Twenty-Two and Back

Well, this won’t do. Nearly two months since my last blog post. Time flies. Kind of. In truth, I have spent the last few weeks meaning to write another update but just not got round to it.

For me, not a great deal has changed since my last post. Although we are no longer in lock down (in my last post I said that lock down measures were easing. At which point did they cease? I’m really not sure. I feel like it just happened), I only really go out to go shopping.

Having said that, I have managed to broaden my understanding of what constitutes ‘shopping’; which is to say that a couple of weeks ago I went to Marks and Spencer’s to buy some clothes and have made a couple of trips to Waterstones.

Books!
I decided a while ago that I wanted to have a copy of 1984 and Animal Farm on my shelf for future reading. The way the world is going at the moment these seem to be the most relevant books to have. Earlier this week, I picked up a copy of John Garth’s The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien.

1984 and Animal Farm surely need no introduction. J. R. R. Tolkien doesn’t, either, but John Garth is not quite as famous so I will quickly say this: he ought to be. Garth wrote the brilliant Tolkien and the Great War back in 2003. In this book, he gave an account of Tolkien’s life during the First World War. It is full of insight and information; a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in Tolkien’s life. I thought I owned a copy of the book until I looked at my shelf earlier today and couldn’t find it. Did I loan it out ages ago and not get it back? Or did I accidentally throw it away during my book clear out a few weeks ago? Either way, I rate the book so highly I’ll certainly purchase another copy of it.

That’s Tolkien and the Great War. The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien is a coffee table book that looks at all the places that influenced Tolkien in his writings. Over the years, I have seen so many – so, so many – places lay claim to having influenced him; it will be good to finally have an authoritative guide to point me in the right directions.

Spiritual Matters
This was the title of my last blog post. Priests have been celebrating Masses ever since the start of July. I haven’t yet attended one; too nervous of doing so to begin with; happy to keep watching them on-line. However, I can now feel myself approaching the point at which I will head off to my parish church. Will it be next week? I don’t know.

I mentioned before about going to confession. I did that. At the start of July, I undertook the three hour round trip from home and walked to Westminster Cathedral. Confessions were no longer in the confessional. We had to queue up a little distance away from their new locations – the baptistry and the Chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine – and await our turn turn. I was a bit nervous about how close we would be to the priest and penitents but I need not have worried – a cathedral volunteer stood at the head of the queue to make sure people were queueing in the right place and guide them to the priest after each confession.

The priest in the baptistry and chapel were both standing. They didn’t wear face masks but instead a plastic face guard. The penitents stood up as well. It could have felt really awkward but wasn’t. In the last couple of weeks, the Government has said that everyone must wear face masks when shopping. I think this applies to churches but am not sure. I will have to find out no later than the start of October: by then it will be three months since my last confession and I will want to go back.

Two Unexpected Gifts
I have received two of late. The first was a tax rebate from the Government! These are always appreciated. As I think I have mentioned before, I work as a free lance now. I am very overdue being paid but am very rubbish at chasing money matters up. A few weeks ago, I would have had to have done so, though, because I was nearly at the end of my overdraft. The tax rebate came at exactly the right moment. Thanks to it, I have been able to eat, buy the above mentioned books and some clothes.

The unexpected gift was a bottle of red wine, which my brother decided he didn’t want. It is on my desk right now and I can’t wait to sip it!

Formula One
Just after my last post, Formula One went racing again for the first time this year. The season has been an unmitigated success so far – at least in terms of keeping everyone safe from the coronavirus. On the track, it’s been great for Lewis Hamilton but slightly less good for everyone else. Happily (eh?), there has been off-track controversy as well – something to keep our minds off Mercedes on-track dominance. This has chiefly been provided by the Racing Point team, whose 2020 car is a copy of the 2019 Mercedes. The stewards investigated the matter and decided it was worth a small fine and reduction of constructor points but – even if the team continues to use the same car – nothing more. As I write, Ferrari and Renault are appealing this lenient judgement. Ferrari, rather amusingly, want transparency about how far teams can copy each other. This, of course, is the same Ferrari that got busted using a (probably) illegal engine last year but managed to keep details of its settlement with the FIA secret. (I say ‘probably’ because the FIA weren’t able to work out what the team had done to make its engine so good. They reckoned it was illegal, though, and told the team to make some changes. As a result, they are running in the midfield).

The Path to Rome and Other Journeys

Last Week
It has been a week of up and downs. I won’t go into the downs; I’d rather leave writing about those to another day, but they have certainly made me grateful for the ups.

What ‘ups’ have there been? Chiefly, Duolingo and Efrén Gonzalez.

Duolingo
Last Sunday I reached the one year mark for my streak on Duolingo. For 365 days in a row I managed to earn a minimum of 50 XP every day in learning German. On Monday, I set my account to private so that I would be excluded from the league system and took the day off learning anything. From Tuesday to Friday I started learning at my own pace without having to worry about relegation (I was already in the top league). It was great! No more doing the same stories over and over again just to learn the XP to stay above the relegation zone. I know I should not have been concerned with that in the first place; I am too competitive for my own good.

