Saturday, December 22, 2007

For Christmas...


...we will be on a round of family visits.


A very cheery evening this week with the Catholic Writers' Guild, with Medieval music by Dr Mary Remnant - she called for volunteers to help with various musical instruments and Jamie cheerily obliged, making a glad sound with a set of chiming bells...it all rounded off a successful year for the Guild, which holds its AGM in January on the feast of St Francis de Sales, our Patron.


On Thursday I went carol singing with a couple of fellow-parishioners from St Joseph's, New Malden. We raised some money for Aid to the Church in Need's Sudan Appeal. House-to-house carol singing is a fading tradition: some people won't open their doors to anyone at night any more, others are fed up with children bawling "we wish-yer-merry-Chrisssmuss" and shouting for money, others are from cultures where they have never known carol-singing and are a bit baffled...anyway I think we gave some pleasure, and we ended up back at the church in time for the late-night Benediction which concludes the regular Thursday hours of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We sang "Silent Night" together before we went in, out in the crisp cold air, and then enjoyed the welcome glow and peace of the church with silent figures kneeling, lights glowing on the Advent Wreath and all attention focused on the Monstrance on the altar...


Friday saw more carols, this time at Waterloo Station. A good crowd, organised through St Joseph's Roehampton, and we had bells, a flute, guitar, and violin - we sang and sang, raised lots of money for children's charities, and got lots of good wishes and support and encouragement from people thronging through the station, many of whom stopped to enjoy, applaud, or even join in for a time...


I wish all my readers a blessed and glorious Christmas...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

To Chichester...

to Bishop Luffa School to present certificates of Merit and Special Merit gained by pupils in the 2007 Schools Bible Project. I was given a lovely welcome, and hugely enjoyed joining in the morning Assembly - "O come all ye faithful" and a presentation by a group of children on the theme of giving at Christmas...these days, when pupils take part in a school assembly in this way, they skilfully use videos they have made, power-point displays, etc... Later I met some delightful VI formers and visited a busy RE class - everywhere I went in the school, people were friendly and cheerful, the pupils looked extremely nice in their maroon uniforms, and there was a sense of bustle which was very enjoyable.

Things had started on a happy note even earlier. I had stayed overnight at a local hotel, as the school Assembly was at 8am. By 7.45 the taxi hadn't arrived, and I was getting anxious - and a delightful lady member of the hotel team said not to worry, her car was just outside - she'd take me...now that's the kind of thing that restores one's faith in human kindness...she was so nice, and we chatted happily on the way... her children, now grown-up had been pupils at the school...this kindly help gave a glow to the day.

Later, a walk through a city just tinged with frost, and into the glorious Cathedral, which was warm and welcoming, with a most beautiful crib scene at the entrance (Mary's arms cradled, ready - but the Baby not yet there, and clearly to be added at Midnight on Christmas Eve...). A school group was practising Christmas music, great arches soared above, and one could light a candle at the tomb of St Richard, now restored after 16th-century despoilations.. There is an excellent display telling something of the Cathedral's story, highlighting St Richard, and other characters from down the years including the famous Bishop Bell. I dropped into the Cathedral shop - through glorious cloisters - where there are lots of lovely rather Auntie-ish things, books and lavender things and stacks of jars and nicely packaged goodies...I was rather sorry when I had to leave and get back to London.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Denis Riches...

....founder of Family Publications, Oxford, husband of Valerie Riches, died on Saturday after a long illness borne with immense courage and faith. A man of vision and leadership, with good humour, initiative and wisdom, he gave generously of his time and energy to Family and Youth Concern and to the Church and the world of publishing, and he will be hugely missed by so many of us, as well as by his own lovely family. Pray for him and for them, and give thanks to God for Denis' life and work...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Family matters...

...are occupying quite a bit of my time at present, so blogging may be thin for a couple of days. Among other things, Jamie has a dreadful cold. I was meant to be carol-singing this evening but that fell through...and it's just as well as J. is feeling bleak, and it's time for domesticity. We have enjoyed some Jane Austen and hot drinks, and the Advent wreath with its three candles, and the house feels cosy.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fabulous...

...new book just out from Family Publications. It's by Dora Nash, Head of RE, mother of four, and it's for children preparing for First Communion and it's really excellent. Order it from Family Publications here.

Dora Nash is my sister-in-law. Her book on Confirmation has already proved its worth and been popular with lots of parishes, families, and youth groups, and we've all been waiting for one on First Communion. This new book is beautifully presented, with lovely illustrations, all the information from Scriptures to explain about Confession and Holy Communion, prayers to learn by heart, quizzes, word-searches, even a cut-out priest to dress in different vestments! It tackles everything, from how to go to confession through to words and phrases to study and understand...all in a bright, easy-to-read style with clear print and a fresh feel. It's exactly what a Catholic child needs and will be of use in every parish - even for children unfamiliar with all sorts of basic concepts for whom First Communion is perhaps the first real contact with systematic Christian teaching...very, very highly recommended.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Carols...

...are one of the best things about Christmas. Every year a group meets to sing at London's Victoria and Waterloo stations, organised by the excellent Yvonne W. through St Joseph's parish, Roehampton, with volunteers from the pro-life movement and Yvonne's friends and contacts... This year the parish priest, Fr David, came along too and as he has a fine voice, and we also had a violinist and a guitarist, we really did made a gladsome sound...Yvonne gave me a red Santa Claus hat and I took up my usual position as conductor in front: just waving my arms about to keep the group together and keep time...it's all hugely enjoyable, and the glorious songs rang through the station, and we raised lots and lots of money and there was a great deal of enthusiasm.

We'll be at Waterloo station next Friday, Dec 21st, from 5pm to 7pm. Come along and join us!

Britain this Christmas...

...doesn't seem very Christmassy. There is a feature about this in today's Daily Telegraph. It misses the point, of course - the reason for the un-merry mood is not an incipient recession and people not spending enough in the shops (goodness know, there will still be a glut of rubbish bought and sold this Christmas), and it's not even the now-ritual debates about local authorities bowing to secularist pressure and refusing Christmas decorations on the grounds not "not offending minorities" etc etc. It's not even the daft healthnsafety regulations which have ensured the banning of Christmas lights and decorations.

It's the realisation that we have lost the essence of Christmas by marginalising our Christian faith.

I hurried about London today - to the Tower of London, of all places, to check on information for a group of Americans planning a trip there next summer, to an address in Earls Court to deliver a parcel, to the Post Office...and then to Westminster Cathedral. And there was the spirit of Christmas. An Advent wreath...an empty crib awaiting the figure of our baby Saviour, a tall evergreen alongside, scenting the air deliciously...extra rows of seats for a carol service...and long lines of chairs down the side aisle for the confession queue. And this last I joined, and the experience was beautiful and joyful. And then on to Victoria Station...but for that deserves its own Blog entry.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Oh dear...

...nutty letters are a part of life for every journalist... but now one gets emails as well. Nasty one arrived today, full of rubbish about "Judeo-Masonic" plots. Ugh. One can cope - sort of - with the nutcases, but it's horrible when they make vile anti-Jewish comments too.

Sometimes these correspondents affirm themselves very traditional Catholics: I don't know how they can be very comfortable with this, as Christ Himself chose to be born as a Jew, one of the people they so dislike...it's as if they want a sort of Catholicism without Christ. And certainly without his commands about loving one's neighbour, and without His peace...

The Holy Father has much to say on this and I recommend these correspondents to read what he has to say about the nastiness of anti-Jewish comments, and the special bond that should exist between Christians and Jews...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Skip the Pullman film...

...it sounds dreary. Go straight for something exciting and worthwhile. Tell your children to wait for this film, and meanwhile if they haven't read the books, hurry to get them copies this Christmas.

And hurrah for the Holy Father, talking with wisdom and common sense about children and Christmas: it's so horrible to see boys and girls robbed of their joy by being turned into obedient little consumers...here in Britain, there is something of a debate taking place about childhood and its value, and it's a debate long overdue. It seems so rare, now, to see a gaggle of children in the street giggling and laughing together and just having fun. It's even more rare to see teenagers just larking about and laughing...somehow there is an air of solemn menace stalking our common life, and cheerful merriment invites not just sneers but downright hostility.

Meanwhile today the Government has announced - ugh - a Ten Year Plan for Children. Why is my immediate reaction one of horror? Is it just the Stalinist language? Or is it a realistic conviction that the thing will somehow become just another way of bashing marriage and family life? Or simply a feeling of dreariness at the realisation that it will probably mean more social workers filling in forms, and more bureacratic "initiatives" involving salaried staff talking ideological junk at the taxpayers' expense?

