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.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Honeyed letters

There's another great story about the simplification of a writing system - it's probably apocryphal, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

Korean used to be written in Chinese characters, until in the fifteenth century King Sejong invented a new, simplified system called Hangul. Hangul is completely phonetic, and was designed to be easier to learn than Chinese characters, to aid the spread of literacy.

Legend has it that King Sejong, knowing that educated people would be resistant to any attempt to replace the system with which they were familiar with a new, "dumbed-down" system, thought hard about how to implement Hangul in a way that they would accept.

In the palace grounds, there was a large tree which was widely believed to have holy or magical properties. Late one night, the king went outside and drew the Hangul in honey on the leaves of this tree.

Overnight, insects ate this honey and the parts of the leaves which it covered, so that in the morning the symbols of the Hangul seemed to have appeared magically on the leaves. The king took the leaves to the kingdom's religious leaders, who declared them to be a sign from Heaven. This led to greater acceptance of Hangul among the people of Korea.

The story may or may not be true, but what is certainly true is that the nation's pride in its writing system is such that 9 October is designated Hangul Day in Korea. Although Hangul Day lost its status as a national holiday in 1991, it remains a national day of commemoration.

Here in the UK, many groups have campaigned over recent years for an increase in the number of bank holidays, since we have fewer public holidays than most other countries. So this is my nomination for a new holiday which would surely be acceptable to all in our multicultural society: Alphabet Day. Now, when shall we have it...?

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Chairman Mao and the Oxford English Dictionary

This post over at Antagonistic Pots and Pans reminded me of a conversation I had the other day.

Someone had asked me to read something in Chinese, and my excuse for struggling with some of the characters was that they were in the traditional form, and I had learnt the modern form. Of course, that led to a little lecturette on the difference.

Writing systems are very tied up with national identity, and it's notoriously difficult to make any sort of change in the way a language is written - particularly as the people who have the most power are those who are educated and have already invested a significant amount of time in learning the existing system, so they have a vested interest in preserving it.

After the Communists took over in China, they wanted to spread literacy amongst the peasants. There's a fascinating museum in Yan'an (where the Communists ended up after the Long March), whose exhibits include small boxes of sand which would be smoothed over and then used to trace characters to teach them to farmers in the surrounding countryside.

The Communists, under Chairman Mao, decided that in order for literacy to become more widespread, the writing system should be simplified. The whole system of Chinese characters was very tied up in the Chinese identity, and served as a unifying factor amongst people in different parts of this huge country who spoke dialects which in many cases were not actually mutually intelligible. An alphabetic system would have been impractical and divisive, since it would have been necessary either to introduce more than one spelling system or to spell words in a way which bore no relation to the way they were pronounced in many parts of the country.

What they did was to retain the existing characters, but in simplified form. Two lists of official simplified forms were published, in 1956 and 1964. A further round of simplification was introduced in 1977 but did not catch on, and the 1977 list was withdrawn in 1986. The reason the characters used in Hong Kong and Taiwan look slightly different from those used in mainland China is that the simplification only took place under the Communists, and Hong Kong and Taiwan continued to use the old form of the characters.

Some of the simplified forms were of whole characters. Others were of radicals - the majority of Chinese characters are made up of two elements: a radical, which gives some clue as to the meaning of the word, and a phonetic, which gives a clue as to its pronunciation. There are only 214 radicals, many of which are used in hundreds of different characters, so changing a single radical can have a significant simplifying effect.

The main reason the 1956 and 1964 lists were widely accepted, while the 1977 list was not, is that the 1977 simplifications were artificially created for the purpose by the leftists, whereas the 1956 and 1964 lists were mostly of existing well-known abbreviations which were simply formally adopted. The fact that they were already in use made it much easier for people who were already literate to accept them.

And this is where we come to where I started this post - the friend to whom I gave this mini lecturette the other day said, "So it's a bit like the government adopting txt spk as the official spelling system for the language?"

I suppose it is, a bit - and it's already happening. The latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary recognises the increasing obsolescence of the hyphen in modern electronic communications by omitting it from 16,000 words in which it previously appeared, and there are dire predictions that the hyphen will soon become extinct.

I bet you never knew Chairman Mao and the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary had so much in common...

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Oh well, I never really thought otherwise

Now I know the true value of my blog - thanks Amy Caroline. I can't give up the day job yet, then.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Mr Arrogant

I'm stuck in an absolute hole of a "conference centre" this week, in the middle of nowhere. It claims to have rooms that are "set up to enable you to work in comfort", but they have no internet access. If I want the internet, I have to come down to the coffee bar and put up with the noise - OK for blogging, but not ideal when you want to get some serious work done. Oh, and the only place in the hotel that has internet access is different from the only place in the hotel that has mobile phone reception, so I have to choose between them - and neither of those places is my bedroom.

