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On Tuesday, June 28, 2022, a young British comedian wrote about her solo holiday experiences for Metro.

Ania Magliano says, ‘Going on holiday solo isn’t fun — anyone who says otherwise is lying’.

I took three holidays and two weekend breaks by myself over 30 years ago before I got married. I’m here to tell you that all of them were great fun.

One, in particular, was unforgettable, start to finish. It would have made a splendid movie.

But, let’s delve deeper into Ania Magliano’s recent solo holiday in Greece.

In order to have a successful holiday, have a good reason for going solo. I knew other people would cramp my style. I wanted to be swept along by the moment, experiencing spontaneity.

Anna’s reason was, errm, to display sophistication:

For a long time I idolised solo holidays as the pinnacle of sophistication.

Also:

Sure, there were moments where I did feel happy, peaceful and classy as hell (moments that were instantly undermined by my brain going, ‘Look at us, we’re being classy as hell right now’).

It seems she wanted to prove that she could get in touch with her inner self:

Fair enough.

For me, the right time to go solo on holiday came once I was in touch with my inner self. By that point, I was yearning to travel alone. So I did.

I recommend going to cities rather than an island or a resort for two reasons. First, islands and resorts attract groups of friends or couples. Secondly, cities offer a diversity of opinion and places to go with greater chances of striking up conversations. A singleton in an urban environment is not unusual.

Yes, one can have a great time on a solo holiday. One just has to have the right reasons for going and the right mindset before departure.

Mothering Sunday is March 27, 2022, which is also Laetare Sunday, the joyful day in Lent:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

Some churches in the UK will be departing from the usual Lectionary lesson and read the latter part of 1 Samuel 1 instead.

Here is the whole chapter, the highly moving story of Hannah and her long-awaited son, Samuel (emphases mine below):

The Birth of Samuel

There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite[a] from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.

Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,[b] saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”

Hannah Dedicates Samuel

21 When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow, 22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.”[c]

23 “Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the Lord make good his[d] word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.

24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull,[e] an ephah[f] of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. 25 When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. 27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

Hannah vowed that Samuel would take a life-long Nazirite vow (verse 11):

… no razor will ever be used on his head …

The only other men in the Bible to do so were Samson and John the Baptist. Most Nazirite vows were short-term in nature.

John MacArthur explains the vow:

That last little part was a Nazarite vow, described in Numbers 6:3 to 6.  If a Jew wanted to take a vow of total consecration to God, he would not cut his hair, no concern for physical appearance, not drink the wine and the strong drink, abstaining from the banquetings and the celebrations and all of that, living an austere, consecrated, God-centered life. 

Commentary on Hannah’s story comes from John MacArthur’s 1987 sermon, ‘Hannah: A Godly Mother’.

Hannah truly had faith. Even though she was sterile, she believed the Lord would reverse her condition, which He did.

The name Hannah means ‘grace’. It befits this woman:

We meet her in 1 Samuel 1.  Hannah, her name speaks of her beauty; it means grace, and indeed she is the emblem of the grace of womanhood She became a mother by faith She first appears, as 1 Samuel opens, as a childless woman.  Then she becomes a mother, the mother of one of the greatest men who ever walked the earth, Samuel.  And as you see the account of the birth of Samuel, you note the profile of a godly mother.

Incidentally, the name Anna is a form of Hannah.

This was not a propitious era for Israel, which was experiencing a time of turmoil:

As the book opens, it is the period of the Judges There is no king in Israel as yet It is a time of turmoil; it is a time of confusion It is a time when Israel is vulnerable to the Philistines It is a time when they are debauched morally It is a time when their religion has grown cold And it is a time for a great man to rise and take the leadership of the nation, a period of religious degeneracy, of political distress.  With the death of Samson the country was divided and leaderless The Philistines were hanging on the edge.  The priesthood was corrupt Moral scandals were rampant among the family of the priests The nation was weak.  The nation was impotent.  And the worst of all, chapter 3, verse 1 says, “word from the Lord was rare in those days, and visions were infrequent.”  God even had nothing to say.  The nation needed a great leader, a great man, and God needed a great woman to shape that great man.  And Samuel, one of the greatest men who ever walked the earth, was not only the product of the work of God, but the product of a godly mother And she gave to her nation and the world the greatest legacy a woman can ever give, a godly child.

