Monday, November 5, 2007


Connections was a television series on the history of science and invention that was a much beloved part of our homeschooling curriculumn. (Actually, the kinder didn't know it was part of their education. Since videos were severely rationed in our household, they thought that being allowed to watch an episode was a special treat.)

Its delightfully interdisciplinary approach sought to demonstrate how seemingly random discoveries, scientific achievements, and even historical events were actually part of an interconnected series of cascading triggers that brought about certain aspects of modern technology.

I think that one reason we enjoyed it so much is that the human mind is always searching for patterns, even where they don't exist. I know I always get a thrill when I discover unsuspected connections.

This morning I was struggling to complete a post that had been in the works since Halloween. Well, struggle is probably too strong a verb. I like writing when I'm in the midst of it. I love having written. But I absolutely HATE to begin writing. So I wasn't so much struggling as engaging in really high level procrastination. ("My, wouldn't this be a good time to totally rethread my serger?")

When I'm in this state almost any stray thought blossoms into a full blown distraction.

Halloween. Hmm. Fillius2's Jack-o-Lantern. And those potato people he carved. Should have taken a picture. They used to use turnips in England. Oh, remember the illo in that Church Mouse book? I wonder if there's a copy on the Web? (Never mind that I have a copy in the other room.) Google. Diary of a Church Mouse.


Graham Oakley's book didn't turn up until the second page of results. It turns out that there's also a poem called "Diary of a Church Mouse" by a fellow called John Betjeman. Apparently, he was rather well known, so I suppose that Oakley might have been referencing the poem in his title. Connection!

I rather liked Betjeman's poem. (It rhymed and was easy to understand. I know, my taste in verse is rather hobbitish.) It's about a church mouse who's always on short commons except when the church is decorated with agricultural products during the Autumn Harvest Festival.

But how annoying when one finds
That other mice with pagan minds
Come into church my food to share
Who have no proper business there.
Two field mice who have no desire
To be baptized, invade the choir.
A large and most unfriendly rat
Comes in to see what we are at.
He says he thinks there is no God
And yet he comes… it's rather odd.
This year he stole a sheaf of wheat
(It screened our special preacher's seat),
And prosperous mice from fields away
Come in to hear our organ play,
And under cover of its notes
Ate through the altar's sheaf of oats.
A Low Church mouse, who thinks that I
Am too papistical, and High,
Yet somehow doesn't think it wrong
To munch through Harvest Evensong,
While I, who starve the whole year through,
Must share my food with rodents who
Except at this time of the year
Not once inside the church appear.

(Reminds me of a curmudgeonly friend of mine who used to complain every Christmas and Easter when his pretty little church was invaded by "outsiders." Not quite the right attitude, I think. But that's a different story.)

So then I went over to Wikipedia to read about the fellow and discovered that he "famously brought his teddy bear Archibald Ormsby-Gore up to Magdalen with him, the memory of which later inspired his Oxford contemporary Evelyn Waugh to include Sebastian Flyte's teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited."

Connection again! Brideshead Revisited is right up there among my top ten favorite novels and is certainly the best Catholic novel I have ever read. (Sometimes it seems that everyone knew everyone in that period of literary England. So guess who Betjeman's Oxford tutor was -- C.S. Lewis.)

Oakley's The Diary of a Church Mouse is one of a charming series of picture books about the adventures of the mice living in the vestry of the parish church of Wortlethorpe. In exchange for chores such as polishing the brasses and picking up the rice after weddings, the vicar makes them a weekly allowance of cheese. It's a jolly lifestyle, especially because Sampson, the church cat, has taken a vow of brotherly love and friendship to mice though they try his patience sorely. The illustrations are lavishly detailed which both amplify and contradict the text, adding an extra dimension of humor to the stories. Fortunately, we have a complete set because they are now out of print and selling for outrageous prices at

This is a nice webpage about the Church Mice series which includes a fan-written interview with Arthur and Humphry, the spokesmice of the vestry. (This fellow does a good job with his "interview," lifting most of the dialogue's wording from the text of the books.)

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