From MInster in Thanet...

...comes a lovely Christmas newsletter from the dear nuns at St Mildred's Priory. I stayed there not long ago while on a speaking engagement at nearby Ramsgate, and the nuns made me so welcome. It's a Saxon priory, restored for monastic use just 70 years ago with nuns from Germany. Reachable by train from London, with the most lovely gardens, and a warm welcome at the guesthouse - the sisters have even published their own recipe book, full of the good things they serve to visitors - and a dear little chapel, and such an interesting history...Viking invaders...peacful times under King Canute...salt works on ther marshes...destruction under Henry VIII...the 20th century and sisters fleeing from the Nazis in Germany...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

To Wallington...

... with Mother, to a concert organised by the Beddington, Carshalton, and Wallington Musical Society. It was a happy evening - beautiful music, and it was in the Mallinson Room at Wallington Library, where, long years ago, I wrote my first job applications for local newspapers, after looking up the relevant addresses in Willings Press Directory. Later, as a Borough Councillor, I sat on the Committee looking after, among other things, all the local libraries, and later still wrote some books on local history (Croydon Airport) which are still on sale there - we passed a nice display of them as we arrived.

It was a coincidence that brought us to the concert - Jamie's brother D. and his wife J. were both playing in it, as part of a Quartet, and contacted us, knowing this was my home patch.
When people write about the place where they grew up, the nostalgia can be mawkish. I don't think that can work with suburbia...but I realised, sitting in the Library, how the London suburbs that I knew, and the culture of which shaped me, had a "feel" and a flavour that is slipping away...clubs and committees, things now grandly called "the voluntary sector", groups and societies run with enthusiasm, for the sheer joy of things - can these survive the crush of consumerism and political correctness and inertia and health-and-safety rules and all that? The High Streets treets of the suburbs now ring more often with drunken shrieks and scuffling fights than with the chatter of people hurrying out of meetings and concerts...

Anyway, we had a happy time, met old friends, enjoyed the wonderful music, and came back to Mother's for late snacks and cheerful talk...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A supper party...

...given by Anne H-P, who runs the Ladies of Charity in the diocese of Westminster...she invited me to give a talk about "Celebrating traditional feasts and seasons"... a happy evening, with lots of friends, splendid hospitality...Anne's wonderful mother, who ran the Ladies of Charity for many years, was able to be with us, and all the guests felt welcomed into a real family home...a most beautiful start to December and Advent and Christmas.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Women and the Church...

...was the subject of a talk yesterday at St John's Church, Horsham, Sussex. A very happy evening, a packed room, lots of good discussion. I had said I would walk from the station, but it was a rainy night and when I arrived, there was the kind parish priest, waiting with a placard with my name on it, like you see people doing at airports! He drove me to the church, and brewed tea, and there was a lively buzz as people were arriving...at the end of the talk I distributed copies of an excellent CTS leaflet about women and the priesthood, and people also wanted copies of my Yearbook of Seasons and Celebrations...

This is a lovely parish. I was made so welcome, and there was such a good atmosphere - coincidentally, I had dropped in to this church when I went through Horsham on my sponsored cycle ride to Brighton, back in the summer, when I was raising money to help send young people from my local deanery to World Youth Day. So it was lovely to be back, and to meet people and be part of the parish for the evening!

Whenever I speak at a Catholic meeting, sooner or later some one is bound to raise the question of what is happening in Catholic schools - children are not learning the Faith, they are confused, they don't know the basics, don't know about the Sacraments, don't go to Mass with any regularity. There is real anguish about this - people are frustrated and recognise that things are getting more muddled...it gets hard to find good practising Catholics as teachers, and schools seem to be confused about whether or not it is possible legally to insist that a teacher in a Catholic school should teach in accordance with the Church and live accordingly... even in a good a cheery meeting such as this, topics such as this get raised.

Home very late: a warm, wet evening, and I sat on the train writing Christmas cards.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Bible Project...


...for schools - and today we had the prizegiving, and it was all a huge success. It's run by Christian Projects, an ecumenical group with which I am involved. A brochure goes to every secondary school in Britain, inviting essays on New Testament themes - look it up on this website. -

The young prizewinners come to the House of Lords every year to recieve their prizes - Bibles, and personal book prizes, plus cheques for their schools - from Baroness Cox, who is one of our Trustees. It was a very happy day - we all met in the Central Lobby, and I gave the group a tour of Parliament: we lingered in the Great Hall, where St Thomas More was tried, and Sir Winston Churchill lay in state, and HM the Queen Mother... the prizegiving ceremony was delightful, and we had celebration cakes and proud parents took lots of pictures...afterwards we held our Annual General Meeting, reviewing how things had gone, and making plans for 2008. This is a useful organisation with real ecumenical co-operation, and much generosity and goodwill.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

As we approach Christmas...

A rushed trip to London, to meet the Editor of the St Anthony Messenger (which I have never read and turns out to be a really good, bright, illustrated magazine: excellent feature on "Reclaiming Christmas", and an interview with Elizabeth Quinn, actress, who starred in London in Children of a Lesser God, and a feature on Burma, and more)...as I hurried for the train, I bought a newspaper as usual. Here, as we approach Christmas in Britain,2007, are some of the news items:

- a man who donated sperm to a lesbian to enable her to have children says he did it as a favour to her "partner" who was an ex-girlfriend of his...the two lesbians have now quarrelled and separated and it is unclear what will happen to the children

- new regulations are planned to force the destruction of "extra" embryos when in-vitro fertilisation takes place, so that a woman thus treated will not have twins or triplets but only one child

- a couple who decided not to have children are leaving their money to their pet dogs when they die

A good comment on all of these sorts of topics comes from Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail.

How prophetic was Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. How scary our culture has become.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent...

...is possibly the best of seasons. At home, I start to stack presents on the table by the the Advent wreath as I wrap them, with other Christmassy things alongside, bags of chocolate coins that get sent to various children for St Nicholas Day, a twist of silvery ribbon...

...and in church the first candle gleams on the Advent wreath up in the chancel, giving an ordinary weekday Mass a special feel. We will go carol-singing as a parish group, round the local streets, later in Advent, and send the money we raise to Aid to the Church in Need to help the hard-pressed Christians in Sudan. And the young people of the deanery, who are now doing all sorts of good things in association with World Youth Day, will be singing at our local railway station...they still need funds to enable them to get to Australia for this great event and if you'd like to help you can contact them through this link.

The excellent Women for Faith and Family run by Helen Hitchcock has some wonderful material for Advent. Rather than whinge about the commercialisation of Christmas, let's emphasise Advent and all its rich traditions...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

An early start...

...as a taxi arrived for me while it was still dark, to whisk me up to London for a discussion on BBC Radio Ulster, about the blasphemy laws. I think it's possible to hear this on a playback system through the Internet, but haven't the least idea how this is done...help would be welcomed.

London looked rather magical on a wintry Sunday morning, the Thames grey and majestic, few people about, skeleton staff at the BBC in Millbank...after the programme, I toyed with the idea of staying on in town, getting breakfast somewhere and walking up to Westminster Cathedral for High Mass, but a car was waiting and the day was beginning to look fierce, so I was taken home. Jamie was getting up and I brewed coffee and made us something to eat, then in due course set off for Mass by bike and the HEAVENS OPENED, such terrific rain that I skidded and had to shelter in a doorway. Arrived at church and peeled off soaking coat,scarf, jacket, and these dripped water into a little puddle beneath the next pew as Mass progressed...afterwards I went into the parish bookshop where I bought some really lovely things for Christmas, but I'm not telling what they are as it would spoil the secret for Mother and for various nieces etc.

Incidentally, there is an excellent DVD about Pope John Paul produced by Vatican Television, which Mother and I enjoyed on Friday, much recommended. I see from the news that there is also a new one, just out, called Santo Subito and I am tempted to get that, too.

A very enjoyable...

... celebratory Parish Dinner at St Bede's, Clapham Park, on the eve of the First Sunday of Advent. It was great fun, a proper sit-down dinner.... tables decorated with golden crackers...excellent food...cheerful parish priest Father Chris Basden rushing about and presiding in style. There was a raffle, and much lively talk, and it was all hugely enjoyable...I wrote the history of this parish a few years back, published as a paperback under the title One Corner of London . The church is one of several built through the generosity of an heiress, Miss Ellis, in the early days of the 20th century: it now has five Masses every Sunday plus a Saturday evening Mass, and there is a parish school and a big annual Corpus Christi procession through local streets...the room where we were eating was the basement of the large house bequeathed by Miss Ellis and now used as the presbytery and parish office - older parishioners remembered this basement as a dark and rather mysterious kitchen area but in recent years it has become the parish hall and for the Dinner was packed to capacity, uncomfortably warm but extremely jolly and full of people enjoying themselves! A happy evening.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

And here...


