Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

I had great ambitions to litter the blog with all sorts of appropriate songs for the Twelve Days of Christmas, but between the celebrating of it, and the necessity of showing up for work on a few of them, I have not followed through with this fine intention. However, today is New Year's Eve, and seemed a good time to do a post, so I am presenting a rather fine version of Auld Lang Syne, sung to the original tune. I do not know who the singer is, though I did try to find out, but I dearly love his voice. For those who have the misfortune of not knowing the words, be sure to click on the BACKGROUND bar beneath the video.

PS. "Auld Lang Syne" always reminds me of a scene from "David Copperfield" in which David and Micawbers are drinking punch together, and sing the song. To quote: "When we came to 'Here's a hand, my trusty feer', we all joined hands round the table; and when we declared we would 'take a right gude Willie Waught', and hadn't the least idea what it meant, we were really affected." It always makes me laugh, even though I know exactly what is meant!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Gesu Bambino, performed below by Giorgio Tozzi, is one of my very favourite Christmas songs. As you no doubt could guess from the title, it is originally in the Italian. I find this version to be particularly fine.

Friday, December 24, 2010


Today, my family and I spent the day baking and cooking for Christmas - sugar cookies, snowballs, chocolate-covered pretzels, chocolate chip cookies, truffles, biscotti, pizzelles, until the fragrant smell of the baking, mixes with the savoury smell of the meat sauce I made for my part of Christmas dinner. We are a very tradition-minded family, and Christmas dinner menu is unalterable: gnocchi and ham. Gnocchi is a lesser-known pasta, made out of potato, with a bit of egg, olive oil and flour, kneaded out like bread, and cut into wee little dumplings. Does that sound complicated? It isn't really, and for proof, I present The Crazy Gnocchi Guy for your education and amusement.

We do not bother with the grater to roll out the gnocchi, as he does, and our meat sauce is a fantastic concoction, with chunks of pork and beef in it. Served over the gnocchi, and with a side bit of ham, and it is the very essence of festivity. We are quite smug about our Christmas dinner, and firmly believe that no one has such a dinner as we do!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Reading.

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to find genuinely Christmas-spirited literature? There are a lot of books whose plot is incidental to Christmas. There are a number of significant stories with a point, that are, quite frankly, a bit depressing. There are sickly sweet stories, that try too hard. There are cynical stories that make a mockery of everything. The well written Christmas story is a rare thing indeed. Therefore, in the interest of genuine public spirit, I present the following list, in no particular order:

The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. That is an obvious one, of course. There is a reason that is has been the Christmas story for a number of years. In addition to being extremely well written, and sprinkled throughout with typical Dickensian humour, it boasts a main character has a strong, dramatic moral arch, and a deeply affecting resolution. Though it is primarily a secular story, it is heavily influenced by a Christian world view. And Dickens's descriptions of the Christmas celebrations are the most authentic of any you are likely to find.

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. A singularly charming short story of true love, and a happy marriage in spite of - or perhaps, because of - poverty. The sacrifices that Della and James make to get each other a Christmas gift are sweetly touching, and the ending paragraph, that explains the title, inevitably chokes me up.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. When the horrible Herdman kids take over the annual Christmas pageant, everyone expects the result to be a shambles. What actually happens makes for an often hilarious, and ultimately touching story.

The Father Christmas Letters: by J. R. R. Tolkien. Every Christmas for years, Tolkien wrote letters to his children in the guise of Father Christmas. The letters, written in scrawling calligraphy and lavishly illustrated, mostly recount various mishaps and disasters that befall the residents of the North Pole. The ensuing chaos inevitably endangers the year's Christmas packages, but Father Christmas, and his helper, the North Polar Bear, never fail to save the situation at the last possible moment - generally with a good deal of Tolkien's droll humour thrown in.

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. Try to get the version illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. There are few books that capture the feel of Christmas the way this one does. The book brims with joy and cheerful sentiment, that never turns into sentimentality. The descriptions are densely poetic, the imagery vivid. One can feel the clean, cold air, with the salt tang in it, smell the goose, hear the gas lights hiss. It is a quick read, and I read it nearly every year.

The Spirit of Christmas by G. K. Chesterton. A collections of essays, plays and short stories built around the celebration of Christmas, both as a religious holiday, and a secular one. The sheer jolly wholesomeness of it is an excellent antidote to the maudlin insipidity that seems to be the hallmark of the season these days. Unfortunately, this book is rather hard to get a hold of.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Anonymous. This is an old poem, written in Middle English, but you can easily find it in Modern English too. The action takes place between Christmas and New Year's, and Christmas motifs run rampant in the descriptions. There are several themes running through it: knightly nobility vs. virtue, temptation, but not falling into sin, the nature of courage and honour, and their place in living a truly Christian life. These themes are treated seriously, but never overwhelm the story, nor the Christmas setting.

The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope. I am cheating here slightly, since this historical novel is not a Christmas book at all. However, there is a crucial plot development that takes place on Christmas Day, and there is something extremely satisfying in the way the author takes the incidental setting and lavishes such attention to all the little details that it makes the Christmas celebration - in the background though it is - quite memorable. (To be honest, The Sherwood Ring is just a satisfying book all the way around. It is one of my fall back books when I don't know what else to read.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

St. Nicholas

Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas. Back in June, I posted a commemoration of St. Anthony, and pointed out that he seemed to be the patron saint of just about everything. I still consider the breadth of his patronage to be most impressive, especially since I seldom invoke him in any capacity other than the finder of lost items. I must, however, now revise that observation. I have just looked up St. Nicholas's patronage at - a very informative and delightful site, and have discovered that he has a truly staggering patronage. Amongst other unlikely things, he is the patron saint of thieves, military intelligence, pawnbrokers, pirates, students and candle makers. You can read the complete list at the aforementioned website, by clicking on "Who is St. Nicholas?" and then selecting Patron Saint from the menu on the left hand side of the page. It is a rather fascinating list. In fact, while you are there, check out the whole site. It is well worth it.

