb away
Give me thy sacraments divine
Sweet Lord today.

In Purgatory's cleansing fires
Brief be my stay
Oh bid me if today I die
Go home today.
So for tomorrow and its needs
I do not pray;
but keep me, guide me, love me, Lord,
just for today.

Mushrooming concerns

As is so often the case, I can really relate to what Jen says today, about worry and taking each day as it comes. Here's an example of my insane propensity to worry about nothing.

Yesterday my neighbour, who was born and bred in this town, knows all the highways and byways around here and frequently knocks on the door with little gifts of fruit or fungus that he has found in the hedgerows, brought me a large chunk of a giant puffball mushroom. It happened that a colleague of mine was coming to lunch, and I sliced the mushroom, fried it up and served it on top of the pasta carbonara I had prepared. Later, my neighbour brought some more round, and I ate it for my supper with the leftover pasta from lunchtime.

At 2:30 in the morning, my niece woke up and cried, and I had to go and resettle her. She woke me from a very deep sleep, and by the time I had given her a drink and a cuddle, I was wide awake, with that slightly nauseous feeling you get when you've been woken from a really deep sleep.

I lay in bed trying to get back to sleep, and thought, "Toadstool poisoning has a delayed onset. I feel sick. What if I've poisoned my colleague? And what if F. wakes up in the morning to find I've been poisoned too? She's too little to be able to phone and tell anyone what's happened."

At about 3:00, I had to go downstairs, find my laptop, boot it up and Google "mushroom poison". Even after discovering that the giant puffball is the safest mushroom you can get, and there's nothing else that remotely resembles it for which it could have been mistaken, I still kept reading about the symptoms of mushroom poisoning. One website even seemed to mock my concern, saying "some patients have been reported to develop anxiety-related symptoms after learning that they have eaten wild mushrooms".

Eventually, I managed to convince myself that I might survive till morning, and drifted back to sleep. But you see how badly I need to be reminded to trust in the Lord and not to indulge in needless worry...

We wouldn't be laughing if she was 10 years older...

My niece playing with a toy phone this morning:

"Hello? Oh yes, hello ... I've got some big news for you ... I've got a baby in my tummy."

Hmmm - wonder where she got that from? Can we expect more family news soon...?

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Good carer, bad carer

My niece is here tonight for a sleepover, or, as she calls it, a 'night-over'. Her mother left just before bathtime, and having said goodbye, my niece sat down with a stuffed penguin (known as 'Muvver Penguin' for some reason) on her lap and said she would read her a story. She looked particularly cute as she sat there gently cuddling Muvver Penguin and showing her the pictures in the book.

Having reached the end of the book, she turned back to the beginning and said, "Now you need another story", and 'read' it again, still cradling Muvver Penguin on her lap and showing her all the pictures.

Fast forward half an hour or so, and my niece was bathed, in her pyjamas and sitting on my lap having her story ('Muvver Penguin' was asleep in the formerly wormy cradle downstairs). I reached the end of the story and tried to put the book down and get my niece into bed.

"No, read it again," she said.

"No," I replied. "You know you only get one story at bedtime."

"Well, Muvver Penguin wanted it two times and I read it to her," she retorted.

How is it that a three-year-old can make you feel like an utter heel for daring to stick to the normal bedtime routine?

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Lateral thinking

An old Italian man lived alone in the country. It was spring and he wanted to dig his tomato garden, as he had done every year, but the ground was hard and his only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was currently in prison.

The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:

"Dear Vincent,

I am feeling pretty bad because it looks like I won't be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I'm just too old to be digging up a garden plot. If only you were here, my troubles would be over. I know you would dig the plot for me.

Love, Dad"

A few days later he received the following letter from his son:

"Dear Dad,

I'm sorry I'm not there to help you, but please don't dig up that garden. That's where I buried the bodies.

Love, Vinnie"

The next morning, the police arrived at the old man's house and dug up the entire area. However, they didn't find any bodies, so they apologised to the old man and left.

