Essays in Idleness


Some culinary answers

And here, gentle reader, along with my best wishes for a Civil New Year, are answers to each question in yesterday’s Quiz. Not, I imagine, the only possible answers, but nonetheless, answers that will have to do:


1. Alaska Strawberries? … A facetious American expression for dried beans. I am unable to discover any special way of eating them in Alaska, though it was an Alaskan orphan named Peter Todd who taught me (at a very early age) this didactic jingle:

Beans, beans, the musical fruit;
The more you eat, the more you toot;
The more you toot, the better you feel —
So eat beans at every meal!

2. Angels on Horseback? … Grilled oysters, hooded in bacon rashers, riding on slices of toast. Replace the oysters with prunes and you have Devils on Horseback. In the test kitchen of the High Doganate today, I replace the oysters with largish snails from an oriental tin, to create yet another hors-d’oeuvre which I call, Refugees on Horseback.

3. Beef Olive? … Slices of beef wrapped round breadcrumbs, onions, and herbs, then braised, with no olives. They look like little headless birds, which the French used to serve as allouettes sans tête. The old French for “lark” was alou, which the old English transcribed as “aloes.” So when the English made roll-ups of any sort, they called them aloes of this or that. From aloes to “olives” is a short trip of the tongue. By 1615 we have Gervase Markham giving a receipt for olives of veal, as a variation on olives of mutton. (His book, The English Housewife, is a must-have on any kitchen shelf.)

4. Bombay Duck? … It does not look like, quack like, nor walk like a duck; it does not taste like a duck; but it does skim the water surface something like a duck, though on the under-side. And so we might think of it as an inverted duck; or as a reflection of a duck, but with the duck missing. It is in fact a sand-eel, called bombila in the Marathi tongue, spoken in the hinterland of Bombay (or Mumbai, or whatever they now call it). It is sometimes called bumalo in English — spelt “bummelo” in your Hobson-Jobson, and sometimes bombloe, but always Harpodon nehereus in Latin (following the Bengali, nehare). From which I propose the new misnomer, “Nehru’s harp.” The fish is often dried, cured, and salted, to make a relish for meat, and can be bought in powdered form in an Indian grocery, but fresh it might better be grilled, fried, or curried. Roasted and verily, smoked, to a rich orange over charcoal, then filleted and splayed on a bamboo splint, it may be had from the Gujarati fish-wallah on Chowpati Beach — or could be, the last time I was there. But only when dried is it, strictly speaking, Bombay Duck. My principal authority on questions of Indian cookery, the late beloved Mrs Balbir Singh, gave no recipe for Bummelo in any of its forms, and over the years this has been a source of anxiety. One hardly knows how to proceed without her wise and kindly counsel.

5. Bullock’s Heart? … Also known as the custard apple, a tropical fruit from a little tree of the genus Annona, it comes to Kensington Market most likely from Brazil or the West Indies, but grows bigger and juicier across south and east Asia. William Dampier described it in his Voyage Around the World (1699): “Full of a white soft Pulp, sweet and very pleasant, and most resembling a Custard of any thing.” Evoked in Tom Cringle’s Log as, “russet bags of cold pudding.” The fruit will be available for inspection at any Jamaican costermonger’s, I should think. The Jamaicans may call it anona, but the Malays, nona, which is also their slang for “a desirable unmarried European lady.” From Pepys’s Diary we learn to crush the pulp into heated and spiced beer, to make a concoction called, Lamb’s Wool.

6. Financière? … French haute cuisine; i.e. chicken quenelles, cock’s combs, and mushrooms, to be located in a Madeira and truffle sauce. A weapon on the field of intimidation, a reason to consult the Larousse Gastronomique, and a fun thing to watch slide into the pin-striped lap of a Bay Street strutter.

7. Fragrant Meat? … The Chinese are alleged to be behind the longest-running “man bites dog” story, and the Cantonese (as any Pékinoise will tell you), have been partial to canine flesh for centuries. You can hardly take Fido into a restaurant in Hong Kong (I was once told) without inviting a terrible misunderstanding. Do not ask the waiters to feed him in the kitchen. That the Cantonese themselves become self-conscious, at mention of this culinary bias, may be surmised from their euphemistic phrase, “fragrant meat.”

8. Golden Buck? … Put a poached egg on your Welsh Rabbit, and voila, Golden Buck, or Buck Rabbit. The Welsh Rabbit, or Rarebit for the shy, is cheese melted over buttered toast. Whether this usage was meant to be insulting, to the Taffies, no one will say. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which in older editions was a fruitful source of racial epithets, goes unaccountably easy on the Welsh, not even bothering to explain “to welch on someone.” They gave “Welsh main” as a term for a cockfight, and “Welsh mortgage” as a pledge of land with no fixed day for redemption; but “Welsh Rabbit” without hint of a sneer. (And a buck is a male rabbit, don’t you know.)

9. King Rabbit? … Jews, like Muslims, may not eat pork, according to strict religious custom, so when they do put pork on the menu, it must be misidentified. Since a rabbit’s meat can look much like a pig’s after roasting, and vice versa, restaurants in Israel settled on this name. “Rabbit” is incidentally a venerable euphemism in the war zones of the world.

10. Lassie? … The Hindi word for a shake, made usually from yoghurt, and which becomes a meal with chopped blanched almonds. I like it best the Calcutta way, the curd quite sugared, then salted, then mixed with fresh milk, and poured over crushed ice made from the delicious local tapwater. (Of course, it’s the ice that will kill you; the milk came safely out of a goat.) The Chinese do it with soya milk, but do not be alarmed.

11. Love in Disguise? … A calf’s heart wrapped in minced veal, rolled in crushed vermicelli, then baked. The Victorians, who loved offal almost as much as they loved euphemisms, often substituted “love” for a heart. The result of this preparation is a foetid monstrosity, instead of which I would volunteer for a Haggis. One must dig into it like a cardiac surgeon.

12. Maid of Honour? … A small, almond-flavoured tart, shaped as a fishing dory, supposedly invented by Anne Boleyn while lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon. Now Henry VIII, who married Catherine first, supposedly gave the tarts their name, while gobbling them in his characteristic manner.

13. Polecat Pie? … An old English pie made from bacon, onions, and apples. The more common name, Fidget Pie, comes from fitchet, a diminutive of fitch, the old word for a polecat. The pie in question comes out of the oven brown and black, so that it seems a polecat had been sleeping in there.

