Monday, 21 December 2015

Introducing: Gabriel

He has arrived! 

Trumping all his mother's darkest previsions of "probably sometime in mid-January", Gabriel decided to join us early on Saturday morning, 10 days before his due date, and just as his Daddy started his holidays. So he is already scoring high on the favourite child stakes.

****** You can stop here if you don't want any gory details, and enjoy the sweet baby. *********

If however, you enjoy gory details, here is the full story:

As we went to bed on Friday night, I informed Simon that I was getting quite a lot of tightenings, but neither of us were too alarmed by this as I have been getting so many Braxton-Hicks this time around.

Then around one o'clock, I got up (not sure why, but it was lucky), and my waters broke as soon as I was out of bed. So we called my lovely friend, and woke Jude up, Emilie took us to the hospital and Jude to stay with her.

Woken-up-at-two-o'clock-Jude was not even a little fazed.

At the hospital, I was still getting "tightenings", but nothing else. By the time they laid me down to monitor the baby, I was getting nothing at all. I still stayed strapped to that bed for 4 hours as they were looking for a particular reading that they weren't getting, but overall, it was quite an anti-climactic experience. 
We did have time for a funny chat with one of the midwives who had read my cranky birth plan about being allowed epidurals and husbands, though. 

Eventually they just decided to send us home, and book me in for an induction on Sunday morning if nothing had happened in between.

So we took a taxi home, I warned Emilie, and the tightenings kind of appeared again, but we just went back to bed. 

Where we stayed about 30 minutes.

By then the contractions were one to one-and-a-half minute long, but remembering the endless agony of Jude's birth, I wasn't really sure if we needed to go to the hospital or not (being cheerfully optimistic, I was planning on another 12-hour marathon). Eventually I let Simon  make the call and they told us that, yup, we needed to come back in.

By the time we were in the taxi, the contractions were getting really painful, and I was getting terrified at the idea that this was only the beginning, that it was still going to be much longer and much more painful.

We arrived at the hospital just in time for change-over between night and day teams, so they just left us in a room on our own for half an hour.

By the time the midwife arrived to introduce herself I had reached the "talking nonsense JUST GET ME THE $£%$^%&^%*&^%*$ EPIDURAL" stage but Simon is not allowed to repeat what I said. 

Then they had to man-handle me onto the bed (I am a bit stubborn at the best of times), announced that the baby was crowning (which I kind of knew, but still wanted an epidural, because logic).

Then in three pushes Gabriel was there.

So the midwife was with us for the grand total of ten minutes. And I did survive without an epidural. Or anything else, for that matter. 

And well, going to France wouldn't have made much of a difference, as they apparently have not got special working-in-under-a-minute epidurals there either.

Oh well.

Look at all the babies I've got now, though!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

History Podcast Junkie Anonymous

So, if you've been anywhere near me in the past couple of months, you will know that I have started to listen to a series of history podcasts that I can't stop raving on about.

The main reason is this:

My little sister saw it on the blog and requested an adult-size adaptation of the stripey jumper, so I have been frantically knitting in my down time (ha!) so I can get it done for Christmas. And what do you do whilst your hands are occupied but your brain not so much? You listen to great history podcasts!

They are great for multiple reasons, but mostly, what is really lovely about them, is that they are offering a narrative of the story, mirroring the complexity of the times they describe, but still, telling us the story.

Clearly, their authors couldn't care less about being de-bunked by angry gender-theorists or extreme intertextualists. They just think history is fun, and they are trying to make sense of it. And as they don't have a chair to defend, they just ignore all the palaver. And it is so refreshing.

So, if you want to learn about history, in a way that is not simplified for children, but still narrated to you, here are the podcasts you should listen to:

The history of Rome, by Mike Duncan

If you want to understand why Livia did it all, and why the murder of Aurelian was just the dumbest act in history, do listen.
There are 180 episodes, and yet I wish there had been more. As I said, the approach is one of a long narrative, but Mike Duncan also offers varying interpretations of events along the way. It's just brilliant. And quite funny.