Films
I think The Bookshop and Corpse Bride have worn me out in terms of watching films while exercising for the next few days, or foreseeable future. I just wasn’t inspired to watch any this week. Instead, when I did exercise (because my Belloc work – see below – is taking up the time that I would use for that), I started watching my favourite Camino series on You Tube.

In 2017, Efrén Gonzalez walked the Camino Francés. He recorded his journey and then uploaded it to You Tube. You can watch it here. It is really well edited and even includes some beautiful drone footage. Gonzalez brings out the joys and pains of the Camino really well. I watched the first five episodes in one exercise session last week and was so lifted by seeing the places that I walked through last year.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome
On 4th June 1901, Belloc left Toul in eastern France at about 8:30 in the evening to begin the first stage of a pilgrimage to Rome that he hoped to complete on 29th June – the Feast of SS Peter and Paul. The Path to Rome is his account of that journey.

Four or five years ago I started reading the book on the anniversary of his departure from Toul through to 29th June when he did indeed arrive in Rome. The book doesn’t contain any chapters but Belloc always states (with only one exception) when his day started and ended so it is easy to follow him on a day-by-day basis.

Almost as soon as I started my tradition of reading The Path to Rome on the anniversary of Belloc’s pilgrimage, I started writing about it. In previous years, I did so on my Tumblr and Twitter accounts. Last year, I followed his journey on this blog.

This year, I created a new Twitter account (@PathtoRome1901) to tweet his journey from there. I was inspired to return to Twitter because the platform has just introduced a scheduling function, meaning that I can now fulfil something of a dream by tweeting his movements as close to the hour as possible in which they occurred.

In truth, this is a fool’s hope. Belloc does sometimes say ‘it was noon when this happened’ but he rarely names the hour so precisely. A lot of guesswork is therefore involved in working out where he is at any given time. Sometimes, you can’t even guess – you just have to plump for a likely sounding time.

Still, I love The Path to Rome to heaven and back so reading and tweeting it is a joy. The latter is also a labour of love. One thing it means I don’t do, though, is read each entry on the appropriate day (as I write this post, I have written and scheduled the tweets for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday). I wouldn’t have time to both read and tweet it on the same day. That’s a shame but a small sacrifice.

ChurchTalk
Churches open again – though only for private prayer – from this Monday (15th). As matters stand, I doubt I will return to my parish church just yet. I can pray at home, after all. My heart yearns for Mass and particularly confession.

When Carlo Maria Viganò burst onto the scene two years ago he seemed to have something important to say. Nowadays, though, he increasingly resembles a character from a Dan Brown novel. He has hit the headlines again with the claim that ‘that restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 were part of a Masonic plot to establish a new world order.’ (The Tablet). Because of course.

In the last few days, Church Militant – to which I will not link; you can Google them – has accused the Archbishop of Washington D.C., Wilton Gregory, of lying over an attack on Donald Trump’s visit to the Pope St. John Paul II shrine last week. In so doing, it called him an ‘African Queen’. African because he is black, and queen because he is allegedly gay.

I saw Church Militant’s response on Twitter to criticism of this racist and homophobic appellation, which was that it was fine because that’s what homosexual seminarians used to call him.

Where does one start with this wicked and spiteful nonsense? Church Militant don’t deserve to have the name ‘Catholic’ in their title. They are as bad as the Militant organisation that ruined Liverpool in the 80s. Every member of it, every supporter of it, ought to get him and herself to confession. I want to hate them but all that would do is ensure that the cycle of hatred continues. So, I gotta pray for them, instead. This is all the more needful because I’m a sinner, as well. Maybe one day one of them will pray for me.

In the meantime, I hope Archbishop Gregory is gay and that this was known as he progressed up the clerical ranks and that because he was celibate it was not seen as a reason to hold him back let alone push him out because then the Church would be a lot more loving and open armed body than it currently gives the impression of being.

Books (I)
I can’t end this post on an angry note so let’s talk about books.

A few weeks ago I finished Anthony Beevor’s account of The Second World War. It is very long (just over 900 pages) and very readable. So much happened in the war that despite its length the book almost feels like a glorified overview. When I closed it for the last time, these were the things uppermost in my mind:

  1. All the leaders – political and military – made big, big mistakes. We were very fortunate that Hitler’s were the biggest of all
  2. Allied soldiers committed war crimes. Only a few and not for the same reason as the Nazis (for example, some Allied soldiers summarily executed Nazi guards after entering a concentration camp and seeing what they had done there) but it still happened
  3. The Allies were sometimes hardly that (unsurprising in respect of the USSR and Britain/USA but surprising in respect of Britain and USA) and some of the generals had monumental egos.

I learnt a lot from the book – chiefly about the Pacific campaign, about which I hardly knew anything, the eastern campaign (of which I only knew a little), and one or two other aspects of the war. For example, I never knew that only the Red Army entered Berlin at the end.

