What were the hardest moments you had when you're growing up?

Tying my shoelaces and not scowling all the time. The scowling's stuck around. It's now my neutral expression.

Ask me anything

Wednesday 27th April - What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?

When life closes one door and opens another, you know you need draught excluders. Also, that white truffles are not chocolate but a type of fungus.

Ask me anything

Who is your favorite singer/band? Favorite song?

I don't listen to much music, but you can't go wrong with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I can't choose one song, but the two I absolutely adore are 'The Zephyr Song' by the RHCP and 'Fast Car' by Tracy Chapman.

Ask me anything

If you could invite 5 people, alive or dead, famous or infamous, to dinner and tea and crumpets ;) who would you invite.

Jesus (because then we could have enough tea and crumpets to feed 5,000), Colin Firth (to bring some quintessential Britishness to the table), St Maximus the Confessor (because he's one of my favourite saints), Michael McIntyre (because he makes me laugh and his hair is genius), and RCGuerilla (because he asked this question, so it's only right that he be invited).

Ask me anything

"Love is not so much a feeling as it is a decision": do you agree or disagree?

Interesting question. In my experience I don't know where the 'decision' part comes into love. It's very much about the feeling - the feeling of being whole, as if you and this person can take on the world, as if nothing else matters. As far as I know, I didn't choose to fall in love. Then again, once you are in love, you are left to make the decision as to what to do next. Do you tell the other person if they don't know? If they do know, do you continue with the relationship? What if it won't work out, do you still try and fight for it? I'd have to disagree and say that love is both. The initial stages of being in love may not require much decision-making, but the longevity and the future of said love relies on well-made decisions.

Photo credit to aNdikapatRya

Ask me anything

Tuesday 26th April - Is is possible to know the truth without challenging it first?

Surely if it was the truth you would not challenge it? Thus I would say we 'think' we know the truth, but do not truly believe it to be the truth. If we did think it was the truth we would not question it. So the short answer to the question is, no.

Ask me anything

Saturday 9th April - Fife Coastal Path

It took me 6 hours and 20 minutes to walk 10 miles from St Andrews to Crail. I don't really have much to say about it. I found the first 4 miles enjoyable, but after that it became a slog. About a mile from Crail my legs were numb, I had blisters, and I was having bad pains in my left hip. When I arrived, I trundled straight over to the bus stop to catch the bus back to St Andrews. As soon as I sat down I experienced intense pins and needles, and then utter numbness. I found it hard to walk home after that. I sound like an old woman.

I'll stop rambling, enjoy the photos.

A map of the route can be found here.

Coming up to the Fairmont Hotel

What, wait 6 hours?

The Buddo Rock

When do I ever listen?

Airbow Point

Friday 8th April - My Retreat to Pluscarden

This post is seriously going to test the capacity of Blogger's word limit. It may be long, but it will most certainly be one of my more relevant blog posts. There will probably be random excerpts dotted about - they'll just be my thoughts. Feel free to skim past those.

If you want to see some pretty photos of the place, click here, and here.

I keep looking up towards the sky hoping the clouds will shift. I want to see beyond the greyness, beyond the blanket, the layer. I want to see blue.

Monday 4th April

I met the genial Fr Matthew - quite the character. As we walked down to St Scholastica's (the female retreat house) we spoke about the abbey's life during the Scottish Reformation. He asked if I was Catholic, to which I replied yes. He then responded saying 'Oh, that's good. You know you never know with people....' He then proceeded to tell me about his life - that he realised he had a vocation to become a monk when he went on retreat to Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight, with a group of students from Southampton. He returned to university then went back and stayed there until he encountered 'complications', and was told take a year out in France. But instead he came up to Pluscarden, loved it, and has stayed ever since. It's not all the time that one gets to hear someone's life story, least of all one of an enclosed monk. Apart from being as deaf as a post - bless him - he's a very likeable chap. So much so, I ended up having a much longer conversation over tea with him the following day.

Just like other religious I've met, Fr Matthew has a charm and down-to-earth personality about him, that if encountered, would be sure to dispel any preconceptions people may have of nuns and monks.

No one is perfect. I got the impression that Fr Matthew's life thus far was littered with 'complications'. However, in God's eyes none of this matters when one turns away from life to dedicate themselves to Him. I admire the religious. I often wish I was cut out to dedicate my life to God in the way that they do. There is something about going on retreat that makes me discern the monastic life.


St Scholastica's is quaint. Every cupboard in the kitchens has a little label on it telling you what lies behind the door. The shower room at the back of the retreat house paints the picture of a typical communal shower one finds in old convent girls' schools. The rooms themselves also have names - mine was St Catherine - and on the back of the door there is a little biography on your saint. The room is small - as one would expect - with a small basin and a desk. Reading material is provided, and includes titles such as a book on St Benedict, the lives of the mystics, the New Testament and the Psalms, as well as the usual welcome note and an introduction on the Divine Office.

