Two grannies, two babies and a dead dog

A word of warning: don’t be in too much of a hurry to take an elderly relative off on holiday. A friend told me of a young couple who, out of the kindness of their hearts, asked Granny to accompany them on their New Year skiing holiday. Granny thoroughly enjoyed herself watching the young people on the slopes, and getting tiddly on Madeira in the evening. Then disaster struck.

At the end of a very cold day, the couple discovered to their horror that Granny had been left outside too long, and had perished in the cold. Apart from the shock of sorrow, there was a practical question of getting the body home from Switzerland. It was going to be exceedingly expensive. So they found the obvious solution. Their skis had been packed on the luggage rack of their Audi estate. It was a simple matter to put Granny into the ski covers and on to the rack. The cold, of course, ensured her rigidity. Abandoning the skis was a minor matter by comparison.

They overnighted at a smart hotel. Granny remained on the Audi, for thawing would have been awkward. The next morning, to their horror, the car had disappeared. The hotel told them that there had been car thieves about, which was why they accepted no liability. And the car was never seen again. So we must suppose that somewhere in Europe Granny continues her endless journey.

If you should be inclined to doubt that story, I can give you a clue: I heard the first version from my mother. This dated back to the 19th century. In this instance, dead Granny was propped up between two cushions in a train from Scotland. Relatives were asked to collect her in London from the third carriage back from the engine. The relatives, on finding no Granny, asked the station master what had happened to the missing carriage. They were told that, owing to an over-heated axle, the carriage had been detached at Crewe. So if you should encounter on a train a very still, and perhaps somewhat wizened, old lady, remember that she wanted to be buried in the Brompton Cemetery.

Urban legends have a long history. For all I know, there is an older, stagecoach, version of the Granny saga. What they have in common is a plausible anecdotal story with a good plot, and a surprise climax, which is either dramatic or disgusting. Some have argued that, like fairy tales, they give us deep mythological insight into human nature. But the simpler explanation is that we enjoy drama and disgust, seasoned by the possibility that it might just be true.

That is why I recommend urban myths as suitable conversation at the Christmas or New Year table. And they can provide a relief for internal family legends in which the details have been modified a little to give spice to some near-forgotten incident. Exchange too many of those and someone will leave the table in high dudgeon. I have seen it happen. So, here are one or two which you can use to restore the peace.

My mother, I suspect from her mother, had a number. One of these concerned an Indian army officer who, home on leave, visited the wife of a friend of his who had recently been killed on the Frontier. The widow, he discovered to his pleasure, had just given birth to twins. Heartily, he threw one baby into the air, and caught it. It came down stone dead. The widow screamed. The officer was mortified. “All I did, was this,” he said – throwing up the other baby. It came down dead too. He did not wait to make his excuses before he left. My mother could almost, but not quite, remember the name of the family. Nor could she identify the guest who had used the ashes which he found on his dressing table, under the impression that they were toothpowder.

Food, and contamination of food, is a rich source of stories. You would be surprised to learn of the extent and nature of the items that have reputedly been found in food. But since you may be introducing such anecdotes at mealtimes, you may find this one takes you far enough. It concerns a European couple who dined at a very smart restaurant in Tokyo. They asked the headwaiter to look after their pet bulldog while they had their meal. They were more than mildly surprised to find it presented to them as their main course – beautifully dressed and garnished as you would expect. The story does not tell us what happened next.

Perhaps it takes you too far. If so, restore your reputation by the story of the lady who saw an interesting electrical box by the roadside as she drove out of the council’s rubbish dump. Realising that it had been abandoned or fallen from another vehicle, she decided to pick it up. When she got home she found that she was being followed by three police cars. It turned out to be a speed camera. I think she is now out of jail.