Books (II)
Over the past few months, I have been engaged in a programme of cleaning my book shelves and getting rid of books I no longer want. I have got rid of a lot. As a result the shelves are now looking a little more tidier and cleaner. I’m sad to have got rid of so many books but I decided to do so because I knew I would never read them. I only want to keep those that mean something to me. It doesn’t matter on what level, but they have to mean something.

Part One of The Darling Blogs of May

I have fallen behind again so here is another catch-up.

Do you notice anything different about this blog? No adverts! I finally had the money to upgrade the blog. There’s more besides – welcome to sehnsuchtandwine.com. My own domain name <3.

All remains well in the family house. From one day to the next we just go about our daily business. For me, that means work and exercise, Duolingo, reading and creative work (I am still inching forward with that). Some days are more productive than others. It’s hard to write about it here as I have done so before and I would only be repeating myself.

Thankfully, I have not been scammed again.

In the twelve days since my last blog post I have watched some more films during my exercise:

The Sting 9/10
In my post of 18th April (here) I mentioned that I was watching this Robert Redford – Paul Newman classic but then forgot to review and rate it in my post of the 21st (here). I first saw The Sting back in the 90s and remembered it very fondly. Sometimes, films that we saw years ago don’t live up to our memory of them when we watch them again but I would say that The Sting more or less did. I say ‘more or less’ because while the film overall is extremely well written and acted, the actual sting at the heart of the picture is over far too quickly. After two hours of build up, it’s over and done with in ten minutes. Nowadays, the sting itself would take up half an hour of screen time, if not more. Perhaps that is my problem – I am not looking at that scene in terms of how it fits into the picture as is but as a contemporary film lover.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows 8/10
After watching Sherlock Holmes, I moved straight on to its sequel. Game of Shadows is very much more of the same but the film never gets boring thanks to a witty script, Robert Downey Jr, and a strong support cast, most notably Jude Law as Watson and Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty.

Sense and Sensibility 9/10
W
e have been blessed by some great Jane Austen adaptations over the years – the BBC Pride & Prejudice, the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma and this version of Sense & Sensibility, directed by Ang Lee and starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. It is almost the perfect film. Seriously, I can’t think of anything greatly wrong about it: the script, the casting, the performances, the music… it all just slips into place perfectly.

The Martian 9/10
Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a botanist and astronaut who is part of a manned mission to Mars. The expedition is prematurely ended, however, when a violent storm threatens to destroy the astronauts’ martian lander. The other astronauts are able to get into the lander but Watney is left behind after being seemingly killed by a boulder. Unbeknownst to anyone, though, he survives. Making his way back to the ‘hab’ – the astronauts’ habitation unit – Watney uses his botanical skills to make enough food to survive on. At first, he has nothing to survive for as no one knows he is alive. Thanks to satellites, however, NASA eventually realises the truth and tries to launch a rescue mission. It fails. Thanks to China and a soupçon of mutiny among Watney’s fellow astronauts, a new plan is hatched. The Martian is a terrific action film. A great script, characters, and actors. You are really there with them. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I finished Clare Lydon‘s Nothing to Lose this week. It is not by any means her best book but still a good read. 7.5/10
Nothing to Lose is about a woman named Scarlet who is made homeless after a flood destroys her home. She goes to live with Joy, town mayor, while her flat is cleaned up and the two fall in love. Nothing to Lose is at its strongest in the portrayal of Scarlet and Joy’s budding love for one another. It is at its weakest when Lydon has her characters use popular LGBTQ slogans and ideas. This moves them from being ‘real’ people to no more than fronts for ideas that Lydon wants to insert into her story. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a character who believes that ‘love is love’ or that ‘love wins’ but having them use or refer to real life slogans/ideas should definitely be avoided unless absolutely necessary. I also didn’t like how Scarlet pushes Joy to be out but that is a personal thing; if I was her editor, I wouldn’t have suggested she remove that element of the story.

I have started using Zoom. Welcome to the world, MJM! I had a work Zoom meeting last week, which went well; I zoomed with the family the other day and before both those occasions had a wonderful evening doing a dramatic reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with friends and friends-of-friends, all over Zoom. Thank you, Liz!

So, it’s now May. I feel okay. My left ear is blocked. I am hoping olive oil drops will soften the ear wax so that I can get it out. If I can’t, I wonder if I will be able to go to my surgery. I may have to wait until it reopens properly (at the moment, doctor’s appointments are by phone only).

Today, Sunday, has been a lazy day so far. I have to admit, even though I encourage myself to be lazy on Sundays – because I am busy the rest of the week – I feel a bit unsettled by it. I don’t like the idea of deriving my happiness by the number of things I have done, though, so I shall have to think about that.

This week, I have started watching Fr. Ninian Doohan’s Masses on You Tube. I love his homilies as he speaks about history as well as spirituality. Last week, I learnt a few things about St. Catherine of Siena (she was not actually an enclosed nun) and heard Father took about St. Alcuin.

