Wednesday, December 30, 2009

another kid from Stoke

It was the 1970s. A concrete building in Stoke, where we traipsed in, children of a long tradition of religious adherence. Our parents, or mothers if only one, had listened through the Latin Mass, attended Catholic schools, married nice boys (or girls) and carried on the faith.

Of course it would be tempting to think that this concrete building, perhaps a contender for the least aesthetically beautiful church in town (particularly when you consider that beauty is allowed in Roman Catholicism), represented a challenge to those used to something more gorgeous. Yet in New Zealand, many many people worshipped in shanties and small wooden buildings unless they were in the centre of the larger cities, and I struggle to imagine the nineteenth century churches of rural and working class Ireland as places of physical grandeur.

The old timers talk of the beauty of the Latin Mass. Nobody talks about the buildings that I have noticed. The tradition was of belief through word and ritual, of faith and frankly, a lot of doing what you were told to.

People a bit older than me (relative springety chicken of the 1970s) talk of the stultifying uniformity of life in 1960s New Zealand. The late 1970s in Stoke wasn't a lot different. I grew up in a safe and loving home with meals on the table at regular times, stories at bedtime, Mum at home sewing and cleaning (and and and of course, but I didn't notice much as you don't), Dad riding his bike to the freezing works where the work was at least a little bit related to the farming life he had enjoyed until they moved to the city for the children. We played outside in our decent-sized kiwi backyard and learnt to garden and compost without thinking of it as anything special. Our grandparents had a farm and so we got to play in really big open spaces there in the holidays. There was a playground round the corner which we were taken to and once I was seven I started Brownies. We got colour television when I was six and I think the year before that, a stereo with ABBA as the first cassette tape we owned.

For all the conformity which the Catholic Church outwardly promotes, it was at Mass that I got a taste of something different. We used to sit up the front and Mum would answer my questions about the symbols on the altar. Incense was only on particular occasions but the smell I loved was as the candles were extinguished at the end of Mass, while we sang the last hymn. It was in the sermons that we were challenged to lead a different life, that ideas were put forward and analysed. I remember hymns such as Go Tell Everyone and the intoxicating and romantic stories of saints in the children's library. I think it was Bernadette of Lourdes who was so poor that they put newspaper between the sheets to keep warm. Then she saw Mary. It was the detail about being so poor which I remember most.

Like most of the children from the congregation at Stoke in the 1970s, I don't attend Mass regularly now. Like many others with historical links to the Catholic Church, I question much about the hierarchical structure of the church and the absence of radical action relative to the words of Jesus. Most of us stopped attending church anywhere. Many are angry and atheist and some found God in a formal Protestant setting, statistically likely to be one of the fundamentalist churches of rising popularity.

Although it is an inconsistent gift, I do have a startling memory for names and experiences from my childhood. Which is why I can remember well my First Communion, spilling the water as I carried it to the front, wearing a white dress and veil for the one and only time (I wore red to my wedding, nothing covering my face), only a couple of names from that class but including a boy whose mother's face I can just recall.

It's great to see that the social justice stuff rubbed off on another kid from Stoke. Bryce Edwards has written an excellent series of blogposts analysing class and identity politics in New Zealand over the past 3-4 decades. I highly recommend that every New Zealander reads them.

Monday, December 28, 2009

computer now willing to talk to camera...

Looking down on Woodstock, Westland 2009.
Hoki Bridge & River.

On the beach, Hokitika.

On the beach with Batman, in my new skirt.

Seeing red. Sunflowers climbing up slowly. Large gaps in the punga raised bed ready for some more planting.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

blog without pictures

again. This time it is my computer, an aged and temperamental piece of plastic which we nurture and endure because there are no funds for a replacement and so many other things on the funds list ahead of it that it isn't really on the list. Last week it accepted my camera no problem. Yesterday and today, no way.

So that's a bugger because I wanted to show pictures of our new red hot fence which Favourite Handyman painted on Christmas Day afternoon while I had a sleep. [yes. I agree. Very very very wonderful. I am keeping him on. Forever.]

And a bugger because I wanted to show a picture of my new skirt which I finished yesterday. I've worked out how to have my sewing machine set up so I can flip between computer and sewing machine with ease and that has speeded up sewing progress quite a bit. What has really whoompahed it up though is FH looking after the children while I sew in daylight hours. I'm half way through turning an op-shop skirt made of floral cotton from an extremely fattening elastic waist number into a light and flippy wrap around skirt. Of course my own very real tummy still sticks out, but the additional bunching, by no one's estimation ever necessary, will be gone.