St. Nicholas is one of my most recent favourite saints. It wasn't that I didn't have a certain amount of affection for him before. After all, the good bishop did seem to run about, doing the most extraordinary things: supplying dowries for a family of girls too poor to otherwise have been unable to marry, for example, or restoring to life the children whom a wicked butcher had cut up and pickled. Besides, St. Nicholas is the saints whose celebrated generosity has given us Santa Claus. How could anyone not like St. Nicholas for that? Still, I must admit, I always found him a bit too remote for me to want as a particular friend. A bishop, who suffered all the pains of martyrdom, except the actual death of it. A wonder-worker, whom nothing seemed ever to disturb. I admired him, but thought him (as Sam said of the Elves) rather above my likes and dislikes. However, a couple years back, I found out something about kind-hearted, generous St. Nicholas, that did more to make me like him than any of the other stories I had read of him put together.

St. Nicholas apparently had a bad temper; one might even go so far as to say a violent temper. He was present at the Counsel of Nicea, where the teaching of Arius were being examined for orthodoxy. Arius was given a fair hearing, and he went on for some length, explaining his heretical view that Jesus, God the Son, was not equal to God the Father. The rest of the bishops listened in silence, but St. Nicholas eventually lost his temper, and struck Arius in the face! (There is some debate as to whether it was a slap or a punch that Arius received. It was a good, solid blow, at any rate). From the moment I read that story, I became a life-long devotee of the good saint.

I suppose it says something about me (and not necessarily a good something either) that this particular story should have delighted me so much. I find it extremely satisfying. We live in an age of political correctness, in which everyone is expected to listen to everyone else's opinions with broad and opened minds, nor ever dare to suggest that certain things are Absolutes and not open to discussion. And heaven forbid that you mention God as something other than a vague, great Being whose existence has no bearing on our own! This is even more true around Christmas-time, when one of the greatest holy days of the year is exploited, but never mentioned, and any public display of homage to the One whose birth we are celebrating, is severely discouraged. I find this particular facet of of our age, not only frustrating, but soul-destroying as well. It makes me feel that the world would be a far better place if we all had our own strong opinions about things, and were not above having an honest fight about them once in a while - even to the point of exchanging blows. I therefore take considerable delight in the image of generous, kindhearted St. Nicholas (who, in the guise of Santa Claus, is almost as exploited as the holy day itself) rising up and belting the nasty heresiarch, as he so richly deserved. Just imagine what would happen if it were St. Nicholas himself who was confronted with the indifference of our day.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

For the Logophiles

For those of you (like me) who have a great predilection for words, may I suggest that you check out the following website: It does take a little while to load, but be patient. It is a cool site to browse around on, and if you see a word that particularly tickles your fancy, by all means, adopt it!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month....

.... The First World War ended - not officially, of course. That would have to wait until the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed on June 28, 1919. However, it was on this day, the feast day of St. Martin of Tours* that the armistice was signed and hostilities ceased. Most countries commemorate this event with a holiday on, or near to, the anniversary of the Armistice. Here, of course, it is Veterans' Day, and we honour those who have served in the Armed Forces, particularly those who are still living.

We always have a little ceremony at the local branch of the VFW to commemorate Veterans' Day. There are the usual speeches, prayers, and poem-readings that occur every year. My little (at the moment very little) pipe band always play for it, and a bugler plays Taps at the closing of the ceremony. It is simple, and, I suppose, just the least little bit cheesy, but I like it. I like Veterans' Day in generally. Aside from Memorial Day, it is the only secular holiday that I truly do enjoy. I think it is because it is one of the few times a year in which people actually stop to seriously consider self-sacrifice and the suffering that necessarily goes along with it, as things that are good and noble in themselves. That a man who is willing to take on suffering for the greater good, is worthy of praise and honour. Too often people consider suffering an injustice, and dying for a cause as a waste. Veterans' Day (and even more, Memorial Day) gives the lie to this sort of narrow-minded and selfish thinking. It places before our eyes the courage and sacrifice that previous generations displayed, so that we are able to live as we do. We are forced to consider the courage and sacrifice of younger soldiers, who have seen service in our own life-times, with all the hard reality that goes along with those sacrifices, and to consider what our own obligations are in respect to God, our Country, and each other. It is a rather humbling experience.

So here, in honour of Veterans' Day, I present a poem by William Noel Hodgson, who wrote it before going into action on the Somme.

Before Action

By all the glories of the day
And cool evening's benison,
By the last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, Lord.

By all of all men's hopes and fears,
And all the wonders poets sing
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord.

I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of Thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword,
Must say good-bye to all of this---
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.

* I have always thought it was particularly fitting that we celebrate soldiers on the feast day of the great soldier-saint, Martin of Tours. I found out today that there is very likely no coincidence in this, and that St. Martin's day was chosen especially as the day of armistice, because he is the patron saint of soldiers.

Monday, November 8, 2010

First Snow

We had our first proper snow of the season last night - a very heavy, wet snow that did not so much fall as plummet. My family and I went to Mass in Carson City, and ended up driving back up the mountain in the storm, and a right challenge it was too, let me tell you. It was a very black night. The huge, feathery flakes, driving wildly into the windscreen, caught the light from the headlights, and scattered it into the storm. A flat, white wash of snow on the road obliterated the lanes. The concrete divide in the center of the highway, and the white line marking the shoulder of the road, disappeared into the into the vortex. It was as though the whole world had shrunk, and consisted of nothing more than my small car in all that fury of snow,. If anything were to materialise in that great nothingness, I would not have seen it until the last moment. Fortunately, I rather like driving in snow. I am good at it, and enjoy the occasional challenge. Still, I must admit that I should not like an experience like that too often.

It was a short-lived storm, for all its fury. We got a couple inches of snow out of it, enough to make the roads icy, and the world look like a half-finished sketch in watercolours, but it will no doubt be away before the day is out. I ran out first thing this morning to get a picture of snow on our birch tree, which is still dressed in all its golden splendor, while the aspens have been reduced to pale ghost-trees, all green-grey, their few remaining leaves the colour of winter sunshine. The picture does not do justice to the colours, of course - photographs almost never do - but it gives the idea.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On This Day...

In 1582, the reformed Georgian calendar was put into effect by most Catholic countries. The reason for the reform was that the Julian calendar, which had been the calendar for most Western countries, contained an 11 minute error in the calculation of a year, an error that had resulted in a 10 day discrepancy in the date of the equinoxes. The vernal equinox, from which the date of Easter is calculated, should be occur on March 21st, but was actually being celebrated on March 10th. In order to correct this, ten days were dropped from the calendar, and that year, October 4th was immediately followed by October 15th.

