A harlot’s way: 1 Bethlehem

They still call me a harlot. I got used to it a long time ago. It ceased to bother me a long time ago, and this memoir is to explain the hows and the whys of a story with no ending (yet).
Elsewhere I have written of an encounter which, though I did not know it then, changed my life in two very different ways. That night in Bethlehem when I helped Salome the doula at a birth which would intersect with my life and change it in ways no man could have predicted, took me in a direction which seemed to go in a direction which condemned me, in the eyes of my fellow Jews, to the Pit.

I served at my uncle and aunt’s inn. My mother had died giving birth to me, and my father had no use for a young daughter and asked his sister to care for me. She came to Magdala one hot morning and took me back with her. As I grew towards womanhood it was clear that men found me attractive, and like many young women, I found that intoxicating.

But I was not, even then, a silly woman. I knew well the dangers of men. Salome, the doula who helped that fateful night in Bethlehem, was a wise counselor. She told me much about the way of a man with a woman and more about how to avoid becoming with child. I didn’t like the sound of some of the alternative ways to keep men happy, but saw the wisdom of her counsel – at least they would not kill me like birthing me had killed my mother. Did that leave me with a fear of giving birth – yes, of course, how could it not?

That night when I met Miriam and Joseph, I had been waiting for three sages from the East. A man of business had come to our inn asking whether there were rooms that could be booked for his masters. My uncle told me to deal with him, as he was busy. The great census meant good business, and he did not have time to deal with foreigners. I did the necessary, booking three rooms, collecting thereby three deposits which went into my running away fund. I had no intention of staying in Bethlehem all my life, and even less of being married off to old Aaron, the local landowner who wanted a young wife to keep him warm at nights, and with whom my uncle had been talking.

I missed the three men, but they caught up with me at the birth.

I was impressed. Their wealth was plain from the way they dressed and from the retinue which accompanied them. As I was drinking a cup of wine following the birth, their man of business said he wanted a word with me. “My master likes you and wonders if you would come back to Babylon with us. He will make it worth your while.”

Salome cocked an eyebrow and I asked him if I could give an answer in a moment; he assented. I asked what she thought. She asked me what I wanted. I remember my words to this day: “A better life than this.” I recall her words too: “If you can profit from what other women give away for free, then you need to be aware you will pay a price as well.” I looked at her. “Tell my aunt and uncle thank you. I just need to go to my room and collect a few things.” By that, I meant my gold. I was no fool. I had no idea what would await me in Babylon, but the possession of some means of escape would make my life easier. I told the man of business I would be back, and I was within the hour.

As they left the stable, I embraced Salome and said goodbye to Joseph and Miriam – and the baby. That, I thought, as the caravanserai wended its way out of Judea, was the end of them and that; I have seldom been so wrong.

 

Rowan’s way: 1 Opening skirmish

“Rowan? What sort of name is that for a girl?”

“It’s my name,” I replied, somewhat irritated by his tone of voice. He wasn’t to know I’d had that reaction over and over again from the moment I went to school. My tutor at College had been taken aback when “Rowan” turned out to be a red-headed woman with attitude and legs rather too long for the skirt I was wearing (as a male friend kindly put it), and that was pretty much standard all the way through to theological college and into my first curacy. That being so, I should not have been as short as I was with Ryan, but he was, even at the start, irritating as well as charming. He was one of those men who knew he was handsome and clever – and he knew I knew and thought I should react accordingly. Since I never liked doing what I was expected to do, I reacted according to my own lights. That was my introduction to our local lord of the manor – or at least to his heir.

My rector, Susan, was simply the best priest a girl could have wanted to serve her ticket under. She was a no-nonsense woman from Manchester who saw the Deanery as her challenge. Rural Suffolk was hardly home territory, and wealthy Tory landowners not her natural constituency, but she proved as adept with them as she did with all the locals. With seven parish churches to curate, she needed a curate and got me. Unlike Susan, I had grown up in the countryside and loved the rural life. She noticed, and as time passed, tended to let me deal with the outlying rural parishes.

