Friday, 1 March 2019


Falling Leaves

The cycle path across the Green, alongside the canal, runs past our contractors' compound, and they have regularly sent blokes out to clean the path up, hosing down any mud that delivery lorries have brought onto it, and sweeping up rubbish and leaves. There are, of course, lots of leaves, as there is a row of black poplars between the compound and the path, so, back in the autumn, our people were quite busy sweeping them up. The remainder of the path, however, beyond our compound, is a very different matter. Westminster Parks finally cleared the fallen leaves from the path this week; at the end of February. They had spent a couple of days working on it earlier in the month, but one section was left untouched until this week. Now, I imagine that they justify this by saying that it would need repeated visits if they were to try to clear the leaves when they were actually falling, but they made repeated visits anyway! I am perfectly sure that leaves which have piled up and then been rained on, partially rotting them down, are actually more effort to clear because they are much heavier. More to the point, as a cyclist, I am fed up with (in places) half the width of the path being covered by a mound of slippery dead leaves. Still, I must be grateful that it has finally been done; it's boring just to moan about the stupidity of the Parks Department.

Blurred Lines

It's quite boring to moan about the stupidity of people's parking round here as well, but forgive me, I feel the need. Some time ago I was one of several people who agitated for double yellow lines to extend over the Harrow Road canal bridge on the east side of the road (they already existed on the west) because cars parked there completely blocked the view of anyone coming out from the Green, either to cross the road on foot or to pull out on a bike (which I do every day). That was done, which is a great help, but the problem is that people just ignore them, particularly at night. There seems to be a general view that single yellow lines are just advisory, and don't apply after lunchtime on the Harrow Road, and that as long as you are not parking overnight then it's fine to park on a double yellow line as well. It may simply be the calculation that Westminster never sends "civil enforcement officers" out after dark, and so you are perfectly safe from a fine. It may be that civil enforcement officers are seen so rarely in our area that people gamble on their absence anyway, or it may be that people have observed that when they are here they are only really interested in cars parked wrongly in marked bays, and pay little attention to yellow lines or dangerously parked vehicles.

I sometimes feel as I zigzag around illegally-parked cars that vigilantism is justified in these circumstances; if I possessed a paintball gun I would be very happy to splat the windscreens of miscreants. It's an ignoble impulse, I know, but it would be so satisfying. Self-righteousness is a very unattractive emotion, isn't it!

Royal Choak

The campaign against the ludicrous TfL plan to put a coach station at Royal Oak gathers pace. There is a public meeting at the Porchester Hall on Shrove Tuesday at 7pm, which I am encouraging people to go to.The campaigners have set up a website, which has links to the two petitions against the plan, which are still collecting signatures. They want to submit the petitions on 14th March, so we are urging people to sign up quickly. One odd feature of this is that no-one actually knows when TfL will be making a decision about this; everything is shrouded in mystery. The campaigners are rightly concentrating on the pollution issue, (hence "Choak") because the plan promises to bring hundreds of extra coaches daily onto the Marylebone Road, which already has the worst air quality of anywhere in the UK.  The number of schools within a few yards of the road is ridiculous, and they stand to find their air quality becoming even more dangerous. On the Warwick Estate we shall be right in the firing line; how will people feel using our excellent outdoor gym equipment when the air is full of diesel fumes?

The thing that nice, polite people are not saying publicly is that  they really fear the social fallout of a coach station, because we all know that one of the factors in Victoria being a centre for rough sleeping is the presence of the coach station. It is on the coach that the penniless newcomer arrives in London (when not actually trafficked). Over the decades Victoria has developed an infrastructure to deal with this, which we simply do not have in Westbourne or Bayswater. We already have rough sleepers of our own who we struggle to support, without adding in a whole lot of newcomers. The Leader of the Council is eloquent in questioning Westminster's responsibility for all the homeless people who actively choose to come here, and while I may be a bit uncomfortable with that approach, I suspect we would all be agreeing with her if they appeared on our pavements in Westbourne.