14. Prairie Oyster? … The well-known hangover cure is a raw egg, moistened with some sherry in a short glass, then swallowed whole (except the glass). It would anyway make no sense to plan more than one gulp. But out West, where they hardly need hangover cures (half the people are teetotal and the other half stay drunk), everyone needs to know that a Prairie Oyster is what the French call rognons blancs (“white kidneys”) — apparently, calf’s testicles.

15. Rock Salmon? … Among British fishmongers in the hungry ‘thirties, Rock Salmon became the generic name for dogfish, wolffish, and other seafood, not previously believed to be edible by humans. Rock Eel was also foisted, and in America the term Rock Lobster was applied to crayfish. Needless to say, these are all delicious, but the Anglo-Saxonish peoples are prissy, and need to be starved for their own good.

16. Scotch Woodcock? … By analogy to Welsh Rabbit, Scotch Woodcock is scrambled eggs on toast, “somewhat enlivened” by anchovy paste. I suppose some Welshman named it.

17. Shoofly Pie? …  A squall of sugar, flour, and crumbled butter over a bed of molasses, which naturally attracts flies. Its Pennsylvania Dutch origin suggests that “shoofly” may be a corruption of some forgotten German word. But I prefer to think it commemorates the flies. In his American Language — all three wonderful volumes — H.L. Mencken celebrates the American genius for non-retentive expressions, in contrast to the traditional English viscidity.

18. Spotted Dick? … The huge, cylindrical, sweet suet pudding, with delightful class associations from old British television series. It is studded with currants and Smyrna raisins, and has nothing to do with the perils of concupiscence. It might nevertheless be attributed to French letters, in the sense that it came to England by the writings of that literary chef, Alexis Soyer. A “dick” was a plain pudding, becoming a “treacle dick” when covered with sweet sauce. The alternative name, Spotted Dog, is explained by the Victorian use of “dog” for plum pudding; and “spotted” merely connotes marly.

19. Toad-in-the-Hole? … Sausage cooked in a thick batter. The idea of concealing savoury substances thus, goes back at least to the Romans, as I know at first hand, having tried to make a Pisam Farsilem from the instructions given in Book V of Apicius (his Artis Magiricae). It was layers of minced spiced meats, and pine kernels, in a pease-batter casing; and it came out of my oven like a huge, crumbling torpedo. I thought it excellent eating, but my interpretation of the recipe was subsequently exposed as a bit of a sham by a former Latin mistress — who pointed to several fairly grave grammatical confusions by return of post. Still, given the Roman propensity to eat stuffed dormice, and other “small cattle,” their gustatory enthusiasm for the variety of God’s creatures, and incurable weakness for a practical joke, I shouldn’t be surprised if a Roman original did have a toad inside, and possibly a live one.

20. Zuppa Inglese? … It is interesting to learn what foreigners think “the Anglo-Saxons” are eating; and instructive, for we don’t always know. I once purchased a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in the street market of the rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie, with French-only cooking suggestions on the back. (This would have been 1973, my summer of shameful memory.) In the bottom right corner was their recipe for petit déjeuner anglais. I gathered it was some sort of cruel joke, as the instructions were something like, “stir corn flakes and some bacon with milk, sugar, orange juice, and ketchup, in a bowl with a corkscrew, and eat without attention.” The Italians are more charitable, and the Italian idea of an English soup is much like the English idea of a trifle. It is a sponge cake, steeped in licker, but with ricotta to replace the custard, and it was adapted by Neapolitan pastrycooks in the century just before last.

A culinary quiz

We are approaching the end of the Civil Year, I have it on authority. In the once holy but now frivolous space between Christmas and “New Year’s” (really the Octave of the Nativity), and on the eve of the eve of MMXVI, I am resolved to provide something light and insubstantial.

You see, I was rooting in a closet for some other book, or books, and fell instead upon The Diner’s Dictionary, by John Ayto (Oxford, 1993). And tucked inside it were my notes for “a culinary quiz,” which I vaguely recall having administered to the upstairs customers of the late lamented Beverley Tavern, in Queen Street West, twenty years ago.

My plan is to transcribe them.

Each of the twenty dishes listed below has a misleading name. Some are euphemisms, some dysphemisms, some imaginative similes, and so forth. None are quite what they say. In each case gentle reader (or auditor, as was formerly the case) must answer: What is it really?

And as it is so wet to give the answers upside down at the foot of the page; and as there is anyway nor foot nor page in the Internet; I will reserve the answers until tomorrow. But by way of false encouragement, I will meanwhile provide for each question, an irritating little clue.


1. Alaska Strawberries? … (The answer is musical.)
2. Angels on Horseback? … (As opposed to Devils.)
3. Beef Olive? … (Something of a lark.)
4. Bombay Duck? … (Was it just a reflection?)
5. Bullock’s Heart? … (An ingredient in Lamb’s Wool.)
6. Financière? … (You might say they’re eating crow.)
7. Fragrant Meat? … (Don’t ask the waiter.)
8. Golden Buck? … (Or, Buck Rabbit.)
9. King Rabbit? … (Hot to trot.)
10. Lassie? … (Not another Chinese delicacy.)
11. Love in Disguise? … (But other reasons to blush.)
12. Maid of Honour? … (Anne Boleyn was the maid.)
13. Polecat Pie? … (More properly, Fidget Pie.)
14. Prairie Oyster? … (Not a cure for hangover.)
15. Rock Salmon? … (Close relative to Rock Eel.)
16. Scotch Woodcock? … (Inspired by the Welsh.)
17. Shoofly Pie? … (If Pennsylvania Dutch don’t bother you.)
18. Spotted Dick? … (To say nothing of the dog.)
19. Toad-in-the-Hole? … (You could try pigeons.)
20. Zuppa Inglese? … (Yes it translates, “English soup.”)

Compulsory mental illness

[Made once again a few little “improvements” to this essay, overnight.]


Men are easier to brainwash than women. This, anyway, has been my experience through the last six decades or so. We (men) have this marvellous ability to “compartmentalize,” as persons of both sexes have observed. We can, as Mozart perfectly exemplified, “do this as if that isn’t happening.” Our strength is also our weakness, however.

This is why, really, only women can write novels. For the writer of a novel must remember everything that is going on at once, the way women do. She cannot forget, in one scene, what is happening in another, any more than she can forget what each of her children is up to, including the big one to whom she is apparently married.

