Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Worrying - very worrying - telephone conversation concerning the Govt's loathesome Sexual Orientation Regulations. Check the facts and find out what is actually at stake. Look, this isn't just a matter of homosexual couples adopting children - though that is bad enough. It's a matter of what things schools will be obliged to teach - yes, including Catholic schools - and the forcing of individuals, including you and me, into doing things that offend our consciences (for example, you could find you were breaking the law if, as a caterer or photographer, you declined to cater for a "gay wedding").

OH, and PLEASE don't immediately say smugly "Oh, but lots of Catholic schools already teach all sorts of wrong things...." So that makes it all right for the Government to force them to do so? Is that what you are saying? Read me again. The new law could force Catholic schools to teach that homosexual activity is not sinful. They may be able to get round the law by not teaching anything on the subject at all.

I can certainly think of a Catholic school which teaches that homosexual activities are sinful. It is quite controversial teaching these days, and it has to be said that some of the parents and families of the pupils probably don't agree with the Church on this - and probably some of the pupils don't either. So they could certainly cause trouble for the school if they were stirred up to do so....and stirring them up is exactly what "gay rights" lobbyists exist to do.

I am certain that our Bishops, who are currently adopting a "let's-chat-to-the -Government-very-privately-and-on-a-friendly-basis" approach on this are failing to tackle this with the urgency that they should. I am quietly confident that they won't do anything at all vigorous unless they are jolted into some sort of action. Have you written to your Bishop about it? No, I'm NOT interested in your comment that he-probably-won't-do-anything-anyway. If you wrote - or got various other people to write - raising some of the specific issues in the useful link I have given you above, it would mean that you at least knew he had been given some relevant information.

I've noticed that people are very happy to write to Bishops about anything connected with the liturgy - and love blogging about it too, and getting all excited. The idea of some one else's little boy or girl being adopted by a homosexual pair who will teach the child that this sinful lifestyle is just fine.....well, that's not nearly so important is it?

Is it?
Wed Feb 28th

Typing this quickly over a cup of coffee before hurrying off on my bike to the to speak to a Wives Fellowship in Notting Hill. I'm waiting till the rain eases off a bit before I go. I'll be talking about my Book of Feasts and Seasons (takes you through the year with things to make, do, eat and on the link to find out more about this and my other books, or send a Comment to this blog to order a copy....or check it out on AMAZON.....)

Wives Fellowship=ecumenical gathering of ladies, affiliated in some sort of loose federation to a national group which affirms some simple Christian principles. In my experience, they are invariably extremely pleasant and nice, and v. welcoming, nice lunch, real coffee, etc. Perhaps they are not exactly part of the Church Militant....I mean, one wouldn't find them planning street evangelism or standing outside Parliament with torches praying about the latest new horrible piece of legislation.....but not everyone's ready for that....

I am reading a v. depressing book at the moment about the future of Europe. Small numbers of children being born, massive collapse of church attendance and consequently of sense of spiritual and cultural identity, rise of militant Islam. The first of these three is irrevocable: if the children aren't there, then the nation doesn't exist. Just labelling a stretch of land "Holland" or "Italy" doesn't make it Dutch or Italian unless there are Dutch or Italian people there.

What a lot of people seem to be reading is blogs....including mine. I looked on the meter thingummy and there have been over 25,000 hits since it began. I suspect that it's a fairly small team of people who read the thing every day....well, it's v. kind of them and I hope all enjoy it.....but I'm beginning to get pangs of guilt about encouraging people to sit at computers and switch gleefully from blog to blog when they could be doing something interesting.

Note to the nice lady who wants me to add her to my blogroll: I want to do this very much, but haven't the technical know-how at present!! Wait till I get a chance to be instructed by some one who can help....

Off to get my bike. I keep it padlocked in the back garden, which means trundling down the muddy lane at the back. But the rain has eased and everything looks fresh. It will be a good day.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tuesday 27th Feb

One ought to get to weekday Mass a bit more often in Lent....and I'm obviously not the only local person who feels this, because when I arrived this morning the church was almost full. I propped up my bike as usual precariously against the wall but won't have to do this much longer......We had a v. impressive new parish centre built recently, with a (rather good) bookshop and a big meeting-hall workmen were busy on a crucial addition: a proper place for parking bicycles alongside the church. There have been some bike-slots there for years and years, but they were all overgrown and also blocked off by a low wall which had evidently been put there some years after they were created. A proper place to park will be a boon.

John Pridmore is speaking at the parish mission this Friday. He's a former East End gangster - I've heard him speak before and he is well worth hearing.


Idly tapping in "Pope Catholic" to the Internet to check on a current news story, I found that the second item listed was about the return of Pope John Paul....yes, that's right. A loopy group which thinks that the End Is Nigh has decided that he's the Antichrist and will be Coming Back Shortly, and to prove it here's a picture of him with some Muslims showing that he aims to be ruler of all religions...and here's a map of Rome showing there are Seven Hills and that all Fits In with the Bible of Babylon and all that, and serpents, and things.....oh, and the Lateran Treaty came into it somewhere, and the hugeness of the Papal funeral in April '05 which was the biggest such event the world has ever seen.

This sort of thing is also sometimes quoted by daft Catholics-who've-lost-the-plot and who are into things like the Coming Great Chastisement and the Pope Isn't Really the True Pope and so on and so on and so on....(I was sent literature about this throughout the 1980s, predicting something Awful would happen in 1991....make that, um, 2000....). And do you remember the people who for years had a thing going about the Real Pope Paul VI being locked in a Vatican dungeon while a pretend one presided at St Peter's, and you could tell because of his plastic ears?

One should stop wasting time and get on with work.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Monday Feb 26th


I am very much enjoying Genevieve Kineke's The Authentic Catholic Woman (Servant books, just published). It is a realistic, well-informed and thoughtful book which looks at modern life and the modern Church and sees the tasks facing Catholic women. It's rooted in the Church's teachings, has a sense of joy about it, and doesn't carry any pious woffle or unattainable goals.

