Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Here is a clip of the Cautley Carollers singing the Conventry Carol:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Feast of St. John

Much to my disappointment, though I have assiduously ransacked the internet for the better part of the evening, looking for a hymn, song or carol proper to this feast day, I have turned up very little worth talking about. There is a very fine website dedicated to hymns and carols of Christmas, which contains a list of hymns in honour of St. John, and the lyrics as well. I had hoped for find one of the old, Middle English carols to post - I particularly liked the lyrics to To The Now, Crystys Der Darling - but my ambitions came to not.

Instead, I shall draw your attention to a rather interesting tradition for the Feast of St. John. According to legend, St. John was given a cup of poisoned wine to drink, but he blessed it, and the poison came out of the wine in the shape of a serpent. In memory of this miracle, it used to be the custom for wine to be blessed in honour of St. John. The faithful would serve the blessed wine at the main meal. The wine would be poured into glasses, and the father of the family would raise his glass in toast to the mother, saying, "I drink you the love of St. John." The resonse would be, "I thank you for the love of St. John." Then the mother would give the toast to the oldest child, who would in turn, give it to the next, until the love of St. John had been passed around the table. Sometimes the wine would be prepared before hand according to the following recipe:

St. John's Love (serves 8)

1 quart red wine
3 whole cloves
1/16 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 two-inch cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar

Pour the wine into a large saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients. Boil for 5 minutes or so. Serve hot. with the toast "Drink the love of St. John!"

Monday, December 26, 2011

On the Second Day of Christmas....

I have the rather ambitious intention of trying to do a post for each day of the twelve days of Christmas, finishing on the Feast of the Epiphany. Ideally, I would like to post something particular to each day - a song or a carol if I can find one. Today is St. Stephen's Day, and I had originally intended to publish a clip of a very old carol called St. Stephen Was a Clerk. Unfortunately, though the tune seems to be fairly well known in certain circles (i.e. medieval and renaissance musicians) diligent research did not turn up a single clip of the tune, other than as an mp3 sample. This being the case, I am posting a more flippant clip of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem singing The Wren Song.

The tradition of the hunting of the wren, which is described briefly at the beginning if the clip, is an old Irish custom. The story behind it is that a wren was responsible for betraying St. Stephen to his murders - and also for betraying the Irish during a key battle, by beating its wings against a shield, and rousing the enemy.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Manger and the Cross

I recently stumbled across the following transcript from Jack Horkheimer, the host of the show Star Gazer, a PBS series devoted to astronomy. This particular episode - number 994 - aired in December of 1996:

...I'd like to retell a story about a fascinating cosmic coincidence I discovered back in December of '87, a story many viewers ask me to retell year after year. It all happened by accident as I was searching for something unusual for my Christmas week show and strangely it all began, not with a constellation of winter, but with a constellation of summer, Cygnus the swan, a star pattern which rises in the east just after sunset in July. I think Cygnus has always enchanted me because it looks so much like its name, a graceful swan, its tail marked by one bright star, its beak by another, a star for the tip of the left wing and a star for the tip of the right wing; stars which, if we draw lines between them, represent a swan with outstretched wings. In my youth I always loved to watch Cygnus rise in the east on summer evenings and climb higher and higher until at midnight he appeared with wings outstretched across the very roof of heaven. Then after midnight he would silently descend, gliding downward to the western horizon. Now one thing that always fascinated me about Cygnus was that as he approached the western horizon he seemed to change his shape from a swan into a great cross, a star pattern early Christians called the Northern Cross [Ed. it is still known as such]. It was also interesting to me that every year during Christmas week, around 8 p.m. or so that this cross stands almost upright on the northwestern horizon. And in December of '87 as I was researching my Christmas show the little obscure star cluster called the "Bee Hive" caught my attention and jogged an old memory, for I remembered that the Bee Hive's real name is 'Praesepe' which is Latin for 'The Manger'. So I said to myself, "Wouldn't it be a nice coincidence if at Christmas time we could see both the Cross and the Manger at the same time?" Well, just for fun I picked up my star wheel and dialed in December 25th, 8 p.m. and noticed something which gave me a pleasant start . . . for indeed, there on the wheel at 8 p.m. on the 25th of December was not only the Northern Cross standing upright on the western horizon, just about to set, but directly opposite on the eastern horizon was Praesepe, the Manger, just rising. And they will always be there opposite each other in the heavens every year, every Christmas of our lives. How poetic. Indeed, in all my years as a star gazer I had never heard or read of this lovely coincidence. So, as you gaze up at the night sky this Christmas week at the setting Cross and the rising Manger, may the heavens themselves remind you of a wish that should know no religious boundaries and that is simply: Peace On Earth, Good Will Toward Men . . . a hope for all mankind of all beliefs if we remind each other to Keep Looking Up!

Isn't that a beautiful arrangement? (I cannot bring myself to call it a mere coincidence.) Unfortunately, I live in the mountains, and by the time Praesepe would be visible in our sky, the Northern Cross would already set behind the great peaks to the west, otherwise, poor astronomer that I am, I would be outside on Christmas evening, doing my level best to spot these two constellations.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Away in a Manger

A couple years ago, my sisters and I decided to make a recording of ourselves singing Christmas music for my dad. It was a labour of love that soon turned into a private purgatory of all those who were involved. We recorded it at night, after Dad had gone to bed, using a karaoke machine which we plugged into the computer, and which picked up, in addition to our voices, every click and whir that the computer made. We recorded it in the living room, in between the chimes of the clock telling each quarter hour, and we all had miserable colds that left us with raw throats and strained voices. When regular cold remedies proved useless, we took to consuming great quantities of drink: cocoa, hot toddies, wine, or whisky, straight up, depending on the age of the drinker. The strong, warm libations were quite effective for relaxing the vocal chords, and getting us through each song, but the experience was still miserable. By the time we finished, we had eight songs to our credit. We cordially hated each and every one of them, and would have been just as pleased never to hear them again.

Not too long ago, by sheerest accident, I came across one of the songs we had managed to produce under such adverse conditions, and was rather surprised by how nicely it had turned out. The quality is not the best - it sounds a bit like some long lost, primitive recording of folk music from the 50s, but for all that, the arrangement is satisfactory, and the voices blend rather better than any of us remembered them doing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Today is the first day of Hanukkah, a fact I bring up only because of an odd bit of trivia concerning this well know Jewish holiday. The feast of Hanukkah commemorates a miracle that occurred during the revolt of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers against the Syrians. During the fighting, the Syrians captured the Temple and desecrated it using it as a place of worship to the pagan god, Zeus. After the Syrians were driven out of Jerusalem, Judas Maccabeus order the Temple to be cleansed, the altar restored, and the menorah re-lighted. The menorah was supposed to remain burning all through the night, every night. Unfortunately, there was only enough oil remaining for a single night, however, by a miracle, the menorah remained burning for eight nights, giving the Jews enough time to replenish the supply.

