Sunday 27 July 2008


If you look on YouTube, you will find a video of an American academic desecrating a Host stolen from the London Oratory. I have not seen it, nor will I post a link to it, but if you want to read more, you can find out about it here on the NLM site.

I am left wondering about what motivated this vile act; not hatred for God, I'm thinking, but certainly hatred for Catholics, and wanting to strike and hurt us most profoundly. It is puerile and spiteful, not at all an act which one might suspect of one who is a university academic. I'm also told that it has inspired others to do the same.

And who, really, is he trying to impress? Surely anyone with half a brain , whether they believe in God or not, can see that this childish malice is the act of a knave or a fool. I dare say he made sure that has tenure in his academic post, because I don't imagine any serious institution would want to employ a loose cannon like this even if they privately sympathize. And of course, were his own institution to want to get rid of him, as they should, since he is likely to become a liability.

And let's all make an act of reparation for this sacrilege. I suggest a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. I shall celebrate a Mass of reparation, and ask people to pray at Benediction this afternoon.
And who knows? Perhaps good may come out of this after all if there is a great worldwide surge of prayer on the back of this incident.

Saturday 26 July 2008

Computers and Cars

Peter, a parishioner, sent me this:

At a recent computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, 'If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.'

In response to Bill's comments, General Motors issued a press release stating:

If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.

2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

4. Occasionally, executing a manoeuvre such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

5. Apple/Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive - but would run on only five percent of the roads.

6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single 'This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation' warning light.

7. The airbag system would ask 'Are you sure?' before deploying.

8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

10. You'd have to press the 'Start' button to turn off the engine.

Friday 25 July 2008

Feeling more human

The cloud seems to have lifted today; a week after my return. I am feeling quite a lot better, and will soon be back to posting strength.
Having mentioned him on my post about jet lag, I asked my cousin, Kevin, how he copes with it, and this is what he wrote back:
I manage it by being permanently jet lagged. My body expects food at any hour, and sleeps when I am not feeding it. I no longer have any concept of time zones, so am unaffected now by flying! So, my cure for you - just do about 30 long haul flights a year for 10 years and you'll be fine .....
Well, he certainly earns his money! It really isn't human, though, is it?

Someone asked about the Melatonin. I think it did help; it simulates the natural hormone released in the hours of darkness by the pineal gland in the brain, which, among other things, tells the body to go to sleep. I did indeed do so, and the sleep was restful. It certainly feels a lot more natural than ordinary sleeping pills, though this is not a professional view, of course.
For some reason which I don't understand, Melatonin is not licensed for use in the UK—I had bought mine in the US—but you can get it on line. Read about Melatonin here.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Humanæ Vitæ

In three days time, we will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VIs encyclical on the ethical transmission of life (and other important things), and still it isn't being heard. I really think people don't understand it.

Is there anybody here in the south of England who would be willing to come to my parish and speak convincingly on this subject? Please; this is a serious request. I have made little headway. I don't know where to turn.

Jet laaaaag

I feel wretched! My cousin does these trips all the time; how does he manage it? I go to bed and manage to sleep at the usual time, but somehow it does not rest me at all until about 4.00am, when I would be going to bed in the US. Then, of course, the alarm goes at 7 and I have to claw myself out of bed—not usually a problem for me at all. Several days of this have now made me feel awful; sick and headachy, besides constantly yawning and being unable to concentrate much. I had a bit of this in Canada and the US, for about a week and a half, but not as severely.
Someone in San Diego recommended Melatonin tablets, but by the time I managed to find and buy some there, I felt much better. I hate taking any sort of drugs beyond the occasional aspirin, but I think that tonight I am going to weaken and try it.
I remember a (senior) fellow priest going to bed in the middle of the day for several days running, pleading jet lag as his reason. But he had been to Gibraltar, which is on the Greenwich meridian!

Saturday 19 July 2008

Inter doctores

Of course, I owe a large debt of gratitude to all those who made my first visit to North America so very interesting and enjoyable. It only struck me this morning that many, if not most of these have been doctors of one sort or another…
Thanks, then, to all the community at the Toronto Oratory, especially Fr (Dr) Jonathan Robinson, Fr David Roche, Fr Thomas Trottier, Fr (Dr) Paul Pearson and Br Michael Eades;
To John Polhamus, Ashley Paver, Dr James and Dean Covalt, Dr Roberto Lionello, George Pecoraro (for a great haircut!) and all the brothers of the Little Oratory in San Diego;
To Dr Gerard Wegemer, Dr Charles O'Sullivan, Dr Bob and Mrs Teresa Israel, to nearly-Dr Matthew and Mrs Molly Mehan, and to future-Dr Tommy and Jon Paul Heyne, all in and around Dallas,
my love and thanks to you all, and to all those I have met over the last couple of weeks.

Biscuits 'n' gravy

Well, I'm back. In Dallas, the temperature was 101 degrees, and on the plane, the captain said that it was 50 at Heathrow. But I'm not complaining; this morning I had my first pot of 'normal' tea, having slept for something like twelve hours, and am feeling a whole lot better.
I forgot to tell you about my last US breakfast. Charlie, a delightful academic from the University of Dallas, took me to Mecca, a diner, for a real Texan breakfast. Mostly it was great; he warned me the coffee was awful, so I chose diet Coke—he ordered the coffee. But I had to have the Texas speciality—biscuits and gravy with my scrambled egg. Oh my. The biscuits were fine; not biscuits as we understand them in the UK, but, basically, scones (perhaps a little softer in texture). But the gravy.… That, too, may be gravy, Jim, but not as we know it. What it adds up to is flour and water with a little bacon fat added. I'm not joking. Charlie added vast quantities of pepper to his serving in order to make it palatable. Nothing made it able for my palate; fortunately they had served the 'gravy' in a little bowl, so once I had braved a mouthful, I reached for the butter instead. So, if you go to Texas and they offer you biscuits with white gravy, do the sensible thing and run.
I've found a picture of biscuits and gravy, but Blogger doesn't seem to be accepting picture uploads right now. I'll try again later. Basically, the picture shows something that looks like someone has been sick over some scones and a fried egg. That just about sums it up. Actually, my gravy looked more like wallpaper paste with some tiny speckles in it.