And I'm looking after the class with Mr Arrogant in it. He's the one who, when I asked him to stop talking while I was teaching, said, "I was talking about work, if it helps." I replied, "Not really. Whatever you were talking about, it's rude to talk while I'm talking, and I find it distracting." Later, I gave him another chance to apologise, and he reiterated that he found it helpful to discuss things with the person next to him as we went along and didn't see why I should make him stop. I said he was welcome to ask questions or share comments with the whole class at any time, but that it was distracting both for the tutor and for the rest of the class if someone was talking (not even whispering) the whole time. He reckoned that was my problem, not his.

This morning, they're doing a mock exam - the real exam is in November, and this is a revision week for them. I handed out some papers to the class and said that if anyone wanted additional material they could come and find me. I gave them my mobile number (not that they'll be able to get hold of me if I stay here) and my room number (not that I can stay in it if I want to use either the mobile or the internet). Mr Arrogant piped up: "We don't want to have to chase round the hotel after you. Can you put the stuff under our doors." (No question mark there - his intonation didn't suggest a question, but an order.) Right, so instead of each person knocking on my door once, I have to go round all of their rooms.

Is it me, or is this guy (who is one of my students and is several grades below me on the career ladder) totally out of order? And what have I done to deserve an entire week of looking after his class?

Anyway, blogging may be sparse this week, what with the whole internet access and phone reception issue. Hope your week is better than mine is shaping up to be.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Rules for writers

My favourite of these rules was one which my old RE teacher once wrote on one of my essays. I never worked out whether she had done it on purpose or not. She wrote, "You should never use the words 'always' and 'never', because there's always an exception". Here are some more:

Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
Don't use a preposition to end a sentence with.
And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat)
Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
No sentence fragments.
Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.
Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
Don't use no double negatives.
Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
One-word sentences? Eliminate.
Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
The active voice is preferred. The passive voice is to be avoided.
Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
Kill all exclamation points!!!
Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
Who needs rhetorical questions?
Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
A writer mustn't shift your point of view.
Always check to see if you have any words out.
When dangling, don't use participles.

And I can't leave you without mentioning my favourite sentence-ending-with-prepositions. A father was putting his small boy to bed, and the boy realised he had left his book of bedtime stories downstairs. The father went downstairs to get it, but came back with the wrong book, and the boy said, "Oh no, what did you bring that book I don't want you to read out of up for?"

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Happy birthday to my sisters

As a small girl with three brothers, I longed for a little sister when I was growing up, so my parents told me to pray for one. A couple of weeks after my seventh birthday, my prayers were answered when my first sister was born.

My father had been serving overseas and was allowed to come back for the birth. My two older brothers were at boarding school, so my little brother and I were on our own with the babysitter when my parents went to the hospital.

My father got back from the hospital at about 8:30 pm, clutching a bottle of champagne. He didn't want to drink alone with the babysitter, so he woke me up to give me my first taste of champagne and tell me about my new little sister.

As we sat there drinking our champagne, my father said something to me and called me "Dearest Daughter". My immediate response was, "Daddy, you must never say that to me again. You've got two daughters now so I can't be your dearest."

He never has called me "Dearest" again - although he has told that story approximately 15,683 times over the years since then.

Two years later, we were equally delighted when my second little sister turned up as a second birthday present for my first sister.

Today, my youngest sister is away, travelling round Europe, but my first sister will be coming over for lunch with her husband and two children. I baked a cake last night and left it on the cooling rack overnight, so now I must go down and ice it, and get a few little treats ready.

I thank God for answering my prayers as a child and giving me two such wonderful sisters, and ask Him for abundant blessings for both of them in the year ahead.

Friday, 21 September 2007

New Bishop of Beijing

This is Mgr Joseph Li Shan, who was ordained Bishop of Beijing today, with the approval both of the Vatican and of the Chinese government. He is the first mutually recognised Bishop of Beijing for almost 50 years (see here and here for details).

Heavenly Father,
give your bishop holiness of life
and wisdom to direct and guide his Diocese
so that they may grow in your love.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Not looking forward to tomorrow

I set the dates for all my autumn training courses several months ago. Some time after that, I got an invitation to the firm's summer party, an event at which free food is plentiful and free drink even more so. Since it was the day before one of my teaching days, I decided I'd better turn down the invitation and have a reasonably early night, so I would be fresh for teaching the next day.

I must have a few missing synapses in my brain, because despite this reasoning, it was only when someone pointed it out to me last week that I realised the fatal flaw to my plans - ALL the participants on tomorrow's course will have attended the party tonight.

So tomorrow I'm teaching what is universally acknowledged to be the most difficult of all the topics that I teach, to a roomful of people who will have had about four hours' sleep and will all be nursing hangovers.

Wish me luck...


Suppose you were the sort of person who used on-line banking.

And suppose your bank had decided to increase their level of internet security.

And suppose the increased levels of security meant that they sent you a special electronic card reader for use with your home computer.

And suppose it arrived on a day you weren't expecting it, and was small enough for the postman to post it through your door.

And suppose you got home late and the light switch, for some reason best known to the previous owners of your house, was on the opposite side of the room from the front door.