That same day, the old man received another letter from his son:

"Dear Dad,

Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances.

Love, Vinnie"

Monday, 16 July 2007

Destressing advice

Feeling frazzled? Want to take a step backwards and reverse those feelings of stress? Well, here's a tip for you:

'Stressed' spelled backwards is 'desserts'. Grab a spoon...

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Why blogging is good for me

New Man and I were in a Christian bookshop yesterday, looking at a book called 'The Highway Code for Marriage'. There was a page on communication, which said that one of the problems with communication between men and women is that men stop talking to work out what they think about something, while women talk in order to work out their thoughts.

In my case, and for certain topics, you can substitute 'blog' for 'talk' in the last bit of that sentence - blogging helps me to work out what I think about some things. There are three ways in which it does this - first, I learn from reading other people's blogs (or their comments on my posts); second, I think things through while writing my own posts; and third, I read around the subject and thus learn more about it while writing a post.

Take Friday, for instance. I could have stopped at the point where I was annoyed at other people's appalling driving, and carried on shouting and swearing at practically everyone else on the road. But I didn't want to leave my post at that, so I read further, looking up the Ten Commandments for Motorists on the Vatican website. And in reading the whole document, I found that wonderful quote from Pope Pius XII.

And guess what - I've done lots of driving this weekend, and I didn't swear or shout at anyone once! Even New Man was impressed. OK, I'll still fail often, but I really think doing that extra bit of reading has helped me to add a weapon against bad tempered driving to my armoury.

And then there was this morning. For the second week running, New Man and I went to the Tridentine Latin Mass up the road. And for the second week running, I was very distracted by a family sitting near us. Here's how my thoughts ran for the first half of the Mass: "They've come in late AGAIN, and the baby's screaming to be fed AGAIN - why can't they make sure she's fed before they come to Mass, or go to the 9:00 Mass if this one disrupts her routine so much? ... He's opening a packet of biscuits AGAIN. How much noise can one person make with cellophane wrapping? And feeding them biscuits is no way to keep the children quiet in Mass anyway - this Mass is just snack time for the entire family ... He's taken the toddler out for being too noisy, and now he's coming back to get another biscuit. Way to reward bad behaviour!" and so on.

You may have gathered by now that I wasn't concentrating very much on the Mass at this point. I was too full of self-righteous indignation. But then something came into my head that I've said many times before, and really ought to live by a bit more: "It's not my place to judge".

I realised that I was distracted not because these people were being noisy or badly behaved or disrespectful, but because I was so busy judging them that I couldn't concentrate on anything else. That was a fault in me, not in them.

I then observed the following: "This couple bring their three small children to Mass regularly - I reckon the boys are about 4 and 2, and the girl is about 8 months. I bet it's quite a performance to get everyone ready and out of the door on time ... They don't bring any toys or secular books - the children are required to sit still and listen ... The 4-year-old really is behaving pretty well - he's sitting quite still and apart from occasionally asking for a biscuit, he's keeping quiet ... As soon as the toddler started getting noisy during the homily, his father took him out to quiet him down and stop him disturbing other people", etc.

And then I felt relaxed and was able to concentrate on prayer and ask God's forgiveness for being so easily distracted.

Several years ago, one of my neighbours knocked on my door to tell me there might be a bit of noise that evening, because he was having a party, and he apologised in advance. It was Good Friday, and I was woken at 3 am by a noise so loud that my bed was vibrating - we lived in a block of flats, and his sitting room was above my bedroom. I thought to myself, "Oh well, he warned me it might be loud", and WENT STRAIGHT BACK TO SLEEP! That was when I discovered that it's not other people's noise that disturbs me - it's my own reaction to it.

This weekend, my neighbour is away and her teenage son is alone in the house. All through this evening, I've watched teenagers come to his door and heard loud music thumping through the wall. The party is still going strong at 11 pm, and I've got to get up by 6:30 at the latest tomorrow morning to get the 7:19 train to work. And guess what - I'm not bothered. My neighbour told me this might happen. I wish it had happened on a Friday or Saturday night rather than a night when I need to get up for work - but I know that if I have the right attitude towards the noise, it won't disturb me.

