Category Archives: books

Archimedes lessons

P1000147Having done some of the basic experiments as part of the lesson pack following Archimedes and the door of science (book here) the children have also made the water clock, which is pretty simple to do. You need to make sure the pin holes in the paper cups are big enough for the water to drip though or time will stand still!

From there they have been learning about Archimedes experiments with number patterns. So we have been making triangle and square numbers and then cube and pyramid numbers. It was a good excuse to get out the bead material and the thousand cube box. P1000165

It’s a lovely way to see and present some mathematical concepts.

The children seem to get more out of the lessons when they can stop writing for a bit and make something.

Heleyna tends to join in with those bits as well, so she’s getting a bit of an introduction via the work her older siblings are doing.

Much fun was had.

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Book review; Lay Siege to Heaven Louis de Wohl

lay-siege-to-heaven2248lgI think Lay Siege to Heaven is the best of de Wohl’s books. He has always done his homework on the historical context for any of his books and there’s a great deal of history here, but in this book he seems to have a strong understanding of Catherine Benincasa and her mother which gives a strong, three dimensional figure to both women. The books isn’t really about Mona Lapa Benincasa but she is there and you can’t help getting to know her.

Louis de Wohl does not give us a sloppy plaster saint, but rather a woman of fire and energy driven by her love of God and His demands on her.  He treats her relationship with God well and seems to have a good grip on the miraculous happenings from her intersession. I particularly love the way she seems to tell the hospital doctor off for being lazy lying dead in bed. Up he gets – plague free and alive again – and sets about his work with the same gusto she had with her care of the plague victims crowding the hospital and town of Sienna.

De Wohl does not shy away from the terrible mess the Church was in, with weak, comfort loving Popes keeping the Bride in her Babylonian Captivity in Avignon. The greed, simony and vice of the whole Avignon set up is made clear by de Wohl who has his information from history, the writings of St. Catherine’s friend Fra Raymond Capua and from Catherine’s amazing and at times rather shocking letters.

For the last ten years of her life (she died at the age of 33) Catherine ate nothing but the Eucharist. She is not the only saint who has been a living proof of the life of the Bread of Life. There’s a touching scene in the book in which the Pope, to test Catherine’s obedience, asks her if she would eat something should he command her.

She says she would obey him and eat whatever he commanded, but she could not obey him if he asked her to keep it down. She had eaten less and less over the years as food immediately came back until she stopped eating altogether.

There is a great deal of historical and biographical information on St. Catherine of Siena as well as the historical record of the years of her life. De Whol has been faithful to this giving the book it’s authenticity.

He touches briefly on her relationship with St. Bridget of Sweden and her daughter St. Katrin of Vadstena (aka St Catherine of Sweden). There’s a moment when she had asked Katrin to negotiate with the awful Queen Joanna of Naples and Katrin still smarting from what had happened to her older brother Karl, refused.

The Church has produced a few very great saints and St. Catherine of Siena is one of the greatest.

A chapel built on a rock in the grounds of the St. Malo retreat centre is named for her and was visited by Bl. Pope John Paul II. Recently a massive flood and mudslide destroyed a lot in the area although the floods came right up to the rock the chapel remained untouched. Catherine weathered the storms that hit the Church in her era, and those storms were great as the Popes were so weak. But she prevailed and at last the pope returned to Rome where he belonged and the beginning of the renewal could take place. There are many times over the 2000 years since Christ established His Church on Peter -Kephas- the rock and the apostles that the storms and flood waters looked to destroy her; but His promise stands firm.

Telling Lies – can Christians ever do this?

I’ve heard the question over when is it ok to lie a few times recently. Overall the answer is, never. Christians are call to the Truth because in that is freedom. But there are the difficult questions side of it. We know that many Catholics, including priests and religious lied to the Nazi soldiers so as to save the lives of Jews living hidden in their homes, monasteries and convents.

I can’t think of any New Testament examples of a ‘good lie’ but in the Old Testament two stories stand out. The most well known is the story of the Hebrew midwives Shiphnah and Puah who lied to Pharaoh to save the lives of Hebrew boy babies that Pharaoh wanted dead.