Thursday 17 July 2008

Montes parturient; nascetur ridiculus mus

Well, here I sit in Dallas-Fort Worth airport, having shelled out $10 for the privilege of posting this. Actually more, if you count the coffee that is my excuse for being able to use this table.
Yesterday afternoon, I visited a huge shopping mall, especially remarkable for its huge selection of guns of all sizes and shapes on sale to the general public, and for the nearby range for the opportunity to try them out. And then in the evening, a lovely family, who I have become friends with, cooked a Texas barbecue. I mentioned about poor Spatula from a few posts ago, and heard from a medical lady present of a child called Krystal Shanda Lear. What made it more extraordinary was that someone else present at the table knew the unfortunate also.
Today there were a few hours before my late afternoon flight to Heathrow, and my ever attentive hosts were anxious that I might pine if there was a corner of the American Experience still left unexplored. So, someone came up with the idea of Southfork Ranch.
If you are my age or older, you will probably know exactly what I am referring to. The immensely popular soap opera of the 70s called Dallas, starring Larry Hagman and other worthies, who lived at Southfork Ranch and made each others' lives a misery. Well, apparently Southfork is a real place. I saw it. I tried every excuse in the book to do something else, but no, to Southfork I had to go…… If you're not careful, I'll post a photograph.
And so my Great American Adventure ends on a sort of shot of bathos.
Montes parturient; nascetur ridiculus mus.   (if I've got that right).

And now, oh heavens to betsy, I've got umpteen hours on a plane. I hope there are fillums. On the way over, I even saw myself for the first time in The Other Boleyn Girl.


Tayxus or Tayuxus, for various reasons, is the most interesting of the states I have visited, qua state. Which itself is curious, for it has few of the amenities of most of the other states. But there is a very conscious pride among the inhabitants (wwhich I have not seen elsewhere, though I have heard of it being so in Hawaii) of simply being Texans as well as Americans. Texas, until the discovery of the vast oil reserves, really had very little going for it at all except land on which, with a great deal of effort, you could raise those strange longhorn cattle. It was for many years simply a part of Mexico, as was California, New Mexico, and possibly more. And, until 1821, Mexico was ruled from Spain. There were a couple of brief periods when the French had their eye on the place and tried in the late 17th and early 18th Century to start colonies from Louisiana, sent by its governor, Cadillac, who gave his name by some mysterious process to the car. From 1821, Texas was part of the Republic of Mexico, but was being increasingly settled by Anglo Americans, by negotiation. It was also used as a place of exile: In Virginia, there were three punishments for high crimes, in this order; death, exile to Texas and imprisonment. Eventually, the Anglo-Americans reached a critical mass and revolted against Mexico, who sent the efficient General Santa Anna against them, on the whole unsuccessfully, except at the Alamo. The reason for the revolt is generally given as the desire for American liberties against oppression and so forth; however, the oppressive activities were actually the rather reasonable charging of taxes and the forbidding of slavery, for Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829 and expected the Anglo-Americans to act accordingly and free their slaves too. Briefly Texas was independent, and recognized as so by several foreign powers, including Britain. Then, under President (then to become Governor) Houston, it entered the US by treaty, the only state to do so except, I think, Hawaii. As you might expect from all the slavery stuff, the Texans sided with the Confederates in the Civil War, though they had no major battles fought on their own soil. They did suffer in the aftermath, however. As a consequence of all this complicated history, the Texans are proud to fly six flags in the state; the Spanish, the (pre-revolutionary) Fleur-de-Lys of France, the Mexican, the Confederate, their own Lone Star, and the Stars and Stripes. In fact, they are proud of the fact that because they entered the US by treaty, they may fly the Texan flag on the same level as the Stars and Stripes.

And, on another subject, tonight I fly back to the UK, so I’m not sure when I’ll be posting again. Perhaps I’ll have a chance in the airport.

University of Dallas and the Cistercian Abbey

The University of Dallas was founded in the mid-1950s by, essentially, the Sisters of St Mary of Namur (who might be the same team as our Notre dame de Namur Sisters). They thought that the area around what they horribly call the Metroplex (meaning all the built up area around Dallas and Fort Worth) needed a new mixed college. The diocese agreed with them, and soon the project turned into the University of Dallas.
UD is a Catholic University, with a strong emphasis on the Liberal Arts; all students, even in the Graduate Program(me) have to follow a core curriculum of subjects including several I am no good at, so I suppose I’d never have been able to come here. The campus is very pleasant indeed; modern buildings, but set in gently landscaped parkland among mesquite and oak trees stunted by drought and heat, and both buildings and land are well-maintained. There is a central area known as the Mall, dominated by a vast tower, not unlike an airport control tower. This is hung with three or four bells which chime the quarter hours and ring for Mass and Angelus very loudly and splendidly.
The UD promotional video was made by Tommy Heyne, and actually finished in my attic in Shoreham. It has proved very successful in boosting the number of applicants to UD.

The University got a great boost in the 1960s by the arrival next door of refugee Cistercian monks from Hungary (O.Cist not Trappists). These were highly educated men who opened a high school for boys and also many of whom taught at the University. Some had been imprisoned or even tortured: one had been in prison with Mindszenty under the Nazis as a suspected Communist sympathizer, and then again under the communists as a suspected Nazi sympathizer. Most got out of Hungary under the rising, others managed to study in Rome, and were told by the imprisoned Abbot not to return to Hungary, but to seek out the other exiles in America. So the Abbey was born. The Hungarian monks struggled on for many years, with few local vocations. Finally even these dried up. Then, all of a sudden, within the last five or so years, they have had more applicants than they could take, mostly from the school and the University (which is a very good sign), and things look rosy indeed.
I had a tour this morning of the Abbey church, school and monastery from a young monk who had been on the Thomas More Summer School in 2000: in those days he was not even a Catholic, so he has come a long way. The abbey church is a rather severe building in rough limestone and concrete, said to be a representation of some Romanesque building in Hungary. The likeness must be only tangential—in the proportions, maybe—but it does have a rather brutal grandeur. 
That's Professor Gerard Wegemer standing in front of the Abbey Church, and the monk is Brother Stephen.