Predictive Text

Our new building is faced with panels of glazed terracotta, or faience as it is sometimes called, a characteristically late-Victorian material. I have run into all sorts of confusion recently because if you try to type faience into your phone you will inevitably find it "corrected" to fiance; now I have a fiancee it adds even more potential for bafflement. The good thing is that the specialist facade contractors are making really good progress, and are hanging the faience panels on the Rowington Close front now. The faience is wonderfully highly glazed, and looks really good, even though it's hard to see it properly as it is still obscured by scaffolding. It really glittered on the sunny days we have just enjoyed. There is a relief pattern in the faience, which is going to look splendid, and which picks up a detail of Street's brickwork, which I am very pleased with. There is only one manufacturer in the UK who makes glazed terracotta, so we are delighted to have them making these panels to our specification; they have just made a much larger quantity of white faience for the restoration of the Victoria Palace Theatre, and we were always a bit anxious that our rather small order might get bumped down the schedule by another really big one, so it's a relief to see it all on site, and indeed going up on the walls. Nearly there! 

Wednesday, 13 February 2019


The breadth of our building project was demonstrated the other day when I passed the site and observed the vans of "Heritage Blacksmiths Partnership" and "London Concrete Polishing" both parked up. In fact the concrete polishers are there tonight, working through the night, as you clearly have to polish concrete at a particular point in its drying process. The heritage blacksmiths have been superb, rehabilitating all our Victorian doors, and even bringing to life an ancient door-closer that we thought beyond use. The loving care with which the ironwork on our doors has been treated is quite remarkable, and the results are great.

This is the season of spending out budgets, and so Westminster is full of minor works. There are road works all over the West End, while our neighbourhood is full of pavements being relaid. F M Conway, Westminster's preferred contractor, are suddenly very busy indeed. Inexplicably they turned up to repaint the Harrow Road bridge over the Canal, in order to do which they had to set up a little cabin on the entrance to Westbourne Green, and fence off each pavement in turn. Needless to say, pedestrians carried on walking, judging the bridge to be a small enough distance to brave the traffic, which was unwise.They departed this morning, called away to "an emergency at Marble Arch".

While Conways were at work on the bridge a green hire bike was left beside their works, on the road, on a double yellow line. This was the most extreme example I've seen of anti-social behaviour from hire bikes, but I do think we have reached saturation. Not only are there the Boris bikes with their docking stations, but now there are three different brands of free-floating ones, yellow, orange-and-silver, and green. These can just be abandoned wherever you fancy, because they contain a chip which will notify its location, which the user can then find on the app. I fear that we are becoming a sink for these, as they seem to linger a long time, often in tiresome places. I gather that the local young people have discovered that, with the yellow ones at least, a sharp blow to the lock will not only release the bike, but destroy (or dislodge) the chip, and so you can ride off with impunity (apart from the inherent shame of riding a clumpy canary-coloured bicycle).

Last night I went to the extraordinary Playground Theatre in Latimer Road, to see Steven Berkoff in "Harvey" (Weinstein, not the rabbit). This theatre has been going a year, in an old bus depot towards the North Pole end of Latimer Road, a very odd location indeed; I get my car serviced a few doors down. The theatre has a very smart cafe-bar, and does seem to attract a more prosperous clientele than you might imagine. Unsubsidised, they put on some very ambitious things; last summer I saw "Shirleymander", the play about Dame Shirley Porter and her shameful stewardship of Westminster Council, which was attended by a number of people who looked as though they might have known Dame Shirley, and many who clearly remembered her. Last night's show attracted a rather glamorous crowd, with a very tall, androgynous, white-haired young man in leather trousers, high heels and dark glasses only the most extreme. A "famous paparazzo" was also pointed out to me. 

The director of the theatre was at pains to tell us that this was a "workshop production" of a "work in progress", and they gave us all free drinks at the end (a free gin does help one's critical faculties) but I'm afraid it wasn't a total success. Steven Berkoff is a remarkable performer, but this was a very disappointing evening. He has great physical presence, but for all but thirty seconds of the play he was simply slumped in a chair. Only for a moment did you see those extraordinarily scary pale blue eyes glitter. Steven Berkoff has written and directed this show, as well as being the only performer, and I fear that there is no-one to tell him that it's a turkey. We were all expecting to be shocked, I think, but his take on Weinstein was really rather one-dimensional, and while the vocabulary was explicit there was no provocative insight on the issues involved. It was a performance, rather than a play, a monologue from Berkoff with a few recorded extracts from victims' witness depositions. It had no structure, no variety of tone, no dramatic development, and offered nothing very memorable. Still, I've now seen Steven Berkoff in the flesh, and I commend the Playground Theatre for having the nerve to put this on.