Playwrights (always men) have it charted out, and thus may go back and fix things that held still in their absence. One need not live with a play, the way one lives with a novel. Yet if it’s not on the chart, they will write howlers. Take Shakespeare, for instance, in his play, Hamlet, whose protagonist is a university lad of twenty, if that. Suddenly he becomes thirty in the arithmetic of the gravedigger’s scene. (Had his wife been with him in London, poor Will would not have made mistakes like this.)

Now, a woman can be thirty in the afternoon, and twenty in the evening, but knows, in at least the one case, that she is lying. Verily, I have sometimes thought, that it is this freedom from delusion — this ability to remember one is lying, and why — in which the superiority of women consists. (Or consisted, prior to circa 1962.)

Compare, if you will, a gentleman of seventy whom I watched trying to charm an attractive young lady, the other day. A very intelligent man, I should say, and rich, and well-educated, too. Yet he had genuinely forgotten his age, along with the fact that he is married. It was not just vanity. The male ability to compartmentalize came into it.

Of course, gentle reader may attempt to refute me by citing examples of feminine men, and masculine women. One ingenuous soul once tried to argue, for instance, that Marcel Proust was a man. How silly. George Eliot, maybe, but not Proust. Then he thought of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, whom he proposed as novelists. Switching from catcher to umpire, I had to declare a strike-out, for while both these Russian fellows were men, they hardly wrote novels. They wrote tracts, the way men do. These merely resembled novels.

No: as Lady Murasaki is my witness, only women can write novels. Or should be allowed to.

Men are single-minded, as everyone knows, and this is the reason we are so easy to brainwash. All we require is a little torture. Women, by contrast, cannot be defeated by torture, for as will be seen from the argument above, they have won before it starts. They will say whatever you want, but never believe it. Whereas, a man will actually believe what the lash has been explaining, just as if it were true, and his previous beliefs had been proved unsound. Hence the success of the liberal “science” of Behaviourism.

“Give me a no-nonsense, down-to-earth Behaviourist, a few drugs, and simple electrical appliances,” Auden observed, “and in six months I will have him reciting the Athanasian Creed in public.” (Now, Auden was that exceptional thing, a woman who could write poetry.)

But of course, a good brain-washer does not need to use torture — unless we count telly and the Internet as torture devices. The behaviourist simply lets you know which views are not accepted, and which must be repeated to get along in life. A woman will play along, in a smiling way, knowing she’s been asked to talk nonsense. But a man, in his simplicity, may try to resist. And when he breaks, he breaks. He may look like he is just playing along, but actually his whole brain is being overwritten. Which in turn is why only men can take “the news” seriously. They have been deranged by it.

An example comes to hand in the person of a man who has refused to surrender. It was sent me by a dear woman friend. His name is Tyson Fury (I have not made this up), and he is a heavyweight boxing champion. A man’s man, if I ever saw one.

He is now under investigation in England for “hate crimes.” This is because he expressed Catholic views on sodomy, and perhaps some other matters, such as abortion, and paedophilia. Then topped it off by affirming Christ. And, as if that were not enough, he also slighted His Earthly Highness, Prince Satan. Under interrogation, Mr Fury has told his interlocutors to go speak with the Pope in Rome, who has the same views (he thinks). To my knowledge, he (Fury) still hasn’t cracked. Count one pugilist round for sanity.

The lady who sent me this admires him, as I do, but put that aside. She called attention to a statement from the police, instead:

“At 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday we received a report of a hate crime following comments made about homosexuality on the Victoria Derbyshire programme. … As with all allegations of hate crime, we are taking the matter extremely seriously and will be attending the victim’s address to take a statement in due course.”

This is side-slap funny. At least, it is hard to suppress convulsive laughter when one finds the complainant is preparing some sort of “victim impact statement” — on the basis of having seen Mr Fury on TV. Meanwhile, we are told, some one hundred and thirty thousand lunes and lunettes have signed a petition against him. (Though from what I know, that is only a small sampling of their number in England.)

Now, the police spokesman was presented as a woman, which may seem to damage my theory. But we can hardly know for sure these days: perhaps it was a male officer, cross-dressing. Or an actual woman, and therefore speaking tongue-in-cheek (the “in due course” tends to suggest this.) Or then again she might be one of those post-1962 women, which is to say, not really a woman at all but rather, one of the lunettes.

Through brainwashing we have come to such confusion. For as I’ve learnt, sometimes to my cost, the straight-face isn’t necessarily deadpan any more. Often these “spokespersons” for authority have no sense of humour at all — having become so mentally and spiritually vacated that, while what they say is technically insane, they aren’t aware of it. Moreover, the disease is passed down the ranks, by order, and everyone below says the same thing, too, sans any outward sign of intelligence.

I call this phenomenon, “CMI,” which stands for, “compulsory mental illness.” It is a very male phenomenon. It occurs when the mind is impinged upon by torture, or some reasonable facsimile thereof, and the male inability to hold two thoughts in mind simultaneously — such as, “yes, alas, I have to say this, and yes, of course, it is fluffed batfeathers in a pillow of shrivelled gossamer” — has the effect of suppressing lucidity altogether.

Ever the optimist

We (in the sense of, “I”) have complained before of the failure of large conurbations (“cities”) to turn off their lights at night so that residents may observe astronomical spectacles. As a concession to human weakness, perhaps lights could be permitted indoors behind black-out curtains. Or if the masses won’t co-operate, just turn off the electrical mains at source. I realize not everyone was enchanted by the spectacle of a Christmas full moon; or waits for the clouds to part on an especially narrow first crescent. But no reason they should spoil it for us. My patience with democracy has been running thin; and thinner for all these resentful, moaning expressions of consumerist “human rights.” Civility requires their selective suppression.

I have other complaints, as gentle reader may have noticed from time to time. Hardly know where to start with them. And yet a bright note, under the overcast today. (With promise, finally, of first snow.)

For it is the Christmas season, when no one is working very hard, and surely motorized transport could be stopped, entirely. It is more or less stopped today, due to a happy coalescence of events and trends. As Christmas fell on Friday, and the workday after that is a statutory holiday — today, Monday, is a quiet time. In years past, the masses would be out for the “Boxing Day Sales.” But in year present, they’ve all gone over to Amazon and Fedex, so have no reason to go out at all. (Soon, we are promised, drones will deliver all our wants and needs.)

One almost feels for the retailers, so lonely in their masonry shops, with nought to do but revise their sticker prices downward; and the franchisers of the food service industry, dawdling as “the people” microwave their Christmas leftovers. But more, I am enjoying the quiet.