There are some more projects in the pipeline, awaiting both time and patience, and also a trip to the shops on Tuesday for appropriate thread. The children have both requested sewing for them, but as they have so many clothes that I have to cull from their drawers to fit in the Christmas gifts, they can wait quite a lot longer. I got given tea towels and paper napkins for Christmas so I have room in my drawers and wardrobe for lots of new clothes. At this stage, none of the sewing will involve purchased fabric. I still have a great and wonderful fabric stash from my friend Susan who left town this time last year and also a number of op-shop finds awaiting alteration or even transformation.

Today we went on a mystery trip. I had just the haziest notion of where the Woodstock pub was and fancied a trip somewhere new. We headed south through mist and rain and the effect was really and truly magical. We could see well enough to drive but not much further and eventually we turned off up the Rimu-Woodstock Road and drove through country totally new to us. When you live in a small town bordered by sea on one side and largely impenetrable mountains on the other, this is quite exciting. After a while we found the Mananui tram track, a beautiful walking track made from the remains of the tram track used for logging the West Coast's precious, gorgeous native trees. We walked along it for a while until the sounds of hungry children were too shrill to ignore. We're going back again soon with a big picnic and we'll do the whole walk then.

Then we drove on and found Rimu, kind of out of nowhere, and then the Rimu-Woodstock heritage trail and after all this interesting gorgeousness it turned out that the Woodstock pub was closed which upset my children a great deal as we have brought them up so badly that where other children beg for an ice cream, mine ask to go to the pub. So back on to Hokitika which seemed so plain and unadventurous after our beautiful hidden valley find. Still, fish and chips on the beach is the best part of Hoki and we enjoyed that.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Red hot summer

Never mind the lurgy, or Fionn's asthma, or not going camping for Christmas after all due to points a and b.

Today I bought a pail of 'Resene Red Hot' paint which is going to light up the fence in our side garden like a fireworks sparkle. I have coveted a truly, deeply, intensely red fence or wall for some time and now I have a husband ready to make it happen.


Time to go to bed and kick the last vestiges of lurgy. I have a husband who is going to make me eggs and hollandaise for breakfast and the lounge is full of presents for the children and Favourite Handyman also made us a wonderful headboard out of rimu and macrocarpa (entirely recycled from gifted wood as friends have left town) AND I'm getting a red fence. Must be Christmas or something equally wonderful.

Hope you all find something to love in tomorrow.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

gardening in a bog

It's rained for a huge part of December. The humidity and sudden changes in temperature have wrought their toll on my boy and we are on the second night of asthma watch. Tenting on Tuesday is looking distinctly less likely. The vegetables seem to cope with the rain much better than the fruit. Below is my celery gone to seed and now so heavy it has toppled over. The cabbages nearby are testament to one big learning this season - it doesn't matter how cabbages we grow, we still don't actually eat much cabbage. I've thought of making sauerkraut but haven't done anything with that thought. You can see the marigolds just in bud if you look closely at the foreground.

I think this second photo might be evidence of the cottage garden potager look I fancied from the organic magazines when I first started creating my garden three years ago. The strawberries have survived from last year so strongly I haven't the heart to pull them out. I found two lovely lush ripe ones today which had both escaped the eyes of the birds and the scourge of botrytis - mould but such a much better word I think. The borage has brought the bees in and is now decorating the other plants with beautiful blue dropped flowers. The rocket ran to seed but I am hoping the seed will bring up more rocket when the weather suits better (it is the changing which is sending so much to seed I think). The leeks are my attempt at autumn/winter planning and in the background the celery and rhubarb are growing nicely.
Ah. The tomatoes. It was going to be so wonderful growing them under the lean-to. Then the hose broke completely in winter and the tap fell off the wall so it still works but when I fill the watering can, it does tend to swivel and squirt all over my clothes. Watering seems so bizarre when the rest of the garden is under water but you can see the consequences of my neglect below. The ones in larger pots are coping but not those which I haven't even transplanted into decent sized growing containers. Next time I play round with growing in covered situations, I will invest in a better set up and some kind of trickle irrigation hose.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Paying for child and house care

I remember vividly many revelations as I got 'into' feminism in my student days. I remember learning about how the closer teaching got to mothering, the less it was paid. At that time, secondary school teachers got paid more than primary school teachers and the pay in under five centres was pitiful. I knew women who really wanted to work in the preschool sector but trained for teaching older children because the pay wasn't really liveable. Not to support a family anyway.

