Some seven summers ago, I was taking coffee or ice-cream with a worthy Polish lady outside an Italian café, when we discovered that we were both readers of the Remnant. Placid by temperament, she became animated on learning this. ‘I love the Remnant’, she said, ‘it’s so – depressing!’

I feel rather the same about the Book of Ecclesiastes. Reading it is like being shown round some peaceful English cemetery outside a country church, and finding that all the paths meet at one’s own open grave, complete with a head-stone that awaits only the inscription of a date.

Maritain says somewhere that Ecclesiastes is the most perfect existentialist work ever written: haunted, I suppose he meant, by a twin sense of the countless possibilities open to human freedom, and the inevitability that all our actions, humanly speaking, come in the end to nothing.

St Jerome also seems to have been drawn to the book; at least, he chose to comment on it first, before any other work of Holy Writ. At one point, he asks what King Solomon meant by saying, A living dog is better than a dead lion: because the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing more, neither have they a reward any more: for the memory of them is forgotten; their love also, and their hatred, and their zeal are all perished, neither have they any part in this world. The Jew who taught him Hebrew, Jerome remarks, said that his people understood this to mean that someone still alive and teaching, however ignorant, is better than a perfect teacher now dead; so a village rabbi might be the dog, and Moses or some one of the prophets, the lion.

But our saint is dissatisfied with this:

Let us aim at higher things. With the gospel, let us say that the Canaanite woman who was told, ‘Thy faith has saved thee’ is the dog, and that the people of the circumcision is the dead lion, of whom the prophet Balaam said, ‘Behold the people! It will rise up like a lion cub, and like a rampant lion.’ Thus, it is we from the nations who are the live dog, and the people of the Jews, abandoned by our Lord, who are the dead lion. To Him, this living dog is better than that dead lion. We are alive, and know the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; they are dead and know nothing. They have neither promise nor reward to look forward to; their memory is finished […]

The love with which they once loved God has perished, and so has the hatred of which they boldly used to say: ‘Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and did I not waste away over thy enemies?’ Their zeal, too, which was shown by Phineas, and which made Mattathias’s knees shake, has perished. It is evident, too, that ‘neither have they any part in this world’; they cannot say, ‘My portion is our Lord’ (PL 23:1137-38).

I dreamt last night that I had gone to see Cardinal Keith O’Brien, to urge him to speak out about Amoris Laetitia. He gently suggested that he might not be the right person to do this, given his own situation. However, he pointed out that Cardinal Sodano was in the house, and so I might have a word with him. As I left him, he murmured ‘Sodano is god’, though that might have been Paul VI, who turned up briefly around this point. Before I could speak to His Eminence, however (His second Eminence, that is), Bishop Schneider was there confronting him. Sodano berated the good Athanasius for his conduct, whereupon Bishop Schneider replied undaunted: ‘Popes have been deposed by the ghosts of Popes before now! Read your history books.’ I confess to having had some misgivings about His Excellency’s ecclesiology here, though I admired his spirit. He went away, either deposed himself or else suspended a divinis. At this point I found myself next to Fr Aidan Nichols, toward whose head Sodano was stretching out his hand. What fresh outrage is this, I wondered. But no: acting as a consummate politician, His Eminence was following up the stick with a carrot. He placed a cardinal’s biretta on Fr Nichols’s head. I whispered to His new Eminence: ‘Your cat will be so proud.’ At this I laughed so much that I woke myself up.

[Disclaimer: Any resemblance to real persons or events is entirely coincidental]

{The following verses relate to a journey that the Poet undertook among the Magyars}

I strolled by the Danube’s unending blue stream

As one who delights in an innocent dream.

Only one question arose in my breast,

Was I in Buda or was I in Pest?

To Margaret’s sweet island I wended my ways

To see where the princess lived out her brief days.

‘Mongst ruins there lingers her influence blest –

But comes it on Buda or comes it on Pest?

I sat in the shade as they brought me cool beer

And mused on the fates that had carried me here.

A scruple there was that could not be repressed:

‘Here’ was it Buda; or ‘here’ was it Pest?

Then off to the holiest shrine in the land

To worship King Stephen’s still mighty right hand.

I crossed the great flood to the east from the west;

But crossed I from Buda? Or crossed I to Pest?

That day has gone by but its memories remain

And oft as I lay me to sleep, once again

Such blissful remembrance steals o’er my brain

Of that pilgrimage past as could soothe every pain

Did not that one doubt bring distress in its train

Th’ intolerable doubt that exterminates rest –

When was it Buda? Ah, when was it Pest?

Or: Why it would be very difficult being a proper Conservative in Germany.

On two week-days, Holy Mass is celebrated in the chapel of a Catholic Hospital close to my place of work. Whenever I can, I attend Mass there. Usually, (after the sisters left, but that is another story), there is a congregation of some seven to twelve, and you know the majority of them by sight at least. Today, however, I was in for a surprise.

I was a wee bit late (mea culpa), and was struck, on entering, by seeing two sets of equally, but differently, colourfully dressed of young men standing to the left and to the right of the altar, three each side, and one each holding a big flag.