The Burne-Jones show at Tate Britain, on the other hand, was more successful than I expected. Yes, there were a lot of those rather drippy women he painted so many of, and some really bad pictures, but there were also some good ones. I found it interesting to see so many together and spot some themes. His treatment of architecture, for instance, is always really poor. He's most comfortable with some sort of shed, like in Botticelli's "Mystic Nativity", but once he has to construct anything more it falls into fantasy. Look closely at "The Golden Stairs" for instance; not only does the staircase defy all laws of construction, but the middle section is so steep and precipitous that it is impossible to imagine all those girls getting down safely. He quite likes girls, and there's a charming portrait of the daughter of George Lewis, Oscar Wilde's solicitor, but he really doesn't like women, he's afraid of them and regards them as sinister. He also follows Michelangelo and basically gives women male bodies (but then some of his men are pretty androgynous too). All this seems quite interesting. And "The Briar Rose" is exquisite, even if it is better in situ at Buscot. Really remarkable are the sequence of Perseus pictures he did for A J Balfour's house, most strikingly the one of the Graeae (look them up). There is a well-worked up painting of this, and then there is the same scene worked as a low relief in wood, gilded and silvered, with a massive gilt Latin inscription above it. This is a piece of decorative art of the very highest quality, and a real innovation. Rather surprisingly it is from the National Museum of Wales, which seems to have several decent works of his. 

I announced on Sunday that I am engaged to be married, which caused a good deal of surprise and confusion, and a lot of genuine joy, which was very pleasing. People are very kind.

Monday, 4 February 2019


We finally launched Helen's book last week, many months after it was actually published. We had hoped to have all three editors present, but since Ed Vickers now works in a Japanese university this was always going to be a challenge, and it was one that we failed. Attempting to accommodate Ed, and Sadaf Rizvi, a colleague of Helen's who now works for the Open University and lives away from London, contributed to our delays, and in the end neither of them were there. Germ Janmaat, Helen's supervisor (the other editor) had arranged a room in the Institute of Education, and had arranged for their research group to provide wine and nibbles. No sumptuous publishers' party for an academic volume like this, "Faith Schools, Tolerance and Diversity", but a few bottles of cheap plonk in an anonymous teaching room on the eighth floor of the IoE. I got there first and moved the chairs out of the way (it's what clergy do). Germ spoke authoritatively about how important a book it is and then I said a bit about the process of the research and writing. Germ said I would be speaking "in a lighter vein" but I warned him there would be no jokes. I made the point that when Helen sent the thesis to people at the Department for Education they showed no interest at all, despite that being the era of "evidence-based policy". I hope I was suitably grateful to Palgrave Macmillan for actually publishing the book, and I didn't rehearse publicly my astonishment at the fact that they didn't routinely provide an index; I had to pay an Italian lady in the Netherlands £600 for the privilege. I do find it rather extraordinary that academic publishers should think it acceptable to publish a book without an index.

I had invited various luminaries of the Anglican education world, most of whom at least sent apologies, but none actually came. I should say, in fairness, that the Rector of Bournemouth (who is a former diocesan director of education, and included in my category of luminaries) tried to get there but couldn't find the room. He was in the building at the right time, but no-one he asked knew anything about it, and unless you got up to the eighth floor corridor there weren't any notices. He didn't have my mobile number, but sent an email, which reached me, but since I had (like a good, well-socialized human being) turned my phone to silent for the duration, I didn't actually read it until much too late. I dread that sort of thing happening to me and so usually carry the invitation with me, or a piece of paper with transcribed details: I once failed to do that and had the shame of taking the Superior of the Delhi Brotherhood to entirely the wrong place for a reception and then having no means of finding out the correct address without coming home, by which time, of course, the moment had passed.

Isn't London wonderful? I take it for granted too often, but after the book launch  I walked my brother-in-law down to Waterloo Station for his train back to Exeter, and was able to go to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. I hadn't booked, because I didn't know when we would be finished, but I had checked online and seen that there were plenty of seats left, so I just turned up at the box office with confidence, and was able to have a choice of cheap seats. The London Philharmonic, under Sir Roger Norrington, were doing Handel's Water Music and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, and it was a splendid evening. Helen and I sang in Dido and Aeneas with the Plymouth Polyphonic Choir some twenty-five years ago, and so it seemed very appropriate. The LPO's was semi-staged, as ours had been, though the Festival Hall is a lot grander than Plymouth Guildhall, though actually I think we "acted" a bit more than they did, and we even had the odd bit of costume (I remember creating a helmet with wings for "Mercury"). I rather expected to be in floods of tears, but I wasn't. Partly this was because the LPO had a man singing the role of the Sorceress, which Helen sang back then, which is common practice, but frankly a bit odd, and partly it was because I didn't much care for the woman singing Dido, who was (I think) French, and didn't have the clarity of diction you want in Purcell. The result was that "Remember Me" was not the tear-jerker that it should be, but a bit florid and comfortable.