And suppose as you stepped through the front door into the dark room, you stepped on something that was on the doormat and heard an unexpected crunching sound.

Do you suppose your bank would send you a replacement card reader without charging you an arm and a leg for it?

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

A story to make you feel sick - sorry

On the train on my way home this evening, I read one of those single paragraph articles they use to fill up space. It said that a mother in Australia was suing her IVF doctor because she had given birth to healthy twins after insisting that she only wanted one baby.

I've just looked it up - the full story is here, and it's not pretty. Since she's suing for the "wrongful birth" of one of her three-year-old twins, I wonder if she's had to choose which of the twins she would rather not have had?

The women concerned (yes, it's a lesbian couple) went to court today to try to ensure that their identities can never be revealed, because "it could be distressing for the girls to discover several years down the track that their mothers did not want to have them both".

Pity they didn't think of that before launching the court case.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Married clergy

I've been following the comments in this post by Carolina Cannonball, and decided to wade in with a few observations from my own life. Sit back and make yourself a cup of tea, because this is going to be a long post...

The first observation - army wives

My father was an army officer, and I grew up moving house approximately every year or two, following my father's latest posting. My mother's role in the regiment was almost as important as my father's - while he was taking his platoon/squadron/regiment off on training exercises or, even more importantly, on actual operations, my mother was responsible for looking after the wives and families who were left behind. Her (unpaid) role included everything from lending a sympathetic ear when someone was missing her husband and organising activities to keep morale up generally while the men were away to helping with childcare arrangements to keeping an eye on particular families which seemed to be struggling and helping them to identify when they needed external help and to get that help. She was also expected to visit any members of the soldiers' families who were in hospital, and she frequently gave advice to young mothers and supported them as they struggled to look after their babies when their own mothers were too far away to help.

Until very recently, it was expected that officers' wives would perform these roles. It was equally expected that they would travel wherever their husbands were posted, and that when the men were sent on unaccompanied postings to troublespots abroad, the families of the regiment would stay together and look out for each other.

These days, women want careers of their own, and their own career aspirations are frequently incompatible with annual or biennial changes of location. More and more military families are living away from the regiment, with husbands frequently forced to choose between a long daily commute or spending long periods of time living apart from their families. And many officers' wives are quite indignant at the suggestion that they might like to get involved in any pastoral care for the families of the men under their husbands' command. This, combined with the increasing number of women who are themselves serving in the military, is leading to some quite profound structural changes in military society, which are an inevitable consequence of women wanting more independence.

The second observation - vicars' wives

A schoolfriend of mine fell in love with and married a Church of England vicar when she was 19. At the time, she was a medical student, and there was no way she was willing to give up her medical studies or her ambitions as a doctor in favour of the traditional role of a vicar's wife. She was not interested in hosting vicarage tea parties, attending functions in the village at her husband's side, or inviting parishioners into her home and making cups of tea for them while they talked to her husband.

Unfortunately, she was also not interested in sharing her husband with hundreds of strangers. She resented the fact that he was out most evenings running parish groups, visiting parishioners who were sick, leading Bible study, etc. She resented even more the occasional phone calls from parishioners in crisis which woke her up in the middle of the night and always seemed to come when she was preparing for an exam at medical school, not feeling well, or otherwise really needed her sleep.

Her attitude, while understandable from her point of view, was not compatible with her husband's calling as a vicar. It very soon became clear that he had a choice between remaining married to her or being a vicar, and they divorced. This option would not, of course, be open to a married Catholic priest, who in such a situation would be forced either to give up his vocation or to live with the intolerable stress of a wife who acted as a barrier between him and his parishioners.

Contrast this with another friend of mine, who was already married with two children at the time he entered his training to be a Church of England vicar. He had discussed his vocation with his wife, they had discussed the implications for her, for their children and for their future life together, and they had taken the decision as a family that this was the right course for them. He is now a popular vicar in the North of England, ably supported by a wife who shares his passion for his flock.

The third observation - teachers

When I was in China, I took on a pastoral role towards my students. They frequently came to me for advice, to talk through difficult issues both in their studies and in their personal lives. There were many days when I would be teaching from 8 till 12 in the morning, then the first knock at my door would come as I was preparing some lunch back in my flat, and the last student would not leave until 10 or 11 at night. In between, I somehow had to prepare my lessons and do my marking.

I was able to make myself 100% available to the students who needed my help because I had no family there, and my students took full advantage of it.

I had friends who were teaching on the same programme but had arrived in China as married couples. They too had left their friends and families in the UK in order to give their time fully to their students (we were working for a voluntary organisation, and saw our role as more than simply standing in the classroom and delivering a few classes). They too tried to make it clear to their students that they were 100% available to anyone who needed help.

However, each of these couples could go for days on end without a single student knocking on their doors. However much the couple protested that they were available, and that students could visit them at any time, the students were reticent about disturbing a married couple in a way that they were not about disturbing a single person.

