Saturday, 29 June 2013

Bed-sit Entertaining

This is an appendix to yesterday's post on "How to Have a Dinner Party."  And I must also add that that was just a template. There are all kinds of ways to have dinner parties, and you can add or subtract courses depending on your tastes and budgets. But I maintain that an adult dinner party by definition excludes children. A dinner party is not only a pleasant gathering of adults, it is a chance for adults to exhibit or practice their adult social skills, or skillz, as Napoleon Dynamite would say.  Number one is setting a guest at ease.

One 20th century British definition of a lady was a woman who could set a guest at ease even if he had just walked in upon her when she was naked in the bath. I had good cause to ponder this one memorable day when B.A. forgot to tell me an electrician was coming to check our wiring, and the electrician was let into the Historical House by a conservator when I was in the shower. I got out of the shower to hear a sound rather like a rabid bear moving about, and was quite terrified. I rushed, dripping, in a very inadequate towel, to the kitchen phone, to call up B.A. and inform him that I was soon to be murdered.

B.A. explained why I was unlikely to be murdered, at which point I explained why B.A. was now likely to be murdered himself, and I supplemented my towel with aprons before risking the journey to my bedroom, source of clothes. But alas! There at once was the electrician in the hallway.

"Oh, hello!" I said, brightly.

"Hiya," said the electrician, obviously trying not to laugh.

We exchanged stilted remarks, and I think I asked him if he would like a cup of tea, which he politely refused, and then I rushed off, snickering, to my room.

That, incidentally, is what it is like living in a museum: excellent security system, except for the electricians, carpenters, conservationists, art historians, tourists and bat rights activists who might wander upstairs. (N.B. A really good dressing-gown would make an excellent Christmas gift.)

As I live in a museum, I understand what it is to live in unusual places. And I have lived in two minuscule bedsits, so I know what it is like when your bedroom is your only room. And the way to have a dinner party in your bedroom, is to completely de-bedroom it and turn it into a dining room.

This was always easy for me because when I lived in bedsits, I had a big futon which folded nicely into a sofa, and during the day I emphasized its sofa-ness with cushions. I also always had a wardrobe into which all my clothes and, if necessary, bedding or any girl stuff could disappear. A room is a room; it's only a bedroom if you say it is. It could just as easily be an office, a sewing-room or a dining-room. (I'm writing to you from what was once a 19th century linen closet.)  The absence of an obvious bed and the presence of a big trestle table down the room announces, "I am now a dining-room."

If you have a single bed, you can disguise it as a couch by turning the pillows into cushions, hiding your woolly toys (stuffed animals), and masking anything lacy with a hearty striped blanket.

If you have a desperately girly bathroom, you can make it more resemble a B&B bathroom by throwing anything terribly personal into the laundry hamper and putting a towel on top.

In my bed-sit days, I had a large round table around which I could sit four or five. It sat in a big bay window--in both bed-sits, as I always chose my bed-sit for its bay window. For a larger dinner party, I would have borrowed a trestle table from the church hall, which would have necessitated getting a friend to help me carry it through the back streets, but such is life. I suppose I would also have had to borrow chairs from the church hall or have had to ask guests to bring their own chairs. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Finally, if you still feel weirded out by entertaining male guests in your "bedroom", then just make sure there is always a female guest with you in it and that the last guest to leave is not the socially clueless male one perched on the edge of your bed sofa saying, "I don't feel at all tired."

Another note on nicotine: The reason why a smoker has to ask a hostess if he may smoke is not merely that she might hate the smell of stale tobacco smoke in her curtains. (A good hostess pretends not to care about her curtains.) It is because she is responsible for the comfort of all her guests and is best able to judge if any of them have--or she has--asthma or other serious respiratory problems or are trying desperately to quit smoking themselves. (A good guest considers how his actions may affect his hostess and fellow guests.) A hostess must not treat her smoking guest as an enemy of society but as someone who enjoys nicotine the way others enjoy a glass of wine. She sympathizes with his need to quell his nic fit and suggests the most convenient and comfortable way for him to do so without discommoding or discomfiting anyone else.

This may mean showing the smoker the quickest route to the fire escape, or it may mean offering him a cigarillo from her own portable humidor. It all depends on the other guests, and their tolerance or enjoyment of tobacco. Personally, I loathe cheap cigarette smoke, but do not mind smelling good tobacco, used in moderate amounts. Were it not forbidden to strike a match in the Historical House, I would permit smoking in the dining-room after dinner, but not of hideous, cheap cigarettes. And I would cart the ladies away to the sitting-room either at once or the moment the air grew blue.  

Incidentally, you are responsible to making sure your guests don't drink and drive. If they are foolish enough to want to do so, tell them they can't and call them a cab. In the UK, you can head off such unpleasant end-of-evening altercations but saying things like "As you're driving, Scooter, I won't offer you any dessert wine."

Friday, 28 June 2013

How to Have a Dinner Party

The dinner party is one of the great joys of adult life, combining food, wine, conversation, interior decoration, table manners and ritual. Unlike other parties, it has a clear beginning, a middle and an end, and many rules to keep it civilized. Nobody's house was ever totaled by a flash mob during a dinner party. A sit-down dinner is very much invitation-only and mentioned on Facebook only after the fact.


I had my first dinner parties while living in my parents' house alongside four siblings. I was an undergraduate, and I managed these parties with the permission and collusion of my parents, of course. The trick is to always, from the time you first wield a pot and spoon, leave the kitchen cleaner than you found it. And the other trick is to arrange with your mother that the rest of the family will eat their dinner two hours before you and your guests eat yours and then vanish to other parts of the house or to the movies.

You know your household politics best. In my case, as my mother owned all the china, crystal, silver and linen, I asked her permission regarding anything actually valuable and practically irreplaceable. I also, I should hasten to add, only invited such guests as I thought would have table manners up to the preservation of the china, crystal, silver and linen. If that sounds uncomfortably urban and snobby to you, then I suggest that instead of having a formal dinner party you have a barbeque or picnic instead.

I seem to recall that my mother funded these dinner parties, buying my ingredients along with the family shopping. That was quite generous, but she might have thought of it as a sort of educational cost, like those involved in piano lessons.

If you do not live with your parents, you must consult your flatmates, if you have any, about your dinner parties, and if your flatmates are friends, invite them at once.


You can have a dinner party for any reason you like, but if it is really so that you can invite handsome men, you must come up with an alternative plausible explanation, like your birthday or the feast day of a favourite saint. When you are well advanced in dinner party having, you can have a dinner party simply to introduce a new person to your social circle.


As exciting and amusing as it would be to invite only male guests, this amusing excitement is not allowed to unmarried women. Traditionally the hostess puzzles over a guest list with great thought and with an eye to having equal numbers of men and women, if possible. And because the very essence of the dinner party is adulthood, children are not allowed. If there are children in your social set, they should be fed at six and packed off to bed or to granny's. Otherwise, you do not have a dinner party but a Family Supper, which is an entirely different beast altogether.

Only when you are no longer economically dependent on your parents, may you invite your parents to your dinner party. Let there be no confusion here: the hostess must be--in the most charming and gracious way--the boss.

Invite only as many guests as you can fit around your table. If you don't have a dining-room, consider setting up a table in your sitting-room. I can fit fifteen people in my sitting-room, but it is a bit of a squash. The traditional number of dinner party guests seems to be eight. Our dining-room can accommodate eight, but we have twice squashed in eleven.


For this I recommend the phone. Yes, you can send printed invitations, but you will still want to confirm by phone. I seem to recall loving the whole invitation thing when I was 21, but now I think they are a bit naff and really the sophisticated thing to do is call people up or have a word with them after Mass or send them a text.

The essentials to the invitation are where and when and theme, if there is one.  If you want your male guests to wear jackets and ties, say so briefly. In Edinburgh, people state when they want people to start drifting in and when they must be there. This is generally phrased as "Seven-thirty for eight," which means nobody should arrive before seven-thirty or after eight.

That said, arriving late is vastly superior than not arriving at all. It is a terrible social crime to accept a dinner party invitation and not then not go, unless you have ended up in hospital or died.

Food and Drink

When B.A. and I go shopping for a dinner party, we chant down the order of the meal while staring down into the depths of our trolley to see if we have everything.