Until the robots have fully unmanned the production lines, and the computerization of accounts is completed to the elimination of all “human resources,” some people will still have to get up for “jobs.” But if the popular science magazines can be trusted, the true Age of Leisure is at hand. “Artificial intelligence” will take care of all particulars, and we can lie back on our biotic fannies before our home entertainment centres with programmable hookah-like feeding tubes. It strikes me that already a sizable proportion of society is under a form of cradle-to-grave palliative care. Blaring noise and glaring flashes may be an irritant, but statistics reveal these people are incapable of reproducing themselves, and we have only to wait them out patiently.

I am reminded of a friend’s argument for putting down the ill and enfeebled family cat. “She already sleeps twenty-three hours a day,” he told his pouting, pro-life children. “What’s an extra hour?”

Among popular fallacies is the belief in some sort of demographic End Time, by which poor immigrants from low-tech cultures with high birth rates move in to replace us, appropriating all our home entertainment and food processing units. According to this discouraging view, they are attracted chiefly by our technology and risk-free, “safety net” welfare state. “Eurabia” is that imagined future, after we have all been unplugged.

A young Muslim in Calcutta once told me, on learning I was from Canada, that he aspired to become a Canadian himself.

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because Canada is a country with excellent facilities,” he explained, in a stage Indian accent even better than my own.

I reflected on the attraction of our Culture of Death. Specifically, I thought, within a generation or two, in possession of our “excellent facilities,” his kind would also be dying out. In the end, only the wind would be singing through our old wires.

Our new federal government, led by the Trudeau child — who apparently needs two nannies — came to power on the promise of legalized marijuana. But as the people who elected him were already dopeheads, I don’t see how anything will change. The removal of their last possible source of anxiety may well reduce anxieties for the rest of us.

As a Christian, I see wonderful opportunities. Why don’t we find a few people who are still awake, and start a counter-culture? Right in the middle of this one, as it were: simply manoeuvring around all the psychic stiffs. For I think we may have reached the point where the silent majority are unable to stop us.

“The revolution” begins, the hippies once believed, with Dr Timothy Leary’s prescription, that we “turn on, tune in, drop out.” But his drugs were just another form of technology, or passive home entertainment. Comes the counter-revolution, we do the precise opposite: turn off, tune out, and drop back into human civilization.

I imagine this as a vast do-it-yourself project, centred on churches where we learn again to sing, and homes where we teach once more the classical virtues.

Merry Christmas

Stop writing and uploading for a day, I was told by my advisers before I ever started, and you have lost half your audience. Do it for two days and you have lost another half. As I now intend to disappear through four days, from this electronic aether, it follows that I must bid adieu to fifteen-sixteenths of my gentle readers, aheu!

The experts also told me that pictures are not optional; that nothing can sell without “sex appeal”; that links must be plentiful, to get links back; that the typography absolutely must be garish; and that fundraising appeals should be conducted in as serious and unsubtle a manner as a tinsmith repeating his mallet blows. (“Never make a joke near the cashpoint,” is an old axiom of the marketing men.)

Moreover, upon suppressing Comments, as I did in the middle of last year, I was told, Male ulciscitur dedecus sibi illatum, qui amputat nasum suum.

Or as the more sanguinary trouvères put it: Qui son nez cope deshonore son vis.

And I was told to avoid Latin and, probably, mediaeval French as well.

Indeed, it has occurred to at least one gentle reader — and he not even a Christian — that I might be entirely dispensable.

Notwithstanding certain Catholic proclivities, these Idleposts are not meant to substitute for attendance at the Mass. Always go there, by preference. Often I allude to the cycle of Feasts and Fasts, but do not do that in a systematic way. Your missal will provide, I hope, the missing details; and your Rosary, the missing thoughts. And while it is true I tend to moralize, lay-sermonize, preach and whistle, I am a very distant cousin to the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. I wear no clerical collar. Never trust me on doctrine, or anything else on which your life might depend. I have, after all, barely a tenth-grade education, and that not from a very impressive school.

I am, superadditionally, highly suspicious of the medium in which I am operating. While I cannot say it is all bad, I think well over 99 percent of it needs editing to the point of eradication. (Up from 98 percent, in print.) Who will trust the untrusting?

All I know is that if you aren’t right with Jesus, you aren’t right at all. … (So if you aren’t planning to spend perpetuity burning in Hell, best to go queue at the Confessional.)

And all this by way of wishing any remaining gentle readers a very Merry Christmas, with families gathered round; and the smile of the Christ Child upon each of you and yours; and on me as I desist from blathering until some time on Monday (should God will).

Death to Tinker Bell

I was going to name Santa Claus in my heading, then thought, it would give too much comfort to the Sultan of Brunei. You may now get five years in gaol for celebrating Christmas in that oil satrapy, if your Muslim neighbours can see you doing it. This includes Santa displays. The theory behind the latest edict is more reasonable than first appears. The Sultan clearly holds the Islamic religion to be so profoundly flawed, that any exposure to an alternative will endanger a Muslim’s faith.

Thus my frivolous desire to float in the Seventh Fleet, with Stars-of-Bethlehem on the masts, and Santas lining the decks. (Perhaps this was not worth mentioning.) The Marines could conduct them to shore in their landing craft, with gifts for all the children in the Sultanate.

Brunei is majority Muslim, but it is not an overwhelming majority. Native Christians, and Chinese of several religions (intentionally undercounted in the census, as in Indonesia) do most of the work; members of the established Shafi’i sect of Sunni Islam live off the fat, or rather oil of the land. “Guest workers” come, mostly from India and the Philippines.

My knowledge of the place is seriously dated; but even decades ago there were petty little laws and regulations to keep non-Shafi’is in their place, and to prevent Muslims generally from being exposed — to Christianity in particular. Since 1990, the laws have multiplied. The government now calls itself Melayu Islam Beraja, which is to say, a “Malay Islamic Monarchy.” Housing, schools, mosques are provided through this government from the oil revenues, and the state funds aggressive Islamic proselytizing. Non-Muslims, however, pay their own way. The latest law, to suppress Christmas, seems to have caught brief media attention, though only as light humour. In Brunei it is illegal to teach anything about the Christian faith, in principle even to Christians. A couple of dozen churches exist, but are tightly regulated.