...is a picture of the Archbishop blessing the new office of Aid to the Church in Need in Sutton a couple of days ago. All the desks and rooms, and all of us, were duly blessed with holy water while prayers were said...it was absolutely splendid.

Golly...

...a Bishop seems to have spoken out about the reality of Catholic schools, and the tragic fact that in many cases they are simply not teaching the Catholic Faith. Look at this link, which is a detailed report from the Diocese of Lancaster, called Fit for Mission. It is a rallying-call to restore Catholic schools as places of faith and commitment to the fullness of the Church's mission, right down to things like having crucifixes prominently in central locations, use of the Catechism as the foundation of RE, emphasis on weekly adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, regular confession, the Rosary, and more...it is all inspiring and encouraging. The only bleak bit comes in discussing implementation...oh dear...discussions...conferences...a Plan...and all, presumably, in the hands of the same bureaucracy that has helped to produce the mess that we have now. But if the Bishops stands firm and brings in some good people to help, he will go down in history as having done a great and decent thing in bringing about long overdue change and offering hope to new generations of the Catholic young.

HOPE...

...is one of the most glorious aspects of the Christian faith, so it was with great glee that I saw the headlines announcing that the Holy Father had devoted a whole new encyclical to this subject. It is, of course, a wonderful read. I downloaded it while at Mother's last night, sitting at the computer installed there by her grandson, my nephew E...extraordinary, really, that one can sit in a rainy suburb, with youths shrieking their Friday-night drunken tribal noises in the nearby High Street, and get the latest news hot from Rome, downloaded from a choice of websites and enjoyed after supper! The press today has lots of comment on the encyclical: I liked this one.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A blessing...

...of the new offices of Aid to the Church in Need in Sutton took place yesterday, with a great crowd of friends and supporters from Britain and from other ACN offices abroad, an Archbishop, lots of holy water, a great sense of prayer, the Papal Nuncio, and a general atmosphere of gratitude and enthusiasm.

The British section of this great international charity has flourished under the direction of Neville Kyrke-Smith and his team, and the new office is efficiently organised, with separate sections for the sales of Christmas cards (they have a range of most beautiful designs) and books and other items, the different departments such as accounts, media, publishing, and so on. We prayed specifically for the various groups of people we try to help, including those persecuted for their Catholic Faith in Sudan, China, and other countries.

From the generous gifts of people here in Britain, ACN is able to send help to hard-pressed people living in extremely difficult conditions, struggling with poverty, oppressive Government, war or its aftermath, and more...there are areas in the world where running a Christian orphanage, teaching the Faith, distributing Catholic literature, or simply gathering for Mass, mean risk of imprisonment. It all seems remote from suburban London. But the young team in the Sutton office, working with dedication and care, are part of a crucial link which does untold good.

Archbishop Kevin McDonald, Archbishop of Southwark, led us all in a most beautiful prayer, referring to work, and the fact that Christ Himself worked, daily, as a craftsman, for years. Taking holy water, the Archbishop then carefully blessed all the offices, and all of us - friends and supporters, staff from Sutton Carers who have an office in the same block and had been invited along to join the celebrations, visitors from overseas, volunteers, members of the ACN Board, and Trustees...as he went from room to room, the staff began the Rosary and we all joined in. Afterwards, there was lots of talk and quantities of wine and trays of delicious snacks, and the joy of meeting old friends and chatting away with all sorts of people...

To crown things, by coincidence, that evening ACN's John Pontifex was due to speak at The Keys, the Catholic Writers' Guild. He did a superb job, telling about his recent visit to China, and with a popwer-point presesntation with snippets of film and other items, he was able to bring alive for us the complex problems facing that huge nation, and the life of the Church withion it. A truly fascinating evening, one of the best we've had. We meet, as regular readers of this Blog will know, at St Mary Moorfields in London.,..anyone who writes for a living, whether full-time or part-time, or who works in media or in publishing, or related fields, is eligible to join. Send a Comment to this blog, giving me an email address to which I can reply...

Of teddies and things...

...Oh dear, I was a bit too arch in my comments about naming a teddy-bear. I had meant to indicate that, as a gesture of solidarity, I was giving him the same name as that given to a teddy bear by an innocent British schoolmarm trying to work with a class of little children in Sudan! I did this because it occurred to me that perhaps many of us could name objects of affection - teddies, goldfish, whatever - by this name in order to show that it was just meant as a friendly thing to do...

Well, I have given my poor teddy that name, but he will only have it for as long as the poor woman remains in prison. Then I shall take pleasure in re-naming him, and will give him the name of Benedict. And he will be a reminder to pray that the grace and blessing of a good Christian name may soon be given to many of those who currently bear names associated with other religions.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Naming my teddy bear...

...hasn't been a priority so far. (I was presented with him the other day, as regular readers of this Blog will know, after speaking at a school). Today, it occurred to me that as a gesture of solidarity I would name him, and I have done so. From now on, he will always be known by that name.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Yesterday...

...while we were working on this Blog, a man came to the door to ask if I'd take part in a survey about London. Turned out to be on behalf of the official government-of-London bureaucracy headed by Ken Livingstone - they've commissioned an opinion poll. The first question - I'm not inventing this - was about whether or not I considered London to be a good place for homosexuals and lesbians to live in. Then followed a whole series of questions with a list of approved answers to be selected. It was all slanted to ensure a certain response - you couldn't just give your own answer but had to select from a list - so watch out for the headlines when it is published. There'll be things like "Majority of Londoners say they are glad to live in a city that offers diversity/ want more done about global warming/ believe the Mayor's office should give out more publicity about its work" etc etc. Asked which policies of Livingstone I opposed, I said that I disagreed strongly with his promotion of homosexual and lesbian lifestyles, but this wasn't on the approved list of replies.

The young man - he was v. pleasant - also had to ask ritual questions about my age, work, race, etc. I explained I was a Catholic journalist and gave him a couple of pictures of the Pope, which he accepted very nicely and put in his pocket. He was absolutely correct all the way through the interview, so I don't know if he found the questions as ludicrous as I did.

It all felt vaguely reminiscent of stories I heard from eastern European exiles twenty years ago, about how the official bureaucracy was always announcing the results of surveys proving the rightness of their ideological line. A major difference, however, as Mac pointed out, is that at least in Britain taking part was optional - I could simply have refused - and of course we will be free to criticise the report when it is published. Long may this freedom remain.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Look! I've learned how to put up a video...

video

...on my blog!! V. exciting. Mac has been here helping me. We ate lots of chocolate biccies. And here is the dear Holy Father, looking so reassurring. I really like just knowing that he's there in Rome, and doing us all proud.

Christmas and angels...


...go together, and I think a perfect stocking-filler is this delightful book about angels, produced by ResSource, with illustrations by David Clayton - mentioned on this blog recently as he gave a talk to my Catholic Cultural Group. There is so much ugly stuff around for children this Christmas - think of Bratz dolls with their nasty faces, or just all those plastic monsters, destined to litter the floor and be discarded...let's start getting a few more beautiful things into circulation, and things that children can really relish and to which they will return again and again with pleasure and interest.
Every year I collect greenery from a neighbour's evergreen for our Advent wreath: this involves knocking on her front door to ask permission, and her saying "Of course, yes, go ahead - as much as you like" and both of us having an agreeable ritualistic glow about this seasonal interchange, and knowing that it means Christmas is on its way...our parish bookshop also has something lovely Advent wreaths and other things for Christmas, and there's a book about St Nicholas which I am itching to buy for a small niece. Last Sunday I bought lots of Advent calendars - they are good to send to godchildren. And why only children? I found some nice ones that older people would enjoy, too...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Holy Ghost parish, Balham...

...runs Marriage Preparation talks, at which I occasionally speak. There was one on Saturday - a roomful of cheery young couples, a delicious lunch, lots of talk and a very happy mood all round. It is a joy to be part of this and to speak about the Church's message on marriage - a good atmosphere, one of real seriousness as we covered important issues, some good conversations afterwards...I am always touched by the non-Catholic fiance(e) who comes along with prospective spouse and almost invariably shows huge interest, listens, asks questions, becomes really involved. There can be deep and important conversations, an atmosphere of profound respect for the sacredness of marriage...Nicole Parker of the London Fertility Care Centre also led a session during the day. Parish priest Fr Stephen Langridge presides and the beautiful church is open to all for prayer. This is a large parish with its own blog and lots going on, but the church always seems peaceful even with lots of coming-and-going.