First, there is "cocktails", which just means what our guests eat and drink before dinner is served. This could mean hors d'oeuvres, but in our case it usually just means crisps (chips), plus whatever cocktail we can afford. That could be gin-and-tonic.That could be rum punch. Currently it's just cava (a sort of fake champagne).

Second, there is the first course. This is often soup with good bread or biscuits (crackers). But it could also be salmon mousse or páté or guacamole or prawn cocktail or mussels or a particularly luxurious and exciting salad, like B.A.'s tomato-avocado-prawn-lime juice concoction. This goes with sherry or white wine.

Third, there is the main course. This is fish, game, fowl or meat with potatoes or rice and two vegetables, at least one of which will be green. On Fridays or on behalf of vegetarians, you could do something exciting with aubergines (eggplants), mozzarella and pasta. The main course goes with either white wine or red wine, depending on what it is.

Fourth, there is pudding. "Pudding" is just one of the British words for "dessert." Incidentally, the UK's outrageous and complicated class system still lingers on in what people call meals and foods and courses and rooms and whatnot. The best course of action is just to muddle them up and not  care--unless, of course, you have the misfortune to fall into conversation with a disgruntled Scots class warrior, in which case you have to cudgel your memory for words used by factory hands. Pudding goes with sweet wine.

Fifth, there is coffee. Even at 10 or 11 PM, guests may want coffee. Give it to them with chocolates. It is polite to ask if anyone would prefer tea.

Sixth, there is savoury or simply what B.A. and I call "cheese." Cheese is served with port, and it is at this moment that--depending largely on the politics of the company present--I get up in my Downton Abbey way and swoop all the women away to the sitting-room, leaving B.A. in charge of the men.

I don't think you can do this  disappearing act if you are Single, unless you have a brother there who is willing to play host to the men. And I am not sure you can get away with this in any country but the UK at all.

Meanwhile even British Marxists find it very odd, so I do this only when Young Fogeys, who love it, vastly outnumber the Socialists. The most important thing, when you are a hostess, is making your guests feel comfortable and cared for.

In addition to all this food and drink, we provide water and try desperately to remember to make ice cubes.


Most of our friends are allergic or adverse to something, and we plan accordingly. If you invite a vegetarian, you can make everyone go veg--most acceptable on a Friday--or you can simply make them something different. Roasted portobello mushrooms are quick, easy and delicious.


I know, how shocking. To get the subject over with, smokers may not smoke until after pudding. And they may smoke indoors only with permission of the hostess. And they may go outside to smoke only with permission of the hostess. If they can manage not to smoke or run away to smoke until the port comes out, that would be fantastic.

A good hostess always gives a smoker permission to step outside for a smoke. I suppose she might ask him or her to delay this disappearance for some very good reason, like an imminent toast.

Where to Put Guests

When your guests arrive, you greet them, ask if you may take their coats and invite them into the sitting-room. Introduce them around, and ask them if they would like wine, your chosen cocktail du jour or water. Put their coat in the appointed cloakroom and get their drink. Hopefully the hors d'oeuvres or crisps are already in the sitting-room.

If the dining table is not in the sitting-room, lead guests to the dining room when most of them have finished their drink and the first course is ready. Their cocktail glasses may double as water glasses.

There is a tremendous social science to placement, but here are only some basic rules:

1. The male guest of honour goes to the right of the hostess and the female guest of honour goes to the right of the host (if there is one). Unless there is an official guest of honour or a priest present, the guests of honour are the eldest people present and should be served first. If you are all about the same age, the hostess may ask the best-looking men to sit on either side of her. She shouldn't say it like that, though, or pull this trick at every dinner party.

2. Try to sit every man between two women and (obviously) vice versa. At big dinner parties, people are expected to alternate between speaking to their left-hand neighbour and their right-hand neighbour.

3. Married couples may not sit next to each other after their first wedding anniversary. After a year, they really do want a socially-enforced excuse to talk to other members of the opposite sex at dinner. But before that, it's slightly cruel to separate them. It is also cruel to separate engaged people, so don't do that either.

If you whisk the ladies away to the sitting-room when the port comes out, the men are expected to rejoin you. Sometimes the men show a terrible reluctance to do this. Actually, I suggest you skip this Downton Abbey stuff until you have had many dinner parties and are an old dinner party hand.

Ending the Party

If you live with your parents or housemates, this is easily done. Your parents or housemates will have told you "Eleven" or "Twelve" and at ten to eleven or at ten to twelve, you will inform your guests of this sad (but secretly useful) limit.

In the USA, I believe, dinner parties end shortly after coffee. Indeed, some hostesses delay serving coffee until they want to hint to their guests that it is time to go. However, in my UK circle, coffee is merely a necessary drug to perk guests up enough to enjoy their cheese and port. Thus, the only real arbiter of leave-taking is The Last Bus.

I'd love to say that another arbiter was sleepiness, but occasionally one or two of my dinner guests just fall asleep in their postprandial armchairs and then, upon waking, have another drink. But I cannot throw stones, for I fell asleep at someone's dinner party on Tuesday, and very funny I must have looked, too.

Washing Up

If you live with your parents, you must finish it before you go to bed. Alas. The kitchen and dining- room and sitting-room must be spotless, woe.

Otherwise, I recommend at least rinsing everything under the tap as you go, and stacking it neatly for the next morning, or put it in the dishwasher, if you have one.

At formal dinner parties, your guests should really not be expected or encouraged to help you wash the dishes, unless it is the only way you can think of to rescue one guest from the unwanted attentions of another or some similar social emergency.

Thank you notes

Guests are supposed to call, email or send you a note by post to thank you for your dinner party, but they rarely do unless/until they have a dinner party and discover that their friends do. If you are an influential married lady, you can advise young men to send thanks, but before you are, you really can't. The most you can do is send thank you notes yourself. I do because one of my friends is absolutely punctilious about this and so set a fashion.

And with that, I must now go and write two.

Update: It just occurred to me that that is a lot of alcohol. You do not have to serve alcohol at every or at any course although I cannot imagine a dinner party in the UK that did not feature any alcohol. Just because it is there doesn't mean you have to drink it. Part of social life is managing your alcohol intake, and of course how much you can drink and still be a pleasant, reasonable, witty person changes from person to person.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Sorry for the Late Post

Hello, hello! I am trying to spend less time on the computer, which is why this post is so late. I mean to write something soon about having dinner parties.

Here at Seraphic Singles, we are against women asking men out on dates but we are all for women inviting men to their parties, especially dinner parties. For parties, you can spend as much money as you like, dress to kill, cook up a storm, bake cookies, urge a man to have another drink and generally dote on a chap--as long as you are urging and doting on your other guests, too.

Solicitous, attentive behaviour that might scare the living daylights out of a man on a date is completely acceptable in a hostess.  You can and should say things like "May I take your coat? What a handsome coat! Can I get you a drink? Please come through to the sitting-room and be introduced!"

Personally, I love to run away with a handsome man's coat. I mean, I did. Before I was married, etc. Ahem.

More on parties tomorrow, I hope.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

What Marriage Is, Was and Ever Shall Be

Marriage is that individual union through which man and woman by their reciprocal rights form one principle of generation. It is effected by their mutual consent to give and accept each other for the purpose of propagating the human race, of educating their offspring, of sharing life in common, of supporting each other in undivided conjugal affection by a lasting union.

Marriage is a contract and is by its very nature above human law. It was instituted by God, is subject to the  Divine law, and cannot for that reason be rescinded by human law. Those who contract marriage do so indeed by their own free wills, but they must assume the contract and its obligations unconditionally. Marriage is natural in purpose, but Divine in origin. It is sacred, being intended primarily by the Author of life to perpetuate His creative act and to beget children of God; its secondary ends are mutual society and help, and a lawful remedy for concupiscenceHuman law certainly takes cognizance of marriage, but marriage not having been established by man, its essential properties cannot be annulled by such lawMarriage is monogamic and indissoluble; death alone dissolves the union when consummated.

---Catholic Encyclopedia, when the biggest controversy around marriage was divorce.

"... Herod had arrested John, bound him and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because John had been telling him, "It is not lawful for you to have her."

--Matthew 14.4  (NRSV)

"If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world--therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you. 'Servants are not great than their master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also." 