It has often seemed to me that feminist campaigners over the past thirty years have raised some useful questions but failed to listen to the answers. The Church - and this book brings it out beautifully - is a mother who cherishes her daughters and wants to see their talents devel;oped and used widely. Pope John Paul's "Theology of the Body", a rich understanding of the Church as Christ's Bride, and a sense of confidence and identity, are all important ingredients in recognising the vocation of being a Catholic woman today. Calls for women to be ordained priestesses are calls from people who are getting the whole picture wrong.

I particularly like the chapter on sanctifying time, on seeing the importance of feasts and seasons, family events and anniversaries. I have always noticed that it is women who are the keepers of a family's heritage - and I don't just mean mothers here either - and recognise the value of passed-on memories, traditions, snippets of family history. This doesn't mean endlessly harking back to the past or attempting to fossilise traditions or keep up childish involves celebrating each passing year, noting it, remembering things as part of something alive and valuable.

I really recommend this book.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


With Mother to St James' Church, in London's Spanish Place, for a most inspiring Day of Recollection organised by the Association of Catholic Women and led by Father Stephen Wang. He began - after leading us in the Rosary - with a talk on the Holy Spirit. He pointed out that in the Gospel, when we hear about Our Lord going into the desert, it specifically says that he was led there by the Holy Spirit, something which we often ignore or simply don't even notice. And he went on to explain the significance of this figure in the Holy Trinity, and how he could inspire our lives this Lent....


In the late afternoon, I joined Jamie at the christening of the new baby (fifth child) of the delightful Emery family. I am godmother to their oldest boy, Thomas, who took part in the ceremony, acting as proxy for a godparent unavoidably absent in Australia. The church stood reassuring against a darkening I entered the building, the group round the font, the priest in stole and alb pouring water and saying the timeless words, the voices affirming the beliefs of the Church, the glow of candlelight on the faces, all made for an unforgettable image as I stood there, a late arrival, on this February day. Afterwards, back for drinks and a generous talkative time, hot sausages and pizzas, cakes and goodies passed around with friends and neighbours gathering in a welcoming home, children rushing about trailing mud from the garden, tiny new baby gazing, unfocused, from safe parental arms at this world in which he is now a born-again Christian.....

Saturday, February 24, 2007



Cycled to Mother's. The London suburbs can be rather depressing on a mild evening, with sullen groups of drinking adolescent girls hunched on ugly bleak corners, sometimes shrieking obscenities and sometimes just passing bottles or cans across to one another, with groups of boys some way off in a rather dreary sort of tribal mating system!! Oh, dear. Surely things ought to be better than this? They all seem very cross and unhappy, and although the girls have gone to a great deal of trouble with lots of slicked hair and very tight jeans, they don't look very pretty, and they sit on railings or on the pavement all hunched up with their hands inside the sleeves of their little bomber-jackets, while the boys burp and make monosyllabic noises some way off.


At M's, supper and an old movie. We enjoy these, and M. is interesting on the subject because she knew some of the actors many years ago.....Great Uncle Walter was an actor,moderately successful and well-known in his day, appearing in a number of classic films including "All Quiet on the Western Front". M. remembers various actors coming to the house, including James Mason - "he'd come and drink tea, and they'd all be sitting talking and talking...." During World War 11 Uncle Walter, who had lived mostly at the London Actors' Club, came to live with her parents when an air-raid destroyed much of London clubland. "He was rather a bore in the air-raids. Stood about being theatrical instead of getting down to the shelter or being useful."

I looked up Great Uncle W.on the internet under his stage name. One of the films in which he had a minor part was the one about Queen Victoria starring Anna Neagle.Another relation, Mother's cousin Dennis, created the part of Lord Peter Wimsey on the stage.

The main thing one notices about old films - apart from all the obvious things, like fashions and the manners and morals etc, is the clipped English voices. I can just - just - remember when that was how lots of grown-ups spoke, in the Britain I knew.

Thursday, February 22, 2007



Readers of Catholic blogs - you really MUST get this week's CATHOLIC TIMES (no, it's not available on-line. Go to your local church this Sunday and buy it there. It has a feature interview with Father Timothy Finigan of the Hermeneutic of Continuity, written by fellow-blogger JB.

I have also to report an unfortunate - but amusing - mistake in my weekly Catholic Times column. I write about celebrating all the traditional feasts and seasons of the year (see what you're missing if you don't get the paper?) and this week it's St David. I mention the national Shrine of Our Lady in's the shrine of Our Lady of the Taper at Cardigan. The Welsh name for Cardigan is Aberteifi, so I put that in brackets alongside. But the Catholic Times computer doesn't speak Welsh, so it automatically "corrected" it to "Aperitif".....

Oh, dear. I am sure some Welsh readers are going to be rather offended.


A visit to Bonus Pastor Catholic secondary school in South London....train via Victoria to Beckenham Junction, then a pleasant walk. I was invited to speak as a journalist, the idea being to have Catholics active in various fields, speaking at lessons OTHER than Religious Education. So they had me speaking in the English lesson. Unfortunately, I got so enthusiastic talking about journalism, that I barely mentioned Catholicism at all. I do wish I had been more forthright about the Faith, about the great traditions of Catholic writing, etc....however, I donated a couple of books to the School Library, one being my "Book of Feasts and Seasons", and they now want to have me back to speak on that subject, so that can go better.....

Comment from the RE teacher there - the pupils are open to the Faith, they can be very inspired by the Christian message, but they find Sunday Mass "boring". She believes, and she is not alone in this among Catholic teachers, that more glorious music - yes, in Latin too, and lots of it - in a reverent liturgy is the key. Since this is definitely the trend in which liturgy is moving, there is hope here. If the Mass is just a formula, with either no music at all or just a couple of bleak hymns, then young people will continue to find it boring.

Incidentally - and this is just my comment, not hers - my experience is that young people often think they won't enjoy Latin or any form of remotely classical music. They may associate it with people who are "sad", who dress in an old-fashioned way and are clique-ish. But once they experience it at Mass, especially if it's NOT combined with a clique-ish or over-formal atmosphere, then they love it and the Mass begins to mean something great and real and marvellous. Fortunately more and more parishes in London - although I am not at all sure that this is the case elsewhere in Britain - seem comfortable about having some Latin,at least for the sung parts of the Mass. And of course if the Tridentine Rite is once again part of the mainstream this will make things even better. It will not only be something that could simply be a part of normal parish life in itself - eg one of the Sunday Masses could be in that rite - but will undoubtedly slowly influence the way in which all the other Masses are celebrated too.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday


Local church absolutely packed for the 10 am Mass with large crowds going up to receive ashes - and this in an ordinary suburb. I hadn't expected this, and only just got a seat. The evening Masses on Ash Wednesday are always overcrowded, but I hadn't known the morning ones were too.