Now, the interesting thing about all this, is that, though Hanukkah has been commemorated ever since as a minor feast, the Hebrew Bible does not contain the Books of the Maccabees. The Jews consider those books as part of the Apocrypha. For that matter, the Protestants consider them as Apocryphal books as well. Oddly enough, it is only the Catholic Bible that contains them. Indeed, according to this website, the early Christian Church is to thank that written history of the Maccabees survived at all.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

O Adonai

Yesterday, December 17th, marked the first day in which the Great O Antiphons of Advent are sung. Do I hear you ask, oh Reader, “what are the Great O Antiphon”? I am glad you do, for I had never heard of this beautiful liturgical custom until this year.

The Great O Antiphons are a series of seven special antiphons which are sung before the Magnificat at Vespers each day from December 17th through December 23rd, begging our Lord to make haste and come. Each of the antiphons begins by addressing the Messiah by one of His titles. The first begins, O Sapientia – that is, O Wisdom - and the others follow suit: O Adonai – O Lord; O Radix Jesse – O Root of Jesse; O Clavis David – O Key of David; O Oriens – O Rising Sun; O Rex Gentium – O King of Nations; and finally, O Emmanuel – O, God with us

The Antiphons are of great antiquity. The sixth century philosopher, Boethius, makes mention of them, and by the 8th century, they were a tradition part of the Roman Liturgy. The Antiphons are singular to Christmas. No other feast in the Church – not even Easter – has anything similar preceding the feast. Given their venerable age, and their unique standing, it seems a pity that they are not better known. Therefore, I am posting a clip of the antiphon for today, O Adonai:

For an brief history and explanation of the O Antiphons, this site is a good place to start.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas

Today is the feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe. The story of the simple Juan Diego, and his beautiful lady, is one of the most touching accounts of our Lady's love for us, and the confidence we should have in her motherhood. Below is a really fine video concerning the miraculous image which was imprinted on the tilma of Juan Diego. It is a bit long, but worth looking at. One of the most beautiful aspects of this image, which is not covered in the video, is that the black sash which our Lady wears symbolises that she is with child. How fitting that we should be celebrating this particular feast day, during Advent, as we await our Lord's birth at Christmas.

This website contains a good, brief history of Mexico at the time of the apparition. For the adventurous, here is a recipe for Mayan hot chocolate, with cinnamon and chili powder in it. Believe it or not, the chili is really wonderful in hot chocolate, and I intend to make some tonight in celebration of the feast day.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gaudete Sunday

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, and, like it's counterpart, Laetare Sunday in Lent, it is a small, joyful break to the penitential season. Rose coloured vestments are permitted in lieu of violet, the the liturgy takes on a decidedly hopeful and joyous tone.

I must admit that I love the season of Advent. It is a penitential season, and our family has always treated it as such, but it has such a different feel to it than Lent does. Lent is looking towards a death. Oh, I know the Resurrection comes too, but the death is still first, and there is a bitterness about the Lenten fast that bespeaks of sack cloth and ashes. Advent, however, is looking towards a birth, and therefore, cannot help but have an atmosphere of suppressed excitement, and anticipation. The penance itself feels incidental - rather like foregoing breakfast on Thanksgiving, when you know you are going to have a fantastic dinner. It simply makes a beautiful feast day that much more joyful when it actually arrives. Below is a group of carollers from Ireland, enthusiastically singing a lovely Advent song, "Behold a Virgin Bearing Him":

Behold a virgin bearing him
Who comes to save us from our sin;
The prophets cry: prepare his way!
Make straight his paths to Christmas Day.
Behold our Hope and Life and Light,
The promise of the holy night;
We lift our prayer and bend our knee
To his great love and majesty.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Today is a special feast day, the feast of the Patroness of the United States: the Immaculate Conception. Below is the very beautiful Introit from the Mass of today.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy Feast Day!

I have remarked upon my affection for St. Nicholas before on this blog, making particular mention of the story of himself and Arius at the Counsel of Nicea. I shall not rehash the story, fond as I am of it, but I shall share with you all a fine old icon of the event:

I am intending to celebrate St. Nicholas's day right properly, by placing his picture in a place of honour, lighting a candle before it, and brewing up a Bisschopswijn by way of making merry, for all it is still the season of Advent. It is only fitting that a saint with so warm and strong a spirit should have his day marked with the drinking of warm and strong spirits. I shall, however, refrain as far as possible from giving blows to persons who eminently deserve them.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 30th

Well, golly! To my amazement, I did it. I managed to write better than 50,000 words this month - 50,377, to be exact - and so have fulfilled the challenge of National Novel Writing Month. The thing I have created cannot properly be called a novel. That is far too grandiose a title. What I actually have is a rough draft - and exceedingly rough draft, of something that will potentially be a novel someday. (Soon hopefully.) Still, this is something of a mile-stone for me, as I actually have all the key point of the novel written out, with a proper beginning, middle and end. It is the closest I have ever come to actually writing one of those books I am always threatening to write, and as I result, I am feeling so pleased with myself that I am going to indulge in a little bit of blowing my own horn. I present to you all, my award:

On a totally unrelated note, today is the feast day of St. Andrew, who is the patron saint of Scotland. Being the ardent Scotophile that I am, I celebrated the day, at least in a small way. I am the owner of a very fine Royal Scots cap badge:

which I pinned in my hair, along with a white rose, which I generally break out on days of Scottish national import, since the white rose - along with the thistle - is the national flower of Scotland. I wore my little pin with the American flag on one side, and the Scottish flag on the other. Oddly enough, though St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and has been since the Battle of Bannockburn, and though the Scottish flag is a composed of a blue field, with a white, St. Andrew's cross emblazoned on it, St. Andrew's day is not really a big deal in Scotland. No doubt we have the Covanenters and their legacy to thank for that, and it is rather a shame. I wanted to post a video or a music clip in praise of St. Andrew, but decent music in honour of this great saint and apostle is very hard to find. There is a polyphonic Gregorian chant in his honour here for those who are interested.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Catching Up

I have been neglecting this blog dreadfully. I apologise. I have been taking part in National Novel Writing Month instead. Yes, that is correct. I am endeavouring to write a 50,000 word novel this month. Why, you ask, when I can barely keep up with my blog? Well, insanity, for starters; a desire to force myself to write, even if I don't want to; a need for some mental distraction from the travails of Life; and a sudden, mad urge to prove that I was up to the challenge.

I must admit I have been fighting to keep up with the daily word goals. To reach 50,000 words by November 30th, I must average 1,667 words a day. I don't always manage that. Indeed, I am spending a good deal of time falling behind - and being informed by my handy word tracker, that I shall not be finished until December 2nd... December 4th... December 6th! And then, thank heaven, the weekend comes, and I apply myself to serious catching up, and manage to obtain the happy forecast of finishing by the appointed date of November 30th. At present, I am pleased to say, I am set to finish on time. Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Well, That's Interesting!