MacArthur gives us his perspective on what denotes a godly mother:

As we are introduced to this story, I want us to note three things that profile a godly mother She had a right husband relationship, she had a right heavenly relationship, and she had a right home relationship Those three things stand out and profile her for us.

First of all, let’s consider her right husband relationship And may I say that this is, at the very outset, essential for you to understand.  The most important relationship in a family in raising godly children is not the relationship between the parents and the children, it’s the relationship between the mother and the father What you communicate to your children by your relationship dominates their thinking They are learning about human relationships from the two of you They are learning about virtue, they are learning about sin.  They are learning about love.  They are learning about forgiveness.  They’re learning about sympathy.  They’re learning about understanding.  They’re learning about compassion.  They’re learning about virtue.  They’re learning about honesty and integrity.  They’re watching, and far more important than your relationship to your child in the long run is the relationship you have to your spouse, that’s projected to your child.  And so at the very outset, the Word of God is clear to tell us the relationship between Hannah and Elkanah.

Now, first of all, let me say that it wasn’t a perfect relationship; so ladies, you want to start out by realizing you’re not married to a perfect man.  That’s a given.  I want you to understand what the Scripture says.  Hannah was married to a polygamist Now, I don’t know how that would sit with you as a woman, but I can guess.  And I can also tell you that it didn’t sit any better with Hannah than it does with you, to have a rival in the house, to have another wife in the house And worst of all, she is producing boys and girls and Hannah has none, and so she is the unfruitful, unproductive wife who cannot give to her husband that which her heart most longs to give.

He wasn’t a perfect man.  The very fact that he was a polygamist indicates his imperfection.  But understand this, this is a primitive time, and polygamy was a part of human culture; never God’s design, never.  God always designed one man, one woman, leaving their parents, joining together for life, and becoming one flesh, from Genesis on.  But human society was rife with polygamy, and when the truth of God came into human society, it was so pervasive, polygamy, that it took time to root it out

And so Elkanah created for Hannah a very difficult situation.  We don’t know the details, but it may well have been that he went on to marry Peninnah because of Hannah’s barrenness, and in order to produce a generation who could then possess his inheritance.  And so that would even make the pain deeper, because Peninnah came to do in that union what Hannah could not do.  Not a perfect relationship, but nonetheless a good one, a right one.  Let me show you why.

First of all, they shared worship Now, “this man,” Elkanah, verse 3 says, “would go up from his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh.”  It doesn’t mean he went once a year, it meant that every year he went.  In Deuteronomy, chapter 16, verse 16, it explains the prescription; three times a year – yes, it was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths The man had to go to the place of worship.  In this particular time, in 1 Samuel, the place of worship was at Shiloh, because that’s where the Ark of the Covenant was located before it was transferred to Jerusalem

Starting out, then, they had a shared worship; so vital.  How you worship communicates volumes of information to your children Are you faithful?  Are you faithful to come and meet with God’s redeemed people, week in and week out?  Are you faithful to make the Word of God the priority in your life?  Are you faithful that prayer should have a high place in your experience spiritually?  Are you faithful to live what you affirm that you believe?  In other words, the attitude of your spiritual devotion is communicating a Christianity to your children that they will have a hard time overcoming, if it in fact is less than it ought to be.

