Simple Pleasures

Once a week, I take a bus to our local Sainsbury’s – or rather, one of them; we are fortunate to live in an urban area where they are sprinkled about like daisies in the garden – to do the shopping for my parents and I.

Because of the amount of shopping that I buy, I take a minicab home. As soon as the car gets moving, I move my head to as close to the window as possible. I always open it because I love to feel the wind against my face as it rushes past.

This being London, the minicab stops and starts an awful lot; and when it gets going, it never does so for very long before stopping again. As a result, I am not able to enjoy this simple pleasure for very long, but that’s fine. At least I am able to enjoy it if only for a short time.

The minicab home from Sainsbury’s is a particular highlight as I don’t drive and rarely have need to be driven by others. It’s my only opportunity, therefore, to feel Nature’s billowy touch. And what a lovely, cool, alright, slight aggressive touch it is! Okay, the faster the car is going, the more it feels like a full on kiss from an over excited or frankly drunk partner it becomes, but still – there is pleasure in that (I’m sure).

Speaking of the fast car – as well as kisses, the wind flow also reminds me of aerodynamics in Formula 1. Yes, that sounds a bit (very) sad but it does. The thickness of the air as it rushes through the window reminds me of how it presses down on an F1 car, giving it its downforce.

At the end of May 2022

It’s coming up to seven AM on a sunny Monday morning. At least, I think it is sunny as light is coming through my window. It’s hard to tell, though, as there is a huge bush outside obscuring all sight of the sky. We would take the bush down but, unfortunately, it is growing from the garden next door so we have to wait for the local council to do the job.

***

I am writing this blog post with dry hands. I think I must have been bitten by a vampire with a fetish once. Instead of being interested in my blood, he decided to suck my natural oils out. Ever since then, my hands have got drier and drier. Thank goodness for E45 cream.

***

I have mentioned previously on this blog my ‘gammy’ leg. A funny thing happened at the start of 2022 – I realised that all the problems with the muscles in my right thigh that had afflicted me since about 2018 had been cured: nearly two years of physiotherapy had finally paid off!

Unfortunately, that was not the end of the matter. In November 2020 I began experiencing pain in my right hip. Over the next few months, it did not respond to physiotherapy at all. Little by little, it got worse. Earlier this year, my physiotherapist sent me for a scan at the local hospital. It revealed what she suspected: I had (‘quite advanced’) osteoarthritis.

Treatment for this is one of two things. Either, more physio, pain killers, managing one’s movement, using a stick, etc or a hip replacement. I cannot walk very far these days without having problems. I can’t remain still, either standing or lying down without experiencing stiffness and pain. As soon as the physiotherapist told me the options, I knew that if asked, I would go for the hip replacement. It will put me out of commission for a while, and – as operations do – comes with risk, even if slight, but the other option is simply a plaster over a deep wound and a form of managed decline. Who would want that?

After the scan, I was referred to a hospital consultant who did indeed give me the option of managed decline or hip replacement so, despite being young for such an operation, I went for the latter. I’m now on the waiting list and will, all being well, have it either at the end of this year or the start of next.

***

For many months now, I have been a very bad reader. It’s been my own fault – I just haven’t got on with it as I ought. It probably didn’t help that I was determined to finish one particular book before moving on to any others. That book was Hilaire Belloc’s The Cruise of the Nona. The silly thing was that, whenever I did start reading it, I liked it. It was just the sitting down and starting it that was the problem. It didn’t help that my edition of the book had small text. to try and get round this, I took an older edition – with slightly larger text – out of the library. It worked and I finally finished the book. This Friday (4th June), makes the anniversary of the start of Belloc’s pilgrimage to Rome in 1901. That means, I will start reading his brilliant account of his journey, The Path to Rome. I shall have more to say about this in due course.

After finishing The Cruise of the Nona, I moved on to the other book that I started last year – This Thing of Darkness by K. V. Turley and Fiorella de Maria. It’s a Catholic horror story, meaning, it’s about an alcoholic war widow who interviews Bela Lugosi in the last days of his life and gets drawn into the diabolical reality of what he represented on the silver screen. Horror is not at all my thing. I read the book because Turley is a friend. I am glad I did, though, as it is a compelling read. Though, no, not enough to make me read more horror books.

My current read is Checkmate in Berlin by Giles Milton. I actually started this book briefly last year but put it to one side soon after. Checkmate in Berlin is Milton’s account of the start of the Cold War in Berlin. If the book is half as good as his other narrative histories (which include an account of D-Day, British spies during the Russian Revolution, and the destruction of Smyrna in 1922) then I know I will be in for a treat.