And that's why blogging is good for me - writing about things from a specifically Catholic perspective, reading round the subjects and trying to live up to the ideals that I talk about are (very gradually) helping me to develop a more serene attitude. And if that serenity helps me to get a good night's sleep tonight, that alone will make it worthwhile.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Anyone technically minded out there?

I'm a little bit concerned... Sitemeter is set to ignore visits from my current IP address - I've checked, and it tells me what my current IP address is, and confirms that it's ignoring visits from there.

But since yesterday evening, whenever I'm logged onto my blog, Sitemeter is tracking another IP address from a different server, which is logged on for as long as I am and clicks out to all the same places I'm clicking out to.

Does this mean there's some sort of spyware allowing another site to track everything I'm doing? If so, does that mean I should immediately stop internet banking and paying bills from this computer, and go and spend a fortune on some sort of anti-spyware device? Or am I just being paranoid?

Update: I'm not sure that this resolves the particular issue I was worried about, but Esther has looked into Sitemeter and found that it allows a spyware firm to place cookies on every user's computer for advertising purposes. I'm not into being used in this way without my knowledge, so have switched to StatCounter. Thanks for the tip, Esther.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Motoring meekly

I've just got back from another two days' teaching in Birmingham, and in the car on the way home I was musing about how to make the driving experience less harmful to my soul.

Unfortunately, I find it difficult to 'turn the other cheek' when I'm driving, and there seems to be an increasing number of idiots on the roads these days. When someone is driving discourteously, particularly if I am forced to brake, change lanes or otherwise modify my own course in any way, I usually shout at them (not that they can hear me - I'm just letting off steam).

And what I shout, particularly if I feel that the other person has put me in danger by whatever it was they did, is usually couched in the sort of language that I hate to hear anybody use in public and would never dream of using myself when not in the car. Unfortunately, New Man has travelled in the car with me often enough by now to have discovered how deeply flawed I am in this respect. (Fortunately, it appears he still loves me despite that. :¬))

As I drive, I either listen to the radio or to a CD. When I'm driving on my own, I have three or four CDs of hymns which I like to sing along to. I think the hymns help - it's very difficult to be totally obnoxious while singing a hymn, particularly as I have chosen hymns which are peaceful and reflective - some old, some modern (but not obnoxiously modern).

However, there are times when my reaction to a particular occurrence is pretty much reflexive, and the hymn is momentarily forgotten.

I'm ashamed to tell you this, but if someone were to transcribe everything I said and sang in the car, it would go something like this:

"Make me a channel of your Get out of the way, you idiot!
Where there is hatred, let me Don't you know how to use your indicator?
Where For Heaven's sake, look where you're going! your pardon, Lord
And where there's Oh, think you can push your way up the inside, do you?
Well, I'm not letting you in, mate! may never seek
So much to be Get off the phone, you moron! as to console..."

And so on.

You may be shocked. I shock myself. And believe me, I do try. But there are some incredibly bad drivers in this world.

So this evening, on arriving home, I actually looked at the Vatican website to see what this 'Ten Commandments for Motorists' was all about. Well, I'd seen all the news articles that poked a bit of fun at the idea of 'Ten Commandments'. But these were actually a small part of a much longer document. And let me tell you, if I were to read this document before every time I got into the car, I think I'd be working much harder at controlling my unpleasant impulses.

That may not always be feasible, but I think I am going to put this quote from Pope Pius XII on my sun visor. A reminder that it's there whenever I'm tempted to respond to perceived discourtesy with anger and more discourtesy may be enough to help me control my temper a bit better.

Do not forget to respect other road users, be courteous and fair with other drivers and pedestrians and show them your obliging nature. Pride yourselves in being able to master an often natural impatience, in sometimes sacrificing a little of your sense of honour so that the courteousness that is a sign of true charity may prevail. Not only will you thus be able to avoid unpleasant accidents, but you will also help to make the car a more useful tool for yourselves and others that is capable of giving you a more genuine pleasure.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Song for you

Song by Chris de Burgh, with an amazing slideshow of images from the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Battle of Ypres).

