Friday, November 29, 2013

Free drugs!

Haha, no. Just advice. Sorry.

This is a note I just sent round to all my colleagues that I thought would be of benefit to the general public.

But first, I would like to tell the general reading public that the MRI scan showed no sign of cancer. C-free.

I still have to take it to the other doc and she will sit me down and tell me what's wrong with my nodes, but I'm going to bet that lack of exercise and too much sitting is a big part of it. Your lymph system doesn't have a heart to pump the stuff around, but uses your muscle movements. Well, the inguinal lymph nodes, the ones in your hippal region, respond well to lots of walking and moving, so it stands to reason that a lot of sitting and not moving is going to make them clog up. Especially after having a bunch of them removed from that area followed by a lot of down-sitting. So. There. That's good.

Here's the advice I got from the doc today who fixed my back.

Remember my sore back at the meeting in August? Well, it has been a chronic thing, happening with greater severity more times a year in the last few years and I've been getting treated for it with acupuncture. Today I hobbled back to the doc and he gave me a little lecture (in the nicest possible way) saying that it's the result of the way I work and it will only get worse if I don't fix that.

He asked, Do you work at a laptop on a desk or table? Yep. How long do you spend at the computer every day? About 6-10 hours. How long have you been doing it? About ten years. He said, yep, you're right on schedule. He told me that the laptop is the one invention that is destroying health more than any other thing except smoking.

He said that if I didn't change the way I work, I would eventually get to the point where the injury is permanent, and had to be treated with drugs and I'd be in pain all the time.

He told me what to do, and I thought I'd pass on the advice before LifeSite staff all turn in to hunchbacks. Cranky hunchbacks.

Ideally, standing to work is better than sitting. But if sitting, it should be either in one of those insanely expensive ergonomic chairs or on a stool that has no back rest which will force you to sit up with your spine straight.

Next, set up a work station where your computer screen is up at your eye level:

Sit facing forward with your bum on the edge of the seat and your back straight, feet flat on the floor. Lift your computer up on a box or a shelf so you are looking at your screen straight ahead without tilting your neck down. Even lift it up a little higher so your chin is tilting slightly upwards. This will force your whole posture to stop curling forward. Get a plug-in USB keyboard and mouse and work with them lower down so your elbows aren't bent more than 90 degrees. Ideally, get something to lift the back edge of the keyboard so it's not flat, like a book stand.

Also, he said to set a timer for 20 minutes and work in intervals and when the timer goes off, to get up and exercise. Touch your toes, then stand with your feet shoulder width apart and twist slowly to the right then back to the front then to the left, twice, then a lateral stretch with your right arm in a curve over your head then the other way. Do all these slowly, and only to the point where it starts to hurt a wee bit. No further. Stretching the hamstrings is also important, as is getting better muscle tone in your front, so curls and crunches and leg lifts. He said to do all this just a few repetitions at a time, several times a day.

Right now, I'm sitting at the table in a dining chair, and spending several hours a day curled up with my back and pelvis tilted to form a C shape and my legs curled up under me. He told me that this posture is going to wreck my back and if I kept it up, it would get to the point where it is impossible to fix and would be facing an uncomfortable old age of chronic pain.

The internet is mezmerising, literally. It's like a form of hypnosis, and I've been reading a lot of the studies of the various physical and other damage people do who use it a lot. I think all LSN employees qualify as people who use the internet "a lot". Everything I've read says that if you have to use the internet a great deal for work, a way to do it without ruining your brain is to do it in short intervals.

Setting a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and walking away from it for five, apparently does much to help the problem that everyone has of attention span and compulsive surfing. You know, I'm sure, what I mean; that thing where you get to the point where you can't read a whole article without flicking back and forth between tabs and YT videos and email. Far from slowing you down, it is being shown to improve productivity and concentration.

So, there you go. A bit of medical advice for free.

Here's the thing I subscribe to on YT with some of the back-strengthening exercises that Francesco the Friendly Pilates Guy recommended.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

What is the message of this medium, do you think?

We're just coming up on 10 years for this 'blog, and about the same amount of time me working for LifeSite. Before that, I did a lot of work for a political lobby that mostly involved looking things up on the internet. I've been a professional Googler for ten years of my working life, nearly half of it.

I got onto Facebook seven years ago and use it a lot. Nearly all my "friends" on FB are professional contacts, people who feed me information to write about for money, so I don't really feel any guilt about the volume of FB time. Of course, I also keep in touch with people I know who aren't work-related and am hugely grateful for it because these are some pretty important people to me whom I would not otherwise have been able to remain close to. I have fewer than 150 "friends" on FB and I turn down nearly all friend requests, esp. the ones from people I don't actually know. (This is something that greatly puzzles me; why would you imagine I want to let you onto my contacts list if you are a total stranger? And what is the point of just collecting random people? My gut reaction to friend requests from strangers is, "Buzz off, weirdo. Don't you have any real friends?")