It was the 26th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s untimely death on Friday – always a very sad time; all the more so since it was not only the great Senna who died that weekend at Imola but new F1 driver, Roland Ratzenberger as well. Requiescant in Pace.

And here I will stop. Thank you for reading this blog post. I hope you are staying safe and feeling well. God bless you and yours.

The Detective and the Tramp

I am at sixes and sevens tonight.

I received a text message from my phone company this afternoon telling me that I owed them money. According to their website, however, I didn’t; I’m all paid up until May. Unfortunately, I only looked at the website after I had clicked on the link in the text message and given them my bank details through it.

Realising that I may have just been scammed, I called my bank to cancel my debit card. I don’t think I needed to do this as I didn’t give the possible scammers my PIN but I was even more at sixes and sevens earlier.

After I had calmed down, somewhat, I called my bank’s fraud line. The fellow who spoke to me put me at ease. There isn’t much they can do with the details you have given them, he said; what you might get in a few days is someone calling you purporting to be from the bank. If they do ring you, hang up immediately. He was Scottish with the kind of rugged voice that one can’t help but trust so even though I’m a bit put out by what has happened, I shall do my best to trust him.

Two final points: firstly, even though I was calling very late in the day, both the fraud line man and the Liverpudlian lady who cancelled my card for me were completely professional in the way they spoke to me. I really appreciated and appreciate that. To be honest, I was half expecting not to get any reply at all because of the offices being closed; to be spoken to as kindly as I was, was really good; much more than I deserved.

The second final point is the obvious: be careful of scams! Please don’t be a dummy like me.

Scams aside, all is well in our house. My parents potter about and do their thing; I get on with my work. I am getting very tired in the evening these days – a product of all the physio and exercise and of the early wake up times. My alarm is set for 5am but over the last few days I have been getting up in the hour before then. Bad form but there it is.

My exercise film over the last two days has been Sherlock Holmes (2009) starring Robert Downey Jr in the title role and Jude Law as Dr. Watson. I saw this film in the cinema when it came out and enjoyed it so was very happy to put it on again; especially since I had forgotten most of the plot. The story is wittily and cleverly written but this film is really about Robert Downey Jr. He is a great actor – effortlessly able to combine the comic and serious in one performance. I guess that’s what Richard Attenborough chose him to play Charlie Chaplin in his Chaplin biopic (a film I would like to watch again because Reasons). I rate Robert Downey Jr 10/10 and Sherlock Holmes 8/10. The sequel is on Netflix so I might just go straight to that next.

My creative life is inching along. I have been thinking more about the Twitter story I want to write. I don’t know if I ever will but I might mention it in a future post.

I am coming to the end of Clare Lydon’s Nothing to Lose romance and continue to plough through Antony Beevor’s account of the Second World War. Every time I read it I am gobsmacked by the amount of death and destruction wrought by the Axis powers, by the ruthlessness of Stalin, and the mistakes made by just about all of the world leaders, all of whom were blinded to one extent or another by their ideology, desires or ego. I might come back to this point as well as the question of what makes a good ruler has been on my mind lately.

Catching Up

It’s been a few days since the last post, and all remains well in our household. I have been up and down – second guessing anything that doesn’t feel quite right with my body, always expecting the worst. Otherwise, it’s been a case of writing out a To Do list every day and trying to keep busy by doing as much of it as possible.

I started writing out my To Do list just after I wrote my last blog post and it has been great at enabling me to see very clearly what I am doing right (the things I need to do) and what, day after day, I am not doing at all (my more creative work). Of course, I knew where I was succeeding and failing before but there is nothing like seeing it on the page to really bring the truth home. Now all I need to do is BE CREATIVE (still easier said than done).

I am still exercising. My sales tell me I am losing weight, too, which is great, although I am always suspicious that the scales are not so accurate. I am still watching films. Here are the ones that have carried me across the hour,

In my last post I said I was going to watch Frozen; I did, but only after two other films. The first was Genius (2006). I have wanted to watch this picture for the last three years – it stars Colin Firth as the famous book editor Max Perkins and covers the years of his relationship with an author named Thomas Wolfe. Perkins edited F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway’s books so it was for them as well as Firth that I watched the film. They show up in neat cameos by Guy Pearce and Dominic West respectively. Jude Law absolutely chews the furniture up as the brilliant but selfish man-child Wolfe. By contrast, Firth’s Perkins is about as exciting as the furniture. Despite that, I still rate Firth 11/10. Why wouldn’t, I; he’s Colin Firth. The film, though, while I enjoyed it, was a bit flat so I rate that 7/10.

After Genius, I turned to another literary film – Vita & Virginia (2018). V squared is about the love affair between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Sackville-West is happily married to diplomat Harold Nicolson (who I spent the whole film confusing with Harold Acton) but her bisexuality and strong sex drive lead her to pursue Virginia Woolf. At first, she has no success: Woolf is distant in her psychological fragility and not interested in Vita’s advances, but eventually, there is a breakthrough. The story of Max Perkin’s relationship (all professional, by the way) with Thomas Wolfe is told with a very straight bat. Vita and Virginia’s, however, with much more energy both in the plot and – especially – in the music. I rate the film 8/10.