Today is also the feast day of the great Carmelite reformer and mystic, St. Teresa of Avila. The only reason I remember anything about the reformation of the calendar (despite a vague memory of studying in school at some point), is because of and odd bit of trivia concerning St. Teresa – to wit, that she died on the night that the change went into effect, the night between October 4th and October 15th. Had the Georgian calendar been put into effect on any other day, we would be celebrating her feast day on October 5th

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Beauty of the World....

"Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun...."

I saw something that made those words by the Irish poet, Padraic Pearse, popped in to my head today. No, it wasn't a squirrel, or a ladybug, or a rabbit. It was just a tree and marvelous fall sky.

After a couple weeks of near-record high temperatures, the weather has suddenly turned, and become - well, not quite cold, but definitely chilly. We have had almost of week of rain, and very dramatic rain it has been too. There has been a good deal of lightening, and thunder. For a few days, the rain came down so hard, that it made a lively tattoo on the roof, and shattered itself to bits when it struck the road. There was hail once or twice, and a great deal of wind and commotion. It was delightful.

That particular weather system is being pushed out of the area, and we are supposed to me having somewhat warmer weather, with a good deal more sunshine. Today, however, though the rain had stopped, it was still prodigiously overcast. The sky was grey - that goes without saying - but it was not that flat, unbroken grey that stretches from horizon to horizon without variety. It was a sky jostled with great billows of deep smoke and violet, and a curious colour as close to blue as it is to grey. There were long, calm streaks of paler hues: dove, and cream and pearl. And, in one or two spots the clouds pulled themselves so thin, that ethereal blue pools appeared.

It was against this quintessentially autumn sky that I saw the tree. It was a maple tree, with small, delicate leaves, like bits of lace. It was flanked by two birches, whose branches had been turned into living gold by the cold. They were very beautiful, indeed, but the maple, towering above them, was lovelier still. For it hand not just turned to gold, but into a living flame, full of every shade of fire, from palest yellow to crimson. It burned against the riotous grey sky in singular glory, and at the sight of it, my heart was shaken by great joy, too.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Saint for Pipers?

It is surprisingly difficult to find an appropriate saint to pray to if you happen to be a piper. Of course, there is St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians. Somehow though, the sweet, brave Roman virgin and martyr doesn't seem to be the correct person to invoke when playing the pipes, which have long been associated with men in generally, and fighting men in particular. Still, I thought it ought to be fairly easy to come across someone more appropriate. There are a good number of soldier saints on the Catholic calendar - some of whom, no doubt were also musicians of some sort. And the pipes were an extremely popular instrument for centuries, especially during the Middle Ages, so the chances are that one of the great number of saints from that period would be associated with the pipes.

It was with a light heart, then, that I began a search for a piper saint, which has rapidly turned into something like an obsession. The only saint I have come across is was positively identified as a piper is St. Philemon, a pagan, who agreed to impersonate the Deacon Apollonius (who was afraid of martyrdom) and offer inscense to the gods in his place. This led to Philemon's dramatic public conversion, and the martyrdom of himself and Apollonius. Unfortunately, Philemon destroyed his pipes upon that conversion - no doubt from the holiest of motives - but this does rather disqualify him from being the patron of pipers.

Intensive searching did not produce another single piper saint... nor, for that matter, a saint who played any instrument related to the pipes. I ended up broadening my search to include just about any saintly musician I could find, warrior saints, just because, and Celtic saints in general, because piping today is almost exclusively associated with the Scots and Irish. What I ended up with was a list of possibles, some of whom were exceedingly unlikely. Here, in no particular order, is the list:

St. Dunstan: He is Saxon saint, a monk of Glastonbury, who became bishop of Worcester, and later, of London. He was a harper, not a piper, but he also was an instrument maker, so it entirely possible that he turned out a bagpipe or two in his life time, and therefore a reasonable candidate for a piper saint.

St. Gilbert of Caithness: He was the bishop of Caithness, and apparently an extremely outspoken individual. He is included primarily on strength of his being a highlander, and because he wrote a treaty in defense of Scottish liberty.

St. Thomas More: He is a stretch, of course. St. Thomas is best known for his defense of the papacy and the Catholic Faith against King Henry VIII. However, he is exactly the sort of person pipers of my acquaintance would enjoy keeping company with. In addition to being very learned and erudite, he had a tremendous sense of humour and of fun. Furthermore, he had a musical family - no pipers, but they could acquit themselves well on lutes and harps. Still, I can't help thinking that St. Thomas would be happy to assist any musician who employed his intercession.

St. Meriadoc: (or Meriasek, as it is often given.) Yes, there really is a St. Meriadoc, two of them actually. If my memory serves me aright, this particular saint ended up in a section of Brittany called Rohan. He was a Cornishman and there is a very old play, Beunans Meriasek, written in Cornish, chronicling his life. For reasons lost to obscurity, pipers were generally associate with the play, and associated so strongly that the Cornish pipers generally took him as their patron.

St. Joan of Arc: Who is probably the most unlikely of all the possible patron saints for pipers, but who also just might be the most logical. A little known fact in the life of St. Joan, is that she had a good number of Scots in her army - in fact, the victory of Orleans is due, in no small part, to the valour of the Scots. Once the city was taken from the English, the saint and her army marched in to it, accompanied by sound of bagpipes. Supposedly, the tune they marched in with, was an old tradition tune called, at the time, Hey Tuttie Taiti but better known today as Scots Wae Hae. (Some of you might be familiar with the poem which Robert Burns put to the tune.)

Friday, October 1, 2010


....but the best is autumn. It is mature, reasonable and serious, it glows moderately and not frivolously ... It cools down, clears up, makes you reasonable ..." - Valentin

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I came across the following poem today, when I was looking though my poetry scrapbook for something else entirely:


Lord, make my childish soul stand straight
To meet that kindly stranger, Fate;
Shake hands with elder brother, Doom,
Nor bawl and scurry from the room.

William Laird

It is a funny little poem, but perfectly encapsulates my current attitude towards the Will of God. I want to do it. I want it more than anything else in the world... but, golly, sometimes I feel that I just might bawl and scurry away if I find out what exactly His will for me is. I find it very encouraging that I am not the only one who reacts this way.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

And the Word for Today Is...

.... Idiolect.