Secondly, they not only had a right relationship in their marriage because of worshiping together, but secondly, they shared love Notice verse 4, “And when the day came that Elkanah sacrificed” – one of those times when he took the trip to Shiloh – “he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and all her sons and her daughters, but to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah.”  Stop at that point.  He didn’t love Peninnah That’s the implication.  Peninnah was there to produce the children that Hannah couldn’t have Peninnah was there to create a future for his family, his inheritance.  But Hannah was the one he loved, and he made no attempt to hide that And when they went to offer their sacrifices, I don’t know if you know how that worked, but they would go to offer peace offerings, and they would offer the offering on the altar there.  The priest would take a small part, then most of it would come back to the family, and they’d have a feast And when passing out the feast, he would give a double portion to Hannah, because she was the one he loved.  This was a gesture in the East to an honored guest She was the one who had his heart.  And it was not just the love of emotion, it was the love of kindness, and the love of thoughtfulness, and the love of sacrifice, the love of honor.  He loved herAnd this love was her security

Men, if you don’t know it yet, you ought to know it; a woman’s security is in your love for her, not in your bank account, not in a fancy house, not in new furniture, not in a retirement plan.  A woman finds her security in your love, and it needs to be demonstrated so frequently that there’s never a question about it People wonder often why women tend to be suspicious of their husbands, and wondering if they might have some other attraction or be fooling around with some other person, and the reason is because it’s so deeply rooted in a woman that her security is in the love of her man.  And that’s the way it was with Elkanah and Hannah And she was secure in his love, because he took the time to demonstrate his love to her in very public ways, such as he had done at this feast in front of everyoneThey shared love, and thus she was secure in that love; and she needed that, believe me, when he had another wife …

They shared love … There is the absence of anxiety and frustration, so that the woman can give herself to the children, and not always feel that she’s got to be a beauty queen to win the affection of her husband.  Once the husband with his love wraps that woman up and secures her, then she can give herself away to her children, and not have to feel that she must always fight the uphill battle to attract her husband.

Thirdly, they shared another thing.  They shared feelings Shared worship, their relationship to God was a common one.  They shared love, and they shared feelings.  Look at verse 6.  “Her rival, however,” – that’s Peninnah – “would provoke her bitterly to irritate her because the Lord had closed her womb.”  It said that also at the end of verse 5, twice it says the Lord had closed her womb What it’s trying to say is this isn’t Hannah’s problem; the Lord did this The Lord closed her womb.  And this Peninnah would harass her, you know, that kind of thing, “Too bad you can’t have any children, Hannah,” just sticking the knife in And it happened year after year; “as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she would provoke her so she wept and wouldn’t eat.” 

Here she goes to the big feast Elkanah is sympathetically, lovingly giving her a double portion She won’t eat anything, ’cause on the other side of the table, Peninnah’s really rubbing it in that she has no children The response – I would not want to be in Elkanah’s position, trying to pull these two women together.  But Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep?  And why do you not eat?  And why is your heart sad?  Am I not better to you than ten sons?”  They shared feelings.  Boy, he read her feelings and he didn’t pontificate, he asked a question.  Why are you doing this, Hannah?  Haven’t I been better than ten sons to you?He knew the conflict, and he knew the conflict was intensified from Peninnah’s side, and he knew that it was deep and painful and it was a hard, hard place for her to be And so he was tender, and sympathetic, and thoughtful, and he felt her feelings in his own heart.

She has a right husband relationshipThey share worship, the deepest dimension of human life They share love, maybe the next deepest dimension of human life.  They share feelings, maybe the next deepest dimension of human life.  They have a deep relationship.  They move together in the presence of God, with one another, and over the issues of life that involve other people.

As devestated as she was about her sterility — which God had given her — she believed that He could reverse her condition. She never lost her faith. Not only did she pray and pray for a child, she also made a vow to the Lord. Many women would have been bitter and turned away from God, but not Hannah:

The high priest is in the temple.  She goes there.  She came into the temple greatly distressed.  Her soul was bitter, it literally says And she prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly She is just crushed – crushed.  And she made a promise, a vow.  “O Lord,” and she goes on to make her vow.  But notice this about this godly woman: she was a woman of prayer.  It’s a beautiful characteristic.  She understood that God was the source of children.  She understood that God alone could alter her sterility.  Her distinctive virtue was her faith, constant faith.  Verse 12, “It came about as she continued praying before the Lord” – constant.  She remained there.  She stayed there.  Her heart was broken She was pouring out her prayersThis is the spirit of true prayer