My wife has just reminded me of another story from my mother. But I fear that it is too politically incorrect for this newspaper. I will see if I can gather the courage to use it on Secondsightblog. Meanwhile, have a Happy Christmas and, if you use any of this for light conversation, don’t blame me.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

68 Responses to Two grannies, two babies and a dead dog

  1. Singalong says:

    O dear, Quentin, your first tale is a little too close to home for me! This Granny, with Grandad, Grossemutter and Grossevater in Swiss German, will have to do a fair share of watching two sons and grandchildren skiing in Switzerland next week, so perhaps this will be my last Comment to your Blog.

    • Singalong says:

      And very good wishes, Quentin, to you, and to all, for a happy Christmas season with many joys and blessings.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Singalong .
      I do hope you have a safe time in Switzerland and hear from you when you come back Please God.
      I was told 2 days before I went on holiday the end of July but the hospital who phoned me when they found out I was flying that I ought not to go as I could have a heart attack on the plane So I didn’t chance it.Even though my suitcase and medicines etc had gone in the car with my daughter..
      That was two years running as last year 5 weeks before, I broke my back and couldn’t go,
      I will give up going abroad with my daughters family now, and go to Walsingham next year with my sons family DV..At least I will be nearer home!Or at least easier to get home..

  2. Nektarios says:

    Quentin and All SS Bloggers & Readers

    WISHING YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS
    AND
    GOD’S RICH BLESSING ON YOU AND YOURS IN 2014

  3. John Candido says:

    Thank you Nektarios. And the same to you.

    • John Nolan says:

      Merry Xmas John Candido. I hope you’re enjoying the Ashes series as much as I’m not.

      • John Candido says:

        John Nolan, as Australia has won the ashes, I am relieved that we are slowly ascending to cricketing heights as attained in previous years. Not seeking to rub salt into English wounds; Australia may indeed enjoy a 5 – nil test series wipe-out! It is my hope that England does fight back as mightily as it can, in order to salvage some of its high reputation as an international cricketing force in recent years. Of course my bias is towards Australia, nonetheless.

        I have read the good news that both their Royal Highnesses are going to tour Australia next year. I believe that HRH Prince George is coming along as well, although there are reports that this is still to be decided. It should turn out to be a successful and exciting tour of their Royal Highnesses.

        A Very Merry Christmas to my illustrious sparring partner on SecondSight, and a Happy & Prosperous 2014.

      • John Candido says:

        If forgot to mention the drama that English cricketer Graeme Swann is unfortunately encountering as a result of his Facebook comment to his brother. Rape charities in the UK have taken offence and have asked that Graeme Swann apologise. He has apologised for his comment. Why don’t these critics get a life? It was an innocent remark that was taken completely out of context by them, and had absolutely no conscious connection to anybody who has been a victim of rape. It is really wrongheaded and sad that political correctness can play such havoc in people’s lives. These charities should have a sense of humour about this matter and simply ignore it.

      • Quentin says:

        I am rather glad that the Australians have done so well. We are at our happiest as gallant losers.

        The sad thing is that we once associated cricket with sportsmanlike behaviour — hence the phrase ‘it’s not cricket’. It would seem that our modern culture of grab what you can, and the devil take the hindmost, has infected a noble game. Although some would argue that the decline started with Larwood and bodyline in the 1930s. And am I not right in remembering that W G Grace was known to refuse to leave the wicket when called ‘out’?

  4. Ignatius says:

    There is a book called ‘Folk myths and moral panics’…N.Cohen which goes into all this kind of stuff and the sociology behind it. Such things abound in Catholic thinking too.I was regaled today with a story by a patient of mine who recounted how at the age of ten he was promised with hell by a priest for even thinking about girls!! Needless to say the patient did not go on to become a practicing believer.

  5. Iona says:

    I was supposed to be going with Elder Daughter, son-in-law and little grand-daughter on a skiing holiday, as babysitter, – but they changed their minds and didn’t go. May be just as well.

  6. Iona says:

    A friend of mine who was teaching in a primary school with a high Muslim intake discovered that some of the children had been told by their Imam (or Mullah? – I don’t know the terminology) that they would go to hell if they so much as said the word “pig”.
    So she couldn’t read them “The three little pigs and the big bad wolf”; and Old MacDonald’s Farm had to be censored as well.