***

A few posts ago, I mentioned reading Evelyn Waugh’s biography of Monsignor Ronald Knox. Well, I shortly off to Mells, to go on a literary/spiritual pilgrimage in search of Knox’s grave. Watch this space for photos and and an account of the trip. I can’t wait.

Pandemic and War.

Covid
Last week, Boris Johnson lifted all of England’s Covid restrictions (read here). If you catch the virus you no longer have to self-isolate. If you travel on public transport, you are no longer legally obliged to wear a face mask. We are back to where we were at the start of 2020. Almost. Self-isolation is encouraged for anyone who has tested positive, and wearing a face mask on public transport is “strongly encouraged”.

When the pandemic first hit, I updated my British Catholic Blogs page to include a series of prayers for the sick, medical professionals, scientists, and so on. The prayers appeared in a post below the weekly calendar of saints and above the A to Z of British Catholic blogs. When I heard that the restrictions were going to be lifted, I decided that this would be the moment when I removed the prayers and let the BCB blog go back to being exclusively devoted to its original purpose.

Then, Vladimir Putin began his invasion of Ukraine in earnest. When that happened, I wondered if I should include a new set of prayers for the Ukrainian people. As I write these words, I’m leaving the blog as it is because I really would like it just to be an A to Z. I am wondering, though, if maybe its worth while including a prayer page – one that could highlight the Ukraine, Covid, and all the other national and international issues that we need to be praying for right now.

***

Ukraine
Vladimir Putin has committed a profoundly wicked act against Ukraine. In reply, the Ukrainian people are committing many heroic ones as they defend their country. Governments worldwide have started placing sanctions on Russia in response to what has happened. Although these sanctions will hurt both ordinary Russians and people everywhere, I have to hope that no government holds back. Principally, to help Ukraine, but also because if Putin achieves success in that country, his avaricious eye will surely fall upon other countries on his borders.

How do we as individuals react to the Ukrainian crisis? Prayer has to be at the top of our agenda. What kind of prayer? For peace, certainly. Further to that, though, I have found myself thinking about the Catholic I once met who happily told me he prayed the imprecatory psalms against his enemies. At the time, I thought that a bit stiff but, you know, these psalms are Biblical so they are legit. What I never stopped to think, was, were they legit for the time in which they were written, or for all time? I might have been tempted to say the former – until now. For what he is doing to the Ukraine, Putin surely deserves every imprecation placed upon him. However, our God is a god of love so to put it bluntly it does not feel right to ask Him to punish anyone, much less remove the stain of them from the world. That love, however, is not of the merely sentimental kind, and neither does it exist in isolation. God is also a god of Justice. But, even more than that, of mercy. So, that is where I find myself now: praying that justice – and mercy – may be done to Vladimir Putin.

Praying the imprecatory psalms or simply praying for a person’s overthrow or death is not a thing lightly done. If we say these prayers without a desire first and foremost for the object’s repentance, we risk falling into a spiritual darkness full of malignant desires for vengeance and revenge. That, in turn, could destroy our souls. How do we avoid this? I guess, just as I have said: Yes, pray for Vladimir Putin’s failure, overthrow and/or death, but pray first and foremost for his repentance. The repentance of a sinner, however great or small, is what God is about. If it is His purpose, it should be ours as well.

Our Daily Camino

There is a saying that the Camino really begins when you get to Santiago. Since walking the (French) way of St. James in 2019, I have sometimes wondered what this meant. After all, once you arrive in Santiago de Compostela, the walking is over. It’s time to return home, to work, family and friends, etc.

This morning, it occurred to me that the saying is, perhaps, true by analogy. We leave the way of St. James for the way of our daily life. Our home is our albergue. Our daily walk is our workplace, or the work we must do at home. Our daily destination is to complete that walk, that work. Our ultimate destination is our evening rest, meeting our friends or family, going to the pub, cinema, or simply, to bed. Our ultimate destination is no longer Santiago, but heaven. I am speaking here, obviously, as a Christian. Perhaps a non religious person’s ultimate destination is simply to reach the end of their days having done the best they could during them. That sounds good enough to me.

I make no claim for this realisation being in any way original. I’m not aware that I have taken it from anywhere but maybe I did and I just forgot. It is too neat and obvious to be original to me. What I will say, though, is that when I made the realisation, it really cheered me up because now the daily duties of my life took on a new, brighter, hue; basking in the light of the other Camino, they meant more, and I am most grateful for that.

