Thursday, 29 October 2015

And How is the Crazy Plan Going?

Why, quite well, thank you very much.

For those who missed the post about the crazy plan, here it is.

So far, we are advancing steadily, if not quickly, through Don Quixote. Some of us (hi Tina!) have had to deal with the library being unhelpful, delaying their own start, but we are now puttering along.

So, a few thoughts on how it is working for us, and why YOU should totally join in:

1: Rivalry and competition are excellent motivators

In the book, Susan Wise-Bauer encourages you to commit to 30 minutes of reading, 4 times a week. Now, this kind of hard-and-fast rule is not necessarily very helpful if you have small children, because, well, your time is not really your own to organise. As I am writing this, Patapon is point-blank refusing to nap, for example, so I have to interrupt myself fairly regularly. That does not affect writing too much, but it does affect reading. So I have decided not to worry too much about the exact time and periods I spend reading, nor have I actually needed to, because, competition.

You see, I am reading along with my husband, but we are not reading at the same times of day (funnily enough, our timetables are quite different). So by the end of the day, we tell each other which chapter we got to, and the one lagging behind will try his/her best to catch up and overtake the next day, because, well, we are competitive nerds.

So far, this has been the best motivator to make sure I do keep at it (I want to win). We may be slow, but we are still going!

(Anyone following along, I am now on chapter 31 and Simon is on chapter 36. I fully intend to be winning by the end of the day [he forgot to take his book to the hospital mwahahahaha], though, unless you decide to try and beat me!)

2: The summary at the end of chapters is a touch of genius

We have really loved the little chapter-summaries so far. Knowing that you will have to condense the action into a couple of sentences at the end of the chapter keeps you focused on the plot line, but it also ensures we carry on paying attention throughout.

(I should add, that I am normally a big advocate of skipping passages, especially if we are talking about the land-reform analyses in Anna Karenina or the digressions on sewage in Les Misérables. However, the exercise here is one where we want to study and not simply read the classics, so keeping the focus is necessary!)

3: Don Quixote is pretty awesome, turns out

The best thing to have found out so far, however, is that Don Quixote is actually a classic for very good reasons. It is very funny and clever. We are not sure where Cervantes is going with this as of yet, but we are enjoying the ride.

For example, there is a fair amount of play with the conventions of the novel which are both hilarious and cleverly done, which confirms me in my anti-modernist view of literature. Not only were the modernists puffed-up prose-ists (it's a word, even if the computer disagrees), but they were not even as original as they thought.


Well done Cervantes. You carry on.

Nonetheless, one should also bear in mind the following:

1: A poorly child will throw your record out of wack

I like to tell myself this is the only reason Simon is winning for now, but Patapon is on the mend, so I fully intend to take the lead again, which is another argument for:

2: see above point about competition keeping us going.

I am not giving up! I will finish DQ, and I WILL finish it ahead of Simon.

So here you go. That's the state of affairs for now. If you are joining in, do let me know, so you can have a share in the friendly competition, and keep us all motivated!

Friday, 23 October 2015

What Shall We Do With the Opinionated Stranger?

The other day, I was chatting with Patapon's godmother (hi Laurène!) when she suddenly challenged me on the homeschooling bombshell I had kind of slipped in a previous post.
I stopped her mid-way through the diatribe and asked her how long she had been thinking about it. Now, Laurène is a very honest and straightforward person, so she just said "About 2 seconds, why?" Then I asked her how long she thought we had been thinking about it, and she admitted that she should probably just hear our case first.

Of course, she is my friend, and she cares about Patapon, so she was both truly interested in how the little man would be educated, but also knew me and respected me enough to be open-minded about our choices.

The conversation was a very interesting and profitable one as a result.

On the other hand, a week ago, Jude got his first proper haircut (although it was technically haircut number 5 if you add all the times Maman and Mamounette have done it before. Yup, pretty epic hair-growth rate.)

As I had Jude on my lap, the bump was somewhat obscured, but when the hairdresser eventually saw it, she exclaimed "Oh, are you expecting another one?" To which I agreed (no, I did not answer that I was smuggling a watermelon, because I am mature and respectful now. Maybe. Anyway, moving on.) Then she immediately quipped: "Yeah, good call, get it over and done with!"

Now I am somewhat perplexed as to how this appeared to her to be the appropriate thing to say, and, as usual, it made me quite sad to think that "having children" - you know, participating in the creation of immortal souls, of unique and precious individuals - is something people think is to get over and done with as quickly as possible.

It's the usual sad case of our culture of death and blah-di-blah. 

And yet, all I did was nod and smile.