Anyway, being someone who makes my living, basically, by farting about on the internet I have become acutely aware of the effects to my physical, mental and emotional well-being of a LOT of web-time: attention span, back aches, ability to focus on real actual books, neglect of real-life things like ... oh, you know, dressing, leaving the house... my life getting sucked more and more into the little square Palantir.

I have never read him, and until recently had always kind of sneered at the adoring fan-girls that crowded around Marshall McLuhan. A lot of Canadian undergrads used to like to use his famous expression in their ordinary conversations the way the rest of us normal people like to quote Firefly and Star Wars. But perhaps for the first time, I'm starting to think that from personal experience I know what he means.

People used to say it a lot about TV, and it was fashionable some years ago to deride TV use, especially for kids, on the grounds that the message of its medium was passivity and mindless consumption, immobility and social isolation.

To that I'm tempted to say to those people in the 80s, "you ain't seen nothin yet, baby!"

In the video above, I think it's very interesting that the narrator uses the term "fantasy" in the same way that I do; to describe a pretend world that people create for themselves in their minds when they think The Real is more real than they want to deal with. He uses it several times.

So I guess I'm not the only one to have noticed.


The Lowly Sprout

OK, Muricans, let's deal with your fear of Brussels sprouts.

Personally, I've never understood the problem. I've always loved sprouts. But for some reason, they've got a bad rep. Well, here's a way of doing them that will make everyone ask for more.

1lb sprouts, cut in half
1 carrot, diced
1 medium slice of bacon
1/2 and onion, a couple of shallots or a leek, chopped
1 cup chicken stock
handful raisins
handful pine nuts or walnuts

On a low heat, cook the bacon and onion together in a skillet until the onion is transparent. Throw in the sprouts and carrots and continue to saute until the sprouts turn a bright green. Pour in the stock and raisins and cook until the veg is tender. Toss in a handful of nuts at the end when the raisins have plumped up and the sprouts are nice and eat-able.

Mmm... baby!

And now, here's some Shatner.

Happy Turkey Day all youse down there below the 49th...


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

…to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.

Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.

For they speake against thee wickedly: and thine enemies take thy name in vaine.

Doe not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?

I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.

Just writing about the German Bishops...


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Many thanks

I would like to just send a quick update, and a note of thanks. I got a great response to my donation drive, and now have more than enough to cover all the immediate upcoming expenses plus have some in reserve should anything further unfold. Meantime, we still haven't moved any further forward.

Between wasting most of the week waiting to get the computer back, catching up on work time lost, and waiting for the $$s to clear from PayPal into the bank, (remembering of course that because of bank machine withdrawal limits, one can't take out the whole required amount in one day, but have to do it in batches over a few days...) there's been no way so far to make the trek into the City and across town to get the MRI results.

If the odyssey of the Apple Store was anything to go by, it's going to be a bit of a palaver (which is British Understatement for a "damned nightmare"). Meanwhile, the stress and worry seems to be catching up with me and my back, has remembered that I am Officially Old and has reacted by totally seizing up as of yesterday morning. I can hardly walk across the flat and have been hobbling around using an umbrella as a walking stick. Pathetic, I know, but amusing enough in its own way.

Fortunately, my doctor is also an accupuncturist and knows how to fix me, AND I now have enough dough to pay him for it. So, win! I'm also almost ready, after a week of taking some medication that I couldn't be bothered to identify, to go re-take the cellular test, which is scheduled for Friday. So, one way or another, all will be clarified by the end of the week.

Today I also found some drugs in the bottom of the pharmaceutical shoe box left over from the last time I buggered up my back in August and it worked well enough in clinical trials to get me to the supermercato and back today (with help from a friend) so I'm gonna give it a go tomorrow. I hate having to go into the City at the best of times, (gypsies, traffic, noise, morlocks, other people,) but it has to be done.

Life is just damn complicated and bloody inconvenient at times. I wish there were somewhere we could register formal complaints about it.

For some reason that I can't really figure out, however, I've stopped worrying about recurrence for the moment. Maybe all the other stuff, none of which really rose above the level of irritation and huge inconvenience, was sent by God to take my mind off things and give me stuff that I could actually deal with fairly competently.

Or maybe I've come to some kind of peace with things and just figure we'll burn that bridge when we get to it.

Who knows?

I've learned in the last few years that there is never any point in this country in hurrying. It doesn't accomplish anything except a peculiarly Anglo type of sputtering aggravation. Things happen here at their own pace. Fussing over it is like trying to shoo the tide back.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Oh, give us your deathless wisdom, do!

The thing that seems most clear about this papal questionnaire is that the idea of sending it out to the laity in parishes was a silly afterthought, possibly dreamed up by some low-to-mid level Vatican official who somehow heard a vague rumour (possibly from this mysterious "interwebs" thing everyone seems to talk about these days) that the laity needed to be made "more involved" in the Church's inner workings.