The reticence must be even more pronounced for someone who knows that the person they are disturbing has a new baby and a toddler who is teething, or who knows that the person's children are both sleeping badly because they have chicken pox, or whatever other minor crisis might come up in the life of a person who has a family.

My own conclusion on the issue

I think there is a difference between a priest who is already married when he becomes a priest and one who marries after his ordination, because anyone who is already married is not going to take such a major step without discussing it with his wife and ensuring that she is happy with the effect that it will have on her. I have also known widower priests who definitely brought an extra dimension of understanding to their pastoral role - but they were older men whose families had grown up, and they did not have the pressures of a young family to look after.

However, as a general rule, if I were asked whether I thought it would be a good idea for priests to be married, I would say no, for the following reasons:

- A priest's first loyalty is to God. His second loyalty should be to his parishioners. A husband and father owes loyalty to his wife and children, and this can conflict with fulfilling the needs of the parishioners.

- Regardless of how selfless the priest and his wife and children are, many parishioners will hesitate to disturb a family man. Of course, there will always be some who think nothing of disturbing their parish priest in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, but those who are genuinely in need of help, prayer or a sympathetic ear should not be made to feel embarrassed or feel that they are unable to call for fear of disturbing other members of the priest's family.

- Women these days are increasingly unwilling to give up the chance of having their own career and to put the demands of their husband's job first. A vocation, particularly a priestly one, is not a nine to five job. Many women simply will not accept the intrusion into their 'personal' time.

Given the above, I think the Catholic Church has come up with a pragmatic and workable solution - men who are already married when they discover their vocation are, in certain limited circumstances, allowed to be ordained priests, but men who are already Catholic priests are not permitted to (re)marry. I personally think a dating priest, or even a priest who was permitted to date, would be a disaster.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

I hate wet towels...

The spare room is now officially known as New Man's room, as he stays over most weekends. This morning I didn't stir from my room until I heard him come out of the bathroom, and then I went to have my shower, only to find that my towel was wet.

The following conversation ensued once I'd got dressed and joined him in the kitchen:

Me: "Did I ever tell you about the time my mother stabbed my brother?"

New Man: "Not that I recall. Why do you want to tell me about it now?"

Me: "Because the reason she stabbed him was because he used someone else's towel."

New Man doesn't always pick up on subtle hints, but I think he got this one!

The story is true. My second brother never used to use his own towel when we were growing up, but would always grab the nearest one. At the age of eight, he had impetigo, and my mother warned him again and again that he MUST use only his own towel, because impetigo was so contagious and she didn't want the whole family to get it.

In the house we were living in at the time, the kitchen table was next to the door. My mother was chopping vegetables at the table one evening when my brother wandered downstairs after his bath. She looked up to see him coming into the kitchen, wrapped in someone else's towel.

Throwing the knife down on the table, she exclaimed, "How many times have I told you not to use other people's towels?" ... and then watched in horror as the knife slid all the way across the table and sank, quivering, into his arm.

Of course, my mother has never been allowed to forget it. And hopefully New Man won't forget the real moral of the story either.

Sometimes people can surprise you

Just after I got engaged, I signed up to a wedding planning website. The chat forum fascinates me, because there's every type of bride-to-be on there - divorcees, people who've been living with their partners for years, and people like me who haven't been married before and won't live with their husbands-to-be until after they marry. So you get quite a range of opinion on most topics.

The other day, someone posted a question: "Are you saving yourself for marriage?"

The responses were as uniform as I've ever seen them: "You must be joking", "No way", "Nobody does that any more", "We already have two children, so not really", etc.

Now, this is something I've had a problem with over the years. I don't like being treated as though I'm a freak, and I have been quite viciously verbally attacked on several occasions by people who considered it unnatural that I didn't leap into bed with every boy I liked. So I carried on doing what I thought was right, but throughout my late teens and twenties, I kept quiet and let people assume what they wanted to assume. I didn't want to have to justify my 'freakish' behaviour.

In my thirties, I got a bit bolshier - I'm proud that I didn't give in to the pressure in my youth, and I think it's good for people to see someone actually practising what the Church teaches and standing up for their beliefs.

So when I saw this thread, with all the people saying what a ridiculous idea it was that anybody should save themselves for their wedding night, I was taken right back to the times when I used to keep my mouth shut for fear of being laughed at or worse. And I decided I wouldn't put up with that. So I posted a response to the thread. I said, "Our wedding night will be the first time for both my husband to be and me. Having waited 38 years, I can easily wait another 9 months."

I then sat back and waited for the onslaught. The first response met my expectations: "You are joking, aren't you?"

Then people realised I was serious. And the next six responses were all along the lines of, "Good for you", "You need a medal", "Hats off to you" and "Good luck to you" (interspersed with "Of course, I could never do it myself", etc).