This all goes to show that people don't object to attending Mass on a special day - a point I wish our Bishops had noted when they casually cancelled a whole lot of our Holy days...ooops, sorry, moved them to the nearest Sunday. It was one of the single most damaging things they could have done to a sense of Christian culture and identity.

Afterwards we were asked to continue helping distribute cards about the Parish Mission - once through every letter-box in the parish. They were laid out in neat stacks, each topped with the name of the road to be tackled. Two of these were on my route home so I took was the High Street, and it was really rather interesting diving into the backs of shops find the residential bits behind and above. You get a sense of how the town grew, and what some of the original buildings looked like, as the back bits are of course not masked with modern frontages, neon-lit signs etc. About half of our local shops are now Korean-owned,and many are travel agents, representatives of various Korea-based businesses and enterprises, etc, plus a good many KOrean restaurants and food-shops. Most of the shops that I remember were here when we moved to the town some 20 years ago have gone.

If you live in London or its southern suburbs - come to our parish mission! Information here

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Shrove Tuesday


I ate pancakes for breakfast and I'm having them for supper, too. With chocolate sauce. The traditional thing is to have them with lemon and sugar. But I'm having chocolate sauce.

Lent seems awfully long, at forty days. The only way to tackle it is not even to think about cakes or chocolate. And all that starts tomorrow.


Met Josephine Robinson of the Association of Catholic Women for coffee and a long talk this morning.We'd arranged to meet at the Grosvenor Hotel at Victoria Station - irritatingly, I was waiting in one coffee-room, while she was waiting in another! Finally, we found one another.....entries are coming in well for the Religious Education Project run by the ACW - open to all children at Catholic primary and infant schools. We talked about arranging the judging and the certificates...two trophies are offerred every year, one for infant-aged children 5-7, and the other for Juniors, 7-11. Prizewinners also get a copy of the new Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Incidentally, we could do with more funds to run all this, so if you want to make a Lenten donation, why not send it to ACW? Address: 22 Surbiton Hill Park, Surbiton Surrey KT5 8ET. If you are worried about poor RE teaching, this is your chance to do something about it. The Project involves having children learn specifics aspects of Catholic doctrine and write about them, studying the New Testament and the Church's teaching.

Spent the afternoon working at home: I've now produced a reading-list of children's books, including some old and some new....many thanks to people who sent in ideas and comments re. this to this Blog. I'm still open to more information, especially about NEW authors, and also about any initiatives to re-publish some of the great children's classics (I think it's sad that The Jungle Book doesn't seem to be available anywhere.....)

I am concentraing on children's fiction, but of course children need good poetry too. Ideas? A Child's Garden of Verses is still available and I have seen some v. attractive new editions of it. And an excellent book of verse Set the Echoes Flying was produced some years ago by Fisher Press.


Before you finish reading blogs tonight you MUST click on to Father Tim Finigan's blog (see list to the right), and read his story "Contraceptives and Chocolate". It will raise your spirits hugely - cheered me up no end.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Front page story in The Times today highlights a new report from some ecumenical committee which suggests that Anglicans could unite with Catholics under the Pope....well, of course some possibly will in due course, but to suggest that the whole Anglican Communion, or even a large bit of it, could just be told summarily that this was about to happen, new lines drawn on a map, that's the scheme everyone, is silly.

The only reason to join the Catholic Church is if you believe its doctrines and moral teachings - including an understanding of the role of the Pope as successor of St Peter, the Church as the "pillar and ground of truth" etc etc....

Radio discussion about this on the Jeremy Vine Show, where I was with the excellent Ann Widdecombe MP who is an old friend and of course a convert to Catholicism. She was forthright and sensible, as usual, and we were helped by a v. nice Evangelical Anglican who patiently explained that he represented a whole school of thought which sincerely opposes some Catholic doctrines (seven sacraments, for example)and in no way want to unite with "the Roman Church" which they truly consider to be in error.


Ann and I shared a taxi back to Westminster, and had a good talk. She was able to recommend an excellent children's author, Michael Morpurgo and I shall now read some of his books and use this in my talk on the subject. It is always much more useful to recommend the good than to denounce the bad, and although I have a good list of all the obvious classic children's authors (E. Nesbit, Arthur Ransome, A.A.Milne, C.S.Lewis,etc etc) I need lots of good new ones, too.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Many thanks to Fr Tim Finigan for explaining how to get video things on to a website. ( I am trying v. hard to get the technical side of this blog improved.Watch - and pray! - for the success of my efforts.......)


At Mass this morning we were all invited to take cards advertising the Parish Mission, and deliver them to all the houses in our street. The cards are rather good - big pic of a hand with a rosary and the words "Catholicism for the Curious", info on the back re various talks. For more info, look on the parish website

At the final talk in the series, I think it would be great to have the video which you can view by clicking on the link above. Am going to try to see if we could arrange this.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sat Feb 17th


To the local library to get out a good selection of children's books for a talk I am giving on the subject. What a depressing experience. The Library is brand-new, a bright pleasant building in an attractive style, easily accessible, lots of nice seats, carpeted, welcoming. Three children there - one rather listlessly on a computer game, and two playing while their parents browsed through mewspapers. No one was looking at the bookshelves, and I am not surprised. What a bleak collection of books - all nw, all bright paperbacks in plastic covers, and mostly all junk. I collected a big stack, chosen at random from different sections. There is a lot of fantasy sci-fi stuff, and vast quantities of pre-teen-girl-finds-romance, the latter with massive doses of parental adultery, some gentle doses of propagandist it's-ok-to-be-gay messages, and a good deal of promotion of the we-must-accept-mum's-new-boyfriend stuff with a preachy air, as if written by a social worker seeking a Modern Fiction Award.