It is a handy word, that is, meaning a distinctive, individual form of speech. At least, I find it rather handy, but then, I am rather idiolectic in my speech. I commonly use obscure words, like bole for tree trunk, or ugsome for something horrible, or stravage for wandering about. I have picked up a fair number of Scottish or Irish phrases, words and pronunciations, which I use daily without realising that I do it. I have lived in California my whole life, and yet have an odd accent that is frequently taken for Canadian by Americans... and a Canadian I talked to once, was sure I was from Newfoundland. Add to all of this a tendency to quote from a wide variety of sources, ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan, to The Pirates of the Caribbean, and one could say that I have practically developed my own dialect. Fortunately for me, my family and friends share this tendency, so we understand each other perfectly.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Concerning Books

I came across the following quote from C. S. Lewis today:

"No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond."

It makes a very good point. There are certain books that I enjoyed very much as a child, that I still take even greater pleasure in today. "The Hobbit" is one that springs readily to mind. I read it for the first time when I was very young, and enjoyed it hugely. I enjoy it even more now, because I can now appreciate Tolkien's singular style of writing, and his very droll sense of humour - two things that I did not appreciate when I first read it. However, I think one could expand upon this quote a bit: that the only really worthwhile books, are the ones that you can go back to again, and again, and that always have something to say to you. The best books are not the bestsellers, which tend to be wildly popular for a year or two, and then fall into oblivion. Nor are they those serious, self-conscious works of literature, which garner great acclaim when they are published, but tend to remain a bit obscure, and are read primarily by those who are serious and self-conscious. Nor again, are they necessarily the classics, though a good many classics will fall into the realm of worthwhile books. They are, after all, classics for a reason.

The best books, however, the ones that are worth reading, and re-reading, are the ones that speak to the soul. By that, I do not mean just those books that are beautifully written, or deal with great themes, though, of course, such books would be included. I mean books that are genuinely human, and deal with genuinely human things. They can be anything from "A Tale of Two Cities" to P. G. Wodehouse's Wooster and Jeeves books. They can be simple children's stories, such as the Redwall books, or they can be epics, like "The Lord of the Rings". They can be tales of adventure, such as "The 39 Steps" or can deal with ordinary, every day happenings, like D. E. Stevenson's "Mrs. Tim Christie". But one things they will all have in common. Namely, that they touch some part of whatever it is that makes you you. They might make you laugh, or cry, or thoughful, or just plain glad to be alive, but whatever it is, you will be better for having read it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Scotland's Baseball Connection

What is that, you say? You were not aware that there was a Scottish baseball connection? Well, dear Reader, neither did I. My father however, and ardent Baseball affectionado, informed me today that Bobby Thomson, whose incredible home run against the Dodgers, in the bottom of the ninth inning, knocked the Giants in the 1951 World Series, was born in Glasgow, Scotland. Furthermore, the Edinburgh baseball team, the Diamond Devils have named their homefield after Bobby Thomson. (Wow. There is actually National League Baseball in Scotland. Who knew?)

(If you would like to see the play and the subsequent rejoicing, you can go here. )

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book Review

Not too long ago, I came across several quotes by the Catholic British author, Caryll Houselander. I had never heard of her before that, even though my taste in literature runs very much in that direction. The quotes made a big impression on me, and one in particular stuck firmly with me: “Reverence must be paid even to those sinners whose souls seem to be dead, because it is Christ, who is the life of the soul, who is dead in them; they are His tombs, and Christ in the tomb is potentially the risen Christ.” I work in a public library, and, during any given day, will come in contact with a variety of difficult, or downright nasty people, and I have been noticing lately, that I find it difficult to be truly charitable to people. Oh, I am nice enough, of course, and I am polite and helpful. It is not really charity, though. I am simply doing my job. I generally have quite a contemptuous view of mankind in general. However that particular quote inspired me, and since then, I have been trying hard to see Christ (or at least, the potentially risen Christ) in the people whom I work with each day.

It was on the weight, primarily, of that one quote, that I decided to read some more by Caryll Houselander. I had looked her up upon reading those quotes, and was not quite sure what to think of her. She was almost always described as a 'mystic' and that particular word generally sends off warning signals for me, since these days, it is almost always used in context with new-agey spirituality. The little bits and pieces of her writing that I came across, however, seemed very orthodox, so I decided to try one of her books. I elected for one called, "This War is the Passion" which was written in London, during WWII.

I am glad I did, for it is a very good book indeed. Caryll uses the War as a sort of backdrop to the spiritual life, and though this occasionally makes the book feel a bit dated, in general, it works brilliantly as a way of casting Christian spirituality into the realm of daily life. She begins by pointing out that suffering is actually a blessing in disguise. Suffering (at least to some degree) is unavoidable, but to Christians, and particularly to Catholics, who are trying to live a truly spiritual life, suffering is not wasted. We are all bound together by the life of Christ within us, so that the sufferings of each one of us is of merit, not only to ourselves, but to the whole of the Church - and by extension, the World. She points out that all men are made in the image and likeness of God, and reminds us of Christ's words, that whatever we do to the least of our fellow men, we do to Him... and she does it in such a way that you realise, all at once that the ordinary, daily encounters with other people (which you will have to make anyway) are actually opportunities to put that teaching into practice. She has an uncanny ability to take a concept that we are all familiar with - that Christ was true Man as well as true God, for example - and by the freshness of her writing, suddenly make it suddenly seem something staggeringly new and fantastic. She does not sugar-coat anything. She is able to make us see the ineffable sweetness of God's love for us, and the value He places on our love for Him - all out of proportion to its worth. But she also makes it very clear that so great a love will mean great sacrifices - on both parts.

"This War is the Passion" is not a very long, and could be read in a single evening. It is very full of ideas, though, and is well worth taking the time to read slowly, and, indeed, to re-read. Caryll's writing is clear and deceptively simple. She goes naturally from point to point, building each chapter off the one proceeding. She has a knack for being able to use the perfect word, or phrase, or metaphor, but, like all good writers, knows to use this talent sparingly, and so, to good effect. It is a practical book, but full of poetry. It is inspirational, but not sweet, or sentimental, and for all the focus on suffering and sacrifice, it is ultimately a tremendously encouraging book. I recommend it highly.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Little Bit Broque

I had quite a nice time this evening. I went to the Boathouse at Valhalla to see Dream Spirit play. The Boathouse is a lovely setting to watch music in. It was originally exactly what its name implies: the boathouse to one of the stately old summer homes around the lake. I has been converted into a theatre, with a great big window behind the stage that looks out over the lake and the mountains. Most the summer concerts start around 7 pm or there abouts, so in addition to music, the audience is treated to a really splendid view of the sunset.