So it is not Santa, but Tinker Bell I’m going after today. It will be seen by my fact-checkers that I know precious little about her, having encountered her only in Peter Pan, a play that repelled me even in childhood. The Disney version is “after my time.” As I recall, this Tinker Bell sprinkles fairy dust about — in envelopes and drinks I have suspected — and is by turns gratuitously spiteful and vindictive, or saccharine kind. I’ve known many like her. The association with shopping-mall Christmas is perhaps on my part pure speculation. But I’ve noticed a lot of fairy dust in there, and the angels on the trees (if any) tend to resemble pixies, with wands, just like Tinker Bell. If I knew a sympathetic imam, I might ask him for a fatwah on her. Santa Claus goes to the cliff edge of my Lockean tolerance. Tinker Bell flitters beyond it.

Ah, “Christmas” — in the current entirely commercialized and therefore stickily sentimentalized sense — comes but once a year. Thank God. Count me with Scrooge, before his conversion; indeed, I blame Dickens for inspiring the Victorian retail trade. The sound of (carefully “secularized”) tape-loop carols in a store actually drives me back out into the cold. Where one can at least smoke and bray, “Bah! Humbug!”


But thanks to a British reader (the razor-sharp Mrs S, now Lady N), my attention has been directed to the most wonderful piece on “the meaning of Christmas” I have seen in many years. It appeared quietly, Sunday morning, among the blogs in the National Catholic Register, and is by beloved Monsignor Charles Pope. I positively command all my gentle readers to peruse it. The title is also admirable: “Christmas Isn’t Candy Canes — It’s D-Day in the War Against Satan.” That is surely enough of a spoiler; go read the thing, here.

On fact-checking

We are told, by innumerable “websites” this morning, to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first Internet website, uploaded by Tim Berners-Lee on the 21st of December, AD 1990. This corresponds to a full generation ago, by a statistical convention. “Email” came along, less than three years later; then more unfortunate things.

I recall not the moment, but one shortly after, when a techie first explained this whole website business to me. He was “Eric the Not Read,” the volunteer who was frankly responsible for installing the first “networked” computers in the Idler magazine, then still extant. Too, I remember my response to him after listening quietly to his explanation. It was a variant on Marconi’s, “What has God wrought?” Ever the editor, I shortened this to, “Oh gawd.”

How was I to know that for once the hype was understated?

Gentle reader may be inclined to note, against my posturing, that I am writing on one of these “websites” myself. Having been fact-checked at a weekend Christmas party, on a fine point touching the murder rate in Finland — by way of sabotaging my delivery of an amusing anecdote, and insinuating that I am a pathological liar — I am not currently disposed to smile. It is now possible to obtain “facts and arguments” — true, false, or ludicrous — instantaneously, almost anywhere on the planet, from billions of soi-disant “sources.” (I inserted the word “almost” to protect myself against the fact-checkers.)

The reduction of human communication to the “virtual,” or sentimental-robotic, is an aspect of “progress” that cannot be blamed entirely on the Internet. It goes back to the invention of newspapers, if not before. What has been achieved, in the last generation, is only an extraordinary acceleration of this process, along with the imposition of a new horizon in historical time. Everything that happened before 1990 has become incomprehensible. Anything recorded after, is stale-dated within hours. But the supply of electronic digits grows, exponentially. (Or perhaps I am exaggerating.)

According to Received Opinion, “digital” — which we might date to Charles Babbage’s computer games in the mid-nineteenth century, but gets truly out of hand not until twenty-first — constitutes the Third Industrial Revolution. As Plato pointed out, the First one (agriculture) was a mixed blessing. To which let me add, by way of update, that the Second one (inhuman machinery) was very badly mixed, and the Third (this new age of worthless “information”) is a downright curse. I pray that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be delayed by some international catastrophe.

So why do I “blog”? Let us call it a post-modern irony.

To the mind that is not Catholic, we must climb Everest, land men on Mars, cure flatulence and so forth, “because it is there.” Similarly, we must enslave ourselves to every technical innovation. While curious in the better scholastic sense, the Catholic is content to observe “that it is there,” only. In other words, we must bear it in mind on our journey. We don’t necessarily have to go to the top of Everest. With patience, we might find a way to go round. But if no way presents itself, then yeah, over the top.

My alternative to blogation is to accept being silenced at a time when all Catholics are invited to shut up. Call me disobedient.


Which takes us to Saint Thomas Didymus (“the twin”), a.k.a. “Doubting Thomas,” whose Feast we celebrate today. It strikes me that someone should propose him as the Patron Saint of Fact-Checkers.

In the Gospels, and more in the early apocryphal works, he appears to come from poor fisher folk. And while he may not have been actually “retarded,” he was never the sharpest knife in the drawer. Of such stuff Christ made His Apostles — the foundation of that Church of which He is the cornerstone.

Thomas carried the faith East, ever East — according to uncheckable traditions — finally finding his martyrdom somewhere near modern Madras (er, Chennai). Along the way he was able to establish that Mesopotamia, Parthia, Persia, and various other places really existed, all the way to the Coramandel Coast. Indeed, southern India is where he established “seven-and-a-half” churches. (I’ve checked, that’s what it says.) A plain indication that he must have done some such thing, may be found in the evidence for Saint Thomas Christians in e.g. Kerala, going back many centuries before any other Christians caught sight of them. However, while we await further evidence (should any remain this side of Eternity), let us return to the start, and impulse of Saint Thomas’s journey, in the event that led him to declare, by the verification of his own eyes and fingers, Dominus meus, et Deus meus!

Saint Thomas, O doubting Apostle: now you have established that Christ was actually Resurrected, please pray for the rest of us simpletons!

Whimper wants a bang

The interpretation of Earth’s evolutionary history as a five-act play, with a farce tacked on the end as envoi, certainly appeals to my dramatic sense. As gentle reader may know, each grand period or biotic Act ends with a massive extinction event. We have the curtains close on the Ordovician, the Devonian, the Permian, and the Triassic, repectively; then finally on the Cretaceous, with a big dinosaur kill-off, just 66 million years ago — each of these events leaving more bodies on stage than a Jacobean revenge tragedy. The causes were “whatever,” as we say today. Asteroid, maybe; gargantuan volcano; little green men zapping noxious pink rays.

Look at the chart (it’s scattered around the Wicked Paedia) and the drama becomes less clear. It is constructed from current fossil knowledge, at the level of genera. It is founded on a statistical count of when the last species in each known genera disappears, permanently, off stage. We haven’t actually seen him die, but in each case, we never see him again. (Except, sometimes we do find him, swimming unselfconsciously in the Indian Ocean as if nothing had happened, in which case we must remember to adjust our extinction count, and make a poster for another “endangered species.”)