Sample, from an author, said to be in her teens herself and "The UK's youngest new literary sensation": on weekend visit to her dad, our heroine finds he has a new girlfriend whom she doesn't like. She tries to cause trouble between fail but fails and meanwhile her own new boyfriend is becoming more important in her life and persuades her to accept the situation. As the story ends, dad's girlfriend is pregnant and our heroine and her chums are having a happy time swapping experiences of kissing eg 'How many times have you snogged Jason?'

I am not inventing this.

Meanwhile, over in the educational section, a large stack of books on Islam and a smaller one of Christianity. Glossy illustrated book, thick with quotes from Hans Kung and Matthew Fox (no, I'm not inventing this, either), big chapter on homosexuality and lesbianism:"Reflection - I am a gay Christian....The Church's teachings are, without doubt, hypocritical...." section on "feminist theology" and one on "liberation theology", nothing whatever putting the ordinary Christian teaching and message. Some critical material on the Catholic faith and teachings but nothing simply stating facts. This rubbish is published by "Heinemann Educational" and I suppose its's used as propaganda in schools.

Good grief, if this is the diet of modern children no wonder they look so bored and cross, and end up so narrow-minded and unhappy in their teens.
Friday Feb 16th


This is a most glorious corner of England. Bath is all mellow honey-coloured stone, Georgian houses, pleasant coffee-shops, and Jane Austen.

Prior Park is a fabulous mansion set in swooping grounds - I mean great curved hills and vales going down to a beautiful lake and river. What a superb place in which to spend one's schooldays. I was here to give a talk to a group of pupils interested in journalism - all part of the Tamezin magazine project. A good response and they especially enjoyed learning about interviewing skills, taking part in a m ock Press Conference etc.

Afterwards, with my colleague Kirsty, enjoyed a lovely walk into the city itself, the Abbey (a pleasing building - lots of Victorian gothic additions? I must find out more about its history), an excellent pizza in a beautiful restaurant with a perfect view over Georgian streets as twilight fell and lamps came on.

There is still (just) time for young people to enter the Tamezin Young Journalist on the above link to find out more, ot send a Comment to this Blog with your postal address (I will not print it, but can send you a brochure.
Thursday Feb 15th


Superb talk at the Catholic Cultural Group about Helen Asquith, teacher and convert to the Catholic Faith, daughter of Raymond Asquith, son of the Prime Minister, killed in the First World War.

Speaker was Emily Keyte, herself a young teacher, in a beautifully presented talk which wove extracts from Helen's letters into a well-rounded description of a journey in faith. The room was packed, people on chairs, the wide cushioned window-seats, the floor, a fascinating discussion/question session followed the talk, we had delicious snacks served by the young family who were our hosts (enchanting children handing round cheese straws and hot sausages)......a wonderful evening. The CCG brings together a good mix of people. I met a couple of young Catholic bloggers (blogging is definitely an activity mostly pursued - at least among Catholics - by people considerably younger than me, something which is reflected in the technical aspects of most Catholic blogs which are generally superb....I'm afraid mine has a distinctly Auntie-is-not-very-up-to-date feel about it, but I have been promised help on this by young enthusiasts, so watch for improvements!).

Afterwards I cycled a good part of the way home - a pleasant night and I enjoyed the chance to think over the talk as I spun through Hammersmith and Kensington and eventually put the bike on a tube to head out to the suburbs....

Checking emails, enjoyed this link, sent to me by a friend.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Thursday Feb 15th


Last night Jamie came home v. tired after the conclusion of a difficult case (he's a lawyer). We watched a "Jeeves and Wooster" DVD.....we were given a set of these for a Silver Wedding present last year. We had a late supper on a tray, and chocolates, and enjoyed it all hugely.


I am preparing a Lent and Easter series for EWTN (Catholic TV network) to be broadcast in 2008. The idea is celebrating the traditional seasons of the year at home - filmed in the kitchen. I started glibly to write about making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and tossing them three times in honour of the Trinity....this could look awfully messy on TV. Pancakes are actually not that easy - tho' of course the recipe itself is simple - and the first one is usually a bit of a disaster, things get easier as you get the pan hot enough. I'll also be doing Lenten food ("Nasty Meals for Lent, with Auntie Joanna" - doesn't sound very appetising, does it?) and special things re St David, St Patrick, St Joseph etc. Have also been researching about Maundy Thursday - of course the origins of the Royal Maundy in Britain are well known, but I'd love to know more about how the thing has developed in other countries, incl. those with a more consistent Catholic tradition....


We are off to Rome for a conference in March and yesterday, in the intervals of working on various feature articles, I spent time booking the flight and arranging accomodation. The Internet makes everything sooooo much easier. And to put myself in the mood, I watched the dear Holy Father at the Wednesday audience ("Television Catholique" - just look for it on Google. Much recommended). He said a lot of very interesting things about women in the New Testament and in the early Church - noting that (as a priest once pointed out to me) women stayed with Our Lord at the foot of the Cross when the Apostles just couldn't cope. Golly, it makes one wonder....would one have had the courage to do that? Temptation just to run away from something so ghastly....imagine.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Wed Feb 14th

CANDLES AT 9 am......

Sudden power cut this morning while I was at the computer. I had just finished arranging to send some flowers to my dear ma-in-law, and had enjoyed browsing among the options and choosing something nice....when sudden the computer made a sort of polite exclamation and went blank, and the lights went out. A quick glance at the nighbours' houses (we are all squashed close together here, so one look out of the window revealed the situation) showed they were in gloom, too. I lit a lamp and a couple of candles, and got on with some other's a measure of how we all think these days that my initial reaction was "has there been a bomb somewhere which has taken out a power station?" Of course it was nothing of the kind, merely a temporary blip, and the lights came on again when I was in a local shop buying batteries for the radio....

But it did delay my getting Comments posted on to my blog, enabling some one to write in gleefully suggesting that I had been censoring comments simply because they contained criticisms that were valid.....

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tuesday Feb 13th


I've been wondering what to do about comments to this Blog. From the moral point of view, one should simply delete anonymous messages . (I don't mean people who do not wish to have their names or addresses published - that's fair enough - I mean ones that are anonymous when they write in, ie too cowardly to put their names to the letters they send me roundly insulting me, my motives, my moral worth, etc etc. What are more colloquially called poison-pen writers).