So she promised God, “I’ll give You this child, I just want to be fulfilled as a mother, I just want to raise a godly son to give back to Your glory.  And if You give him to me I’ll give him back.”  This is her promise, to present her child to God.  That’s the essence of a godly mother.  While praying for a child, she prays for that child not for a wrong reason but a right reason, to turn that child back to God, from where the child came.  That’s the essence of a godly mother – to give the child to God, to give the child to God.  My mother only had one son, and I am that son Before I was born she dedicated me to the Lord from birth, and told my father that she wanted a son who would preach the gospel That’s a wonderful legacy And that may not be what every son is to do, it is not what every son is to do, but every godly mother will give that child to the Lord for whatever he has; the same with a daughterSo Hannah made her promise.

We also find out more about Eli and his sons. Wasn’t it awful for Eli to accuse Hannah in her brokenness of being drunk?

The next thing we see about Hannah was her purity.  Eli was the high priest, but I’ve got to tell you, he was really a lousy high priest And nothing could be said about his discernment, either.  “It came about when she was praying continually before the Lord, Eli was watching her mouth.”  Sitting off on a – he was a big, fat manIn fact, when his sons died, he was so shook he fell over, and landed on his neck and broke it and killed himself So Eli was sitting there watching her, and she was in there pouring out her heart and weeping and crying.  And she was speaking in her heart.  She wasn’t speaking out loud, it says in verse 13, only her lips were moving.  Have you ever had that experience where you’re really talking in your heart but your lips are moving, though not a sound was heard?  So Eli thought she was drunk Isn’t he discerning?  Now, I don’t know anything about my discernment as relative to other people, or to Eli’s, but I’ll tell you, I think I know the difference between a drunk and a woman broken in prayer

So Eli decided to play the spiritual role “How long will you make yourself drunk?  Put away your wine from you,” he says to her.  And Hannah is so gracious, and answered and said, “No, my lord, I’m a woman oppressed in spirit I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord.  You misjudge me.  Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman.”  That tells us a little bit about drinking wine or strong drink and its relationship to worthlessness regarding women.  That’s an Old Testament attitude.  “Don’t consider me like that.  I have spoken until now out of my great concern and my provocation.”  Then Eli, hearing such a lucid answer, answered and said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you’ve asked of Him.”  It’s sort of a mild apology But he mistook her for being drunk.  “Don’t think your maidservant a worthless woman” – literally, a son of Belial, profitless.  A common term, by the way, in the Old Testament, associated with idolatry, Deuteronomy 13; rebellion, 1 Samuel 2; lewd, sensuous acts in Judges 19 and 20; a term used to speak of arrogance and stupidity in 1 Samuel 25, and even murder in 1 Kings 21 “Don’t think that I’m in that group.  I’m not that kind of person.”  She was a virtuous woman, like the woman of Proverbs 12:4 and 31:10, she was a woman of virtue.  She was a godly woman, she was a pure woman …

… the rest of chapter 2 into chapter 3 into chapter 4 is the sad, pathetic tragedy of the family of Eli His sons were fornicators They died, and he himself fell over, as I said, and died.  It was a tragic, ugly scene.  And the commentary of Scripture on Eli was that he could not restrain his sons from doing evil; and his wife is never mentioned I don’t know what part, if any, she had, but she was a long way from what Hannah was in producing godly Samuel

MacArthur explains why Hannah was able to enjoy eating after she was so upset in prayer:

I’ll tell you why: because she had patient faith.  She had patient faith She gave it to God, what else could she do?  She wasn’t about to remain frustrated.  This is true faith True faith doesn’t pray, “O God, here’s my problem, here’s my problem,” walk away in utter frustration.  That’s really doubt.  Faith says, “Here it is, God,” and walks away, and is no longer sad.  That’s trust.  “I trust You.”  Very much the mark of a godly mother, one who totally trusts God – she casts her burden on God, and that’s the end of it.  She walks away.  She eats.  She is no longer sad.