Though it had happened when I was a girl, out here in the countryside, twenty years ago was but a moment, and there was some hesitation about the presence of a “lady Vicar”. My favourite comment was from Mrs. Bertram, who must have been ninety if she was a day, and leaving Communion one day commented: “Don’t worry love, it’d be easier for them to accept if you looked like the back of a bus. Pretty Vicars are harder on them.” She made me laugh, and I reflected that if one of the oldest inhabitants had no problem, I should lighten up with those who had. Time showed that was the sensible thing to do. Ryan later maintained that what was really wrong with what he called “Vicars in knickers” was that we made the “Tarts and Vicars” fancy dress ball problematic by being both.

Ah, yes, Ryan again. He keeps popping up. His family owned the old Rectory which the church had flogged off in the 1980s, leaving the then Vicar with a little suburban box, which made do for a busy curate. Said box was next to the Old Rectory, and it had been the habit of Lord Surtees to invite the old Vicar to lunch once a month. I inherited the invitation, and it was with some consternation that the butler received me.

“Hi there,” I said cheerily, noting the puzzlement on his face, “I’m Rowan, the Reverend Topham, the new curate.” I thought that his head would explode, as his eyes seemed bent on popping out, but I suppose the jaw dropping let out enough air to prevent that. He recovered quickly, and inviting me in, offered to take my shawl before showing me to the drawing room.

“The reverend Topham, my Lord.” If Lord Surtees was surprised, he did not show it.

“Delighted to meet you, and so glad you could come. Though I don’t often get to church, it matters in this community, and I like to keep in touch. Have you met my son, Ryan?”

He steered me in the direction of a very tall, bronzed figure who looked as though he was channeling Michaelangelo’s David – and knew it. I am on the tall side for a woman, five-nine, in my heels five-eleven, but he towered above me, he must have been at least six foot four.

“My, what have they done with Vicars? They didn’t look like you at Dover Court.” Now why was I not surprised to learn he’d been to one of the most exclusive, and expensive public schools in the country, famous for producing goodness knows how many Conservative Prime Ministers. Craning my neck upwards, I smiled:

“Thank you, but they do say that altitude can blur the vision.”

He laughed: “Touché, nice return of serve. Now, what can I get the prettiest Vicar I know to drink?”

“A g&t would go down nicely. How many Vicars do you know, by the way?”

Fixing me a stiff gin and tonic, he smiled broadly: “If I’d known they made them your model, I’d have made sure I knew a lot more. But you have me at a disadvantage. You know my first name, what’s yours?”

“Rowan”, I said.

“Rowan, what sort of name is that for a girl?”

And that, as they say, was how it started.

[Part 2 coming soon]

ACB

I seem to be in a small minority among my friends in being delighted that Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed as a Justice of the Supreme Court. That doesn’t surprise me. I’m a feminist in my thirties (okay, let’s be honest, pushing forty, but don’t tell anyone) and until I got with my partner I worked’ I worked in areas where the usual political views were of the leftist variety.  I think the example set by Justice Barrett is marvelous. I wish, when I was a little girl or an adolescent, there had been someone like her to whom I could look up.

Amy Coney Barrett did it without sacrificing her womanhood. She did not do what so many career women have had to do, which is to choose a predominantly male way (job first) over her kids. Not only did she adopt two black orphans, she has a Downes syndrome child whom she chose not to abort. What’s not to like? You’d have thought that feminists everywhere would be throwing their bras over the windmill (no, don’t go there, a lady never tells), so why the hoo-hah? It’s that last bit. She didn’t have an abortion. Not only that, she is an actual practising Catholic, not a Pelsoian/Biden Catholic (that is one who wants the vote but not the faith).