This is how the Church does things. The relevant dicasteries send out this kind of document to bishops for their feedback in preparation for any big event like a Synod. Then the bishops speak to their own relevant departments. Those convene committees to do the research and prepare fact-based responses for the bishop and his advisors. Then he tells them what he thinks and they prepare his formal response in consultation, with all relevant documentation (those "fact" thingies) attached, and he signs it and sends it back to Rome.

So, what has happened here is that someone has done the Normal Thing, and, possibly in response to being ordered to "involve the laity," has tacked the extra phrase "and to parishes" at the end of the usual introductory paragraph.

People, I guarantee you that there was no more thought to it than this. Really. That is how they do things here. If it deviates one iota from The Way We've Always Done Things, it's going to be a total botch.

The relative incomprehensibility of the questions to anyone who is not deeply involved and informed about the teachings and practices of the Church - and possessed of at least a passing familiarity with canon law, the bureaucratic processes of the Church and the relevant issues - is the best sign that this document was drafted by people who had no clew at. all. that it was ever even going to be read by laymen.

Anyone who does not know, at first glance, what the following means has no business offering any opinion:

"Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?"

No? Really? You sure?

'Cause this is just the short form, with the questions thought suitable by the UK bishops for lay beginners.

Ready for the big leagues, are we? Well, here's the full text. Knock yourself out.


Maybe something useful could come of it. We will now at least be able to say to those who scream and howl about more "involvement" by the laity, "Sure. Here ya go. Give us your timeless thoughts..."

These are the people who have been trained by their New York Times/Guardian/BBC masters to assume that the Church's teaching begins and ends with "Contraception bad!"

Oh dear, did we just receive an unpleasant lesson in what a pack of puffed-up, pig-ignorant little twits we really are?

There, there.

Here's some cat videos.


I wish I weren't such a damned idiot! I knew perfectly well that sitting too much was messing up my back, and sitting on the sofa instead of at the desk or the dining table to work was certainly making it worse. And now I'm totally seized up, can't move, and have to spend a week taking those stupid meds and doing all the exercises to fix it and I've only myself to blame.

I think one of the worst things about becoming a grown-up was the realisation that nearly all our pain and suffering is either directly or indirectly caused by our own stupid, lazy, selfish and pleasure-loving selves.

I have to admit that I rather miss the feeling of pleasure it gave me in my teens to blame someone else for all my woes.

I can certainly understand why so many people, when the culture presents them so abundantly with the opportunity, never give it up.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Of herbs and stewed rabbit

My freezer chest needs defrosting. When I moved into this apartment, it had something I'd never seen before: a fridge with no freezer compartment on top. I told them that this was one of the weirdest things I'd ever seen in a kitchen and insisted that the place had to have a proper fridge. I was, of course, roundly ignored. Nonetheless, the agency lady, who seemed to take rather a shine to me, called me a few weeks after I moved in offering to give me one she had in her garage. Arranged a man with a van to come over and deliver it even. And it's huge. If any of our local friends need a place to hide the body, give me a ring.

But it's also old, and though it certainly freezes things, it also manufactures an indoor wintery wonderland. The ice shelf is now so huge I'm thinking of calling it "Ross" and offering guided expeditions across it. So I've decided to start the project of eating up everything in there that needs to remain frozen so I can unplug it and spend a day mopping.

One of the things in there, right down near the bottom, is a package of skinned rabbit I bought on a whim a few months ago. I started looking up recipes online, having only had one rather unsuccessful experience with rabbit in the past. (I discovered that while it really does more or less taste like chicken, and you do similar things to it, it takes a LOT longer to cook.)

But then I realised, wait, what am I thinking? I know how to stew meat.


1 rabbit, cut into big pieces (actually, it was half a rabbit, including the head! gross!)
3 or 4 carrots, chopped into big bits
two leeks, also chopped into big bits
a few cloves of garlic, also as above, chopped into...
1 apple, not peeled, sliced into thin wedges

a few handfuls of dried shitaake mushrooms
two cups of water
two tablespoons chicken stock powder
splash of red wine
dash of Lea and Perrin's

Sprigs of fresh thyme, marjoram and sage from the balcony pots, all chopped up fine together.

Put all the chopped veg and the apple into the nice cast iron dutch oven you bought in Cheshire at the 50p shop. Cut up the little bits of meat on the head (including the tongue! gross!) and give it to the cat. Sprinkle the herbs on top of the veg.

Bring the water, chicken stock wine and wooster to a simmer. Break the mushrooms while still dried into big pieces and put them in the juice to simmer, covered for ten minutes or until they're nice and squishy. Pour the whole business, stock, mushrooms and all, into the dutch oven. Place the rest of the pieces of coniglio on top. Cover and put in a hot oven for 45 minutes to an hour. About half way, turn the pieces over and squish them down into the broth.