On Sunday J. and I had a lovely walk over Wimbledon Common - we enjoyed a glorious pink and glowing sunset and then almost got lost for a bit when darkness fell (J says my sense of direction is hopeless).

I am sending J's parents a copy of the latest Universe newspaper as there is a pic of J. in it at the launch of the Catholic National Library last week. He is with Rt Hon John Gummer MP and the headline says something about Top Catholics being at the event. I think they will be amused at having a son who is a Top Catholic.

Later this week Mulier Fortis is coming round for supper to help me with technical aspects of this Blog. I have promised her chocolate cake.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A happy day...

...as I went with Mother to see the newest member of the family, baby Francesca, my great-niece and Mother's GREAT-grandchild. Utterly adorable baby - see pic, which parents E. and F. have given me permission to put on my blog. In particular, please do notice not only the dear baby but also the QUILT, hand-made by Great Auntie Joanna... Oh, it was all so LOVELY being together, and the baby's big brother H, an enchanting little boy with the most beautiful eyes and delicious smile, is now toddling about and just at the happiest age for cuddles and giggles and agreeable times with doting aunts...

Incidentally, F. is a writer and journalist, and produced a most useful report on BBC bias a while back - now you simply must read this on Fr Tim Finigan's blog, which tells the story of an appalling example of BBC reportage. Ask yourself - or, better, contact the Director-General of the BBC and ask him - whether or not the BBC is now going to apologise for the distortion made in the programme in question, in the light of the information now made public?

To dinner...

...with friends: a really beautiful evening, candelight and delicious food and wonderful company and lots of good talk. Topics covered of course included education - the HUGE worry for parents is getting their child into one of the few - massively over-subscribed and enormously popular - good schools, such as the Cardinal Vaughan School or the London Oratory School. The Government solution appears to be to make all schools equally bad, in the name of eliminating "elitism". So they have whittled away at the good schools that exist within the State system - such as those I have mentioned - hindering them by various administrative restrictions and chipping away at their independence.

We also got talking about traditions and seasonal customs: the wife of an Ambassador said her impression was that Britain has retained more of these than some other European countries...I am a lot less sure...as Christmas draws near, all Western nations seem to be swamped with the same massive consumer-spending, ensuring that children will be knee-high in plastic junk toys , many of which will soon be discarded, while old customs, carols, family games, etc will be less evident. But there are lots of families - including our hosts this evening - where wonderful traditions flourish, with children singing and making music and all sorts of happy things are passed on down the generations...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chelsea...

...is a corner of a London with a villagey feel to it. I arrived by bike at the Church of Our Most Holy Rdeemer and St Thomas More (above) to a cheery gathering in the crypt, fresh coffee brewing, and a warm welcome. This is a parish with a packed congregation each Sunday, traditional-style liturgy with beautiful music, standing room only, and with lots of lots of young families...some of the ladies at this coffee-gathering are among those who help with instructing the children and other parish activities. It was fun to be part of this very friendly group - very open to everyone, as I quickly discovered: one of the people at the table where I happened to sit was a newcomer and soon we were all talking away like old friends...

I had been invited to give my talk on Celebrating Traditional Feasts and Seasons, and this went well and led to a good and interesting discussion afterwards, as we explored all sorts of things...St Lucy's day...some London history...origins of various symbols and traditions...local Chelsea history...and more...

Patti Fordyce, a mainstay of the parish, made a delicious lunch over which a group of us lingered with pleasure, the newcomer and I now thoroughly feeling at home...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Memo to Karen...

...who sent a Comment to this blog. Your email address doesn't seem to work. Did you send it correctly? Could you send it again? Many thanks

To St Etheldreda's



..in Ely Place, for a glorious Mass to mark the opening of the Catholic National Library at St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough. The Abbot of Farnborough, Dom Cuthbert Brogan, celebrated the Mass and there was a feast of wonderful music, and an inspiring sermon from Father Ian Ker, who noted that the initiative of Catholic laymen in re-establishing the Library and launching it as a new venture in this way was absolutely what the Vatican 11 document Lumen Gentium had in mind when it spoke of the nature of the Church and the various roles within it...

Afterwards, a wonderful reception in the crypt, wine and talk and so many friends to meet and enjoy, all in the glow of candlelight. I talked to author Philip Trower who is a friend of many years' standing who is always a joy to meet...also the team from Miles Jesu . Now, why don't our Bishops, faced with a tragic task of closing down some parishes and abandoning beautiful churches, simply hand one over to the Miles Jesu team? They badly need somewhere to live, have so much good work to do, and could breath new life into a presbytery and into a church. They are a new movement, lay-run, no threat to any parish, and would give so much in service and enthusiasm. They would use the church for their daily prayers, have Mass there when they could, keep it open and loved and cherished. COME ON, BISHOPS!! WAKE UP and do what is necessary!
Jamie v. busy - speaking today at a conference for doctors and nurses at Guy's Hospital on the Mental Incapacity Act, and deep in discussions about the new legislation going through Parliament on human embryology. We met at the party but didn't get the chance to talk, so many people to meet etc, and finally were on the train home together, almost too tired for speech...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In the post...

...comes a batch of wonderful magazines from the Malcolm Muggeridge Society. A glorious read: some of Muggeridge's superb prose, and many articles by other fine writers. I am so grateful to hear about this Society: reading Muggeridge, especially his comments on the World Council of Churches, back in the 1970s, was so exciting to me that I can recall exactly how it felt - how everything stopped for a moment, everything felt refreshed and new and interesting, it was as if I'd just discovered the map of a strange place and knew where I was.

And then a memory of a visit to him and Kitty - the walks, the talk, and being made to laugh so much that it it was hiccuping. And that particular corner of Sussex, the fields and the rise of the hill, and coming in to tea with fresh brown bread and butter.

Monday, November 19, 2007

To Cumbria...

...to St Cuthbert's Retreat Centre at Wigton, near Carlisle. This is an extraordinary place!

Members of the Cor et Lumen Christi movement have settled here, and the plan is to restore this wonderful old building - once a convent and orphanage - into a centre where families and groups will come to celebrate and learn about their Faith, pray, evangelise, and be evangelised...

And they will do it, too. There is so much faith and devotion here. The project is going to be a huge challenge because although solidly and beautifully built, the building needs a good deal of basic repair and restoration work, as it was left abandoned for over a decade after the last nuns left...but the team here is young, dedicated, joyful, hard-working and prayerful. Already, one good-sized room has been magnificently restored, with some lovely original features to enjoy - magnificent crucifix in an alcove, beautiful warm-coloured red brickwork - and a good working kitchen alongside. We gathered here for a "Family day with God", hordes of cheerful children, a talk from me about (yes, you've got it...) "Traditional Feasts and Seasons", a lovely lunch with hot sausages, and an atmosphere of prayer and goodwill. The music was...um...not to my taste (Oh please, can't we sing some decent hymns?) but everything else was simply perfect: devotion, a young priest with an attentive congregation at Mass, friendship, a sense of relief as people felt they could talk about things too often covered by grim silence such as the challenge of raising a family with good values in the face of a sordid modern culture, the tragic abandonment of the Faith in too many nominally Catholic schools...

I was given wonderful hospitality, had some great conversations, felt hugely encouraged and cheered, and learned a lot. I explored the building - there is an old chapel just waiting to be restored ("But have you seen the dreadful 1960s addition?" I was asked "That'll have to go - and we found the original stained-glasss in an outbuilding and hope to put it all back...") and there is a wealth of local history here which simply must be recorded.



Saturday, November 17, 2007

News that Traditional Anglicans...

...may be united formally with Rome is delightful. Apparently there's a group called the Traditional Anglican Communion, with various parishes in Britain and the USA...it conjures up agreeable visions of dear tweed-jacketed clergymen with families of Trollopian fecundity, and wives slicing up Victoria sponge sandwiches in damp marquees at rainy summer fetes, and people singing from old-fashioned hymn-books at gentle Evesongs. Oh, I do hope it all works out.

I am off on travels this weekend...off to Carlisle to give a talk there. I may not be able to blog while travelling...

Friday, November 16, 2007

The John Fisher School...

...in Purley, Surrey, was where my brother went to school and it was lovely to be there this beautiful fresh Autumn afternoon to speak to the Faith group, meeting after school. This is a group with a distinguished history - top blogger Fr Tim Finigan is an Old Boy, as are several other noted Southwark diocesan priests. The John Fisher School is a great Catholic boys' school with a heritage of wonderful service to the Church, and today's boys still wear the blue blazers and the splendid golden Fisher badge that has been seen locally for almost a century.