One side looked like this:


Who EVER thought these hats would NOT look utterly ridiculous? (They are not meant to, you know.)

The other more like that:


More romantic. Less ridiculous (somewhat).

Additionally, there were some 15 young men in dark suits in the pews (left and right).

Now, I will admit to some partiality towards young(ish) men in suits, or kilts, or historical uniforms. That instinctive reaction, however, was tempered, in roughly equal parts, by the GNT* reaction to anything even remotely military, and by my background knowledge, and very, very ambivalent position about/regarding Studentenverbindungen.

Them being the top adversaries of far-left student groups, they would, (a) enjoy my pre-conversion automatic disapproval, and (b) my post-conversion advance of goodwill (because most things hated by the far left are not as bad as the media make us see them).

Actually, when Communist-Germany I started to study at a western German university, meeting actually existing real-time Burschenschaftler was an experience akin to meeting actually existing real-time knights: History come alive, and you hardly believe it.

For this reason, I do not have the instinctive aversion to them that, let us say, Magdalena has. In fact, I took part in a number of activities of one particular fraternity, distinguished by having female active members (Is this a particularly bad thing, in this context, or an attenuating circumstance? At this time of the day I get confused by double-negatives.)

Still, for a ‘normal’ contemporary German (and probably anyone else), they are weird, to say the least.

Coming, at last, to the liturgical question.

These people seem to regard themselves as soldiers in gala uniform. Now we, in Germany, are neither predominantly Catholic, nor exactly demonstratively militaristic, at the moment. There are therefore no Masses with military prominently present (aka Remembrance day, etc.), here.

Now even admitting that these Studentenverbindungen have an equal position for that purpose: What should their role in the liturgy be?

German me says:

Simply kneeling/standing in the pew like everyone else, full stop. (Would be quite efficient as well, maybe, to have ostentatiously uniformed men kneeling in front of Our Lord, in Germany, today.)

What they did, however was:

Keep their more or less stupid hats on, all the time.

Never knelt.

Most of them (the disciplined left side, anyway) staring straight ahead,  not at the altar.

At the words of consecration, the left side, at least (those with the particularly silly hats), did this: The flagbearer lowered the flag, and the other two saluted. (No-one knelt.)

At recession, the priest stood for a while, ad orientem, while these chaps saluted/lowered the flag, and left before the priest.

How should this have been done (if done at all)? (Real question to the liturgists!)

At least, at 30+, I am finally mature enough to charitably think ‘Bless their little hearts!’ and smile at them (leaving the not really quite suppressible grin for when they have left), and appreciate that at least they go to Mass (and, some of them, dress well) before getting, probably, hideously drunk.

*GNT: German National Trauma

Deary deary me. How serious and intellectual this blog has become. No offence meant, of course. I just wonder if we have entirely lost shoe post readers by now [if not, give a sign of life, please…], because, if so, it is probably all my fault. Now I do have this absolutely brilliant series on pop culture in my head, ranging from Ruritanian novels over Georgette Heyer, Isaac Asimov and Start Trek to the Vorkosigan series (chronologically, that is). Plus cool webcomics, just you know. I just feel cowed by the standards set here because finding time for serious reflection is – difficult. I wish I could just let my inner child write, who does not care for this.

And this leads me to the hot tip of the month: Seraphic is CONTINUING the BODIS RIPER ! Who would have thought it! If you do not know it as yet, go here – that is the start of part 3 only, but if you send Seraphic’s Inner Child some really cool fan art, who knows if she will not send you parts 1 and 2 as well (I don’t, but you could ask her…[sorry Seraphic, this is no attempt at blackmail]).

Oh yes. And I found this draft that is three years old, but could have been re-written a number of times in the interval. Just as a shoe post in between.

A Cynic’s Notes to Self  – No. 38

Never travel in trains without earplugs.

Unless you are really filled with unshakable universal charity, this constitutes at least a near occasion for sin. It is highly unlikely that you will manage to offer your fellow passengers’ annoying behaviour up without first harbouring uncharitable thoughts to a degree that at least cancels any later merit.

You will not feel indulgent towards the elderly man opposite you who, with highly inefficient headphones, allows you to listen to his music in nearly original volume, not if the absolute high point of this music is ‚Dschinghis Khan’ and your thoughts continually and helplessly slip from your work to fantasies of grasping his discman and jumping on it. His varying the noise composition by munching unindentifiable, but very crunchy snacks over a prolongued period will not soften your heart.

You will develop no sisterly feelings for the young woman, just slightly older than yourself, who starts a conversation with an apparently nice and sensible business man opposite to her. You will rather think that in that conversation, sense is distributed uncommonly asymmetrically between the two partners. Her casually mentioning her working hours (till 9 pm); or how much nicer long-distance flights, to Canada, for example, usually are compared to inter-European flights; or how annoying train travel is, with all the long distances you have to walk on the platforms instead of just getting directly from the luggage reclaim to the taxi: none of this will further endear her to yourself.

In the end, you will be annoyed at yourself for starting violently at her mentioning her dissertation: has your experience still not told you that completed doctorates are a remarkably weak predictor for individuals’ intelligence?