Once you have finished this (and enter the sad withdrawal mode of "what do you mean no more episodes?!!!") you have two options:

  1. The history of Byzantium by Robin Pierson

This podcast takes up where Mike Duncan left off, and describes what happened in the East while the West was Dark Aging. Pretty good stuff, although I still prefer Mike Duncan.


      2. Revolutions by Mike Duncan

If it's Mike Duncan you think you are going to miss, then he is recording a new series on various revolutions. So far he has done the English Civil War/Revolution, the American Revolution and the French Revolution. He is about to start on the Haitian revolution, and I am ridiculously happy about that.
I wasn't sure how much his historical analyses could be trusted until I listened to this one, because he had been covering periods of history I don't know very much about, but I do know quite a bit about the French revolution, and can vouch for him and his historical acumen on that period at least. And chatting with former PhD colleagues who specialise in British history of the 17th century, it appears his analysis of Cromwell is also perfectly relevant. Winning all round.

Or, you know, secret option number 3, you can do as I did, and listen to both. But also deserving a special mention are these:

Twelve Byzantine Rulers by Lars Brownworth

Is more a series of lectures than a podcast, and the author doesn't include little quips the way Mike Duncan and Robin Pierson do, but it is still very compelling. I challenge you not to cry when you hear about the story of Constantine XI, last Roman emperor, and his last stand against the Turks.

Another very interesting podcast by the same author, another narrative which helps understand the Middle Ages, the Crusades, and a whole host of stuff you didn't realise you only understood imperfectly is:

Norman Centuries

Because the Normans did more than invade Britain. 

Just like for the Twelve Byzantine Rulers, the focus here is almost entirely on kings and masters, rather than the everyday life of "people" at the time (which is an interesting approach as well, but the life Mr Smith, peasant of Sicily is not exactly as compelling a narrative as the life of Rollo or Robert Guiscard). A plus in my book, but I'm an old-fashioned fake historian.

That's you all set for Christmas.

Apologies to your families in advance!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

The One-Trick Morning Prayer (or How to Re-Invent the Wheel)

I have found it pretty hard to develop a good prayer life since I reverted. 

Theoretically, I would love to stop my day and reflect at all the times wisely allocated by the Liturgy of the Hours, ponder the Angelus three times a day, do a family rosary after dinner, an examination of conscience before bed, ALL.THE. THINGS.

Poor under-used oratory.

So far I have mostly failed.

Unless I roped Simon in (he is the one with self-discipline in the family, I am the one with the... cakes, I guess?).

In the past, I have been able to do the Angelus three times a day through Lent, and before Jude was born we did say a rosary before bed (after Jude was born, we said a "Hail Ma;jdfv;brv zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz").

Then early this year, we wanted to really commit to a morning and evening routine, and with Simon's help, we've managed to finally do an Examination of Conscience and say evening prayers before bed every night. Angels are (cautiously, my resistance to routine is impressive) singing in Heaven.

The problem is, Simon is not here during the day, and leaves before we get up most mornings. So What Do We Do About Morning Prayers?

What we did, for a long time, was fail.

And then, I remembered advice I read many times, but particularly in The Little Oratory. When I first read the book, I dutifully set aside some shelves to create a nice oratory, and calligraphied many prayers (because I don't need to be pushed much to do some calligraphy). And then I started wondering how we would actually make use of all of this.

The oratory is behind our dining room table, making it awkward to stand in front of it, and making us crane our necks and still not see anything if we try to look at it whilst sat around the table.

See? Awkward.

It seemed to be condemned to just looking pretty and offering me new occasions of practising humility every time I passed it and contemplated my own failure.

Until I remembered the oldest trick in the book, the thing everybody knows about worship, the most basic thing associated with prayer life: candles.

Candles finally solved the problem(s).

One morning, I grabbed the images from the oratory, put them on the table in front of Patapon and I, lit a candle and started saying the morning prayers whilst Jude ate - he did interject a "Amen" here and there (he's worked out long ago that once he says "Amen" at the end of grace before meals, he gets food, so he is a very keen user of the word, exclaiming "Amen" as soon as he is in his chair so we can get on with eating already).

Look at me becoming magically pious whilst eating my weetabix!