For The Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

by Laurence Binyon

Known unto God

At this time 90 years ago, the biggest slaughter of the First World War was under way at Passchendaele. In less than four months of battle, half a million soldiers were slaughtered, wounded or posted missing. There's a brilliant history of the battle, along with details of how it is being remembered in this anniversary year, here.

The queen was at the Tyne Cot cemetery in Belgium today, along with the Duke of Edinburgh, Belgian royals and other dignitaries, at the official ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of this battle (officially known as the Third Battle of Ypres). Today was chosen for the ceremony because it was on 12 July 1917 that the Germans first used mustard gas.

There are 12,000 graves and 35,000 names of missing soldiers engraved on memorial walls at Tyne Cot, situated on a ridge captured by Australian forces during the battle in 1917. In nearby Ypres (now known as Ieper), a further 55,000 names of missing soldiers are engraved on the Menen Gate war memorial.

More than 200,000 British, German and French soldiers have no known grave in the area. About half of this number are simply remembered with the words “Known unto God,” "Unbekannt" or "Inconnu'". Today, ninety years later, human remains are still being found. In most cases the nationality can be determined, occasionally the name of the regiment, and in some rare cases even the identity of the soldier.

I love that English phrase - "Known unto God". These soldiers died in a sea of mud, sent to their deaths by inept generals, many coughing their lungs up in a haze of mustard gas. They died in agony, and their bodies have never been recovered. But they're not unknown, and whether they knew it or not, they didn't die alone. God knows who they were.

Errr, not quite!

My 5-year-old American niece said to her mother yesterday:

"I have been explaining the 4th of July to D [her 3-year-old brother]. I told him it is the day we remember when Jesus ASCENDED (hands above her head) into Heaven and as he left he promised to leave his spirit with us to guide us. And that's what the 4th of July is all

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Friendly blogs

On some of the blogs I visit, I'm a confirmed lurker. These are the blogs where it feels as though all the commenters know each other, and on occasions when I have left a comment, I've almost felt (perhaps unfairly in some cases) like an intruder.

Then there are the blogs which seem to welcome comments from total strangers, and although I still don't often comment, I do love to feel that I can. I also love it when, having left a comment, I see from Sitemeter that someone (I don't know whether it's the blog owner or another reader) has paid me a return visit. I've discovered a few good blogs myself by clicking on the profiles of people who have commented on my own blog.

I know that people have different reasons for keeping blogs - some only exist to keep faraway family and friends up to date with their daily lives, and in that case, maybe it is an intrusion when I interrupt the conversation with my own comments (though in that case, the option is always open through blogger for people to restrict their readership to those that they choose, so that I generally assume a blog with open readership is not restricted).

I know from Sitemeter that I have a fairly steady trickle of visitors, and some keep coming back. Some comment quite regularly, and I love reading their comments (and their blogs). I'd just like you all to know that this is (I hope) a friendly blog - as far as I know, only one person whom I know outside the blogging world reads my blog, and I love getting visits both from people I am getting to know and from total strangers and hearing what they think about the things I'm posting on.

I do moderate comments, and I have two reasons for this - first, because I find that's the best way to make sure I know when there's a new comment and don't miss reading it, and second, because I've both received a bit of spam/mass marketing/obscene junk myself and seen a lot on a couple of other blogs. However, my blog does now allow anonymous comments.

So if any of you are tempted to delurk, but are feeling a bit timid about it, can I just say - you're very welcome here, and I'd love to hear from you!

Poll on Motu Proprio

Some of you may be interested in visiting this poll at Beliefnet (on the right-hand side of the page). The question the poll asks is "Is allowing wider use of the old Latin Mass a good thing?"