--John 15.8 (NRSV)

Laughter from the East

 Go check out Orthogals while I rest my poor arm.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Yulia Seen on CCTV in Glasgow

News of a sort. CCTV footage shows Yulia Solodyankina walking in Edinburgh on the afternoon of Friday, 7 June and a couple of hours later in Buchanan bus station in Glasgow. It looks as if she went to Glasgow of her own free will. The question is now where she went after she left Buchanan bus station.

She might still be in Glasgow, she might be in the Highlands, she might be elsewhere in the UK. She may have been smuggled out of the country. As yet, nobody in the "Find Yulia" group (movement?) knows.

As it is already the 25th of June, I am awed by how much work it must take to scroll through hours and hours of CCTV footage. I'm impressed that the police have found these images, and I hope they keep on looking. And I hope as much interest in the case can be raised in Glasgow and other parts of the UK as has been raised in Edinburgh by the hard work of Yulia's friends and a sympathetic public.

We hear so often of girls who have gone missing, but that is no excuse for apathy. There are only about five million people in Scotland: surely we can care enough to look out for a young Russian girl lost among us and turn her loss into a cause celebre.

The photo above doesn't show them, but the CCTV footage includes distinctively patterned shoes. Someone might remember those shoes, even if they don't remember her.

Bizarre Behaviour of Men Explained

I apologize at once if the title of today's post gave you a huge burst of excited optimism, for now I must disappoint you. This is not the Post of Posts, the post that will explain all the bizarre behaviour of all men in general. It is merely a call for your stories of bizarre behaviour that the bizarrely behaving men themselves explained.

As I frequently observe, men are not women, and although they can reason as well as we can--they can do math and learn to read and grapple with philosophy and all those other intellectual things women can do--in some ways their thought processes, especially their emotional thought processes, are quite different. For one thing, most of them cannot read minds.

I find it very odd that most men cannot read minds, and I suppose I should explain that when I say "reading minds" I mean that most men are not as good as most women at interpreting silences and shades of tone of voice and reading micro-expressions. With most men, you cannot just think "I am angry at you" while smiling sarcastically, you have to frown. You have to actually pull your eyebrows down to the bridge of your nose and let the corners of your lips droop and either fold your arms or start waving them around. Otherwise, such men will not understand that you are angry. Sometimes you even have to say, "I feel angry now," like ladies who have been injected with Botox apparently have to do.

Because we so often talk to men as though they were women, with subtlety, meaningful silences, and micro-expressions, we often confuse them. But they often confuse us, too, sometimes by behaving in over-exaggerated ways. There is the man who, for example, drops into conversation the news that he has a girlfriend so many times that you wonder if he is under the impression you are about to grope him. There is the man who introduces you to all his friends, family and colleagues as "[Your Name], She's Just a Friend." There is the man who talks to you for hours and asks for your phone number and then never calls you. There is the man with whom you were always friendly who starts cutting you dead and leaving rooms as soon as you enter them.

Very often, you will assume a man's bizarre behaviour is your fault. I'm not sure that men assume that our confusing behaviour is their fault. I suspect that women are still more given to immediate self-blame than men are. But happy the woman who has the guts to ask a man why he has behaved in a bizarre fashion and gets an honest answer.

With young men, "I don't know" very often counts as an honest answer. At forty, a man should  know how he feels about something and why he does what he does. At twenty, he really might not.

I was going to ask for amusing tales of bizarre male behaviour but that would not be in the man-loving spirit of this blog. So instead I encourage readers to write in the combox of painful confusions that were resolved when the man was asked for an explanation.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Auntie Seraphic & Lone Catholic Girl

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am a Catholic Single and am 30 years old, living in [East Asia].

It is a blessing to find your book when I was studying Theology in [the West] and that I finally found some comforting words from a Catholic point of view.

Ever since I have decided to have a devoted Catholic husband in my early 20s, I felt like I am so much less attractive to boys. Until now, I have never been in any relationship. 

It is not like I'm not involving in any activities, though I must admit both my working environment and friends are mostly female as I studied in Convent School. And after my 2 years in [the West], my church groups had long gone since most members are married. 

It is hard for me to join in any new groups as there are old couple group, young couple group and teenage group, but just no single group for those "who should have already married".

There are also no decent meet-up events [here]. Finding someone via internet is also a pretty risky thing to do here as there are tons of dangerous news about girls being raped or sexual harassed related with internet dating.

There were a few guy friends once told me that they found I'm too seraphic to approach, that being with me made them think they are evil. My girl friends also told me they found it hard to introduce guys for me as I am "too good for them". But  what they said about being too seraphic is only I went to mass every Sunday, tried to have confession once a month and pray everyday. Nothing more.

Families and friends began to nag me that my standard ( a devoted Catholic, or simply Catholic) is too high. They said I should have accept who are decent and my action might transform them to Catholic someday. Once in a while, there are nice protestant (yeah, the majority population in my age are mostly protestant ) guy approach me, they might said something like they do not mind I am Catholic, but I do mind he's a protestant. Though all of them tired of pursuing me already. But my sister always nagged me that I let my good chance slipped, I can't help to feel a bit hopeless. 

Am I really setting my standard too high? It didn't worry me much when I was in my 20s, but the thinking of never getting married is growing stronger when friends around me are all getting married when I am still single for nearly 9 years.

I read about your previous blog about men are all fear of asking girl to have coffee. Here [in my country], guys just never ask girl to have coffee. It sounds too bold for them and if they did that, most girls will just thought they are probably bad guy. So if you do not have a secure relationship while you are in University or in your working area, it sounds like it is the end for you.

I always have faith in God, but I am worried that it is myself who should have blamed on this issue.

God bless to you and your family tremendously.

Lone Catholic Girl

Dear Lone Catholic Girl,

Thank you for your email.  I am glad that you enjoyed my book.

Although you may not have experienced a "romantic" relationship, you do indeed have relationships with many people. A "romantic" relationship is just one kind of relationship, and it usually grows out of friendships. The more friends you make, the greater your chances of finding a man with whom you would like to share your life, and who would like to share his life with you. 

There are seven million people in [your city], so I have much hope that you will make many new acquaintances and friends soon. One very good way to meet new people is to go to social dancing lessons and events. In Scotland, where only 3.6% population is made up of Mass-attending Catholics, many Catholics meet through partner dancing events. At partner dancing events, like tango and salsa, the men want most of all to dance, and so they will try to create a good impression and not be rude or forward, for fear that other women will find out about it, and not dance with them. 

From what I read in your letter, you are not at fault in any way. It is natural for a Catholic women who goes to Mass and to confession and who prays every day to want to marry a Catholic man. What I encourage you to do is to meet new people at a social event that is not primarily concerned with religion or dating. That could be a group that meets for any activity the members all enjoy, but I particularly recommend trying out the dancing scene. 

I do not know anyone who dances in [your city], but here is a calendar for its tango events. [Excised.]

The most important thing, however, is that you find an social, public activity that you really enjoy, for not only will this make you happy, your happiness will make you attractive to others, and their happiness in the activity will make them attractive to you.

Grace and peace,

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Unsolicited Advice

In my extreme youth I was courted by a fellow in my neighbourhood who had a summer job at the same amusement park where I had one.  He was not an NCB, and he bragged that he had once dropped LSD. Being ill-disposed towards recreational use of hallucinogens, I decided that I did not want this guy to be my boyfriend.

His courtship was a tad strange, anyway. He would come to see me at my work station and walk me home from the bus stop--there was a lot of lurking and walking going on there. But the most memorable thing he ever said, which I enjoyed repeating to my friends in an imitation of his nasal drawl, was "If you did something about your hair--and your clothes--you could really be quite attractive."

Dear me, that still makes me laugh. Now I laugh harder, though, because I have learned one of the secrets of life and it is that you do not have to look conventionally beautiful to be attractive. You can be attractive "in a strange way" as a near-stranger said of me behind my back to my pal Lily. And this is a matter of personality and probably some derring-do in the fashion-and-make-up department.

Ladies with powerful personalities sometimes focus the power of those personalities on women we like, particularly younger women, and give you a lot of hearty advice. And having grown up in societies which now devalue older women and our wisdom, experience, etc, younger you very often reject this advice and even resent it. And no wonder. It is not pleasant when someone remarks upon your Single state and says, between the lines, you're Single because you're not attractive enough to men. Oh, thanks. Thanks very much, bossy older lady.