Dream Spirit Baroque Band is a local group - a quartet, featuring primarily hammer dulcimer, guitar, cello and violin/fiddle, with the occasional bit of hand drum thrown in, and some recorders too. The mainstay of their repertoire is baroque and Celtic music, but they incorporate a wide and eclectic range of music into their sound. Tonight there was a Finnish tune, some Eastern tunes, a number of popular tunes from the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, and a Japanese tune called Sakura, which was probably my favourite thing they did all evening. The music is all played in a chamber music setting, making for a pleasant, uncomplicated, all together charming sound. This appears to be the only video of them on youtube. The first tune is a slip jig called the Red Admiral Butterfly, and I have no idea what the second tune is called.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Roy Campbell


In the grey wastes of dread,
The haunt of shattered gulls where nothing moves
But in a shroud of silence like the dead,
I heard a sudden harmony of hooves,
And, turning, saw afar
A hundred snowy horses unconfined,
The silver runaways of Neptune's car
Racing, spray-curled, like waves before the wind.
Sons of the Mistral, fleet
As him with whose strong gusts they love to flee,
Who shod the flying thunders on their feet
And plumed them with the snortings of the sea;
Theirs is no earthly breed
Who only haunts the verges of the earth
And only on the sea's salt herbage feed-
Surely the great white breakers gave them birth.
For when for years a slave,
A horse of the Camargue, in alien lands,
Should catch some far-off fragrance of the wave
Carried far inland from this native sands,
Many have told the tale
Of how in fury, foaming at the rein,
He hurls his rider; and with lifted tail,
With coal-red eyes and cataracting mane,
Heading his course for home,
Though sixty foreign leagues before him sweep,
Will never rest until he breathes the foam
And hears the native thunder of the deep.
And when the great gusts rise
And lash their anger on these arid coasts,
When the scared gulls career with mournful cries
And whirl across the waste like driven ghosts;
When hail and fire converge,
The only souls to which they strike no pain
Are the white crested fillies of the surge
And the white horses of the windy plain.
Then in their strength and pride
The stallions of the wilderness rejoice;
They feel their Master's trident in their side,
And high and shrill they answer to his voice.
With white tails smoking free,
Long streaming manes, and arching necks, they show
Their kinship to their sisters of the sea-
And forward hurl their thunderbolts of snow.
Still out of hardship bred,
Spirits of power and beauty and delight
Have ever on such frugal pasture fed
And loved to course with tempests through the night.

I was delighted to come across this poem today. It is by the South African poet, Roy Campbell, who just happens to be my favourite modern poet (in fact, just about the only truly modern poet whom I read) and I had never come across it before. It is typically Roy Campbell, full of such stunningly vivid imagery, that the poem seems to flame into living colour before your very eyes. It is one of his trademarks, as is his brilliant, unexpected use of very precise words. His poems are very strong and rich and warm: a pure distillation of language, smooth and potent as whisky.

Roy Campbell was an intriguing - if somewhat mercurial individual, passionate, whole-hearted alive. He led a vigourous and adventurous life. He was a fisherman, a horseman, was fluent is Zulu, a bull fighter, and fought in both wars. His long poem, The Flaming Terrapin was published in 1924, to critical acclaim, and earned him a reputation as a rising talent. Indeed, in the ordinary course of events, he would have been remembered as one of the great poets of the 20th century. However, he was the sort of person who prides himself in being politically incorrect. He loathed the literary intelligentsia of the time. He knew most of them personally, and wrote a scathing satirical poem, The Georgiad, which blasted them for their snobbery, their immoral behaviour, and their anti-Christian bias. Needless to say, it was not well received.

Perhaps, if he had merely insulted Virginia Wolfe, Vita Sackville-West, and others of that strip, his reputation would have survived intact. As it was, he was also a vocal anti-Communist, and supported Franco during the Spanish Civil War. He was branded a Fascist and his fate was sealed. (The label dogs him to this day. Regardless of his impressive talent, he is unjustly neglected.) He was living in Spain during the Civil War, newly converted to the Catholic faith. He supported Franco because Franco stood for the Faith and Spain, and against the violent Communism that was sweeping the country. Churches were burned, religious murdered in the streets, monasteries sacked and their libraries were destroyed. He was no Facist, however. He dismissed Hitler with the words, "Good gracious, this man won't do - he's a teetotalitarian vegetarian!" And though he was too old for active duty, he managed to get himself enlisted in the military during WWII. He served until an injury to his hip resulted in his being given a medical discharge, and sent back to England.

J. R. R. Tolkien met him about this time. He wrote an account of this meeting in a letter to his son, Christopher. Tolkien was in his favourite pub with a few of his friends, notably C. S. Lewis, when, as he writes, "I noticed a strange tall gaunt man half in khaki half in mufti with a large wide-awake hat, bright eyes and a hooked nose sitting in the corner. The others had their backs to him, but I could see in his eye that he was taking an interest in the conversation quite unlike the ordinary pained astonishment of the British (and American) public at the presence of the Lewises (and myself) in a pub. It was rather like Trotters at the Prancing Pony, in fact v. like." For those who do not know, Trotters was a early incarnation of Aragorn in "The Lord of the Rings" I like the idea of Roy Campbell influencing Tolkien's later developement of Aragorn.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Summer Is Icumen In...

After a number of half-hearted false starts, and a lovely, long rainy spring, summer seems at last to have come to the mountains, with its golden abundance of hot, California sun. The sky is a dazzling infinity of blue. The pine trees are living, verdant flames. The clouds - if clouds there ever are - are great, billowing masses, bleached whiter than snow, and so full of light, that there is no shadow upon them, merely valleys of lesser brilliance. The smell of summer is here, the heavy incense of sun-warmed pine, and the waterful scent of newly mown lawn. The majority of the population are winter-wearied, and welcoming in the summer with wild exultation.

