The Taliban are on the march, and as matters stand, it is only a case of when, not if, they win Afghanistan’s civil war. Once that happens, such freedom as Afghans have enjoyed in the last twenty years will vanish and a new age of oppression will begin.
I am ashamed of how the western powers, specifically America, has treated the country. And not only Afghanistan, but their own soldiers, too. Those western soldiers who died in Afghanistan. Those who were injured: What did they die for? What were they injured for? No more, it seems, than for our leaders to renege on the commitment they owed to that country and leave.
Maybe, though, Joe Biden et al, had no choice: the cost to the West was too high. The cost? Of making Afghanistan a safer, freer place? But these things are either priceless – worth any cost – or they are valueless – not worth anything at all. If the latter, we should never have gone there to begin with.
Recalling the anti-war marches in London in the early 2000s, I know that many people would have preferred we didn’t. Not me. I was very happy to see the overthrow of the Taliban, and of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, after the 11th September attacks. We won the war in both countries but lost the peace – comprehensively so in Afghanistan. It didn’t need to be like this. It still doesn’t – not that I’m expecting the West to do anything – but the way we have thrown Afghanistan to the wolves is deeply, deeply shameful.
Unfortunately, international politics is littered with deceptions and lies. Afghanistan isn’t the first country to be betrayed by the western powers and won’t be the last. All because we went in without a proper plan, commitment, and desire to do whatever needed to be done for the country. I hope Presidents Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden, and their allies, are pleased with themselves tonight.
Edith Stein – St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – is one of my favourite saints and yesterday (9th August) was her Feast Day. This called for a glass of wine in her honour. Before that, however, I went to confession and Mass at Westminster Cathedral. Before continuing, I must here confess two things, though:
I had originally intended to go to confession last week or the week before but for one reason and another had not managed it. When I decided to go yesterday, I hadn’t thought of connecting the visit to Edith Stein’s feast day. I’d love to say that I went to the cathedral in her honour, but this time round, it was just a happy coincidence.
I didn’t only drink a glass of wine last night in honour of St. Teresa Benedicta. 9th August is also the anniversary of The Battle of Pharsalus, the decisive battle in the Roman civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus. Had I been alive in 48 BC, I would certainly have sided with Caesar against the Pompey and the Optimates so I am very happy to celebrate his victory every year.
Back at the cathedral, things are returning to normal. Confessions are no longer said standing up in one of the side chapels (usually in the chapel where Cardinal Hume and Bishop Challoner are buried and the baptistry next door) but back in the confessional boxes in front of the Lady Chapel. We still need to wear our face masks while in the cathedral, but are allowed to take them off while making the confession. A piece of glass over the grill protects priest and penitent.
Before COVID, you sat down while queuing for the confessional. Now, you have to stand. That’s a bit rough of people who might find standing for any length of time but, of course, it’s easy to understand why they have been removed. While queuing, I looked up to the domed ceiling above us. If you visit Westminster Cathedral, go to where penitents queue, and look up; you’ll see a net. Behind the net are chalk marks. Before the net was put there, they formed what seemed to me the shape of Africa. I noticed this some years ago. As a result, every time I have gone to confession at the cathedral, I have looked up and prayed for Africa and her people. Unfortunately, the net makes the outline harder to see, but the habit is now ingrained in me.
A couple of weeks have passed since the Vatican published Traditionis Custodes, the Pope’s motu proprio in which he restricts access to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
When the letter was released, I could not see how it would serve ‘to promote the concord and unity of the Church’ as intended. I still can’t. As a leader, you do not unify a divided people by taking sides in their dispute. You especially do not unify them by discriminating against the other side. This is what Pope Francis has done.
According to the Pope, Traditionis Custodes is the fruit of a ‘detailed consultation’ with bishops. This has to be taken seriously. If the Extraordinary Form really is causing problems worldwide then I would reluctantly agree that restricting access to it, or even banning it, would have to be considered. Unfortunately, and to the best of my knowledge, absolutely no information about the consultation has been released, so we don’t know how many bishops took part in it, where those who did take part came from, or whether they were men sympathetic to the EF Mass or not, etc etc.
