St. Thorfinn, 2021
Before I recount the fun and excitement of the past week at the Pearce household, I must comment upon today’s saint. It’s not that I know anything about him, nor that I have a particular devotion to him; truth be told, it has nothing to do with him. It’s simply that I am struck by the weird coincidence that I’ve just been reading about a far less than saintly “Thorfinn” in the book I’ve finished reading this week. I always have a book that I’m reading “recreationally”, which is to say that it is being read for fun and has nothing to do with the vast bulk of my reading which is connected to whatever I’m currently teaching, or speaking or writing about. The book I’ve just finished reading “just for fun” is Vinland by George Mackay Brown.
I’m guessing that most of my friends in the Inner Sanctum will not have read this book and, indeed, that most will not have heard of George Mackay Brown. I won’t say much about the book, which is a work of fiction but not a novel; it’s more of a modern prose epic, as is The Lord of the Rings, than anything that could be described as a novel. The reason that I will desist from further comment on the book itself is that I’m intending to write an essay about it for the Imaginative Conservative over the next week or two, while it’s fresh in my mind. I will, however, say a little about its author, who is one of the literary converts featured in my book of that title.
I first read George Mackay Brown during my first prison sentence, back in 1982, when I was twenty-one years old. I came upon his book An Orkney Tapestry in the prison library. In its own small way, it played a part in the healing that led me, eventually, into the arms of Holy Mother Church. What struck me about An Orkney Tapestry, and what was confirmed by my reading of Vinland, is the theology of place that animates Mackay Brown’s work, making him a kindred spirit with Hilaire Belloc. In any event, without digressing further, George Mackay Brown is a literary convert whom I would especially recommend.
Ans so to New Year’s Eve, which seems so far behind us. I’d decided, playing the seventh-day-of-Christmas Grinch, that I would not stay up till midnight. This, I told my wife and daughter, was my sixtieth New Year; surely, at my age, I could be allowed to go to bed early. In the event, however, I couldn’t sleep and got up five minutes before midnight to see in the New Year with Susannah and Evangeline. I then went back to bed. I think we can safely say that 2020 was not the wildest New Year I’ve ever spent!
On Sunday, I spent a vigorous hour or so digging out the duck pond which had been silting up for far too long. I’d resolved to do it in November but kept procrastinating. I then got sick with the Pestilence on the day after Thanksgiving. Having recovered, it was only a week or so before Christmas and I was worried that I might put my back out for the holy season if I ventured to take the shovel to the sludge. At my age, and with a twelve-year-old in the family, one can’t be too careful about being fit for Christmas Day.
The festivities safely navigated, there were no further excuses and I finally took shovel in hand after returning from Mass. I am currently reaping the reward of my labours by simply looking out the window and seeing the ducks. Having had nothing much more than a quagmire for the past month or so, they are having the time of their lives!
As for the wielding of the pen, as opposed to the shovel, I’ve had one good day’s writing this week (yesterday) and have now reached World War One in my history of Catholic England. I’ve also written an essay “in praise of noble atheism” (the mind boggles!) for the Imaginative Conservative, which I imagine will be posted in the next few days.
Today, prior to writing the present diary entry, I’ve given an online lecture for Red Cultural in Chile on The Iliad of Homer, the first of four lectures on this marvelous masterwork of western civilization, and then went to the gym before recording this week’s three podcasts for the Inner Sanctum. Check them out!
Finally a word on the artwork depicting the Magi with which I’ve illustrated this week’s Diary, which is by the contemporary Catholic artist, Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs, whose work we’ve feature in the St. Austin Review.
Wishing you all every blessing of what I hope will be a New Year which leads us closer to the Father of the Years.