I am sickened by the reaction of some of my “sisters” to Judge Barratt. She’s the “wrong sort” of woman. Only women, and for that matter ethnic minorities, with the “right” (that is the “left”) view should be promoted. To me, that’s the epitome of intolerance. The showing the left is making at this time makes me fearful. Orwell’s 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not a blueprint.

I am not a lawyer. What I know of Judge Barrett is what I saw on the news – a poised, super-intelligent (and yes, beautiful) woman dealing with second and third-rate politicos the way a fly swatter deals with the fly. The spectacle of “lazy Masie” asking her about whether she’d ever sexually assaulted anyone was one of the most crass pieces of questioning ever seen; how can that Senator look anyone in the eye after that? But they could not lay a finger on her – or hold a candle to her. Amy Coney Barrett went through all that because she believes in her country and the rule of law.

I know that here I am preaching to the choir, but at home, well, I might as well get my handmaid’s dress and bonnet out – I am sure my other half will approve. In the meantime, God bless Justice Coney Barrett and God bless America!

A vulture in the wilderness

And so it begins! Quick now, while Nightmarish Evil Ogre is spell-bound, read the first of the horrible horror stories!

It was a dark and stormy night and the lights were flickering – well they were, somewhere, but not here and not this night. The sun was sinking slowly through a cloud formation that resembled an orange meringue imploding messily, and the ruined towers of Notre Dame glowed as with a reflection of the flames that had engulfed them just over a year ago. The cobblestones were still blackened and messy, there was an air of desolation. Yes, a dark and stormy night would have suited both the place and my mood.

Pierre was a typical Frenchman, I concluded to myself! He knew he was handsome, and the world knew he was rich and successful; I knew he was a bastard – lucky me! When your papa owned one of the biggest banks in Paris, and when you had finished top of your class at the Sorbonne and at Harvard Business School, Moab was your washpot; and girls, even pretty ones, were to be used like tissues – and discarded in the same manner; a plain Jane like me was fortunate to have such a man. I suddenly felt the chill; the sun had gone below the horizon; the Isle de France suddenly felt cold; there was an absence of company. Where the hell was Pierre?

“Meet me at Notre Dame”, he had said, “that little café on the right of the square, opposite the bridge. Be there for seven. Oh, and wear that green wrap-around dress I like.” It was the sort of thing he did, and the lasciviousness with which he said it reminded me that the tie allowed him to disrobe me speedily.. He thought it was “charmante”, and so, for the first month or so of our tempestuous affair, had I. Like many women, I quite liked “masterful”, even if my feminist principles told me that I ought not to. But with Pierre there were many of those things I ought not to have done that I had done; the devices and desires of my own heart led me by the nose; until I began to realise that was his thing.

Was that an owl I heard? Surely there were no owls in Paris? And where was Pierre? “Oui, maître”, I had said to him, hoping the sarcasm dripping from my lips would convey my growing irritation with his grand seigneurial manner.

“Are you Emily?” The waitress was a pretty girl in her late teens I would have said, probably of Algerian ancestry to judge by her skin tone. I admitted to the offence of being Emily. “M. Pierre said to meet him in the cathedral, he gave me this for you.” “This” was a police pass which said that I was permitted to enter the precincts of the ruins. Smiling, I gave her a generous tip and set off across the square. “Damn it!” I thought to myself, there I was again, just doing what he told me. No wonder he didn’t get the sarcasm. I suddenly realised that, in more than one sense, I was very far from home.

The guards at the gate smiled when they saw the pass. Their leer made me feel uneasy. Why did he want me to meet him here? Yes, there was no doubt about it, a dark and stormy night would have been a better backstop, but heck, I thought, he was worth it, and no doubt whatever he had in mind would, as he liked to put it “stretch my boundaries.”

The shiver that had gone through me when the sun dropped below the Seine intensified and doubled in intensity as I walked into the charred ruins. There was that owl, clear for the first time. Where the devil was the man? Then I wished I had not thought of the devil. The shadows cast by the lights of the building work took on the shape of demons; stop it, Emily, I thought.