At the time of writing this, the results stand as follows:

Yes - 52%
No - 35%
Don't know - 13%

Prayer for victims of terrorism

On 11 July 2006, 209 people were killed and over 700 were injured in a series of bomb attacks which took place over a period of 11 minutes in Mumbai.

Loving God,
Welcome into your arms
the victims of violence and terrorism.
Comfort their families and all who grieve for them.
Help us in our fear and uncertainty,
And bless us with the knowledge
that we are secure in your love.
Strengthen all those who work for peace,
And may the peace the world cannot give
reign in our hearts.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

A novel way to control crime

So the would-be bombers from 21 July 2005 have been convicted.

I was interested to see that the reason London was saved from absolute carnage that day was because the ringleader was so inept at basic arithmetic that he miscalculated the ratio of the ingredients and created a relatively harmless mix instead of the deadly explosive that he had planned.

He was educated in Britain, failed maths GSCE and was obviously so badly taught that he could barely count.

Thank Heaven for our failing education system... I think!

Monday, 9 July 2007

Sailing into Hamburg

OK, I'm wandering down the misty cobbles of Memory Lane now...

When I left China, I wasn't entirely ready to leave. My head gave me all sorts of good reasons why it was time to come home. My heart thought that another year or two (or maybe three or four) with my students in China would be rather nice.

My head won, and I packed up all my belongings and said goodbye to my students. They were a sentimental lot, and as a group of about 30 of them waved me off at the station, everybody cried as we sang 'The Last Farewell' (go on, listen to the first verse and tell me you wouldn't have cried!).

I boarded the ship in Hong Kong, and as it turned out all my worldly goods were on the ship with me. I had sent ten boxes by surface mail, and they arrived at my parents' house three days after I did, so must have been in one of those containers.

(Incidentally, there was a severe drought that summer, and water was rationed - I had a card which I had to show when fetching my single bucketful of water from the truck that came round twice a day. Because of this, my mother has always been able to top any of her friends' stories about children bringing piles of dirty laundry home from university. I actually ended up POSTING three boxes of dirty laundry back home from China when I left!)

For about the first fortnight, while enjoying the experience of travelling on a ship, being pampered by the sailors, and stopping off for visits in exotic locations like Singapore and Sri Lanka while containers were offloaded and new loads were taken on, I spent a lot of time thinking mournfully of all the things and all the people that I was going to miss in China.

For the next fortnight, the novelty began to wane as I got bored of spending two or three days at a time at sea with the same group of people (all of whom were actually there to work), with stopovers in between these stretches which seldom lasted more than a few hours. I started to look forward, thinking of all the things and all the people back home that I had missed while I was in China - and I found I couldn't wait to see them again.

It was in this frame of mind, after four weeks at sea, that I arrived at Hamburg. To get to the port of Hamburg, you have to travel a little way up the River Elbe. On the bank of the river is a building with three flagpoles outside. One flies the flag of Hamburg, one the German flag, and the other is spare. Every time a ship comes in or out of the harbour, someone checks to see what flag the ship is flying. The same flag is then raised on the spare flagpole, the relevant national anthem is played across the river on a loudspeaker, and the flag of Hamburg is dipped in greeting.

After three and a half years away from home and a month travelling back on a ship, I was absolutely ripe for this - standing on the deck of the ship, watching the Union Flag slowly rise to the top of the flagpole as the loudspeaker played 'God Save The Queen' was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

If you're ever travelling home after a long period away, I can recommend a sea voyage as the best way to give yourself time to let go of one place and get ready to say hello again to the other.

And do check out the welcome in Hamburg if you get a chance.

Eternal Father, strong to save

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm doth bind the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

O Saviour, whose almighty word
The winds and waves submissive heard,
Who walkedst on the foaming deep,
And calm amid its rage didst sleep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

O Sacred Spirit, who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
Who badd'st its angry tumult cease,
And gavest light and life and peace;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

O Trinity of love and power,
Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;
And ever let there rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Better late than never - Sea Sunday

I meant to post this yesterday - you'll have to forgive me for being a day late.