And the next day, once he had his food in front of him, he started pointing as the images, and mostly, the candle, saying "Amen". Because I may forget the pretty light, but he certainly doesn't.

Pretty Light!

So just like that, we started saying our morning prayers every day. Cue more (still cautious) singing from angels in Heaven.

Of course, I wouldn't say I now have a good prayer life, but at least I kinda have one, which is a huge step for me. So, just in case there are still people out there as inept as me when it comes to prayer life, here it is, my earth-shattering discovery of the wheel, just for you.

For everybody else, you can have a good chuckle at my expense for not figuring it out sooner. It's ok, I am amused too.

Next I'll discover the power incense and tell you all about it. 

Maybe that will help with finding a way to say the rosary.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Sound of Silence

I remember 9/11 quite well. I was on the bus home from school (it was the afternoon in France), and I remember the hush falling on the shocked teenagers, as the sound of the bus driver's radio grew louder, and the eery silence in which we traveled afterwards.

I remember putting on the news and watching the second plane crash.

I remember the chatter as well. The "Then They Shouldn't Have X"s and "They Brought It on Themselves Because Y"s. I even joined in. Although, as I wasn't quite 15 at the time, I'm pretty sure my own chatter was ridiculous.

I remember being quietened by two things. First, the next day, as I started blathering on the things I had heard, I remember my friend telling me "This is not the place or the time for ill-thought-through anti-Americanism". And of course she was right.
But then, the thing that stayed with me the most, was a letter sent by an American couple living in Paris to a newspaper I read. It said "Before you start blaming us for what has happened, give us some time to bury our dead." 

That shut me up for good.

So on Friday, when the news started pouring in, of attacks in my aunt's favourite restaurant, and in the stadium where my cousins were watching the game, in the very streets I know so well, I was first swallowed up by frantic messages to make sure everybody was safe. 

When things quietened down the next day, and people started chattering on Facebook though, I remembered.

And I realised anew, that when they attack the streets you roamed and the people you love, all you want is not the pithy Facebook status of political abrasiveness, nor the "religion is at fault" or the "well, Christians are just as bad".

No, all you want, and all you should get, if the world wasn't dancing on its head these days, is the sound of The Last Post and silence thereafter.

And thank you, everyone who prayed, and checked on us. It was all very precious to me.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Hold Them Close

The attacks were so close to my family this time. So close. And my Facebook feed is awash with friends looking for friends. 
But my little boy came into the room to hold my hand, whilst his little brother was doing somersaults inside me. All I can do is hold them close, and trust in the Lord. 

Saint Genevieve, pray for us. You can see Paris through again. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Armistice Day

So, yesterday was Armistice Day (or, Just A Random Day for the British, because apparently they don't believe in holidays the way the French do <sigh>). To celebrate, Simon and I watched Is Paris Burning? and that led me to two considerations.

My great-cousin twice removed (or something like that) arriving just in time to take credit.

First, the story of the liberation of Paris during WWII is just great. And so typically Parisian. Seriously. I mentioned it before, it's part of the compulsory curriculum created by me for my A Level students (Lord help them).

If you put it into a dialogue, it would go something like this:

The scene is August 1944. The Allied Forces have brought the front line all the way to Mantes, 50km away from Paris.

Parisians to the Allied Forces:  Fantastic, you're nearly here! When shall we fight?

Allied Forces: Actually, the plan is more to go AROUND Paris and on to the German border, because, you know, we want to get to Germany quickly and, I don't know, get this thing over and done with. 

Parisians: Great! So, when shall we fight?

Allied Forces: No, you don't get it, you don't fight, we go AROUND you.

Parisians: Ok. And when are we fighting?

Allied Forces: No, no, no, no, no! The relief effort we would have to send to millions of starving Parisians would slow us down! YOU. DON'T FIGHT. Ok?

Parisians: Aaaaah. Got it. We don't fight. No problem.

Parisians go away.

Parisians return.

Parisians: So, as you said, we freed ourselves. The fighting was great. Now you just need to come over and hang around, because we can't hold for very long. Cheers guys!

Allied Forces: Face palm. 

Parisians: Seriously, it was so much fun! We got to do the barricade thing again! Aaah, barricades! They are just great. Really bring the generations together. So, when are you guys coming?

