June 2008


Tolle, legeWhilst I’m the lucky recipient of all the traffic Fr Finigan has kindly put my way (thank you again, Father!), it would be quite wrong of me not to advise my many current readers of an opportunity to do themselves a huge literary favour and perform a corporal work of mercy at the same time.

Sell your children (but only if that should be what it takes to raise such a paltry sum) to buy a copy of Seraphic Single’s The Widow of Saint-Pierre.  It is the novel I have enjoyed most this year, and it’s good, clean, Catholic stuff – witty, wise, supremely well-written and a cracking good read.  And the author is undeservedly broke.  And wants to travel to Bonnie Scotland.  From Canada.  And has a fab blog.   But doesn’t know I’m puffing her incomparable tome (yet!).  And… well, how many good reasons do you need?  Oh, and if you don’t, the ninja Carthusians of Achiltibuie will put you on their “to do” list.

Thank you for visiting Tremendous Trifles!

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I have been sent the following from that most satirical of Scottish orders, the Ninja Carthusians of Achiltibuie.  I can only imagine they intend it to be sung to the best tune ever to grace the words of “The race that long in darkness pined” — Dundee.  I hope it is clear that I can, of course, take no responsibility whatsoever for it, or its effects…  [Clears throat awkwardly]

Si explicatum requiris, circumspice, circumspice, circumspice.                                                                                         

The rite that long in darkness pined
Hath burst back into light;
“Laus Deo!” shout the folk who felt
The Nervous Ordo’s blight.

To Cath-o-lic Westminster’s throne
Came Castrillon from Rome,
The joyous throngs their left knees bowed – 
But Cormac stayed at home.

When Father Finigan the brow
Cardinalatial crowned*
With golden mitre, Trad hearts leaped
But how the liberals frowned.

The tidings that the Card’nal brought
From Rome made manifest
The Pontiff’s will: that with this Rite
All parishes be blest.

Questions from Damian Thompson made
The Sandalistas sting.
The “Bitter Pills” did swallow hard,
Each “prophet, priest and king”!

So let us Alleluia sing,
Our praise to Christ uplift;
And to His Vicar, thanks for this
Extr’ordin-ary gift.

*Technically, Fr F was removing the mitre, but…  Hymnodic license, innit?

Photo courtesy of Mr Quaintance

I’ve had the following poem knocking around in some corner or other of the hollow drum of my head for weeks now, and I’m not sure quite why (apart from the obvious seasonal resonance).  It’s long been a solid favourite of mine, and I’m sharing it with you good folk since I can’t think of anything better to do with it.  I present to you Louis MacNiece’s The Sunlight on the Garden:

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.

A Tremendous TriflerInspired by my recent encounter with that miracle of musical loveliness, Dame Emma Kirkby, last night I listened to my 1976 recording of her performing Dowland with The Consort of Musicke.  The following song  (which I listened to for what must have been the x-hundred-and-somethingth time) struck me as being jolly fitting fare for posting here.  That’s all.  Do enjoy it.

Fine knacks for ladies, cheap choice brave and new,
Good pennyworths but money cannot move,
I keep a fair but for the fair to view,
A beggar may be liberal of love,
Though all my wares be trash the heart is true.

Great gifts are guiles and look for gifts again,
My trifles come, as treasures from my mind,
It is a precious jewel to be plain,
Sometimes in shell the Orient´s pearls we find,
Of others take a sheaf, of me a grain.

Within this pack pins points laces and gloves,
And divers toys fitting a country fair,
But in my heart where duty serves and loves,
Turtles and twins, Court´s brood, a heav´nly pair,
Happy the heart that thinks of no removes.

John Dowland, The Second Book of Songs or Ayres

A Gushy Encomium upon Emma Kirkby, DBE

The Great DameAfter nearly twenty years of distant adulation, I finally got to hear Emma Kirkby live in concert last week—and it was very much worth the wait.  [Worth it for me, that is–I didn’t take the liberty of asking Dame Emma how it was for her…]

My very first girlfriend at university was a nice girl who quite closely resembled Kirkby, and who was also a light-voiced soprano.  She broke my boyish heart within a few chaste weeks.  Eheu!