I was shocked by how much of the words I still have by heart; why can't I remember things like that nowadays? I was only in the chorus, and our high point was marching around as we sang, "Come away, fellow sailors, come away". I remember us slapping our thighs as we did so, but I think that was only in rehearsal, because I for one certainly couldn't have slapped in time successfully, and that would just have looked comical (as well as camp). Our Dido was a teenage girl called Alison Chryssides, whose mother was the director of the choir, and she was superb. I got her to sing Mozart for me at an anniversary Mass I celebrated in Reading a few years later, but she has not become a professional singer, but a social psychologist. This is not so surprising, as her father was a fairly eminent sociologist, but I hope she still sings.     

Monday, 28 January 2019



Last Friday evening the Vicarage phone rang at quarter past seven. My heart sank; mid evening calls are usually from people with a problem at St Peter's, requiring me to go up there and sort it out. This, however, was from Jacqui, our Lunch Club mastermind, so I felt immediately relieved. The relief, though, was short-lived, as Jacqui reported that she was preparing for Lunch Club at St Peter's and the fire alarm was going off. She said that she had checked, and could find no fire, and asked whether I knew how to turn it off. In twelve years the alarm has never gone off, or, to my knowledge, been serviced, so I had no idea. I said I thought it would stop by itself, as surely they are required to do (after twenty minutes, I think) but she then told me that it had been sounding for an hour and a half.

So, I got my bike out and went up to St Peter's, expecting to be assailed by lots of angry residents from the old people's flats next door, who were surely being disturbed. When I arrived I could hear nothing, so I was confused, but when I went down to the church and hall it became audible. In the lobby the bell was audible, but not intolerable, and the same was clearly true of the hall, where Jacqui's volunteers were peeling potatoes. It was only when I went out into the outer foyer that the noise became intolerably loud, and it became clear that it was barely noticeable outside the building. I fetched a stepladder, and with the aid of pliers, screwdriver and blu-tac, silenced the bell.

I then started wondering how useful this system actually is. The bell is meant to be activated by smashing a glass panel (there are no smoke or heat alarms). There are three panels: one immediately under the bell, in the foyer; a second in the church, beside the organ (on the back of the same wall as the first one); the third in the hall, at the far side, beside the fire escape. It is impossible to imagine a situation in which someone walking around shouting, "Fire! Fire!" would not be just as effective as trying to activate this alarm. It's a fairly small space, and a few steps enable you to see it all, and certainly shouting would be effective. There are also plenty of ways out. I had always assumed that our system was a branch of the system in the flats above us, but evidently not, as they did not have an alarm on Friday evening. So, if it had been a fire, the flats above the church, who did need to know, wouldn't have been alerted anyway. We have lots of extinguishers (which are serviced regularly) and plenty of fire exits; I think we have just demonstrated that the alarm adds nothing to our well-being. A conversation with our inspecting architect is required.

Coach Trip

The big story of last week was the public meeting over the TfL proposal to site a coach station at Royal Oak. The Bayswater councillors organised a meeting, expecting a couple of dozen to turn up, but over a hundred people did. Emily Payne (a fellow governor) chaired it, and the excellent Graham King, from the City Council, explained the proposal. It appears that the lease on Victoria Coach Station will come up in a few years, and the Grosvenor Estate wants it back, so as to build more lucrative housing. TfL unimaginatively wants to provide a new coach station and would prefer to do so on land it already owns, hence its interest in the area north of Royal Oak station platform. This slice of land (in St Mary Magdalene's parish) used to contain the sidings leading to Paddington Goods Station, which were removed prior to the digging of Crossrail underneath it. It is at the level of the rail tracks, and so perhaps thirty feet below the level of Lord Hill's Bridge to the west, Ranelagh Bridge to the east, and the Harrow Road (itself beneath the Westway) to the north. Just describing those levels makes it clear how unsuitable this would be. Apparently, Ranelagh Bridge would be removed to make this possible, and so we would lose our access to the A40. Of course it would also be necessary to close Royal Oak station at least while the work was done, and quite possibly permanently, which would hardly be to our benefit. In order to fund the scheme, TfL would build shops, offices and housing in a block over the top of the coach station. What a lovely place to live, alongside the Westway, with the Great Western mainline on the other side.