  7. John Nolan says:

    One of the most enduring urban myths is that of the “twelve minute Low Mass” pre-Vatican II. It can’t be done, unless you’re Dom Balaguere in Alphonse Daudet’s “Les Trois Messes Basses” (is this the French equivalent of “A Christmas Carol”?) and he had the devil impersonating his server. Yet I’ve met people who swear blind that they’ve served one.

    It’s just about possible in a Novus Ordo Mass with only two readings and EP II.

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      John N. – I don’t know about a twelve-minute mass, but during National Service in the mid-fifties I knew an American chaplain who regularly did it (including communions) in fifteen.

  8. Vincent says:

    Talking of eating bulldog, what is the basis for being choosy about which animals we eat?

    There was a great fuss about contamination by tiny elements of horsemeat. Yet I have often eaten it in France — and very good it is too. But how about dog or cat? I am sure that they could be prepared so that they would make an excellent meal.

    The final taboo is human flesh. Jonathan Swift recommended that the best way to deal with overpopulation and starvation in Ireland was to eat the babies. Very sensible.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Vincent.
      Surely that is not your belief. ‘Very sensible’

      I have heard so many stories in Ireland about the Banshee.from my grandmother and mother. One where she was crying for 3 weeks before the Bog of Allan moved and took a whole town with it. Another time when my mother and father before they were married ,coming home from a dance,saw her sitting on a wall.combing her hair and if you touched she would throw her comb and you and you would die And she is supposed to cry when someone is dying. There was a Fish and Chip shop next to where my grandmother lived in Bray and she was wailing all night and the next morning the owner was found dead. My grandmother did not drink only the occasional Advocate in the the snug a few doors away, where she used to let me stick my finger in the glass afterwards and lick it.
      Also the Stagecoach that fell over into the river Liffey at midnight, Also about the man who hit his mother and his arm used to come through his grave
      No TV in those days!!! More time to spend with their children. .
      .

      • Vincent says:

        Sensible, St Joseph, but perhaps not desirable.

        What is you view of those situations where, following a plan crash, the survivors can only remain alive by eating the bodies of the dead?

    • John Nolan says:

      “Wok-ing the dog” is quite popular in Korea, I’m told.

      • johnbunting says:

        I like Belloc’s poem in praise of food, which begins:
        “Alas, what various tastes in food
        Divide the human brotherhood….”
        Especially this bit:
        “In Massachusetts all the way
        From Boston down to Buzzards Bay
        They feed you till you want to die
        With rhubarb pie and pumpkin pie
        And horrible huckleberry pie
        And when you summon strength to cry,
        “What else is there that I can try?”
        They gaze at you in mild surprise
        And give you other kinds of pies”.

  9. St.Joseph says:

    Vincent personally I would sooner die first and then let the others do to me what they will!

    • St.Joseph says:

      John Nolan.
      If a priest says Mass on his own, and is not what is called a community Mass (I just call that as a description) He would be still offering up the Sacrifice.
      I don’t know- just asking you if priests can do that. . I think they can say 2 or 3 Masses a day.
      Perhaps they could do that before they go and play golf on a Monday-their day off!

  10. Geordie says:

    John Nolan,
    A twelve minute Mass can be said when the celebrant rattles through the words over the top of the altar boy’s responses. Try reading the priest’s Latin words at high speed without the responses and you could do it in twelve minutes. I remember serving 15 minute masses regularly for one particular priest; God rest his soul.

    • John Nolan says:

      Geordie
      Please tell me how a priest could interrupt the server’s Confiteor by imposing the Misereatur and Indulgentiam on top of it, given the fact that he would still have to wait for the server before he began Deus tu conversus vivificabis nos. No doubt there were priests who began the Secret before the server had finished the Suscipiat, but all the priests whom I served for from 1959 to 1964 usually complained that I spoke the responses too quickly. I remember, aged 10 in 1961, volunteering to serve for a priest when we were on holiday and he was surprised when I refused to read them off a card.