The second example is when Jeremiah lied to the enemies of King Zedekiah over the advice he had given the King.

In these cases the mitigation for the lie is those demanding the information had no right to it.

It’s not easy to negotiate these kinds of mitigation against the rule “You shall not do evil that good many come of it.” It is far too easy to buy into the idea of doing something – or better yet, not doing anything – so that the good we think will come of it, (usually for ourselves) can be achieved. We turn a blind eye – which is lying to ourselves, far too often.

Despite the constant call from Jesus to seek the truth, follow the truth and be truthful, it seems that Christians can be just as dishonest as any other people. What’s worse is the dishonesty has been deliberate and self serving and like so many lies has been handed down through the generations.

The fallout from this is seen in children’s literature, particularly historical novels or books and obviously in some communities as I’ve heard so many deeply erroneous statements about the Church from people phoning Catholic Answers. There have been people throughout the years who have tried to restate the truth but lies are often fondly held to.

Even with those who are able and willing to correct, particularly historical black legends and misrepresentations, it’s still a right faff having to check what the children are reading in case it’s dishonest. The biggest problem is in anti-Catholic misinformation and in Victorian/Edwardian books in the public domain there’s too much racism and social-Darwinism to wade past. I haven’t found as much anti-Antisemitism has I had begun to think I would thankfully. But I really don’t understand why Christian writers should be so relaxed in misinforming their readers.

There have been good, honest writers from the Catholic side who have challenged the shoddy standards of historical accuracy from other Christians who either twist, edit out or just plain lie about Catholic people and the Church over the years.

Catholic writers don’t seem to feel the need to avoid the genuine bad stuff that has happened over the 2000 years of the Church. I suspect this is rooted in the stories of our greatest saints. You can’t really study the life of St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Catherine of Sienna or St. Padre Pio among so many others, without having to learn about the sins of the Church members, popes, cardinals and people. It helps avoid whitewash and keeps things real, without the need to twist the truth out of all recognition.

Over all lying is a very bad thing and best avoided. If we ever do find ourselves in a position where the only honest recourse is a lie – well, God help us, because those who have found themselves in that position are almost always under the power of tyrannies.  But Christians have no business misrepresenting history or repeating lies just because they can’t be bothered to actually check out the truth.

Book review: A Postcard from the Volcano by Lucy Beckett

imagesHoliday reading time and I’ve just finished A Postcard from the Volcano by Lucy Beckett. It tells the story of a young Prussian Count Max von Hofmannswaldau as he grows up and reaches adulthood through two world wars. Max makes friends with a Polish aristocrat and the story is woven around their different paths towards truth and the wholesale madness that takes over Germany as the country slides with ever increasing speed into the horror of Nazism.

Beckett’s knowledge of history is deep and profound. She has been criticized by some reviewers for using her characters to explain the history and philosophy that ended Prussia and brought poor Germany to such a terrible place. But I liked the way the characters argued with each other over what had happened and how the wise Classical Tutor kept his boys thinking right up to the point where all minds were closed and made Nazi.

Rather alarmingly there are far too many parallels with today’s media and Government approach. New laws in America in particular (as well as less obvious laws here in the UK) are very similar to those that came out in Germany before the Second World War in which people could be arrested and detained without trial or hope of justice.  As Pro-life and pro-family people around the First World are targeted by police today, so pro-life and pro-Jewish people were targeted then.

The history of the world wars is a vital part of our human history in that it really can teach us and warn us. It is with sadness that so much of what Beckett writes in her rich truthfully historical novel is still happening and repeating today.

Some of the men are offered scientific research posts in which they are to prove the Aryan race is superior and the Jews are less human. Just as today scientists are rewarded for “science” that helps the Government and Insurance industry wash it’s hands of sick people, so it was then.

Three wise men hold Max’s life together as he negotiates the pitfalls of growing up and learning love. His tutor at home Dr. Mendel is wise but too saddened and perhaps too influenced by the pagan Roman culture he teaches. Max’s grandfather Dr. Meyer who builds a harpsichord showing that in good music there is still hope and in Bach there is still a soul for Germany.