Of course, this is only one of a number of sites TfL are considering. It is manifestly foolish, even without considering issues of traffic, pollution, infrastructure and so on (which are damning), but my point is that this is a futile exercise. In civilized cities (and actually lots of pretty uncivilized ones too) coach stations are on the edge of the urban sprawl, at suitable transport nodes, where passengers can transfer to rapid urban transport while the coaches go swiftly on their way without having to battle through urban traffic. Lots of British cities do this already, (though admittedly some without necessarily providing the public transport connections) and it has to make sense. No-one would build Victoria Coach Station where it is today, and it is only because it is there already that there is any feeling that it should be replaced by something equally central; if we were starting from scratch we would build it on the periphery, since London has excellent public transport.

There are petitions against the proposal from both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, and Nicky Hessenberg, who has been helping with our fundraising for the Project, is co-ordinating opposition, so I think TfL have a fight on their hands.        

Global Food

Another thing that brought the local community together last week was the Westbourne Global Food Festival, organised by the Westbourne Forum, and held in the Stowe Centre on Saturday afternoon. We had arranged for an array of local restaurants to bring samples of their food, which when combined made a decent plate, which locals could have for free. Then several groups provided entertainment. We ended up having to turn people away, as the hall was just too full. A very good use of the councillors' ward budget. Fish and chips was available alongside Greek, middle eastern, Asian and African food, and the entertainment included African, Bollywood and Albanian dancing, as well as zumba (done by people I can only describe as Londoners). All wonderfully various, and very good humoured.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019


Sorry that December passed without a single blog post, but the month became (enjoyably) busy. It's part of the clerical profession that we become a bit singleminded in December (which I appreciate doesn't always make us easy to live with) and so it was this year. I also found distraction in my free time. So here's a review of what went on over the last month.

A Fairer Christmas

December began with the Christmas Fair at St Peter's, which blessedly raised £900 despite poor attendance. Most of the profit comes from selling raffle tickets to people outside the parish, usually people's work colleagues; some lawyers and call-centre operatives must dread this time of year! The Fair was much improved this year by a portion of the St Peter's School Choir coming to sing carols on the pavement outside, which boosted the atmosphere and gave an infusion of new customers. It was really good to feel some positive collaboration from the school.

Santa Claus comes and visits St Peter's, holding court in a grotto laboriously constructed in the Meeting Room, to which his "little helper" escorts the children. This year Santa had a new suit, which turned out to be much thicker than the old one, and since the temperature was 15 degrees outside, Santa got very hot. When he removed his big, black belt the inside of it was beaded with sweat! I had gone to buy the new suit in the summer, thinking myself very shrewd, only to be told that they didn't get their stock in until after Hallowe'en, which basically gave a panicky three week window to carry out this errand. Still, Santa appreciated it, and it did its job, as he went unrecognised by a ten year old, not to mention a seven year old at whose house Santa often dines. Santa's confidence was so improved by this new suit that he's contemplating making a festive arrival with bells next time, instead of just sneaking round the back. In the old suit, Santa basically had to remain seated for fear that his trousers would fall down and his jacket flap open (to say nothing of his beard coming adrift, secured as it was with blu-tac). 

A Feast of Carols

The Carol Service was a resounding success, largely thanks to the Corisande Singers, who joined us for the fifth time. We weren't able to have them in 2017, because we had to have the service at St Peter's, where there is no room for a choir, but this year we were back in St Mary Magdalene's, and so they were back with us. The arrangements were a bit provisional, but we learnt for the future. Because our new boiler will be in the plant room in the new extension we are having to use temporary heating, with electric overhead radiant heaters. These are a bit disconcerting; one of the readers at the service remarked afterwards that she had been lovely and warm sitting under the heater, but when she stood at the lectern to read, she could suddenly see her own breath. They don't heat the atmosphere, but solid things in range of them. People ask how early they should put them on and I have to explain that all that achieves is warming up the seats, possibly to an uncomfortable degree, so it's really not worth it. The fringe benefit of the radiant heaters is that they emit a pleasing amber glow, which turned out to be very useful as we didn't have an appropriate setting for the lights. I had spent some time discussing settings, and then going through programming with the engineer, a couple of months ago, but I seem to have omitted to plan one which works for a "candlelit" service. It was either too bright or too dark, until the heaters rescued the dark setting. I need to get the engineer back to sort that out.