I picked my way carefully. The lights gave just enough illumination to find my way, but my heels echoed in the darkling gloom. My irritation with Pierre still, just, outdistanced my growing unease, but it was a closer run thing than I was comfortable with. If I’d had the sense I was born with, I thought, I’d have turned on those heels and walked right on out. But if he was setting me a “dare” I was not going to back out and leave him with the last laugh.

I realised I was getting hungry. Life with Pierre was a roller-coaster. He never stopped, and that meant I never stopped. When was the last time I had talked with my friends, or my mother and sister? Time seemed to have been eaten up in frenetic activity. Suddenly I felt weary. The air had changed. How could it suddenly feel stuffy when most of the roof had gone?

It was then that I noticed it. There was a dripping sound. It was steady, like a leaking faucet, but softer. Then there was the smell. I could not quite identify it, though it seemed to me that it was familiar – but not as it usually was. I pulled my wrap closer around me. I could see the Cross and the high altar ahead. I crossed myself. “Lord, have mercy”, I thought. Those things I had done, and those I had left undone suddenly felt heavy on me; the weight of them was intolerable. It was sulphur, that smell. The owl hooted. I crossed myself again.

“Ma chérie”, came a familiar voice. It was him. He laughed. “It is so sweet the way you cross yourself, even at this moment.” I looked at him. Tall, handsome, and confident; that smile was a smirk. “I thought it would be the acme of wickedness to take you here, chérie, and that dress makes it easier for me! Untie it and come to me.”

For the third time, the owl hooted. I looked, and behind him, laid on a pyre of wood was a goat, dead, its blood dripping slowly on the floor. I saw the pentangles on the floor. He threw a light onto the pyre and pulled the cloak back. Paralysed, all I could think of was to say “Hail Mary, full of grace”, and he laughed, and in the flames, I saw him – a leper, white as snow – his bones seemed to show through his skin which was translucent. “Now, here and give yourself to me!” Out of the shadows, I saw three ghostly figures step forward. Automatically, doing what he said, as usual, I reached for the belt to loosen it, but found my hand in my pocket instead. I shivered, and not just with the cold. I felt myself pulled toward Pierre and the three figures.

Had I always had that Rosary in the pocket of my dress? I clutched it like a lifebelt. As I felt him drawing me into the circle formed by the pentangles, I pulled my Rosary out and clutched the Cross” “I believe in God, the Father Almighty,” the words came unbidden, though I had not said them for the last forty nights. The air crackled; the three ghostly figures seemed to flicker.

His eyes seemed to burn into me and suddenly, as on a screen, I saw laid out before me how life could be – luxurious and sumptuous: the mansions; the dresses; the exotic locations; the pleasures of the flesh; I knew, somehow, that if I would but do this one thing for him, all these things, and more, would be my portion in life.

“Ma chérie, give yourself to us now, you know you want to !” I felt utterly alone in the wilds of this place and of my heart. I could feel the unmistakable signs that my body was willing – except that my hand clutched the Rosary tight. “Mother of God, Our Lady of Walsingham, intercede for us!” The familiar words sprang forth as my mind and lips struggled with the flesh – and there she was.

There was a light which pierced the darkest recesses of the night, and suddenly I felt warm and no longer alone; my hands ceased to fumble with the tie. Pierre’s face, illuminated in the white light was set in a scowl which turned to fear; his ghostly companions faded. In the ruins and the hour of my terror, I saw her.

That was long ago now, but on this All Hallows’ Eve I set it down in writing as a warning. Pierre? I never saw him again. I remember following Our Lady out of her Cathedral and then hailing a taxi back to my apartment, and then nothing until, on the next Sunday I went to Mass at the Anglican Church of St Michael and when we reached the general confession I know only one thing, I had never meant it more. But it is late now, and the Mass of All Souls’ day is imminent, and my curate waits.