I've read journalism probing some of the issues around educated middle class women employing someone else to clean their toilet. I cleaned myself as a student for a good employer and appreciated the work.

I babysat for various families from 14 onwards and in my twenties pulled out of working for one family who wanted extensive day care for two very small children in their home for two thirds of the then minimum wage.

I don't have to pay for my friend C to clean. I don't have to pay for her or anyone else to babysit. I could clean my house myself. My husband and children could clean it. I could manage without going out to work and thus not pay for any childcare. We could choose not to go out at night without the children.

I could use babysitting swaps and often my friends and I do just that. It's a brilliant way of ensuring really high quality childcare from experienced parents who know my children well and also cementing community networks. We don't need to rely on a cash economy to leave the house without children.

But let's look at the situation where people do pay for house and care work. There are a lot of people out there, and in my face to face experience they are women, who consider themselves feminists and lefties and yet who treat people who do intimate work for them like shit. Earlier this week we decided to go out for a treat, just us two adults in this house who are married to each other and who spend most of our time with the short people. We'd been given a voucher for a restaurant and were looking forward to it. I asked C if I she would babysit for us instead of cleaning that week. The babysitting would come to more time and money but I knew that I couldn't justify both. (I wouldn't have cancelled C's cleaning money if the babysitting wasn't also going to her)

I collected C from her house and on the way I told her that I was increasing my hours at work from February so from then I would have weekly cleaning for her instead of fortnightly if she wanted it. C was pleased and I was shocked when she explained why work from me is so valuable to her. I knew she had extensive family responsibilities and extremely scant financial resources. But what about the other women and their choices to treat her so shabbily? What about the woman who twice recently hasn't been home when C has gone to clean and thus C hasn't been able to work but has had to fork out for petrol to drive the 20+km round trip? What about the woman who asked C to clean twice a week but on short notice often cancels the work and that week left the house locked and C had another wasted petrol trip for no work.

I don't consider I pay a lot for babysitting in my own home of an evening - not quite the minimum wage in fact. This is in a small town where wages are low across the board. I expect I would be paying more again in a larger town or city. I provide dinner and transport. But I am shocked by one acquaintance who thinks I pay way too much and wants me to keep quiet round her neck of the woods. She pays less than $8 per hour for care of 3 children for casual babysitting.

These are not big multinational corporate ogres. These are ordinary women, in other respects very nice people.

I know I would risk my life for my children. I know I despise cleaning. Is it really too much to ask that we all value these jobs enough to provide respectable and reliable pay? I write this not because I think I found three women who are unique but because I suspect it of being a common attitude of alleged sisterhood but actual disrespect.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

green & growing

The punga raised bed today. I kept the photo side on because I like the slightly surreal effect. Lovely healthy kale here whereas seedlings planted at the same time elsewhere are quite scrawny still.
My jerusalem artichokes heading skywards.
I would love to know the name of this flower, if anyone can help.

Nasturtiums scrambling over the fence. I would like things scrambling over fences rioting with colour everywhere. Apart from convulvulus that is.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coming together

I've finished work for the year. Favourite Handyman has finished work for the year. We've done the adults' work Christmas party, the Christmas in the Park council party, the kids' Christmas party put on by my work, the end of year school concert, multiple extra end of year functions to do with work, an early Christmas lunch with my parents and now tonight we have done Fionn's birthday party.

Phew. The party was great - I loved seeing all the kids have so much fun and the local holiday park with its jumping pillow and go carts and huge barbecue was the perfect venue. I was a bit stressed getting ready for it but that's blasted mothering genes for you - FH was much more relaxed.

Tomorrow is Fionn's last day of school. Things are about to slow down dramatically and I am very ready for that.

I do know there is something on on the 25th and for the sake of my children and my unwell grandparents, I will get in the spirit on the day. I have yet to write a story for FH's young nieces and I have some more calendars to make and send. My next plan is to book a few days in a remote camping ground (thinking Quinneys Bush) in the leadup to the 25th where we can chill out away from suburban madness. Then we will carry on to Nelson, stock up on more milk and bread and tinned fish and then head for a small camping ground near my grandparents in Marlborough (which I have also yet to book).

I'm still sewing up Lyra's jacket. I've only got to finish attaching the hood. Maybe I will do some
sewing after that. Maybe I'll just drink Guinness and read books every night instead.