I am not one of them. Aside from the undeniable beauty of the season, I must admit that I do not see the appeal of summer. There is the heat, to begin with. Admittedly, here in the mountains, the heat is not so oppressive as it is in the rest of the state. Still, there is a certain burning edge to the sun that I find intolerable. It seems to sit upon me, like a malevolent presence. I wilt and droop and long for rain. The house gradually warms up, so that by the end of the day, it is far too stifling to sit indoors. However, if I decide to go out into the lovely cool of the evening, then there are the mosquitoes to reckon with. They are legion. They do not attack all at once, but take turns rushing in on me, and biting where I least expect it. Eventually, the frustration of slapping at them every few minutes drives me back inside, to the muggy atmosphere, where the fans, going full tilt, are attempting to stir some freshness into that unreasonably stagnant air.

Furthermore, summer in the mountains - especially the early part of the summer, when the first heat comes - brings that yellow plague: the pollen. The pine trees are pollinating, and the air is thick with a fine, sticky yellow dust. It goes everywhere. A newly-washed car will look like an abandoned derelict within mere hours. It sifts through screens and even the most obsessive neat-nick will be unable to keep the house looking fresh and polished. There is a long, yellow bank of the stuff floating along the shoreline of the lake. Those who are allergic to it are unbelievably miserable, and even those who are not suffer from dry eyes and a scratchy throat from breathing it in, day after day. It goes away, eventually, as do all crosses, no matter how eternal they seem, but it takes a while. A good rain helps, but good rains are rare in California during the summer. Oh, and I do long for it! For the freshness that it brings, and the smell of it, and the wet, cool touch of it. I dreamt about it on the first hot day of of the year: of a great, gusting wind and fat, wet drops, falling with a heavy, deliberate splash.

Furthermore, I find the long, glorious succession of perfect, sunny days to be dreadfully boring. I like a bit of drama in my weather. I like there to be some play between sun and cloud, and the shift of persepective it causes in the landscape. I like wind, and the stronger the better. I like lightening and thunder and snow and fog. My eyes grow tired of the bright, brilliant colours of summer, and would have the rest of a soft, grey day. I look forward to autumn, the way most people wait for spring, when I shall be delivered from the monotany of beautiful weather.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


My 6 year old sister, Jacinta, uttered a rather shocking remark today:

"I know a four letter word." she said, sounding very pleased with herself.

I know Jacinta well enough to not be unduly alarmed by this revelation. "Be careful of the company you use it in." I admonished her, unfairly taking advantage of my superior knowledge of the topic to attempt a bit of wit at her expense.

"M-hm." she agreed vaguely, and after a breathless pause announced, "Andy is a four letter word!"

Well, what can you say to that? "Andy" is indeed a four letter word. AnnaMaria, who has a whole year on Jacinta, agreed that it was a very good four letter word, and the two of them engaged in an entirely innocent four letter word contest, utterly oblivious of the laugh they were providing their older sisters.

What brought on this sudden interest in four letter words, you ask? Well, it was this song that prompted it. As you can see, they missed the point, which is just as well.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Little Bit of Trivia

I have been reading a lot of WWII history lately, or rather, to be very specific, I have been reading a good deal of history that takes place upon the peripheral of the War Proper. This means I am acquiring a basic knowledge of such odd things as how magician aided the war effort by concocting elaborates ruses: Jasper Maskelyne hiding the Suez Canal with mirrors and lights, for example. Or how much lead a fighter pilot needs to allow in order to hit another plane - at least 80 feet, in case anyone is interested. Or how gun-running operations to Norway were carried out by fishing boats, based in Orkney. Or how British and American spies smuggled various escape aids into German prison camps by hiding them in Monopoly games, and decks of cards, and fountain pens. It is the POWs especially that got me started on WWII.

POWs were a remarkably handy lot. They could make just about anything from next to nothing, whether it be skeleton keys or illegal (and very nasty-sounding) moonshine. A lot of them had a perfect mania for escaping, and a good deal of that inventiveness went into making things that would be useful in an escape. Civilian clothing would be create out of blankets, or there were professional little compasses of magnetised bits of scrap metal, housed in cases of melted-down records. Practically every camp had a hidden radio, and that radio was generally cobbled together from whatever was at hand, with a few parts scrounged off the Germans, if necessary. Most were fairly simple sets, and apparently, during the war, everybody knew how to make them, because none of the books, or websites I have read so far, contained any information about how, exactly, one improvises a radio. One is merely informed, quite casually, that the radio was made and then considerable amount of time is given to the fascinating battle of the prisoners to keep it hidden from the Germans, who would tear whole barracks apart in an effort to find it.

I am one of those rather pathetic individuals for whom technology, even at its most rudimentary, is a great mystery. I cannot honestly see myself being able to create a radio of any sort, even a very basic one, without the help of someone who has done it before. Still, whether it was practical for me or not, I did a bit of poking around for instructions, and found a few sites that explained the matter - very interesting, and much too complicated for me. I nodded, and thought, "quite" and didn't bother about it any more. Then, when I was looking for something else entirely, I found this website, with instructions for various improvised radios. It is still sounds a little too complicated, but I was delighted by the WWII tie-in and the POW tie-in. And the rest of the site is very cool too, with instructions for everything from invisible inks, to making telescopes, all with things that you likely have on hand.

So there, now you know!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

St Anthony, Patron Saint of Nearly Everything

Today is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. Ever since I was very young, St. Anthony has been a particular patron of mine, likely because I am that unfortunate breed of person who can lose, in the bare space of a minute, just about anything, from my keys to myself. There is seldom a day goes by that I do not find myself praying desperately to the good saint of lost objects, for help in finding something else that I set down for just a minute... and which promptly disappeared off the face of the earth. He seldom fails me. Every now and again, he feels obliged to teach me detachment, and makes me look for a long time before he produces the missing item for me. Once or twice, he has even flatly refused to get it back, regardless of any prayers or bribes I might offer him. Generally, though, if I need his help, St. Anthony is very prompt to lend his aid, and even to the point of performing very minor miracles to get something back to me.

Of course, everyone knows that St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost objects. I was rather surprised, recently, when I was looking for a nice holy card of himself, that he has a very wide and diverse patronage. He seem to be an ideal saint for almost any situation. He is the patron against against shipwrecks, starvation, of American Indians, boatmen, elderly people, expectant mothers, fishermen, harvests, horses, mail, mariners, sailors, swineherds, travel hostesses, travelers, watermen, and amputees. (For those who are interested, St. Anthony is one of the primary saints on the Battle Saint bracelets, because of his patronage of sailors and amputees.) In Italy, Portugal, France and Spain, St. Anthony is particularly revered as the patron saint of fishermen. It is a tradition amongst some fishing communities, to have a small statue or a picture of St. Anthony attached to the mast of their fishing boats. Since he is the patron saint of lost objects, he is also invoked for those who are missing, for those who are in a state of mortal sin, and for reconciliation with a loved one.