All this is but very slightly set off by the profound sympathy between yourself and the man opposite to you, whose frantically moving lips indicate that he is finding the book he is reading somewhat hard to follow in the present circumstances, too, and who occasionally exchanges glances of shared suffering with you.


The other day, I went to Australia on business, as one does. (Now, this is only my third time outside Europe, and I have never been so far away, or on the southern hemisphere at all, so I was reasonably excited about it.)

Through a concatenation of planning failures on the part of various parties, I ended up in Canberra with three more days to stay and no plans of what to do. The current Plan B (or C) had suddenly come to nought due to my guidebook cheerfully asserting that German driving licences were valid in Australia – true – but omitting the fact that you need an official translation into English to go with them (or else an International Driving Licence, in English). I could have got one easily, earlier on, if any of the many Germans experienced in travelling, and driving, in Australia, and to whom I talked about my rather spontaneous plan of hiring a car, had mentioned this interesting fact. As it was, I had just spent several hours well into the night planning the details of my trip for the next day when I became aware of the complication. Having spent another hour or so trying to find ways around it, and failing, I was quite distraught: There I was, in Australia, maybe for the only time in my life, and for the want of a nail, as it were, I was condemned to spend my time in probably the least exciting city of Australia.

Now, I was probably somewhat unfair on Canberra. They are really quite good at monumental official architecture, even though the German in me has to stifle some internal trauma stirring inside to properly appreciate it. (And this photograph of the War Memorial does not capture the whole thing at its best.)

Now, I was probably somewhat unfair on Canberra. They are really quite good at monumental official architecture, even though the German in me has to stifle some internal trauma stirring inside to properly appreciate it. (And this photograph of the War Memorial does not capture the whole thing at its best.)


They also have one of the tallest fountains in the world there (147 meters). All the more impressive in such a dry place. (Do not be fooled by the green you see: apperently this lushness is unusual even for spring.)

Aelianus, who, unluckily for him, was on Skype at that time, had the questionable privilege of having the situation explained to him, with all concomitant complications and complexities and interspersed with exclamations of utter despair and frustration, via Skype messaging (I had left my headset at home). After making a number of constructive suggestions (such as sending me the link of the Canberra TLM people’s blog, and telling me to visit Mr. Abbot and convince him that what he needs most is to hire me), Aelianus finally said that I just had to focus on the fact that, for some reason, God wanted me to be in Canberra on Sunday – maybe I would meet really interesting people to talk to at church. “I never meet people at church”, I protested, “and how utterly boring would it be to spend my time talking to people when there is so much Australia around to explore!”


So much exciting Australia all around!

However, the thought gradually sunk into me that, actually, it should be possible to trust in Providence in what was, if you really looked at it objectively, not the single most important and dramatic thing ever happening to me in this life. With some internal grumbling I finally achieved some sort of resignation – most likely, I thought, I would have died in a terrible accident after hitting a kangaroo if I had made the scheduled trip with the hired car. As it turned out, however, Aelianus had spoken in an eerily prophetic way…

To be continued tomorrow.

So next Friday, work takes me off to the antipodes, to be poisoned either by spiders that lurk in shady corners even in cities (!) or by evil jellyfish that either (i) are small enough to swim through protective nets at beaches, or (ii) reach through protective nets with meters-long tentacles (all according to my travel guide that tries to get people to go there!) And my colleagues have been quite horrified that I am leaving on Friday the 13th. Is there quite as noxious a superstition about this in Britain as there is here? Anyway, after pooh-poohing this notion, tonight I was checking the liturgical calendar (NO) for the time I would be away. So whose commemorations are on (Friday) 13 September? My very own pseudonymous patron saint, St. Notburga (yes, I am very bad about remembering saints’ days), and: St. Tobit and St. Tobias. Well…



WHAT a time to get bitten by a tick and got on an antibiotics therapy against Borreliosis that will make you, among other unpleasant things, SERIOUSLY SENSITIVE (in the ‘Fingernails-drop-off-if-you-stay-a-whole-day-outside-in-spite-of-factor-50-sun-protection’ sort of way) to SUNLIGHT.


They said ‘for warm days (12-20 °C), bring…’

Well, I DID have some ten days of +15 °C this year already, and it is only mid-June , so why moan.

A long, long time ago (do not make me count years, it is rapidly becoming quite a shocking thing to do!) I heard in a lecture the phrase of, roughly translated, ‘opening the throttle with applied hand brake’ (‘mit gezogener Handbremse Gas geben’). This referred to the pre-winter management strategy for winter rape: you want it to be just at the right developmental stage when winter comes, but when you sow it, you do not yet know how long or how warm autumn will be. You have two instruments: nitrogen fertilization and fungizide application (which, handily, retards plant development in this case). You apply both, trying to strike a delicate balance that will get you exactly to the point you want.

I am in a similar situation: I have to write a grant proposal and neget it reaed to get it ready quite desperately, which necessiates the application of wine (to calm me down from utter PANICK!) and my super-duper-surprisingly-legal herbal infusion (ha!) containing green tea, mint, melisse(?), cinnamon, cacao, cola nut, ginseng, guarana, and paeonia. A delicate balance.

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