I see very often on Moms' blogs, especially the ones written by mothers of large families, the understandable frustration over strangers feeling the need (and the right!) to comment on family size, child spacing, gender, names, you name it, strangers have commented on it. And they often have a quick retort, or more likely, a good vent on their blog about it, because, hey, it's rude, none of your business, and sad that everybody assumes a contraceptive mentality in everybody else.

So I couldn't help but wonder: Have I let my own side down by not challenging the hairdresser? Looking at the conversation with Laurène, it is tempting to assume that actual meaningful conversations simply don't happen with strangers, they happen between people who know at least a little bit about each other.

The likelihood of any stranger having given more than two-second thought to their remark is nil. The likelihood of their being open to whatever we may have to say about it, when they don't know, like or respect us particularly, is nil. The likelihood of their forgetting the retort, or shrugging it away and return to their previous worries and personal problems, extremely high. 

And yet, I know many people, who are a lot more intelligent than me, and would advocate for trying to evangelise at any given opportunity anyway. Maybe I am not giving strangers the benefit of the doubt. Worse still, maybe I am not giving Grace the benefit of the doubt. But I don't feel like, coming from me, it would ever work. For one thing, I would probably get too passionate and angry about, wind up at confession over it, having gain exactly zero ground. So I will nod and smile. And keep thinking that children are a gift, not a project to get over with.

But am I rationalising my own cowardice? 

Then again, you can come and challenge a few children from now (if we are blessed with more) and ask me how philosophically I take it, now?! ;-)

Friday, 16 October 2015

What of the English Backward Bigots, Then?

A while back, I shared about the trials and problems involved in being a faithful Catholic in France, according to my own experience. The discussion that ensued was pretty great, so I figured I'd do a comparative study with the English experience.

Paradoxically, I have more experience of being a faithful Catholic in England, than I do in France, but nonetheless, the usual caveats apply, I am obviously talking about my own experience here, so feel free to disagree in the comments (in fact, I am rather looking forward to it!)

So, one of the key differences first. Although Catholicism boasts (I think!) the largest number of religious followers in the country, it is not the cultural majority, the way it is in France. The default religion which everybody think they know and which gets the most ridicule, is more likely to be the Church of England, not the Catholic Church. I vividly remember one head of the Geography department in my old school, viciously mocking one of the other Geography teacher for being religious, reducing her to tears.

Although the same dismissal will apply to Catholics, whose beliefs, as everyone knows, are just antiquated remnants imposed by old men on weak-willed people, we are afforded a modicum of protection through political correctness. Not much, but it is there.

There is still an element of the English psyche which considers Catholicism a religion of the minority, and definitely the religion of migrants.

On that least point, they are not wrong, and very often being Catholic seems to come part and parcel of being part of a foreign culture, be it Irish, Italian or Polish. 

As a result the "pageantry" (if you will excuse the term) is a lot more open in England, and most Masses still retain the bells, incense and dress which have long since disappeared in France, because migrants cling to their cultural heritage.

That does not mean that finding Catholics who are following the teachings of the Church is any easier (but you can!).

There will be more people enrolling their children into first communion classes, and the dresses of the little girls will be more elaborate than the French equivalents, but the spiritual backing behind the whole process is exactly the same.

Like this. (via)

Just like in France, most parents make their children go through the sacraments for two reasons alone: getting into a good catholic school, and following family tradition. That's it.

A friend of mine who is an Religious Education teacher, told me about a young Polish boy, who had never realised that being Catholic meant he was, actually, a Christian. The experience was so cultural in his mind, that the most basic religious doctrine had completely escaped him.

And that is true for most of the Catholics I know.

Most of the Catholics I meet, who present themselves as such, don't go to Mass on Sunday, and most of those who do, have made up their own pick&choose mash-up of the doctrines that fit into their lives. There is a very clear distinction, between cultural Catholics, and (for want of a better term) faithful Catholics.

Another issue is that Catholic schools tend to be very good private schools, considerably cheaper than other private schools. So parents will come to Mass for a few weeks, enroll their child and then move on.

We saw this a lot when Simon and I were going through RCIA, and see parents come and go, showing up grumpily, refuse to discuss much and affirm that they are right and the Church is wrong, then move on to the tea and biscuits before asking the priest to just let them through already, so their child can go to the school of their choice.

It was quite depressing, really.

Trying to actually follow the teachings of the Church is, here too, and for the most part, a very lonely experience.  

Now, I should add, because I am making it all sound very doom and gloom, that we are not some kinds of heroes for keeping up with our beliefs. We are lucky enough to have found a few like-minded people (in our parish and university chaplaincy) who are amazing, inspiring people who keep us going and aspiring. 