Allied Forces: Bury face in hands.

French Part of the Allied Forces: Look guys, we know them, Parisians are like that, it's easier for everyone if you just go along with their plan. Seriously. We've got, like, centuries of experience at dealing with Parisians

Allied Forces: 

French Part of the Allied Forces: Besides, you can't really say you've got France, if you haven't got Paris. Ask the 1871 Prussians.

Allied Forces:

French Part of the Allied Forces: Look, we're just going to go over there now. See you in a bit.

Allied Forces: What exactly just happened?

Général Leclerc. Totally my favourite.

Now you know.

The second thing it made me think about though, Parisianism aside,  is that it is quite funny to think about what Armistice day means to people nowadays (apart from offering yet another opportunity for politicians to disgrace themselves over a poppy). 

I did a seminar the other day on the Vietnam War, and even though most of the students, of their own admission, had absolutely no understanding of how the war had come about, they were unanimously adamant in condemning the American Army. Pretty much without a trial. I had to make them go through WWI, WWII, Irak, Syria and Libya before they even admitted that the Americans weren't just always itching to get involved in any fight.

They also had no notion of a war that could be necessary. 

You see, they are ten years younger than me (more or less, I'm eternally young), and my own generation is already quite removed from WWII. For me, the people who did the fighting weren't my grandparents. My grandparents were children at the time. The Great Generation is my great-grandparents' generation. I didn't meet a single one of them (to be fair, both my Mum's grandfathers died before the war, and of my dad's grandfathers, one died in Dunkerque [which is why I don't take it kindly when my son-of-an-un-drafted-boot-maker father-in-law says things like "well, the French just didn't want to fight"], and the other was too old to be drafted).

War has simply ceased to be something we have any kind of intimate knowledge of. The families involved in the army are always other. I don't know a single soldier. And I think we may be the poorer for it. There simply aren't any narratives of making this kind of sacrifice around. The empty rhetoric of politicians is seen as just that, and I don't know many people who actually agree that one is supposed to be willing to die for his own country. Everything has been so sanitised and politicised  that we barely cheer for our own side anymore. And it makes me wonder what would happen if we were to face similar challenges to those encountered by the Great Generation. What would we do?

Apart from Paris. We know what Paris would do.


FYI, in case we would all choose to go AWOL, I know a lot of anti-conscription songs from the Napoleonic wars, my Dad used to sing them to me at bedtime (I had a weird childhood), so just give me a call!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Strange Celebrations

As is often the case, reading American blogs put me in a weird situation last week: kind of feeling like the day should be special, and then - oh wait, no, it's not a celebration in your country. 

Thanksgiving is another typical case. 

But yes, definitely true for Halloween. 

In my experience, adults do Halloween over here, as an excuse to have a fancy dress party. I hear some kids go trick-or-treating, but I am yet to meet them. 

This year, we were in France, where no-one even pretends to have the slightest interest. My parents were told some grandparents in the neighbourhood were doing something, so they had some sweets ready, but predictably, no-one turned up. And we only thought about it the next morning, when we put away the sweets. 

So yeah, if you are feeling like the Halloween/All Saints war is wearing you down, just come over to Europe, and celebrate neither. 

On the other hand, this week there was a celebration that always sneaks up on me and leaves me bewildered. 

Bonfire night. Guy Fawkes day, for non-English people.

It's a funny one, because, basically, people just burn stuff or make stuff explode. That's it. That's the celebration. Oh, and parents get inwardly annoyed at their neighbours, because don'tyoudarewakeupthebabyyoustupid@&%%#^! (My inner dialogue is not very pretty.)

It makes me wonder: why are people still celebrating it?

I mean, I know that the fact that it's a tradition is plenty reason enough for the British, but isn't it, you know, mostly boring? And since people don't overtly say that all Catholics should be burnt at the stake anymore (polite ostracism is the go-to strategy), isn't it kind of pointless? 

Just in case you wanted to pretend it's not an anti-catholic holiday. It is. Deal with it.

It makes me think of people who will say to you "you haven't lived!" because you didn't party hard, or go insult foreign cultures under the guise of "travelling". 