I’m very disappointed by what the Pope has done. I say this as a Catholic middle roader – I appreciate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass but am perfectly happy with the Novus Ordo, even if it could be greatly improved (after all, nearly all things can). I feel very sorry for Catholics whose attachment to the Extraordinary Form is much stronger, especially if they are now in a position where they are no longer able to attend this Mass. If that was me, I would sooner go to a SSPX Mass than Novus Ordo one.
Of course, the Pope’s decision to restrict access to the Extraordinary Form did not come out of nowhere. Catholics who have loudly expressed their love for the EF Mass by denigrating, even to the point of saying it is invalid, the N.O. need to take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror and do a little repenting. Traditionis Custodes has probably burnt no few bridges. They need to be rebuilt by both sides as quickly as possible. If only the Pontifex Maximus had chosen this course instead of issuing this moto proprio.
I have finished the Blue is the Warmest Colour graphic novel!
Having not touched it since I wrote my post about the film (here), I opened it earlier on today, and read it from page 38 to 156 – the end.
So, how did I manage to read the last 118 pages so quickly?
Well, I will admit that the desire to get it out the way so that I can start another book that I’ve been looking forward to reading helped my motivation considerably.
However, I have to give credit to writer/artist Julie Maroh. I never did get used to her artwork but despite some narrative choices that I didn’t agree with (the story jumps from teenage Clem to thirties Clem and the breakdown of her relationship with Emma much too quickly), the story was a strong one. It made the graphic novel un-putdownable.
I was particularly touched by the way Maroh focuses on Clem’s struggle to accept her sexuality. It is a great trial for her and threatens to derail her relationship with Emma. Maroh doesn’t try to sugar coat Clem’s emotions or gloss over the consequences of her actions. This made the story feel authentic and relatable.
This focus on Clem’s inner struggle defines the graphic novel and means that it and the film can be seen as complimentary to each other, rather than the latter being a straight adaption of the former. It also means that I would certainly read the graphic novel again.
Last Friday (2nd July), I received my second dose of the anti-coronavirus vaccine.
Earlier that day a friend sent me a text message asking if For Whom The Bell Tolls was a good book – one worth having. I love Hemingway and have read several of his books but have tried and failed three times to get on with this one. I don’t know why – perhaps the Spanish Civil War setting doesn’t grab me, or maybe Hemingway’s use of archaic language (there are lots of thees and thous) to illustrate the (presumably) old fashioned way that the Spaniards are speaking puts too much distance between us. Anyway, after admitting that I hadn’t read the book, I couldn’t help but take it down off the shelf again to give it another go.
I took the book with me to the vaccination centre and started reading it after I had received my jab: I presume this is happening over Britain: everyone who receives the vaccination has to wait at the centre for fifteen minutes afterwards just in case they have a bad reaction to the vaccine.
Fortunately, I felt alright, and was able to leave when the time was up.
The worst that I felt on Friday was that my arm – the one that had been jabbed – hurt a bit. This had happened in April when I received the first dose, if not quite as much, so I just got on with my day.
That night, I slept terribly. In fact, after three am I didn’t sleep at all. When I got up in the morning on Saturday, I felt achy and at one or two points shivery, even though it wasn’t cold.
As a result of this, Saturday became a rest day: no daily physio for my dodgy leg, no exercise, no anything: just rest. As the day progressed, I started to feel better but went to bed that night still aching, somewhat.
Rather to my surprise, I woke up on Sunday morning as if I had never been ill. I felt just fine, and have continued to be so, since. Now, I guess I just have to wait two weeks (or one and a half now) for the vaccine to fully kick in.
And then? Well, it looks like the government will end as planned all the restrictions relating to the coronavirus on 19th July, so I’ll be able to go and paint the town red. Of course, we can already go to the shops, pubs, etc but the truth is it will be a long time before I fully integrate myself back into society. I also need to wait until work pays me (even in a pandemic, some things don’t change!) before I can buy any paint. I won’t, of course, that’s not my thing. What I might just do instead is buy a celebratory bottle of wine, and maybe a new book. I like the sound of that.