My first instinct is to publish anything and everything that is rude about me, partly because the insults are often funny, and partly because I often actually agree with them. A pompous anonymous preacher writes in today accusing me of "a complete lack of self-knowledge and a vain desire for publicity". Jolly good. I'm sure he feels a lot better about himself now. I'm publishing his message but only because I have done so before, and the new policy only starts today, so I want to be fair to him. (Also, he's made a mistake and I want to correct it: the quote about honey and vinegar - a very good one - is from St Bernard and not St Francis de Sales).

I've also had a couple of anonymous comments referring to Jewish teachings in rather horrid terms.

Policy: in future, when you write in to say how wrong/nasty/vain/etc I am, please put your name to the letter or it won't get published. (I won't publish your name - I just want you to be brave enough to write it. Send it separately if need be, as for technical reasons this makes it easier to publish your comment without it).

Also, a note to those who, anonymous or not, are being gratuitously nasty about Jewish things: I will retain current policy, namely that I won't publish these at all.
Sunday Feb 11th


Radio Five Live programme.....rushed to the BBC from Kings Cross, my mind still full of Durham, stories of heroic miners, image of glorious cathedral, glow from happy gatherings with family and friends.

Tube system caught up with Sunday repair work, so the train stopped at Marble Arch....wrrrrgh....had to hail a taxi to get to BBC at White City. Usual surreal sensation sitting in studio, sealed off from outside world, people phoning in to shout their opinions at me through headphones....I am not good at keeping my cool in such situations, and however hard I try, I always sound shrill and annoying. Topic was children and the future: Pope Benedict had pointed out that Europe is dying - people see children as a threat, as taking something away from personal pleasures, while in reality they are the this refusal to have children a form of deadly selfishness? I noted economic realities: without new generation being born, people alive today will endure to lonely and extremely difficult old age , no working population to create tax-base or provide any services. We must hope that the immigrants who will settling in Britain from other countries will be interested in caring for the dying indigenous population - but if they honestly aren't, it will be difficult to hold them entirely to blame. People phoning in: "I don't see why my decision not to have children makes me selfish - I just want to do what I want with my life. I want to enjoy myself, travel, spend my money as I choose. So why doesn't this horrible woman in the studio just belt up?" Most people began their comments with "I can't believe what this woman in the studio is saying!" and many went on to say that they hated my voice. One or two expressed the vigourous opinion that I was probably insane, or needed a sedative (this last possibly true by this stage!)

I always agree when people say I am annoying, irritating, have a disagreeable voice etc. Also when they say I'm probably nasty. But does that mean that the economic facts I am presenting are untrue?

Many routine - but rather gross - insults about the Pope, of which the milder ones were "He wears dresses and lives in luxury."

Home, rather tired.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sunday Feb 11th


Early morning Mass with L. in local parish in St Cuthbert's, Durham. What a meeting-point for Catholics!! Young people, including M., daughter of friends Clare and Malcolm U. (one of their other daughters is a godmother to our great-nephew. Now there's a nice network - does it make them sort of spiritual relations?) - gosh and how delightful these young people are, talking and laughing together..... and to our huge pleasure we are also greeted by the delightful C. family - some of whom I last met in a field at Walsingham, where we were gathered for the annual pilgrimage run by the National Association of Catholic Families. Much good talk and "Why didn't you tell us you were coming to Durham?" Immediate invitation to supper tonight. Jamie is able to go, but I am distraught - I have to be back in London for a radio programme at 11pm! And it will be such a wonderful get-together: Professor Sheridan Gilley (author, speaker - last enjoyed at a Catholic Writers' conference on the Isle of Wight) will be there....

Jamie very gleeful, because it turns out that Robert C. is an Australian, so is Sheridan, and so is Father Mark W. who will also be of the party - and so, of course, is Jamie! - which means a glorious Aussie gathering this evening. Durham - which we are already hugely enjoying because of delightful niece, her extremely agreeable young friends, and yesterday's special and lovely family gathering with Auntie P - takes on a further glow.


On to morning service at St C's college, where L. sings in the choir. Glorious music, choir in academic gowns, everything beautifully done. Opportunity to sing some splendid hymns. Afterwards a v. agreeable gathering over coffee (and it's REAL coffee, not instant) and cake (birthday of choir director).


Readers of this Blog are going to get fed up with me saying what a good time we've been having in Durham, but I'm jolly well not going to stop, because next came a really enjoyable lunch with Fr Mark W., currently in Durham for studies.....niece Lucy already knows him through the pro-life group, Cathsoc etc, so it was a wonderful, talkative, informative, laughing meal in which we covered - in no particular order - Anglo-Saxon saints, ideas for a research centre on business ethics, Feenyism, liturgy(of course), why sermons emphasising social justice without proper mention of God are a horrible waste of time, Durham's history, and more......

Afterwards, back to Lucy's house for final mugs of tea...and then a wonderful final visit to the great Cathedral, its interior glowing against the dusk outside, prayers at St Cuthbert's tomb (Fr Mark's suggestion) for the rather scary BBC radio programme awaiting me in London.......a brief look at the Castle (where I once stayed, a few years ago, when up here for a debate at the University)....and then on to the railway station, the London train, and Jamie seeing me on board with hugs and reassurances....
Sat Feb 10th


A wonderful gathering with my Auntie P, who lives in Durham....her granddaughter, S. a delightful girl (daughter of my first cousin - so that makes her my second cousin), Lucy, and Jamie and me....a get-together across the generations, and we made sure we got photographs. Fascinating talk , especially on family history - memories of the General Strike, of a wartime wedding, in uniform. at Westminster Cathedral, of postwar married life.
Saturday Feb 10th 2007


On arrival in Durham, in the early hours of this morning in lashing rain, (I had caught a late train after a busy Friday) I hurried to the hotel. A terrific wailing noise was emerging from the building, and I entered to find an oddly assorted crowd of people, some wrapped in bedclothes......some one had set off an emergency fire alarm and one harrassed night-time member of staff was trying to sort things out. It emerged that no one could turn off the alarm, as it is centrally controlled under a computer system locked in to that of the local Fire Brigade.....who eventually turned out in a fairly leisurely way and went carefully from room to room checking everything, while people shivered in the rain, crowded into a partially-covered outdoor garage area, or endured the appalling ear-damaging siren in the warmth of the foyer.