The presumed extinctions tend to bunch here and there, as waves may do at sea. For the play subdivides into scenes as well as acts, and lines within each scene. And even on the great acts, those curtains tend to close in “pulses” — as if the pulleys are jammed, and the stage manager must yank the cords again and again, and they never quite shut completely.

From the pop-science press I gather that “settled science” has moved in on the cause of the Permian/Triassic “boundary event” — the biggest of the big kill-offs. That is just where Shakespeare likes to put his climax: about the end of Act Three. This leaves him two more acts to sort out the mess he has created. In this case, the mess is now attributed to the Siberian Traps.

The Earth scientists now believe this vast region of igneous rock in present-day north-west Siberia (formerly northern Pangea) began tooting the greenhouse gases, big time, around 252 million years ago, and kept it up for over one million years. In addition they spewed more than one million cubic miles of lava — enough to cover the whole planet, more than thirty feet deep.

“Yikes,” will be our first reaction. Pump me full of greenhouse gases, and bury me under three storeys of molten lava, and I would consider going extinct, myself. And I’d be looking suspiciously at anyone who wasn’t. It sounds like a planetary Pompeii.

But note: “over a million years.” That’s less than one three-thousands of an inch per year; about what I expect falls on the cleanest city in the form of dust. Much less, in fact, because the rocks of the Siberian Trap are mostly basalts formed from lava that doesn’t much shoot upward; it just spreads and blobs on location. And note, another little fact I’ve not yet supplied: that the extinctions peak just after all this heaving. Then further note, that all of this depends on dating methods that can of themselves be plus-or-minus a couple million years; and cannot be checked against the actual sequence of events, until time agrees to move backward. (Only in my dreams.)

I can’t help it, gentle reader, I am one of nature’s sceptics. Show me a “theory” and I start feeling for holes. Often enough I find that it is a conjuring trick, some prestidigitation; a little hocus-pocus performed on the gullible, and information-starved. (“Modern science is like magic.”) The audience imagines thirty feet of lava falling all at once. The reality is a few specks of soot.

One might also note that the greatest devastation occurred not on land, but underwater. (The fact that sea levels appear to have been plunging at the time, makes a curious aside.)

I, like any clever scienticist, could fuddle with the data till my eyes crossed, then shrug and postulate various “events within the event” — weaves, turns, sprints, wrinkles, leaps, bobbles — plus an unknown number of additional “whatevers.” But I wouldn’t go on television until I’d found hard evidence of my purely speculative play-by-play. Smoking guns are all very well, but a coroner requires a one-to-one pairing between bullets and wounds.

As the wide-eyed propagators of the BBC put it: “The precise details of how this caused so many life forms to die out remain the subject of scientific discussion.”

Or as I would paraphrase: “They don’t have a chuckling clew.”

This leaves us with my promised farce, or “Act Six” in the programme. This is the one we are watching now. In this one we have, at present, more than seven billion “fully-evolved” humans looking for the next extinction event. Vain little creatures who, tired of waiting, think they can cause it themselves.

Notes from the resistance

It is hardly more difficult to make chocolates than to cast lead bullets. I had never made either, truth be told, but there are instructional videos on YouTube for the curious, and there are more detailed, written instructions elsewhere on the Internet for those who, like me, might want to make their bullets in a more leisurely, contemplative way. (Too, the modern reader ought to be reminded, there are old books.)

“Have you ever had your eye on an unusual gun, but were put off by the oddball calibre and lack or expense of commercial ammo?” one such website asks. “No problem. … The bullet casting process can be easy, enjoyable, and in many ways, relaxing.”

On more diligent inquiry, the claim may be excessive. For should one’s arquebus, wheellock, snaphaunce, or other muzzle-loaded weapon happen to fit any standard-bore ammunition, modern mass-production will probably defeat your economics. It is the same with almost everything, these days. The commercial machinery has probably shot out a hundred thousand of whatever is wanted in the time it takes you to make six. If your time is worth anything, you may ignobly reason, it would be cheaper to drive to some wretched big-box store and have done with it. This will be especially the case if your weapon is itself of recent manufacture.

And then there are the safety obsessives who warn that the loading of your pre-Napoleonic, sentimental favourite, requires skills you may lack. Even if the balls are cast fairly symmetrically, you must get them to lie comfortably on the powder. Air spaces are the devil. Get it wrong, the musket blows up in your face, and where’s the fun in that?

Whereas, a chocolate may remain quite edible no matter what a mess it looks, and I have never seen one explode. This was the argument when, earlier this week, I decided to make chocolates in anticipation of Christmas. Or rather, just one of the factors, for I noticed no spare lead lying about the High Doganate, and though I am shy to admit it, no venerable guns. (There is however a small brass model of the Zam-Zammah in Lahore, “that mighty fire-dispensing dragon,” which with patience could be interpreted as a working piece.)

On the other hand, reviewing my gift stocks from the previous Christmas, I discovered an unopened jar of maraschinos, in a liqueur distilled from proper Marasca cherries (in Italy where they know how to do these things). Too, there were bars of baker’s chocolate I had never got round to using, nor could remember having purchased.

My better angel thus insisted I make chocolates instead.

This, gentle reader may know, is very easy if one has chocolate moulds. I have two, of ancient provenance, obtained in a flea market somewhere on impulse (they are delightful works of art in themselves), but these designed only for casting more bars (although with inspiring, Catholic decorations). I decided to leave them hanging on the gable of a bookcase.

My father taught me to be resourceful. I looked about for some substitute, found I did not own even an ice-cube trough, and eventually gave up.

By now I was determined to make chocolates, so melted my dark chocolate in my makeshift double-boiler, sweetening with buckwheat honey. Spreading parchment on a ceramic oven tray, I dropped generous dollops in an unsatisfying pattern, excavating cavities in each with my fingers and straightening the sides while the chocolate remained fairly soft. One cherry with liqueur was then spooned into each recess, and more molten chocolate spilt over the tops. Quick, solidifying refrigeration could be obtained by placing the large tray on my balconata bench (even mild Canadian winters are useful for this), and Bob was finally declared to be my uncle.

The result was quite appalling to the inspection of my eye; and in places where the liqueur had seeped out, there was an unpleasant sticky glistening. Some carving with a paring knife was necessary to make them at all presentable.