I went with very mild, herby sort of flavours, ones that might be found on the road by travellers, say. And that reflect an autumnal mood. But it would do just as well as a wine-tomato sort of thing too, and would lend itself pretty well to stronger, spicier stock.

I added the apples, in case you're wondering, to add a little natural sugar to offset the saltyness of the chicken stock, and as we all know, meat is great with fruity stuff. Don't peel the apples because they tend to disintegrate in stews, so if you want to keep them as nice apply blobs, you need the peel to hold them together.

You won't believe how wonderful...


Friday, November 22, 2013

A nice place to visit...

So, here's what it's like to "run an errand" in Rome:

Still in your jammies and having your tea, you get a text message in the morning from the Apple Store in Rome saying your computer's fixed and ready to be picked up.

(Apple Store is in a neighbourhood in Rome that is a transit dead-zone, but you've been cut off from the outside world for three days and are desperate.)

You get on the 11:50 train into town, arrive Ostiense station 1 pm.

Get on Metro Linea B.

Switch to Linea A.

Switch to tram at the Flaminian Gate tram stop.

Realising you will not make it before riposo, you call the Apple Store from the tram and beg them to wait for you. A gypsy gets on and starts playing his accordion. You sit for the rest of the trip alternately considering offering him 20 Euros to shut up or simply gripping him by the collar and pitching him and his horrible noise-box bodily off the tram. Finally, you get up and move to another seat further away from the grating racket. (Is it actually a rule that you're only allowed to play O Sole Mio and the Godfather Theme on the accordion? I'd like to see the regulation.)

You are now in a neighbourhood in Rome outside the Aurelian walls where everything looks exactly the same as everything else. You get off the tram at the wrong stop, get lost and waste 20 minutes walking in the wrong direction.

You arrive at the Apple Store 1:45. They have waited for you (a miracle). You are at last re-united with your True Love, and take a moment to test it. Ooops! the new trackpad hasn't been connected properly. You are told the technico has gone for lunch. The nice Apple Store Lady who gave you directions on the phone, suggests a restaurant to have lunch in.

You have lunch at an over-priced Sicilian place. The nice Apple Store Lady calls you and says that the computer really is ready this time.

You retrieve it, pay the 400E, and leave, feeling for the first time in a week that your personal world perhaps isn't falling apart after all.

You get back to the tram line by 3 pm only to realise that the one you came here on is one-way and there is no sign telling you where to find the tram going back where you started (or to any part of the City you recognise). You twirl around helplessly for a full minute before accepting your fate and wandering off to try to find a bus... or something.

You find another tram line and get on tram. It takes you to a bus loop you've never heard of, where there is a bus labelled (thank God!) "910 Termini". Brimming with hope, you get on and bask in the glow of the knowledge that you can wing it when you really need to. You are a fearless explorer who can Handle Things.

The bus trundles uncertainly through the parts of Rome no one cares about, mostly inching along, wedged into the City's perpetual traffic jam, at less than a walking pace. You briefly consider getting out and running alongside for the exercise.

You arrive at Termini train station at 4:02 and find the departures board. You see that there is a Pisa train (fast) leaving in precisely 8 minutes. From the front entrance of Termini to Binario 28 takes exactly 12 minutes to walk. You sigh, and, seeing that there is a slow train to Civi leaving at 4:45, you hit the book store to kill the time.

You buy a new book, and make the 4:45 train, plug the Beloved into the power outlet by your seat and settle in with your internet stick.

Train (which is not late!) gets you home by 6:20.

It has taken you 6.5 hours to pick up your computer from the shop.

You now get to start the work for the day.


Monday, November 18, 2013

I won't say 'here we go again'...

Well, well, well... it's amazing the power a single email can have over one. The results from my latest every-three-months cellular test are ....

drumroll please...


I got what I thought was the usual 'everything's fine, see you in three months' email this morning, but it said instead could I please come back next week. I have to admit that my calm is starting to be a little strained.

And the MRI scan results continue to sit patiently in the doctor's office for me to cobble the cash together to retrieve them.

I continue to receive smiling assurances from every doctor I talk to that it's "probably nothing serious" and each time it's sounding less and less convincing. I remember only too well how many times I was told two years ago that I would only need a little, bitty surgery and no chemo...

I can usually happily afford one or two doctor's appointments per month, but am now wildly exceeding my quota. And I could use a little help.

As you can see I've put the Paypal button back on the sidebar. I would be very grateful for any assistance. At the moment, I'm using the private system because...well, it works and is fast and efficient. And I've got to wait until January to renew my public insurance.

I'm not panicking yet. So don't any of you all neither.

* - *


Aaaaand, of course, what would put the cap on the worst day of the year so far?