Waugh on Knox

Having just written my last post, I have to say – and am delighted / relieved to say – that it isn’t all bad news in matters of religion. At the start of Advent, I bought a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s The Life of Right Reverend Ronald Knox.

I set myself a target of reading 17 pages a day so that I finished it on Christmas Day. As of today (21st), I have met this target. Since I am very good at missing targets, I can’t tell you how happy I am at this!

The book is so sweetly written. Judging by what Waugh has to say, Ronald Knox was not always the happiest person it does seem he was a holy one and boy have I needed to read about holiness this month. Between the Vatican’s Old Rite restrictions, omicron sweeping across the UK, and toothache that has bothered me for much of this month (now thankfully reduced thanks to antibiotics but will need root canal treatment in the New year) joy has been in short supply. The Life of Right Reverend Ronald Knox has supplied it. Deo Gratias.

This is my edition of the book (pic from Amazon)

Veiling Heaven

A few days ago, the Vatican published further restrictions on Catholics’ access to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. You can read about them here.

Despite being, as I said when I discussed Traditionis Custodes in the summer (here), ‘a Catholic middle roader’, the news of the further restrictions felt like a kick in the gut. Why? Because although I am happy to attend a Novus Ordo Mass, I know the beauty and dignity of the Old Rite. I am only able to hear an EF Mass very rarely but it is a great blessing to know that it is being said and that I can attend one if the opportunity arose. Now, thanks to Traditionis Custodes and these new restrictions, that is less likely to happen.

In short, it feels like the Pope is closing off one of the routes to heaven.

And to think that the restrictions are intended to foster unity. Such an idea is laughable.

The Pope is still the Pope but I think this is the moment I lost a little faith in him. And all just days before Christmas. I’m angry but most of all sad.

No Time To Die

Before today, my last post was in September. As a result, I completely missed mentioning No Time to Die when it came out at the end of that month. My mother is a massive fan of Spectre (the film, I hope, rather than the organisation) so we went to our local cinema to watch No Time To Die together.

SPOILERS ARE ON THEIR WAY

Once there, we sat back on our very comfy couch (literally) and got ready for the action.

Upon our arrival at the cinema, I had ordered a hot dog. It arrived literally (repetition, sorry) as the gun barrel sequence started. I had to put up my arms in front of my face in order to take the plate from the server behind me. As a result, I completely missed said the gun barrel. I couldn’t believe it! Six years of waiting and I miss what is probably James Bond’s most iconic sequence.

To be honest, though, I quickly got over that disappointment and settled in to the film. Two months on, I think No Time To Die is still my second favourite Daniel Craig picture (after Casino Royale). I know it has its flaws but I really enjoyed it on the day, and as I look back, it still makes me smile.

SPOILERS BELOW!

Except, that is, for the ending. James Bond dying? Never! But no, it happened. It really happened. On the one hand, I would have been very happy had he walked away with the Bond Girl, just as he always does. On the other, I respect the producers for saying, You know what, we’re going to do something different. Very different. As the credits rolled, I stayed in my seat until I had seen the comforting ‘James Bond will return’ message at the end.

When I was young, I so wanted to see the James Bond films reference previous pictures. The Daniel Craig era not only did that but (albeit retroactively) made a story arc that ran from Casino Royale to No Time to Die. Now that his run has finished, what would I like to see the producers do next?

That’s a good question and one to which I have no firm answer. There are a couple of directions that I hope it doesn’t take:

  • No return ever to anything approaching the humour and whimsy of the Roger Moore era. I say this specifically because there are fans of Bond who seem to be completely wedded to Sir Roger’s films. I enjoy them but his style has had its day
  • Let’s draw back from futuristic plot ideas. I didn’t mind the nanobots story line in No Time to Die (and the talk of things like ‘smart blood’ in previous films) but how about we ground Bond more in reality for a film or two?

I hope the producers give new writers a chance in the future, and move heaven and earth to get Christopher Nolan to direct a film! That would be something.

Anyway, whatever they decide, as long as it’s a good adventure, I don’t suppose I will mind too much. James Bond transcends his stories. As long as he is there, being cool, deadly, and fighting for the Queen, so will I be as well.

By the Bye

I know I should have grown out of this habit by now but for a long time I looked at the LGBTQ+ movement and thought, Look at how its members love one another, and indeed, people in general. Some of my fellow Christians compare with them very badly, both ‘IRL’ and online.