One of the most persistent myths about WWII, is that the Catholic Church, somehow, aided and abetted the Nazis. Poor Pope Pius XII, who saved thousands of Jews during the War, is branded as "Hitler's Pope". Contemporary histories tend to accuse the Church of sitting idly by whilst millions of souls went to their deaths. Some particularly bitter folk even suggest that Hitler was disproportionately influenced by his Catholic upbringing, and that his anti-Semitism is a result of a thousand year old Catholic tradition of the same - conveniently overlooking the fact that he has ceased the practice of his Faith long before he reached adulthood. The ironic thing, is that the Jews of that period were unanimous in their praise of the Church's efforts on behalf of their people. Indeed, Albert Einstein goes so far as to say, "Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth." High praise indeed, but current opinion still runs vigourously against her. It is, therefore, eminently satisfying to come across something like this, to back you up in your defence of the Catholics. A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Memoriam...

Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.....

To the memory of all those brave souls who died that day, that others may live....

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Well, look at that! Amanda over at Old Fashioned Girl has given me an award. It is an award to acknowledges wee little blogs like this one, with under 200 followers. It is very kind of her. There is only one thing that I can say about it:

Thanks Amanda!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How Beautiful A Day Can Be....

Every once in a while a day will come along that is as nearly perfect as it is possible for things to be on this Earth of ours. Today was just such a day for me. To begin with, the World Pipe Band Championships were being streamed live on BBC Scotland. The Worlds began at about 9 am British Standard Time, which would have put it at about 1 am here. I had to go into work at 8:30, so obviously pulling an all-nighter was not going to work for me. However, I did get up at a little past 5 and got in a solid couple hours of listening some really superb music, by the best bands in the world. This is the first time I've seen the broadcast for the competitions, and I found it tremendously exciting. Indeed, even if no other pleasant thing happened to me for the rest of the day, that glorious beginning put me in so fine a mood that it wouldn't have mattered.

In addition to getting a really good dose of piping, however, I also discovered that Celtic FC, out of Glasgow (my favourite football team*) beat out Dundee United 5-1 in their first serious game of the season. They beat Manchester United in a friendly match last week too, so they are off to a brilliant start.

And my own piping practice today went like a dream. I have been struggling with my pipes all summer, and practices have mostly been something of a purgatory for me. Today, however, everything seemed to lock in. I cannot remember the last time I sounded as decent as I did today, nor the last time that piping was so much fun. Och, there were still issues, don't get me wrong. I have a fiddly reed that takes forever to settle in when I'm playing, and which is highly sensitive to the slightest variances in pressure, so I was still cutting out a little bit, and the tuning, while acceptable, was not all it could have been... but, oh, I had the tunes, and my fingers were doing what I wanted them to do, and the over all sound was really very presentable indeed. I felt like a million dollars by the end of that!

Last but not least, when I was going for a quick stroll during my afternoon break, I passed a birch tree that shed a couple very lovely golden leaves on me. It is too early for autumn, and, indeed the day was quite warm. I think that this particular tree is changing colours more because of the abuse it has endured most the summer, with drain work and road work disturbing it continuously, rather than because it is a herald of cooler days. But the leaves were very fall-like, and as I paused in a golden shaft of sunlight to look at the birch in surprise and delight, a little breeze wove around us, and the lovely, intoxicating bitter-spice smell of autumn came wafting from it, making my happiness complete.

* soccer for those of you who think I meant a sport involving tackling and massive shoulder guards.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Our Lady of the Snows

Today is a rather unique feast day in honour of our Lady - Our Lady of the Snows. It is an odd title, and it is even odder to be celebrating such a feast day during the high summer days of August. There is a very good reason for it, though, for it commemorates a miraculous fall of snow, which marked the location upon which Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the principle churches in Rome, was to be built. The legend of our Lady of the Snows runs like this: In the 4th century, during the reign of Pope Liberius, a holy man named John and his wife, being childless, made a vow to leave their earthly possessions to our Lady, and prayed that she would inspire them how best to dispose of their wealth in her honour. In answer to their prayer, she appeared to the holy couple, in a dream, and to the Holy Father as well, requesting that they build a church in her name upon the Esquiline Hill, and that she would give them a sign to show where the exact location was to be. The following morning, they all went in procession to the Esquiline Hill, to discover that a heavy snow had fallen during the night, to mark the location of Our Lady's church.

The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the oldest churches in the world to be dedicated to our Lady. It contains two very special relics, relating to her motherhood: a very ancient painting of the Madonna and Child, which is attributed to St. Luke; and the Crib of our Lord. It is the possession of that Crib that gives the Basilica its secondary title of Santa Maria del Presepe - St. Mary of the Crib.

On the feast of Our Lady of the Snows each year, a shower of white rose petals are dropped from the roof during Mass, to commemorate the miraculous snow that marked the church's foundation. Here is a clip of it:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Battle of the Boyne

On this day, in 1690, I am sorry to report, the forces of William of Orange defeated the forces of King James II of Ireland and VII of Scotland, at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland. It severe blow to the Catholics in the countries of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales; and to the young Jacobite movement, that had grown up with King James. Usually, about this time each year, it will be in the news that sectarian violence is breaking out in Northern Ireland.... again, and there will be some rueful remarks about the Irish Catholics and Protestants being unable to get along. Most of the violence is a result of Orange Parades, i.e. parades of Protestant Orangemen marching along through Catholic neighborhoods, celebrating the victory of William at the Battle of the Boyne. The Catholics, not unreasonably, find this incredibly offensive, and the Irish being the Irish, rioting ensues until the marching season is safely over.

Being both a Catholic, and a Jacobite sympathiser, I am posting the following clip, from the Clancy Brother's Carnegie Hall performance, just so there is not doubt whatsoever what my opinion of the matter is!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

"Yankee Doodle" is probably the most well known of all tunes to come out of the Revolutionary War. It was originally a British song, mocking the Continentals, but it had a catchy melody, and was quickly taken over by the Americans as a rallying tune. Here is a video of the Towpath Fife and Drum Corps performing "Yankee Doodle" on parade.

I also came across this clip of "Yankee Doodle" sung by folksinger Charlie Zahm, which I thought was rather good as well. It is, perhaps, not entirely historically accurate, what with the bodhran and all, but it makes for a stirring arrangement.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Sign of the Cross

I remember someone telling me when I was quite young, that the Sign of the Cross is the perfect expression of all the major truths of the Catholic Faith. At the time, this remark did not make a very great impression on me. I took it at face value, and accepted it, but then, I merely filed it away in my mind without actually thinking about it. Lately, though, I find that I am thinking about it quite a lot. It began, primarily, as a way of recalling myself to my prayers, when I noticed that my mind had wandered off, as it tends to do at the slightest opportunity. However, the more often I practice thinking about what exactly I am doing when I make the Sign of the Cross, the more I appreciate the powerful expression of faith it is.