The garden is largely lolloping along without me. There was so much mess in the garage that I didn't notice we still have some peastraw which is a shame as the weeding load is higher this year in the absence of sufficient mulch. It is bizzarre seeing the tomatoes wilt under the lean-to when elsewhere is all bog. I need to get into a regular watering groove.

I bought some liver at the butcher's today. A bit optimistic that I might make pate tonight after the big party and it is supposed to be used very fresh. I'm trying it because it is supposed to be a nutritional powerhouse. Maybe tomorrow.

My favourite achievement today: star shaped biscuits with black icing and hundreds and thousands. One totally gorgeous boy told me the stars were his favourite thing out of the food. Unprompted.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tour and Charter's last bus

Two days ago the last Tour & Charter buses ran. This is a local company ruined by the Ministry of Education running national tenders for school bus services and giving the contract to global giant and anti union company, Ritchies (Stagecoach in the UK, not sure of their local names elsewhere). First Wyldes in Runanga closed. The drivers there had great relationships with the young people. They were local men and women and knew the families of the kids. School bus runs are the bread and butter of bus companies here and they can't survive without them.

Why did Tour & Charter get to keep the Cobden run for 2009? They kept it because Ritchies didn't want it. Lots of Cobden high school kids aren't quite far enough away to qualify for free transport and thus have to pay. Cobden is one of the poorest areas in the Grey District and parents aren't running their children to school in late model Four Wheel Drives there. Yet in a climate where it buckets down with rain on regular occasion, catching a bus to school from Cobden was the best way of ensuring children got to school. Tour & Charter always let the kids pay as they went. So you could catch the bus only on wet days or on the days when your relatives or neighbours were unable to help.

Ritchies have none of this. If you need to catch the bus to or from school even one way, one day per week and you are too close to school for funding, then you have to pay $100 per term, up front. I do wonder what the changes in Cobden will mean for school attendance rates in the rainy season (um, that is all year round here). Over on the leafier side of the Grey District, I have a friends whose primary school aged children are 300 metres too close to their school to qualify for free travel. The only way to get to school is to cycle down State Highway 6, alongside thundering milk tankers and huge logging trucks. It's not a goer for even the toughest and bravest of parents. So for my friend with three children at her local primary, she doesn't find $300 per term, she drives them in her car. Government intiatives to reduce carbon emissions my big bottom.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

But first, some wine

Did I mention I am being well behaved this Christmas? I haven't sworn nearly as much as usual and while I'd prefer the whole thing was less intense and that I wasn't organising a seventh birthday party at the same time and negotiating work dos and people leaving town forever and an early Christmas lunch with my parents who we won't be with at Christmas itself, this year so far I have not rolled into a ball on my bed and wished fiercely, truly, intensely that I could cancel Christmas. Neither have I cried. Though it is only December 9 which is hardly the home straight just yet.

Today I collected some calendars (three, for each lot of grandparents and for my brother in Perth) and some greeting cards, all personalised with a photo of my children on their bikes, looking like lovely kiwi kids in summer time. No doubt if I was patient I could make them myself and not pay lots at the kodak shop but I am not patient and some of those three groups never ever get anything from us so let's not get too fussy right now.

Tonight I shopped for the ingredients to make panforte to go inside the classy posh shop bscuit tin I bought for my parents. Then I remembered to shop for a wine/cheese/olive selection for the best childminder in the world since I got in a strop with the scarf plan and canned it. Then I thought about making panforte on Wednesday evening and knew I needed some help. So I got some wine for me.

So far, there is bread in the oven (will it work after being spread over three days? I'll know at breakfast) and there is cooked kidney beans in the fridge ready for some vegetarian virtue some time in the near future. Maybe tomorrow night before the school concert, the concert which for some reason Favourite Handyman is unenthusiastic about. Who would have thought? Such quality entertainment as 170 children singing songs from ABBA, a waiata and maybe a skit. All that spread over at least two hours with a finale from the big wigs at the school in which they all say thankyou until we cry with boredom.

Now I'm on my second glass of wine and I think the panforte can wait for another day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Scenes from our street

Of course it is overcast - it will probably rain quite soon. But it is also lush and has both an openness and a moodiness which I love. That's the Tasman Sea at the end of our street.

Monday, December 7, 2009


I kept two children alive. The neighbours have lovely pungas which I look at over breakfast. Some of them are mamaku which have black trunks and are particularly gorgeous.
Playground. Library. Bookshop where I found invitations for the forthcoming birthday party which I began organising today. I mislaid Brighid but knew she wasn't far away as I could smell nappy pong and I was quite confident it was not emanating from the well dressed adult who was in my view.