      Given that the Confiteor before the people’s Communion was mandatory before 1960 and the Leonine prayers could not be omitted, I still maintain that twelve minutes is not possible.

  11. I used to serve Mass with a Jesuit priest who had a speech disorder.
    He had an exemption from articulating the words of the mass except for the words of consecration; the result was that the words “Hoc est enim corpus meum – and – Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei” took about 10 minutes to say – while the rest of mass took about 2 minutes!

  12. St.Joseph says:

    Maybe when Mass was said quickly (Low Mass) as I remember every half hour ,that is why they were packed, in and out, My mother used to say ‘there is hardly time to catch ones breath never mind light a candle’. That is why maybe she used to do that during the week..
    .

    • St.Joseph says:

      PS to my above comment.
      When my children were 14 or 15 1 yr between them. I took them to Sunday evening Mass., My husband and I went to morning Mass as I was in the choir I did not mind as they always were involved in the social side of parish life and helping to raise money for the new Church and pro-life.
      I felt that the way to deal with it was that had a duty to God to go, no one said they had a duty to enjoy it just because I did. I realised we can not put old heads on young shoulders.
      They still go.
      .

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        I have a Methodist friend who cannot understand my attitude of enduring rather than enjoying religious services, nor why I should continue attending them. Neither can I understand hers; Methodist services seem to be painfully over-filled with hymns.

      • John Nolan says:

        St Joseph

        The Low Mass (Missa Privata until 1960, Missa Lecta thereafter) was only ever a Mass deprived (privata) of the ceremonies of a solemn Mass. Nevertheless, nothing that was in the High Mass was ever omitted in the Low; the choir might not have sung it, but the priest read it. There was, in other words, a textual unity between Mass and Office on every day of the year (at least in theory – the 20th century reforms begun by St Pius X muddied the waters).

        In the old Low Mass the epistle and gospel were read by the priest. He was not required to “proclaim” them in the way they would have been been proclaimed (i.e. sung) by the subdeacon and deacon at a High Mass. In fact, prior to 1962 he would have read them anyway. A lot of people are attracted to the old Low Mass (and many of them are too young to remember it) because of the way they can participate in it interiorly without distractions.

  13. Mr. John Falloon says:

    Shurely all that about QUICK masses was pure superstition. May the Lord forgive us and thanks for the present mass.

    • St.Joseph says:

      John Nolan.
      Thank you for that.

    • John Nolan says:

      John Falloon

      Nonsense. Hilaire Belloc (“the Mass was low and short, for they are a Christian people”) and Evelyn Waugh (who, not being particularly musical, preferred the Low Mass) were not superstitious idiots. Your present Mass is even shorter, which is why it has to be padded out with homilies, mini-homilies, otiose commentaries and enforced and artificial silences. It is a complete bore.

      • Ignatius says:

        Hard life eh John Nolan, when I were young mass used to last for three whole weeks every day and we had to go twice each day…these youngsters just don’t know what they are missing….

      • milliganp says:

        What utter absurdity. As a child in Ireland people “heard” Mass without any sense of participation. Lots of people went because it was over quick and required nothing other than attendence. The vast majority did not receive communion, which was always received after Mass ended. It was an utter travesty of faith.

  14. St.Joseph says:

    Mr .John Falloon..
    Welcome if this is your first comment on the blog
    The most important part of Holy Mass is the Consecration..
    That has not changed. ,Only the fact we don’t have the beauty around it so much now.
    Only things are getting better , not so ‘jolly jolly’. A little more respectful .Remembering it is a Sacrifice..as well as a celebration
    What is your preference now,?

    ,

  15. John Nolan says:

    Ignatius and St.Joseph,

    The Mass is functional, ex opere operato. The disposition of those attending is irrelevant and the idea that the “people of God” gathering together validate it is pietistic nonsense. Waugh’s character Guy Crouchback sometimes imagined himself “serving the last Mass for the last Pope in a catacomb at the end of the world”. I know how he felt.