Finally, it was announced that everything that been checked, no fire found, and a crucial new piece of glass could be fitted into the alarm thus re-setting it and enabling most people to go to bed. Not me, however, as I didn't yet have a room. The poor tired sole hotel staff representative wearily booked me in, behaving with commendable courtesy under the circumstances. I plodded gratefully to room number 13. It was bliss to have the possibility of sleep.


After a good and neccessary breakfast, I met my niece Lucy and we both greeted Jamie as he arrived by a morning train from London - he had had to stay in Town last night for an official dinner. We dropped off his luggage (heavy, because of dinner-jacket etc) and were then ready to enjoy this magnificent city, so headed for the great Cathedral: "Half church of God, half castle 'gainst the Scot". St Cuthbert (7th century, shepherd boy, saw vision, became hermit, and in due course Bishop of Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumbria) is buried here - relics brought from Lindisfarne by monks who thus saved them during a Viking raid.

Is this the most glorious cathedral in Britain? Its great- vast - pillars and Norman arches, all in perfect proportion, lead the eye up and up, and onwards to the High Altar, to the shrine beyond, to great things, to God. The large, clean lines are largely uncluttered, not defaced by the innumerable memorials to 18th century landowners or public figures, and the shrine of St Cuthbert is treated with reverence, candles glowing, a kneeler and prayer-card.....

Over lunch, v. interesting conversation. fascinating, with L., who is studying Anglo-Saxon - all so interesting, especially with reference to Cuthbert, and Bede (also buried in the Cathedral)
....a vast chapter of history about which too little is known.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday Feb 9th 2007

I have recieved a charming letter from a little girl in America for whom I have (I hope) organised a British penfriend. This all happened through my Blog, which is most satisfying.

Phone call from a local school, where I am due to give a talk about children's books and magazines. (Reminder: anyone interested in my children's book? Fiction, non-pious, just fun....£5.95p add £1 for postage, for American readers $20 - send comment to this Blog WITH YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS for details....)

A couple of weeks ago an elderly friend sent us a copy of his book about his wartime experiences as a pilot with the South African Air Force. I am often sent books of this kind and don't always find them readable - but this one is really superb. Well written, well illustrated. It is Beaufighter over the Balkans, by Steve Stevens DFC (Pen and Sword books, 47 Church Street, Barnsley S.Yorks S70 2A email The most moving section is the one about the tragic Warsaw Uprising of 1944 when the brave Poles of the Home Army rose to claim their city and drive out the German forces, in expectation of the Russians advancing across the Vistula. The Russians deliberately delayed, allowing the Poles to fight on, with limited supplies of food and ammunition, until they were eventually starved into submission....the British sent over some supplies by plane but this involved a flights of over 1,000 miles across enemy territory, and not many made it. Steve also flew in the Berlin Airlift...extraordinary and powerful story of how the West faced down the Soviets and retained West Berlin's freedom....Jamie and I got to know Steve through various Christian activities (Steve is a keen Evangelical and settled in Britain after many years with a missionary aviation organisation serving remote areas of Africa....) and in all the years we have worked with him, we never knew he had this extraordinary and impressive tale to tell....

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Thursday Jan 8th 2007


With thick snow, gradually turning to slush, limiting travel, my lunch-appointment in London was cancelled so I have had a day at the computer, interrupted only by slushy trips to the Post Office and shops.

There are some excellent Catholic blogs around. Try this one, from Kevin Tierney, an American writer. And also the excellent Against the Grain which is part of the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club. Both these blogs have been courageous in tackling the question of esoteric, but nominally Catholic, columnists or bloggers who are actually very anti-Jewish and write horrible things about the Jewish people. This seems to be an American problem - I haven't sensed anything of this sort here - but ever since I got a nasty email from a (Catholic) campaigner denouncing the Holy Father for visiting a synagogue, I have been uncomfortably aware that this is something that needs to be tackled.

While I enjoy reading blogs, especially those which read like a good, crunchy, well-argued piece of journalism rather than a ramble around some one's muddled opinions, what is really satisfying about a sudden free day is the amount of work that can be done. Several feature articles written and sent off, and a number of letters and mundane jobs sorted out. When I've finished this blog entry, I shall increase my sense of wellbeing by doing some hoovering.

This weekend we are off to see a dear niece currently studying in a great university city.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Wed Feb 7th

Fleeting visit to see enchanting new baby born to local friends....the fifth child of the E. family, whose oldest son Thomas is my godson. The newborn baby, curled up in his mother's arms, was fast sleep, warm and content. I had just dropped by with a bottle of wine and some crackers to celebrate. (Another note for Americans: here, crackers AREN'T biscuits, but are those things you have for celebrations with children...oh, made of silver paper and with a thing that goes "bang" when you pull, and inside there is a little toy, and a riddle, and maybe a silly hat....)

Baby William will be baptised in a couple of weeks, and we are invited. His parents are a simply wonderful couple, with whom we have sat and talked and laughed and had so many happy times....among their jolliest celebrations was a "Pope Party" to celebrate the election of our dear Holy Father, Papa Benedict......


Which reminds me, the H. Father has given a wonderful and touching message to the young people preparing for World Youth Day (Sydney, 2008...the preparations look good, and the Aussies have been looking forward to this for a long time...we have friends who are v. involved....). There is a special message dedicated to young people who are engaged to be married.(You can read it on Fr Tim Finigan's blog. Would be excellent to reproduce for marriage preparation talks.....
At last, a really cold wintry day. Carshalton Ponds partly frozen over when I cycled over to meet Mother there for a walk. There's a local Ecology Centre - rather pretentiously-named, but a good idea and interesting to walk around, although on our Dec, Jan and Feb walks we have been the only visitors....aim is to get local schoolchildren interested in the natural world, so there are places for birds to nest, and hedges created to harbour wildlife etc etc....a shelter where the pupils sit for lectures, and a "listening circle" where they are meant to sit on logs with their eyes shut and hear the birds (er...and the traffic roaring by on the nearby road, alas). We enjoyed the walk and then were ready for some tea. GREAT BRITISH TRADITION: it was Wednesday, early-closing day, and the two teashops in the village were closed!! How daft can you get....I thought these days things had moved on....tealess I saw M. on to the bus and then had a chilly ride home....