Yesterday was Sea Sunday, the day we particularly remember seafarers in our prayers. Being an island nation, we depend on seafarers not just to defend our interests in times of war, but to provide us with much of what we need for our daily life. In 1995, I spent a month travelling on a container ship from Hong Kong to the UK. I was the only passenger, and the sailors treated me like a queen!

Last week, we were reminded of the perils of the sea when 110 children taking part in a junior regatta off the Irish coast were swept out to sea when a sudden squall blew up. Lifeboats, helicopters and the navy were instantly deployed, and thanks to the professionalism of the crews and a heavy dose of divine intervention, all of the children were safely recovered and there were no serious injuries.

A lifeboat came a little closer to home when I took part in a regatta a couple of years ago with the firm that I then worked for. Most of the crews were very inexperienced, and the regatta was seen as more of a social event than anything else. We were sailing from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight when the wind increased in strength. I have had few more terrifying experiences than clinging to the side of a small boat as it was buffeted by the waves, lurching and tipping through the water.

On arrival on the Isle of Wight, we learnt that another of the boats, carrying its crew of seven novice sailors and one experienced skipper, had hit a rock and sunk. The crew were rescued by a lifeboat just before their boat disappeared beneath the waves. Their clothes, wallets, car keys and other possessions were consigned alone to a watery grave.

At the gala dinner that night, seven grateful novice sailors told us how they had been rescued. They then described the poor condition of the lifeboat and explained that it was likely to be taken out of commission in the near future due to lack of funds. A bucket was passed round, and over £3,000 was collected to help keep afloat these people who risk their lives to save others.

On a calm, sunny day, there's nothing more beautiful than the sea. And on a dark, stormy night, there's nothing more terrifying. Please remember all seafarers in your prayers - the navy, the merchant navy, lifeboat crews, fishermen, and all others who battle the untamed elements for our safety and comfort.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Motu Proprio

I'm sure nobody has come here without having read something already about the Motu Proprio.

I only have one thing to add:

If we as a Church can greet the Motu Proprio with half the wisdom, compassion and understanding that the Holy Father has shown, both in the Motu Proprio itself and in the accompanying letter to the bishops, the life of the whole Church will be enriched by it.

Thank God for this Pope, and may he continue to guide us for a good while to come.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Who says accountants have no imagination?

At the end of this week's teaching (on UK tax law), I divided the class up into teams and gave them a quiz.

I asked the first team what they wanted to be called.

"Errrr, Team A?" one of them eventually offered.

Then I went to the second team and asked them what they wanted to be called.

"Errrr, Team A?"

"No, that's already taken," I replied.

"Oh! Oh, OK, errrr... Ah! The A Team!"

For the record, Team A won. The A Team came second by one point. The third team, called 'No 'I' In Team', came last by a more significant margin. Obviously too much imagination...

Friday, 6 July 2007

5 things I love about Jesus meme

It's been a long week, and I was just thinking that I didn't have an awful lot to blog about this evening apart from how long the week's been and how tired I am. And then, lo and behold, I've been tagged by Esther for this meme, so you won't have to hear me whinge after all!

Here are the rules:

Those tagged will share 5 things they love about Jesus.
Those tagged will tag 5 other bloggers.
Those tagged will provide a link in the comments section here with their name so that others can read them.

Five things I love about Jesus:

1. That He chose to reveal Himself to simple, ordinary people, rather than to the people who thought of themselves as the great and the good

2. His commandment that we should love one another as He loved us

3. His humanity - He understands how we feel, the troubles and the joys that we encounter, and He has struggled with temptation and shows us that it can be overcome

4. His divinity - He is true God and true Man

5. His gift of Himself in remission of our sins

And now I tag Leticia, Ma Beck, Beth, Mac and Christine.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Coming second

At the age of about 14, I entered a tennis tournament (somewhat against my will - all the local teenagers were taking part, and my mother didn't want me to miss out).