But I do worry about whether or not we can reach out, when it seems almost necessary for our own survival that we stick together, if anything, so we can talk freely! Many people, who are holier than I, are willing to defend their Faith every time it is challenged, but I am afraid to say I often let it slide. Because, in my experience, people are not willing to listen, only waiting to ridicule.

And I most definitely, do not have a good answer as to what Simon is supposed to do as a future doctor.

Friday, 9 October 2015

{SQT}: Clever Romans and Darcy for Ever

Hello, hello internet! Ready for some random thoughts? Here goes:


Something momentous happened this week.

No, bigger than that.

Bigger again.

Are you ready?


I know, right?

Can't quite believe it myself.

Here's the proof:

Isn't it just the worst part of knitting? It is. There is no argument. Now to find some buttons.


We've been making steady progress on the crazy plan, and I'm so glad some people have decided to join in. This is going to be fun! 

So far, I'm really enjoying Don Quixote, but I can't help but feel a little sad that I don't know more of the chivalry books Cervantes mentions, because I think the book was originally truly hilarious because of that, rather than merely quite amusing as it appears to me.

Also, I can't decide whether to skip or re-read the novels on the list which we have already read. On the one hand, it feels like my understanding would benefit greatly from it, but on the other, do I really want to read Madame Bovary again?

Not sure.

Although this (excellent) film did make me want to err on the side of reading it again.

Anyway, that's a problem for later. I shall finish Don Quixote, I shall.

(Did you see this in your head when you read the last line? Me too.)


In Patapon-news, Jude has started to be really into photos lately. He keeps pointing at them and trying to say the names of the people in them.

(As an aside, this frame really needs to be hung up on the wall as Jude just picks it up and brings it to wherever I am, and my spooky sixth-sense can see this habit not ending well.)


Also, we have discovered that he is now old enough to actually enjoy the park, running around shouting with glee as he clambers up the structures and down the slides (sorry, no pictures, I was running after him).

This is a problem, as he now seems to need to go outside. A real dilemma for the pathological homebody on this side of the computer. 

At what age am I officially allowed to leave him be, whilst I read a book on the bench?

When can I send him on his own?

Is 16 months really too young for it?


I've been enjoying this podcast immensely lately (nothing else will make me do the ironing), but listening to the stories and schemes of Roman emperors, I can't help but wonder at how much better they were at being savvy politicians.

via Hadrian is my fave.

Were they really of a better mettle than the current public-opinion-courting, short-sighted blunderers who seem to people our government these days? Or are we giving people credit for things they cobbled together just as haphazardly as our current politicians, but which turned out to be great ideas in the end?

Are they being made retrospectively clever?

Or is our system just breeding mediocrity?
It is quite depressing to think about, really.


My beautiful little sister has now flown over to Dubai for a year. Just when Jude was getting really good at saying "Tata Baba".

Our hearts are broken.

(This post is brought to you by the P&P obsession support group. Points if you can tell what bit I am quoting from).


Finally, to answer this week's official Link-toberfest bonus question, this appears to be my 7th {SQT} post, including the first one, where I was wondering whether or not I should start a blog. Ha. That ship has sailed!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

So We Have This Crazy Plan...

You know how if you've been in higher education for any length of time, there are these books that people keep referencing, so you start doing it too, even though you never read them?

Me neither. I totally, always had read all the books.

Yup. Read those too.


Moving on.

Although I strongly suspect that many academics actually haven't read those books either, I have always been kind of curious, but also, you know, already defeated by the enormity of the task.

Enters The Well-Trained Mind

As I have mentioned before (or was it in the comments?), Simon and I hope to homeschool our children if at all possible, and the trivium method obviously appealed to my historian heart. (Yes, I am aware of the Golden Age Fallacy, but I can't help myself).

- In a nutshell, the Trivium was the method used in classical education, which relied on the division of learning in three stages: fact gathering - grammar stage -, analysis -  logic stage -, and development of a personal argument - rhetoric stage. Of course, it's a bit more complicated than that, but that's the main idea. It is also language and written word driven. -

Anyway, I have been reading up on the method and planning an imaginary wonderland of enthusiastic familial learning, with cheery children enthusiastically memorizing Latin declensions and historical dates in a magically immaculate house with books everywhere. 

Good morning mother! I was just spontaneously teaching myself to sew. Your coffee is on the counter.

I'll give a bit of time for people who are already homeschooling so they can finish laughing.

Whilst doing all this reading, I discovered that Susan Wise-Bauer also wrote another book to help adults give themselves the sound grounding in the classics we are only pretending we have. I bought it for my ever-bent-on-self-improvement husband, and he was kind of smitten. And roped me in.