So I suppose I just want to say.... guess what?! The playground bullies do grow up - and they end up respecting you for the decisions you made that they thought were crazy at the time. I know most people who read this blog are beyond the age of getting pressure on this particular issue from their peers, but I just wanted to encourage anyone who's struggling with this sort of pressure at the moment. And to let you know that you're not the only one, as I often felt I was.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Oh boy

Here's some fantastic news! Waiting For The Gift Of Children has changed the name of her blog.

Please keep her and her precious little lima bean in your prayers.

Some good news from the ground

It's great to see that there's some good news coming out of the Catholic church in China at the moment. Adam Minter, an American writer based in Shanghai, tells us that Guiyang has a new bishop. This is a hugely important development, as Adam explains - Fr Paul Xiao Zejiang, the elected and government-approved candidate for the role of adjutor bishop, has received the Pope's blessing in advance of his ordination.

Not only that, but a Papal document has been circulating in Guiyang highlighting the Pope's approval of this choice, and as word has spread, underground Catholics have not only congratulated the new bishop but agreed to participate with the official church in the ordination ceremony. In so doing, these Chinese Catholics have taken a major step towards healing the painful rift between underground and 'official' Catholics, in accordance with the express wish of the Pope in his recent letter to China's faithful.

As Churchill said, this is not the end. It may not even be the beginning of the end. But if it's the end of the beginning of this chapter in China's history, this is a cause for great optimism.

What is a great shame is that this good news has been hugely underreported, and where reports have appeared, they have contained factual inaccuracies and revealed only the prejudices of their authors - take, for instance, the article Adam mentions at the end of this piece, which leads with the headline "New Vatican row looms as assistant bishop ordained", and includes the patently absurd claim that the ordination “could rile the Vatican”.

I should add that as far as I can make out, a lot of the reports and commentary I've read from the West on the death of the underground bishop Mgr Han Dingxian have been wildly exaggerated. It's terrible that he spent half his adult life in prison, and the Chinese authorities rightly deserve condemnation for this curtailment of his freedom. But he was not a young man, he had lung cancer, and there is no real suggestion that there was any foul play involved in his death.

What there has been is disappointment that he was cremated so soon after his death and without the chance to receive the sacraments - another article I read indicates that this may have been a deliberate move by police to avoid an illegal gathering of the underground church at his funeral. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the law which makes such a gathering illegal, the pragmatic decision to try to avert potential trouble by simply not allowing the situation to arise is not necessarily a sign of evil intent.

Of course, a glance at the Western media will tell you that human nature likes nothing better than a conspiracy theory, and so there has also been wild speculation in some quarters about possible other reasons for the speed of the cremation, coupled with the resurrection of stories from several years ago.

Now, I'm no apologist for the Chinese regime - several people I know well, including one very good friend, have spent time in Chinese jails as prisoners of conscience. We live by our reputations, and the Chinese government deservedly acquired a reputation for brutality during the Cultural Revolution, which it did little to shake off in the following decades.

But the news is not unrelentingly bad. The quiet diplomacy of the Vatican has carried on in the background over the last several years, and there is cause for hope. Let's not forget that hope. And let's not forget to pray for wisdom for China's leaders as they guide the increasing liberalisation of their country, and for the people who have suffered under a harsh regime to be given the strength to forgive and rebuild their lives in peace and without bitterness.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Little tunes

Diana said yesterday that she enjoys listening to secular Christmas music all year round. Coincidentally, I had been having a conversation at work earlier in the day about the little tunes that you would hear daily when I was working in China, prompted by a colleague talking about the annoying beep that her washing machine emits to let her know it has finished its cycle.

There was the water truck that came round in the height of summer to sprinkle the roads and keep the dust down - the tune that it played constantly as it went to warn people to get out of the way was a medley of 'We wish you a merry Christmas', 'Jingle bells' and 'Santa Claus is coming to town'. The same medley was played, all the way through at breakneck speed, by my friend's doorbell every time it was pressed. After a while, she used to beg people to knock rather than ring the bell! (My own doorbell wasn't a simple 'Ding dong' either, but a speaking alert which said "Ni hao - qing kai men" - "Hello - please open the door".)

A lot of the little ditty-making factories seemed to have been infiltrated by Christian missionaries. So, for instance, I had a ridiculously cheap watch with an alarm on it. The tune played by the alarm was 'Jesu, joy of man's desiring'.

Our washing machines were twin tub affairs - it took forever to do the washing, but since you could fill the washing tub with water at one time and then run the wash cycle at another, the machines were very practical in a situation where we very often had either water or electricity but very seldom both at the same time. When the water situation got very bad, the washing machine was a great place to store water for daily use.

Some of the smarter models would play a tune to alert you when the washing cycle was finished, so that you could drain the water out and transfer your clothes into the spinner. My favourite of these was another friend's machine, which played 'Onward Christian soldiers'.

How boring we are in the West, having machines that just emit a monotonous beep or buzz to let us know they've finished...

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

More remembering

I spent the summer of 2004 working in my firm's New York office. I took these pictures at Ground Zero on 11 September 2004.