My computer deciding that perhaps today IS a good day to die, and doing the kamikaze off the wall at the train station to. the. ground.


I will now go home and pull the covers over my head instead of waiting for the piano to fall out of that cargo plane onto it.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

I'd gladly pay you Tuesday, for a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan today...

OK, so lesson number 6 gazillion and 12 why I live in Italy instead of ... well ... anywhere else.

Got an appuntamento for an MRI and was told it would cost 680 Euros. A kind reader and friend donated the bulk of this amount into my Paypal acct last week, and I immediately transferred the amount into my bank. 3 business days are usually ample to take care of the transaction and they had 6 days this time. Also, I'd been paid a day or two before, so my acct. should have been bursting with dough.

So last night, off I went with a friend to the MRI place. Before getting there, I said, "Wait: bancomat." But after one false "Servizio non disponibile" the machine grudgingly agreed to give me 250 Euros. All together this left me 280 E short.

After a few well-placed kicks and a few choice words about modernity and machines, we decided to cross our collective fingers and forge ahead anyway, having already come a long way on transit-o across town in the rain-o. After an hour of literally rubbing shoulders with the masses on the Metro, one isn't put in a giving-upping kind of mood.

After a little more marching, we found the place (and the differences between the public and the private health care system were immediately obvious, "Hey, nice place! No holes in the walls!").

In the waiting room of the Risonanza magnetica I explained that my good-for-nothing Canadian bank had refused to give me my money.

"Oh, it's no problem," the lady said, "You pay on Monday, yes?"

(Then, after it was all finished, the nice lady gave me a bill for E775!! So even if the machine had behaved I'd have been left in embarrassments... Oh well. Best laid plans and all that...)

What, do you imagine, the MRI centre in your town would have told you?


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An airborne adventure story

Had a great idea for a sci-fi adventure story about a group of oddball friends living on board a giant converted cargo airship, buzzing around the world, living on various cargo-transport jobs, some legal and some not so much, often falling by accident into helping the Little Guy against The Man... all in the context of a near-future totalitarian, One World Government type scenario...

then I realised, "Wait, that's Firefly."


So, this is for Ann,

I heard the clacking of the machine in the radio room while I was still making the coffee and feeding the cat that morning. If I'd known what was coming, and how close we were all going to get by the end of the week to a Union Reorientation Centre, I'd have pretended it was out of order. A telex from the Ceremoniere to all three ships in the fleet: "Req. gantry party at Location 12 in three days. Airborne refuelling and supply exchange and passenger pickup."

The engine's low idling rumble blended reassuringly with the smell of coffee as I padded back, still in slippers, to the galley with the sheet torn from the machine. Mostly I no longer noticed the sound or the vibration, that could usually only be felt through the floor plates in the galley thanks to the insulation installed at last season's refit. Wind was up, I thought for a moment. Far below, I could just make out through the galley's lower ports that the sea was getting choppy. Those must be some pretty big waves if I could see the white crests from up here, maybe even thirty-footers.

Wait, passengers? What passengers? Weren't we scheduled for a cargo drop in Thimphu? And I was getting desperately low on tea. And passengers are a pain. Always asking questions, sticking their noses...and they never paid up front.

Then the bed-fog cleared and the sea chop reminded me why we needed to get to Thimphu now rather than later. Another week, ten days at most, and the weather in the Himalayan airspace would be too iffy for a high-altitude crossing. It was three days to 12 and another four days back depending on the windspeeds, and I didn't want to risk another run-in with the Eastern Union patrols to cross lower down.

"Quid dat?" I typed back. "You're lucky the telex is on. I thought we were silent running until the ground party at Loc. 33." We had to get moving. They loved us in Bhutan and we shouldn't be late. We hadn't even met the new Druk Gyaltsuen, having entirely missed the royal wedding in the spring. It was hard enough to find places to set down three 600-foot long airships without attracting attention. Bhutan was one of the few places in the world that even satellites didn't pay much attention to, and we couldn't afford to annoy such helpful and friendly hosts. "We can pick up fuel at the beach wreck site on the way," and never mind the damn passenger, I didn't say.

"It's the bishop," Ceremoniere typed back a minute later.

Bloody hell, I thought. Another damn political meeting. More security risks with most likely another request for a "favour" that we would have to do for free. And the weather getting more howly over northern India by the minute.

"You can tell His Grace he's welcome aboard Frobisher when he's paid me back for our little 'emergency pick-up' in Bonn last year. Diesel isn't free, and it's getting harder to steal these days. If he wants to minister to the Euros he can plan his exit strategies a little better..."

Clergy made me cranky. They always figure they're doing you a favour by giving you a chance to do them favours.

"You just did," Ceremoniere typed back. "He's standing right behind me."

With a gun, no doubt, I thought.