Samuel was a little boy — older than a toddler — when Hannah dedicated him to the Lord:

“For she said to her husband, ‘I will not go up until the child is weaned.’”  Now wait a minute.  That’s a couple of years, Hannah.  Three years?  I don’t know exactly how long Hannah nursed little Samuel, but several years surely “I won’t go.”  It was only about a two or three week trip, at the longest, to go up there and be there for a week, traveling there, traveling back.  It’s less than 200 miles from one end of Palestine to the other.  She wouldn’t go, she wouldn’t go at all.  Why?  She was dedicated to the child.  When God gave the child, she was dedicated to the child

Samuel means heard by God And boy, once that child came, Hannah said, “This is the child of my passion, this is the child of my vow; I will not forsake my time with this child I won’t leave this child for several weeks.  I won’t take this little child along and make it uncomfortable,” because they would necessarily walk The child needs sleep, and the child needs the gentleness of home, the quietness of a nursing environment … 

And she dedicates the weaned child to God So verse 24, “When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year- old bull, and one ephah of flour, and a jug of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh, although the child was young.  They slaughtered the bull and brought the boy to Eli, and she said, ‘O my lord, as your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.’  And he worshiped the Lord there.”

Samuel’s story begins in 1 Samuel 2:

Look at chapter 2, verse 18:  “Now Samuel was ministering before the Lord, as a boy wearing a linen ephod.”  In other words, he was girded like a priest would be, dressed as a little boy His whole life was ministering before the Lord.  “And his mother would make him a little robe,” verse 19, “and bring it to him from year to year when she would come up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, ‘May the Lord give you children from this woman in place of the one she dedicated to the Lord.’  And they went to their own home.  The Lord visited Hannah; and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters And the boy Samuel grew before the Lord.”

She never really let go of her responsibility; every time she came, she came with a new little robe for her growing Samuel That’s the result of godly mothering And that’s the insight that you never stop being Mother, no matter how old they become God blessed her. To be a godly mother involves a right husband relationship, a right heavenly relationship, and a right home relationship Hannah had all of that.  God honored it, and she gives us a model to follow.

In closing, may I wish all mothers celebrating in a few days’ time a happy — and blessed — Mothering Sunday.

It was only when I moved to England that I ate goose for the first time.

There’s no finer meat to serve at Christmas.

In the UK, now is the time to place an order.

Below is my recipe for a foolproof goose. It might take a while to prep, but it is well worth it.

Ingredients:

One 10 – 12 pound goose should serve 7 people.

Salt

Pepper

2 tsp granulated or caster sugar

2 tbsp sherry or balsamic vinegar

You will need a rack and a large roasting tray for this as well as two saucepans: a large one for stock and a small one for fat rendering. On the day of roasting, you will need a turkey baster and a large measuring jug.

Method:

Let the goose air dry for at least 12 hours before cooking (instructions below).

Make stock while the bird dries out so that it is ready when you want to make the gravy or jus.

1/ For the stock, you will need the wings. With sturdy kitchen scissors, cut the wings off at the body of the goose, then cut into equal portions.

2/ Put the wing pieces along with giblets and neck into a saucepan to brown and caramelise. When caramelised on both sides, cover with water, cook and reduce to make goose stock. Season with salt and pepper. This takes about one to two hours. When the stock is finished, set it aside to cool.

3/ Reserve the liver for a separate delicacy for two people, lightly sautéed in butter for a minute or two each side to place on warm, buttered toast. Salt the liver just before serving. Drench the butter over it and the toast. (You can have that the day before you have the roast goose or on the same day. With liver, the sooner the better.)

4/ Begin preparing the bird the day before roasting. Start by breaking the legs of the goose by stretching backwards without breaking the skin. This will make it easier to carve once you have roasted it.