So, we have decided to go through the lists of classics the author proposes  one by one (but I reserve the right to do some changes to the lists if I feel French culture needs to be better represented), following the Trivium method. 

Although I was all for starting with the history list and finally reading Plutarch and Francis Fukuyama, Simon preferred to start more gently with the novels.

So we are reading Don Quixote at the moment.

Does anyone fancy doing it with us?

The principle is very simple: you commit to reading for 30 minutes 4 times a week, with a notebook handy, where you write a one-sentence summary of every chapter as you go through them, as well as any questions you have. Then we will go back to the notes in order to re-read the key moments and ask ourselves some basic questions (logic stage), before writing an essay about it for the rhetoric stage. Not a long essay though.

Anyway, we are doing it, so if anyone feels equally geeky and would like some company and a place to start, just let me know and I'll do regular updates. If not, prepare yourself for random essays on classic books to appear from time to time over here (because it's my blog, so if I want to geek about the classics, well, I will.)

We are reading Don Quixote, by Cervantes, the Oxford World's Classic edition (here), and we are on chapter 7 (they are very short chapters, so you can easily catch up).

So, wish us luck! Or, in the unlikely event that you too like obscure, crazy, geeky goals, jump in!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Niceness of Kafka

I work at a university (which shall remain nameless). Overall, they are a pretty brilliant employer, no complaints here.

But the other day, I was filling in a form (as I often have to) about, you know, gender, religious affiliation, blah blah blah. I was merely going on my usual answers: yes, I am female, no, I do not wish to tell you my ethnic origin, dear anonymous data collector, however, yes, I will tell you that I am Roman Catholic (because inconsistency is my middle name).

And then, I stumbled on a new set of questions.

About gender.

Wait a minute, I thought I had answered that already?

"Is your gender identity the same as the one you were assigned at birth?"

I love this image of a Mysterious Authority who "assigns" you a gender "at birth". I can't help but picture a stern bearded giant, pointing at a tiny newborn and declaring peremptorily: "Thou Shalt Be..... Female!" Round of applause as appropriate genetic organs appear.

Political correctness is very poetic really, I mused.

Then I pressed on to the next question :

"Do you live and work full-time in a gender role different from that assigned at birth?"


I don't even know where to start with this one! First of all, it is so cautiously worded, it is almost incomprehensible. Imagine it as a statement: "Hi, I am Bob. White-British follower of the Most Ancient Order of the Jedi and part-time female." Or, "Well, I do live as Bob, but when I work I put on the special persona of Melody, a middle-aged librarian with a cat obsession (momentarily interrupting living in the process, one surmises)."

So yes, this question is mostly nonsensical, and the sequence is pretty weird. The questionnaire basically asks: 

"What gender are you? 
Are you sure? 
Are you sure you're sure? 
100% of the time and in all circumstances? 
Pinky swear?"

Now, it is pretty clear why the questions have been added. Now that gay marriage is no longer the agenda, transgenderism has become the new way for you to show, as an institution, that you are EVEN MORE politically correct than everybody else. But the reasoning behind the data collecting is hard to fathom. If the university is worried there is rampant discrimination in its ranks among transgender people, how is this going to show anything? We are talking about a minute minoritette of people here. The university not employing any of them would actually be pretty unsurprising, and not a sign of anything other than, you know, this is a very small minority. Not all tiny minorities are represented in every institution. It's just not possible.

So what is the point?

I suspect they are trying to be nice.

You know, protecting the feelings of one hypothetical person who is suffering through this particular psychological difficulty, and finding him/herself acknowledged and valued.

And it is good, in general, to be nice.

However, I don't see the questionnaire ever offering reassuring questions to protect the feelings of all people with some form of psychological difficulty. How about asking for the number of children to a parent who has lost one? How about asking her marital status to a widow?
Aren't you worried that your institution discriminates against widows?

This kafka-esque niceness is simply not sustainable. So the inclusion of only certain questions just reeks of political grasp-ism (it's a thing). It does nothing to the psychological state of the person answering the questions, who could have just clicked "prefer not to tell" at any given point if they felt uncomfortable.

But hey, that's what we do now, we care about transgender people's feelings A LOT.

In fact a lot more than everybody else's feelings apparently, who may resent the fact that the questions ask whether they lied in their previous answers.

The human mind is immensely complex, and its complexity cannot be reflected by data-collecting questionnaires or creating new rules for every single occasion for which one person risks having their feeling hurts.

That's life.

I don't ask the Brits to stop their Last Night At the Proms traditions because they make me feel foreign.

I AM foreign. And I just deal with it. Like a grown-up person.

Who hates data-collecting questionnaires.