After V & V I finally got round to watching Frozen. At first it felt like there were too many songs but I soon got used to them and more into the story. The king and queen of Arendelle are lost at sea. Their eldest daughter Elsa, rules in their stead. On the day of her coronation, a magical condition that she suffers from – the ability to turn things to ice – runs out of control. She flees from the capital city and hides in the mountains where she creates a fabulous ice palace to live in. Realising that the whole of Arendelle is now stuck in a permanent winter, Elsa’s sister, Anna, pleads with her to reverse what she has done. But Elsa can’t. A wise troll tells Anna that only an act of love (not that kind! This is Disney, remember) can heal Elsa and reverse the winter. The story is simple and well told. With its princesses and dashing men it is a very typical Disney tale but there is more to it than that:- Elsa does not see her ice powers as a curse but simply part of who she is (see the lyrics to the song Let It Go). It’s easy to see why she has become an important figure within the LGBT community. And while the men may be dashing, it is Elsa’s sister Anna who searches for her. I rate the film 8/10.

Finally, I watched Spiderman: Far From Home (2019). There were points during this film that I had my doubts about it – it combines super heroics with teen drama and comedy and I felt that the comedy was getting a bit too far ahead but the director (Jon Watts) managed to reign it all in in good time and make a good, fun picture. I think Far From Home came out not long after Avengers: End Game. If so, Marvel did well giving their fans a film to laugh as well as gasp at after the terrible events of the earlier picture. I rate it 8/10.

My current film is The Sting (1973). I first saw this film in the 90s and have been wanting to watch it ever since. When I saw it was on the Sky app, I couldn’t start it quickly enough!

Well, here in the U.K., we will be in lockdown for at least three more weeks. And then, who knows. I haven’t been paid for two months now and my bank account is creeping towards the overdraft limit. I might get away with it for this months bills, but I won’t for May’s, so that is a concern.

I started writing notes again for my Camino story this week, which was a great boon. As I said above, though, I need to be more creative. Not just one day here and there, but every day. I also had a good idea for the twitter stories I want to write. It was a combination of two separate ideas that have come to me previously so the way in which they merged effortlessly into one was very appreciated.

I am still reading Antony Beevor’s account of the Second World War. My goodness, it is a sad read: all the violence, violence, violence of the eastern front. After I finish this post, I will be picking it up again and reading about Pearl Harbour.

Outside – shopping trips have gone alright. Most people are respecting the stay-at-home instruction although I have seen a very few people standing around chatting.

Jacks

Corona Chronicles VII

Home – Thursday
Yesterday, I had to take a medicine that I had been putting off using for two weeks. Why? Because I read the instructions and saw that one of the possible side effects is anaphylactic shock. That pretty much scared the life out of me so I put the medicine away and said I will Only Take It If I Have To. Yesterday, I did. Afterwards, my day came to a halt: I was waiting to see if I would suffer an anaphylactoid reaction.

It’s stupid, really. Did I really think my doctor is in the business of prescribing me medicines that he thinks will be harmful? Yes, an adverse reaction was possible but surely unlikely as the medicine would hardly be on sale if it was common.

This, though, is logic, and when you are anxious, you do not think logically.

So, there I was, stewing in my fear, when I received an unexpected call from a very dear friend. Actually, she’s more than a friend – she is the person who instructed me when I joined the Catholic Church so is also a kind of spiritual mentor. I think she’s a saint, as well. Talking to her took away the anxiety and afterwards I was, in a manner of speaking, a new man. Deo Gratias.

As for the medicine, it did its job and although I could have continued taking it, I have decided not to unless the problem reoccurs.

Home – Today
Yesterday and today I did my exercise straight after my physiotherapy exercises. I think I might carry on like this as it feels quite good and doesn’t make me particularly tired. During today’s exercise, I finished Bad Boys. Oh my. It’s loud, brash, and silly; but also witty and funny. I rate it 6.5/10. I might have rated it .5 higher but the stupidness of the film is just a tad too strong. With that said, Bad Boys II is on Netflix, sooooo. Actually, I better wait for the brain cells that I destroyed watching this one to repair, though. The new film is Hook (1991): Robin Williams plays Peter Banning who is actually Peter Pan. In this film, Peter has grown up and forgotten who he is (or was). In order to rescue his children from Captain Hook, he has to try and remember.

I’m watching this film for the same reason that I hope to read J. M. Barrie’s book in the days or weeks to come: as I get older and see my parents age, a part of me wishes that I could be young again. I don’t like them getting old. I don’t like the thought of them not being there. Of course, I better get used to it because ageing is inevitable: in me. In them. Watching Hook is a stupid attempt to pretend that it doesn’t have to happen.

Abroad
This afternoon, I went to Sainsbury’s. They were only letting a limited number of people in at a time so we had to queue for a little while outside. Everyone was very good at observing the two or so metre gap. The shop was pretty well stocked, though again, some shelves were empty. Tomorrow, I have to go back to the chemist for my parents.