Among the readers we had the heads of both primary schools, the chairman of the Music Society, the organiser of the Lunch Club, and a St Peter's young person, so there was a reasonable cross-section of who we are. The choir also sang a composition by a member of the congregation, Marcus (who is actually a professional violinist) which was lovely. In fact they sang it two years ago as well, but I'm not sure Marcus has actually been present to hear it on either occasion. It was very pleasing that several people who have got involved in the Project over the past couple of years, through volunteering or fundraising, were in the congregation, and joined us for mince pies and mulled wine afterwards.Everyone was very excited by how the church looks now. 

Christingle at Fifty

"So what is a Christingle?" they say. Well, huge numbers of people who have attended (or worked in) a C of E primary school in the last forty years or so will know the answer, because the Christingle Service  (first introduced to the UK by the Church of England Children's Society in 1968) has become a part of Christmas tradition in many schools. The combination of oranges, candles and sweeties is a powerful one. It's also found its way into parish life, particularly where there are lots of children. Long ago, in Plymstock, I was introduced to the idea of doing it at 5pm on Christmas Eve, as a time that was socially useful (one parent would wrap presents while the other took children to church for a while). It was the youth group leaders who had that insight, and quite right they were. I did it that way until 2017, when Christmas Eve was Sunday and I didn't think it was fair to ask the organist to do 9.30 and 11am, then come back for 5pm, as well as 11pm. I also didn't think many people would turn up, so I brought it forward to the Friday before Christmas, and numbers were halved. I was told people had already gone away. This year I brought it forward to the Thursday, when most schools hadn't yet broken up; same numbers as last year. Next time we shall go back to Christmas Eve.  I hope we shall have a better collection to send to the Children's Society.

A Midnight Clear

The congregation at Midnight Mass was well-behaved; that's the first thing for which to give thanks. In Exeter, when I was a curate, we were next door to the Prince Albert and across the road from the Sawyers' Arms, and it helped to have a large sidesman standing just inside the door to keep order and effect removals. St Mary Magdalene's no longer has an adjacent boozer, so we don't have that problem, and the drunks in the regular congregation have known how to behave. It's best if the regulars have their wits about them, as we all have loads of strangers at Midnight, who of course don't know when to stand or sit (despite it being perfectly clear on the sheet) or when to respond, which can be a bit disconcerting. You never really know how many people will come on Christmas Eve, but it was a good turnout, in response to minimal publicity.

I have gained myself more tellings-off for music choices at Midnight than any other occasion, and it is clear that some carols are regarded by some members of the congregation as permanently fixed in particular spots in the Mass. So this year I was unadventurous. I ensured that we did sing some of those that make me cry, but not merely all my favourites. We even sang "While Shepherds" to "Winchester New", which is generally agreed to be the dullest  carol known to mankind (I was nearly assaulted after setting it to "Lyngham" once) and I smiled cheerily.

We now have the altar at the top of the chancel steps, and it is tremendous presiding there, as you look out at the painted ceiling of the nave and up at the painted chancel vault and think of all the saints joining you in worship. The restoration has certainly been worthwhile from my point of view! Lots of the visitors have also been impressed, of course.   

Morning Glory

There's always the chance that the morning Mass on Christmas Day will feel like an anti-climax after the excitement of Midnight, and it's often a struggle to get servers to turn out, but we usually get a decent congregation at St Peter's, and we sing some different (but still familiar) carols. As my brother-in-law stays, and actually listens to sermons, I have no chance of  saying the same thing twice, so I usually spend the afternoon of Christmas Eve hoping to gain inspiration for the morning's sermon from the King's College Carol Service. I think we managed all right for ideas this year, but it can be a struggle to say something new (or something familiar in a new way). In fact the service was lovely, and special in its own terms. I was given more presents, including a couple of white teeshirts, which might seem odd, but that family have given me vests in the past, and it's terribly kind of them. At the end you can really say "Hodie Christus natus est!"  