11 September 2001. One of those days that nobody who was conscious at the time will ever forget.

We remember what we were doing when we heard the news, the way strangers stopped to talk to each other about it in the street, the atmosphere of stunned disbelief and the shock of seeing the television pictures.

We remember the stories of desperate sadness - the people who lost loved ones, the huge numbers of lives that were devastated in a single day of horror.

We also remember the stories of loving generosity and of selfless heroism.

We remember a huge outpouring of love, sympathy and outrage from across the globe, from all races and all religious groups.

Hatred didn't win that day. Strangers looked out for each other, helped each other, reached out to each other. All over the world, people of all creeds were united in prayer for the victims of this atrocity. I had just started a new job, and my Pakistani neighbours had invited me round for supper that evening. We sat together, four Moslems and a Christian, united in horror, disbelief and total rejection of what the perpetrators of this atrocity had done.

We saw evil, and we rejected it. And we continue to reject evil and to pray for the triumph of good in the world.

I posted a prayer for the victims of terrorism in July. As I pray it again today, I remember all the people who are still suffering today as a result of that one dreadful act of evil. May God enfold them in His loving arms and give them peace.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Ever have one of those days...

... where you feel so antisocial you can't even be bothered to talk to yourself?

Sunday, 9 September 2007

An unexpected sort of day

I'm ridiculously busy at work at the moment, and will have to spend most of today working once I get back from Mass. So when New Man announced that one of his closest friends was coming over from the US this weekend and wanted to meet us in Bournemouth on Saturday at another friend's house, I wasn't all that impressed. I was even less impressed when I discovered he had flown into Heathrow on Friday evening and hired a car, and so could have driven a mere 20 miles to come and spend the night with us before driving down to Bournemouth on Saturday morning.

But I didn't complain, and as New Man doesn't drive, I drove him down to Bournemouth - and boy, was I rewarded for my efforts!

After a summer of rotten weather, the sun came out yesterday, and the weather was absolutely glorious. We went to Kimmeridge for the day, and after clambering over rocks for almost an hour, we ended up having a beautiful and secluded cove completely to ourselves. I collected a couple of interesting fossils, and we saw a whole lot more, including some that were almost a foot across. But the best bit was that New Man's Bournemouth friend is a keen snorkeller, and he took each of us out in turn and showed us the best places to see the fish.

Yes, that's right - not only was I swimming in the sea yesterday (just in my swimming costume - no wetsuit needed), but I discovered the joys of snorkelling off the Dorset coast! As well as being a wildlife reserve, the area we visited is difficult to get to by land, so it's completely unspoilt. We saw a number of fish - several large bass, mullet, wrasse, and lots of smaller fish. The water was amazingly clear, and the plant life was also beautiful.

It was the first time I've ever tried snorkelling, and I think I'm hooked! What you're looking at is beautiful, and all you can hear is the sound of your breathing. I was completely immersed in the moment, and forgot about the piles of work waiting for me at home, the long drive back, and all the other little things that were making me feel stressed.

I can highly recommend the experience to anyone who hasn't tried it - and don't let anyone tell you that you have to go to exotic locations overseas to do it.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Birthday of our Blessed Mother

Having been destined to become
the Mother of the Eternal Word,
this child was enriched with so great a grace that,
even at the moment
of Her Immaculate Conception,
she exceeded all the Saints and Angels in sanctity,
for she was given a higher order of grace,
which corresponded to her dignity
as Mother of God.
She was born a great saint!
Mary's soul was the most beautiful soul
that God ever created.
How delightful a sight to heaven and earth
must have been
the beautiful soul of this happy child!
Let us rejoice with our beloved infant
who was born so holy,
so dear to God,
and so full of grace.
- St. Alphonsus de Liguori

Friday, 7 September 2007

Hmmm - really?

I drove past a church the other day which had a sign very similar to this outside it:

I wonder... Given that this isn't a Catholic church and there was a boardroom coup a few centuries ago, is this claim strictly accurate?

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

A great story

A little girl called Aaliyah Hart started school today. Have a look at her story and watch the video here.

What makes Aaliyah special is that when she was born three months premature, she was Britain's smallest baby. She was 7 inches long and weighed only 12 oz. At birth, she was given a 1% chance of survival.

Aaliyah's parents had been trying for a baby for fifteen years. Five months into the pregnancy, they discovered that their much-wanted baby was not growing properly. Doctors gave her a 10% chance of survival and advised her mother to have a termination.

After Aaliyah's birth, her mother had the following words for expectant mothers who are told their babies may not survive:

"I'm proud I was strong enough not to listen to the so-called experts. I didn't crumble under their advice. This is great proof for all baby doctors . . . think and remember Aaliyah Hart."

And here's what Aaliyah's mother said this week, four and a half years later:

"The doctors offered to abort her right up until I gave birth. But I was blessed with a strong little girl who pulled through. And now she's preparing for her first day at proper school."