But then, times changed and I started paying attention to the B in LGBTQ+. What did people have to say about being bisexual? What was it like for them? I dipped in and out of articles. A decisive moment came when I found the Bisexual Brunch podcast. I discovered that that love is capable of being very partial. There are people who dismiss bisexuality as no more than a ‘phase’, lesbians who will refuse to date a bisexual women, that bi men are often ‘erased’ and so forth.

I shouldn’t have been surprised: people are people, whatever their sexuality. They have their good points, and their bad. We all do. But it was still a really disappointing discovery to make. As a bisexual Catholic you get used to other members of your Church, or the Faith, bad mouthing you: you do your best to stay close to the Lord and carry on. As simply a bisexual you rather expect that you will find there acceptance. Sadly, it is not always so.

The Confraternity of St. James

Three years ago in November, I bought a copy of The Way. A few weeks later, towards the end of the month, I visited the Blackfriars office of The Confraternity of St. James and paid for a three year membership.

A few days ago, I received a letter from the CSJ advising me that my membership was nearly up. I immediately renewed it – for one more year this time – but I felt sad: in the original period of my CSJ membership, I had quit my job and walked the Camino. Between Covid and my precarious finances it is unlikely that I will be able to do so again in the second membership period. That great adventure, therefore, which took me way out of my comfort zone, to a new country, new friendships, the pain and freedom of long walks, may definitively be said to belong to a period that is now over and will not be repeated again, if ever at all. I don’t when or if I will get over this.

Of course, none of us know what the future may bring, but how I wish I was still in that first period of CSJ membership. Then, even though my Camino ended in May 2019, I would still have that point of connection with it.

Two things:
i . Those who say that the Camino begins when you reach Santiago are right. I need to interiorise that more
ii. I know that that ‘point of connection’ is not a real one, that I am as connected to the pilgrimage in the second period of CSK membership as I was in the first, but – but – .

Notes on the Late Summer

Despite Covid, life continues to get back a little more normal…

Two weeks ago I visited the London Library for just the second time since the pandemic started. Being there was bittersweet. On the one hand it was great being back among all the books. On the other, walking among them reminded me of how rarely I have visited the Library these last few years. Since 2015, when I finished my four year career break (yes, it was that long), you could probably count the number of times I have visited the London Library on one or two hands. Disgraceful.). I made a commitment to visit the Library at least twice a month. I will see how that goes.

One week ago, we had a joint family visit to Bateman’s, the home of Rudyard Kipling. It is a lovely little country house in the deeps of Sussex. Representing my side of the family were myself and my mother. Representing my sister’s family were her, husband, and children.

Kipling is famous, of course, for the If poem as well as for being the author of The Jungle Book. He is infamous for his views on imperialism. Not surprisingly for a man of his age, class, nationality, etc he was very much in favour of it. I don’t know if it represented reality, but I was very heartened by the overflowing waste paper bin in Kipling’s study (above). I discovered that T. E. Lawrence once annoyed him by flying low over his house – Kipling was unimpressed by the plane’s noisiness! I came away from Bateman’s with several books including Puck of Pook’s Hill, which I read while at university, and am enjoying reading again.

Six weeks ago, I had a two hour appointment at my dentist’s. A lot of work was done on my poor teeth. Unfortunately, not every problem has been resolved, and I have to go back. Due to the backlog caused by Covid, however, the earliest appointment I could get is at the end of the month. Ouch.

The coronavirus caused a year long delay to my scheduled appointment at the optician’s. Things went better there, when I finally fulfilled it this week; I damaged my main pair of glasses in late 2019 and was finally able to replace them. The frames of those glasses were inspired by John Paul II when he was still Karol Wojtyła (appropriately enough they were made by a company called Religion). The new frames were inspired by Hugh Grant’s in Notting Hill. I love that film and I love Charles Thacker’s glasses even more. What can I say; that’s the truth!

Oh, I almost forgot – I actually had a night out in the pub! This happened a couple of weeks ago with E., my best friend. We don’t see each other very often these days (not a Covid specific thing, just life) so it was a great pleasure drinking and chatting with him. We met on a Saturday night in a pub that would otherwise have been packed. It was instead rather empty. I guess it will take a while before people pick up their social lives again. That’s understandable.

So, life has been getting a little back to normal. It hasn’t been perfect – family members with ill health has seen to that – but I am grateful for what I have all the same. I think I will end this post on that note: being grateful. It’s something I know I am not as often as I should be.