Speaking of books, I read Chapter One of For Whom The Bell Tolls on Friday, and Chapter Two on Saturday. Since then – nothing. Why? Not actually because I still don’t like the book but because my reading at the moment has stalled. I’m determined to kick start it again but that is a topic for another post.
A few posts ago I mentioned that I had just watched Blue is the Warmest Colour and would review it in my next post. I held off doing so because I then decided to buy the graphic novel on which the film is based and wanted to review them together.
Unfortunately, I am not enjoying the graphic novel very much and am only reading it a glacial pace. It’s not that the story is bad but the style of artwork and lettering are taking a lot of getting used to. I just need to push on: the illustrations have a slightly unfinished and loose feel to them, which I am sure I will get used to, or at least get over, if the story is good enough. As for the lettering – my complaint is against the cursive text employed for the captions containing one of the character’s diary entries. It doesn’t make the writing impossible to read but does demand concentration, which is more than I want to give in the evening – the only time of day when I have time to look at the book. With that said, I looked ahead when writing this post and saw that the diary entries will soon give way to regular capitalised speech bubbles so, I just need to be patient.
Patience is not always my strongest point, so here I am. I hope I will finish the graphic novel, In the meantime, as patience is not always my strongest point, here I am. I hope I will finish the graphic novel, but in case I don’t, here are my thoughts about the film.
In short, I enjoyed Blue is the Warmest Colour a lot. At three hours, it is much too long but as an exploration of the rise and fall and aftermath of a relationship it worked really well. Full credit go to the writers, director, Abdellatif Kechiche, and principle actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux.
The film follows Adèle (Exarchopoulos) from her mid-teens to late twenties as she has a brief relationship with another student (male) at her school, before falling in love with a girl with blue hair who she saw one day in the street. That girl is a slightly older student called Emma (Seydoux). One night, they meet in a lesbian bar. They become friends, and then lovers. All goes well until Adèle and Emma are driven apart by the pressures of their work. Adèle sleeps with a fellow teacher. When Emma finds out she immediately throws Adèle out of the house. In the last act of the film, Adèle tries to win Emma back, but it is too late: Emma has moved on. The love that once existed between them has been extinguished. They can be friends but no more.
The film contains a number of graphic sex scenes. While some of them can certainly be justified tin terms of the narrative, I’m not sure the same can be said for all. The sex scenes also vary in length, with the longest being nigh on ten minutes long. The obvious chemistry between Exarchopoulos and Seydoux make nearly all them easy to watch but, of course, that is no justification for their presence.
I say ‘nearly’ all of them: the first sex scenes, which take place when Adèle is aged 15 felt very awkward to watch. Why? After all, 15 is the age of consent in France so while the scenes were right on the limit of acceptability, there is no question of the viewer being made to watch underage sex. Here in the UK, however, the age of consent is 16 so the scenes were underage for us, hence the awkwardness.
While watching the film Blue is the Warmest Colour I wondered how the French viewed it. For me, the fact that it was set abroad and, more to the point, was in French, made it something exotic. Okay, not as exotic as a fantasy film set in a faraway land but certainly different. The film is very down-to-earth, however; it is about a real life issue, and is set in equally real life places. Would a Frenchman (or woman) watching this see the film as akin to a kitchen-sink drama? It’s not really important, but I’d love to know.
As I mentioned above, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux had great chemistry together (both in and out of bed). Physically and in terms of their acting, they were both completely convincing in their roles. It was particularly interesting seeing Lèa Seydoux play a tomboy in this film as I previously only knew her as the far more feminine Madeleine Swann in Spectre.