    • milliganp says:

      This is a very reductionist view of the mass. The reception of the mass by the people is part of the process of mediating grace – grace has to be received. To reject the presence of the laity is to render the mass purposeless.

  16. St.Joseph says:

    John Nolan
    Did I say that it was?

  17. St.Joseph says:

    Milligan
    I resent your comment-even though it is the season of goodwill.
    I asked you a question. If you don’t like answering it at least be polite.
    I needed to know what you meant, I always believed that Holy Mass could be .offered up by a priest on his own if there was no one present- for the sick, the dead or the house bound!
    Not only for those present,
    I am not a deacon!!!!!
    I may be ignorant of the fact, but not in manners!
    I sometimes am not surprised when Churches are empty!

  18. John Nolan says:

    I think Mr Milligan is being presumptuous when he assumes that the Irish of his youth didn’t ‘participate’ in the Mass – my late father (b.1920) was brought up in Ireland and taught as a young boy how to follow the Mass; I still have his missal. A recent documentary about the construction of the M1 motorway shows Mass being said in a hut on the site circa 1958, and the congregation of Irish navvies is using the CTS ‘Simple Prayer Book’ to follow the Ordinary.

    Of course a ‘solitary’ Mass was only allowed in grave circumstances by the 1917 CIC; the 1983 Code actually makes it easier, as Mr Townsend has shown by quoting Canon 903. Neither I nor anyone else suggest that the laity should be ‘rejected’, but it is reductionism par excellence (and heretical to boot) to maintain that the Mass is only offered for those present, or to argue that those present must ‘participate’ (whatever that means) in order to give it purpose. The liturgist Laurence Paul Hemming has remarked that someone who comes in and stands at the back of the church for a few minutes is still connecting with the liturgy.

    Before 1960 the Low Mass was known as Missa Privata, that is to say a Mass deprived (privata) of the ceremonies of a Missa Solemnis. Many people confused this with a “private Mass” which simply means an unscheduled one, so John XXIII renamed it Missa Lecta and stressed that every Mass was in effect a public Mass, even when celebrated with only a server, or on the very rare and exceptional occasions when the priest was on his own.

    Of course it is highly desirable that the faithful are present, but the validity of the Mass is dependent neither on their presence, nor on their disposition.

  19. Iona says:

    So a priest can celebrate Mass on his own?
    When I was being “instructed” (early 1980s), I was told that every priest is expected to celebrate Mass every day, and if he’s on holiday he may celebrate Mass alone in his hotel room.

    • John Nolan says:

      Iona, a priest is not obliged to celebrate a daily Mass, but is recommended to do so. When on holiday it is better that he celebrates a private Mass at the nearest church, but one reason for the relaxation of the conditions for a solitary Mass in the 1983 CIC (a “good and reasonable cause” will now suffice) was to encourage the practice of daily Mass.

      Where I part company with the likes of Milligan is his condemnation (on his own authority) of pre-Conciliar practice as “an utter travesty of faith”, something that neither the Council nor any of the recent popes would ever have said, or even hinted at. It is all very well to prefer more recent practice, but this sort of intemperate denigration of the belief and practice of previous generations is profoundly unCatholic.

  20. Ignatius says:

    “..To reject the presence of the laity is to render the mass purposeless…”
    “At no stage however have I described any Mass as purposeless…”

    This kind of sophistry really doesn’t help.

    • John Nolan says:

      Ignatius, it’s the sort of sophistry which keeps cropping up in Council documents, for example in Sacrosanctum Concilium, article 36, which says that the use of Latin is to be preserved but local bishops can decide on the extent to which the vernacular is used; or Musicam Sacram , article 15, which says that ‘participation’ has to be understood as above all ‘interior’ but must also be ‘exterior’.

      No doubt a sophist will argue that there is no inherent contradiction here.