Here's the UD promotional video, which was finished in my attic:

Cattle and other matters

Lunch was the great local cuisine; Tex-Mex, though I found myself unable for it, really, after the breakfast. And then we went to Fort Worth, considered to be the more classy end of things. There we visited a Texan cliché; the stock yards.
Everyone knows that Texas is all about cattle, in particular the beast known as the longhorn (for obvious reasons). The stockyards in Fort Worth were absolutely huge, and still functioning fully until the mid 1980s when modern technology rendered them largely obsolete. Nowadays, the good ol’boys sit in specially air-conditioned bars drinkin whisky and rye thinkin ‘this’ll be the day that I buy’ and watching the stock on television screens.
For sentimental and historical reasons, they still keep a handful of longhorns at Fort Worth stockyards, and do a bit of rodeo ridin; you can even try your skill on a mechanical bull. There are a few men dressed up as cowboys who herd the herd up and down the street a couple of times a day for the tourists; I thought it all a bit lame and pointless, until I realised that for the people of Texas, it is a bit like changing the guard; pointless in one sense, but in another, an assertion of one’s history that is, in point of fact, very important indeed.
We visited some of the cattle—all bulls, as it turned out—in a pen, and watched as the long and very heavy horns posed something of an obstacle to a bull wanting to drink. The horns proved a little more useful as another bull succeeded in scratching, er, a certain part of himself that any shorter-horned animal could never have dreamed of managing.
The afternoon brought a reunion of some of my former colleagues and students from the Thomas More in England program(me), (which is the reason for my connection with the University of Dallas) all of whom it was wonderful to see again. There was more food, which I entirely avoided, and began to tremble in anticipation of the promised dinner. When the do was over, I cried off the dinner: I couldn’t face another mouthful, and pinched one or two of the nibbles from the reception which stood me in good stead yesterday evening and this morning.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Downtown Dallas

Dallas itself has many impressive buildings, almost all corporate. Dr Wegemer dropped me off by the side of the road and let me wander through an area somewhat redolent of Tivoli—well, it had a lot of water, which cooled down the oppressive heat (and, I’m told, this is COLD for Texas in July). We also passed (and I include a poor photograph) of the only thing in Texas that is not bigger and better—the Catholic Cathedral, nestling in the midst of tower blocks. Dallas’ main attraction, though, is unquestionably the event that took place on 22nd November 1963; the other event, I mean. On the same day and hour that CS Lewis died in England, John F Kennedy was shot in Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Kennedy was a controversial figure—the first, and, to date, the only Catholic president of the US—and I suppose it was the combination of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the manner of his death that has so secured him a place in history. I still don’t know quite why he was shot, but the death itself made a huge impact. I remember a very common picture from my youth called ‘The Peace Sowers’, showing Kennedy walking a ploughed field with Pope John XXIII, both casting seed to left and right. Well, we know a bit more about the Kennedy family now, but yet the memory of this man has not yet departed. It isn’t going to in Dallas, anyway. Quite apart from the site in Dealey Plaza, there is the Book Repostiory from where Oswald is supposed to have fired the shots (maybe), now a museum where you can even look through a sort of gun sight through his window, and the JFK memorial. This, alleged to be a commoration of the free spirit of JFK, is, basically, a large empty marble box, full of hot air (which Dallas is very full of). If it is intended as a compliment to JFK, it looks like a backhanded one. And it isn’t very popular in Dallas; many want it demolished, and many can think of better monuments to someone. Endowing a college, for instance, which could certainly be done with the money gained from the sale of this very central site in downtown Dallas.
I mentioned in an earlier post the fact that price of petrol here in the US is less than half what it is in the UK, but that people still complain loudly. Well, one effect of this is that people have started to move back into city centres, since substantial commutes are no longer so attractive as once they were. I was told that five years ago the population of downtown Dallas was about 500; now it is 5000 and continues to grow apace. Once again, the American people are beginning to regenerate city centres, and this will have an impact on the very car-centred economy they have. Perhaps they will start walking again.
Walking in Dallas is not a very pleasant experience at this time of year; at least for any time or distance. So they have contructed a net of warrens under the earth—air conditioned tunnels leading here and there. Toronto and other Canadian cities have done the same thing, but for the opposite reason—snow.
In one photo here you can see the famous crystal high-rise, with the oil-rig imitation reflected in its surface. Cool, eh?

Twixt Irving and Dallas

Yesterday was the tour day. In the morning, Professor Gerard Wegemer, the Thomas More scholar, took me on a visit to downtown Dallas. After a hearty US breakfast (and, seriously, were I to eat like this all the time, I would be huge), we set off. Irving, as I mentioned yesterday, where the University is, is a dry county, and this means that it is also the heartland of evangelical Protestantism. In fact it has been described as the ‘buckle of the Bahble belt’. It is also the heartland of the tele-evangelist, mostly with first (I can’t call them Christian) names like Oral, Normal, and Whitening. Well, all right, I made up the last one. Outside one church we saw a poster alleging that all money given to the church is not given to humans but to God. Which sets the priority clearly straight away. Along the road between Irving and Dallas two churches particularly caught my eye; one with a vast spire, which confidently calls itself ‘THE church of Christ’ and another modelled on the White House. Both illustrated left. A little further on, and you see a building familiar to many British eyes, though almost exclusively now in photographs. An American firm has reconstructed the Crystal Palace, sort of, to serve as their headquarters. I knew a man who watched the original CP burn down. Let us hope that that does not happen here.


I love history—I teach it, in fact—and it is one of the things that I most enjoy about Europe. You see old things everywhere, and I don’t just mean in the pews. Within the bounds of the Adur Valley parish are some twelve or so mediæval churches (most of them either Saxon or Norman, which is to say getting on for a thousand or so years old) plus a ruined castle, an Iron Age hill fort (Chanctonbury Ring), and another Iron Age hill fort (Cissbury ring) nearby. The wall in my garden is at least hundreds of years old, and is probably older than the USA. I really feared I would pine for ‘real’ history, and find the relatively modern buildings the Americans think of as historical, well, boring, and perhaps faintly laughable. I think I did this because of the reaction of many Americans in Europe, and I have known many of these. ‘Golly; this kinda puts our history into the shade’. I usually mutter something about actually European history being as much their history as ours, which it is, and change the subject.
But here in the States, I have found their history just as fascinating, to my surprise. One simply adjusts ones scales and proportions a bit. History is about where people came from, not how long it took. In this sense, whether the matter is ten years or a thousand is far less important that I thought. The US is rightly interested in its history, and I too am finding it interesting.
Which leads me to wonder something else. Older Americans tell me how, when they were at school, they studied European history, rather than American. Now it’s American, not European. This creates a couple of problems. The first is an ignorance of much human history before the Pilgrim Fathers (except the doings of some Indian tribes), and a lot after it. There is also the very real problem of how to fill up the teaching hours. I wonder if this is where ‘social history’ began to take the place of ‘battles and dates’ history. If there aren’t enough battles and kings to fill a syllabus, then, because nature abhors a vacuum, you are going to have to fill it up with the study of the oppression of women in Nantucket before 1900, or something. And because if America sneezes, the UK catches cold, the same process naturally finds its way to the UK in due course. So, we have seen in the UK 'social history' replacing much more interesting history-history. It is less likely to find enthusiasts, I think, though it may produce more sociologists.