Actually, I didn't party hard, because I never had much interest in it, and didn't particularly relish finding myself coerced into boredom because I was supposed to, "come on, live a little!" the few times people made me. 

And I didn't travel (apart from, you know, moving countries and stuff) because instead I studied hard, then started working, because I neither enjoyed depending on my parents nor getting into debt. 

The Victorians knew how to live.

I know, such an un-exciting life! Such a non-instagram period! Such a lack of hi-la-rious stories of drunken madness! 

Surely I am going to explode and have a midlife crisis soon? How else can one explain NOT doing all the approved fun things? 

Well, maybe I will. Ask me again in ten years or so. But my sneaky suspicion is that I won't. Because the approved fun things, just like Bonfire Night, don't withstand much scrutiny, don't give meaning to your life, and aren't even that fun most of the time. But we just go along with them, like we burn Guy Fawkes in effigy, because that's what we are supposed to do. But underneath, just like my wild-partying students, I don't think we enjoy it very much. 

So let's buck the trend, let's cosy up with a book, have a quiet dinner with three or four friends or just a very nerdy conversation with our spouses. Or, if you are not a crazy introvert with strong hermit tendencies, go ahead and have a big celebration. About something you are actually happy about and want to celebrate. Let's enjoy what we like to do without worrying about making sure we "have lived". 

I promise you I will breathe in and out during all these activities.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

And How is the Crazy Plan Going?

Why, quite well, thank you very much.

For those who missed the post about the crazy plan, here it is.

So far, we are advancing steadily, if not quickly, through Don Quixote. Some of us (hi Tina!) have had to deal with the library being unhelpful, delaying their own start, but we are now puttering along.

So, a few thoughts on how it is working for us, and why YOU should totally join in:

1: Rivalry and competition are excellent motivators

In the book, Susan Wise-Bauer encourages you to commit to 30 minutes of reading, 4 times a week. Now, this kind of hard-and-fast rule is not necessarily very helpful if you have small children, because, well, your time is not really your own to organise. As I am writing this, Patapon is point-blank refusing to nap, for example, so I have to interrupt myself fairly regularly. That does not affect writing too much, but it does affect reading. So I have decided not to worry too much about the exact time and periods I spend reading, nor have I actually needed to, because, competition.

You see, I am reading along with my husband, but we are not reading at the same times of day (funnily enough, our timetables are quite different). So by the end of the day, we tell each other which chapter we got to, and the one lagging behind will try his/her best to catch up and overtake the next day, because, well, we are competitive nerds.

So far, this has been the best motivator to make sure I do keep at it (I want to win). We may be slow, but we are still going!

(Anyone following along, I am now on chapter 31 and Simon is on chapter 36. I fully intend to be winning by the end of the day [he forgot to take his book to the hospital mwahahahaha], though, unless you decide to try and beat me!)

2: The summary at the end of chapters is a touch of genius

We have really loved the little chapter-summaries so far. Knowing that you will have to condense the action into a couple of sentences at the end of the chapter keeps you focused on the plot line, but it also ensures we carry on paying attention throughout.

(I should add, that I am normally a big advocate of skipping passages, especially if we are talking about the land-reform analyses in Anna Karenina or the digressions on sewage in Les Misérables. However, the exercise here is one where we want to study and not simply read the classics, so keeping the focus is necessary!)

3: Don Quixote is pretty awesome, turns out

The best thing to have found out so far, however, is that Don Quixote is actually a classic for very good reasons. It is very funny and clever. We are not sure where Cervantes is going with this as of yet, but we are enjoying the ride.

For example, there is a fair amount of play with the conventions of the novel which are both hilarious and cleverly done, which confirms me in my anti-modernist view of literature. Not only were the modernists puffed-up prose-ists (it's a word, even if the computer disagrees), but they were not even as original as they thought.


Well done Cervantes. You carry on.

Nonetheless, one should also bear in mind the following:

1: A poorly child will throw your record out of wack

I like to tell myself this is the only reason Simon is winning for now, but Patapon is on the mend, so I fully intend to take the lead again, which is another argument for:

2: see above point about competition keeping us going.