A warm welcome from Mr Dan Cooper, a great chorus of voices joining in the Our Father and Hail Mary as we started the session, and I enjoyed giving my talk about Pope Benedict XV1. Afterwards, a most agreeable chat with the Headmaster, himself an Old Boy of the splendid London Oratory School (of which I was once a Governor: the school choir sang for Jamie and me at our Wedding Mass in 1980 and then, a new generation of choristers, at our Silver Wedding Mass a quarter of a century later).

Cycled on to Mother's where the Coopers arrived with a splendid fish-and-chip supper - a cheery evening of talk, a get-together of old friends.

The Faith Movement is organising its Winter Session soon - a gathering for young people with daily Mass, talks on aspects of the Catholic Faith: this year's theme is "Hearing God's word", with talks on The Bible belongs to the Church, Christ, the Key to understanding the Old Testament, the Gospels - historical and true, The Bible and prayer in our lives....

Catholic artist...

...David Clayton was the speaker at the Catholic Cultural Group last night and was excellent. Explaining how he was inspired by Pope John Paul's Letter to Artists, and by the liturgy at Brompton Oratory, he explained how the ideas of truth, beauty and goodness should be at the core of art...a fascinating talk, which led us to think about architecture and the proportions of buildings, music, liturgy, and more...he works closely with Stratford and Leonie Caldecott at Second Spring and you can find out more by clicking here...

Our hostess, Alexandra Eversole, will be hosting a sale of Christmas gifts and jewellry on Dec 5th, with wine and mince pies - all in aid of ALERT, the anti-euthanasia group. Find out more from 0207 730 2800.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tradition...

... and celebrations and so on, is a popular theme as Christmas approaches so I have a lot of invitations to speak at this time of the year on "Discovering traditional feasts and seasons", in connection with my book (which you can order by clicking on this link, and scrolling down. The book has recipes, games, stories, ideas for all sorts of activities...). Canterbury was a delight - it was a pleasure to be with the students and to talk with Fr Peter Geldard, with whom I did an interview for Catholic Answers a while back...

Hurried back from Kent to London, recorded some talks for Premier Radio (they will, I think, be broadcast in the week of Nov 26th as an early-morning "Thought of the day"), then went on to relatives where I was to babysit for niece E. We had a very happy evening. I helped her with maths homework, enjoying her comments: "A boy drinks half a litre of milk a day... Ugh, that's really greedy of him. He shouldn't drink that much..." We played a game of snakes-and-ladders, and one of chess, and it was all v. agreeable.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

To Canterbury...

... yesterday to give a talk to the Cathsoc at St John Stone House, at the University of Kent at Canterbury, in the charge of the chaplain Father Peter Geldard. The chapel is small and plain, but absolutely packed for Mass on this ordinary weekday November evening. Afterwards a cheery gathering in the room down stairs, where an open fire made a glorious glow, and there is a a proper bar, The Barque. I enjoyed the evening, and after my talk (Traditional Feasts and Seasons") there was a good time of chat and conviviality over pizza before I went upstairs as I was rather tired. I was given a comfortable room and went to sleep with the cheery noise still going on down below. A happy evening.

Earlier, I had a most agreeable lunch with dear nephew - and godson - G. It's always enjoyable to see him, and there he was at St James' Park tube station as arranged, in tartan scarf and giving me a big hug, all so reassuring and joyful. We chatted very happily of big mugs of coffee.

Monday, November 12, 2007

St Edmund's College, WARE...

...is in a most glorious setting, looking beautiful on this crisp clear Autumn day. I was given a warm welcome, and shown around - the chapel is by Pugin and is glorious, with no horrible modernist wrecking having been done, and the boarders gather there each evening for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

I gave a talk on "Journalism and the Media" to a big gathering of senior pupils, and a number clustered round afterwards to talk further and ask questions. I was presented with a commemorative School Teddy Bear, very cuddly and wearing a St Edmund's jersey. It was all enormously enjoyable and I received agreeable impressions of England's oldest post-Reformation Catholic school.

Busy weekend...

...began on Friday evening at Mother's: much talk of Christmas plans, news of baby great-grandchild etc. On Saturday I made my November visit to my father's grave, russet and golden and orange leaves strewing the path in beautiful sunshine as I walked along. In death as in life, we are among friends and neighbours in the suburbs - the other graves in this quiet and beautiful graveyard carry so many familiar names. The local parish always has an All Souls grave-blessing, the priest sprinkling the graves with holy water...

Jamie has been away in Ireland for a few days so I seized the opportunity of a big cleaning-and-tidying session. Took several things to local charity shop, threw away lots of unwanted paper, etc. An old propaganda booklet from the Equal Opportunities Commission gave me pause for thought: produced in the late 70s, when all this non-sexist-let's-pretend-we-are-all-identical stuff came in, it looks terribly dated now, when the worry is about boys falling behind with basic skills like reading and writing and the realisation that they badly need good adult male role-models and that school is seen as all too "girly". And the pictures made one a bit sad: thirty years ago, the children's faces were actually different: less tense, more "open", the girls less angry, there's somehow a more innocent air ...

On Sunday, cycled to Mass - a beautiful arrangement of poppies with a flag at the side of the nave, making an understated and quietly poignant message - and then on to friends where I had been invited to lunch. A long talkative afternoon over a buffet, with quantities of children running about and shouting, hot sausages and chicken and salads and rolls on the table, babies being cuddled, adults enjoying wine and chat and laughter. The children all gathered like pins to a magnet when a box of doughnuts was brought in at the end of the afternoon, drawn as from nowhere.

Cycling home through the dark, I found Jamie, who had brought me some heavenly lavender-scented soap from Ireland and a lovely dark red candle all specially decorated which we'll use for Christmas. We had big mugs of tea and told each other all our news.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On this Remembrance weekend...


...do you think the men who volunteered in the First World War did it because they wanted a Britain where there would be human/animal hybrids? Or where children would be brought into being using artificial insemination for lesbians? Or where a Christian family who fostered children would be banned from doing so because they refused to teach homosexual activity as acceptable?

No, I don't think so either.

In the case of the Second World War there are many surviving ex-servicemen still living, so try asking some of them.

The Queen's Speech outlining the plans of this present Government, sets out the plan for human/animal hybrids. Concerned? Get the info from this website right away and write to your Member of Parliament and also to members of the House of Lords. The Govt is rushing this through at speed, so we all need to act quickly.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Magnificent...


Bath Abbey.

Autumn twilight...

...in Bath was especially beautiful, and a sprinkling of rain made the pavements glisten. I loved it. Visited Bath Abbey - freshly restored a couple of years ago and stunning in its beauty, the glorious symetry as you look upwards above the nave and chancel to the intricate carving soaring above...a plaque in the floor notes that the Queen came here in 1973 to mark 1,000 years of British monarchy, as the Saxon King Edgar was crowned on this site in 973 by St Dunstan and St Oswald.

Useful notes on the history of the Abbey tell us that St Elphege was Abbot here in about 980. This interests me as I grew up in the parish of St Elphege in Wallington, Surrey, was baptised and married there: Elphege was an Archbishop of Canterbury and was martyred by the Danes at Greenwich. Bath Abbey is dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul. Bath is of course a Roman city and you can visit the original Roman Baths: all part of the same Roman Empire into which Christ was born and in which Peter became the first Pope...

I gave talks to CathSoc meetings at the University of Bath and at Bath Spa University, all organised by the excellent chaplain Fr Bill. He also runs a busy parish on the city's outskirts, is hospital chaplain, active with the Ecumenical Society of the BVM, and more. The parish is dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul. He is a Servite priest and strides around in full-length traditional habit and it's really nice to see it on a modern University campus.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

BATH IS A BEAUTIFUL CITY...

...and I am here to speak at Prior Park College, and also at the CatholicSocieties at Bath Spa and Bath Universities.

Father Bill OSM, chaplain to both universities, is organising a lecture about Edward Elgar and the Dream of Gerontius on Monday Nov 12th - see the Chaplaincy website.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Er...are you thinking about Christmas shopping?

...because if you are, might you consider buying my new Yearbook of Seasons and Celebrations for your mother, godmother, auntie, sister, wife, or best friend? Look it up on the Gracewing or Family Publications websites.

Honestly, it's a much nicer and more interesting present than bath salts or a calendar with cats on it...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mass at St Joseph's

...in New Malden, on an ordinary weekday morning is well-attended. I dropped in partly to be able to say thank-you to Fr Richard Whinder, our curate, who spoke so well at Towards Advent.

