Ominous Beginnings


Thinking about his tweed-heart...

Thinking about his tweed-heart...

In a Rule-breaking discussion with me about The Rules, that dearest of dear creatures Seraphic suggested to me that since I was sceptical about them, perhaps I should blog about why.  I instead suggested that, ill-equipped though I may be for such a delicate task, I might try to come up with better courtship advice for men, and this she thought worth a try (or a laugh). 

In an attempt to forestall the perfectly understandable snorts of derision from my readers ( “What the bally-flip does BA know about courting women, eh?  B.A.!”) I offer the observation that past gaffes often bring with them the conciliatory wisdom of hindsight—and moreover, I have recently been rather luckier on the romantic front than any man has a right to hope for.  So there.  And anyway, a chap’s got to blog about something.  [Cry from the cheap-seats: “Oh no he doesn’t!”]

Given the utility of the virtue of modesty to love, life and letters, I propose to begin with but one McRule, but it’s a biggie:

1.  Be Yourself

Hardly original, I grant you, but that just underscores this rule’s importance.  Yes, really.

Being yourself means letting your genuine character be what the world (and the woman whose affections you’d win) sees.  Don’t assume a persona, or conceal essential parts of your own personality or life circumstances, in order better to appeal to woman.  Heaven knows, there are plenty things about the-man-who-is-Benedict-Ambrose which have always seemed unlikely to him to appeal to women, but trying to conceal them has always failed on multiple levels.  Core values, character traits and life-history are things that, after a certain (fairly early) stage in a chap’s life, he is unlikely to change, and dissembling about them carries with it all the usual problems about lies, and is quite literally self-defeating into the bargain.  Even if you manage to pull this shape-changing trick off, you will have won her only by deception and at the cost of your own integrity.  Impersonating someone else (which is effectively what this sort of gambit amounts to) for the sake of gaining the admiration or love of another is not just deceptive—it’s also got a short-to-medium-term chance of success at the very most.  Truly, who can carry that kind of long-term denial of themselves off, without some catastrophic failure at some level or other?  If you would be truly loved by a woman (and there are few more heart-gladdening fates than to be loved by a truly good woman), you must let yourself  be loved.  What availeth it a man if he gain a woman’s love but lose his own soul, eh?   

Only, and here’s the rub, be the very best version of yourself that you can possibly muster. That, I think, best celebrates and increases a proper self-respect and respect for the other person.  If there are aspects of your character or life-circumstances that you really ought to be working on anyway—perhaps you’re addicted to filthy literature (the poerty of Pam Ayres, say) or spend too much time on t’internet reading toshy blog-posts about “being yourself”—let the fact that it will make you more worthy of another’s love help you to change them.  And try to make good progress on that before getting too involved with a lovely gal.

Do not, however, use some poor woman to “save” you from yourself—instead, make yourself more deserving of her first.  If your life or character is such a mess that it needs urgently sorting out, try to sort it out without involving “her” in the mess first.  It’s hardly fair to ask someone to be your personal saviour by becoming your (prospective) wife.  Unfair burden altogether, old chap, innit.  If you fail to win her despite the effort of making yourself worthy of her, you have lost only what you could not have kept anyway, and you’ll be all the more ready to woo someone else now you’ve got yourself in Bristol-fashion.

Also, resist the temptation to fall a certain type of women because you know they will not challenge the aspects of yourself that you really know you ought to change.  Don’t date for convenience.  If you do, you not only show her a lack of respect, but let yourself down rather badly into the bargain.  You will also be “settling” for less than you know you need, and you are unlikely to keep a healthy respect for such a woman. 

“Only date women you can truly respect” will be a subsequent McRule, so keep tuned in now, chaps.

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Now it has to be said—no-one likes an emo-blogger (except maybe other emo-bloggers, and who cares what they think?).  I, Benedict Ambrose, scourge of the fey and soppy, have tried to keep this blog free of navel-gazing bilge.  For the most part successfully, I flatter myself.  But there are certain events in one’s life that inevitably cast one upon choppy emotional waters: being received into the Unam Sanctam after a long journey, falling base-over-apex in love with a gorgeous gal, heartbreak, bereavement, coming close unto death, mistakenly dropping a tenner instead of a fiver into the collection plate, etc.  And if more than one of these things happens at the same, one’s upper lip could be in serious danger of flaccidity.

Just as well for my readers I’m made of sterner stuff, eh? [Blows nose and re-pockets hankie]  But I have been prone to some rather soppy thoughts recently, and many of the less egregiously sick-making of them have to do with gratitude.  My second-favourite Canadian authoress, Margaret Visser, has just published a book on that very virtue, I believe. [Is gratitude a virtue?  Discuss. (Please show your workings.)]

It is a fairly obvious and easily acquitted duty to give thanks for the small occasional favours one has been done, by kith, kin and strangers alike; a fortiori for the (generally rare) acts of true magnanimity with which one is blessed.  But there are some kinds of personal debt of some considerable magnitude on which it is easy to default.  I will use but one example to represent many, which I hope may help acquit myself of one particular obligation as well as to illustrate the kinds that can all-too-easily slip through the net.