Inside the abbey there are various reading materials that one can purchase, including a history on Pluscarden. There are also paintings, as well as a timeline that detail the abbey's history from 1230 onwards.

I attended the Stations of the Cross before Vespers. It is held within the male quarters of the abbey, so the women were only allowed to stand on one side of the threshold. I had forgotten how beautiful a cloister can be. They had bookshelves that were probably full of the most inspiring spiritual books with the Stations of the Cross running along the wall above. The atmosphere was just moving. The prayers, the genuflecting, the silence. It all moved me in a way that I don't experience in any part of my daily life. It's only when I'm on retreat or attending Mass or Benediction where I come anywhere near that feeling I felt partaking in the Stations. I can't really describe it apart from it being like an overwhelming warmth emanating from the inside out.

I may have lost my way, but being on retreat attending the Divine Office, and observing the Great SIlence makes me believe that there is hope to start again; hope to re-discover those values; hope to follow in the footsteps of Christ.


'People cannot live without religion. They are searching for something they are not going to find in life' ~ Jean


I've just spent the last two hours having a nice conversation with a lady named Jean. She's Catholic and has served the Church in many ways including missionary work in Canada. She said some profound things, Regarding university she said that once you got your foot in the door of 'that culture, you'd sink'. She believes it's really difficult for young people today with all the pressures of society. I told her I'd like to be a journalist and we spoke of various pieces on religion in the news, and how the media can manipulate or exaggerate a story just for it to sell papers. One thing she said stuck with me: 'Well I'm sure you would write the truth'. Would I though? Would I be able to keep that integrity in a sector where one must do anything to get a story? It's a difficult one.

Tuesday 5th April

I slept terribly last night, waking up every hour. I had planned to attend Lauds at 4:45am but was so tired, I assumed Jean was right and that God wanted me to rest. I think it was probably due to me not wanting to disturb anyone with my alarm; I hoped I would wake up before it. Oh well, there's always tomorrow.


I commented on the architecture - well floor plan - of the living room and kitchen, and was told that it was my penance to deal with it! (It wasn't that bad....)

The mornings here are just wonderful. I can see the forest out of my window, the varying shades of brown and green radiant from the rays of the morning sun. Whilst at Prinknash Abbey I had sheep outside my window, at the Dominican Sisters of St Joseph I had horses, and here at Pluscarden I have pheasants. They make the strangest noise - like a cross between a seagull cackle and an engine rev. Very odd.


Emotions were running high during Mass. It's a wonderfully moving thing to see a community of brothers saying Mass together in their vestments, and in Latin. There was one particular moment when the laity were going up to receive Communion, that I met the gaze of the monks and just felt an overwhelming sense of unworthiness. I felt judged. It wasn't the look on their faces, or even the fact that they were looking in my direction, but I felt as if God was glaring at me through them, reminding me of the things I had done, and that without confession I will not be able to receive the Eucharist. At that point I nearly cried.

I don't know what to do. I want to start anew, but whenever I feel like I'm making progress I'm offered an opportunity to stray, and I take it. But the immense guilt afterwards! I know God loves me, and it is I who is turning away from Him, but I cannot help but think it's futile to ask for forgiveness if I'm just going to continue leading the life that I do. I know I'm not perfect, but I cannot avoid the feeling that I must be.

As mentioned, I spent a good portion of an hour listening to Fr Matthew tell me about his life and what it's like to be a Benedictine monk. He was very engaging and and eager to answer my questions (I'm thinking of writing on Benedictine spirituality and specifically the monastic life for my dissertation). We spoke of spirituality, of science, and of art.

I then went for a walk in the forest behind the abbey. The view was simply amazing. From the top I could see the surrounding fields. I could see brothers tending to the vegetable patch as well as flocks of sheep further in the distance - small white flecks on a palate of green. The quick movement of the clouds meant one could see where they cast their shadows and where the sun was able to shine through. It was like the clouds were slowly creeping across the fields.

After Sext I sat outside the abbey to draw (the end result can be seen in my previous post). A few people approached me to see what I was doing. One old man told me about his daughter and his pet ferret, as well as his friend who has already completed his funeral arrangements even though he's still alive! He did also mention that the monks make honey ... it's a shame it's not the right time of year for it.

Wednesday 6th April

I woke up this morning for Lauds. It was pitch black walking up to the abbey but luckily enough a torch was provided. Reaching the top of the road one is met with a towering, almost ominous looking abbey, with only the stained-glass window being visible and providing a welcoming atmosphere.


I've met many lovely people here, everyone with a different life story to share. There's the lady who's been Catholic her whole life; the single mum who was in the army; the lady who works at the university she used to attend. I've enjoyed my time here at Pluscarden.

Is the monastic life for me?

Every time I go on retreat I think the monastic life is for me - but every time I return to the routine of daily life I soon forget this.

I enjoy the chanting and especially the silence. I like taking walks and writing in the afternoon sun. But does this mean the monastic life is for me? I think about the freedom I have to wake up when I choose; to have breakfast when I like; to write and read what I please. And then I think about waking up every morning at 4am; praying alone for most of the day; keeping one's faith and strength ... I don't think I can do it.