For it really does express the major truths of the Faith. When I sign myself "In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" I am expressing my belief in the Blessed Trinity. By using the singular noun 'name' rather than the plural 'names' I am proclaiming by unity of the Three Persons. By making the cross as I say the prayer, I am also directly showing my belief in the Incarnation of the Son of God, and in His death upon the cross; indirectly, my belief in Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, and that the death of Our Lord was the cause of our redemption. I am admitting my own sinful weakness, and that, by the cross, I am now under the mercy of God, and therefore, it is an act of trust. Furthermore, I am symbolically taking the cross upon myself, and am therefore, acknowledging must follow in the footsteps of God Himself, and bear my sufferings as He did, so it is an act of immolation.

If I make the Sign of the Cross, and pray instead, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end" I am now expressing my belief in the omnipotence of God, in the reality of Heaven, in eternity. In addition, I am offering to God a simple act of adoration, placing myself, for that little moment, before His throne and adding my own voice to the unceasing praise of the angels and saints.

When I make the Sign of the Cross, I am also blessing myself, a truly remarkable thing, if you think about it. The Sign of the Cross is universally understood to be a sign of blessing. The priest makes the sign over the host, to bless it for the Consecration, over sacramentals, to bless them for our use, over his congregation, to call blessings down upon us. Traditionally, Catholic parents would bless their children by making the Sign of the Cross upon their foreheads with holy water. But when I make that simple movement over my own person, I am able bless myself as well. I am able to beg blessings on my own behalf, and that is a powerful act indeed. No wonder it is recommended that we use the Sign of the Cross in times of temptation.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

It Is A Sign, I Tell You....

.... I am not quite sure what it is a sign of, but it is definately a sign. The bouquet of white roses I bought to celebrate White Rose Day are still blooming. I do not remember the last time I had cut flowers last so long as this. Oh, I will grant you that over the last couple days they have gotten wee bit past their prime, but only the least, tiny bit. They are still remarkably fine looking. Three weeks.... not bad at all.... It bears repeating: It is a sign, I tell you!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Here's Tae the King, Sir....

Today is White Rose Day, a holiday I had never heard of before yesterday. I owe the discovery of its existence to a small, pencilled notation in an antique Lives of the Saints, that I recently acquired in Scotland, and have been using daily as part of morning prayers. Beside the names of various saints for June 10th - St. Landry, St. Maurinus, St. Gertulius & Co. and, most fittingly, St. Margaret of Scotland - is the neat little addition: White Rose Day. I was intrigued, and the moment I had finished my prayers, I rushed to my handy computer to look it up.

To my delight, I discovered that it a Jacobite holiday. It commemorates the birth of James Francis Edward Stewart, born on this day in 1688. He was the legitimate, staunchly Catholic heir the throne of England, Ireland and Scotland and his birth is generally regarded as the beginning of the Jacobite cause. His father, James II and VII, had converted to Catholicism, and as a result had been forced to abdicate in favour of his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her Dutch husband, William of Orange. It was not an ideal situation, so when James II and VII died, his son was offered the throne by the bitterly Protestant leaders of the country, on condition that he renounce his Faith, but he responded, "Nothing would induce me to abandon my religion, for it is the true one." He did, however, insist upon his right to the kingship, and his supporters raised an army to help him secure it. James in Latin is Jacobus, so his supporters were knows as Jacobites.

They put up a tremendous fight, the Jacobites! Two major uprising they had, one in 1715, led by James himself, and the better known one, in 1746, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie. In between, there were all sorts of intrigues and smaller battles. If a man had a blue cap upon his head, you could be pretty sure that he was a supporter of "the king over the water", that is to say, James Stewart, for he had been forced to flee to France after the Jacobites were put down in 1715. Ladies wore white roses to show their own support. People met in secret to plan for the next move in the battle for their rightful king. The Jacobite cause was finally crushed once and for all, on April 16th, at Culloden in Scotland. Bonnie Prince Charlie and his gallant Scots were defeated, more by treachery and bad judgement, than by any force of arms.

However, the Jacobite tradition carried on. Those who were loyal to the Stewarts continued to drink toasts to the King over the Water, still continued to hope for the restoration of the true kings to the throne. Gradually, a whole, rich tradition of Jacobite songs, poetry and toasts grew up. They continued to wear the white rose - or the white cockade - which had long been the symbol of the Stewarts. And one of their traditions, was the celebration White Rose Day.

So, in commemoration of the day, of the Stewarts, and their Catholic faith, and of their brave supporters the Jacobites, here is a poem, written by Andrew Lang:


'Twas a day of faith and flowers,
Of honour that could not die,
Of Hope that counted the hours,
Of sorrowing Loyalty:
And the Blackbird sang in the closes,
The Blackbird piped in the spring,
For the day of the dawn of the Roses,
The dawn of the day of the King!

White roses over the heather,
And down by the Lowland lea,
And far in the faint blue weather,
A white sail guessed on the sea!
But the deep night gathers and closes,
Shall ever a morning bring
The lord of the leal white roses,
The face of the rightful King?

Incidentally, since I like to fancy myself a bit of a Jacobite, I intend to celebrate today by wearing a tartan skirt (luckily made of light-weight fabric, since spring has come upon us) pinning a white rose into my hair, (artificial - a concession to practicality) putting white roses on my table (real ones, of course) and cooking salmon, neeps and tatties for dinner (It being Friday, salmon is as Scottish as it gets). I also intend to have a bit of Scotch whisky, with which I shall offer the standard toast, "Here's tae the King, sir. Ye ken wha I mean, sir. And every honest man wha will dae it again!" and pass my whisky glass over my water glass, lest there be any doubt that I mean the King over the Water.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

June 5, 1944

Today is the anniversary of the Liberation of Rome by the Allied Troops. Here is a video of Pope Pius XII addressing the troops:

Incidentally, Rome during the War was an exciting place. All sorts of things were going on under the noses of the Germans. The tomb of St. Peter was discovered, for example. It had to be kept a secret, since the Nazis had a very odd fascination for religious artifacts (the Holy Grail, the spear of St. Longinus, etc) so the Vatican Gardens were completely remodeled, so that the volume of dirt being dug out from underneath St. Peter's Basilica could be disposed of without comment. Pope Pius XII and Monsignor O'Flaherty were hiding Jews everywhere: in the Vatican, in the Catacombs, with various families throughout the city. British soldier, Sam Derry, with the help of the good Monsignor, had created the Rome Escape Line which hid Allied soldiers who had been cut off from the Allied troops during the Italian Campaign, and helped them to return to their units. Someday, I would like to write a neat little history book that focused just on Rome during the war. It would make from some fascinating reading!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On the Weather

For the last couple months, we have been getting a good deal of snow, and rain, and rain-and-snow mixed together. There is hardly a week goes by without some sort of weather, usually quite cold weather. For me, this is not a big deal. I happen to like snow and rain, and much prefer cold weather to hot. I might admit that a bit of sun and warmth is quite pleasant for a change, but since we actually have had a few days this week featuring those qualities, I cannot say I was disturbed at the snow we got today.