"Fine," I typed back. "But if I have to store this cargo for the winter, he's paying the deposit. And he better have a crate of decent Darjeeling with him."


Monday, November 11, 2013

Lest we forget

As ever, on this the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I humbly ask friends and readers for prayers for the repose of the souls of my ancestors who served their countries faithfully in the two Great Wars of the last century:

My great grandfather, William Doloughan; my maternal grandfather, Herbert Edward Burkett; and my paternal grandfather, Norman Hucknell White.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis.


My nodes hurt

I've got hurty, lumpy nodes.

Going to the doctor this afternoon to get an appointment made for an MRI. I told the nice lady doctor, "My nodes hurt". She ultrasounded them and said they're "inflamed" and that it's "probably not malignant" which really did nothing to reassure. Then she said that if it gets worse to email her.

Well, it got worse, it turns out you've got nodes in all sorts of interesting places, all of which hurt when they get "inflamed". It hurts to walk and swallow and all sorts of things.

Anyway she said, "Get an MRI". Which sounds to me like a Bad Thing. She said again on the phone later that she still didn't think it was THE Bad Thing, but I still needed an MRI.

We'll see. But I think I'm going to buy a packet of post-it notes to stick on all my stuff with my friends' names on them, just in case.

Anyway, going to see the other nice doctor today who said he can fix me up with an MRI in a private clinic.

We'll see.

I'm also broke, need a hair cut and have realised that I am living beyond my means, in practical terms. I'm simply paying too much rent and that's that. I can cover my monthly expenses, but never have a penny left every month, and I never "go shopping" or spend money frivolously, (except for the weekly Sunday lunch).

All of that last part is neither here nor there, except that it's making me cranky and out of sorts.

On the up-side, the nice Telecom Italia guy came round this morning and jiggled the cords on the modem, and announced that there's nothing wrong with either it or my computer. It's the cable, we figured out by process of illumination. So that's a relief. A cheap, easy fix.


Friday, November 08, 2013

Holy Silence

Lawks-a-Mercy! Why is tea in this country so BAD!?! It's got to be the water. Or maybe that they take the hot water out of a machine that makes coffee all day.

My home internet connection has been futzy for two weeks, and died all together this week, and due to not the best health I'm reduced to working out of an internet cafe today instead of dragging my sorry sniffly self into the City. Which is fine in many ways. The WiFi works and I'm happy to give some business to the nice fellow who runs the place. And my noise cancellation headphones make it possible to drown out the screechy women on the TV with Johann Sebastian, and the coffee is just fine (being an understatement of course ...compared to anything in N. America) but the tea... Dear HEAVens!

But what a difference it makes to have no internet at home! This morning, I read most of a new novel by a friend and the peace and tranquility in the sitting room as I read was almost like music. The silence was broken only by the sound of pages turning, and the little chink of the tea cup. The sun shone down through the umbrella pines in the garden into my bay windows and became dappled in shade of my pink flowering hibiscus. The cat even had a fit of friendliness and came and actually sat on my lap; astonishing behaviour for Winnie-the-famously-cranky.

And I managed to read the whole book without experiencing the least urge to look anything up on the internet, with an unbroken concentration that I don't think I've experienced in years.

On Monday morning the Telecom Italia guy is coming back to fix and/or replace the modem and the net will go back to being the dominant feature of my home life. It means that I can work without having to fight with either Trenitalia or the noisy TV racket at the WiFi cafe, and will save all kinds of money on lunches and trainfares and whatnot.

But what is the price of silence and domestic peace?

Not sure.


Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Through the Wardrobe Door

So, this afternoon, I took a step.

At about three pm, I stood in the bay window of my sitting room, with the late afternoon sunshine breaking out from under the clouds and pouring in, and sang the Office of None, partly in English (psalmody + Ants) and partly in Latin (everything else). And it was wonderful. A pause during which time stood still and the heavens opened and everything else in the universe (most particularly my little struggles) was rendered trivial. It lasted 20 minutes.

At about 6pm I intend to do it again with Vespers, though, since I hear the birds already singing good night, it will be dark by then.

The notation inside the front cover of my Anglican Breviary (not what it sounds like) reminded me that I had bought it and started using it in 2004. That was the same year I stopped working in the Campaign Life Coalition office in Toronto, and started working from home for LifeSite, while continuing to look after John Muggeridge in what was to be his last year of life in this world.

That was also the year I decided that there was no place to go to fulfill a religious vocation.

I was mistaken about that, but didn't know it at the time, and probably would have failed to hear or understand it had someone told me. After that, I settled for thinking that it was too late and I was too old, and too cranky and that the Church was too corrupt to make it worth the search.

After that my mother died, and I lost all interest, for a time, in the Faith and left Canada for England vowing (no, not really Vowing) to let the window close and all of that old desire to fall into the past like things left behind on the shore of a fast-moving river.