5/ Remove any excess fat from the goose cavity and render gently over low heat in a non-stick pan. This is the best fat from the goose. Once cooled, pour into a sterilised jar and keep for roast potatoes. (Heat a tablespoon of fat at 375 deg. for 10 minutes, then put halves of dry par-boiled potatoes in it to roast for approx. 30 minutes.)

6/ The day before roasting, pour boiling water over the goose (with innards removed), pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Coat the outside with salt, vinegar and sugar (a somewhat traditional Chinese method for duck) and rest on a rack over a roasting tray. Let it sit in a pantry overnight.

7/ For roasting, put the goose on the tray over the roasting pan into a preheated oven at 500 degrees for 20 minutes.

8/ With a turkey baster, remove any fat from the pan into a measuring jug.

9/ Turn down the heat to 350 deg. or 325 deg. for two hours.

10/ Keep removing fat with a turkey baster into the same measuring jug.

The oven temp. is an advisory. If the goose starts to get too brown and the meat is not cooked, perhaps the heat is too high.

My Christmas goose takes about two to two-and-a-half hours to roast following this method.

11/ Keep the fat in the jug to cool. Reserve later for roast potatoes (as above). Have sterilised jars at the ready. You should have nearly a year’s worth of goose fat to refrigerate and use as you like.

12/ Let the cooked goose rest for about 45 to 60 minutes before carving.

13/ Make a jus with two tbsp. (approx.) flour, mix into remaining fat, then add Port or red wine. Make sure that is evenly mixed and cooked. Add some of your goose stock (from Step 2 above) gradually to thin slightly for a light jus to pour over the goose. Reserve any spare jus and refrigerate.

The 33-year-old also said, ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get’.

On Thursday, November, 25, 2021, Nigel Farage invited Bilal Fawaz, a rapper and amateur boxer, on his Talking Pints segment:

Bilal Fawaz was trafficked from Nigeria nearly 20 years ago as a 14-year-old. The premise was that he would be able to see his father in the UK:

In the event, he was kept in a house where he was an unpaid servant. He was not allowed to go to school. When he was told he might be sent to another house to essentially continue working as a slave, he began to get suspicious.

Eventually, he managed to escape and get himself into the care system in England. Finally, he was allowed to go to school and make British friends. He had a few scrapes before deciding that the self-discipline of sport was the route out.

Bilal decided to pursue boxing. Now, at the age of 33, he has finally been signed up by a boxing organisation.

He’s also a rapper, and not a bad one at that. The GB News video above shows a clip of him performing.

However, as Bilal only has the official status of ‘leave to remain’ in the UK, steady work has been hard to find. He has 30 months to obtain ‘indefinite leave to remain’, which, he said, sounds like a long time but really isn’t.

One of his parents is Nigerian and the other is Lebanese. Bilal said that the Nigerians consider him ‘too white’ to be Nigerian, and the Lebanese consider him ‘too dark’, so he, too, has experienced racism, hence, his rapper name, which means ‘stateless’.

Over the years, Bilal has given motivation lessons to young people to encourage them to work hard and be positive about life.

He has no time for anyone who calls Britain ‘institutionally racist’. He thinks the UK is a great country and full of opportunity. He says that most people who consider themselves victims are being lazy.

He pointed out that everyone has had hard knocks in life, but that it is up to each of us to overcome obstacles and find a constructive way forward.

Nigel Farage was visibly moved by Bilal’s life story. It seems likely that the two will keep in touch.

The most moving moment for me was when Bilal said that he wanted very much to buy a house and start a family in Britain. I pray that he succeeds in that goal.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers. I hope that their day is full of food and fun.

This is an important day, recalling the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts featuring English Pilgrims and the indigenous people who taught them how to plant and grow regional crops.

Alternatively, some prefer to celebrate the first Thanksgiving in Florida decades before.

Whatever the case, the day is also apposite for giving thanks to God for personal blessings, past and present.