Worse, my good intention to distribute them among worthy souls during the Twelve Days of Christmas has been somewhat undermined by the failure of my own Advent resolution; for I have caught myself eating them on several occasions. But this does put me in the happy position of being able to claim they are very much more delicious than the kind one gets from the production-line capitalists.

And therefore, in the balance, as a moralist I declare that we should all revert to making our own chocolates — recipes for alternative fillings abound — and put an end to this shameful practice of obtaining inferior quality, “store-boughten” goods — that both of my grandmothers condemned.

O come, Emmanuel

The first of the O Antiphons, on the Magnificat in Vespers, telegraphs, as it were, the approach of the Nativity of Our Lord. We have entered the last week of Advent. In each of seven successive evenings, the promise of the Messiah is echoed in phrases of the Old Testament, succinct and discrete. It is a string of Titles in anticipation of our Unknown God: O Sapientia, O Adonai, O Radix Jesse, O Clavis David, O Oriens, O Rex Gentium, O Emmanuel. (“O Wisdom,” “O Lord,” “O Root of Jesse,” “O Key of David,” “O Dayspring,” “O King of Nations,” “O God-With-Us.”)

In a different, ferial order they are also, as it were, reprised in the antiphons of Lauds (by seeming convergence of two very ancient traditions), i.e. according to the weekday. Too, there are the (also ancient) antiphons on the Benedictus; and the whole series, or series of series of prayers in Advent, signalling approach, interplays within the rich polyphonic dance of the ages, rendered so deeply harmonious within the continuous liturgical traditions before they were smashed by the Novus Ordo. Yet like old stone or stained glass, where the record is kept, they are possible to restore and then re-animate.

One may, sometimes one must, meditate upon the meaning of the sung phrases, and of their relations, in time out of mind.

They are not cryptic, however. There is no scheme that will ever be found to explain how the phrases fell out, or fall out within their “inevitable” places. There are extraordinary poetic relations, different in kind from that of some tight numerical formula, because operating at once in all dimensions. These are simply as they are.

We are too easily tempted to ask the wrong “Why?” — to ask useless questions about what lies entirely beyond our understanding. As the Scripture, the Liturgy is not the work of one human author. Nor is the working of the Holy Spirit some narrowly sequential thing, laid out as a course of legislation in response to our own “news events.” Things happen and we do not know how they happen. Only in moments, simultaneously in and out of time, and by that same mysterious Action, are we apprised: “Look and you will see.”

To our modern minds, this is inadmissable. We do not trust what we cannot manipulate, and try to reach “inside the machine” to re-order things to our own liking. We lack Faith; which requires humility.

We have destroyed so much, that our task now becomes an unimaginable Restoration of what we have destroyed. That is anyway one view of our task, while still inhabiting this world: to restore, and restore, as the Enemy smashes, and smashes. And by this “Enemy” I mean to expose the enemy in ourselves, which Christ came to exorcise.

In the course of this struggle — of our better angels against our worse — there is a cleansing that transcends time; and all things are made new in the light of Resurrection. Christ to us is returning, and returning, as in the yearly cycle of the Mass, through the few years accorded to each of us. In contrition we return there, and in returning, rediscover a joy that is unfailing.

The monastic orders — in which the antiphons are reliably sung in their appointed places through the daily Hours — can never, even in this world, be suppressed. When the monasteries are destroyed at one location, others pop up in other locations, as we may see with our own eyes today at Papa Stronsay and elsewhere. Always, always, even in this world, these monks and canons will be singing, with us, as we may do with them. There, in the heart of our surviving Christendom, restored perhaps on a distant island, old and new become indistinguishable again.

And we are reminded of something of which we need to be constantly reminded: that even in this world is the music of the Eternal, formed in the Heaven and interpreted to us in “the music of the spheres.”

We could, of course, interpret the final week of Advent as the last seven shopping days before Christmas, then Christmas Day as a vast opening of our vacuities, and the stuffing them up with poultry. This is one way to prepare, and in the “Dictatorship of Relativism” that Benedict XVI so economically described, it is as good as, “and therefore better than,” anything else we might be doing.

Or alternatively our preparation might consist of cleaning house and home — of making our souls ready for the arrival of the Christ Child.

I picture it in the latter way — the way of the Crèche — as parents do, and beautifully sometimes, their own blesséd children, knowing that “the baby” will soon arrive. Everything made new, the house washed down, the crib kitted out, and the Love made ready in our souls. There is no analogy too child-like and naïve for the exposition of this Nativity: when God, to the perpetual surprise of our human family, came to us dressed in our own flesh, so infinitely less sophisticated than we are.

The Child of Our Lady, our light and guide through this and all ages.

Presidential endorsement

My Chief Texas Correspondent kindly pings me this link (here) on a backroom of the USA Republican Party. Several dozen of the leading “conservatives” in the party apparently met at a Virginia hotel, on the 7th of December, and after five ballots reached consensus on their preferred presidential nominee. Prayers were said in intervals between the ballots.

I believe this is called a “conclave.” Get a bunch of reasonably devout old Christian gentlemen, and lock them up until they come to a decision. Most admirable: to have a prayer group choose the President, rather than leaving it to some squalid, chaotic, pagan convention. I approve.

This arrangement has more or less worked for us Catholics, over the last twenty centuries or so. Nothing earthly is failsafe, of course, and I’ll admit our election process yielded less than desirable results in the years 189, 296, 352, 625, 896, 955, 1032, 1316, 1378, 1492, 1513, and then perhaps five hundred years later. (See Edward Feser on “papal fallibility,” here.) But that’s a failure rate of less than 5 percent, compared to well over 50 percent in popular presidential elections (USA or elsewhere).

Gentle reader may be curious to know who the winning candidate was. The conclave selected Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz, the junior senator from Texas.


Another idea, for our beloved southern neighbours. The winning candidate should choose a regnal name upon becoming President, such as “Abraham II” or “George IV” or “John V” or “James VII.” (We start by affirming the baptismal Christian names of the previous forty-three. Note that Mr Cleveland served non-consecutive terms, but is assigned only one regnal number, not “Grover I” and “Grover II”). And let’s hope our descendants will never see a Woodrow II, or a Barack II. (Perhaps such as these could be removed from the list, as “Antipresidents.”)