Howdy y'all!
Well, I've now been a day or so in Texas. I flew on a half-full flight from San Diego, having braved, with the help of John, the byzantine check-in system that American Airlines like to operate there. The flight over mostly desert was, I'd like to say interesting, but it wasn't really. But I reacquainted myself with the Brandenburg Concertos on my iPod instead. It was already dark when I arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth airport. The landing was a bit spooky; I could see cars, and buildings, but no visible human being. I made a guess (probably right) that nobody ventures outdoors in July if they don't have to; it is really pretty warm.
We were quickly disembarked from the plane, and I dashed off to the 'restroom' knowing that I'd have 20 minutes at least before my baggage arrived. As I emerged, and squatted down to pull something from my hand luggage, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Matt, who had come to meet me. I explained that I was waiting for my main luggage, and that we'd have a while yet.
'Oh no' he said. 'This is Texas; everything is bigger and better!'
And in this case it certainly was, because the bags started rolling off the belt at that moment. Mine was one of the first. Within ten minutes or so of leaving the plane, I was in the car and moving onto the freeway. Or so I thought. We travelled for what seemed quite some time, and then arrived at a toll booth. This surprised me; even more when I saw the tariff for parking. The penny dropped. All this time we had still been in the airport.
'Bigger and better, buddy' said Matt. He's actually not Texan himself, so there is an ironic smile when he says this.
On the road back, we saw the towers of downtown Dallas in the distance.
'See that big tower block; the one with green lines all the way up?' I said that I did.
'That's all in neon lights; it's to represent a stack of dollar bills. Texas really rejoices in its prosperity.'
I gasped with mingled revulsion and delight at the sheer chutzpah.
'There's another one, in the shape of a crystal, to symbolize the wealth underground, and another with a symbolic oil derrick on top'.

Well, what can I say? After a stop at a late-night pharmacy to get this and that (no booze this time; Irving, where I am staying, is a dry county) we arrived at the University of Dallas, which is putting me up. I shall, no doubt, do a post on the University later. I was taken through the deep heat from the air-conditioned interior of the car to the air-conditioned interior of the guest flat where I am staying.
Another surprise. It is seriously posh and comfortable. The a/c whirrs very discreetly on the very edge of audibility, the sitting room (yes, I've got a sitting room) is huge, with soft and smart furniture. The bed is seriously vast: apparently it's called a Californian King-size, and I sleep in a tiny corner of it; there's room for at least one Sicilian family as well. This has been a real and pleasant surprise, as has been catching up with many old friends. More posts tomorrow, I hope.

Nicky Hall RIP

I was so sorry to read of the death of Nicky Hall; Nicky was pretty well the founder of CIEL UK, which introduced the intellectual element into the debate about the Traditional Liturgy. May she rest in peace.

Letter From Australia

Andrew, my friend in Sydney, sends another installment:

Yesterday, some 10,000 (mainly) young pilgrims arrived at Sydney Airport, its busiest day since the 2000 Olympic Games. All told, 500,000 extra people are expected in Sydney this week, and I am consequently working from home to avoid the road closures in the CBD where I normally work. It is delightful to see the unbridled enthusiasm of the pilgrims, and to me augurs well for the Church. Guitars are very much in evidence, with a lot of apparently spontaneous singing and dancing.

Some wag wrote a letter to the paper last week saying that individually he liked young people, was not averse to religious enthusiasm and was partial to guitar playing, but the combination of all three was the very definition of annoying and irritating behaviour!

Predictably, a major scandal broke late last week, with a man being interviewed at length on television and in print about being raped by a priest in the early 80's. As far as I can see, nobody is disputing the facts; in essence the scandal relates to Cardinal Pell's handling of the case, apparently taking a view that it was consensual and communicating this in writing to the victim when he should have been aware this was not the case. The good Cardinal as you probably already know, has a hardman reputation, refusing to give communion to homosexuals and so on, but the timing of this scandal, on the eve of the Pope's visit is strongly suggestive of a classic media beat up.

However, Cardinal Pell seems to have weathered the storm with some humility and promises to re-open the case. Yesterday, he took lunch with the Holy Father in the Opus Dei retreat in Kenthurst (NE Sydney) where he is resting for a couple of days before what promises to be a full on week.

One of the most heart warming stories of the week is how the Malik Fahd Islamic school in Sydney has opened its doors to host 300 Catholic pilgrims in their school hall, and a gesture of ecumenical tolerance and friendship. This sort of ray of sunshine gives me great hope for the future. And of course people of all faiths have been warmly welcomed to participate in WYD.

Now for some humour....

So far nobody has been prosecuted for annoying behaviour (although some have taken to handing out free condoms to the pilgrims). One of the reasons the Police are said to have requested special powers is because they ended up being humiliated during the APEC summit, when a team from the Chaser (a satirical programme on the ABC whose stock in trade is to poke fun at pomposity wherever it exists) pretended to be a Canadian motorcade and got within a few yards of President Bush's (closed off) hotel. They chose Canada on the grounds that nobody would query Canada having a 3 car motorcade, some cast members ran alongside like Security people (complete with fake badges very prominently labelled "INSECURITY") and one of their number dressed up as Osama Bin Laden inside one of the cars. By all accounts they were more surprised than anyone to be waved through three separate Police checkpoints, and outed themselves before getting to Bush's hotel by getting out of the car. The Police charged them with various breaches, but the case was thrown out. Of course there was no ban on annoying behaviour at that event, and the authorities did not like their vaunted security being shown to be less than watertight in the face of a few comedians!

The great Australian prank (often with political overtones) has a long and proud history. At the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1930's an Irish nationalist cut the ribbon ahead of the state Premier.