However sometimes--not always, maybe not even often, but sometimes--the bossy older lady may know what she's talking about. That is worth taking into consideration. It is also worth taking into the consideration the motives of this bossy older lady.  I once met a charming if bossy older lady who told me how beautiful I was and how I really ought to "get my colours done." She would do it herself, and here was her card. So she did my colours, gave me a make-over, sold me a ton of make-up and---eventually tried to sign me up to her pyramid scheme.

But another older lady, a very sweet older lady, once told me that my problem with men was that I talked too much. It practically killed her to say it; in fact, she blurted it out just before I went on a date. And although my feelings were hurt, I absolutely knew that this lady liked me very much and just wanted me to find a nice man and get married and have babies before it was too late for babies. It was, however, some years before I realized that she had been right. I talked too much--not as a woman in a world run by men who prefer to do all the talking, but as a person. And if I didn't watch it, I would still talk too much. (Look at how much I blog.)

Other older people have told me that I sometimes frighten people, and I am always taken so aback by this, that I always always always forget to ask that so-important question, "Why?"

And "Why?" is a question you might want to have near to hand when bossy older ladies give you advice about men. It should be a sympathetic, curious "why?", your tone indicating that you really want to know. An older woman of experience is giving you advice for free--make the most charitable assumption that she is not insulting you, and that this is not one more incident of oppression in your unlucky life, but that she might be on to something. And if you ask her "Why?", you will be better able to judge if she is or if she just enjoys the sound of her own voice.

Older Bossy Lady: You have such pretty eyes. You should use make-up to make them more visible.

You: Why?

Older Bossy Lady: Because eyes are the first part of the human face other humans look at. Also, men seem to find large eyes more attractive. There are two theories about this: one is that large eyes are a sign of estrogen production and the other is that large eyes are a neotenous feature.

You:  A neo-what?

Older Bossy Lady: It's a feature that makes you look younger than you really are. It's linked to our love for babies, even baby animals.

You: Oh, er...

Older Bossy Lady: Rust-orange eyeshadow is fantastic for blue eyes. It makes them really pop!

At heart I am the bossiest older lady under the Scottish sky, but I have learned through much trial and error that bossiness is not an attractive trait. Therefore, I try very, very hard never to give people advice in real life until they come to me and ask. And meanwhile I have my blog. Really, blogging is such a blessing. And if I could figure out how to do it without going back to school, I would be happy to take money from such girls and boys who ask my advice. Maybe I could get a gypsy caravan and a sign: "Madame Seraphic. Your Love Life Assessed.  £40/hr."

The operative assumption of older bossy ladies is that you don't like being Single and very much want a man. If you do like being Single and do not very much want a man, then feel free to tell bossy older ladies so. They might be a bit shocked and, heaven help us, feel judged because they are married and very much wanted a man at your age, so you might preface this with "I have so much respect for married ladies, especially mothers, as motherhood is really the Most Important Vocation, but for myself I enjoy the tranquility of the single state."

But if you are among the man-wanting majority you have at least two options. You can say, "I know you mean well, but this is very hard for me, and I'd rather not discuss it" and burst into older-lady shaming tears. Or you can lean forward and say, "Tell me what you know. May I take notes?" If option 2, ask "Why?" a lot.

Friday, 21 June 2013

First Dates on Reality TV

Benedict Ambrose thought I would love the new British TV show called "First Dates" because it is about Single people. However, Channel 4 and I have different concepts of "Single." Channel 4 defines a "Single" as someone who is not "dating" anyone right now, and I define "Single" as anyone who is not married or, at very least, engaged.  An unmarried woman with a boyfriend who thinks she's in roughly the same situation as a married woman is fooling herself. Psychologically, there is nothing like marriage, which is why divorcing people go at least little nuts at first, as I know firsthand.

On "First Dates," the Singles chosen for the first episode met in a London restaurant for a meal before leaving together for wherever. Interestingly, they were matched for age and claaaaaass, but not for geography. Northern girl got put with Southern guy. Liverpool girl got put with Southern guy. Nineteen year old girl with sweet round face and polished vowels got put with 25 year old Something in the City with equally polished vowels. Sixty-eight year old widower who collects clocks joined sixty-eight year old widow who asked him if he had read Fifty Shades of Grey. Well, I ask you, what a question for a first date.

The idea of dating at 68 led to some discussion between Mr and Mrs McAmbrose, let me tell you. Frowning, B.A. said that at 68 he could not be bothered. Mrs B.A. said that she did not want to date 68 year old men ever, and if widowed at 68, she will hire rent boys. B.A. was shocked by such ladies' locker room talk and said Mrs B.A. so wouldn't. Mrs B.A. said she so would. But she inwardly reflected that this would be taking a big risk with her soul, even though she is banking on living until 86. Maybe she will run a boarding house for University of Edinburgh medical students instead, just like her great-great-grandmama.

Anyway, the 68 year old on the show was not put off by the question about Fifty Shades of Grey. He said he hadn't read it, but the ladies at his knitting group had told him about it. I bet they did, those cheeky knitters. Dear heavens, is that what the over-60 social scene is like? It's almost enough to make me want to play lady-in-waiting to the Order of Malta instead.

The two beautiful children with polished vowels got along quite well, as did the 68 year olds. It did not hurt my very soul to listen to their first date chatter. The soul-hurters were the middle-aged people, including the middle-aged woman of 24. Attention women of Britain: tanning, even fake tanning, AGES you. B.A. and I watched the middle-aged with rapt attention, saying married-people things like, "He can't possibly be younger than me; look at him."

We were desperately afraid for the Liverpudlian fielding sexy remarks from the 35 ("Is he really only 35?") year old DJ. The DJ said he is afraid he will end up being the old man at the end of whichever bar in Ibiza hitting on the young girls. As he has slept with over 250 women, he may already be that guy: he simply could not turn off the smooth. However, the Liverpudlian looked at him with equanimity, as if, although she cannot remember the capitals of European cities, she knows men like she knows her hair products. (I sometimes meet women like this, especially in salons. They never really saw the point of school, or books, but they look fantastic, they own their own homes and men appear when they whistle. There is a terrible lesson in this, which is probably Enjoy knowledge for its own sake.)

We felt awful for the pretty woman (well, I thought she was pretty) sitting across the table from a foul-mouthed ex-soldier. Heavens. Even Flashman usually knew better than to speak to a lady like that. The woman seemed to laugh it off, and even lied like a trouper (or, let's face it, your typical super-polite Englishwoman) to say she enjoyed her date, but it was quite clear she did not. I would have walked out. And if the ex-soldier were my son, I would have cried myself to sleep last night, that's how ashamed I would be. (NB My oldest brother is an ex-soldier and as far as I know he never, ever talks like that.) Of course, the love of the ex-soldier's life, who broke up with him, was a soldier, too, so maybe he thinks all women put up with that kind of talk now.

There were other pairs, but they are beginning to get confused in my memory. Needless to say, there were no religious people  (or religion never came up) or academics or, apart from one Chinese woman whose accent was played for laughs, foreigners, so I didn't feel I had terribly much in common with any of the daters. Most of all, I would never want a first date I was on to end up on telly, unless it involved  a good, sparky, philosophical debate that ended in a draw.

My last first date (as it turned out to be) would have made terrible telly, as it consisted of B.A. telling me all about various age-old Cath Soc scandals at the University of Aberdeen and me trying to keep my jet-lagged eyes open. Zzzzz.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Nie chcę już być singelką/I don't wanna be single no more

A kind friend sent me a link to a Benedictine retreat in Tyniec, Poland for Polish-speaking Single women who want to stop being Single. Here is the link. I see that the first session starts tomorrow, which is a little late for planning, but there is a repeat in September.

The workshop is being led by two psychiatrists and a Benedictine priest, and that's almost all I can tell you about it. It is about getting married, so it is different in spirit from my Polish workshops, which are all about finding meaning in your Singleness, not how to chuck it ASAP.