On the way to Sainsbury’s, I passed some firemen who were trying to break into a pub. They weren’t thirsty – its fire alarm was ringing. I thought to myself that if they have to break in, the landlord will find it hard to replace the glass or door lock afterwards. Fortunately, though, by the time I walked by on my way home, the firemen were gone and the door appeared to be in one piece.

A.O.B.
I subscribe to the New Ways Ministry blog. I don’t like everything that they do because I don’t like the idea of being a dissenter, but I am glad they are there. This week, they quoted the traditionalist Cardinal Burke as implying that LGBT people are to blame for the coronavirus. You can read the article here. This kind of scapegoating makes me intensely angry, and I would very much like to tell him to get fucked but if I said it and meant it I would in my own way make myself no better than him. How should one respond to such an attack? Well, with love, of course. And forgiveness. 7×70. God bless, Cardinal Burke; I disagree with him and will pray for him; I get things wrong, too, so I hope he would pray for me if he read this.

What about the coronavirus? This is my view: it happened because for whatever reason the disease jumped from an animal to a human. God allowed it to do so; not because He is angry with anyone or any group but because He is not in the business of controlling our lives like that. It is part of the free will deal. If God intervened to stop the coronavirus’ ‘jump’ we might ask Him why he did not intervene to stop the movement of any other disease or ailment, and as a matter of fact, why doesn’t He intervene to stop [your issue of choice here]. Very soon, we would hand to God our free will. We may want to do that but He does not. He knows we would find it the most painful thing of all.

That’s my view. I can’t say I have thought deeply about it so if you disagree you will have to forgive me.

Yesterday’s New Ways Ministry blog (here) was about a queer Catholic singer named Gina Chavez. I’ve been waiting to read about someone like her for a long time. I’m glad to say her music is pretty good, too (This is her You Tube channel).

I started reading from my C. S. Lewis shelf yesterday. I read the first chapter of his Reflections on the Psalms, and then an essay based on a talk about him by a lady named Joan Murphy, who was – or is – his grandnephew. I looked her up after reading the talk and found that she was still alive in 2015. If she is alive today she’ll be 94. It was a lovely essay. Unfortunately, C. S. Lewis’ father, Albert, does not come off well in it but Lewis very much does. Murphy writes,

When I began to think about this talk and wrote down things that I wanted to say, I noticed that there were two words that became dominant in my memory, and they kept coming up and coming up again: the first was encouragement and the second was laughter. Those are two things that I remember about Jacks.

(Jacks: Lewis’ given Christian name was Clive but he hated it. While still a boy he announced to his family one day that from now on he would only answer to the name Jacks. In time, that became Jack, and the name stuck).

Encouragement and laughter. What lovely ways to be remembered.

Boris Johnson and the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock were both diagnosed as having the coronavirus yesterday. We must pray for them, and indeed, for anyone in a position of authority who falls ill. I have thus far managed to resist the temptation to read comments about Johnson’s and Hancock’s diagnoses on Social Media (beyond the people that I follow) as I know they would be malevolent.

BVM, CSL, and more

Corona Chronicles VI

Home
So, yesterday I wondered if I might be able to sleep through the night as I didn’t nap during the day. Nope. And in fact, I woke up twice. And had another disagreeable dream. On the plus side, though, I did get back to sleep again pretty quickly.

This morning, I changed my routine a little and did my exercise straight after my morning physio session. I just wanted to see what effect, if any, it had on me. The answer to that is not much. I had a couple of short naps this afternoon but I might have done that, anyway. I might try it again tomorrow as I felt pretty good afterwards.

While exercising, I watched Tomb Raider to its end. I rate this film 5/10. It was a very average action film. As with so many films, the script let it down. It wasted a more than half an hour with Lara Croft’s backstory before getting her to the action. As a result, there was not enough time to do anything more than bounce her from danger to danger to showdown to end. If I had written the script, I would have obeyed the rule of In Medias Res by starting the story ‘in the middle of things’ and explained Lara’s background during the course of the main narrative (her search for the ancient queen Himiko). After all, who really cares about Lara’s background? I mean, it’s important, of course, but the really important thing about Lara Croft – the reason we care about her – is her puzzle solving and combat, not first and foremost her family history. This film, though, but it front and centre.

One thing about the film made me laugh, if grimly: Himiko was said to have been imprisoned on the deserted island of Yamatai by her generals to stop her killing people. It turned out, though, that she wasn’t evil, just carrying a fatal disease in the manner of Typhoid Mary. It all reminded me of the coronavirus a bit too much. After finishing, Tomb Raider I started watching Big Boys – an action film starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. It’s directed by Michael Bay so my brain is already mush, and I have still two days of the film to go.

This afternoon, I did a bit of book re-arranging. The desire to read C. S. Lewis has been growing on me again, recently, so I have put the books that were on my chest of drawers on the book shelf and the C. S. Lewis books that were on the shelf, on the drawers. I’m hoping that by having the books physically closer to me, I will be more likely to read them.