I am not giving up! I will finish DQ, and I WILL finish it ahead of Simon.

So here you go. That's the state of affairs for now. If you are joining in, do let me know, so you can have a share in the friendly competition, and keep us all motivated!

Friday, 23 October 2015

What Shall We Do With the Opinionated Stranger?

The other day, I was chatting with Patapon's godmother (hi Laurène!) when she suddenly challenged me on the homeschooling bombshell I had kind of slipped in a previous post.
I stopped her mid-way through the diatribe and asked her how long she had been thinking about it. Now, Laurène is a very honest and straightforward person, so she just said "About 2 seconds, why?" Then I asked her how long she thought we had been thinking about it, and she admitted that she should probably just hear our case first.

Of course, she is my friend, and she cares about Patapon, so she was both truly interested in how the little man would be educated, but also knew me and respected me enough to be open-minded about our choices.

The conversation was a very interesting and profitable one as a result.

On the other hand, a week ago, Jude got his first proper haircut (although it was technically haircut number 5 if you add all the times Maman and Mamounette have done it before. Yup, pretty epic hair-growth rate.)

As I had Jude on my lap, the bump was somewhat obscured, but when the hairdresser eventually saw it, she exclaimed "Oh, are you expecting another one?" To which I agreed (no, I did not answer that I was smuggling a watermelon, because I am mature and respectful now. Maybe. Anyway, moving on.) Then she immediately quipped: "Yeah, good call, get it over and done with!"

Now I am somewhat perplexed as to how this appeared to her to be the appropriate thing to say, and, as usual, it made me quite sad to think that "having children" - you know, participating in the creation of immortal souls, of unique and precious individuals - is something people think is to get over and done with as quickly as possible.

It's the usual sad case of our culture of death and blah-di-blah. 

And yet, all I did was nod and smile.

I see very often on Moms' blogs, especially the ones written by mothers of large families, the understandable frustration over strangers feeling the need (and the right!) to comment on family size, child spacing, gender, names, you name it, strangers have commented on it. And they often have a quick retort, or more likely, a good vent on their blog about it, because, hey, it's rude, none of your business, and sad that everybody assumes a contraceptive mentality in everybody else.

So I couldn't help but wonder: Have I let my own side down by not challenging the hairdresser? Looking at the conversation with Laurène, it is tempting to assume that actual meaningful conversations simply don't happen with strangers, they happen between people who know at least a little bit about each other.

The likelihood of any stranger having given more than two-second thought to their remark is nil. The likelihood of their being open to whatever we may have to say about it, when they don't know, like or respect us particularly, is nil. The likelihood of their forgetting the retort, or shrugging it away and return to their previous worries and personal problems, extremely high. 

And yet, I know many people, who are a lot more intelligent than me, and would advocate for trying to evangelise at any given opportunity anyway. Maybe I am not giving strangers the benefit of the doubt. Worse still, maybe I am not giving Grace the benefit of the doubt. But I don't feel like, coming from me, it would ever work. For one thing, I would probably get too passionate and angry about, wind up at confession over it, having gain exactly zero ground. So I will nod and smile. And keep thinking that children are a gift, not a project to get over with.

But am I rationalising my own cowardice? 

Then again, you can come and challenge a few children from now (if we are blessed with more) and ask me how philosophically I take it, now?! ;-)

Friday, 16 October 2015

What of the English Backward Bigots, Then?

A while back, I shared about the trials and problems involved in being a faithful Catholic in France, according to my own experience. The discussion that ensued was pretty great, so I figured I'd do a comparative study with the English experience.

Paradoxically, I have more experience of being a faithful Catholic in England, than I do in France, but nonetheless, the usual caveats apply, I am obviously talking about my own experience here, so feel free to disagree in the comments (in fact, I am rather looking forward to it!)

So, one of the key differences first. Although Catholicism boasts (I think!) the largest number of religious followers in the country, it is not the cultural majority, the way it is in France. The default religion which everybody think they know and which gets the most ridicule, is more likely to be the Church of England, not the Catholic Church. I vividly remember one head of the Geography department in my old school, viciously mocking one of the other Geography teacher for being religious, reducing her to tears.