The part I find mysterious is that there is just this retreat for women and no retreat for men called "Nie chcę już gotować" (I don't want to cook anymore). Why is the focus on women getting themselves married when traditionally it is men who do the asking? Is the increasing number of Single Poles over 25 the fault of Single women Poles? Could it not have something to do with the Single men Poles? Personally, I have no idea. Well, I have one idea. This idea is born of the fact that in Polish class we do not talk about our classmates' Polish spouses but about their Polish partnerkach

I am very sympathetic to the idea of Single women who want to marry getting married, so if the secret of the late marriage era is actually in this Benedictine abbey, I hope a reader goes to it and reports back everything.

Edinburgh, City of Dancers

As a particular favour to a local NCB, I am putting up his salsa video, so you can all help his group win a prize.

Apparently the Edinburgh salsa people have a rivalry with the Edinburgh tango people. I am so not getting involved in that. Incidentally, you are all due for another post on what a good resource partner dancing societies are for meeting new people.

There Is No Such Thing As Having It All

This week I have spent time with two Single women academics, and they have both invited me to visit them in their different European countries. I would love to visit them in their European countries. I live in Europe already, so it is not that difficult, and I love love love love love love travelling by myself, in silence, straining to understand the European chat of the Europeans around me, and making a million notes in my diary.

I love chatting with Single women academics. I used to be one. Well, I used to be a Single woman graduate student. And I used to get together with women all the time for big chit-chats. So the idea of travelling by myself to other European countries where I can sometimes be silent and take notes and sometimes have a glorious woman-only chit-chat is fantastic.

But it's not that simple. It's not that simple because I am married, and being married involves a daily (sometimes hourly) examination-of-conscience question called "Am I being fair to my spouse?"

Because B.A. likes travel, too, only not in silence and not by himself. And he'd like to travel as much as I do, only he can't because he has to work in one place. And his work pays almost all the bills--including my bills. And I am already travelling for a week without B.A. in July. So it would not be fair for me--I have been thinking about this for hours--to go jetting off to other European countries right now, especially as I have spent all my recent earnings towards our September holiday in Italy.

Fairness to a spouse is not something you have to think about when you are Single. And I know that many Singles would answer, "I would give up absolutely everything, including freedom to travel whenever I want, including career prospects, including my best friends, including seeing my family more than once a year, to marry the love of my life, even if we never have any children." And that's fine. I felt the same way when I met the love of my life. I feel the same way now!

But the thing is, you must remember that marriage involves work (above all, on your own personality) and really, honestly, truly, no word of a lie, marriage sometimes includes not doing stuff you really want to do because it would simply not be fair to your spouse do it.

There is no such thing as "having it all," so embrace what you do have.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

"How to be Single" (Review, Part 2)

How to be Single is the first novel of "Sex and the City" writer Liz Tuccillo, and it reads like a season of "Sex and the City". The ladies are slightly older this time, and they include Julie, a bored PR rep for a publishing company; Gloria, an angry recently abandoned mother of two; Serena, a gentle vegetarian chef; Ruby, a depressive mourning her cat; and Alice, a Legal Aid lawyer who has temporarily abandoned her calling to search for a mate, full-time.

All these women, with the exception of ascetic Serena, are desperate for a boyfriend. Desperate. Go out, hit on any man that moves, get drunk, dance topless on a bar desperate. End up in a hospital emergency room desperate. And it is in an emergency room where narrator Julie overhears elegant Frenchwomen slagging them off, en francais, for being typical American women, with no orgueil, pride.

Julie decides soon after to go around the world to find out how other women are Single. The novel flashes back and forth between Julie's round-the-world adventures and her friends' adventures back in New York City. As in "Sex and the City", there is a certain touristy obsession with France and, of course, sex. Because of the sexual content, in a sex club in France, in Julie's one-afternoon-stand with a near-stranger in Rio, and in various hiding places around Serena's ashram, this book is not suitable for unmarried readers and possibly not for married readers either, depending on the readers' disposition. If you're going to be haunted by explicit images of sweaty encounters with Brazilians who speak very little English, stay away. Oh, and given that both Serena and her swami lover have taken vows of celibacy, if you get crushes on priests and seminarians, most definitely you should not read this book.


For the most part, the women behave in self-defeating and yet jaw-droppingly selfish ways, which seem to be celebrated by the book and indeed the book has no redeeming messages in the first 200 pages, except the (French) idea of not showing your hurt and disappointment when a man loses interest in you. The book is absolutely obsessed with status, glamour and wealth. If the narrator speaks to a man, there is a good chance he owns an awful lot of real estate, has huge sums of money in his bank account, and is ready to lavish much expensive treats on whichever woman temporarily catches his eye.

It is interesting that the narrator (or author) can see the grasping nature of Chinese playgirls, but not her own obsession with the money and status of people she meets. When Julie's adventures take her to India, it should come to no surprise that the woman who picks her up at the airport is of the Brahman caste. The caste system makes Julie extremely uncomfortable despite the fact that she she has been partying with French, Italian, and Australian millionaire playboys, and her reaction to Balinese people trying to make a living through white tourists was, ultimately, to shout at them. The only poor men in the book, the Brazilians and the Balinese, are portrayed as good only for sex and incapable of fidelity.

However, there are glimmers of insight into how to be Single in ways that ordinary Christian women might recognize. Desperate Ruby turns again to the animal shelter for love, and becomes a volunteer, "The Sister Mary Prejean" of animals, being the last loving fact cats and dogs see before they are put down. In Mumbai, Julie tries to assuage her guilt and pangs of a broken heart though joining two British Indian women in giving beggar children one happy day at a fair. Sadly, these volunteer jobs are short-lived. Much more fruitful are encounters with close-knit families.

It is salutary to see that the sins of the women in the first half of the book are well and truly punished by the second half. Horrible Georgia starts to actually care about her children when her husband very justifiably tries to wrest custody from her angry, neglectful self. Adulterous Julie has a humiliating showdown with her French lover's wife. Ruby's seven thousand dollar experiments with self-insemination brings back flashbacks of her mother's misery as a poor single mother. Failed celibate Serena discovers that her swami lover has been sleeping with a whole lot of other women, women who don't mind sharing him. Alice fakes love for months in her attempts to settle and JUST GET MARRIED. Only by hitting absolute bottom do these women seem to get a grip on the fact that sex and/or selfishness and/or designer babies do not in themselves bring happiness.

But what does bring happiness? The narrator concludes, after all the women meet up for a therapeutic cry in the therapeutic hot springs of Iceland, that happiness can be found by LOVING YOURSELF. She more accurately thinks it can be found by letting go of one's failed dreams and being open to a different future. She might also have said that one should stop looking for happiness in the arms of men, and look for it in one's day-to-day activities, in one's friends and, especially, in one's family--either one's own or in a family one serves. Julie's trip to India, and ringside seat to contemporary Indian arranged marriages (of the highly-educated Brahmin caste), shines a light on how impoverished Americans (and other Westerners) have become by their rejection of the wider, multi-generational family, particularly their new assumption that decisions about sex and marriage have nothing to do with their families.

But completely missing from this book is any acknowledgement whatsoever of the God of Abraham. The only official religion portrayed in the book is Hinduism, I suppose because the author sees it as so sex-positive, except in the American branch to which Serena belongs. You would not know, from this book, that the Incarnation ever happened, or that there is a rich Western philosophy behind courtship, marriage, family and, indeed, Single life, from which we have profited for centuries.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Yulia is Missing

The majority of you are in the USA, so this is a long shot. But an Edinburgh University student is missing, and her friends are desperate to get out the word.

Her name is Yulia Solodyankina, and she was born in Moscow. She was last seen leaving "The Wee Red Bar" in Lauriston Place in Edinburgh on Thursday June 6 after a show, and she was last heard from when she sent a text to a friend on Friday June 7.

Yulia is a physics student. She is also a member of a dance troupe called Anansi. Anansi performs as part of the Beltane Fire Festivals and at other events around Edinburgh. If you have seen her on or since June 6, or have any clue to her whereabouts, please contact Scottish police at  44 ( 0) 131 311 3131.

Yulia's friends have set up a Facebook page to get the word out. Here it is. The Scotsman piece ends with a good description of her.

I have not met Yulia myself, although I see that she is at least a Facebook friend of one of my Edinburgh Uni friends. I have met many foreign students studying at Edinburgh University, and many of them have been involved in dance performances around town. So I find this all very close to home in more ways than one and quite scary and sad.