From whence comes this desire to read C.S.L.? Goodness knows – God, I hope, but it started when I watched a clip of Shadowlands the other day.

Speaking of C. S. Lewis, as I am sure you are aware, he was for many years good friends with J. R. R. Tolkien. Speaking of whom, 25th March is the day on which the One Ring was destroyed when Gollum fell into the lava of Mount Doom. Today is also Lady Day for Christians. Tolkien was a committed Catholic so the destruction of the Ring on the day that Gabriel announced the good news to Mary is not a coincidence. Here is one of my favourite paintings of the great event.

I love baroque art and architecture but sometimes it is good to have simplicity, and here Dante Gabriel Rossetti gives a very simple interpretation of the Annunciation. I am not much of an art critic, but things to look out for in the painting are,

The flames at Gabriel’s feet indicating his angelic status
Gabriel and Mary’s halos indicating their saintly rank
The lily that Gabriel is handing Mary; this is one of her symbols (I think it is a symbol of purity). There appears to be a lily on the red stand but I’m not sure if its placement there gives it a different meaning
The colour blue, which you can see behind Mary, is also a Marian symbol. I think it is a ‘royal’ colour, hence its association with her (Mary as Queen of Heaven)
Mary appears to have red hair. I’m not sure how to interpret that as I’m sure red is a colour more to be associated with Mary Magdalen (being the colour of licentiousness)

This evening, I am writing this post and just muddling along. I read earlier that one of the early signs of having contracted the coronavirus is a loss of smell and taste, so naturally I am now sniffing things wondering if its lack of smell is my fault. Every time I get a twinge of a headache I wonder if this is the start of a persistent one. It’s pathetic, really.

Abroad
This morning, I visited the local chemist to pick up prescriptions for my parents. They were only letting two people in at a time. The rest of us had to queue up outside – six feet apart. I used to the time to do some more Duolingo lessons. Afterwards, I came straight back. My dodgy right leg was a bit stiff, and got stiffer later. This is a repeating thing now – it feels wonderful(ish) and loose after I have done my physio but then stiffens later. I still have a way to go in sorting those muscles out.

Inspired by a friend I’ve never met

Corona Chronicles I

I follow Niall Gooch on Twitter. He is a clever and compassionate person and I always benefit from his tweets. A few days ago, he tweeted,

This seemed to me a good idea so on this blog, until such time as the coronavirus abates, I will try and record what’s going on in my little corner of the world – Islington, London, U.K.

First of all, home life.

Yesterday, our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, ‘urged everyone to avoid unnecessary social contacts, to work from home where possible, and to stay away from pubs and restaurants.’ This doesn’t affect me too much as I work from home, and don’t have the money to go out very much, anyway.

The above quotation comes from the BBC website, here. The same report states that ‘[p]eople in at-risk groups will be asked within days to stay home for 12 weeks.’ My mother and father are 79 and 80 so are definitely ‘at risk’. I still live in the family house so am now part son, part shield. The latter fits my love of chivalry perfectly. Are there any medieval romances where the Knight washes his hands a lot?

A concern for my parents now informs all my actions when going out. For example, yesterday (16th March) I had intended to take a walk across town to Westminster Cathedral to go to confession. Because of the worry that I might pick something up, at the cathedral if not along the way, however, I decided to stay at home. Now that we are being told to avoid unnecessary social contact, I suspect I will not go to confession again until the summer. It’s not ideal but the thought of bringing an unwelcome guest home is even worse.

Now that I am avoiding going out, what about my daily walks? I am going to do more exercise at home, even if it is just walking on the spot while watching a film on Netflix or a You Tube video.

Speaking of exercise, you may recall me mentioning my dodgy leg in last year’s Camino posts. Well, back in January I finally – FINALLY – got round to submitting a request for a physiotherapist appointment with the NHS. I thought I might not get an answer until later in the year but within a week or two, I was offered an appointment. Three weeks ago, I met the physiotherapist and he gave me some exercises to do. I have been carrying them out religiously ever since and let me tell you, while my leg is not perfect, it is SO MUCH BETTER than before. The old pain is almost entirely gone. Not quite, but almost. I am amazed. And all it took was ‘some’ stretches. Unless the medical centre has been closed, I am meeting the physio again this week to let him know how I have been getting on. I can’t wait to tell him.

There is one fly in the ointment – part of the physiotherapy involved walking in a slightly different way and I haven’t managed to perfect that yet. In fact, I am a long way off it, so that’s something I need to work on whenever I do go out.

Away from home.

I mentioned above not going to confession. I will keep going to Mass unless one of us in the house falls ill or until/unless the churches are closed. How extraordinary it is that I have to write these words. Who could have foreseen it, even at the start of the year? It’s like we have gone back to the time of Shakespeare with the closing of the theatres. The other day, someone on Twitter said that when W.S. was quarantined he wrote King Lear. The implication was that you should do something similar. Nonsense, of course, but I hope I can be at least a little creative. I have one or two ideas in this regard and will mention them if I can realise them.