Forecast is snow for tomorrow.

While on the subject of British traditions....I was amused at a comment to this Bliog with an all-too-apt description of the (ghastly!)Traditional British Sunday Lunch. However, I have to disappoint him - my reference to last Sunday's meal was to the concept of traditional eating in general, rather than to the British menu: our host on this occasion was Belgian, and we ate an excellent meal, meat cooked deliciously with herbs, followed by a tarte citron of memorable quality....
Wed Feb 7th


Last night I was invited to speak at a delightful dinner arranged by the Catenian Association....for American readers (and any others who don't know what Catenians are: this is a Catholic men's group, raises money for charity, organises Catholic events...a bit like a sort of Catholic version of the Rotary Club....). It was held at the RAC Club in Epsom. (OK, ok, for Americans again: RAC=Royal Automobile Club...originally for motorists to join when cars were a rare and strange the RAC Club in London and the country one in Epsom are simply v.v. beautiful club-houses suitable for dinners, wedding receptions etc). I looked on the map, thought it would be easy to reach by bike...put bike on train to Epsom, cycled out along the planned got darker and darker, and more street-lights....hadn't realised that the Club was on the outskirts of Epsom Downs....had to knock on door of local house to ask directions, and am sure they thought I was a potential burglar casing the place.....anyway, on arrival, warm greeting, met several good friends, delicious dinner, all v. companionable and friendly.... spoke on "Our traditional feasts and seasons" , v. good atmosphere, good discussion at question-time.

The Catenians have been v. good to us at the "Towards Advent" Festival in Westminster Cathedral every year - have taken on the dogsbody work of hiring tables, keeping accounts, etc. and I am v.v. grateful to them

As dinner ended, consternation expressed at my cycling back, and the nice chairman and his wife put my bike in the back of their car and drove me home.

Jamie rolled his eyes "For Heaven's sake, I could have told you not to go out there by bike....I bet you arrived looking a mess." Which last was alas probably true.....

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Tuesday Feb 6th

Current issue of Catholic Times has a review (by me) of Josephine Robinson's new booklet about Pope John XX111. (Catholic Truth Society, £1.95p). It's amazing the myth that has grown up around this Pope: he actually wrote and said a lot of things that today would be regareded as hugfely politically-incorrect. And he was certainly an extremely old-fashioned Catholic, with liturgical and doctrinal ideas that today would place him firmly in the ultra-orthodox camp. People who have not read or studied his life and work - including the group "We are Church" which campaigns for, among other things, ordination of priestesses - have adopted him as a hero but discovering the real man is much more interesting.

In the same here is also a v. amusing letter from Fiorella Nash about the National Board of Catholic Women. Oh, do buy the paper and read it. If you enjoy this blog, why not get the Catholic Times every week, where you can read my column and soak up informatio on celebrating all the feasts and seasons of the Church's year? (You can pick it up at most Catholic churches, or get a subscription - they are doing a special offer at the moment which involves them giving a donation to a charity of your choice too. Contact )


Phone call from Radio 5Live - they want me to do a debate late on Sunday night about children. Recently the Holy Father pointed out that attitudes to family life are distorted - people see children as an optional extra, even as a sort of threat, taking something away from their own lives and their own pleasures. These profoundly wrong attitudes mean a loss of a sense of hope in the future.

Well, of course, suggesting that people should be open to life and should be glad to welcome children - and to point out that without children there is no future whatever - is to invite the wrath of those who are so obessed with the contraceptive idea that they can no longer think logically at all. So one such angry campaigner will be denouncing the Pope on this radio debate, and I'll be defending him. Tune in. Radio 5Live 11pm on Sunday night.

Europe is dying. All countries except Malta and Ireland now have birth rates that are below replacement rate. Most people in Europe - although not, it has to be said, most of the Catholic and also Evangelical families I number among my friends - see children as a pleasant and delightful accessory, in limited numbers. But the idea that children are a blessing, the natural fruit of married love, a gift from God and an assurance of the future....such an idea, a rich part of our Christian understanding of life, God, and the reason for our existence, is deemed to be old-fashioned, even harsh and repressive. It's all desperately sad. Imagine actually having to debate the fact that children are the future, and the right of a Christian leader to affirm,teach, and celebrate that truth.

Tune in - and join in: it's a phone-in programme and anyone can take part.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mon Feb 5th

Not sure if I have mentioned before - anyway I am now mentioning again - the beautiful little book "THE MASS - illustrated for children" published by Second Spring. It costs just £5 and would be a boon to any family. The booklet makes the Mass easy to follow - has the full text, with the priest's words in red - but what makes it a joy is the beautiful quality of the illustrations, which have a gently Medieval feel, and also express theological concepts very well. Thus, in the Canon, the words "We pray that your Angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in Heaven...." are written into the wings of an angel who with downcast eyes and reverent look, is there beside the Chalice and Paten....and there is a wonderful picture of the Church on earth, with all sorts of people, led by the Holy Father and including old people, babies, sick people, a bishop, nuns, daddies with children held aloft etc etc all facing Heaven where Our Lady and the saints are waiting....every turn of every page is a quiet joy. Yours to enjoy, too. Includes extra prayers such as the "Hail, Holy Queen...."


Bike had two punctures. Foot functioning badly. Lots to do. Bike to mender's. Doctor's appt. Various parcels to Post Office. Shopping. Finally settled at bus stop (£2 for one ride! Golly. Can't wait to get bike back!). Shopping slithered off narrow bench and bottle of olive oil shattered on pavement. As I mopped it up, cutting my hand in the process, the bus came. Oil everywhere, complete mess, shards of glass difficult to grasp with pages torn from back of Daily Telegraph (didn't want to spoil interesting bits of the paper - brilliant feature by Janet Daley and some amusing letters re Blair)....