"How to Be Single" (Review, Part I)

Single women, feeling like a minority, naturally look for guides to being Single. Catholics are extremely fortunate in that our tradition has always had places of honour for permanently unmarried people. We can read about any number of unmarried martyrs and other saints from every era. Of course, most of the unmarried female saints were nuns. But the earliest female virgin martyrs were not nuns. St. Catherine of Siena was not a nun. St. Edith Stein became a nun comparatively late in life. And, anyway, I don't think we should discount good and holy nuns as guides to the Single Life, anymore than we should discount good and holy priests as guides to the Single Life.

The biggest difference between a Catholic Single woman and a nun is that the Catholic Single woman usually wants to get married. That is where the nun cannot help you. The nun has made a firm decision to take herself off the marriage market and to take a heavenly Spouse instead of an earthly Spouse and to have spiritual children instead of earthly children. So although a nun friend can give you a lot of counsel and comfort--and prove in her own person that women can have a good, fulfilling life without being married--she can't say "Oh me, too" in your suffering over not having a man and children.

So to the secular world you go, and the biggest influence on the lives of Single women in the English-speaking world when I was over 30 and Single was probably the TV show "Sex and the City."  And the premise of "Sex and the City"--"From now on, why don't we just have sex like men?"--was a moral disaster for the Single women of the world.

I have a love-hate relationship with SATC because I really enjoyed the interactions between Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. I didn't like the sex stuff--I hit the fast-forward button--but I like the women's interactions, their clubs, their clothes and their amazingly well-paid, fulfilling careers. Every episode of SATC was like a fairy tale, a fairy tale of New York. Freelance writers complained about how unlikely it was that Carrie could afford her apartment, not to mention all those high-priced shoes, but most women swallowed their disbelief and just watched. Many of them watched, I am absolutely sure, for clues about how to be Single, and SATC said the way to be Single was to have friends, buy a lot of stuff and sleep with anything that moved.

SATC told a lot of lies about life. Let's just put it that way. But I didn't feel ashamed for watching it until I found myself watching it with never-married Catholic girls, in particular one who was barely 20. Then I felt ashamed. However, I am not ashamed to say that I loved the first spin-off: a book by two of the show's writers, Greg Behrendt and Liz Truccilo . It is called He's Just Not That Into You, and it is simply the most sensible book about modern men and their courtship habits I have ever read.

In this book, Greg tells his readers how it is, and Liz pipes in and the end of every chapter to say what she thinks. She often says she doesn't like what Greg is saying, which provides a little consensus to the women reading who also don't like what Greg is saying. What Greg is saying is the unvarnished truth, and the unvarnished truth hurts. (NB Greg is not saying the whole truth, however. He does not allow for the high premium many/most religious men place on chastity.)

So fond am I of He's Just Not That Into You that I recently bought Liz Tuccillo's How to be Single (for £1 in a charity shop). I thought it might provide me with useful tips to pass on to you but--alas. After a somewhat promising start--the author has an epiphany when her Single friends hit bottom--it has turned into "Sex and the City". It is a fantasy/romance/sex novel. I cannot recommend it to unmarried readers, and even married readers may want to give it a miss.

This review will be in two parts mostly because I am only at page 218 and have almost another 200 pages of shallow shenanigans to go. The book does not deserve two whole blog posts, for it has very little literary merit, but it certainly gives me a lot to complain about. It also gives me a chance to point out what is wrong with the fantasy world Liz Truccilo has helped create through SATC.

Narrator Julie is a PR agent for a publishing firm in New York. So far so glamourous. Hating her job, she convinces her nasty boss to give her an advance for a book on "How to be Single." She sells all her belongings and buys "the airline version of a Eurail Pass for the entire world." So far she has gone to Paris, Rome, Rio and Sydney, and is now (p 220) on her way to Bali. The idea is that she is going to interview the Single women of the world. It's Eat, Pray, Love with less food and more sex. So far the Pray part is provided by a gal pal back home in New York who becomes a swami.

Julie makes Single friends along the way or is joined by her New York friends who just happen to have the time and the money to fly out from time to time. Divorced Georgia meets her in Rio. About-to-Settle Alice appears in Sydney. It's all so ridiculous. Georgia hires a male prostitute and, feeling lonely, Julie makes a booty call to a guy she met at a club. Paulo provides the same service as Georgia's male prostitute, only he doesn't speak English and doesn't charge $500.

Interestingly, when Julie earlier succumbed to the advances of a married Frenchman (I believe Liz has been reading Nancy Mitford), she doesn't get all explicit about it. But her encounter with the Brazilian is described in pornographic detail. Does Liz think Europeans are for romance and Latin American for sex? Eh? Australians, who apparently can't even see women their own age, are apparently for despising, and Julie never as much as gets hit on in Australia.

The event that set Julie off on her trip in the first place was an encounter with some Frenchwomen in a hospital waiting-room. Julie took crying, divorcing Georgia out for a girls' night with two other Single friends. The object of the girls' night was to meet men. They meet men. Unfortunately, they get really drunk along the way and some of them end up dancing topless in a bar and get into a fight and get thrown out of the club, just as the weakest of their number throws up: alcohol poisoning. The ladies do not look very glam in the hospital, and the snooty Frenchwomen look them up and down and say stuff about them the narrator partly understands.

They looked at each other and spoke in French. It was something like, 'American woman, have no [something]. Where are their mothers? Did they not teach them [something]?'

I understood everything but that one word. Damn that I didn't keep up with my French studies. Oh, **** it.

'Excuse me, what does orgueil mean?' I asked, a little confrontationally.

The one in the long coat looked me straight in the eye and said 'Pride. You American women have no pride.'

Although it hurt to type that, I single it out because the Frenchwoman certainly speaks the truth about these American women. They have no pride. But it's really weird. On the one hand, they are all beautiful (the narrator tells us), talented, extraordinary, but on the other hand they are incontinent and promiscuous and think they are nothing because they cannot get or stay married. (Georgia has children and, 221 page later, I haven't seen them. They are simply not important. They do not seem to provide Georgia with as much meaning or comfort as an hour with a Brazilian male prostitute.)

France was a BIG FAT DEAL in "Sex and the City", so I am not surprised Julie decides the French have the answer to the secrets of Single life and jets off to Paris first. Here, very quickly, are the lessons Julie has "learned" so far:

Paris: Frenchmen cheat on their wives, but it's okay and really sophisticated and stuff if the wife said it was okay and has her own affairs. Frenchwomen have so much dignity, they say nothing when abandoned by their lovers. They smile and carry on. Paris is beautiful.

Rome: Italian men are ruled by their passions and may threaten suicide if rejected. Most Italian women slap Italian men because Italian men make them so crazy. Rome is beautiful.

Rio: Brazilian men cheat so much, Brazilian women just assume their husbands go to prostitutes. Brazilian women have great bodies and will do anything to get them and women with cellulite should not bother going to the beach. Such women still have a chance of getting a one-night-stand, though, as Rio is all about sex. And beautiful.

Sydney: There are not a lot of Australian men, and the unmarried ones can't see women who are over 35. They honestly think they don't exist. There isn't much sex in Australia and although rich (all the men Julie meets in her travels are filthy rich) the men aren't that good-looking. Sydney Harbour, however, is beautiful.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a much better and shorter review. Today I had to vent.  Incidentally, all the women in this book under the age of grandmother are incredibly beautiful, and all the men not in Rio are incredibly rich. The only piece of common sense in the whole darn thing is the idea that you should not complain, cry and carry on in public or to him when your boyfriend loses interest and chases after some other woman. There really is no point, and part of him will be mad that you gave him up with a murmur of protest. It might bug him for years, as I know for a fact. Ah ha ha ha!

Update: Heroine is amazed that her married lover has rented such an expensive Balinese villa for their love nest. I am beginning to see why men worry so much about women's purported love for money. The biggest aphrodisiac in this book is money. Money, money, money, money. I wonder if all paperback romance novels have this obsession with the money of men?

Monday, 17 June 2013

Ostatnia Nigella

This morning I woke up to terrible headlines about two British celebrities who actually deserve to be celebrities, an important art collector and a beloved television chef. Charles Saatchi is a successful businessman and patron of the arts and Nigella Lawson is a successful businesswoman and daughter of Lord Lawson. We are not talking the sort of accidental celebrities who are made by appearing on reality shows or taking their clothes off for Page 3.

Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson are married, and the former was photographed appearing to throttle the latter and to tweak her nose as they sat outside a restaurant in London, arguing. Well, he was arguing; she apparently was trying to calm him down. And this being the UK, and they being celebrities, every national paper is running the story. Is Saatchi abusing Nigella? As stories go,  that's huge. The photos were released to the world on, ironically, Sunday.*

As Kathy Shaidle (don't click to Kathy if you are not a keen freedom-of-speecher) likes to say, the real story is in the comments, so I clicked to the Daily Mail for the vox populi. The vox populi was divided. Comments ranged from "Maybe he was just checking her glands" to "How dare the photographer take photos instead of step in to save the damsel in distress?" to... Actually, now that I think about it, the comments could be divided into "We should mind our own business" and "Saatchi is a wicked wife abuser."

I gave up on the comments before anyone said "If screaming, yelling and getting physical is their thing, they should save it for the bedroom" which was my second thought. My first thought was "Oh, poor Nigella! She's just putting up with it because she loves him and cares about her marriage." But my second thought was definitely in the realm of Choice C: "How awful for the other people at the restaurant."

As long-term readers know, I don't write much about marriage. I didn't like being married the first time, but I like being married now. However, I've only been married for four years, and that doesn't make me any kind of expert. But I do know that marriage depends on loyalty, and so if I get mad at B.A. for something, I'm not going to tell you. I'm not going to tell anyone. Well, I'm going to tell B.A., obviously, because I care enough. I'm here for the long haul and that means confrontation and reconciliation.

But the upshot is that I'm not going to write that much about my marriage because it is not just mine, it is B.A's. Also, I might make him look like an ass, and the worst non-criminal thing a wife can do is make her husband look like an ass in public. Meanwhile, the worst non-criminal thing a husband can do is humiliate his wife in public, which is what I think Charles Saatchi has done. The whole of the UK now thinks he thinks his wife is just property he can slap around.

I am confident B.A. would not mind me saying that physical violence does not play a role in our marriage. He might be a tad shocked to know that it plays a role in other people's marriages, and there are married couples out there who slap each other, grapple and occasionally throw things and laugh about it afterwards. And there are even some married couples would would think life would not be worth living if they didn't scream and yell and slap each other from time to time. It takes all kinds to make a world.

This dynamic is not the same thing as domestic abuse although I can imagine it could quickly turn into domestic abuse, and the minute one spouse says they are sick of scream-yell-slap, that should be an end to it.

I am not myself comfortable with violence-as-vehicle-of-sexual-expression, in part because I associate hitting with boxing and boxing with a code of honour. An honourable boxer hits people in the ring, never out of it, unless in self-defense, and you never, ever hit a girl a member of the opposite sex. Also, I know it is a supremely bad idea ever to hit someone whose first impulse is to hit back, e.g. a boxer in training, particularly when they are stronger and heavier than you, and men are usually stronger and heavier than you.

However, as I said, some married couples are okay with slapping, grappling and throwing things, and therefore [Update: if that is true], the rest of us should usually butt out---as long as they keep it behind closed doors. [Update: When it is public, then the public may certainly voice its displeasure, as the British public has certainly done today.]  Because that kind of consensual violence, cherubs, lurks in the murky shadows of the sexual realm, and not only should the public not see it, neither should the couple's children. [Update: B.A. is throwing all kinds of fits about this paragraph, just so you know.]

I notice that the British newspaper-reading public is always telling female celebrities to divorce their male celebrity husbands. Speaking as a Catholic and a former divorcee, I object to this. I think female celebrities should fight for their marriages and not give David or Wayne a chance to abandon them and their children for whatever brainless hussy managed to so fatally distract them for half an hour. Not only would such a capitulation be bad for the wives and their children, it would be certainly bad for David and Wayne, et alia, who would be eaten alive by brainless hussies until the money was gone and they were just pathetic and rather creepy old men in constant danger of hell. (Oh yeah. Hell.)

Meanwhile, it's up to Nigella to decide what she wants to do. If for whatever reason the shadowy corners of her sexual psyche enjoy the rough stuff meted out by her husband, then she is well in her legal rights to stick with him. If she's sick of it, then it's up to her to lay down the law or start divorce proceedings. But whichever she decides, I hope this couple calls an end to fighting in public. It's not dignified, and it puts other people off their lunch.

*Irony explained: Nigella is almost the Polish word for Sunday, niedziela.

Update: I am much more disturbed by reports that he says he doesn't like her food. The woman is a renowned chef, and spouses can hurt each other very much by belittling each other's proven accomplishments. I cannot see what he would gain from doing so. Surely he is a big enough man without having to diminish the woman in his life to feel even bigger?  I mean, he's Charles Saatchi. Hello.

Update 2: Fellow Catholic Cristina Odone weighs in. Normally I don't pay attention to celebrity gossip, but this is sort of the British equivalent of Guggenheim throttling Julia Child.

Update 3: After much vigorous debate, my husband B.A. weighs in here: "I think my major concern is that – prima facie – violence is bad.  Even if we can do “play” violence that genuinely causes no harm – because it is implicitly consensual and non-injurious – the default position should still be that violence is dangerous.  I can’t imagine any kind  of violence in the New Jerusalem: I conclude that violence as such is a post-lapsarian phenomenon.  So, when I hear that a man has been publicly violent to his wife and that she subsequently leaves in tears, my instinct is that something bad has happened – something which I might have been inclined to interrupt if I witnessed it.  Of course I could be wrong and find myself making a fool of myself by so concluding about any particular case.  But I think the default assumption in such a case is that harm is being done.  What, if any, mitigating assumptions might be justified – such as that the couple may find this kind of stuff fun in private – should take a back seat.  And this is precisely because that we have to have really  good reasons to think that any particular case of violence is “alright”.  That this was a man being  publicly violent to his visibly distressed wife very strongly  suggests to me that something was probably wrong."

Update 4: I used to box. For almost a year, I was the only woman who trained at my gym. Men hit me (but usually pulled their punches). I hit them. It was not such a big deal. Therefore, I have a very nuanced philosophy about when physical force is okay and when it is not. I do not have as strong a sense as B.A. that "prima facie--violence is bad." But I agree that it is dangerous.

Update 5: Guardian columnist who thought Saatchi-Lawson event might not have been a case of domestic abuse eats words. I am not a Guardian columnist, so I don't have to worry about angry Guardian readers. I am, however, a Catholic Register columnist and have written a denunciation of Fifty Shades of Grey, of which over 70 million copies have been sold, mostly to women.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Ongoing Importance of Uncles and Aunts

 Oh dear, this.

H/T Tim Stanley of the Telegraph.

Went to a Bar on a Friday Night

I so rarely go out on Friday nights, I'm excited that I went out last night. One of my Polish readers is in town, and I suggested we meet after she saw some sights. (Edinburgh Castle is amazing, but there are only so many times a permanent resident of Edinburgh  wants to wander around the Castle.) My proposed venue was the Polish vodka bar, as she has been living outwith Poland for years.

When I was single, especially when I was young and single, I thought it was utterly horrible not to go out on Friday night. And I could not understand why my parents did not go out on Friday nights. From what I saw on television, adults were supposed to be at nightclubs. And even in books adults were at nightclubs. Why did my weird parents not take advantage of their freedom, money and escape from the tyranny of their own parents to go to nightclubs?

It was because they didn't actually LIKE nightclubs. At least, my father didn't like them, and my mother hated what happened to pop music after the Beatles, except for the Swedish Beatles, aka ABBA. And no doubt they were too tired from a week of working and parenting to want to do much more than watch television and--in my mother's case--crochet.

I should really learn to crochet because on Friday night B.A. does not really want to do much more than watch television and I have learned from experience that the Goth scene in Edinburgh is pretty pathetic, and most of the Goths look sixteen years old, and I no longer get a buzz simply from being in a club that plays Goth stuff.