During the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, there was a torch relay which came through Sydney. The Lord Mayor and the City's Great and Good were assembled on the steps of Town Hall, with about 20,000 cheering onlookers when the runner came out of the crowd bearing the torch which he ceremoniously handed to the Lord Mayor. His Lordship cleared his throat, only to be told "It's not the torch". It was in fact a chair leg to which had been nailed a cake tin containing a burning pair of kerosene soaked underpants. The perpetrator had by this time melted into the crowd, leaving lots of outraged harrumphing in his wake. Apparently it was a protest against the Nazi origins of the torch relay.

And when Pope Paul VI visited Sydney in the 1970's he gave an address at the Press Club, in which no questions were permitted. Half way through, a message came across the PA system "Mr Montini, your taxi awaits you outside". Again, cue harrumphing. I don't think they ever found the perpetrator. Highly disrespectful, but also very funny.

Stop press: the Federal Court today overturned the NSW temporary law making annoying behaviour an offence on the grounds that is is unconstitutional. For more details, read here:. Once again the state government of NSW gets it wrong!

Tuesday 15 July 2008


As I publish this, I am sitting in San Diego airport waiting for my plane to Dallas-Fort Worth for the final visit of my North American trip. Having now spent a week in Canada and a week in the US, I have had so many new experiences, and it has been fun to share them with you on this blog; several of you have commented kindly.
If the predominating food impression in Canada was ketchup, here in the US it is what they call a sandwich, and which I would call a burger bun. Ketchup is not so ubiquitous, and generally is served in little plastic bags. I think that probably 70 per cent of my meals have been between two halves of a bun. On Saturday, I even was served Ahi (which is what they seem to call tuna) in a bun; two great steaks with a spicy coating, served only slightly cooked, together in a single bun. Very nice, but strange. They give you piles of paper napkins, because it is very difficult not to make a mess. The vegetables have been almost non-existent, being mostly potatoes (and almost all in the form of chips—which, by the way, they seem to call chips here, and not fries) with the occasional doubtful ‘well, I suppose I could find you a salad’. the only real attempt at vegetables was in that theme park thing, when they were inedible.
I have seen the most enormous jars of peanut butter. And the bread is strangely sweet and reinforced with all sorts of vitamins and other useful bits that your average American could have got far more agreeably in some vegetables.
Tea is available, but never what I would call tea; it’s Earl Grey or otherwise flavoured tea, which is okay, but I’m looking forward to the real thing when I return. I have a rule to stick with the national drink when I can; coffee in coffee drinking countries, tea in tea-drinking countries. Coffee in Ireland is (usually) horrid, tea in Italy is (almost always) horrid.
The sounds here in San Diego are the muted roar of traffic and the gentle whir of overhead fans. The climate is quite remarkably agreeable here; consistently warm, but never so hot that you can’t sleep, and not at all humid. So they don’t really need air conditioning here. It is very, very, pleasant indeed. The sun doesn’t shine all the time, but it doesn’t seem to rain or get cold. The grass is not our gentle, soft English grass, but a tough, unreal-looking plant with a tinge of blue in it. I can’t imagine a horse being particularly keen on tucking into this stuff. I wonder whether this is the famous Kansas (?) blue grass.
The people are a little more reticent than the Canadians; there isn’t the meet-your-eye, chat-at-the-drop-of-a-hat instinct that I met in Toronto, but I have found people to be pleasant and cheerful, assistants are friendly in the shops.
The wildlife is quite different to Canada. No chipmunks, for a start, and I have seen very little running around the place except, of course, the jogging bird and the surfer dude (q.v.). Perhaps the dearth of wildlife is because there are coyotes round about—I’d love to see one of those—who will take anything if they are hungry, including cats. There are also raccoons, skunks and possums, but I didn’t get to see (or smell) any of these either. Unlike Canada, California seems to go in for LBBs. Little brown birds, that is. I have seen a lot of sparrows, and a pair of mocking-birds has been stealing the grapes from my host’s vine. These look like slightly large thrushes, which is a bit disappointing. And that’s about it, really, unless you count the Guinness bird (=toucan for those younger than me) I saw in a cage at Seaworld.
In Canada, I was really quite taken aback at the attitude behind the wheel. I am no stranger to aggressive driving—I lived in London, remember. Joe, an American lodger I had a year or two ago, used to remark that driving in Britain frightened him, because it was so aggressive. Well, Joe, I can honestly say that my experiences in North America have scared me from time to time, and the US has scared me more than Canada. The attitude is deeply antinomian in some matters, and obsessively law-abiding in others. In town, cars screech to a halt at almost every junction and corner. But on the freeway, they hurtle along at any speed in any lane, and cheerfully overtake on inside lanes as a matter of course. Someone will proceed at a leisurely pace in the outside lane, being overtaken by maniacs in the nearside one. People chat on phones, eat, shave, do their lipsticks and nails and probably carry on light industry while tailgating the person in front. If they bother to signal before a manoevre, you will probably miss it because on most cars, the directional indicator lights are the same colour as the brake lights. They shift lanes all the time, and I’m sure they must often hit. They turn right even on a red light—I think this is legal in California, but not generally in the US. Oh, which reminds me; some things are legal or illegal in one state but not in another. You just have to know, somehow. I love driving, but, you know, I think that in the US I prefer to be driven. Fortunately, I have been driven by people who are safe drivers (at least, I have never felt in danger—well, okay, once we had a close shave). And American constantly grumble about the price of petrol. They should try British prices, which are more than double what they pay! I’m told that until recently you could see Humvees about all over the place (doing one or two miles to the gallon). Now you can pick them up for a few cents.
What nobody ever talks about is The Big One. The San Andreas fault runs a short way off the coast here, and the experts confidently expect it to do its thing sometime soon; apparently a serious shake, like the one that destroyed San Francisco a hundred years ago, is overdue. And they expect it to be a lulu. San Diego, say the gloom-mongers, could disappear under the waves quite easily, for it is low-lying. Many of the buildings here are earthquake-adapted, and people are supposed to lay in stores of bottled water and canned food against the awful day. But nobody speaks about it much.