 

1066/1776 and all that

1776

Another one of Jessica’s from that 2013 series today. It’s hard to believe how clearly she saw what was coming in the next decade, back in 2013. Neo

It is hard to pin down what you mean by culture, but despite the efforts of the MSM to pretend that our culture comes from all sorts of wonderful and weird places such as Kenya, the values on which this country was formed were those of a Christian heritage. It was a particular type of heritage. The early pilgrims were of British descent and of Protestant inclination. They were men and women who saw themselves as like the Israelites of old – in the wilderness, building a new Jerusalem – a shining city on a hill. But they also brought with them something from their British heritage – a love of law and freedom. Unlike some countries where the law was seen as the enemy of freedom, in England, from Magna Carta onward, it was seen as the protection of the liberties of the people.

But those Barons of Norman descent at Runnymede did not invent that idea; they inherited it.  The Normans were, as befitted the descendants of Scandinavian pirates, a tough lot; they could not have taken so much land if they had not been. But in England they found the descendants of other men from the North, the Saxons, and those Saxons had developed their own way of doing things.

For all that modern historians doubt the idea that the Saxons developed a form of consultative government via the Witan, that was not what those who settled America believed. They came with the idea that democracy had begun in the Saxon forests, and they applied it in the wilderness they settled. These were tough men and women too, but they valued freedom above all things. For that the crossed the Atlantic in small ships; for that they endured the hardships of building a new Jerusalem. Sustained by their Christian faith, and strong in their love of freedom, these people forged a nation and a culture. It was the threat to that from the German tyrant George which drove them to rebellion. Kipling expressed it best here:

1776

after
The  snow lies thick on Valley Forge,
The ice on the Delaware,
But the poor dead soldiers of King George
They neither know nor care.

Not though the earliest primrose break
On the sunny side of the lane,
And scuffling rookeries awake
Their England’ s spring again.

They will not stir when the drifts are gone,
Or the ice melts out of the bay:
And the men that served with Washington
Lie all as still as they.

They will  not  stir  though  the mayflower blows
In the moist dark woods of pine,
And every rock-strewn pasture shows
Mullein and columbine.

Each for his land, in a fair fight,
Encountered strove, and died,
And the kindly earth that knows no spite
Covers them side by side.

She is too busy to think of war;
She has all the world to make gay;
And,  behold, the yearly flowers are
Where they were in our fathers’ day!

Golden-rod by the pasture-wall
When the columbine is dead,
And sumach leaves that turn, in fall,
Bright as the blood they shed.

It was a brothers’ war, and when it was over they bore no real ill-will and became friends and allies.

They could do that because of a shared love of freedom and the same concept of justice. There was no need to ask what culture was, and those uncounted millions who found in the New World a haven, embraced those values – so much so that people took them for granted – they were surely universal. Rule for the people and by the people did not fade from that land, and even after a second and bloodier war of brothers, the nation united around those shared values. To become an American was a great a noble ambition for every immigrant. It never meant junking your ancestor’s past, but it did mean embracing a better life – and recognising the values of your new country which made that possible.

Somewhere, and we can speculate where and how, that simple truth got mislaid by our rulers. The next few posts explore some of this – and invite you all to think about it with us.

It was, in fact, the Second English Civil War, for all that we call it The American Revolution, and like almost all revolutions in the Anglophone world, it was brought on by a longing for the ‘good, old law’. And that is what we accomplished here. Burke commented in 1775 that our forebearers left England when freedom was at its height and that is true. England has often backslid and never again attained that height. We have for various reasons done better (until now) at maintaining it here. But in the last century, we too have slipped, and now we stare in the face of the fourth of the cousin’s wars, like the first involving us on both sides of the Atlantic. Between yesterday’s post and today’s Jessica posted a warning. This is it. Neo

Mad as Hell in the UK

Mad as hellJessica wrote this for us on May 4, 2013, just after UKIP scared the Conservative party by winning lots of council seats (sort of analogous to state offices here). In it, she tells us of the temper of the British electorate. This was the election that scared Cameron enough to bring the Referendum on Brexit to the people. 