Then some other things happened, and some more things, and I had thought that it was all gone. Then cancer happened, and I spent two years wondering if this was Time's-Up. It turned out not to be, but All That grated away a good deal of the crust that had accumulated on me and was threatening to harden into an impenetrable shell. And the upshot now is that I learned that it is impossible to walk away.

How can one "walk away" from The Real? It is ever ready to barge in again. Like a Lion into a tiny house, at the least hint of an invitation, He will get His nose into any crack or window, and will shove until His shoulders are through, and then will pick the whole thing up and shake it apart until it is nothing but matchwood.

So, being now 47 and a recovering cancer patient with that sword of Damocles hanging over me (maybe it will fall, maybe it won't... who knows?) I began to ask again, How can I draw closer to You?

On Saturday afternoon, I composed a letter of inquiry to the Oblate Master at the monastery at Norcia. I have been assured, several times and by several different people, that they are not just tres, tres PLU, they are, in fact, us. And they have oblates. So... So today I sent the letter.

"I believe firmly in what I have come to call the ‘rat-in-a-maze’ school of vocational discernment: you can smell the cheese and you know it’s in here somewhere, so you just keep trying doors until you find one that opens. I have described my whole life as a long search. When I was a young child, raised on the Narnia stories, I remember quite consciously searching tirelessly for a door to a magical world.

The desire to find that Door has never left me, and I think I may now understand better what its real form is, and how not only to find it but to go through. As it has been pointed out to me, God does not want me to have “options”; He wants me to find the one thing I need to do and do it steadfastly."

I dunno. Maybe something new will happen now.


Monday, November 04, 2013

Almost missed one...

Alpha Male, baby!

And this one, of course...


All Shatner, all the time...

You forgot to mention, "hottie!"



Time for a change

Clearly the time for division is over and we all need to take a step back from these arguments over the details. We really need to learn to find common ground, and reach out to each other.

The time for picking doctrine apart and obsessing over the minutiae of this or that teaching has run aground. We can't always be taking such an adversarial position against the world. We need to show the world a more open, forgiving and loving face. Learn from each other, and create a space where we can meet in peace and encounter Christ in each other and in the world.

Learn to sing together...


Sunday, November 03, 2013

It concentrates the mind wonderfully

[Yes, yes, I know, sorry. My excuse is that my home internet went kaput this week and I spent the whole time lurching from wi fi point to wi fi point, the office in the City, other people's sofas, cafes, to try to find a place to get my work done. Also, Church; it was All Saints this week, which is a Holy Day of O. in there were friends here all week from Yoosah, so there was a lot of running about in Rome, backing and forthing and camping on sofas in town, and not a lot of lesiured fooling-about-on-the-internet time that normally fuels blogging. But the Telecom Italia guy came over yesterday (at nine in the morning on a Saturday! I was so shocked at the appearance of a fix-it guy on a weekend, that I let him in to look at the modem, despite being dressed only in PJs and cardie.)... anyway. Here we are, back again. And with probably a few lurkers and freeloaders shaken off, so that's good.]
This from our friend John Zmirak reminds me of the note in a Christmas card (yes, I have friends who still do that) from a dear friend in Vancouver, just before Christmas 1999: "Merry Christmas, and remember, when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, it won't be the end of the world. Just Saturday."

Those of you in your 20s and up might remember Y2K. I know a Catholic author who is still trying to finish all the canned food he stockpiled, and unload the rural compound he bought “to be prepared.” A part of me was afraid straight through Jan. 1, 2000, that all the Russian missiles would accidentally fire at once. When it didn’t happen, as all the folks around me at the New Year’s eve party in Greenwich Village (I too wanted to be prepared) chanted “We’re still alive!” they seemed a tad … disappointed at the dawn of just one more frog-flippin’ day.

There have been a number of apocalyptic predictions since then. I have another friend who was absolutely convinced that history was going to conclude (with appropriate celestial fanfare) some time in the winter of 2012. I responded, "But we've been told we don't know the day or the hour." He said, "Yes, but He never said anything about the month or the year, did He?"

For what it's worth, I don't think Millennial Fever is a strictly religious urge. I think it has more to to with psychology. I think the modern industrialised world has become a very alienating place. People don't know their role, they don't know what they're supposed to do, what their obligations are. Since the Cultural Revolutions of the last 50 years, they don't know how to organise their lives towards happiness, or even what happiness is. And they are utterly overwhelmed by the scale of the world's problems. They feel small and crowded out, their real lives insignificant and sometimes morally and psychologically chaotic.

The apocalypse, whether it's environmental cataclysm, zombies or the Final Trump and Shout and the descent of the Celestial Judge, is at least a definitive answer to the horrible and unanswerable question, "What are we supposed to do?"