    • milliganp says:

      It is not sophistry as long as you accept that it is impossible to reject the presence of the laity. Do a course on logic, it might help.

      • John Nolan says:

        P Milligan
        In your reply to St Joseph you talk of a Mass being purposeless “with the laity present but excluded from participation”. Since you obviously believe that such a thing is possible (otherwise there is no point in bringing it up) it would be interesting if you could furnish an example.

        “It is impossible to reject the presence of the laity”. Not so. It is not uncommon for monastic communities to exclude the general public from their weekday conventual Mass (St Michael’s Abbey, Farnborough is an example). However, when the laity are present, they cannot be excluded from participation, since they participate by their very presence.

  21. Ignatius says:

    ” Do a course on logic, it might help.”
    Did a whole year of it at University, work on your humility, that might help too.

    • John Nolan says:

      Ignatius, there’s no logic there, only an attempt to justify an obvious contradiction. I would be surprised if Deacon Milligan comes back to me on any question I have put to him. His stated aim is to make “Vatican II Catholicism known on the web”. It goes without saying that in his world anything before 1965 can’t possibly be Catholic. In a sense it’s a waste of time arguing with these people, but perversion of authentic Catholic doctrine needs to be challenged.

    • milliganp says:

      Pardon me, you accuse me of casuistry – a very serious accusation and I respond pointing out that the position is entirely logical [not (A and B) is never equal to (not A) and (not B). Perhaps you will do charity while I’m doing humility.

      • milliganp says:

        So John, are you saying that Vatican II is invalid, neither Popes John Paul II nor Benedict held such a position, so I presume you’re a sedevacatist.

        On a personal front, I spent 3 years at the junior seminary prior to Vatican II and sang entirely in Latin in a boys choir. By 8 I had learnt the words of the EF Canon (Eucharistic Prayer) off by heart, including its translation so that I could properly serve at Mass. It was the faith of my father and grandfather, both of whom spent their entire time at Mass saying the rosary. The wonderful priests of my childhood accepted the liturgical reforms of the Council because in those days people were obedient to the church. Now everybody has their own opinions and the new Pope is mocked by the traditionalists.

        Jesus said “The Sabbath was made for man, not Man for the Sabbath”, the same can be said for the mass. When a very small minority group of Catholics maintain that their narrow vision of the Mass and Sacraments is the only true one the church is made weaker, not stronger.

      • Ignatius says:

        hmmmm,… perhaps communication skills instead then?

      • milliganp says:

        Ignatius, touché 😉

  22. John Nolan says:

    P Milligan
    For the record, I am not saying that Vatican II was invalid, merely that some of its documents are ambiguous, something that experts, not least Joseph Ratzinger, are generally agreed on. It must also be understood in its historical context. In almost his last address as pope, Benedict XVI was concerned that the Council had been widely misinterpreted. To hold such a position does not make me a sedevacantist, any more than your tendentious and easily refuted opinions concerning the Mass make you a heretic. I see that you have not attempted to justify them.

    • milliganp says:

      There is a group called the Bologna School who perhaps most embodied the idea of Vatican II being a fundamental change of direction (hermenetic of rupture). I’ve never subscribed to that idea because I’m fundamentally traditionalist without feeling the need to canonise history. I do not consider myself tendentious on the Mass, as to easily refuted, that is the worst form of arrogance.

  23. Quentin says:

    It is approaching midnight; so I wish everyone a happy and fruitful 2014.

    My New Year’s resolution is that I will do my best to understand the reasons for comments with which I think I may disagree. And I will assume the goodwill of such a contributor. Furthermore, I will check my own comments to make sure that I deal solely with the issues being discussed, and that I am not tempted to strengthen my case by reference to the personal characteristics or shortcomings of those with whom I disagree.

  24. Ignatius says:

    And there’s me thinking about giving up chocolate…..Happy New Year all 🙂

  25. John Candido says:

    Happy New Year to all, and may you all have a wonderful 2014!

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