I rather think, however, that I might be the only person left in town that is not fed up with the weather. When the rain started early in the afternoon, my co-workers let out a unanimous groan. When the rain turned into quite a serious snow storm, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. "Are we ever going to have spring?" was the despairing cry I heard quite often today. By contrast, during the late afternoon, when both rain and snow stopped, and the golden sun broke through the black and fantastic storm clouds, the populace rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

The best reaction probably came from a small, handsome Mexican child, who was playing with his father in the Children's Section of the library. He saw the sun coming in at the window, and stood stock still, gazing at it in awe. He exclaimed fervently, "It's a miracle!"

Monday, May 9, 2011

Beware the Hunchbacks, and Other Warnings Posted on British Roads

My sisters and I are recently back from a trip to Scotland. A good friend of the family whom we were visiting there, drove us about the countryside, putting over 2000 miles on his car, and ensuring that we saw a great deal of interest. So much driving also gave us a chance to observe some rather peculiar (at least, I found them so) road signs. There was, for example, this sign:

which appears to be advising one of the upcoming danger of running in to a tuning fork, but which is actually warning that the 2 lane road you are currently bowling pleasantly along on, is about to become 1 lane.

Then, of course, there is the sign cautioning against zombie-like hunchbacks:

which is actually alerting you to the far less sinister possibility of frail persons - i.e: the elderly, blind, disabled - crossing your path at this point.

Indeed, the majority of people crossing signs I found to be a bit sinister looking. Take, for example the sign warning of impending danger from hulking juveniles:

which is actually just a harmless school-crossing notice. Or there is this one, that suggests the possibility of imminent abduction by preternaturally tall aliens:

which is merely giving you fair warning that there might be pedestrians in the road ahead - though, I must admit, if I noticed a pair of pedestrians looking like this, I'd still be inclined to think there was something sinister about it

There is also this slightly confused sign, mostly seen along Highlands roads:

The weather, while we were in Scotland, was, up until the very last day, both sunnier and warmer than our section of California had been at the time of our departure, so we observed neither ice, nor snow. The Highlands also boasted this dire-looking notice:

which sometimes appeared with a small car beneath all that unlikely shedding from the crumbling mountain. This sign seemed to appear most often along side a bit of innocent road, looking rather like this:

in which the mountain which was about to collapse upon you, could only be faintly glimpsed through the trees.

My favourite sign, however, might possibly be this one:

Very civilised, that polite notice. Very kind of them to be so polite about it. The impolite notice, should you inadvisedly ignore the polite one, would consist of a parking warden in a fluorescent-yellow vest (with which Scotland is thronged) appearing the instant your vehicle stops moving (even if the motor is running) and writing you up a citation. Or possibly, if you had actually gotten out of your car, clamping your vehicle to the road by its wheels, so that you have to pay a ruddy great fine to have it unclamped. Obey the polite notice.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Good Advice

I recently came across the following:

Commas save lives!

"Let's eat Grandpa!"

"Let's eat, Grandpa!"

Never underestimate the power of good punctuation!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

A clip of the Gloria from Easter Vigil, which is probably the most exciting moment in the whole liturgical year.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Good Friday*

The traditional Catholic Holy Week ceremonies are among the most beautiful of the whole liturgical year. During the Holy Tridiuum - which is Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday - the recitation of the Divine Office is replaced by the office of Tenebrae, a very solomn series of psalms and antiphones deeply lamenting the death of Christ and His betrayal at the hands of His friends, mitigated by exaultant passage, rejoicing in the triumph of Christ. Tenebrae for Good Friday is particularly dynamic. At the beginning of the service, there is a lighted candleabra before the altar, which is gradually extiguished between the chanting of the office, which focuses primarily on the Passion and Death of Christ. The last candle is extinguished to coincide with the reading of the Death, leaving the church in darkness.... then, in imitation of the earthquake that happened on the first Good Friday, the congregation knocks on the back of the pews, and stomping on the floor. It is incredibly stirring. Here is a video of it on youtube. It is bit on the long side, running to nine minutes or so, but if you skip forward to about 7:45 - 8:00 minutes, you can hear the earthquake.) I have only ever had the chance to attend all of the Holy Week services, including Tenebrae, one time in my life, but it made a tremendous impression on me, and gave me a life long devotion for the Catholic liturgy.

* with apoligies for being late.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Killing Two Birds With One Stone

A while back I mentioned that I intended to start posting some of my own poetry, and possibly, some of my doodles to the blog. I have finally managed to do both: to whit, a poem I worked on last week, and have written up in brown ink with an illustration I made to go along with it:

Before Battle

Laird, thwarld is unco fair
Sae deep th’ blue, uncloody sky.
Was it on sic a day as this
Ye went oot, sodger-like tae die?

“Piper, mak ready – then by yer mark!”
Up swing th’ pipes tae ma shoudder.
Did birds sing as Ye shoudderit Yer Cross
An’ marchit tae a captain’s order?

Yer Cross I sign upon masel
O! Gie the grace o’ bravery!
Bless th’ war-pipes tae thficht.
(Did poppies bloom on Calvary?)

Bless ma fingers tae the pipin’.
Gie a stout heirt an’ sturdy breath
Tae follaw an’ dae manfully,
Though I pipe in the shadaws o’ death

“Piper, tak them ower th’ top!”
I gae oot wi’ pipes a-blaw.
Was e’re Eard sae heirt-brackin’ sweet,
Or music sae rantin’-braw?

A bit of back-history, for those who are wondering: during WWI, Scottish regiments were frequently led over the top by their pipers, whose tunes (now known collectively as tunes of glory) were particular to the regiment, and to Scottish - as opposed to British -patriotism. Since there is a tradition of prayerful before-action poems, I thought it would be interesting to write one from the viewpoint of a piper, hence the borrowing of Scots words and spellings.

The picture, like most of my art, is not much more than a doodle. I seem to be completely unable to create a picture of any great size. This one is about the size of a postcard, and the idea in the back of my mind was to make something along the lines of the bits of art soldiers of the two world wars, seemed to produce in remarkable quantities. Incidentally, although I have played around with watercolours for years, this is the first time I have actually used a decent sheet of watercolour paper for the exercise… It was absolutely delightful, and made painting so much easier. I do believe that I have permanently spoiled with it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

On This Day In History

... The Jacobites lost to the English in the battle of Culloden's Muir. Here is a good video about it:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Take My Mother Home

I am not, generally speaking, a fan of Black Spirituals. They are too dramatic and emotional for me. This, however, is a particularly fine example of they style, and, I think, very fitting for Passion Sunday:

Friday, April 8, 2011

Signal Graces

I recently read the book "Flight of Faith" by Frederick Berretta, one of the survivors from Flight 1549, which was forced to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River, after being severely damaged by a bird strike. I was pleasantly surprised by it. It is not a long book - at 140 pages, it is easily read in an evening, if not in a single sitting. It details the author's growth and development in his Catholic Faith, culminating in that life-changing flight, and the impact it had on him spiritually. The writing, for the most part is crisp and to the point. There is not sentimentality here, just simplicity and sincerity. It is not deep, but it is thoughtful, and it encourages you to be the same. If Mr. Berretta takes a little bit too long to wrap up the book, it is because he does have a genuine point to make in his writing, and wants to be sure that he put that point across as well as he is able.