Inevitably, Emma invited comparisons for me with Mary Stuart Masterson’s Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful, and truth to tell, Emma is Watts but from a different angle. And that was fine. Complete originality in a story is both nigh on impossible and unnecessary. The important thing for a writer is to bring something new or different to the tale. How does Emma differ from Watts? She is older. Wiser, perhaps. She definitely has more of the cares of the world on her shoulders.
I haven’t seen many LGBTQ+ films but Blue is the Warmest Colour ranks highly among the ones I have watched. I would put it just behind Carol, my favourite in this genre. I would say that I appreciate the fact that it has – like Carol – a bisexual lead (in Adèle), though I bet if I looked up reviews of the film, they all – as with Carol – call her a lesbian. Anyway, though too long, a very good film, and well worth three hours of your time.
Twenty years ago this month I started working for the Public Carriage Office (PCO). I hadn’t wanted the job: at the same time as my interview for the PCO, Robin Baird-Smith of the Continuum Publishing Group interviewed me for a position there. That was the job I really wanted. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.
I probably did badly at the interview, but to this day I associate the failure with one question that Baird-Smith asked me: did I like (the then) Cardinal Ratzinger? I did, and told him so. Afterwards, I reckoned that in terms of working for Continuum saying so was a mistake as Continuum was more in the liberal Catholic line. Why would they hire anyone of a more traditionalist bent? Like I say, I probably failed the interview for other reasons, but that has always stuck with me.
The funny thing is that because I didn’t want the Public Carriage Office job, I was very free with my answers there, as well. I was asked if I approved of positive discrimination. Absolutely not, I said, it’s just another form of discrimination. When I thought about that answer afterwards, I was very happy: they’ll never hire me, now, I thought, I just need Continuum to come through and everything will be perfect.
The good Lord had other plans, however, and in the middle of June 2001 (I think my start date was either the 13th or 18th, I can’t remember which), I started at the PCO.
The Public Carriage Office was founded in 1850s to oversee the regulation and licensing of the taxi (black cab) trade in London. It used to be part of the Metropolitan Police. When Transport for London (TfL) was founded in 2000 it took over control of the PCO*.
Two years earlier, the Labour government had passed the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act, which allowed for the licensing of minicabs (or private hire vehicles, to give them their ‘proper’ name), minicab drivers and operators. As a result, the minicab, or Private Hire, side of the PCO was rapidly expanding – hence my interview. Specifically, I was applying to join the Private Hire Operator licensing team.
In 2001, the PCO was based at 15 Penton Street near the Angel, Islington. As it was being refurbished, the PHV teams spent most of the summer working in a former courthouse in Clerkenwell.
The summer of 2001 was a happy time. I joined a team full of characters with an easy going manager in charge and a lot of commitment to the cause. I did well at the PCO with my managers. My first one, D., was a very relaxed guy. I didn’t really have much in common with him but that didn’t matter when he was such an open hearted person. My second manager, P., was a more serious minded man but was always open to conversation and discussion. The PHV (business) licensing team was split in two and the overall manager was KR. She was completely dedicated to her work and her staff. I would have taken a bullet for her. Never before or since have I known a leader as kind or selfless as she. When P. moved on in c.2007, I successfully applied for his job. He and D. were great models to have as I became a manager in their stead. I’m sure I did not do as well as they, but that is not for me to say. The final judgement there, lies with the two or three people who I had underneath me at any given time.
Here is the courthouse we worked in:
It has been converted into a youth hostel now. As you can see from the photograph (for which, thank you Google Maps), guests enter it through the main door. We had to use the side door on Great Percy Street (to the left).
Despite all the teams being in their own offices, we regularly walked through the building on one mission or another and so were able to say hello and have a chat to others. Staff meetings were held in the actual courtroom. I can remember at least one occasion when the head of the PHV teams sat in the judge’s chair! Although I don’t specifically recall it, I’m sure people also sat in the dock. What about the cells? We used those as well – to store files.
As I mentioned above, my team licensed the private hire businesses. There were two forms that they – the minicab owners – had to fill out: a general application form called the PHV/101 and a personal declaration form called the PHV/103. They were very simple documents and easy to process. I say ‘simple’ – yes, for us; many people in the private hire trade, however, were not from Britain and so their command of English was not perfect. For them, the forms were more challenging. Ringing them to query information that they had provided (or not, as the case may be) was a regular part of the job.