For the first four years of my primary (elementary) school career I was little better than a daydreaming dolt.  Industry was not congenial to me and I frequently experienced acute dismay at the amount and complexity of the work expected of me.  I remember one particular occasion on which I was asked to copy a picture of a hedgehog, and thinking to myself, “What, all of it?”  A wave of Sartrean nausée washed over me at the disgusting and multiform complexity of the task before me (truly, I was an intellectually precocious dolt)—all those spines and all that hair and how to distinguish with my poor pencil between them!  I gave up and picked at my tank-top instead.

Anyway, that’s the kind of clay my poor pedagogues had to work with, and heaven help them.  But then, per miraculum (I’ve been saying that a lot recently), along came Mrs Stewart.  The very thought is sweet!  Here was a teacher who finally got into the inside of my nine-year-old bonce and poked into flame the embers within.  She first of all praised my artwork (of a simpler sort than verisimilitudinously copying British mammals: “Your mother should have that framed!”); then it was my arithmetic, and then (you may regret her encouragement here) my very first haiku.  I swam, I splashed, I wallowed in the positive attention – and of course I flourished under it.  Most amazingly of all, she continued to teach my class for three consecutive years, which saw me to the end of my time there—and what years they were. 

She was no pussy-cat though, I may tell you.  She could reduce us all to utter imbecilic obedience with a single “How dare you!”  She was fiery-tempered and warm-hearted and red-headed.  When she taught us about Mary Queen of Scots, I wondered if she might actually be her (or at least be related).  In truth, she was far more like Elizabeth I of England (although, I would be very surprised if Mrs Stewart had eviscerated any Catholics—unless they had chattered through one of her lessons).

If you are reading this, dear Mrs S, and are wondering if it is you I am describing, I can tell you that you taught me between 1981 and 1983 in P**k Pl**e Primary, and that you most likely turned the entire course of my life around with your encouragement, discipline and strength of character.  I owe to you my self-confidence, my love of learning, of literature, of history – of much, in short, that makes me who I am today.  Soppy, navel-gazing and over-confessional though it may be to recount all of this—I thank you, Mrs Stewart.   There it is.

Well, if anyone had told me that my first week of proper Catholicism was going to be as eventful and bewildering and stupendously marvellous, I think I might have converted earlier – or possibly later…  I think the former.

The phrase “totally unexpected, perhaps inevitable” has been clanking around in my hollow nut for days now.  A warning, dear sadly-neglected readers: inviting a lovely Catholic blogpal to stay for a few weeks and to witness one’s reception into the Unam Sanctam is certainly a glorious idea – but maybe in more ways that one initially envisions.  Caution, delight and a healthy sense of self-preservation prevent my saying too much more.  But I will add just this.  The past week has been spectacularly revelatory – as it was bound to be, of course.  “Surprised by joy” doesn’t cover the half of it.

The moral to this rather hasty and gnomic post: do become a Catholic as soon as you possibly can, and do have blogpals to stay.

More news as it breaks.  Please pray for this barmy blogger.  Cheers the noo.

 These fleeting sketches […] amount to no more than a sort of sporadic diary–a diary recording one day in twenty which happened to stick in the fancy–the only kind of diary the author has ever been able to keep.  Even that diary he could only keep by keeping it in public, for bread and cheese.  But trivial as are the topics they are not utterly without a connecting thread of motive.  As the reader’s eye strays, with hearty relief, from these pages, it probably alights on something, a bed-post or a lamp-post, a window blind or a wall.  It is a thousand to one that the reader is looking at something that he has never seen: that is, never realised.  He could not write an essay on such a post or wall:  he does not know what the post or wall mean.  He could not even write the synopsis of an essay; as “The Bed-Post; Its Significance–Security Essential to Idea of Sleep–Night Felt as Infinite–Need of Monumental Architecture,” and so on.  He could not sketch in outline his theoretic attitude towards window-blinds, even in the form of a summary.  “The Window-Blind–Its Analogy to the Curtain and Veil–Is Modesty Natural?–Worship of and Avoidance of the Sun, etc., etc.”  None of us think enough of these things on which the eye rests.  But don’t let us let the eye rest.  Why should the eye be so lazy? Let us exercise the eye until it learns to see startling facts that run across the landscape as plain as a painted fence.  Let us be ocular athletes.  Let us learn to write essays on a stray cat or a coloured cloud.  I have attempted some such thing in what follows; but anyone else may do it better, if anyone else will only try.

G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles, Preface

I am heartily sorry to add to the already large and grossly burgeoning blogosphere – truly I am.  I have no idea whether I have even a fig-leaf of an excuse for this ‘blog at all – we shall see, I suppose. 

I feel especially for those who have stumbled upon it expecting an on-going encomium upon puddings, something upon which I myself should always be glad to alight.  But I have little to say upon puddings except “Mmm-mm,” and “Perhaps I could manage just a little piece more” – and besides, it’s Lent. 

And that’s the other thing I ought to mention.  This blog can be expected to be shot through with the spirit of what Chesterton (the site’s unauthorised patron) called “The Thing” – i.e., the Catholic faith.  Thus it is with Chesterton that I began this ur-post, as he does introductions better than I ever could. 

Be thankful, poor reader, that I abandoned my initial thought of pinning my colours to another Catholic mast – and that you were thus spared a site entitled “WeBelloc”.  If puns of this nature distress you (and whom don’t they?), you may find this site best avoided altogether. 

You are thus most heartily welcomed and duly cautioned.