One of the things that made the biggest impression on me, however, was a paragraph mentioning the promises attached to the praying of the Rosary - particularly the first promise:"Whosoever shall serve me by faithful recitation of the Rosary, shall receive signal graces". Now, the Rosary is an important part of the day for my family. We were brought up with it, and we prayed it as a family. I also was, at least, passingly familiar with the 15 promises attached to it. I could not recite them for you, or anything like that, but I have read them before, and know that the Rosary is a well-spring of graces. I must confess, however, that I have never really thought about those promises, and it never occurred to me to wonder what, exactly, a signal grace is. I think, up until now, if I considered that particular wording at all, I interpreted it as singular graces. Rather shocked by my lack of understanding, I looked it up, and discovered that a signal grace is a very specific sort of grace. It is a special grace that allows you to know God's will for you, that gives you a sharp nudge, so to speak in the right direction. Sometimes they come in the forms of 'signs' after you have prayed for an intention. Sometimes, they are just a strong guiding feeling that serves almost like a sign-post for your life. They are special graces that help sanctify you in your duty of state.

It was almost like a revelation to me, because I know that I certainly have had some of those particular graces in my own life. There are several times, in particular, when a large and rather difficult decision was almost made for me, by a very strong sense of the Will of God for me at that particular moment, and I have, in fact, used that very phrase to describe it: it was like I had received a sign. Now, of course, the trick is to trust in God and Our Lady, who send those signal graces to me, and not go about second guessing myself all the time.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


For some reason (probably because of the variable weather) a rather unreasonable number of scary brown spiders have been coming out of the woodwork, and crawling creepily about the house. They are very spiderish spiders, with fat, squishy, somewhat bloated bodies, of an unhealthy brown shade, equally alarming legs, and a pair of hairy things bristling from where their mouths ought to be. They are large, at least by the standards of the spiders I am used to, and move in a disturbingly predatory fashion. They look like nothing quite so much as miniature Shelobs, in brown rather than grey. I am not much given to the customary yelling and leaping when I am startled by something. I tend to make a single extremely small noise, and draw abruptly back from the startling object. Sometimes I go so far as to place a hand over my mouth, but by and large, I am rather undemonstrative about it. However there is something about these creatures that seems to completely unnerve me, and I am beginging to do little half-leaps of alarm, and go on at a great rate, in a high pale mouse-voice: "Ooooh, oooh, spider! Oh, they're horrible! Just awful!"

The proper thing to do, of course, is the dispatch the things and be done with it. At the very least, I ought to catch them under a cup, and release them outside, where, with any luck, they will crawl into a lingering snowbank, and freeze to death. Unfortunately, I have a greater horror of the squish the spiders make when they are stepped on, than of the spiders themselves; and, dreadful as they are to look at, the idea of getting near enough to one to catch it fills my mind with terrifying and highly unlikely images of them leaping off the floor and getting on me. I might be able to sneak up and cover one up with a cup, but I cannot bring myself to slide a card beneath and remove him from my dwelling place. As a matter of fact, there is one trapped beneath a coffee cup at this very moment. Hopefully, it will die of something on its own, and soon too, because otherwise, I shall have to figure out what to do with it.... or just plan on doing without that cup for a very long time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Please Pray For

.... The repose of the soul of Diana Wynne Jones, who died on Saturday, March 26th. She was one of the few really good children's authors still writing these days, and I will miss the keen pleasure of seeing her latest book showing up on the new book display at the library.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Also Today...

... is the 67th anniversary of the Great Escape. So after you finish reading a bit of Tolkien, go ahead and watch The Great Escape, with Steve McQueen. Better yet, you might consider reading "The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III" by Tim Carroll.

Happy Tolkien Reading Day!

Yes, that is today. Be sure to read something by himself today. Here is one of my favourite Tolkien quotes:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Breaking Silence

It has been a long time since my last post, and I am heartily sorry about that. Life has been very hectic here the last few weeks, and I have been temporarily without regular internet. I should be back online within a few days, and I will attempt to post regularly again. Hopefully more regularly than is my want.

In the meanwhile, I hope you all had splendid St. Patrick's Days and St. Joseph's Days.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

On Writing

Not too long ago, Katrina over at World Crafter wrote a post in praise of the author Diana Wynne Jones, and asked what authors her followers read over and over again, just to see how they DO it. It was a good post, and I originally was going to respond with a comment, but the question got me thinking about my own favourite authors, and what it is about their writing that resonates with me, until I felt I really ought to do a post of my own on the matter.

To begin with, I very seldom read a book just for the story. I read it for the writing as well; for the author's use of language, use of words, ability to draw me in, to make me think, "I like that sentence there! It says exactly what it means." I like authors with a definitive style, who have their own unique way of putting words together. I am beginning to notice that an author's writing will often pull me out of a story, sometimes with a start of delight over a particularly fine bit of phrasing, sometimes for exactly the opposite reason. If I like the writing, I will slow down and savour the experience of reading it, if not, I tend to skim through the book, rather than reading it. The authors I that I go back to over and over, have diverse styles, but they all have something distinctive about their writing that I admire, and would like to imitate, at least in some small degree.

J. R. R. Tolkien: Thanks to The Lord of the Rings, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, The Silmarillion, Tolkien has got himself pegged as a writer of epic fantasy. There is no question that he does excel at that particular style, and that there a few authors who can touch his deliberate and controlled prose - elegant prose which is weighty, but never ponderous. However, he was a very versatile writer as well, who could be delightfully droll and humourous - consider Farmer Giles of Ham - or quietly thoughtful, as in Smith of Wootton Major. Regardless of the style, however, what always sets him apart from the rest, is his ability to use exactly the right word no matter what. It came so naturally to him, that you don't even realise how brilliant he was, until you try to find something similar. There is nothing similar enough to Tolkien to satisfy the desire for that particular quality of writing.

Patricia McKillip: She is not the sort of author that I would recommend indiscriminately. With the notable exception of "Winter Rose", her books tend to be light on plot, and a trifle disjointed. However, I cannot think of another living author who can write in such densely poetic prose as she does. She weaves brilliant, jewel-coloured tapestries of words, her pages bursting with flowering images, glowing scenes, golden glints of myth peeking out amongst the leaves of narrative. She uses unexpected words to good effect and knows the value of using plain, solid words without adornment. If the worlds she creates seldom become more than the bright scenes that appear in the borders of a medieval manuscript, her characters little more than figures picked out in crimson and gold against their brilliant backgrounds, she can be forgiven for the sheer beauty of the picture as a whole.