Thursday, 29 November 2018


At Home

It’s pathetic, the way one grasps at connection with celebrity: I caught myself the other day referring to “my footballer”. The fact is that we baptized the child of a professional footballer a couple of years ago, and he (the footballer, not the child) is now playing in the Premier League, and scored a spectacular goal a few weeks ago. Now the interesting thing is that he isn’t famous, and has only started appearing in his team’s starting eleven in the past few weeks, but has been with them for years, hardly playing, but constantly being injured. I had supposed he must be pretty good, or they wouldn’t have persevered with him for all this time, and it seems I was right. I felt a ridiculous glow of pride when he scored, and now watch out for him on Match of the Day. 

I remember when I was a country parson in Cornwall the great excitement when a footballer moved into one of my villages. Of course he played for Plymouth Argyle (the Green Slime or the Scum, for the Exonians amongst us) which made sense, as their ground was an easy twenty-minute drive away. The point nobody made at the time was that he was the only black man for at least five miles around, but then in Cornwall that wasn’t a cause for particular comment, since all incomers (like me) were expected to be strange in some way or another. Our footballer here in W2 does not stand out in that way, but his residence makes less sense; he must spend a lot of time in his car, but I suppose the Westway helps.


At another, more recent, baptism, one of my churchwardens said to me, “There’s a great-grandfather here.” The old gent was frankly easy to pick out, since he was obviously elderly and in a suit. He was also monoglot Portuguese, so after “Bom dia” I didn’t have much chance of conversation. This set me to thinking, though, because my churchwarden clearly thought this was special, but I’m not sure that it was, round here. Because I still do a fair number of baptisms for couples in their early twenties, whose parents are only in their mid-forties, and I can assure you that nothing makes you feel more ancient than discovering that you are older than the grandparents. I’m quite sure that we’ve had a great-grandparent or two present on some of those occasions, but it was perhaps less obvious because they weren’t amazingly old, and so didn’t stand out. Young women are  having babies generally older, but it remains the case that if your mother was young when she had you, you are much more likely to have a baby at a young age yourself.

Successive governments have orchestrated moral panic about “teenage pregnancy” (at one point when I was in Reading, my parish was supposed to have had the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe) but the fact remains that the late teens is the time when women are most physiologically suited to giving birth, and for some young women having babies is what they actually want to do with their lives. Yes, that makes them economically unproductive, but does that therefore make it an illegitimate choice? I desperately want people to fulfil their potential, but even I have to recognise that for some people that does not involve going to university; being a good parent and building stable families seems like a worthy aim as well.  

You Can’t Afford to Die

One of the strange things about ministry in central London is how few funerals we do. Partly that’s down to the totally atypical religious and ethnic diversity of the population, but also to its youthfulness. If you remember the song, “Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad” (by Don Black from Lloyd Webber’s “Tell me on a Sunday”) you may remember the lines, “The cost of land’s so high/ you can’t afford to die./ If you feel bad there/ you dial a prayer” which was about 1980s Beverley Hills, but you can say the same for modern London. There are few retirement homes, because, like pubs, they are relatively unprofitable ways of using land. Meanwhile, older people often move out of London to be near their families (who cannot afford to live here, or don’t want to bring up children in the metropolis). So the result is that we don’t do many funerals. 

There is also the slight suspicion that some funeral directors have their favourite clergy, who are undemanding, always available and sometimes allegedly from the same Lodge. I am constantly amazed at how little effort many undertakers seem to make to even find out the correct clergy to approach; you can discover anyone’s Anglican parish at the click of your mouse these days, but funeral directors are, as an industry, quite oddly resistant to computers. Meanwhile, the cost of a funeral continues to go up, and it’s not pushed by our fees, which are fixed by Order in Council and go up very modestly (and which go to the diocese to help pay our salary). The cost of burial plots in municipal graveyards is increasing exponentially, as the authorities run out of space (as we won't do as our forefathers did and simply go back to the beginning and start again, and we've got headstones), and cremation does have a genuine cost, which increases with the price of fuel. The fact is, though, that it is an industry with very limited competition, and a customer base who are not generally in the mood to shop around or argue the toss about prices. I should say that I know that I have got good deals from the undertakers I have dealt with, for which I am very grateful, but then I do know a bit more about the business than the average customer.    