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

What a difference a year makes

Today is my birthday. This time last year, I wasn't too happy about being another year older. Moving house and changing jobs was all part of a plan to try to get the sort of life I would enjoy on my own, having given up on waiting and hoping that I might meet someone with whom I would build a life together. I was firmly convinced that I would always be single, and was 99% resigned to that. What I was less resigned to was the idea that I would never have children, and I bought a larger house in the hope that I might one day be able to use the extra space to do some fostering.

I moved out of my old flat a couple of days after my birthday last year, and stayed with my sister for a few months until this house became available. One of the first things I did after moving in was to get a wireless broadband connection, and my television sat idle in the corner as I began to spend my evenings surfing the net.

I thought I was 100% resigned to staying single, but for some reason I still held out enough hope to decide to sign up with I had already tried Yahoo Personals a couple of years earlier, and the people I had met had no interest in getting to know me better - I never got past a first date, and my confidence in my attractiveness to the opposite sex sank even lower than it had been before.

So it was with some trepidation that I wrote a profile for I decided to be totally honest. I didn't beat about the bush and say things that I thought someone might want to hear - I said exactly who I was and what sort of qualities I was looking for in a partner. Having written my profile, I ran a search for anyone who might match my interests. The first profile it spat back at me was New Man's, and as soon as I'd read it I sent him an e-mail. He, too, had almost entirely given up on ever meeting someone, and had been browbeaten into signing up with by his best friend.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Actually, that's not true. The rest is our future. I hope we'll be able to have children - it's what I've dreamt of all my life, and New Man would make a wonderful father. But one of the reasons I know New Man is the right man for me is that he's the only person I've ever been able to imagine being happy with even if we can't have children.

And so this year, I'm looking forward to my (ahem, 38th - but don't tell anybody) birthday with considerably more optimism. I love my job. I live in a lovely house, with friendly neighbours, in an ideal location. And most importantly, I'll be spending the evening out to dinner with my wonderful fiance.

This past year, I have been truly blessed. Deo Gratias.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Top 100 songs meme

Esther has tagged me for this meme. Here are the instructions:

First, you go here, scroll down to the bottom and select the year that you left secondary (high) school.

Then, code the entries as follows:

  • Bold = I loved it
  • Underlined = I liked it
  • Strikethrough =I hated it

Do nothing to entries you don’t remember, or have no response to.

I've cheated a little bit by using a UK top 100 list from here rather than the US one above. So here we go...

UK Top 100 Singles of 1987

1 Never Gonna Give You Up – Rick Astley
2 Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now – Starship
3 I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) – Whitney Houston
4 You Win Again – Bee Gees
5 China In Your Hand – T’Pau
6 Respectable – Mel and Kim
7 Stand By Me – Ben E King
8 It’s A Sin – Pet Shop Boys
9 Star Trekkin’ – The Firm
10 Pump Up The Volume – M/A/R/R/S
11 I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) – George Michael & Aretha Franklin
12 Under The Boardwalk – Bruce Willis
13 Let It Be – Ferry Aid
14 Always On My Mind – Pet Shop Boys
15 Got My Mind Set On You – George Harrison
16 Can’t Be With You Tonight – Judi Boucher
17 La Isla Bonita - Madonna
18 La Bamba – Los Lobos
19 Hold Me Now – Johnny Logan
20 Who’s That Girl - Madonna
21 Everything I Own – Boy George
22 Down To Earth – Curiosity Killed The Cat
23 When A Man Loves A Woman – Percy Sledge
24 Heartache – Pepsi and Shirlie
25 Always – Atlantic Starr
26 Whenever You Need Somebody – Rick Astley
27 Toy Boy - Sinitta
28 I Get The Sweetest Feeling – Jackie Wilson
29 Faith – George Michael
30 I Just Can’t Stop Loving You – Michael Jackson & Siedah Garrett
31 Live It Up – Mental As Anything
32 Love In The First Degree/Mr. Sleaze - Bananarama
33 Crockett’s Theme – Jan Hammer
34 Alone - Heart
35 Wipeout – Fat Boys & Beach Boys
36 Call Me - Spagna
37 Let’s Wait Awhile – Janet Jackson
38 Jack Your Body – Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley
39 The Great Pretender – Freddie Mercury
40 Male Stripper – Man 2 Man Meets Man Parrish
41 Lean On Me – Club Nouveau
42 What Have I Done To Deserve This – Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield
43 Some People – Cliff Richard
44 A Boy From Nowhere – Tom Jones
45 With Or Without You – U2
46 Wishing Well – Terence ‘Trent’ D’Arby
47 Heart and Soul – T’Pau
48 Fairytale Of New York – The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl
49 I Wanna Be Your Drill Instructor – Abigail Mead & Nigel Goulding
50 My Arms Keep Missing You/When I Fall In Love – Rick Astley
51 Never Can Say Goodbye - Communards
52 Bad – Michael Jackson
53 You’re The Voice – John Farnham
54 Living In A Box – Living In A Box
55 Little Lies – Fleetwood Mac
56 The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson
57 Sweet Little Mystery – Wet Wet Wet
58 Reet Petite – Jackie Wilson
59 Shattered Dreams – Johnny Hates Jazz
60 True Faith – New Order
61 Criticize – Alexander O’Neal
62 Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Mel Smith & Kim Wilde
63 Crush On You – The Jets
64 I Want Your Sex – George Michael
65 Love Letters – Alison Moyet
66 Jack Mix II - Mirage
67 If You Let Me Stay –Terence ‘Trent’ D’Arby
68 Labour Of Love – Hue and Cry
69 Running In The Family – Level 42
70 Almaz – Randy Crawford
71 (Something Inside) So Strong – Labi Siffre
72 Causing A Commotion - Madonna
73 My Baby Just Cares For Me – Nina Simone
74 (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life – Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes
75 I Found Lovin’ – Fatback Band
76 Weak In The Presence Of Beauty – Alison Moyet
77 FLM – Mel & Kim
78 Letter From America – The Proclaimers
79 The Slightest Touch – Five Star
80 What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For – Shakin’ Stevens
81 So Emotional – Whitney Houston
82 Mony Mony – Billy Idol
83 Somewhere Out There – Linda Ronstadt & James Ingram
84 House Nation – Housemaster Boyz
85 Heaven Is A Place On Earth – Belinda Carlisle
86 Animal – Def Leppard
87 Wishing I Was Lucky – Wet Wet Wet
88 Here I Go Again - Whitesnake
89 Is This Love – Alison Moyet
90 The Circus - Erasure
91 Crazy Crazy Nights - KISS
92 I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2
93 The Living Daylights – A-ha
94 Coming Around Again – Carly Simon
95 C’est La Vie – Robbie Nevil
96 Another Step (Closer To You) – Kim Wilde & Junior
97 I Need Love – LL Cool J
98 Is This Love - Whitesnake
99 Jive Talkin’ – Boogie Box High
100 No More The Fool – Elkie Brooks