But life has its pleasures. As I settled back, gripping the rest of my shopping with one hand while staunching blood from the other, a passenger next to me said thoughtfully "I can imagine throwing the Guardian or Independent on the ground, but it does seem such a waste to do it with the Telegraph, doesn't it?". I did so agree with him, and we had a pleasant and amusing chat, and by the time the next bus arrived everything seemed much funnier and more enjoyable....
Monday Feb 5th

A very jolly weekend with two parties - an engagement party on Saturday evening in London (lots of pleasant young people, pink champagne, agreeable chats about wedding plans, long talks with older friends) and then a birthday party in Oxfordshire on Sunday (leisurely traditional lunch, pink champagne, log fire, tea with home-made cake).

The Sunday party was preceded by attendance with our host and hostess at their local (Anglican) church. Some v. agreeable hearty hymn-singing of some of Charles Wesley's best. A goodish number of young families. At one point, introducing prayers, there was supportive mention of stand taken by Catholic bishops on adoption policy. Simple - extremely simple, almost austere except for a pleasing anthem - Communion service. (I have a dislike of fussy liturgy). Glorious church, with Norman tower and lovely Lady chapel with newly-restored statue.

OH, and before anyone gets worried and starts writing cross comments to this Blog..., no we didn't take part in Communion, and yes, I know it wasn't a Mass, and obviously I went to Mass earlier and am perfectly aware of all the issues involved..........

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sat Feb 3rd


Do read the Spiegel's feature on Pope Benedict (I've linked you to the English version) - an excellent commentary on this papacy. At last some of the media are getting beyond the Ratzinger-bashing to the real story.

A golden sunny day, and the crocuses are out in the garden - started as tiny purple spears this morning and are now open.

(Terrifying headines in all the press about global warming. Whatever the facts, this extraordinary winter-without-a-winter has made us all think there may be something in it).

I have been sent a copy of David Morrison's "Beyond Gay" (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, USA) - an excellent read. It explains very well how old-fashioned and heavily condemnatory approaches to the subject from Christians played into homosexual-activists' hands. A debate in a college magazine about a plan to ban funding for the Gay and Lesbian Student Union:"I wrote from my recent, real-life experience of growing up with same-sex attraction in solation, loneliness and fear and the liberation I found as part of GLSU. The Christian wrote the homosexuality was a sin, an overturning of the moral order, and deserved to be condemned. When the measure came before the student government, student lawmakers voted it down overwhlemingly." In due time, Morrison found that "gay activism" and an accompanying lifestyle didn't make life bearable, didn't lead anywhere, caused only anguish, and found a wholly new and different way in Christ. His description of this journey, and of how this whole issue should be handled, are of extraordinary value in our current debates. He quotes the approach given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2357, 2358, 2359) with approval, together with the 1986 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith detailing pastoral approaches, and sees this as the way forward.This is an issue that isn't going to go away.

After a cheery talkative supper at the Rembrandt Hotel, opposite Brompton Oratory, I went to collect my bike and ride home. Ooops. Bike securely padlocked inside the Oratory gates. Gates locked. Fortunately the railings are not too high and the spikes quite far apart. So I hitched up my skirt and climbed over. The harder part was heaving the bike over without letting it crash on to the pavement and damage the wheels. Having done that, climbing back over was quite easy. I bicycled swiftly away.

Every year, about this time of year, an old friend of my dear father drives over to take Mother and me out to lunch. We catch up on news, enjoy a pleasant meal, and talk of my father, of whom all memories are such good and happy ones.

Afterwards I went back to Mother's to put down some new carpet.This involved a good deal of measuring and cutting, and afterwards we both felt very pleased with ourselves. Then we had a game of Scrabble, and she beat me by a narrow margin, thanks to a brilliant use of a "z" on a double-word score. Then we both admired the carpet a bit more, had tea, and I cycled off to Brompton Oratory for Candlemas.

Glowing candles, heavenly music, and the largness of that magnificent church - all a perfect way to round off the Christmas season. Afterwards, having padlocked my bike securely inside the Oratory gates, I enjoyed a pleasant supper with Margaret from Aid to the Church in Need, and Magdalena from the Portugese office of the charity, whom I had so signally failed to meet earlier this week (see Wednesday's blog).

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Thursday Feb 1st
Tomorrow is Candlemas and we will take down the Crib, which has been up since late December.

Today I invested in some sensible shoes. Foot still uncomfortable. Came home and settled down at the computer to get lots of work done.

In a few days, my oldest nephew gets married in Australia. We have sent presents, of course, and a message to be read out., and we'll be thinking of them all.

Family weddings give one a perspective on time. Nephew O. was a tiny boy at our wedding, looking solemnly out from the family group in the wedding-pic which is near me as I write. I remember playing with him in the garden before going off to get changed into my wedding-dress and veil: the lawn had been freshly-mown and we were piling up the cuttings and playing with them...... It just doesn't seem that long ago. But since then we've had the fall of Communism and the reshaping of the political and ideological map of Europe, the arrival of computers in our homes and in our lives, mobile phones, and talk of climate change and global warming. Actually, the 1980s are a different era. What changes will O. and his bride see over the first quarter-century of their married life?
Thursday Feb 1st


In the post today, A Cairn of Small Stones, by John Watts (available from Mungo books 0141 552 5523), a beautifully-written and delightful story about a Scottish Catholic family at the time of the Jacobite Rising in 1745. Any enthusiast for Bonnie Prince Charlie will love this book. It's a compelling read, with charming detail, written by some one who knows and loves the Highlands. It is without affectation or unneccessary "twee" bits of bogus Highland-isms, just a first-rate tale, well told, which takes us right into the lives and beliefs of Catholics living and honouring their Faith in difficult times two and a half centuries ago. Buy it and enjoy it.

I know the author - he is one of our wonderful team of diocesan workers for Aid to the Church in Need, who go to parishes to talk about the needs of Catholics worldwide who are being persecuted for their Faith or are oppressed by poverty and war.

The book's cover has a lovely illustration of craggy mountains and the book is pleasing to handle, a paperback but of hardback quality. I do most warmly recommend it.