Sadly the so-called elites didn’t read their Kipling and they still have no idea how infuriated the electorate is with them. They gave the Tories the chance to make Brexit work, and they intentionally screwed it up.

It’s not very different here, except for the fact that this President reflects the people, not the elites. My comment at the time makes a reasonable introduction, and the original is here. It has some other good comments.

Yep, that’s what I read, from your election as well. You’re in the same spot we are, your government no longer reflects the electorate, and in fact has got itself crossways with us/ you.

Martin does sound fine-just as we have holdouts from Potomac fever, not enough but some, and I think their number will increase, in both countries, if our people have enough sense to say things directly, without worry of stepping on toes.

Time will tell, of course, but I am quite encouraged by your election, as I have been for the most part by the direction Canada has been taking the last few years, now, if we can get on the ball as well, what could we accomplish. Neo

UK Local Election: Triumph of Real Conservatism and Sea Change in British Politics.

If this were the USA it would be called an insurgency. The United Kingdom Independence Party has had a good set of local election results, winning many local council seats.  The media in the UK is seeing this as a protest vote, although I am not sure that the established political parties really understand what is being protested.

There is a controversial historian called David Starkey who, speaking on the BBC the other night, nailed it for me and for many.  Appearing on a discussion programme, he pointed out that most of his fellow panelists, including the deputy leader of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat politician, and even including the chairman of the programme, were all there because of hereditary factors; their parents had struggled to make money and made enough of it so that their children had advantages in life; now those same children, taking their position for granted, were trying, in the name of a spurious equality, to deny the same opportunity to others. Only two panelists  himself and the Conservative Minister, had to make their own way in life.  The broadcaster clearly objected, but had no answer because what Starkey had said was true. He had said that which should not be said – that the country is ruled by a self-perpetuating elite who all went to the same type of public school, the same universities and who have never had a job in the real world.

I suppose I should ‘fess up. I went to a Public (that is private) School myself, and whilst not going to Oxford or Cambridge, I did go to one of our older universities. But like many such, I went out into the real world (or the nearest equivalent) in order to earn a living, and I don’t obsess about politics, and I earn my own living.

What UKIP is tapping into is the feeling of many of that our Government and the established political parties are much of a muchness; all the same.  From issues such as gay marriage across to control over immigration and who stays in this country and who doesn’t, we feel no one is listening. I don’t smoke, but I don’t see why you can’t smoke in a public house, and whilst I like going to Europe, I don’t want to be ruled from Brussels by a bunch of people I didn’t elect and can’t get rid of.  As it happens, where I live we had no UKIP candidate, and the Conservative is an old friend of my co-author’s who farms locally and owns a chain of butcher’s shops which provides a lot of work locally; anyone less out of touch than Martin would be hard to find; so I voted for him with enthusiasm.

But Martin is not typical of our elected politicians, and there is here a sense that we are ‘mad as hell’ and won’t take it any more.

In the end in a democracy we are ruled by our consent. When an hereditary political class starts behaving as though we need its consent, then democracy itself is in danger.  Yes, tell us, MSM, that our views are not ‘acceptable’ and that there is only a narrowish set of things we are allowed to think and say, and then run with that, but all you do is make many of us angry. We no longer have to accept the MSM, there’s a lot of better places to get your news. Nor do we have to accept the arrogance of a political elite which mistakes itself for having a divine right to rule over us.  That is what this local election is telling the main parties – and I cannot think they even know how to listen. But if they don’t, then they will continue to take a pasting from us until they do – or are replaced.

And now after a further six years, British conservative sound as enraged as we are, maybe even more so.  This started a series of posts between us, and I think a few more of them may show up. They are still quite apt. Neo

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