I sit here writing, about 15 miles from the Mexican border. My host assures me that, contrary to my pleading, I really, really, don’t want to go to see Tijuana, which lies just on the other side of the border, in Baja California (the Mexican bit). He says that I could get shot, kidnapped, or even overcharged. But the brothers were moved by my distress and frustration, and sent David, a brother, and himself Hispanic, south on a mission. I had joked about wanting to do the tourist thing, eat chilli and buy a sombrero—I have horrific memories of standing a the airport waiting for visitors to emerge from Arrivals, and seeing hordes of sunburnt British holidaymakers emerging from their flight from the Spanish costas wearing only shorts and ridiculous sombreros. So it was a joke, guys, all right? Only the problem is that the brothers seem to have taken it seriously, and after the Exercises on Sunday, I was presented with a perfectly enormous black and silver sombrero, which David had gone all the way to Tijuana to get for me. It is quite gloriously camp and over the top, so I thought I ought to pose in one or two stereotyped Mexican poses just so you can appreciate it. Getting it home gave me some thought. There is no way I want to emerge from Arrivals at Heathrow wearing that. So John, ever the thoughtful host, said I could leave it here and he would post it. Bless him.


I have heard that names among the African-American community can be somewhat exotic. Condoleezza is a good example. But I heard of a prize one the other day. The wife of a friend overheard, in Walmart, a lady calling her daughter. ‘Spatula! Spatula! I’ve got just two words for you, young lady; be-have!’ She swears it’s true.
I knew a Texan girl called Brandy. I once knew an Olive Grove, and I know someone who knew an Orson Carter. School records in Guildford show that in the late 19thc a girl was christened Mary Ann Twanet. I’m sure you can come up with lots more.

Sunday 2: Vespers and Exercises

On Sunday afternoon, three-cope Vespers was celebrated in the Cathedral of San Diego, which is dedicated to St Joseph. There was very nearly a full turn out of the brothers in the Oratorian habit, with bishop Cordileone assisting in choir. Since the brothers have to find a church where they can, they have learnt the art of the mobile church. Each brother has a liturgical stool with which to form a choir—they bought a job lot from IKEA—and they bring the stool along to each of these celebrations, as illustrated. As they unloaded the mobile church, a strange gaggle of people riding those space-age scooters that somehow balance upright drove down the pavement by the Cathedral. They were caught at a pedestrian crossing (abbreviated ‘ped xing’ here in California), so I had time to snatch a shot. Vespers went very well; the music (organ and quartet, gregorian chant, Victoria, Franco [Mexican 16th c] and Polhamus [San Diego fl. 2008]) and ceremonies proceeded beautifully. Afterwards we posed for a picture, though some of the brothers, and one of the assistants had already had to leave. There was a reception in the Cathedral hall afterwards, when we discovered that nobody had thought to bring a corkscrew. ‘Oh,’ said the bishop, ‘I’ve got one in my car’. Now that is civilized.
After Vespers, the Oratory Exercises for Sunday evening were celebrated, the bishop assisting also, kneeling on the floor with the brothers.
I hope soon to have some pics of all the brothers with the bishop after Vespers.

Roberto has posted video clips of the Vespers on YouTube; here's the first part of the Magnificat.

If you look at it on YouTube itself, you can see more.

Sunday 1

On Sunday, the Little Oratory decided to go into full Oratory mode. So we celebrated the Oratory for Sunday morning before Mass, and, while I heard confessions, the brothers celebrated the office of Terce. Mass followed. All this took place in a rather extraordinary location. As you can see from the first picture, the exterior is somewhat spectacular. It is actually Holy Cross, a Catholic cemetery chapel, and, once through the doors, the interior is bizarre and a little creepy. There are all sorts of options for burial there; inhumation in the substantial grounds is one choice on offer, but there are also catacomb-like loculi options also. The chapel is at the heart of a huge complex of marble corridors lined with the bodies of the dead. Each body is sealed in a stainless steel casket and slotted into a hole in the wall, which is then sealed with a marble slab. There are thousands of these things in that weird building. In the second picture, you can see where I heard confessions, down another corridor of coffins. During confessions, a man came to pray at the grave of his family, and confessions had to be halted while he performed his devotions. This is the location allotted by Bishop Robert Brom of San Diego to the Latin Mass community in the town. I gather cemetery chapels are preferred locations for not-very-enthusiastic bishops permitting the TLM in the States. I was told that one summer there was a horrible smell in the building. Let’s not enquire further………
Shortly before the TLM arrived at the chapel, it was wreckovated. A perfectly good altar was replaced by a cube and a ‘balancing’ lectern, which would have made the chapel unusable for the TLM had not the architect placed the lectern weirdly behind the altar and to the side, which enabled the same workmen who made the alterations, out of the kindness of their hearts, to make another cube table in wood which can be lifted beside the altar cube to make (with a Greek corporal containing relics) a long enough altar for the TLM, which is often celebrated for them by priests from the Premonstratentian community in Orange County. After Mass, it is all disassembled at considerable labour, as you can see, to return the chapel to Ordinary form use during the week.
I said Mass here against a constant background hum from the immediately adjacent freeway and aggressively noisy fans and air conditioning.
The TLM community in San Diego are praying that the bishop might perhaps be able to allot them another church, more convenient and less creepy, for the Sunday Mass, which now attracts some 450 people. They have the use of another little Church in a Hispanic district for weekday Masses.
While hearing confessions, I was most interested to discover that many of the penitents had been lapsed, but had returned to the faith precisely because they had found the TLM.


On Saturday morning, I celebrated a Sung Mass for the brothers in the Ordinary Form, but in Latin and ad orientem. It was all very well done, but a little strange in that though there were four singers for the chant, and five altar servers, there was only one person in the congregation, the wife of one of the brothers. It is reputed that Mgr Talbot once said loftily to Newman ‘Who are the laity?’, only to receive the reply ‘well, the Church would look very foolish without them’.

There was a better turn out on Saturday evening for a Musical Oratory. This, the forerunner of the Oratorio (which takes its name from this exercise) took place in St John’s, the same church that we had celebrated Mass in that morning. All the usual Oratory prayers took place, with hymns and splendid music; Mozart, Vaughan Williams, Bach, Heredia, Vivaldi and Buxtehude, played on the organ and by a string quartet and choir got together for the occasion, with also readings from the life of St Philip, and an account from the 1950s of the pilgrimage to the seven churches of Rome. Strange that at that time thousands of young people continued to do this walk every year, every since the time of St Philip, and it was to be brought to an abrupt halt so soon after. No doubt it was considered ‘triumphalistic’.