A loss in the first round qualified me for the 'plate' competition. In my age group, there were only eight entrants, so I was instantly through to the semi-final. After my semi-final opponent had failed to turn up, giving me a bye to the final, I lost the final - and was awarded a trophy as the runner-up!

I was reminded of my dubious tennis 'success' just now by this hilarious news article. If you've ever had doubts about your cake baking skills, read this article and pity this poor woman!

Quote from Sir Winston Churchill

There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies.

I have a new nephew!

He was born at 2:10 this morning, weighing 8 lbs exactly. He's my seventh nephew and my sixth godchild - and I won't get to meet him till October. My sister-in-law did really well, he fed half an hour after birth and both mother and baby are fine.

Deo Gratias.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

And thinking of American tea parties...

[I'm afraid I can't remember where I found this - if anyone knows where I can find the credit, I'll add it to the post.]

Adults only

Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

pain (10x)
dead (7x)
death (5x)
abortion (2x)
shoot (1x)

Sorry, chaps - I didn't realise I was peddling such evil filth on my blog.

[I've seen this on loads of blogs - I think the first place I saw it was on Esther's blog, which is much nicer than mine and is rated G.]

To the American Nation

Happy birthday!

And now that you've had your fun, I believe that there's no British signature on the so-called Declaration of Independence, so can we please have our colony back?

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Needs no comment

I just came across this article about a mother who is having her eggs frozen in case her daughter, who has a syndrome which means she won't be able to have children naturally, wants them.

Here's the bit that proves how much we need ethics committees and politicians with a bit of backbone:

Professor Tan said... 'And ethical considerations change with time. Who knows what the ethics will be in 20 years from now.'

How's that for moral relativism?

Fruits of my labour

You know that DIY job I started about three months ago? Well, this weekend New Man and I finally got round to finishing it.

I'm so excited - all my books have been in boxes since last August, and this evening I got to unpack a few of the boxes. The shelves still need a bit of organising, and I've spent the money for the new sofa on my holiday in Washington, so will be sitting on patio furniture for a while, but isn't this a sight for sore eyes?!

Monday, 2 July 2007

Smoking ban: the best whinge yet

As of yesterday, smoking in all public buildings is now illegal in England. Smokers have been whinging about this ban for months, but this evening I saw the best whinge yet in the Evening Standard - a smoker was quoted as complaining that he shouldn't be made to go outside to smoke, as this exposes him to traffic fumes.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Reinforcing the message

Thinking of life issues reminds me of a story my mother tells.

When Humanae Vitae, the Papal Encyclical on the Regulation of Birth, was published, my eldest brother was two. At Mass that week, the priest was reading out a letter from the bishop, explaining what this Encyclical was all about.

My brother was not always well-behaved in church, and the letter was long, so my mother kept him quiet by feeding him some jelly babies that she found in her bag.

As the priest read on, explaining the Church's explicit prohibition of both abortion and contraception, my brother finished the sweets that he had been given, and in a piercing voice that carried throughout the whole church, he demanded to be given some more, shouting:

"More babies, more babies!"

My mother never fed sweets to any of her children in church again!

Day for Life

"I have carved you on the palm of my hand." (Isaiah 49:16)

Today is the Day for Life in England and Wales, the Church's annual celebration of the sacredness of human life, instigated by Pope John Paul II to celebrate the sanctity of human life from its very beginning to its natural end.

According to the leaflet we were given at Mass this morning, "Its primary purpose is to foster in individual consciences, in families, in the Church and in civil society a recognition of the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition."

The theme for this year's Day for Life is "Blessed is the fruit of your womb", as we remember that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Abortion Act in the UK.

We are also reminded today that the Catholic Church is a pro-life Church: "For us, being pro-life is not an optional extra - it is at the heart of what we believe. 'We believe in one God ... maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen'."

We are invited today to pray the following prayer:

We thank you, Lord, for the gift of life.
Every human life is your gift to the world.
Each person is unique,
with a task you have entrusted to them alone.
Help us always to promote the basic rights of all,
and to recognise that
we are all parts of one body,
dependent on one another,
and called to share a common life.