I am sure I read or heard once that someone had said that the music of Bach was a proof for the existence of God. Bach does shine gently throughout the story, an old portrait of the great musician and composer being a sort of presence in Max’s life, along with the violin that Max plays.

Finally there is the very wise Dr Fischer who is the tutor at the Gymnasium Max attends.

Breslau is a city full of a mix of people, Jews, Germans from all over old Prussia, Austrians and Poles and more. It could have been a wonderful cultural sharing space for music and art and learning.  The people are like people everywhere, good, bad, saintly and evil.

One thing that interested me was the realization (I hadn’t known this) that the economy of Germany was already on the mend when Hitler came to power. The people didn’t need to blame the Jews or the Poles or the Catholics. They were on the way up already. But something was already “rotten in the state of Denmark” as Max’s friend Zapolski who plays Hamlet while they are at University notes.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a backdrop to the thought that runs through the book. Playing the role has a profound effect on the Nietzsche loving Zapolski for Shakespeare’s worldview is diametrically different from Neitzsche’s.

While there’s a lot in the book that points to how a good culture based on fine thought like Goethe, Shakespeare, Alfred Lord Tennyson and of course the wonderful Bach can steer a person around the banality of evil, there’s some points that are missing in the story.

Beckett talks about the beliefs of the local parish priest, one a true Christian, another a Nationalist and anti-Semite, but she never mentions the Vatican Document Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Zeal) which was and is the only Vatican document to be written and promulgated in German. All documents are usually made in Latin and then translated. This document was given out on Passion Sunday (Mar 14th) 1937 and spoke strongly and clearly against the rise in Hitler’s National Socialism. I think it’s a strange thing to leave out when she was clear about the Concordat, which of course Hitler signed but reneged on. I personally don’t have an issue with the Concordat that some people have. The Holy Father saw what was coming, he’d warned the Bavarian people against voting for Hitler and in very large part they didn’t. He was trying to save his people as best he could. That seems a good thing to me.

Becket traces the culture of evil that in some ways made Hitler inevitable from Nietzsche through social Darwinism, runaway materialism and all this built on fear and loss for Germany. Luther is condemned but Darwin let off the hook somewhat.  I am not sure what I make of that.

If you want to get to understand how those wars came about, reading this book straight after the Head of the House of Coombe and Robin is a really good way to learn. They are very different books, written with a different style but they both show facets of the culture and thought that made the 20th century into such a century of slaughter.

I wish we would learn. But we don’t.

Book Review: Shadows and Images by Meriol Trevor.

shadows-images-novel-meriol-trevor-paperback-cover-artI get the sense that Meriol Trevor is making a come back and I am glad she is. Many, if not all, of her books were out of print but thanks to some good American publishers they are making it back into both print and ebook format.

Shadows and Images is a gentle novel based around the fictional characters of Clem and Augustine and their families; while the over riding character is the very real John Henry Cardinal Newman of the Birmingham Oratory (now Blessed). Trevor’s knowledge of the life and times of Newman is deep and broad so although the book is “historical fiction” it’s very factual historical fiction.

Trevor touches on the industrialism of the Midlands, particularly around Birmingham and the Black Country; Bilston even gets a mention! There is the underlying issue of bad practice and unjust wages for the workers. But she spends a little more time on the surge of anti-Catholic feeling since Emancipation, including some of the violence.

She doesn’t mention this, but here’s a bit of my history to add. I was baptised in one of the first Catholic Churches to be built and opened after Emancipation was finally granted in 1829. SS Mary and John’s in Wolverhampton was opened in 1850, but just beforehand as the Church was completed a baptist minister from somewhere else (nowhere near Wolverhampton – can’t remember where) gathered a load of people to cause a riot against the church. Their attempt failed, partly because local protestants wouldn’t support him (good for them).

The church was opened on 1st May 1855 by Newman’s friend Cardinal Wiseman (who was pretty saintly himself). Wiseman is in Trevors book and his work during the dreadful cholera outbreak is noted.

Clem follows her friend Newman through his conversion, his difficulties over the Idea of a University, his uncomfortable relationships with Ward and Manning and the bizarre trial and attack on him by Charles Kingsley.