Although the same dismissal will apply to Catholics, whose beliefs, as everyone knows, are just antiquated remnants imposed by old men on weak-willed people, we are afforded a modicum of protection through political correctness. Not much, but it is there.

There is still an element of the English psyche which considers Catholicism a religion of the minority, and definitely the religion of migrants.

On that least point, they are not wrong, and very often being Catholic seems to come part and parcel of being part of a foreign culture, be it Irish, Italian or Polish. 

As a result the "pageantry" (if you will excuse the term) is a lot more open in England, and most Masses still retain the bells, incense and dress which have long since disappeared in France, because migrants cling to their cultural heritage.

That does not mean that finding Catholics who are following the teachings of the Church is any easier (but you can!).

There will be more people enrolling their children into first communion classes, and the dresses of the little girls will be more elaborate than the French equivalents, but the spiritual backing behind the whole process is exactly the same.

Like this. (via)

Just like in France, most parents make their children go through the sacraments for two reasons alone: getting into a good catholic school, and following family tradition. That's it.

A friend of mine who is an Religious Education teacher, told me about a young Polish boy, who had never realised that being Catholic meant he was, actually, a Christian. The experience was so cultural in his mind, that the most basic religious doctrine had completely escaped him.

And that is true for most of the Catholics I know.

Most of the Catholics I meet, who present themselves as such, don't go to Mass on Sunday, and most of those who do, have made up their own pick&choose mash-up of the doctrines that fit into their lives. There is a very clear distinction, between cultural Catholics, and (for want of a better term) faithful Catholics.

Another issue is that Catholic schools tend to be very good private schools, considerably cheaper than other private schools. So parents will come to Mass for a few weeks, enroll their child and then move on.

We saw this a lot when Simon and I were going through RCIA, and see parents come and go, showing up grumpily, refuse to discuss much and affirm that they are right and the Church is wrong, then move on to the tea and biscuits before asking the priest to just let them through already, so their child can go to the school of their choice.

It was quite depressing, really.

Trying to actually follow the teachings of the Church is, here too, and for the most part, a very lonely experience.  

Now, I should add, because I am making it all sound very doom and gloom, that we are not some kinds of heroes for keeping up with our beliefs. We are lucky enough to have found a few like-minded people (in our parish and university chaplaincy) who are amazing, inspiring people who keep us going and aspiring. 

But I do worry about whether or not we can reach out, when it seems almost necessary for our own survival that we stick together, if anything, so we can talk freely! Many people, who are holier than I, are willing to defend their Faith every time it is challenged, but I am afraid to say I often let it slide. Because, in my experience, people are not willing to listen, only waiting to ridicule.

And I most definitely, do not have a good answer as to what Simon is supposed to do as a future doctor.

Friday, 9 October 2015

{SQT}: Clever Romans and Darcy for Ever

Hello, hello internet! Ready for some random thoughts? Here goes:


Something momentous happened this week.

No, bigger than that.

Bigger again.

Are you ready?


I know, right?

Can't quite believe it myself.

Here's the proof:

Isn't it just the worst part of knitting? It is. There is no argument. Now to find some buttons.


We've been making steady progress on the crazy plan, and I'm so glad some people have decided to join in. This is going to be fun! 

So far, I'm really enjoying Don Quixote, but I can't help but feel a little sad that I don't know more of the chivalry books Cervantes mentions, because I think the book was originally truly hilarious because of that, rather than merely quite amusing as it appears to me.

Also, I can't decide whether to skip or re-read the novels on the list which we have already read. On the one hand, it feels like my understanding would benefit greatly from it, but on the other, do I really want to read Madame Bovary again?

Not sure.

Although this (excellent) film did make me want to err on the side of reading it again.

Anyway, that's a problem for later. I shall finish Don Quixote, I shall.

(Did you see this in your head when you read the last line? Me too.)


In Patapon-news, Jude has started to be really into photos lately. He keeps pointing at them and trying to say the names of the people in them.

(As an aside, this frame really needs to be hung up on the wall as Jude just picks it up and brings it to wherever I am, and my spooky sixth-sense can see this habit not ending well.)