Furthermore, he is traditionally prayed to for help in finding a husband or a wife. There is a funny story in the book, My Heart Lies South, in which a young lady has been praying to St. Anthony for a husband. She prays, and prays, to no avail, it seems, so she loses her temper, and throws her statue out the window. There just happened to be a young man walking by at that precise moment. The statue hit him on the head, rendering him unconscious. The girl's family took him into the house, and a short time later the two were married. St. Anthony obviously has a rather peculiar sense of humour.

So, how did a saint, renowned for his preaching and his miracles, become the patron saint of lost items? Well, St. Anthony had a book of psalms that was very important to him, because he had annotated it heavily with notes and comments, which he used when teaching novices. One of the novices decided that he did not have a vocation after all, and he ran off, taking St. Anthony's Psalter along with him. Why, precisely, he should steal a book of any sort when he was escaping is never really explained. Perhaps he had an understandable weakness for books. Perhaps the Psalter was a rather fine one, and the novice thought he could sell it - though that seems highly unlikely. The long and short if it is that steal it he did, and St. Anthony was most upset by its loss. He therefore prayed that it be returned to him. The thief had a change of heart, and not only brought the book back, but returned to the Order.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

National Donut Day

... Was on Friday. I had never heard of it before I stumbled across a tiny little article about it on Friday - the first Friday of June, to be exact, on which day it is celebrated each year, and on which day, if you are lucky enough to live near a Dunkin Donuts, or a Krispy Kreme, you can go in and get a free donut. Normally, the fact that there even was such a thing as National Donut Day would merely cause me to cock my head a bit, and say, "Well, did you ever?" and promptly forget about it. However, contrary to what the name might suggest, it is not a day of free advertising for the donut business. There is actually a bit of history associated with it, and history always peaks my interest.

Oddly enough, National Donut Day has its origins during WWI. Young women from the Salvation Army, who were wanting to do something for the soldiers in France, came up withe brilliant idea of serving freshly made donuts and coffee to the men at the front. They did other thing too: making hot meals, doing mending, providing entertainment, etc, but it was primarily for the donuts that they are remembered. (There is a nice little site with pictures here that is worth a glance at.) Odder still, giving out donuts became something of a war tradition. During WWII, the Red Cross and the USO got involved too, and subsequent wars through Vietnam had their 'donut dollies'.

The idea of girls handing out donuts to war-weary soldiers is just unlikely enough to capture my fancy. Of course, the work they were doing was highly commendable. They were performing acts of charity (giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, comforting the sorrowful) and in extreme conditions too. Still, it would be rather hard to say with a straight face, that you helped out with the war effort by cooking donuts. It sounds rather like you spent all your time helping out bake sales.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Joyce Kilmer

Memorial Day

"Dulce et decorum est"

The bugle echoes shrill and sweet,
But not of war it sings to-day.
The road is rhythmic with the feet
Of men-at-arms who come to pray.
The roses blossom white and red
On tombs where weary soldiers lie;
Flags wave above the honored dead
And martial music cleaves the sky.
Above their wreath-strewn graves we kneel,
They kept the faith and fought the fight.
Through flying lead and crimson steel
They plunged for Freedom and the Right.

May we, their grateful children, learn
Their strength, who lie beneath the sod,
Who went through fire and death to earn
At last the accolade of God.
In shining rank on rank arrayed
They march, the legions of the Lord;
He is their Captain unafraid,
The Prince of Peace . . . Who brought a sword.

At the time of his death in France during WWI, Joyce Kilmer was one of America's up and coming young talents. He wasn't exactly a household name, but his poems were well known, and well loved. Since then, his reputation has been largely overshadowed by the rest of the war poets, and he is largely - and I think, unjustly - neglected in modern collection of poetry, especially war poetry. If he is remembered at all, it is generally for his poem, Trees, which is rather unfortunate.

"Trees" is a very nice little poem. It has some lovely rhyming sequences, evocative imagery, and the typical Kilmer twist at the end, that praises God in creation, and expresses the poet's own humility. For all that, is not a very remarkable work, nor it is particularly expressive of the type of man Joyce Kilmer was. He was not a sentimentalist, except in the modern misunderstanding of the word, which confuses sentiment with idealism. He was a true poet, with a healthy touch of genuine Romanticism. He saw beauty everywhere he looked, and mystery and adventure. He expected life to be a challenge, and he met difficulties head-on, and with characteristic gusto. If his poems, particularly is earliest ones, are full of a child-like wonder and simplicity, it is not because he had not face life in all its grim reality, but because he could see beyond that reality in to the realm of Absolutes and Eternity.

Joyce Kilmer was one of those rare individuals who are truly good, but make goodness seem, not only intensely attractive, but also as the only way for a man of any worth to be. He lived enthusiastically. He loved words. He was employed to work on the Funk and Wagnalls dictionary, where his job "was to define ordinary words assigned to him at five cents for each word defined. This was a job at which one would ordinarily earn ten to twelve dollars a week, but Kilmer attacked the task with such vigor and speed that it was soon thought wisest to put him on a regular salary" He loved food, and used to claim that eating a hearty meal was compensation for lack of sleep. He seems to have been utterly imperturbable. Once, when he was in a hurry, he was knocked down by a train, and dragged for a little distance. He survived with only a few cracked ribs to show for it, and seemed to regard the whole thing as a rather comic experience, that would teach him to be more careful in the future. He was much in demand as a public speaker, but seldom prepared notes for his speeches. Sometimes, he would only decide on the topic of his speech over lunch, half an hour before he was scheduled to appear. For all that, he was a remarkably good public speaker, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Perhaps the single greatest moment in his life was when he and his wife, Aline, were received into the Catholic Church. Their daughter, Rose, had been stricken with infantile paralysis shortly after her birth, and in their distress, they turned to God. In a letter to his good friend, Fr. James Daly, he wrote, "I believed in the Catholic position, the Catholic view of ethics and aesthetics, for a long time. But I wanted something not intellectual, some conviction not mental - in fact I wanted Faith.... When faith did come, it came, I think, by way of my little paralyzed daughter. Her lifeless hands led me; I think her tiny feet know beautiful paths." From that time on, Kilmer lived the Faith to the fullest. He took the Catholicism as naturally as breathing. He developed great devotion to the saints: St. Nicholas, on whose feast day he was born, the Irish saints, Patrick and Bridgit, no doubt because of his affinity will all things Irish, the warrior saint, Michael, and Joan of Arc, because his spiritual out look was very much that of a soldier. His over-riding desire was to live in such a way as to be worthy of that gift of Faith, that he had prayed so hard for, and to give glory to God in the best way he knew: by his writing.