All sporting events in the country have been cancelled or postponed for the time being. The one that affects me most is the calling off of the first few Formula 1 races. I can do without football or even rugby but F1 I miss. Depending on how things go we won’t get any races until May or June.

As I said above, I don’t go out the often. I am the secretary of The Keys Catholic literary group, though, so attend its meetings every month. I had already decided not to go to this month’s meeting but yesterday the Master decided to postpone it. I immediately sent the e-mail to all the members confirming this. Thankfully, the ones who have responded have been very understanding. We haven’t decided what to do about April’s meeting, but as with the F1, I don’t expect there will be another one until the summer.

Further Afield

There is just one thing I would like to write here. Business Insider reports that the American President, Donald Trump, ‘tried to poach German scientists working on a coronavirus vaccine and offered cash so it would be exclusive to the US’. You can read the report here.

If the report is true – the German government says it is, the company for whom the scientists work say it is not – it really is the most diabolically selfish act on Donald Trump’s part. Of course, given his past behaviour, we should not be surprised by this, but I think we may be surprised by the depth of his selfishness in this regard.

Thank you to Niall for letting me quote his tweets in this post! (It’s true I’ve never met him so I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him a friend).

A Priestly Woof

Milestones
Memoirs 1927 – 1977

Joseph Ratzinger

A week ago I returned home from Germany after enjoying a wonderful two week holiday there. I stayed in the south-east of the country with my Camino friend Ellena. Every day, I got to look out of the window and see the schwarzwald, the Black Forest; it was heavenly.

During my visit, I decided to read the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s memoir, Milestones. Well, he is German, after all!

I first read the book a few years ago. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my copy of it (I am surrounded by books at home, which rather ironically makes the task of finding any somewhat difficult) so downloaded a copy to my Kindle App.

The book is a very short, around 150 pages, and lightly written account of the first half of Ratzinger’s life. Reading it was a joy – admittedly, this was partly because I am Ratzinger fanboy, but also because he comes across as a very humble individual.

Of course he does, you might say, he wrote it! That’s a fair point. On that note, if I have one regret about the book it is that it is much too short and constantly glosses over the controversies of Ratzinger’s life, whether they involved him (and, for example, his teaching career during the tumultuous sixties) or events that he was part of (Vatican II). I wish he had decided to say more about them.

Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI has been a titanic influence on the Catholic Church in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first; if you are interested in either him or it, Milestones is a super read. I would also read it to get the low down on someone who will surely, come the day, be declared a saint (and, I hope, a Doctor of the Church). When you do, you will be in the presence of a calm, God filled man who as it seems to me entirely in the light of his Faith.

Credit Where It’s Due
Front Page of Milestones: Amazon

29th June 1901: Rome

But as I slept, Rome, Rome still beckoned me, and I woke in a struggling light as though at a voice calling, and slipping out I could not but go on to the end.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003) p.437

Belloc’s day had a martial start to it. He saw a sign saying ‘”The Triumphal Way'” (The Path to Rome, p.438) – ‘I wondered whether it could be the road where ritual had once ordained that triumphs should go’ (Ibid) – and two soldiers from the current Italian army out on manoeuvres.

Not long later, however, the military gave way to the spiritual. Belloc climbed a little hill, and between the walls of a villa, he saw Rome at last.

This sight marks the beginning of the end of The Path to Rome. Belloc now launches into a long and operatic goodbye. It has a touch of the mock epic about it, for while the farewell begins with Belloc it ends with no less than God and St. Michael in the heavenly heights. And that’s just the beginning. Where does one go after the Lord and his most powerful servant?

Home, of course. Belloc made his way down the hill and walked across a plain to the gates of the city.

… I went on for several hundred yards, having the old wall of Rome before me all the time, till I came right under it at last; and with the hesitation that befits all great actions I entered, putting the right foot first lest I should bring further misfortune upon that capital of all our fortunes.
And so the journey ended.

The Path to Rome, p.445

Belloc passed through the gates and made his way to the nearest church – Our Lady of the People. Mass was just ending, but another would soon be starting. He retired to a café for a breakfast of bread, coffee and brandy and to write the ditty with which he ends the book.

So, there we are! 29th June is the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (unless you are reading this in England or Wales, in which case the feast has been transferred to tomorrow). Belloc has walked from Toul to Rome.

I think this is the fourth year in succession that I have read The Path to Rome and I am still not bored of it. I don’t think I ever will be. To be tired of Belloc as he recounts his journey is to be tired of living because that’s what he does, with all its ups and downs, commitments made and commitments broken, joys and griefs – all these things that mark our lives also marked his journey.

In terms of friends and friendships, Belloc made no flashing friends along the way. He did, however, experience friendship many times – The Path to Rome is a wonderful book to read if you want to experience the kindness of Men towards strangers.

Ultimately, though, I find my thoughts being directed away from the idea of friendship in the book and towards what I said about The Path to Rome being about living. I have to admit, I never thought of it that way before. Perhaps that will be the theme for next year’s reading: The Path to Rome as a microcosm of life.