In my capacity as Lord Denizen of the High Doganate (closest living equivalent to the Holy Roman Emperor, I should think) I hereby approve the choice of this American conclave, and would also like to endorse my CTC’s recommendation for vice president. He named Cara Carleton “Carly” Fiorina (née Sneed), also of Texas, reasoning that she would “blunt Killary’s estrogen campaign.”

Fair enough, but to be clear, I do not think it should be necessary to have any popular run-off. Or that this would even be possible, after another of my constructive suggestions is taken up. This would be, to transfer the entire Democratic Party leadership to Guantanamo.

Not all there

Chesterton, somewhere, memorably notes that the madman is not without reason. Verily, in the mental department, he has lost everything except his reason. I remember this every time I find myself arguing with an atheist: that it is best not to. The mere idea of “pure reason” enabled a certain Immanuel Kant to anticipate post-modernity, set the stage for some bizarre descendants, and reset all our metaphysical dials to an atheist default position. Not that he was intending this. He was only taking a step beyond Hume. “Fully autonomous reason,” shall we call it, is a powerfully destructive force. Perfection of the intellect is no more possible, down here on earth, than a life entirely without sin. The belief that we can elevate ourselves by the synaptic bootstraps of our wee tiny brains, has much for which to answer.

In Parkdale for instance: a district of this city renowned for its accumulation of “outpatients,” on and off their “meds.” They also illustrate Chesterton’s aphorism. Often they are reasoning, aloud; and seldom on my walks do I detect any logical errors. From the facts or premisses that they have supposed, their (often angry) mutterings to themselves flow quite naturally. I have even overheard some impressive hair-splitting; and have often thought that, with a little anger management, they could be candidates for tenure — at Ryerson, if not the U of T.

And yairs, vice versa, if you know what I mean.

“Pure reason,” as it were, uncritiqued. Yet it is not the reasoning that disturbs me, rather the premisses, and the judgements on fact, that strike me as intellectually wanton. We have what might be called “worldview issues.”

If, for instance, I believe myself a teapot, it does correctly follow that I may have a handle and a spout. The empirical observation, that I am lacking in these appendages, may be logically confuted. Maybe they broke off. Or from a Darwinian perspective, maybe they “evolved” into what I have now. Ditto with any missing lid and, of course, tea leaves and hot water prove nothing. Maybe the universe, too, “just happened.”

Perhaps teapots have gone out of style. There is a Canadian gentleman named Paul, now “Stefonknee” Wolsch, father of seven, who announced at age forty-six that he was “trans.” His wife, who risks labelling as a bigot, told him to stop that or leave. He, now dressed she, lost his/her job as a mechanic, too. But after a rough patch, Stefonknee had a further revelation, becoming an eight-year-old girl, trapped in the body of a man now past fifty. He, become she, was adopted by what I take to be a very liberal family, and now spends his, or rather her days playing with the grandchildren. I should add that the youngest, age seven, decided that her new sibling should be the youngest instead of her, and that Stefonknee now kindly prefers to be six.

This has become a controversy in the transgender community, and an exhibit in the “politics of identity.” Over at First Things (here), Carl Trueman has written facetiously but astutely on the topic, proposing the term “heliocentrarchic heterotemporalism” to describe the latest form of bigotry, directed at the purported essence of Mister, Miss, Mistress, Mrs, or Ms Wolsch. (An aspiring heliocentrarchic heterotemporalist myself, I will just call it, “him.”)

We cannot confute him by logic. Gentle reader cannot disprove that I am a teapot, either. (And at the moment, a Brown Betty teapot.) For from a strictly reasoned, i.e. insane point of view, it may be argued that one premiss is as good as another. Therefore A equals A, case closed. (Please do not vex me with your tautologiphobia.)

Faith and reason are intertwined. If there is God, His creation may contain untransmutable particularities, and other things we may not alone define. But if there is only human reason, all bets are off.

The young people

It is not their fault, really; perhaps they will get over it, in time. Really they are very sweet, and kind, and nice, very nice, except when they are not. The kind thing is to be nice with them.

Often I am surprised by the young people. I am expecting something, and it does not happen. I am not expecting anything, and it happens: something. … Something is there, which I cannot quite put my finger upon. Perhaps it is the niceness. What lies behind it, I ask myself. Anything?

They have so much to say. Sometimes I am listening. On the trolley, for instance, all the young people are talking. But not to each other. Each has this “device,” and would seem to be talking to someone at another location. It is not my business to eavesdrop, but then, it is not my intention to eavesdrop, either. For I am trying to read, but my ears are too good.

What is it that they are saying, and what does it mean? I used to think I could follow an English sentence. Now I am less sure. Perhaps it is that we don’t have sentences any more, only stream of consciousness. How I yearn sometimes, for a subordinate clause.

But ah, sometimes, one of them says something coherent; or uses “irony” in a way I can decode. I think, oh, he’s a smart one; must come from a good home. I hear recognizable proper nouns. I hear verbs. The other day I heard an adverb with a verb; so sharp! Must have been homeschooled, I thought. For he looked less than thirty, yet was making sense. I hope that he is safe.

While trolleys seem local, to the Greater Parkdale Area, I have developed a notion that the condition (of niceness) may be universal.

“Zombies on the work days, werewolves on the weekend.”

This according to a young German correspondent, who has been secretly homeschooled. (It is illegal to teach your own children, in Germany; supposing, of course, that you have any. Apparently, someone tried it, and the feared Jugendamt — “Children’s Aid” — moved in.)

According to Birgitta, let us call her, while they retain certain German characteristics, such as a high degree of personal organization and punctuality (“like robots”), her countrymen are no longer a threat to anyone, “except possibly to themselves, while drinking, in their Werwölfe mode.” This is because, as a consequence of state schooling, they no longer believe in anything — good or bad.

“They do not even believe they are alive.”

“They have lost the distinction between pain and pleasure.”

They make, she added, “the perfect platonic lovers.” (I think this was intended as droll.)

And she, too, observed that they no longer talk, about anything, really, but only make sounds, “like heavy birds.” Happy birds; sad birds. Nice birds. Strange birds, who use a lot of consonants. Though they are not judgemental, as birds tend to be. Except when someone is judgemental.

Perhaps we are unfair.

Be that as it may, I call upon Saint Hilary of Poitiers, who, in the “Dark Age” of the fourth century, “could not tolerate that the specious plea of safeguarding peace and unity should be allowed to dim the light of the Gospel teaching.” (Saint Andrew Missal.)

Yes, Saint Hilary, Bishop and Doctor: pray for them.