The Little Oratory in San Diego

The Little, or Secular, Oratory was the earliest form of the Oratorian life established by St Philip; the congregation of priests happened almost by accident, simply to serve the brothers. Since then, the majority of Oratories have tended to have a community only of priests and full-time brothers (as at Toronto) while others have the brothers in addition (as at the English oratories). Brother-only groups are not unknown, but they are not frequently to be found—though I discovered one by accident on Capri, with their own Little Oratory chapel under the sanctuary of the Cathedral in Capri town. Here in San Diego, the Little Oratory is flourishing, with nigh on twenty brothers and adherents, mostly young and energetic. Their particular work has, to date, been concerned with celebrating the liturgy (in both Ordinary and Extraordinary forms) well, with Gregorian chant and polyphony as the Church recommends. They have recently been giving some thought to extending their operation, in the spirit of St Philip, towards charitable work and study and discussion together. They are very fortunate to have the enthusiastic support of both His Excellency Salvatore Cordileone, the auxiliary bishop here in San Diego, and the community of the Little Oratory in London. The San Diego branch are now looking for a permanent home for their activities, as chasing from place to place is obviously unsatisfactory.

They have a blog here.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Mac, bishops and bloggers

Mac has come up with quite a story; as you probably already know, she has received a tip-off that the bishops' conference is concerned about priest bloggers, and may move to 'rein in' our writing.
To be perfectly honest, I am not very surprised; at least, only surprised that it has taken them so long. For many years, the conference has been accustomed to control information distribution, through ownership (either real or moral) of the Catholic press. It is very easy to marginalize or discredit opinions of which one disapproves when access to a readership is in the hands of people of pronounced views of one sort or another. It is, I suppose, not very different to the thoroughgoing censorship that was customary in the first half of the twentieth century, following on the modernist crisis. Only in the other direction.
The internet has produced a new phenomenon. It is no longer necessary to submit to an official or editorial position in order to get into print; Anyone at all can reach any reader simply by starting a blog whether one is into steam trains, courgette cultivation or religion. And, for whatever reason, the large majority of those who write Catholic blogs are those who have opinions that might be called determinedly orthodox or traditional.
If it is true that the powers that be want to control the clerical blogosphere, it suggests that they dislike what is being written. In the first case, if the instinct is to extinguish possible sources of criticism, this can only be interpreted as papering over the cracks. If the overwhelming majority of those who have the energy and stomach to express their opinions in this way are critical of the 'official' position, then this should suggest that there is something that at least needs addressing, rather than suppressing. It is a bit like throwing the temperature gauge out of your car window because it is pointing to red. Censorship is, of course, an option, but it is not one to serve the censors well these days. The opinions in the blogosphere are too firmly held and the mood now too bullish. Suppressing priestly blogs, or severely controlling their content will not suddenly make everyone in the Church liberal, but it might well create a great deal more sympathy for the determinedly orthodox position.
As we all know, the official organs of the Church in England and Wales have been stridently criticized in Damian Thompson's writings again and again. On the other hand, the priests' blogs have, genuinely, been a lot more respectful of the bishops spiritual authority. We know that, genuinely, things aren't as simple as some of Damian's readers may think. If the priests' blogs are submitted to censorship (and really, I cannot think why the bishops might want to suppress something that could serve them as a useful barometer), do people really think that this would pacify or cow Damian and others like him? I rather suspect it would be pressing all the nuclear buttons of not just him, but many more like him. Censorship would prove, I think, a severe own goal. And anyway, what is to prevent priests setting up blogs under pseudonyms?
There are also free speech implications. Once again, I think that it shows liberalism (as experienced in the Catholic Church) in its true colours as being at root profoundly authoritarian. It is not the opinions of the Church that are being enforced, to which all alike, authorities included, must submit, but the opinions of a small and self-selecting elite who wish to impose their own, somewhat individual, version of truth on all, and strive simply to suppress, rather than engage, contrary opinion—even when that opinion is that of the Church down through the ages—other than engaging in debate, which is surely the adult, not to say Christian, way to proceed. We are 'freed' from centuries-old dogma and practice, to be made to bend under the yoke of an authority far more arbitrary and subjective.

Which is to say, instead of suppressing contrary opinion, why do not those who would suppress us start blogs of their own, and see what sort of a readership they get. That might give them a true assessment of what the feeling really is on the ground, and not what they are told by those paid to keep them happy.

More on Morgentaler

I received a long comment on my post concerning the decorated Canadian abortionist Morgentaler. The writer questions Morgentaler's status as an Auschwitz survivor. I'm not sure how to assess such evidence, but you might be interested to read the account for yourself, on the post here.

Saturday 12 July 2008

Seven bridesmaids for seven groomsmen

Today I saw for myself an American wedding—although, by all accounts, a distinctly characterful one. I had been drafted into the choir (singers, not liturgical) for the occasion, as the regular singers needed a bit of reinforcement, particularly in the Gregorian chant, which formed a prominent role in the proceedings.
In the UK we are accustomed to a bride arriving on her father’s right arm, followed by a discreet gaggle of bridesmaids with the occasional unruly child. Not here.
First, we said five decades of the rosary for the bride and groom (there had been a delay), then the organ stuck up with Clarke’s Strumpet Voluntary (on diapason chorus). This was the signal for the clergy and servers to process in—there were a lot of them, this being a big occasion, and the Mass was to be a solemn celebration in the Extraordinary Form. The organist continued to play the Crumpet Voluntary over and over again as the bridesmaids began to file in, beginning with the smallest and unsurest, who wobbled her way up the aisle, to be met by an equally uncertain little boy in a black suit and bow tie, who took her arm, hesitated a long time, then wobbled a genuflection, each passing into a pew on bride’s or groom’s side. Then the next bridesmaid repeated the whole thing. When six had walked up the aisle, and the organist’s fingers were nearly falling off, there was a pause, and we thought that finally the bride was coming. But no: a teeny weeny boy and girl wobbled their way up the aisle, dressed as bride and groom. I had a quick unworthy thought about child brides in Kentucky, but once the tots had toddled their way to the top, there was a pause while the organist finally rounded off the seventy-first playthrough of Clarke, and ponderously changed his music to the Pachelbel Canon, played on full reeds. Another bridesmaid appeared and snailed her way down the aisle, meeting the best man at the sanctuary step. Finally, the bride appeared on her father’s arm, she in a long and beautiful dress, he in US Marine uniform. The marriage was a normal traditional marriage, and the Mass a normal solemn nuptial Mass (Premonstratensians from Orange were deacon and subdeacon, looking splendid in their white birettas). At the end, the bride laid her bouquet movingly on our Lady’s altar, while a can belto tenor sang Schubert’s Ave Maria. All very interesting. I pray that they may have many long and happy years together.