From a meeting-people point of view, going to any club is a stupid idea, for dancing at clubs (especially Goth clubs) is a solipsistic activity, and the music is too loud for anyone to say much, and the drinks are usually terrible. Now that I am 39++, I do not want alchopop, I want an excellent cocktail or vodka, and now that I know more about vodka, I do not want Smirnoff, I want Chopin.*

No, for meeting members of the opposite sex, I recommend that you all take up partner dancing, especially the tango, and  join a local partner dancing society. Partner dancing is a community activity, and you are expected to chat between breaks, and the drinks are besides the point. Drunkenness is definitely discouraged, and men are there primarily to dance, not to drink or pick up chicks. Men and women are prized by each other as people to dance with, and the rules of dancing offer is a return to old-fashioned gender roles and courtesy.

I am not particularly interested in meeting members of the opposite sex, so I am unlikely to develop an interest in partner dancing for my own sake. But I do like meeting up with women around my own age for delicious drinks, and I also like Polish stuff, including vodka so good one sips it like wine. Thus, I have been longing to have a good excuse to go to the Polish vodka bar, and my Polish reader provided it. Yay!

Although Top 40 dance hits blared from a speaker, it was a comfortable place to have a three-hour girl-chat and drink a lot of really good vodka. From now on, readers who want to see me in Edinburgh after six will be taken to the Polish vodka bar, so be warned. Polish, incidentally, is now the second language of the United Kingdom, except perhaps in Wales, so for a real taste of Modern Britain, you ought to do or eat or drink something Polish.

Meanwhile, the Polish vodka bar was interesting in that the men lined up along the actual bar were not all Polish. They were a mix of Poles and Scots, and I saw one South Asian man who might have been what is called a New Scot. Women did not stand there with them, but sat at tables with their friends. And although the men at the bar occasionally turned around and looked at the women at the tables, they kept to themselves. The servers--Polish girls all--were very nice and chatted with my reader and me in Polish and English.

At about ten my reader and I went out into the gloaming--at this time of year it does not get dark until about 10:15 PM--and went for a walk in the light rain before getting our bus. And I was reminded of why I really don't mind staying at home on a Friday night when I heard drunk young men baying at the top of their lungs. Fortunately, we were on our bus by 11 PM, which was still relatively early. What makes Edinburgh--and, indeed, many British cities--so unpleasant on Friday and Saturday nights are noisy crowds of drunken, shouting men and shrieking, stumbling women.

*As most North American readers will know, the screwdriver is a cocktail consisting of vodka and orange juice. For years I hated the taste of vodka without orange juice, and now I know that this is because the kind of vodka you mix with orange juice is disgusting and there is no excuse for it.

UPDATE: My friend lives in Pittsburgh, and that reminds me that it might be time to have Seraphic Singles evenings without me. I know there's a reader in Washington DC who wants to meet up with other readers, and there are multiple readers in many American cities. I am pondering how to make it easier for readers who want to meet each other to meet each other. Possibly I need team captains. More on this anon.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Distinguishing Loving from Fancying

People learning North American English must be so confused by our poverty of words concerning matters of the heart. When I was a school child, we expressed other-focused longings with the word "like", as in "So do you like him?" or "You like Aaron! You like Aaron!" or, cynically, "So who do YOU like?" as if every ten year old girl must by definition have a crush on someone.

This could be confusing, for of course we like many things, which means to say, we associate many things with goodness or pleasure. I like Georgian architecture, for example. I like the Scottish Poetry Library. I like the poetry of Zbigniew Herbert. I like cats. I like our nearest neighbours.

Fortunately, the British, who invented English, have a more specific word for other-focused longings and it is "fancy," as in "So do you fancy him?" 

This is a terribly useful word for it always has the connotation of want. You can also say "I fancy a cup of tea" and it means the same thing. You want something. You fancy the cup of tea because it will relax or warm you, and you fancy the new cashier in the supermarket because he is just so tasty-looking. 

Back my good theology school, which I discovered after the fact is considered rather "liberal", my ethics prof used to talk very solemnly and positively about "eros" and tell us concupiscence doesn't mean what we think it means. He was a very good man, and I can imagine him discoursing for half an hour on the holiness of our erotic feelings for the new cashier in the supermarket. However, I think the holiness of our erotic feelings for the new cashier in the supermarket has the shelf-life of a cheesecake. To be honest, if we spend too long concentrating on the thrill we get from the new cashier, we are lusting after the new cashier. 

Lust is the least of the Seven Deadly Sins, but it is still a deadly sin because, even at its mildest, it can utterly cloud your reason. It can lead you to do all kinds of stupid things, including stick with a man who is really rotten to you, or who bores you senseless, because you love kissing him so much. Physical expression of affection, even if sincere affection is largely absent, can chemically/ psychologically glue a woman to someone. Sexual desire is like a freight train, and the only person who can stop it is the driver, through a massive and heroic act of will, plus Grace.

For the sake of happiness, fancying should not be confused with loving, and love of some sort should come before fancying. Definitely there should at least be liking, as in "I like him. He is kind to people and makes me laugh." I know many people who are kind to people and make me laugh, so I like many people. I want to be around them because being around them simply makes me feel comfortable and happy, and I hope God will reward them for their kindness in this world and the next.

Hoping God will reward someone in this world and the next can be defined as "desiring the good of the other" which is the Thomist definition of love. And I think it a measure of love when your desire for the greater good of the other is greater than your desire for any of your goods less than your eternal salvation. For example, many a spouse would lay down his life for his spouse, and many a parent her life for her children. (N.B.: The good of the other is never something forbidden by God.)

Family and friends make all kinds of sacrifices on behalf of those they love. A loving parent says "No" to her  12 year old daughter going to an unsupervised boy-girl party even if the daughter will shout "I hate you! I hate you!" and mean it. A loving 24 year old teacher says "No" to his 18 year old pupil who has a crush on him, not because he could get in trouble if he didn't, but because he does not want his 18 year old pupil to suffer psychological harm.* 

This is true even if the 24 year old teacher secretly fancies his 18 year old pupil and feels pretty wretched. Because, obviously, you can fancy someone and love them at the same time. When I met B.A., I already liked him because he was funny, and then I liked him because he was so kind to everyone, and then I fancied him, but didn't do anything about it, first, because he was A REGULAR READER, and second, because life has taught me it is infinitely better to be the recipient of the First Real Move myself than to make the First Real Move and third, I had just met him and relied upon prudence to safeguard my own good and his. 

The fancying part was not as important as the liking part and the loving part, and I love my regular readers just for being regular readers. Fancying B.A. only became important when I knew B.A. fancied me, and super-important when I knew B.A. loved me in a marry-me way because, really, you shouldn't marry anyone you don't fancy. 

However, our poor hypothetical 24 year old teacher is not in a position to marry his 18 year old pupil because, first of all, she is his pupil, second, she's only 18, and third, he's married already. 

Maybe I should have said that first. At any rate, our hypothetical 24 year old teacher is a good man, and loves both his pupil and his wife, and therefore desires their good. (And if he is a Christian, he desires the good of his salvation above all else.) The good of the pupil is not to get mixed up with him, and the good of his wife is to have a loyal husband. For the teacher to act on his feelings of fancy would be contrary to love. But as he loves, he doesn't. 

To recap some distinctions to help us all sort out how we feel and what is real:

LIKING: Admiration and wanting to be around something/someone just because it/he/she makes you smile and feel happy.

FANCYING: Wanting someone, or their image, for the erotic thrill even just thinking about them gives you.

LOVING: Desiring the other's good so sincerely that you would forgo many goods, including their company, in order to protect it.  

Obviously, when fancying is divorced from love, what we have--very quickly--is lust. And many people fancy those they don't even like, which is dangerous to reason. We do that all the time when we have a crush on someone we don't even know, like a film star, and just create a fantasy around him. 

It is actually quite terrible to be fancied by someone who doesn't know you or doesn't really want to know you as you really are, and wouldn't like you as you really are, but just creates a fantasy based on your image. Knowing that, I suppose we should all strive not to do that to others ourselves. 

The worst case scenario is marrying someone who thinks you are the fantasy image of you he has in his head because, believe me, a few months of marriage will defeat his every attempt to keep that fantasy alive. And then he will blame you, you fantasy-girl murderess!  

It's lovely to be married to someone who likes you. And it is horrible to be married to someone who doesn't like you. So let there be liking before fancying! And let us put love--love as Thomas defined it--before everything else.