I don't always do the right thing, but part of me enjoys life like this. Yes I do feel guilt for some of the things I've done, but not enough to dedicate my life to God. Perhaps my bitter experience is what makes me think I should live the contemplative life. I know deep down I'm still angry and upset at what happened; I cannot let go of the thought that things could be different. I'm trying to do the right thing now, change my life around. I realise that we don't always get what we want, but more importantly, we can't please everyone. Sometimes we have to think about what's right for us. We have to take care of number one first before we can take care of anyone else.

Final note

In the taxi on my way to Elgin I could not help but feel sad about leaving Pluscarden. If that wasn't bad enough I got quite emotional (again). It made me think, what does life out here have to offer that the monastic life doesn't? Subway? A trip to the pub for a pint? Sex? All of it is trivial.

It's too noisy out here. There's too much of a hum. Not two hours away and I already miss the silence. I hear a bell and I compare it to the one that rings at the abbey. Out here, all there is is hubbub, white noise: chatter about how great the football match was, what time the next train is at and what people had for lunch. All of it trivial compared to what can be found in the silence.

I don't know why I came back.

Sunday 3rd April - Break

Eventful day. Wish I could share it with you but it's currently 1am and I need to catch some sleep before I go to Pluscarden Abbey tomorrow.

I'll be sans laptop/mobile/any type of gadgetry, so if you want to contact me, write a letter.

Friday 1st April - Essay Competition for the Year of Catholic Education

Despite it being April Fool's Day I assure you that this is no joke. I entered an essay competition a while back to mark the Year of Catholic Education and found out today that I had won!

The essay title was 'What do you think you gained/are gaining from your time at your Catholic school or you Catholic university college?' Hearing no word from them I assumed that nothing had come of it. It didn't really get to me - these sorts of competitions are entered by lots of intelligent people; the competition was likely to be tough.

Writing it came naturally. I didn't plan (which for me is saying something), and I actually quite enjoyed writing it. When I came home today and found an email saying I had won, well, you can imagine I was quite pleased. I don't usually have much luck with things so it was a pleasant surprise. I've also been informed that the essay will be posted on to the Catholic Education Service's website, so I'll post a link when that's been done.

Well, there's nothing else really to tell you. I guess, if you want, you can read the essay here. It's not very long, less than 600 words so it won't be very time consuming, but kudos to you anyway if you've reached this far in the post.

What my Catholic Education means for me now

Before studying theology at university I only ever attended Catholic schools. I went to a Catholic primary school, secondary school and even a Catholic sixth form. Catholicism was all I knew, it was my life.

Being constantly surrounded by other Catholics and being brought up in what was essentially a Catholic environment (that’s not to say I did not meet other Christians), I took my faith for granted. It was not until the first year of university that I experienced my first crisis of faith. The university I attend can be regarded as ‘liberal Presbyterian’. Without the comfort of having people think the same way as me, I was challenged on a daily basis. I no longer knew why I believed such and such a doctrine, nor did I have anyone close at hand to confide in. I was out of my depth. I began to believe I wasn’t a Catholic after all.

Faced with people of different Christian denominations, some of different faiths and none at all, has made me grateful for the Catholic education I received. I am indebted to it for several reasons. Not only did I get the chance to attend one of the best Catholic sixth forms in the UK, but it was also where I decided to pursue a degree in theology. It opened my eyes to the importance religion, and Catholicism in particular, has in the world: the good it can cause, but also - when exploited and manipulated - the devastation it can bring.

Many believe that attending a faith school - and a Catholic one especially - means only learning the ‘Catholic way’. Of course I learnt about Catholicism, but I also learnt about other denominations and other faiths too. More importantly I learnt more about myself, what I believed and what I valued. This insight, at the time, made my faith stronger. I embraced everything that was naturally inherent to me as a person. I knew I wasn’t an Anglican, an Evangelical or a Quaker, but a Catholic. I lived and breathed Catholicism.

I am not saying that my Catholic education did not prepare me for the ‘real world’. What I am saying is that - ironically - it did. If I encounter a doctrine or canon law which I find myself questioning, I go and find out why this is the case. I strive to understand why I believe what I do rather than just accept it. It could be argued that if I went to a Catholic or pontifical university (something I am still discerning) I would still be so sure of myself, of my faith, and of what I believe. However I am much more appreciative of the position I find myself in now. If I remained that way I fear I would have lived the rest of my life in ‘blind faith’. I honestly believe that questioning one’s faith can only make it stronger. If someone ends up straying from his or her path, then I can only suggest that God must have a reason for this and that we should put our utmost trust that He will eventually guide us back to Him.

Although I may struggle with my faith now, it is my Catholic education which has provided me with the context to fully live my life. I am still a Catholic, but at least now I grapple much more honestly with what I believe in. Without the Catholic education I received, I would have probably strayed off my path completely.