The same evening, I met most of the Brothers of the Little Oratory here in San Diego. They are an impressive set of men, ranging from a barber to university lecturers, and all keen as mustard. The occasion was a practice for solemn Vespers, to take place next Sunday, coram Episcopo, in the Cathedral, but the only location that we could find to practice (though several churches had been tried) was the driveway of John’s parents’ house. Rather surreal; I wonder what the neighbours made of it.


Well, Thursday was a day when, after Mass, Karen, the Gem of the Ocean, collected me, and together we went to Seaworld. This was my introduction to another side of America; the theme park. I had always resolutely avoided those sorts of places in the UK, so it was interesting to see one up close and natural, as it were. I suppose I had imagined a sort of large aquatic Chessington Zoo, with limp penguins and bored herrings (soon to become very interested herrings as they read the label on their bucket; Penguins’ lunch).
Once we had braved the traffic queue (‘line’ in the local vernacular) and got the car parked, the first odd thing struck us. The guard tower. Now, it isn’t clear whether the sentry posted on top was there to prevent us or the penguins escaping, but we managed to escape his notice by slipping between some SUVs and digging a tunnel to the entrance.
Once past the security zone, and walking strangely, we began our tour (‘you vill enjoy yourselves’) with something that called itself the Cirque de la Mer. I went along, confidently expecting to see herrings and pengins eating each other to music, or whatever, but was suprised to discover that it was a show consisting of human beings disporting themselves athletically in tights.
Next came lunch. This was not really a success, though Karen had warned me that it would be (a) expensive and (b) horrible. Actually, by British standards, it wasn’t that expensive. We had jumbalaya (which I had wanted to try and against which I had no standard to measure it, but basically it is rice with bits in—not bad actually) with a lump of dessicated smoked chicken plonked on top of it. Poor bird lived miserably, died miserably and ended miserably. I remember a Giles cartoon which featured one sheep saying to the other ‘well, speaking for myself, I’d far rather end up an entrée at Maxime’s than shepherd’s pie at Joe’s Caff’. The piéce de resistance, however, was unquestionably the serving of vegetables. I use the word euphemistically. They had been advertised as ‘smoked’ (we didn;t get an option to have them or not) but actually they looked and tasted as if someone had found them in the kitchen after a house fire and decided to make a quick buck by selling them to Seaworld. The penguins had refused them, so they sold them to the public. I can eat most things, but I couldn’t eat these (and I love my veg, normally). Karen was either very brave or very mortified and tucked in heroically. Then there was a serving of about seven watermelons each.
Having begun to consider the ramifications of one strange diet, it seemed appropriate then to move to another; leg of car salesman. Which is to say sharks.
Well, they’re sharks, really. Large silent nasty-looking things. They made us go down all sorts of tubes so that we could see the things from all angles. As we came out, Karen remarked ‘Why won’t sharks eat liturgists?’ I professed ignorance, while thinking that perhaps their digestions might suffer. ‘Professional courtesy’ said Karen. Well, quite.
Next we went to see the Florida Manatees. I remember being intrigued by these creatures once on an Attenborough programme, and really they are rather entrancing. Imagine a vast (really vast, I mean: twelve or so feet long) sausage skin overfull of some strange oily liquid; draw a face on one end, and, with the addition of a couple of flippers and a fat tail, you have your manatee. They don’t just swim, they also rotate as they go, which is rather engaging. I wondered if one flipper was longer than the other, so they spend their life in one long social whirl. But they do prove one thing. Low fat diets don’t work. These absurdly obese creatures live exclusively on a diet of Romaine lettuce with an occasional carrot or apple. Lesson? If you want to look like a Manatee (also known as a Sea Cow), eat nothing but lettuce.
Sea lions came next. They did all the things you expect sea lions to do. They were being fed by the audience, who paid for the privilege, of course, with tiny sprats. Some enterprising seagulls and egrets stood by to snatch the fish from the hands of wavering toddlers as the sea lions tried to decide whether the fish or the child’s hand would make a more nourishing meal.
Then we saw a very weird bird. A very, very, weird bird. I forget what it’s called, but the man standing by it (and whose pocket the bird kept trying to raid) told us that it’s some sort of national bird of some sort of African country (Zambia?).
Then I got to see my penguins. I remember penguins at Chessington Zoo; they frolicked perfectly happily in a sort of paddling pool in the open Surrey sunshine. These were crowded together in near-darkness with a pool of near-freezing water far in a bunker underground. They stood around miserably, peering at each other in the gloom, thinking, no doubt, ‘Is this all there is to life?’ I am told that they have taken up existentialist philosophy. Come on, people! Surely it gets light at the antarctic sometimes? The Emperor penguins, as far as I could see, stood solemnly chest to chest without moving. Perhaps they were frozen solid. Or short-sighted. Or actually made of plastic. Nobody gave them any herrings.
And then we saw the key attraction. Cats and dogs doing cute things. Nuff said, dude.
Next we got to see the dolphins. I have read and seen a lot of stuff talked about dolphins, and assumed that 99% of it was anthromorphic nonsense (Spain will no doubt elect some to parliament, soon). But these were pretty spectacular. Clearly, for animals, these have remarkable imitative ability and intelligence, as well as spectacular athleticism. And, apart from the loud music, it was a very good show.
I was beginning to wilt by now. So I begged for only one more thing. Karen had just the thing in mind. A simulated helicopter ride over the arctic. This, I think, is a crude device designed by the management to reclaim smoked vegetables for another unsuspecting customer. It takes recycling to new limits. When the nightmare is over, they show you bored polar bears to calm you down.
Next, we passed the initiative test in finding the exit (you looked for the greatest concentration of retail outlets, natch), crawled on our hands and knees between the SUVs, tunnelled under the guard tower, and went, dear readers, home.
Karen emailed me to tell me that she went back for more later on. She's one tough lady!

Here's Karen's take on the day.