I found Kinglsey’s slander sad, especially in light of the good he had done to raise the issue of child labour.  Surely a good Christian should not have stooped to telling great big porkies about a fellow Christian, or anyone. But Newman took it in style and quietly forgave.

Trevor brings her story to an end as the elderly Clem continues her friendship with the even older Newman and those who worked with him such as the great Cardinal Ullathorne. She sees the end of an era that brought some little light to England before the great darkness of the First World War descended.

The children have read and loved Meriol Trevors Letzenstein Chronicles; The Crystal SnowstormFollowing the Phoenix, Angel and Dragon and The Rose Crown

Ramsay’s Disease – ME as it was before the CDC’s politically motivated CFS dragnet was thrown.

I have a dx of ME, but I don’t really know if I have ME. The doctor who dx me did so by accident when I went to see him about the worsening symptoms of my already dx Fibromyalgia. I was getting sicker and sicker and wanted to know how to stop it. He was a truly nasty piece of work. and I came away, not only with no answers, but no hope. Thankfully I’m a tough ol’cow and I bounced back. But I am still left with the question; do I have ME? And this is coupled with the question, “What is ME anyway?” Ramsay’s Disease – Myalgic Encephelomyelitis and the Unfortunate Creation of CFS by Simpson and Blake is a good insight into the research Dr Melvin Ramsay  and Dr Simpson had carried out in England up to and beyond the Royal Free ME cluster outbreak of 1950. His work of blood 000-3d-model-1rheology showed very clear signs of a good biomarker test for ME even back then. His work, however, was sidelined as the psychiatric lobby, linked to the American Insurance Industry and British Government’s welfare cuts took over. A brief but accurate timeline of events shows some of the bizarre and unprofessional behaviours from members of the CDC in the 1980s but also notes a strange attack on people with ME by a couple of pyschs in 1970 (McEvedy and Beard) who tried to insist the Royal Free Hospital cluster and other cluster outbreaks of ME was “mass hysteria.”

♠ ♠ ♠

Nancy: Appropriate treatmet for ME should include a prescription for rest immediately upon becoming ill…” (Kindle loc. 3454 60%)

The understanding that patients with ME did(do) better with enforced rest at the beginning of the illness has been repeated over the years, most notably by Dr Nancy Kilimas (an HIV/AIDS specialist who has done lots of work on ME, especially when she noted that her patients with ME were as sick from the start as her end stage Aids patients). Even anecdotally I can see people with ME who have gone into remission after having gone to bed when they became ill. Research into patients who have gone into remission is sadly lacking; but then research into people with ME is sadly lacking altogether.

Studies suggest that those who get ME younger have a better chance of getting good remissions. Sadly this simply isn’t the case for many children and teens with ME and some of the deaths from ME are in those young ones.

The central theme of this book seems to be the blood rheology results showing that people with Ramsey’s criteria for ME have misformed erythrocytes (red cells) which in turn leads to poor profusion, especially in the brain. The problems with blood flow offered a good explanation for a lot of the memory, language and other neurological symptoms of Ramsey’s ME. Strangely (or not) Simpson a researcher in this area had problems getting his blood rheology papers published despite the slides showing the cup shaped cells. He found that editors of medical publications couldn’t accept red cells could change shape (leaving me wondering what they made of Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia).There have been some papers published on this subject not related to ME Considering the appalling quality of much of the so-called research into CFS and/or ME that is published, it’s a bit odd that Simpson’s papers weren’t published.

More recent findings back up Ramsay and Simpson’s blood findings and this coupled with studies showing small capillary problems points right back to their work again.

Having reached the part in the book where patients climbing three flights of stairs to reach the doctors office and then having very cold hands and blurred vision, I am reminded that all ME patients are not the same. There’s no way I could make it up three flights of stairs!  He goes on to say

Although much was written about “autonomic manifestations”, in the terms of Ramsay’s criteria dysautonomia would have excluded a diagnosis of ME – but if there were a systemic problem of blood flow it could anticipated that capillary blood flow in the nerves of the autonomic nervous system would be impaired.”