The most ‘difficult’ part of the job was the computer system we used to record the information on the forms. It was called TAPITS. I’ve long since forgotten what that stands for. We called it Crapits. It was simple but very user unfriendly. We longed for it to be replaced. Years later, it was – by an even worse system, the name of which I have happily banished from my memory.
In 2001, minicab owners had a limited amount of time in which to send their applications in and get licensed. As a result, we had, for the first and only time during my first stint at the PCO, to process a certain number of applications every day. As they were straight forward, this wasn’t hard. In consequence, I look back at the summer of 2001 and can dwell on the fun things that happened. For example, the fact that my phone number was so similar to the radio station Heart FM that people kept ringing me up to make song requests. For a while, I simply told them they had rung the wrong number. Then, I got bored, and spent five minutes trying to persuade a rock and roll fan to ask for a piece of music by Beethoven instead. Then there was the night we went to the pub to watcWh England play Germany. Incredibly, we won 5-1.
One day in 2001, the world changed. On 11th September, somewhere after three in the afternoon, S., a member of the tech support team, came in to our office and told us that an aeroplane had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York. I thought he was making a joke, and laughed incredulously. But no, it had really happened. By the time I got home, two aeroplanes had crashed into the WTC. I watched with millions of others as the twin towers crashed to the ground. Another aeroplane struck the Pentagon and one crashed into a field when the passengers heroically fought back against the terrorists. In the days after, aeroplanes all over the world were grounded. It was surreal looking up in the sky and not seeing any aircraft there.
*Around 2009, the PCO changed its name to Taxi Private Hire. I’ll keep calling it the PCO until I come to that period.
Recently, I spoke on the phone to a very dear friend who lives in Scotland. She attends the Extraordinary Form of Mass at her church, and told me that not only is this Mass very well attended but that, when it is said, many of the congregants go to confession, as well.
In fact, the numbers are so high that the priest is obliged to hear two confessions at once.
I was amazed when I heard this. Two confessions at once: my only experience of that has been in paintings, such as the one below.
Now, maybe in other parts of the world, the two-at-once scenario happens often, but not here in the U.K. Here, confession has for long been the Cinderella sacrament, the one that is there doing all the work of taking sins away but which Catholics ignore with abandon.
What is happening in Scotland? I attribute the popularity of confession at this church with the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. It is a Mass of great solemnity and dignity and in this is surely drawing people to the confessional. I shall continue to believe this until and unless I hear of confession being equally popular in a Novus Ordo church.
Before I finish, I must add one thing: I love the Novus Ordo Mass. It is the one I go to every week, and am very grateful for it. I also hold the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in high regard. I do not lift it up in order to put the Novus Ordo down. If anyone was able to show me a church where the Novus Ordo was bringing people back to confession, I would be delighted and would thank God for giving us two distinct forms of the Mass, both of which are brining people to that wonderful encounter with Him in confession.
Last Summer, the United States Department of Defense formed an Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force to investigate UFO sightings. Towards the end of December, President Trump signed a pandemic relief bill into law. You wouldn’t think that the two things had anything in common – at least, I wouldn’t – but it turns out that the bill had a provision that called,
… for the director of national intelligence to help produce an unclassified report on everything government agencies know about UFOs, including scores of unusual sightings reported by military pilots.
As a result of the report’s imminent arrival, UFOs have been hitting the headlines in the mainstream media.
I have always had an interest in UFOs. I can’t remember when it started but I do remember being very impressed in my teens by a book called Above Top Secret by Timothy Good that catalogued sightings and encounters. It presented them in a serious way that did full justice to the potential importance of the issue.