A crisp, fresh Autumn day with the trees in the most glorious colours.

A couple of items people have asked me to mention: a neighbour, who works at St Teresa's, our local home for the elderly, reminds me that the Friends of St Teresa's are running a Fair at the Sacred Heart Hall, Edge Hill SW19 on Saturday, from 2pm.

And the Friends of Westminster Cathedral have Clare Asquith discussing her new book on Shakespeare - about which I have written on this blog - on November 29th. Find out more about this here.

Cycled across London to St Mary Moorfields for a meeting of the Catholic Writers' Guild: Charles Moore of the Daily Telegraph was the speaker. I was asked to give the vote of thanks, and was able to recall his earlier visit to the Guild, back in the mid-1990s, when he was speaking about the Catholic Church - just a few weeks later his conversion was splashed across the features section of the Telegraph under the banner headline "Why I am becoming a Catholic".

Meetings of the Guild are really terrifically enjoyable, and we have a good programme planned for 2008...any RC who works as a writer, journalist, pubsliher, on films or TV or related work, can join. Send me a comment to bthis Blog - WITH AN EMAIL ADDRESS AT WHICH I CAN REACH YOU - if you are intertested... Members can bring guests to meetings, and frequently do, and all our meetings start with Mass and then supper, and a guest speaker...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Quantities of cheerful children...

...were scurrying about as I arrived at Highfield House in Chertsey, where I was giving a talk on "Celebrating Traditional Feasts and Seasons" to the Cor et Lumen Christi Community. I had never met this community before, but among the lovely families taking part in this Family Day were some that I knew, who enjoy the various events sponsored by this group - it was good to reconnect with old friends and to chat and exchange news. A warm and welcoming atmosphere, and a sense of great devotion at Mass: NOTE TO ANYONE CONCERNED ABOUT NOISY CHILDREN IN CHURCH - this group, which has enormous numbers of children, including babies and toddlers, seems to have discovered the secret of how to have them quiet at Mass!

The house is owned by the Community, and four families live there, each with its own flat, and all sorts of events and retreats are organised, attended by people from the local area and also from much further afield. The roots of Cor et Lumen Christi are in the Charismatic Renewal. A priest from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal celebrated Mass - a room has been set aside as a chapel, with a most beautiful crucifix and some magnificent icons - and round the walls are pictures of saints, including icons and, in some cases, ( eg Therese of Lisieux, Padro Pio) photographs.

The Surrey countryside was a glory of golden and orange on this pleasant Autumn day, and I enjoyed my journey by train and bike.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

It was a success!!

Wonderful singing from the choir of More House School (Ave Verum, and Pie Jesu)...stalls and displays from all sorts of groups ranging from publishers such as Fisher Press ,Gracewing,and CTS and groups like Our Lady's Catechists and the Knights of St Columba ...Capacity audiences for all the talks, held in the Cathedral crypt... TOWARDS ADVENT went really well...

I woke early - as mentioned, I had been staying at an address in St Matthew Street, Westminster, near Parliament and near the Cathedral (note to correspondents - NO, that view of Big Ben ISN'T from my own home...I made it clear that I was staying overnight in Westminster!!!). I didn't have an alarm clock, but read somewhere that the Holy Souls wake you if you need it. So I said a prayer for them and asked to be woken at 6 am, and woke as Big Ben rang out its chimes for just that hour... got everything ready, grabbed a quick breakfast and was at the Cathedral Hall by 8 am.. having dropped in to the Cathedral for a quick visit first. Slight hassle about getting the hall unlocked then we got started... it is always exciting watching the Festival take shape, as groups arrive with big displays and stacks of books, all of us busy in the kitchen or the hall or greeting speakers/choir/helpers...

A happy day. Christopher Martin spoke about some of the notable Catholic churches and cathedrals in Britain, Fr Richard Whinder about Bishop Richard Challoner, Aghi Clovis about her journey to Christianity from Islam....

Browsing the bookstalls, I bordered a copy of JAMES, BY THE GRACE OF GOD, a new book just out from Fisher Press, for Christmas. When Jamie arrived in due course he looked at all the stalls too, bought various things, and when we finally met up - I spent most of the day rushing about on all sorts of errands - he said "Um..there is a new book out about James 11, but I didn't get it as I thought perhaps....." "Yes, I said. I've ordered it for you for Christmas."

After it was all over, J. and I had a quick wash-and-change and off to a birthday-and-fireworks party given by friends near Blackheath. It was a rather grand Black Tie affair, and it felt funny to be there after spending the day hectically rushing around a busy hall organising and coping with minor crises...I wore my lovely new swishy skirt and felt elegant. Urge to kick off my shoes and just flop was resisted. Wonderful fireworks on Blackheath and delicious food...home late and exhausted!

Friday, November 02, 2007

This is what I can see from my window...

...more or less. The November night is unusually warm and mild, and floodlight buildings glow against the dark sky.

All Souls Day...

...at Westminster Cathedral with black vestments and swirls of incense, solemn beautiful Latin chant, and a large congregation, and a sermon reminding us of the great reality of death and judgement and facing God...the Holy Souls chapel was full of twinkling candles all day, and, as every year, there are sheets of paper on which you can write the names of people to be remembered in prayer. I wrote my dear father's name as I have done every November since he died. The atmosphere in the Cathedral was especially solemn and reverent...

I am staying overnight near Westminster Cathedral so as to be ready for the Towards Advent Festival tomorrow morning. The chimes of Big Ben ring out through my open bedroom window. I am in St Matthew Street, just off the street-market in Strutton Ground, in a corner of Westminster which is almost like a village, but with Parliament and the Abbey ahead of us and the Cathedral just behind. This is the offices of the excellent pro-life group, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children: they will have a stall at the Festival tomorrow and material for this, along with all my items including stacks of jars of my home-made jam, wait downstairs for transportation to the Cathedral Hall.

To be in the centre of London in the middle of the night is rather exciting. I went to the Sainsbury's in Victoria Street to buy cheese for sandwiches to sell at the Festival. (The Association of Catholic Women has charge of the refreshments - all home-made by volunteers). Then, having tackled all sorts of last-minute arrangements for tomorrow, I settled here to write this blog, and relax with the Catholic Times (feature interview, by me, with Fr Peter Wilson of the University of London Catholic Chaplaincy - do read it!) and a wonderful book about the Apostles, written by the Holy Father, which I bought while in the USA...

Oh, I do hope all goes well at the Festival tomorrow...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

All Saints Day...

...and I cycled to Mother's for tea: she produced lovely cakes and I some American maple-syrup cookies. Gave her some pumpkin-scented soap(!) from Alabama. She is so happy about the arrival of her latest great-grandchild and we talked about this, and I also related my American adventures... Cycled home through one of the most glorious sunsets I have ever seen - did other readers notice it? The glow from the pink and golden clouds ripened the Autumn leaves on the suburban trees to an almost luminous orange....

To the Sacred Heart Church at Wimbledon for evening Mass. Well, two Masses actually as Fr Mitchell had given me permission to hand out Towards Advent handbills so I was anxious to reach as many people as possible. LOTS of people at Mass, as yesterday for the vigil Mass. Now: our Bishops must get this message firmly:

WE VALUE OUR HOLY DAYS!

Here we are on All Saints, with people filling a big Victorian church on a November evening - because it's the feast of All Saints and we are glad to mark it!

It is one of the few Holy Days left to us, following our Bishops silly and tiresome bureacratic reasoning. If it were Ascension Day, or Corpus Christi, we'd be told we should stay at home and only celebrate on the nearest Sunday instead.

After the final Mass, I was invited to the home of the delightful E. family - oldest son Thomas is my godson - where there was mulled wine, and a candlelit room, and good conversation, and a new baby glowing with health, a perfect way to round off All Saints' Day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Traditional Hallowe'en

Cycled through London yesterday, a crisp Autumn evening, from Waterloo to a committee meeting of the Catholic Writers' Guild at St Mary Moorfields, via the CTS Bookshop to get some small gifts for the choir at Saturday's Festival. The choir is from More House School - come and hear them sing! Excellent meeting, with dinner provided by our Chaplain Fr Peter Newby: we have all sorts of good ideas and plans for the Guild in 2008. Our AGM is always on January 24th, in honour of our Patron, St Francis de Sales.