Friday, 23 November 2018


Open Day

We weren't able to take part in London Open House this year, as the church was still a building site, but now that we have the building back we are taking pains to show it off. Those who have been volunteering with the Project were among the first to see the restored interior, as we had a reception as a sort of "thank you" to them. That was also the occasion for the premiere of a series of short films made by local young people, responding to significant places in the neighbourhood, which will be shown on the screens in the foyer of the new extension. We had secured a little Arts Council money, which enabled us to employ a professional filmmaker who was able to work with the teenagers to turn their ideas into reality. They were generally interesting new takes on familiar places, with one that wasn't on our list; one group of youngsters made their film about Grenfell Tower, where they had lost friends. It's not Paddington, but it is only down the road, and very definitely a neighbouring community.

So, having given the volunteers privileged access, we threw a community open day, so anyone who fancied could come in, and lots did. My PDT colleagues did all the work, I just led some guided tours, but it was an excellent day. I was amazed at the numbers, and the variety of people who came; the first people I met were a baronet and his lady wife, and then I talked to an Eritrean mother. The conversations went on all afternoon. Among all the family activities (children making things from twigs) we also had a string quartet, and the delightful sight of a little Anglo-Caribbean boy dancing with the violinist as they played the Csardas will stay with me for a long time. We seem to be managing to continue to connect with a rich cross-section of local people, and the trick will be to continue to do that in the events and programmes that we put on when we're properly up and running (Easter, perhaps).

Infinitum Est...

That could be the motto of the building project (and frankly, most building projects) but actually it's the enigmatic message on the plinth of our War Memorial Calvary. An odd one, because it's not an obvious quotation. The Latin is simple enough, it means what it looks like, "It is not finished" or "It is endless/infinite". But the question is, what is "it"? Sometimes in Latin tags the verb is "understood", you don't need to write it because it's obvious, but that's less often the case with nouns, for obvious reasons. Here though, the subject of the sentence, the noun, is understood, though obviously we're not actually understanding it terribly well, otherwise I wouldn't be writing this. The two words we have tell us that the subject is singular ("est" is singular) and neuter (the "um" at the end of "infinitum" is the neuter ending) but whereas in English almost every noun is neuter, it's not the same in Latin, where masculine and feminine nouns are more numerous. So we are hunting for a singular neuter noun, that should be obvious when read on the plinth of a crucifix. Perhaps I am being obtuse, but it's proving difficult. Love, mercy, justice, suffering: all feminine. My ancient "O"-level Latin insistently supplies one neuter noun, "bellum" which means war. Could they have really meant that in 1929 when they erected the Calvary? If so, it was horribly prescient. There is a famous cartoon, beloved of historians, which was published at the time of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which shows Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister saying, "Curious, I seem to hear a child weeping," while behind a pillar is the crying child with the label "1940 class". The French general, Foch, famously described the Armistice as, "Not a peace but a twenty-year cease-fire" but I wouldn't have expected that analysis on an English war memorial.

I was rather expecting that someone would ask me what the inscription meant when we rededicated the Calvary the other day, but no-one did. Curious how words we don't understand become invisible. The whole school trooped out into Rowington Close, and I thanked everyone involved (including generous donors). Then the Acting Archdeacon re-hallowed the Calvary, and I led the Act of Remembrance. After the two minutes' silence, Year 4 presented a very affecting performance. I had been a bit concerned when I heard that two of the children were playing rats, but I should not have worried, as it was perfectly judged. Lucy Foster (our community involvement person for the Project) had achieved something really impressive with them. People were genuinely moved, and the children seemed to get the point.We were amazingly fortunate that we did this in the only dry sunny hour of a dark, wet, blustery morning.     


Last night I went to another fundraiser for The Avenues Youth Club, this time at the very fancy pub called Paradise in Kilburn Lane. It's a stylish pub, but I hadn't expected a Ten Commandments board on the upstairs landing (so you can check how many you've broken as you wait to collect your coat from the cloakroom?). It's at the Kensal Green end of Kilburn Lane, and so the name is taken from the G.K.Chesterton poem, "The Rolling English Road" ..."we went to paradise by way of Kensal Green." It attracted a very different crowd from the Joan Bakewell/Margaret Drabble evening, with a selection of DJs performing, and very loud music. The place is a rabbit warren, and seemed to absorb a vast number of (mostly trendy young) people. I had expected more dancing, but you can't predict the dynamics of that, I suppose. People seemed to enjoy themselves, and I hope The Avenues did well out of it. I had a good time, anyway.