Phew... now - who to tag? Any of you who left school in the 80s and fancy a trip down memory lane.

A wonderful friendship

This weekend I spent 38 hours travelling in order to spend 36 hours (two nights and a day) at a friend's house in Northern Ireland. The journey was so long because I drove and took the ferry so I could show my car (a classic MG) in the annual parade in their town.

New Man chose not to come on this occasion - he couldn't get Friday off work and so would have had to fly out and join us on Saturday morning. It was the first weekend we hadn't seen each other since I came back from the US in early June.

It was an expensive trip, and now I'm exhausted and really not ready for what's going to be a VERY busy week at work.

So was it worth it?

Well, as soon as I arrived, just after 8:00 on Friday evening, my friend's six-year-old daughter rushed out to greet me, and after giving me a huge hug, she danced around me excitedly as I retrieved my bag from the car. I had plenty more hugs from the children in the course of the weekend, and enjoyed playing with them and listening to their excited chatter.

I've been over there a number of times before, and know several of my friend's friends quite well. On Saturday evening, she had invited a selection of them round for a barbecue to celebrate my engagement and my birthday (which is tomorrow).

For the 36 hours I was there, I knew that I was totally welcome. The people who came to the barbecue were all happy to hear the news of my engagement and wanted to share my happiness. They're all eager to meet New Man and made me promise to bring him over to meet them as soon as I can.

It's not always easy to keep in touch with our friends. Other things get in the way - our own family life, the physical distance between us, work commitments, cost... But this particular friend and I have seen each other through some fairly major events, some happy, some sad, some absolutely devastating, as well as countless minor events. We have a shared history and can talk about anything to each other, and each of us knows that if we were in trouble, the other would do everything in her power to help. If you find a friend like that who's really worth keeping, sometimes it's worth making a special effort to show them how important they are to you.

It may be a cliche, but it's my 1-year-old nephew's favourite song:

Make new friends,
But keep the old.
One is silver
And the other gold.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

A quick Mass

My parish priest started his homily a while ago by saying he had read that in any congregation at an English Catholic church, 5% of the congregation would be hoping for a Latin Mass, 15% would be hoping for an English Mass and the other 80% would be hoping for a quick Mass.

I'm always amazed at the speed of the Masses in Northern Ireland. In the parish I was visiting this weekend and have visited a number of times before, I can usually get in and out of Sunday Mass in under 20 minutes. The congregation start their responses almost before the priest has finished talking. They make no attempt to speak in unison - each person gabbles the responses as fast as they can. Anyone attending Mass for the first time in this parish would have no chance of being able to follow what was going on.

The first time I went, there were cars parked on the street outside the church car park, blocking the exit to the car park and in all available spaces in front of the church.

"Oh dear," I thought. "The church is pretty full - I'd better park down the road and walk back up."

It was only after Mass that I realised that there was an overflow car park behind the church, which was empty. It's always empty - people like to park out at the front so they can make their quick getaway after they've given their 20-odd minutes to God.

I suppose a quick Mass fulfils my Sunday obligation. I'm not so sure it nourishes my soul and nurtures my spirit.