Today I went to our local parish in New Malden as I needed to photocopy some things for the Festival - arrived at 12 noon and the little team at the presbytery were saying the Angelus. Somehow this gave the whole day a nice, villagey feeling. Valuable help with photocopying, and a cheery chat with the lady organising the parish Hallowe'en festivities, which celebrate a "Night of Light" with prayers in church, then a procession of all the children dressed as saints (they've been preparing their costumes over the past weeks) with home-made lanterns. They go through the local streets, and all passers-by get a little leaflet with a pumpkin picture and an explanation of Hallowe'en as the Eve of All Saints' Day. Then back to the parish hall for games (apple-bobbing and buns-on-a-string, all the traditional things) and party food.

Now that's the way to re-Christianise Hallowe'en.


Monday, October 29, 2007

So this is where I'll be on Saturday...


...Westminster Cathedral Hall. But it won't look much like that, because the Towards Advent Festival is always packed with people, and we have displays and stalls from a huge range of Catholic groups and organisations, and a programme of events ranging from a choir giving us a feast of sacred music to specially-arranged tours of the Cathedral treasures...

The Catholic Herald...

...newspaper has a splendid full-page advertisment for TOWARDS ADVENT which is most satisfying and spurred me on as I hurried about today making various arrangements. To the Catholic Truth Society to collect some leaflets - in the early years of Towards Advent, the admin of the venture was run from their office in Harleyford Road, with Adrian Thacker, and going there today brought back memories of busy meetings, planning, printing, lots of hard work...

Inconveniently, my bike choise today to get a puncture, so I had to walk across the river from Vauxhall to Westminster, but I didn't really mind as it was a most heavenly Autumn day with cascades of golden leaves wherever trees stood together, and the Thames looking grey and swirling and Westminster Cathedral having that gently glow from lamplight as dusk approaches...

A note from a friend tells me about a glorious CONCERT on Saturday evening - conveniently a couple of hours after TOWARDS ADVENT ends - at Brompton Oratory. Fabulous music, with wine and nibbles beforehand, starts 7pm, and funds raised will go towards LIFE (pro-life group,helps mothers and babies) and the Oratory Church. Get more info from 020 8 788 3115 or click here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In the rain...

...to the Sacred Heart Church in Wimbledon, where they have a useful 8pm Mass on Sundays, a boon for anyone who has been travelling or had a complicated day. Exhiliaration, cycling through sheets of soaking rain and then entering into the warm, gently candlelit church. I usually hand out leaflets in this parish each Autumn to advertise the Towards Advent Festival at Westminster Cathedral Hall, but the trip to America prevented that this year, so I will do it on All Saints Day, when they have two evening Masses. Cheery conversation with fellow-cyclist by the church's bike-rack, as we prepared for a soaking ride home. A cosy feel as I came into our kitchen and now I'm going to have a mug of tea with my dear J.

Kindness...

...followed me all the way to the airport as I left EWTN. I was rather sorry to be leaving, although home called me with 1,000 responsibilities and a busy week ahead...

While you are away from home, you are in a sort of bubble, living in time-out-of-time. Everything, from doing the hoovering to answering letters, is on hold - and, these days, emails ensure that the most urgent messages get tackled and news from home is guaranteed, so the bubble is a cosy one with anxieties removed but everything still at a distance.

Normally, I'd add "cooking" to the list of things left aside while away from home, but this time it wasn't the case, as my TV series involves lots of cookery demonstrations. I was producing masses of stuff every day, cakes and pies and biscuits and even some roasted lamb. Much of it had to be done twice - once to produce on the show as "here's one I've done already', and another created in stages in front of the cameras. Some items were actually produced three times. At EWTN, there is a shelf in the staff kitchen where food, books, clothing, or anything else that can usefully be passed on, is left: I found that trays of edibles left there disappeared with gratifying speed. Incidentally, this don't-waste-anything-and-let's-help-each-other atmosphere is one of EWTN's most pleasant aspects: a mix of everyday kindness and good cheer with a faint dash of ecological thrift and a large dollop of sheer generosity.

Home to a rainy London - which is the way I like it, so I wasn't complaining - a mountain of letters, and the rather endearing discovery that Jamie had been able to follow some of my domestic instructions, so laundry was drying and the fridge had food in it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Home soon....

...and I'm writing this hurriedly at EWTN while waiting for the car that will take me to the airport. It's all been fun - yesterday recorded a couple more programmes and then had time for some souvenir-shopping (bought some gloriously American things - pumpkin soap for Mother, and some sort of Blueberry Syrup for Jamie to have on his morning porridge).

Also had time to watch some American TV...golly there are some odd things out there. EWTN is a relief after seeing some of the dippy things on some other TV channels, especially the religious ones! One showed a big religious rally with lots of people waving American flags, and at first I thought it was all rather nice - jolly wholesome and so on - but then it all went political and there was a great deal of ranting and a chap told everyone they should 'expect great blessings' for having attended the rally and started to list lots of things the President should do on foreign policy because it was all in the Bible. It was quite enjoyable to watch in an odd sort of way, an Evelyn Waugh novel come to life.

But it's impossible to visit America and not be hugely touched by the other side of all this - the huge kindness, the generosity, the largeness of people's hearts. Americans give generously to charity - huge projects of all kinds simply funded out of people's gifts, large and small. They are neighbourly - and regard all sorts of people as neighbours, not just convenient ones. They cope with things. There is a cheeriness here which is - at present anyway - missing in Britain.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mother Angelica...


...is of course the famous foundress of EWTN and the work has grown and flourished since she began it in a garage some 25 years ago. I have to say that working here is energising, friendly and at times hilarious.

Catholic TV, fish pie, and fun....

...at EWTN, the international Catholic TV station based in Alabama. I am having a busy and very happy time, making a series of programmes which, among other things, involves me doing a lot of cookery...they were amused by the Britishness of my recipe for fish pie (fish with shrimp and cheese sauce, topped by mashed potato, since you ask). Terrifically interesting conversations, as there are people coming and going with many insights on different aspects of the Church and the world...did a chat-show with Fr Mitch Pacwa and will be doing an intervew re my new book etc etc...gosh I do enjoy America and the breakfasts with scrambled egg and good coffee after a very early morning Mass with glorious singing...the TV series on which I have been working will be broadcast in the Spring. Producer is Deb Piroch, who is talented and fun and is also very kind and helpful in every way. It really is a delight to be working here...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Joy!

Joyous news!...a phone call brings the delightful message that niece-in-law F. has given birth to a baby girl! Welcome to baby Francesca! A joyful buzz of phone calls and family rejoicing...I have permission from the young parents to put this news on my blog. Is there any greater joy anywhere than that which comes with the arrival of a darling new baby into a family?

Golden bright...

...Autumn day with a crisp fresh feel to it. Off to give a talk at a Catholic secondary school, about the work of Aid to the Church in Need, supporting persecuted Christians.

Interesting to observe trends in Religious Education. Have you heard the daft packet-of-sandwiches theory about the Feeding of the Five Thousand? It's the modernist take on this great miracle, deliberately invented to try to steer young people away from understanding the full Eucharistic significance...I heard it again today and it's clearly one of the bits of rubbish given to gullible RE trainees: the idea is that it wasn't really a miracle when Christ took the loaves and fishes and raised his eyes to Heaven...nooooo, what really happened was that when the small boy produced this simple food all the other 5,000 people who had apparently been hiding their packets of sandwiches greedily for themselves now produced them to share...

Quite apart from the racist idea of assuming selfish inability to share picnics was somehow the norm among 1st-century Palestinians...this daft theory doesn't even fit the facts. Why would it be considered remarkable if people simply enjoyed food they already had? What sense can be made of the link made in the Scriptural account with the manna in the desert - and Christ's extraordinary words about feeding people with his own flesh?

No wonder young people seem bored with their religion, finding it apparently hard to grasp its reality, or surrender to its joy, when they have it thus gutted of real meaning.

However...the school was welcoming, efficient, friendly, generous. Pupils mixed: some (a few) open, interested, capable of response to my talk about faith and ACN, and tales of derring-do in assisting Christians in various parts of the world... others with rigid body-language saying don't-come-near-me-with-all-this, shrugging, pushing away the holy cards, downcast faces hidden behind sheets of hair. It's something I always notice: among the young today some, especially the girls, have a wounded and alienated look...the pressures in today's vicious culture are so huge, and already in late teens there is a sense of violation somehow, of lost life. This makes it tough for teachers.

Interesting point made in discussion: those who believe face derision from their peers. "Persecution" isn't something far away from these young people, it can already be a reality, if you admit to being a believing Christian...yes, even in an RC school.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

TV, Tradition, and Hard Work...