This summer, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the trajectory of my life and those many blessings from the past that made my present days possible. It was a prayerful exercise, full of remembered pleasant surprises from the past. As I looked back, it seemed to be God’s plan for me. How thankful I am.

Those weeks of reflection while doing gardening were a useful exercise. They also helped to lift the gloom of lockdown prior to England’s mid-July reopening. I still feel elated.

The other day, I wrote about Grant Harrold, The Royal Butler.

My post ended with an autobiographical video about his life:

He describes the trajectory of his life, from being a youngster who persuaded one of his teachers to allow him to start an after-school drama club in Scotland. At that time, he wanted to be an actor but also a butler.

After he finished school, he gave tours of a Scottish estate. From there, he went on to work for the then-Duke and Duchess (now Dowager Duchess) of Bedford, in England. A few years later, he became butler to Prince Charles. He ended up being a guest on television shows, not only in Britain but also the United States and Australia, discussing various aspects of etiquette. His demonstrations of afternoon tea have been particularly popular. Clearly, he has achieved both of his childhood ambitions.

Grant Harrold’s life appears to have the hand of God upon it, even if he did not say so.

Currently, The Royal Butler gives courses on etiquette, both in person and online. He ended his video by saying how grateful he was to the people along the way who made that possible, beginning with his schoolteacher who allowed him to set up a drama club three decades ago.

Each of us has much for which to be grateful. Thanksgiving Day is a good time to reflect on our many blessings.

A new book, Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn, discusses how various parts of the world abandoned by humans regenerate or deteriorate afterwards.

The Times featured a review of the book on Sunday, November 14, 2021.

I was most struck by the opening description of an abandoned herd of cattle in Orkney, which Cal Flyn visited in researching for the book. The animals reverted to feral ways (emphases mine):

The island of Swona in Orkney, Scotland, was a tiny community of nine families. In 1974 its two remaining inhabitants left, letting loose their herd of cattle, hoping they would fend for themselves until they returned. But they never did. When Cal Flyn spent a night on the island, she was told to sleep inside the abandoned cottage (not a tent) and lock the door. The cattle might trample her or break in. In fact they were defensive in Flyn’s presence, but the feral herd were far from “dim-witted, cud-chewing automaton[s]”. They had chosen a succession of alpha bulls and alpha cows, and banished unsuccessful males to the edges of the island. When one of the herd was dying, they would provide what comfort they could, and even introduced rituals to deal with dead bodies, which lay where they had fallen.

The Swona cows are one example of nature’s inextinguishable power to carry on despite the damaging impact of humanity. In beautiful, evocative prose, Flyn explores places that have been left behind by humans, and the ways in which nature has reasserted itself.

What fascinated me was their instinct to promote the fittest bulls and cows and juxtaposing that with death rituals.

Dumb animals? Far from it. God’s creation never fails to amaze.

I’ll return to climate change soon.

However, today, I ran across an encouraging tweet about conversations, based on a study from 2018:

For those who cannot read the text in the tweet, the abstract to The Liking Gap in Conversations: Do People Like Us More Than We Think? reads as follows (emphases mine):

Having conversations with new people is an important and rewarding part of social life. Yet conversations can also be intimidating and anxiety provoking, and this makes people wonder and worry about what their conversation partners really think of them. Are people accurate in their estimates? We found that following interactions, people systematically underestimated how much their conversation partners liked them and enjoyed their company, an illusion we call the liking gap. We observed the liking gap as strangers got acquainted in the laboratory, as first-year college students got to know their dorm mates, and as formerly unacquainted members of the general public got to know each other during a personal development workshop. The liking gap persisted in conversations of varying lengths and even lasted for several months, as college dorm mates developed new relationships. Our studies suggest that after people have conversations, they are liked more than they know.

The full study is available here.

Studies were conducted among students at Yale University and in the United Kingdom.

Both sets of participants, regardless of country, judged themselves much harsher than their conversational partners, thereby manifesting the liking gap.