I did a lot of laundry. Washed it, dried it, brought it off the line. No folding and putting away so far.

We looked for another Alfie book here.

We looked for another Alfie book here. We like Shirley Hughes and Alfie. Brighid tells me she loves Mum, Dad, Fionn and Annie Rose.

I made pesto from assorted flavoursome greens in the garden. Had it on chicken for dinner.

Made hummous.

Drained and added more milk to my kefir. Wondered if this would be the week where I finally send Gilly some kefir. Put red kidney beans on to soak. This backfires sometimes as the rest of the week gets busier. We'll see. I also added water and rye to my sourdough starter and put it back in the fridge by accident and later rescued it and now it awaits the next stage so we can have fresh bread tomorrow morning.

I wonder if this is what Virginia Woolf had in mind when she contemplated a room of ones own?

Friday, December 4, 2009

More and more garden pics

Coriander going to seed. Still useful for its seed and very pretty along the way. I am increasingly putting coriander in the shade to reduce the bolting likelihood as the leaves are what I want at the moment.
' Roses love garlic' according to companion planting lore. This rose needs something to climb.

The temporary chook run is also covering the blackcurrants in a bid to protect from birds. Sparrows will still be able to get in, I suspect, but not blackbirds.

Garlic, either a zucchini or a pumpkin, borage and florence fennel.

These flowers were given to me as bulbs last year after I admired them in a friend's garden. Neither of us know what they are called though.

More garden pics

The Poultry Palace Mark II.
Maori potatoes in the foreground with huge almost flowering celery just behind.

My prize cabbage.

The punga raised bed. Everyone needs one. Close to the kitchen, sheltered from wind and frost. Sorrel in the centre front, with marigolds, lettuce, kale, rocket, beetroot and peas around it. Sunflowers and canna lilies creeping up the fence behind it.

I have a new camera and I can work it!

Hence garden photo time... This is my oldest garden plot (three years) and I've added a l;ot of mushroom compost in lieu of fallowing it to green manure this year. The spinach and lettuces are enjoying their diet. The red in the front is actually orange marigold. This is my boy Fionn's garden. I'm loving the anzac poppies and also the contrast with the white chrysanthemums.
One of my artichokes. Native NZ flax in the background.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I've mislaid my wool needle. Not that I've looked as hard as I could for it. I also can't get the ironing board out to press the baby coat pieces as I have a headache. I often have a headache at the thought of getting the iron out and so far I've had one every night this week.

In the meantime, I've made a doll's outfit from bright orange and fluffy blue wool for Brighid's Christmas present. Knitting dolls' clothes is proving a good way of trying out and practising shaping and pattern techniques. I made the skirt and top with minimal sewing up but that minimal bit has of course not been done.

Then I went into the wool shop in town and wondered if I could find a small project to make something for my beloved childminder for Christmas. Do you see how well behaved I am trying to be about Christmas? I came away with some sorrento yarn and 7mm needles to make a lacy type scarf. A few rows in, on my second attempt, I thought maybe I would make it for Mum instead. Though she doesn't have much in blue these days to match it to. I should know - I've been through her wardrobe in painstaking detail earlier this year as she sought feedback on her various 'bargain' purchases in sales at posh shops.

Soon after, I slipped my hold on one needle and two stitches came loose and undid and due to the very holey and loose nature of the weave it was nearly impossible to fix. I pulled it all off and will use it for something else. It was slow knitting because of the type of yarn and the big needles meeting thin yarn. I could see I could get miles in and still have the slipped needle disaster.

So maybe I won't do knitting for more Christmas presents. I do need to get some completion on the (yes a: sewing up knitted items and) b: the various sewing projects which are started in this room. Not to mention the lovely man's soft green checked (think gingham type small check) shirt I got at the Sallies the other day which will look fabulous when I have altered it for me...

Anyway, my headache. No ironing tonight. I might have the energy to set up my NEW camera, finally PAID off, though. Very exciting. Should be a blog with photos within a few days.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Meaningful ritual or oppressive hierarchy?

Last week I was pondering the role of ritual in giving us a sense of living meaningful lives and having worth alone and in our communities. I attended the march out parade of young men and women who have completed the year long Mawhera Services Academy programme and I was really proud to have known them all, to see them utterly, shakingly nervous minutes before the beginning and then they all performed perfectly. The graduation began with a powhiri and then ran according to military tradition, with many shouted commands in a rehearsed drill, brass band music, military dignities and speeches. I saw these boys and girls at the beginning of the year and I know their histories of struggle. Almost none of them fitted well into a traditional school environment. To see our community witness and celebrate their achievements last Thursday was also to see these young adults know they have worth and futures. I loved it.