I have no settled view on whether UFOs are alien space craft or not. What is very clear to me, though, is that not all the sightings are the products of deluded minds or charlatans. Yesterday, having seen the latest headlines, I decided to watch a documentary from last year called The Phenomenon, which covered the history of UFO sightings from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Among the contributors were high ranking political figures and military personnel – people whose judgement you would expect to be sober and considered, and who would have much more to lose than gain by appearing in a documentary of this kind; and yet, here they were, ready to speak out about the subject all the same.
With that in mind, and given the quality of the sightings – indicating that witnesses are seeing something whatever it is – I would have thought UFOs would be eminently worthy of study, especially because if there is even the slightest possibility of their being operated by intelligent beings, that has profound national and global security implications (particularly, as alleged in The Phenomenon, they are able to control nuclear weapon facilities). It may all come to nothing but wouldn’t we rather make that judgement after investigation than before?
Of course, governments are in a difficult position here. They like to be in control. They like to control – democracies as well as tyrannies. But they would not be able to control intelligent beings who possess the technology to travel across vast distances of space. Better to keep the information about them secret. That’s a way forward, although not a convincing one: it would only last until an alien race decided to make contact with us.
A Clerk of Oxford is written by Eleanor Parker who is an Anglo-Saxon and medieval historian. When I went to university I did so with the intention of taking my degree in American Studies. Within a term I had fallen in love with Anglo Saxon and Medieval English and never looked back. After university, I left my lovers behind and in time found a new one in Alexander the Great. I never stopped loving the Anglo Saxon and Medieval periods, though, and blogs and social media (Dr. Parker is also on Twitter @ClerkOfOxford) have allowed me to keep reading about those early days of my country and, for that matter, those days before England was a country at all. NB: I also follow Eleanor Parker on Patreon. If you are interested in the Anglo Saxon – Medieval period it is well worth a follow.
Lesbians Who Write supports the podcast of the same name, which is hosted by lesbian romance writers Clare Lydon and T. B. Markinson. I discovered LWW after meeting Lydon at a talk she gave to the Transport for London LGBTQ group three or four years ago. Being a keen, but easily distracted writer, I attended the talk for any practical advice in the art of writing that she might give. After the talk, I bought some of her books, enjoyed them, and have continued buying them ever since. The podcast is part informal chat and part discussion on the theme of writing. Whether or not you like lesbian romances, Lesbians Who Write is worth listening to for the writing advice (particularly if you are considering being a self-published author like they are). Lesbians Who Write has a Twitter account @LesWhoWrite)
Licence to Queer. Up until a few months ago, I did not know that a James Bond ‘fandom’ existed, but it does, and some of its members are on Twitter. That’s where I found Licence to Queer’s author (who tweets at @licencetoqueer). Every so often I hear stories of fandoms becoming very toxic because of the bad behaviour of some of their members. To date, I have not heard of – or seen – anything bad come from the fans of James Bond. I have not traditionally got into being part of fandoms but have seen really awful behaviour where it has no place at all (alas, of all places, on ‘Catholic Twitter’) so to find a group of people so at peace with one another is a blessing.
Below is an image that I have stolen from Licence to Queer – I hope he doesn’t mind; it is Léa Seydoux who appeared in the last Bond film, Spectre, and will be in this year’s No Time To Die. I have included it just to sneakily promote my next blog post, which will be a little review of Blue Is The Warmest Colour, which I finished watching yesterday.
Mars Hill is a blog that specialises in politics, from a moderate left perspective, and Christianity. It is run by Paul Burgin who I have had the great honour of knowing since we ‘met’ via a now defunct C. S. Lewis forum called Into The Wardrobe in the ’90s. I don’t share Paul’s politics, or Christian home for that matter (he is a Methodist and I a Catholic), but he is a thoughtful and kind witness to all that he believes. Apart from C. S. Lewis, we have something else in common: a love of all things Bond (Actually, I think it may have been through him that I discovered the above mentioned Bond fandom) and have recorded conversations with one another about several of James Bond’s films. You can find them on Paul’s You Tube page, here. As it happens, we will be discussing The Spy Who Loved Me next Tuesday. Paul is on Twitter @Paul_Burgin)