...more or less sums up my relationship with EWTN, the Catholic television network. Spent all of Wednesday in Balham, where Fr Stephen Langridge at Holy Ghost Church allowed a TV crew to invade the parish while we filmed a series of six interviews for CATHOLIC LIVES...these included Nicole Parker of the London Fertility Care Centre, Josephine Robinson of the Association of Catholic Women, Fr Alexander Sherbrook of St Patrick's Soho Square, Kristina Cooper of GOOD NEWS magazine, and more...on Saturday I fly to Birmingham, Alabama to make a whole new series about Traditions Marking the Feasts and Seasons of the Year (I don't quite know why I've put that in capitals but it somehow conveys the flavour of the thing...)

Wednesday's work was fun but, golly, it was exhausting, and at the day's end, when the little crew, after sorting things out and packing up and dealing with everything, met in the quiet church for Mass - said by a visiting priest from the Brothers of St John, who had come from Holland to watch our work as he works with a similar TV project in Amsterdam) - it was so good just to be there with the rhythm of the words and the bright glow of candles. I have only ever been in that church when it is teeming with families and chanted music on a Sunday morning, and having just a small group gathered (in exhaustion!) before the altar on a weekday evening with the darkening windows and the glitter of a lifted Chalice was a suddenly powerful experience.

Up early this morning to get to a committee meeting of Aid to the Church in Need. Afterwards, to a bookshop to treat myself to a new, looooong, interesting book for the flight to the USA on Sat. I do have some work to do on the flight, but there will be several hours in the air and I feel I can give myself up to the pleasure of deliciously uninterrupted reading. (I am actually planning to take some sewing to do as well - cross-stitch sampler which needs finishing and is rather fun to do - but have been warned that needles are sometimes confiscated as being potential terrorist weapons...anyone know anything about this?).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Auntie in a rush, in the rain...

...to Oxford, to address the Newman Society, because a planned speaker had to drop out at the last minute due to a family illness. I caught the Oxford Tube from Victoria (note to US readers: it's a bus, that's just its name) and through a most magnificent rainstorm it battled its way to Oxford. The city looked glorious in the rain, glittering pavements and golden leaves and glowing windows. I knew I'd be given sherry and dinner so relished a rain-soaked walk to the meadow by the river, through the war memorial garden which is just opposite the Old Palace. Then dinner (candlelit, with delicious food) and the talk - which was about the work of Aid to the Church in Need. Members of the Newman Society are formal and wear a special tie. It made me feel quite bohemian in my denim skirt. Everyone v. kind...and then the return bus - I couldn't stay the night, as I was due to make an early start in London the next morning for a day of TV work.

Home extremely late, and with rain still clattering down as I hurried in the the kitchen door and shook off my wet things.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!


A very happy 21st birthday celebration and book launch at St Etheldreda's Ely Place. A birthday, because it is 21 years since my "Book of Feasts and Seasons" was first published by GRACEWING, and a book launch, because my brand-new "Yearbook of Seasons and Celebrations" made its public appearance....the crypt at this magnificent gem of a Medieval church was twinkling with hundreds of candles, wine and snacks were served, and small niece E. helped me to cut a celebration cake. Tom Longford of Gracewing made a hearty speech and said all sorts of kind things. Lots and lots of friends came, and it was a lovely, lovely evening. Many thanks to Fr Kit Cunningham for welcoming us to this party - 21 years ago there was a launch at St E's for that first book, and over the intervening years I have been in the crypt for many wonderful evenings with the Catholic Writers' Guild (a plaque in this crypt now marks the association with the Guild).
This was an evening to hold in the memory, full of happiness and friends and talk and laughter.

Preston...

...is a place of happy associations for me, with family links. Bit depressing, therefore, on my Sunday evening visit to find the usual dreary British-city feel, gloomy louts in the main streets chucking beer cans and yelling obscenities, pounding beat from packed but uncheery booze-places (somehow the jollier word "pub" doesn't apply), groups sitting on the pavement drunk, sense of loneliness everywhere. Seeking St Walburga's, I asked the way from various people, included a busy Catholic church where a huge crowd of Indian families had evidently been enjoying a gathering in the parish hall, now dispersing. A lot of children running noisily around the church and shouting as people gathered, talkatively, for Mass...I felt a bit out of place, but everyone v. nice, the kind priest directed me to St W's, and then when I got a bit uncertain at a road junction a bit further ahead, some youths drinking on the steps of an Elim Pentecostal church got me right again, although inadvertently hitting a sad note as they did so: "Yeah..that's the one they're gonna close...right? Yeah, OK, it's just down there...

At the big old prestbytery at St W's, the Franciscans - in traditional brown robes with knotted ropes round their waists, bare feet and sandals - run a chaplaincy for students at the University of Central Lancashire. Numbers small for this Sunday evening gathering, but a warm welcome, delicious spaghetti, international group with lovely friendly atmosphere, much enthusiasm for my talk on Pope Benedict...it would be glorious if, through prayer and dedication, this chaplaincy could grow and breathe new life into St W's, currently threatened with closure...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

To Westminster...

...Cathedral, where I ran into a friend, Patti, in the excellent CTS bookshop in the piazza. We went for a quick and enjoyable chat-and-cup-of-coffee. P. is a colleague in the Association of Catholic Women, and we have shared in many useful projects and campaigns - she'll be helping, as always, with the mammoth task of serving food and rink to the 1,000-odd people who throng the Nov 3rd Towards Advent Festival. We last chatted when working on the ACW Schools Religious Education Project...

On to the Rosary Rally, which starts at Westminster Cathedral and goes through the streets, with banners and statue, to Brompton Oratory. Mother and I always meet it at the Oratory, having had an agreeable trip there by bus via a visit to a teashop, making it a pleasant day out. Oratory packed, of course, lots of good hymns, and a sermon that started with a vivid description of the Battle of Lepanto and the role of the Rosary in its outcome, establishing the feast of O.L. of the Rosary which is marked each year on Oct 7th. It was all very challenging, aimed at making us think about what is happening today and to our civilisation...

Afterwards, having seen M. safely on to the train home, I went to Westmin. Cathedral for Mass. Glorious singing from the choir of Farnborough Hill school, and a group of young people coming forward to start their preparation for Confirmation. Sometimes the future of Christianity in Europe seems small...but it's there...

Kingston....

-on-Thames was the County Town of Surrey when I was a child and I went there to take an important pre-scholarship exam when I was ten: can still remember the sense of trepidation as we got on the bus, and the weird feeling of being in a big school with lots of strange children. Then many years later I worked here as a reporter on the Surrey Comet newspaper - old-fashioned offices right next to the parish church.

Cycled there for tea on Friday with a priest from a new movement based at Hampton Wick - of which more in a moment - but found the centre of the town a rather depressing experience. Crowded shops, lots of people, thronging and spending...but louts hanging around the church shouting obscenities, chucking beer cans, while other people (?? I think actually students from what is now Kingston University) also hung about, also swearing and looking glum and cross...this gave a nasty and slightly scary feel to things. I had wanted to pause to enjoy things a bit. The Regimental Colours from my father's regiment hang in the parish church - I remember going there for the ceremony when I was about eleven. Autumn sunshine and the river sparkling. But police on the alert, their radios crackling into life "Yes...could you just send along another couple of peole...no, not sure...that would be of help...thanks..." so my sense of menace was shared by others.

Later, over tea, I was told that this is normal :"And it's much worse at the weekends, when there are groups hanging about with their black teeshirts with that satan symbol on, and litter everywhere..." Oh dear.

The group I went to meet is based across the river, at Hampton Wick, and is called the Heralds of the Gospel. Evidently a new Catholic movement, fostering very traditional Marian devotions.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Red Mass...

...is the annual Mass celebrated by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster for the start of the new legal year. It's attended by judges, barristers, and solictors - and here is Jamie (on the right) in his wig and gown, at the Reception in Archbishop's House after the Mass.

It's all very splendid and traditional - judges in red robes, full-bottomed wigs etc - and the Cardinal preached very well, about St Thomas More, citing him as an inspiration for lawyers today faced with laws that do not dovetail with the ethical principles of the Gospels, and urging that his courage and prudence were good examples to follow. You can read the whole of the Cardinal's sermon here, and it's recommended.

Needless to say, some ghastly Government bureaucrats have announced that Britain's traditional legal attire - wigs and gowns and so on - is to be abolished or restricted soon. (The legal profession was asked for its opinion and when this was opposed to the change - for important reasons including preserving the message of impartiality and anonymity of judges - this was of course ignored). So the Red Mass will be one of the few occasions when it can all be seen - and with it some idea of the solemnity of the idea of law based on wisdom and justice.