Robert Lewis Stevenson: His easy, almost careless style of writing is deceptive. He had great control over his narrative. He wrote with economy; there is no extraneous narrative, but neither is it stinted. He has an unfortunate inability to write genuinely engaging main characters, it is true, but he more than makes up for it with secondary characters like Long John Silver or Alan Breck Stewart. The thing I most admire about his writing, though, is that he had a real flair for dialogue. His conversations sound genuine, and accomplish the rare feat of not only giving you insight into the characters, but also advancing the plot.

Charles Dickens: My family are mostly not in agreement with me on this one. The general opinion seems to be that he was paid for his writing by the word, and you can tell. Much as I like Dickens, I must admit that there is some truth to that sentiment, and furthermore, acknowledge that one must be in the mood for Dickens in order to get through his books. Still, he had such an astonishing knack for memorable phrasing. How can one not admire an author who can inform us that Marley is as dead as a doornail, and the produce the following paragraph: "Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail." It is brilliant, humourous without diminishing the gloomy pronouncement that started the book. Dickens has a rather unjust reputation for sentimentality. Unjust, I say, because a number of his books - Oliver Twist, for example, or A Tale of Two Cities - are deadly serious in their subject matter. I rather think that what is taken for sentiment in most of his books, is actually a high esteem for the home, for charity, for virtue, which moved Dickens deeply.

P. G. Wodehouse: His plots are completely predictable; he recycles characters and scenes; he tosses in abbreviations and odd catch-phrases. At first glance, there seems to be no substance to his books at all... and yet, somehow, inexplicably, it always works. You know exactly what is going to happen in it. You know that the plot will spiral out of control, that increasingly tangled complications will keep arising, that all sorts of highly questionably enterprises will be undertaken for the noblest of reasons, and that at the end, it will - miraculously - all come right, and the rather dimwitted hero will get the girl of his dreams. Yet, there is a sort of fascination to it. I find that I read his books for the sheer pleasure of trying to figure out how he manages it, and wondering why it never grows stale.

There are, of course, a lot of other authors that I enjoy, these are just the ones who come most readily to mind... oh, and of course, Diana Wynne Jones too, for all the reasons Katrina laid out. A hearty thanks to her for bringing the subject up!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winter Hath Come Again

This has been an odd winter, one that cannot decide if wants to go down as a bitterly cold year, or an abnormally warm one. The snow came early, and Thanksgiving was memorable for near-record cold, and for surprisingly heavy snow fall. This sort of weather continued on and off through the first week or so of January, when there was a sudden, furious shifting of weather patterns, leading to weeks and weeks of too warm, spring-like conditions. Most people rather enjoyed it, but I am a winter-lover myself, and found myself going rather stir-crazy for want of some proper weather. I had just about despaired of it, when conditions shifted furiously back again. For the last couple weeks, we've had a return of the cold, and a series of big storms, each dropping a foot or two of light, powdery, beautiful snow on us, then clearing for a day or two so that we are able to get ourselves properly dug out before the next one came. I have been enjoying the wild weather tremendously. Here I am, on my way to work:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Subtle Shades of Meaning...

You gotta love it when kids try to use phrases that they have heard adults use. Take little Annie, my nine year old sister, who has her own take on a wellworn disclaimer:

"Not to be the terror of bad news..."

Terror. Bearer. Hardly different.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Irresistably Sweet Blog Award

My sister, Katrina, over at has bestowed the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award to me. I have never had a blog award before. I am flattered. Thanks Kat! According to instructions, I am now supposed to do the following:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave this award
2. Share 4 guilty pleasures
3. Pass this award on to 6 other sweet blogs

Guilty Pleasures:

1. Like Katrina, I am hopelessly addicted to collecting books and music. I have books everywhere, and a goodly number of CDs as well, but it is never enough. I haunt new bookstores, used bookstores, second hand shops and library discards for new things to add to my already excessive collection.
2. I am hopelessly devoted to Hogan's Heroes, which I consider an unjustly neglected show. It is genuinely funny, surprisingly clever, consistently entertaining, and had some really great characters. It is one of the few shows whose quality did not deteriorate in its later seasons. Besides, it manages to sneak in a surprising amount of history into its crazy plots.
3. I enjoy watching the caber tossing competitions at Scottish Games. I find it endlessly fascinating, and will go out of my way to watch at least a bit of it whenever the opportunity presents itself. I find it even more fascinating to speculate on how one acquires a caber, where one stores a caber, where, for heaven's sake, one goes to practice tossing the caber.
4. I am very fond of good, single malt Scottish Whisky. I don't. have a favourite maker, I pretty much like them all, from the easy, smooth whiskies, to the hearty ones, with a sharp, smoky edge to them. (Lest I have given a false impression, most of my whisky sampling occur rs at Burn's Night dinners, which I only attend very infrequently.)

I am sorry to say that I cannot come up with 6 other irresistibly sweet blogs. I can come up with two :-)


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Requiescat in Pace

I was greatly saddened to lear that Liverpool children's author, Brian Jacques, died last week, on February 5th. I grew up reading the Redwall books - having received "Mossflower" one year as a gift. Whether it was a Christmas gift, or a birthday gift, I cannot now recall, for it was a very long time ago, but I remember the medieval cover vividly, and that I devoured it. I eagerly leapt upon each new book as it came out, and it was not uncommon for me to stay up way too late reading 'just one more chapter' until I had finished the book completely. I loved the rollicking style of his writing, his cheerful poetry, and unassuming bravery of his peace-loving characters. I enjoyed his use of dialect, especially the Somerset accent of the moles, and suspect that my delight in language may have been influenced as much by the Redwall books, as by Tolkien and the Irish songs the Clancy Brothers used to sing. I suppose that they are very simple stories, good vs. evil adventures, and rather formulamatic, but they are also jolly good fun, and I have never managed to outgrow my pleasure in them.

The LA Times has published an obituary for Brian Jacques, for those who are intersted, but what I would really recommend for those who would like to know more about the man, is to read the interview with him in The Wand in the Word. It was a delightful interview, and Mr. Jacques himself comes off as quite the character.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

St. Brigid of Kildare

Today is the feast day of St. Brigid of Kildare, who, with St. Patrick, is the patron saint of Ireland. I honoured the day in my usual fashion - fashion being a rather significant word here. I decked myself out in a very Irish ensemble, modeled after these lads here. Obviously, I did not present to the world quite so military an appearance, since what I was wearing is properly a kilted skirt, rather than a kilt, and had to be satisfied with a dark green sweater, rather than the fine jackets they are sporting, but the effect, I fancy, is quite nearly as eye-catching.