He was a prolific writer, regularly turning out criticism, plays, essays, and short stories. His wartime story Holy Ireland is one of the finest things he ever wrote. But it is for his poems that he is best remembered. His early poems were very pleasant reading, it not particularly earth shattering. They all show, however, Kilmer's distinctive ability to find inspiration in almost everything, from a commuter train to an abandoned house. His best poems were written after his conversion, and the best of all were the ones he wrote as a soldier in France

He volunteered for service as soon as the United States declared war. He liked to boast that he was "half Irish" so it was the predominantly Irish "Fighting 69th" that he joined. He rose to the rank of Sargent, and could have got a commission, but refused to, because he would rather have been a Sargent of the 69th than an officer in any other regiment. He wrote to Aline that he intended to write a book about the experience, which he decided to call, "Here and There With the Fighting Sixty-Ninth". He had great ambitions for the book, declaring that it would be "a most charming book... the sort of book I'd greatly like to read.... no glib tale, no newspaper man's work - but with God's help, a work of art." He never did get to write that book, but he wrote several extremely fine poems, for which he ought to have been remembered: The Rouge Bouquet, The Peacemaker, and The Prayer of a Soldier in France. They are the work of an accomplished poet, as well as a deeply spiritually patriot.

Joyce Kilmer was killed in action on July 30, 1918, by a sniper's bullet, while on a reconnaissance mission in No Man's Land. He is buried in France, and was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Republic.

Peace to each manly soul that sleepeth;
Rest to each faithful eye that weepeth..

.~Thomas Moore

Requiem æternam dona eis, DomineRequiem æternam dona eis, Domine

Happy Memorial Day to all of you.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Spring Snow

This is what I saw outside my window when I woke up this morning:

My neck of the woods is having a cool, wet spring. I think I am the only person left who is still delighted every time it snows, which it has been doing every few days for weeks now. You'd think I would be used to it, but I am not. I keep taking those warm days of false spring between cold fronts for the real thing, so each little snow storm takes me by surprise.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Soldier's Rosary

At the beginning of "The Lord of the Rings" Tolkien mentions that hobbits' homes tend to get cluttered up with mathoms - a lovely word he took from the Old English, meaning something precious, a treasure. This tendency of the hobbits is one of a goodly number of things about them that reminds me very much of myself. I am much given to the acquiring and collecting of things. Some of my things are very ordinary things. Books, of course. I do not have a bedroom so much as a library in disguise; music as well, and a shocking amount of bric-a-brack acquired, hobbit-like over the years, from friends and family, and of which I am very fond. Some of my things might seem rather odd at first glance: cap badges, for example, or metal soldiers. But I have everything neatly arranged so that I mostly manage to avoid clutter, while still being able to enjoy my possessions.
My most recently acquired mathom is this. It is a soldier's rosary from WWII.

I came across across a picture of one on the Internet about a month or so ago, when I was looking for something else entirely, and was terribly intrigued by it. So I did a bit of research, and discovered that it is hard to find out very much about them at all. They were made during the First and Second World Wars, and are generally referred to as 'standard issue'. They are made of brass pull chain, and while the crucifixes can vary considerably, the overwhelming majority of them have identical center medals, stamped with an image of the Sorrowful Mother on the front, and Our Lord carrying His cross on the back. (Mine has that medal, though you can't really see it in the picture.) Sometimes, they would have been plated in silver, but most were plain, and looked just like this one. I decided that I would dearly like to have one for my very own.
Much to my surprise, I discovered several of them on ebay. To my further surprise, and breathless delight, I actually managed to place a winning bid on one, within the budget I prudently set for myself. It came in the mail a few days later, and I have been saying my daily prayers on it ever since.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
-- Every nighte and alle,
Fire and sleet and candle-lighte,
-- And Christe receive thy saule…

I have been fascinated with the old Yorkshire poem, “The Lyke Wake Dirge” since I first came across it years ago in an anthology of old ballads. It is a dark poem, yet strangely hopeful, much like the Dies Irae. It is full of direful warnings, but the bleakness of its verse is relieved by the refrain, “And Christe receive thy saule.” I read it, and the meter, with its driving refrain, got into my blood. The old Yorkshire dialect of it got caught in my brain, and went round and round like a catchy song. I immediately copied it down for myself, being a compulsive collector of verse and prose. Not too long ago, I did a bit of research on the “Lyke Wake Dirge” as I had – and have still - a wholly unrealised ambition to write a morality tale (rather along the lines of “A Christmas Carol”) based on it. I discovered that there are actually several version of the ballad, and that the rather apocalyptical lines, “fire and sleet and candle-light” might not be that at all. Numerous sources gave it as, “fire and fleet and candle-light”, fleet in this case being a very old word for a large room in the house and related to the word ‘flet’ meaning floor. In short, with the change of one small letter, the whole line turned from bleakly atmospheric, to praising the comforts of home, rather along the lines of ‘hearth and home’. (I am something of a word collector, as well as a poem collector, so this little bit of trivia delighted me absurdly.) I liked the phrase tremendously. It was comfortable and home-like. I filed it away in my mind, determined to work the sleet/fleet change into my story. Only, the story has yet to be written, and I forgot about “The Lyke Wake Dirge” for the while.

When I decided to start a blog, I knew that I wanted a rather comfortable and home-like title. I kicked about names for weeks on end, trying to find one that suited me. Most of them were rather too coffee-shop-ish to work, so I came back to an old, old phrase meaning all the comforts of home – and wrote this self important essay to explain the title! So now that I have explained it, at least to my own satisfaction, I hope you will all stop in once in a while, and close with the pious wish, ‘And Christe receive thy saule…’