I am not sure whether the author is saying that those of us who have a dysautonomic dx can’t have ME or whether the blood flow problems found in Ramsay criteria dx ME patients lead to ANS problems anyway so ME and dysautonomia go hand in hand. There’s a lot of us with dual diagnosis – and getting diagnosed with any dysatonomia is difficult because most doctors haven’t a clue it exists or what it is.

Recent findings in research into women with fibromyalgia seem to back up the blood flow findings of Simpson et al (this report in Medical Daily on the research is clear – you can mute the annoying advert in the sidebar. You might also want to skip the ridiculous cliche “patients aren’t lying after all-shock” introduction.)

I’ll write more later. It’s time for a cuppa.

Further reading:

Erythrocyte Rheology article in BMJ (opens Pdf)

The Fish-Dish (my daughter’s observations of my aphasic moments) (Nb. Please go to the toilet before reading this).

F.Hodgson Burnett’s Lord Coombe, and my grandma.

burnettfetext04hdhcm10Frances Hodgson Burnett is perhaps better known for her children’s stories such as The Secret Garden  and Little Lord Fauntleroy, but her last novel is a fascinating insight into a world on a the cusp of war. Published in 1922 The Head of the House of Coombe follows the story of a neglected child Robin and her strangely enigmatic benefactor Lord Coombe. Robin’s mother is a selfish airhead while Coombe finds friendship with a chronically ill Duchess who has wisdom.

Coombe travels and observes, coming home to England to sit with the Duchess and discuss his observations. He is concerned, “…The very babes are born and bred and taught only that one thought may become an integral part of their being…that the world has but one reason for existence — that it may be conquered and ravaged by the country that gave them birth.”

The Duchess concurs as her own observations have been the same.

“In little schools — in large ones — in little churches and in imposing ones, their Faith is taught and preached….There exists for them no God who is not the modest henchman of their emperor…”

These words brought back memories of my gran. She was a good Irish woman of Limerick stock who was born in the 1881 and died in 1978. She spoke of the Potato Famine (1845 to 52) with such feeling I thought at first she was alive when it happened. But it was her parents and grandparents who saw it first hand. She married an Englishman who lost his arm in the First World War. She lost her little brother, aged 16, illegally out at the front. By the end of that war the age limitations were being ignored in the desperate bid to replace the dead as the war went on. Jack was killed on the last day of the war.

Gran had three sons, one of whom died of twisted bowel when he was six. Her oldest son grew up and was old enough to join the Engineering Corps in WWII. I was told he was part of the crew that entered Dachau and buried the piles and piles of bodies.

Gran never went to Mass. Her sister, whose fiance had been killed in WWI and had never married, came with us each week, but not Gran. I asked her why she didn’t come with us.

She told me she would never forgive the Church for it’s support of the wars. I was only a child and gran couldn’t explain things to me. I was much older before I began to get a sense of her pain. She died when I was 14. I was also too young and not educated enough to understand her sense of betrayal as Britain was so deeply culpable in the potato famine

Lord Coombes observations from the mind of FHB just brought it all back. He speaks of a culture in which churches and education are all soaked in an arrogance of nationalism that, from Coombe’s thinking, was inevitably leading to a terrible war. Hodgson Burnett is probably writing this with hindsight as the book was published in 1922, but I can’t help thinking there probably were some real life Coombe like people who saw where the culture was heading and may even have been Cassandra’s at court.

World War I was the war to end all wars. It was the war that was to teach mankind that something like that must never happen again. I am sure gran thought that in losing her little brother, her prospective brother-in-law and having a husband come home with one arm missing (he lost it in a canon wheel) that the price had been paid. More than paid.

She just couldn’t deal with the next war.

We have forgotten so much – my generation and our children. We don’t teach them what they could really do with knowing. But truth has a habit of finding a way. As more and more books are available in the public domain and people get to read those forgotten classics like Hodgson Burnett, Dorothy Sayers, among others as well as the non-fiction writings of people like Chesterton, Sheed, and Belloc,  we are beginning to clear our memories. I think something good must happen from that.