People were nervous, shy, self-critical and more, which caused them to perceive a liking gap.

However, their partners in conversation observed them differently — and much more positively — according to visible signals such as smiles, gestures and so on.

The most interesting part was the dorm study which evaluated students living together throughout an academic year. Interestingly, the liking gap persisted from September through February, disappearing completely only when the academic year ended the following May!

So, fear not: conversation is one of the most satisfying things we can experience in life. People are far less judgemental than we think.

Get talking — and enjoy!

When abroad on holiday, I still send postcards to friends and family.

A Times columnist, Emma Duncan, also appreciates postcards, spurred on by her late stepfather, who was an MP in the North of England (emphases mine):

Near the end of his very successful nine and a half decades on the planet, as measured by the number of lives brightened by his existence, I asked him whether he had any lessons to pass on about how to live well. He thought for a while, during which I assumed he was brooding over the difficulty of encapsulating the grand philosophy that had guided him through most of a century. “Well,” he said finally, “you can never send too many warm postcards.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Emma Duncan experienced a moment of pleasure recently when she received a thank-you postcard from a friend:

In the digital blizzard in which we live, it is rare to receive anything in physical form other than a catalogue, a bill or a leaflet offering £2 off substandard pizza. But one day this week a postcard landed on my doormat from a friend, thanking me for lending her my coat — my mother’s, a particularly stylish number from the Sixties — outside at a party. As thanks for the service, the sending of a card, which must be bought, written, stamped and posted, was quite over the top. That’s exactly why it gave me such pleasure. The greater the trouble taken to deliver a small gesture of affection, the warmer the payload.

It’s time we revived the ancient, lost custom of sending postcards. They really do warm the heart.

Britain’s veteran television presenter Richard Madeley has a weekly agony uncle column in The Telegraph.

Recently, a 76-year-old lady from Argyll and Bute in Scotland wrote to him complaining about her 73-year-old husband’s smoking and drinking.

Excerpts of the letter and Madeley’s wise reply follow, emphases mine.

Anon writes:

I am 76 and I don’t smoke or drink. My husband is 73: he drinks strong lager every day, he smokes and he takes no exercise whatsoever.

All of this is making me increasingly worried and angry. He is a good man, but I fear that he has deliberately set himself on a path to self-destruction. (Certainly he seems to take no evident pleasure from his habits.) He knows my views on the matter but we have never argued about it.

Richard Madeley begins by asking where the harm is in her husband’s habits, as he is in his eighth decade. He tells the woman that she is:

over-worrying a bit about this.

It’s not as if your husband is shooting up on class-A drugs every night or downing a whole bottle of whisky before sunset; he is indulging in some pretty mild vices. Yes, smoking is especially harmful, but if he hasn’t managed to kick the habit by now I think it’s probably a lost cause.

You say that he knows your views on the matter but quietly carries on puffing away and snapping open those tinnies anyway. You also say that you don’t argue about it and he doesn’t behave objectionably after he has sunk a few.

So my advice? Leave him be. It is not a perfect situation and you are quite right to be concerned about what his habits are doing to his liver and his lungs, but ultimately that is his responsibility, isn’t it? Carry on enjoying your own retirement in your own way and let him enjoy his on his terms.

Live and let live. Or, rather, live and let smoke and drink. There are worse things in a marriage, you know.

I couldn’t agree more.

This lady should be thanking God for a lasting marriage — and enjoying her husband’s company more often. No doubt he was smoking and drinking lager when she married him. If it wasn’t a problem then, it shouldn’t be one now.

Earlier this month, a compass jellyfish enjoyed a fish for lunch in Cornwall.

This is a fascinating and unusual photograph from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust:

The Cornwall Wildlife Trust wants to know about incidents such as these:

Do remember to report all dead marine animals to our Marine Strandings Network hotline on 0345 201 2626.

Their Twitter feed has beautiful photographs of Cornwall’s flora and fauna. Well worth a visit.

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