Comment and Features

Advent diary: The beggar and the polecat

A polecat-ferret in London: a useful deterrent to would-be thieves (PA)

Tuesday, December 1

The third day of Advent finds me brooding about Harry, my springer spaniel. There is nothing of Advent about him.

He is going, not coming. He has bad arthritis and is on steroids, which leave him ravenous. He looks at me with begging, bewildered, sometimes reproachful eyes.

I took him for a walk this morning and noticed that the clicking sound that comes from his hips is getting louder. I have not yet got to the clicking-sound stage of life, but feel we make a good pair of seniors, even if my self-pity is more pronounced than his. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” I once told him, quoting from Henry David Thoreau. “Or in your case,” he said drily, “noisy desperation.”

Wednesday, December 2

If you give to beggars in the street – and you have to be exceptionally strong-willed, and in some cases brave, not to – let me recommend one beggar in particular. She is a young woman with a cheerful, attractive face who is tobe found in Oxford Street, not far from John Lewis. Her name is Jane and she has (it seems) all her wordly possessions with her in a rucksack and bags. She plays the penny whistle, or at least often has a penny whistle in her hands. But the most memorable thing about her is that she has a pet polecat, which she nurses in her lap as she smokes a roll-up and watches the passing parade, which in Oxford Street is never a pretty sight.

I thought polecats were creatures in Road Runner cartoons, but not a bit of it. They are to be found in many parts of the United Kingdom, though, as you might expect, the largest concentration is in Wales.

Jane’s polecat is called Troy. The Trojan Polecat! She keeps him on a lead and feeds him from a saucer with what looks like cat food. Sometimes he sleeps in one of her big bags, so that if anyone sticks a pilfering hand into it during the night he gets a nasty shock, and might even, I suppose, lose a finger. That’s the spirit, Jane.

Sunday, December 6

Second Sunday of Advent. I have been reminded during the past week that fasting has its side effects, just like the sleeping pills and beta blockers you keep on your bedside table. Weekday fasting may cause constipation, anxiety and extreme fatigue. Occasionally, though, one experiences feelings of well-being and of confidence, but those feelings (or consolations) do not last long. The main result of my fast is that I crave sweet things and feel resentful and bored. But it is early days yet, and I have high expectations of gaining physically and even spiritually from my modest self-denial by the time I join the Easter parade.

Monday, December 7

This morning I permitted myself to look at the website of The Remnant, a traditionalist newspaper published in Forest Lake, Minnesota, and I am glad I did. Usually, I avoid the paper because, for me, reading it can become an occasion of sin – the sin in question being anger combined with malicious speculation about the writers. I do not like its violent, often sneering, traditionalism, or its cheesy video service (Remnant TV), which opens with spooky music and reminds one of The Twilight Zone.

But today I found that the website is carrying a splendid piece by Fr Michael Rodriguez, a traditionalist priest of El Paso, Texas, on how not to be an angry traddie. He has a six-point plan, which he addresses to “my dear friends in Christ”. Here you go: “1 We need fewer ‘doctors of theology and doctrine’ and more servantsof Catholic truth in charity. 2 We need less arrogance and more humility. 3 We need fewer ‘answers to the crisis’ and more suffering in silence with love. 4 We need fewer debates and more prayer before the Most Blessed Sacrament. 5 We need less Googling and more meditation on the Passion of Our Lord. 6 We need less standing on traditional soap-boxes, and more standing at the foot of the Cross.”

I cannot imagine a better programme for Advent. It speaks directly to me, to my own shortcomings. I am an arrogant Googler of the first order. All those who are either practising traditionalists or sympathetic to the old Latin Mass will find strength in Fr Rodriguez’s words, but so, too, I sense, will some liberals. There is a strong Marian, or Fatimist, tone in Fr Rodriguez’s writing, which is not to my taste, but I suppose it rather goes with his territory. Fr Rodriguez himself strikes me as being a good man. It is to the credit of Michael Matt, editor of The Remnant, that he published his piece.

Happy Christmas to all in Forest Lake, Minnesota, land of Fargo and home to the biggest shopping mall in the United States.