Also, we have discovered that he is now old enough to actually enjoy the park, running around shouting with glee as he clambers up the structures and down the slides (sorry, no pictures, I was running after him).

This is a problem, as he now seems to need to go outside. A real dilemma for the pathological homebody on this side of the computer. 

At what age am I officially allowed to leave him be, whilst I read a book on the bench?

When can I send him on his own?

Is 16 months really too young for it?


I've been enjoying this podcast immensely lately (nothing else will make me do the ironing), but listening to the stories and schemes of Roman emperors, I can't help but wonder at how much better they were at being savvy politicians.

via Hadrian is my fave.

Were they really of a better mettle than the current public-opinion-courting, short-sighted blunderers who seem to people our government these days? Or are we giving people credit for things they cobbled together just as haphazardly as our current politicians, but which turned out to be great ideas in the end?

Are they being made retrospectively clever?

Or is our system just breeding mediocrity?
It is quite depressing to think about, really.


My beautiful little sister has now flown over to Dubai for a year. Just when Jude was getting really good at saying "Tata Baba".

Our hearts are broken.

(This post is brought to you by the P&P obsession support group. Points if you can tell what bit I am quoting from).


Finally, to answer this week's official Link-toberfest bonus question, this appears to be my 7th {SQT} post, including the first one, where I was wondering whether or not I should start a blog. Ha. That ship has sailed!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

So We Have This Crazy Plan...

You know how if you've been in higher education for any length of time, there are these books that people keep referencing, so you start doing it too, even though you never read them?

Me neither. I totally, always had read all the books.

Yup. Read those too.


Moving on.

Although I strongly suspect that many academics actually haven't read those books either, I have always been kind of curious, but also, you know, already defeated by the enormity of the task.

Enters The Well-Trained Mind

As I have mentioned before (or was it in the comments?), Simon and I hope to homeschool our children if at all possible, and the trivium method obviously appealed to my historian heart. (Yes, I am aware of the Golden Age Fallacy, but I can't help myself).

- In a nutshell, the Trivium was the method used in classical education, which relied on the division of learning in three stages: fact gathering - grammar stage -, analysis -  logic stage -, and development of a personal argument - rhetoric stage. Of course, it's a bit more complicated than that, but that's the main idea. It is also language and written word driven. -

Anyway, I have been reading up on the method and planning an imaginary wonderland of enthusiastic familial learning, with cheery children enthusiastically memorizing Latin declensions and historical dates in a magically immaculate house with books everywhere. 

Good morning mother! I was just spontaneously teaching myself to sew. Your coffee is on the counter.

I'll give a bit of time for people who are already homeschooling so they can finish laughing.

Whilst doing all this reading, I discovered that Susan Wise-Bauer also wrote another book to help adults give themselves the sound grounding in the classics we are only pretending we have. I bought it for my ever-bent-on-self-improvement husband, and he was kind of smitten. And roped me in.

So, we have decided to go through the lists of classics the author proposes  one by one (but I reserve the right to do some changes to the lists if I feel French culture needs to be better represented), following the Trivium method. 

Although I was all for starting with the history list and finally reading Plutarch and Francis Fukuyama, Simon preferred to start more gently with the novels.

So we are reading Don Quixote at the moment.

Does anyone fancy doing it with us?

The principle is very simple: you commit to reading for 30 minutes 4 times a week, with a notebook handy, where you write a one-sentence summary of every chapter as you go through them, as well as any questions you have. Then we will go back to the notes in order to re-read the key moments and ask ourselves some basic questions (logic stage), before writing an essay about it for the rhetoric stage. Not a long essay though.

Anyway, we are doing it, so if anyone feels equally geeky and would like some company and a place to start, just let me know and I'll do regular updates. If not, prepare yourself for random essays on classic books to appear from time to time over here (because it's my blog, so if I want to geek about the classics, well, I will.)

We are reading Don Quixote, by Cervantes, the Oxford World's Classic edition (here), and we are on chapter 7 (they are very short chapters, so you can easily catch up).

So, wish us luck! Or, in the unlikely event that you too like obscure, crazy, geeky goals, jump in!