It also got me thinking about rituals. I have little patience for people who claim that Maori have culture and Pakeha do not. Maori have fought damn hard to resurrect their traditions and get them respected throughout New Zealand's formal and informal institutions. Pakeha society (white settler New Zealand) was formed from the mid nineteenth century and drawn from cultures in the British Isles already undergoing rapid change due to the industrial revolution. Historians differ on exactly how religious New Zealand settlers were, but nobody is claiming that allegiance to institutional religious belief reigned in every household (or tent or hotel).

But for many New Zealanders, religious traditions made or make up a significant part of their world view. I grew up going to Mass with Mum and my siblings every Sunday (Dad only converted quite recently). Not merely most Sundays, but every single Sunday without fail. Now I can see that the exposure to Bible readings and sermons gave me things to think about which were aimed slightly above me as I grew up and that that was a good thing, on the whole. The whole social justice aspect of Catholicism has long appealed and I am not angry that I was exposed to Catholicism as a child. In a boring suburban existence, the incense, the symbolism, the almost magical stories of children who became saints (St Franics of Assisi, Stoke, Nelson - great children's library if you are into romantic stories of children finding God and changing their life and becoming saints) were a exotic windows into a less banal world.

Therein lies the rub. Like most of my peers, I don't attend Mass on a regular basis. Once a year would be typical, maybe twice. I rejected the ritual and traditions associated with regular Mass going because I found the hierarchical structure of the Church unhelpful and inappropriate. I found the sexism which permeates every weave of the fabric of Church life unacceptable and unhelpful. Today when I go on occasion I always come away frustrated with the sermon's focus on Catholic dogma, preached to a largely well-dressed well-fed congregation, while poverty and disaster (and global warming and tsunamis and financial markets' abuse of ordinary people and so on) reign outside the doors.

So I've taken the social justice aspects of Catholicism and created my own path, supported along the way by many wonderful people. The ritual thing is beautiful though and I saw it in a rosy glow for a while last week, thinking that Catholic schools can offer much to kids adrift amongst commercial crap.

But why did I reject so much that came with the rituals of Roman Catholicism? Err well, a post which a friend linked to on facebook today (I love having a US friend on facebook linking to interesting articles in the New York Times) - an article by an arch conservative Catholic writer Kenneth Wolfe, reminded me quite quickly. Wolfe intones against a man called Bugnini who is credited with much of the reforms known broadly as Vatican II. Here is an excerpt:

Pope John Paul II continued the liberalizations of Mass, allowing females to
serve in place of altar boys and to permit unordained men and women to
distribute communion in the hands of standing recipients. Even conservative
organizations like Opus Dei adopted the liberal liturgical reforms.
Bugnini may have finally met his match in Benedict XVI, a noted liturgist
himself who is no fan of the past 40 years of change. Chanting Latin, wearing
antique vestments and distributing communion only on the tongues (rather than
into the hands) of kneeling Catholics, Benedict has slowly reversed the
innovations of his predecessors.

None of this has to do with reflecting on how to live like Jesus. It is all hierarchical tosh. I loved going into churches in Ireland, parent of New Zealand Catholicism far more clearly than Rome is. I used to light candles for my relatives back home and feel a sense of connection between my life in New Zealand and this place on the other side of the world. But St Peters in Rome left me cold. The wealth of the poor all over the world sent there for privileged men to feel important.

In times of economic scarcity, fundamentalist religion becomes increasingly attractive. People find succour in absolutes and in a sense of a life beyond this earthly one, a reward for earthly suffering, dare I suggest even a way for the poor and respectable to feel better than the less devout Joneses. This article on the apparitions at Knock demonstrates, amongst other things, that when the Celtic Tiger loses its magic, the magic of the Virgin in Blue becomes ever more appealing.

There is a part of me which is disappinted that my children barely know the rituals and stories of Catholicism, the swirling pretty skirts on Sunday morning and the families of many handsome boys to admire during communion. And the little book of reflection to use before confession (never brought out again after I asked what masturbation was) and the singing and the sense of connection with other Catholic kids in a largely Protestant/fundamentalist/irreligious town. But I am also very clear that if a price has to be paid so I do not start out teaching my children to revere a hypocritical, steeply hierarchical, sexist and corrupt institution, and that price is being apart from the ritualistic world of Catholic communion, then we will pay that price.