This, if anything, exacerbated my “pash” for Miss Kirkby.  She was now not only the great unavailable beauty and goddess of early song–she had also become the emblem of my Paradise Lost. 

But above all, her clear glassy voice, especially as exercised in  the early repertoire with which she had become most closely associated, was the purest enchantment to my soppy ears.  I first came to revere John Dowland as chanted by her–a “deep and meaningful” musical engagement that has by far outlasted any of my romantic ones.  She and Dowland have on countless occasions helped me to grieve, or to take my ease, or to recharge, or to rejoice, or to contemplate (and not just my own navel, either…); and they have together provided a substantial portion of the  soundtrack to my life.   I’m enormously grateful for all that.

So, finally to hear Dame Emma live, in an ancient Scottish kirk, singing baroque cantatas and in the most splendid voice was, well,  magical.  I had booked an unreserved seat, there being no numbered ones left, and managed to find one at the end of a row in the north aisle.  Sneakily, and on the pretext of not wishing to spoil the view of the lady seated immediately behind me, I moved the rush-bottomed chair round the pier to face the stage more directly, although there was no chance of a clear view of the Great Dame herself from any position in that aisle. 

A bewhiskered usher soon approached (and reproached) me, burring in a voice straight out of Dr. Finlay’s Casebook: “Now, this is grand, isn’t it?  But I’m tryin’ to keep the passage clear…”  I was forced into a partial retreat (of perhaps 20 degrees or so) around the pier.  Thus was my first experience of the celestial voice a blind one.  I saw Dame Emma only after she had sung the first of the cantatas of the evening, and only then because I stood to applaud her, using the opportunity to cross the aisle in doing so. 

I repaired briefly to the local tavern for some refreshment at the interval (only buying an ale at all to avoid the discourtesy of making free with the landlord’s facilities without recompense), determined upon my return somehow to command a better view in the second half.  I had not waited a score of years to be in her presence only to have her remain as invisible to me as if I had stayed at home with my well-worn discs.  So, spotting an as-yet unreproached old gent who had moved his unreserved seat into the north transept, next the reserved stalls, I followed suit and availed myself of a deliciously uninterrupted view of the Dame’s music stand and, in time, of the Dame herself.

Oh, but she was beautiful, and expressive, and elegant, and charming—and yes, dear Seraphic, her autumnal hair was big!  She sang Bach’s Ich habe genug most affectingly, and I shared the narrator’s deep satisfaction in the fulfilment of a long-held desire.  I clapped my tingly hands raw, and only just managed to gulp back a wild roar of Brava! as Dame Emma took her final bow (after favouring us with an encore – Lascia ch’io pianga ).  As she left the platform for the last time, the elderly gent in front turned to me jovially and said, “Well, you certainly gave her a good clap!”  My elation prevented me at the time from realising that this was a kind way  of saying, “You just about deafened us with your paw-thumping!”

If you are by any chance reading this soppy old tommyrot, dear Dame Emma, I was the wild-eyed, black-moleskin-suited loon standing in the north aisle of the kirk, grinning athletically and beating my palms noisily together in dopey joy.  I am, I am told, quite harmless.  A thousand thank-yous.

Are you looking at my Byrd?Is this a vain thing fondly invented by me, or do I have a distant memory of seeing a cartoon to this effect in the Spectator (or some such rag) years ago? I’d love to think it was mine, but someone’s bound to know otherwise…

Scene: Two appropriately vested gentleman lay clerks in choir, one holding open a musical score entitled “Mass for Four Voices”.

Lay Clerk #1: (Leaning over to peer at L.C. # 2’s score) Cor!

Lay Clerk #2: (To L.C. #1) Oi! Are you looking at my Byrd?