In an apocalypse, the confusion is over: if there are zombies to kill, we know how to do that, and if there are sins to repent of, we know how to do that too. It represents clarity in a world where all is fog and ambiguity. The apocalypse, as the saying goes, concentrates the mind wonderfully.

What seems to be inarguable, however, is that culturally we are sinking to a rather low point.

It's a funny paradox, isn't it, because of course in material terms, more of us are what previous generations wold have thought of as fabulously wealthy than there have been human beings in all the history of the world. And we're this fantastically wealthy without really having had to do anything to acquire it. We just happen to be alive in the right countries, right now, where fantastically wealthy is "normal". For the great majority of human beings who have ever lived, the act of flicking a switch to turn on a light, or turning on a tap and having hot water come out, would be utterly astonishing.

My grandmother, born in 1903, had a high-tech job, at the age of 17, as an operator for the telephone company. When she was in her 80s, we had a very hard time explaining to her the function of an answering machine, a device that is now so obsolete that young people would also not have any idea how to operate it. Things in the material world, are moving along.

(The Telecom Italia guy chided me for plugging my antique rotary-dial phone into the phone jack in the wall. He said it was interrupting the internet signal. I argued that it worked, and was useful when I lost my cell phone in the sofa cushions. We compromised and he gave me a splitter that allowed me to plug the phone in when I wanted to dial out. He took a look at my non-smart flip-phone that didn't get Facebook, and shook his head sadly that one so young could be such a hopeless luddite.)

I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and we were poor. My mother rarely had a job, my father had flown the coop and government handouts were not then what they are now. We mostly lived in little apartments built into the tops of old houses that had not yet seen the gentling hand of posh renovations. We had a television, and I think it was colour, but often no central heating. I remember the wood stove in the sitting room and the friend who faithfully brought over a weekly box of Pres-to Logs which I would cut into big sawdust cookies for easier burning. The gas heater in the kitchen was grubby and gave my mother chronic bronchitis and the heat in my bedroom came from either the hot water bottle or the electric blanket. (To this day, I cannot sleep in a warm room, and keep the windows open all year round.)

In those days, and in that remote part of the world, it was very rare to travel, and no one we knew other than my relatively wealthy grandparents, ever visited Europe. Trips to the US and Mexico were not unheard of, but expensive and rare. I remember when my mother went to a great deal of trouble and expense to take me to Seattle to see the Treasures of King Tut traveling exhibit in 1978. She said it was unlikely that I would ever get to Egypt to see them again, and this was a chance not to be missed. I have never forgotten it.

But in those days, such "poverty" was relatively normal. A lot of people didn't have cars. A lot of people had party lines on their phones because it was cheaper than getting a private line. Lots of people in Victoria, as in the Old Country, had apartments without central heat. We didn't think of TV as any kind of necessity. We knew the difference between necessities and luxuries. Most people, to be sure, were better off than we were, but only because at that time and for a very brief window, divorce and "family breakdown" were also relatively rare.

And the majority of people who were better off than us, weren't really that much better off. My mother's best friend, another single mother, never had a TV, and her two children, my earliest childhood friends, would come over eagerly after school with me to watch cartoons. Being "poor" was more or less normal, and even my comparatively wealthy friends had parents who grew up after the Wars in England, so there was no snobbery at play. Life wasn't about stuff.

My mother struggled, to be sure, but she felt it a great deal more than I did. Apart from some envy of the material security of some of my school friends, I was very happy as a child. I liked music and we had records and a record player. I wanted books, and there were books. I wanted to go explore the beach, and the beach was there. I liked to collect Nature Things, and it was all out there for the looking.

I had read a lot about life in the middle ages and in the ancient world. I went through a long Greece and Egypt phase, and I was pretty keen on the Bible stories my mother read to me. I read 19th century novels and knew that electric light and hot water out of the tap were new and wondrous things. My mother was involved in the hippie movement and was majoring in marine biology in Uni, so we knew that the "ecology" was being endangered by all the cars and industrial effluent, and it was not really a good thing to have too much stuff.

Maybe this is part of why I was finally able, faster than some, to figure out on my own that the Pursuit of Stuff and the Pursuit of Happiness were not the same thing.

Maybe we want the end of the world, maybe the apocalypse is all the rage on TV lately, because we all get it, to some degree. We are all starting to feel suffocated by The Stuff. Mentally clogged up by all the pointless information. Maybe there's something appealing about a Great Cleansing that we can't avoid, and that will throw us back into having to deal with The Real and the Here and the Now. Our stuff, our distractions, have insulated us, isolated us from The Real. But whether consciously or no, we all know that Only The Real Counts.

Perhaps we all just wish that one morning, we will wake up to find that God has snuck in, in the middle of the night, cleaned up our rooms for us, got the breakfast on and is calling us to get up and come live in the Real for a change. Maybe we all subconsciously want for the time of dreaming our opiate-dreams in front of the TV or the internet to be over and gone forever.