St. Brigid is one of those saints around whom is woven a tapestry of legends, and one gets a picture of an astonishingly holy woman whose boundless charity and genuine niceness made her very pleasant company indeed. This website is a good place to go for a sample of some of the more common stories told about St. Brigid. I think one of the things I find most endearing about her, though, is her hospitality. Gaelic people tend to have a very high code of hospitality, but she rather outdoes herself in honouring it. Among the many miracles she is said to have performed, there are several in which she turned various liquids into beer to serve to her guests. Indeed, there is a prayer-poem attributed to her, that runs thusly: "I'd like a great lake of beer for the King of kings. I would like to be watching heaven's family drinking it through all eternity." And if that is not enough to endear the hardest of hearts to the Mary of the Gael, I do not know what will!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Since We Were On the Subject Anyway

I was being rather facetious when I named my last post. It is true that I tend to be skeptical of innovation - at least, until it proves itself worth my time - but I must admit that I am heartily thankful for the technological advances that have made my life more comfortable, and my hobbies far easier to indulge in. It got me thinking, however, I realised that I have rather inadvertently collected a number of items that technology has rendered obsolete:

I actually do use most of these items too, some more often than others, of course. The blue fountain pen (and the black ink that goes with it) I use almost every day, the red ink and feather dip pen usually only for calligraphy projects. I have taken a number of fencing classes on and off for years, and got to be quite decent at it for a while. (I like fighting with two short swords best, but only own this one. Not to worry, it has a cap on the tip, which you cannot see in the picture. We want to 'kill' our opponents, not hurt them.) I use the sand-glass occasionally, when I want to get things done quickly. It has about 15 minutes worth of sand in it, and keeping an eye on the sand's level helps me to keep myself focused on the task at hand. I have used the Morse code key for practice. The recent obsession with WWII has rekindled my interest in Morse code. Back in the summer, I was seriously applying myself to learning it. What with one thing and another, I never quite got all the way through the alphabet, but intend to make up for that soon. The only object I cannot use at all is the slide rule. I picked that up recently, because I thought it ingenious. Unfortunately, I am not much good at math, nor do I have much call for advanced calculations in my daily life, so I have not yet seriously applied myself to learning it. I have discovered that there is a book on using the slide rule at the library, however, so one of these days, I shall add that skill to my list of rather odd accomplishments.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Is My Luddism Showing?

I work in a library, and in general, find that the jobs suits me very well indeed. There are a lot of benefits to it, for a bookworm like myself, not the least of which is that I am able to indulge my reading-addiction on a whim without bankrupting myself while I am at it. However, as with most things, there is also a side to modern librarianship, that annoys me exceedingly. To whit, the rather appalling tendency of certain Powers That Be within the public library structure, to talk about "making the library relevant to our times".

Perhaps I am even more old-fashioned than I generally give myself credit for, but libraries have always seemed to me to be rather above the need of re-invention. There primary function is educational. They are repositories of knowledge and literature. A really good library will have an extensive, and well-maintained non-fiction section, which will contain everything from works of the major philosophers, to study books for obtaining one's contractor's license. There will be plays, and poetry, the maths and sciences, books on languages, geography and geology. There should be fiction too, but in keeping with the educational function of a library, it should be good fiction, well written and of the sort that will be as worth reading 100 years from now as it is today. At least, that is how I have always thought of a library should be.

In practice, however, the relentless drive towards "making the library relevant" has meant that there is an emphasis on novelty, and that the novelties tend to have less and less bearing on the purpose of a library. This shows up in various ways: an unnecessarily generous portion of the book budget going towards shiny, new best sellers, even if works of classical (and therefore, enduring) literature must be deleted to make room for them. Or the introduction of clubs or programs, whose sole purpose is to get people through the doors (therefore proclaiming the library's relevancy) rather than promoting education. Fortunately, the library I work for, tends to be fairly restrained in this regard. Our librarian is very good at finding the balance between the new and shiny, and the old and worthwhile. The programs we offer, tend, for the most part, to both be educational, and entertaining. Every once and a while, though, some new trend comes along, and our library jumps at it. The most recent is the addition of e-books and online audio books to the system, and, much to my irritation, I was required, last week, to learn how to set up the software and use the vile things.

I shall now freely admit that I am very resistant to change. I am the sort of person who has to believe that the good coming out of a change is so great as to make up for the bother of changing at all. No, I am not afraid of change. If something is not working, it is not working, and the sooner we get that sorted, the better. However, change, in our present society, does not usually mean fixing something that is not working. More often than not, it is some clever individual's chance to re-design the wheel. And there is the problem that I tend to have with technology, especially when technology encroaches upon my personal indulgences. Not that technology does not have a place. I am not a complete Luddite. I have a blog, after all.

E-books, however, are a form of technology that I have very little patience for. I suppose they have a place. I could see downloading a number of books into a device when one is travelling, so as to avoid a 50 lb backpack, full of books, because you never know when you might need something to read. (Yes, that is how I travel.) I could see the benefit of buying an e-book of an out of print book, that one really wants to read and cannot get any other way. I could see the advantage of using an e-book in the place of the $200 college text books I have been hearing about lately. However, I cannot see a single benefit of e-books as a regular library service. It defeats the purpose of most relevancy schemes, in that it does not get people through the doors. The cursory run-through of the program, to which I was subjected, turned up only the usual selection of bestsellers. Since we order multiple copies of those anyway, and since we are only allowed to own a certain number of electronic copies of each book, I cannot see how the e-book will significantly cut down on the waiting list for those items. People who are interested in anything besides the usual commercial bookstore-type offerings are tough out of luck. The software necessary to run the books takes close to an hour to download, and is sufficiently tedious and confusing to permanently discourage me from ever doing it for myself. (And will, no doubt prompt a rather large number of calls from confused patrons, whom we will have to attempt to placate.) I was quite disgusted with the whole matter, and made my disapproval rather plainer than I ought.

I think, though, the main problem I have with e-books, is that I am passionately devoted to the experience of reading a book. Ideally, I prefer my books to be hard-covered, or at least, well-bound and attractive. I like the weight of a book in my hands. I like the sound the pages make when I turn them. I like the ability to fan through it, and look at the illustrations, if illustrations there be, or to see how long it is til the end of the chapter, and whether it is worth putting off something important, until I get there. I like the dust-and-excitement smell of old books, and the look of the printed word on the cream-coloured page. I compulsively collect books, and like the look of them, sitting companionably together in my shelves, full of knowledge, adventure, passion and character. For all the benefits and e-book might provide, it will never provide the same experience as reading a genuine book. I resent their encroachment into me life, even in so slight a fashion as an icon on my computer at work. (Which I have no intention of ever using.) I resent being told that e-books are the way of the future. I resent having people tell me what I could do to disguise my e-book (should I ever find myself in possession of such a thing) to resemble a real book as much as possible. I particularly object to other people finding my objections amusing. However, I rather fancy that I am not the only person to feel this way, so I doubt the demise of the book is quite so imminent as everyone says it is!