Thursday, 29 November 2018

OCCASIONAL OFFICES



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.


Generations

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

DAYS AND NIGHTS

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.     


Paradise

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.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

GOLD AND BLACK

Gold Medallists

Our conservation architect, Oliver Caroe (the Surveyor of the Fabric at St Paul's Cathedral) entered us for the King of Prussia's Gold Medal, the major national award for church conservation. It was very pleasant to be shortlisted (and so one's friends saw it in the Church Times) but utterly dumbfounding to win the prize. They only gave you three tickets to the awards ceremony, so I went along with Beth Watson (from Caroes) and Lewis Proudfoot, from Cliveden Conservation, who actually did the work. The ceremony took place at St Jude's, Collingham Gardens, (behind Gloucester Road tube) which is the home of St Mellitus College, the Diocese of London's ministerial training wing, and since that building was also shortlisted for our award we were confident that we wouldn't win. That confidence was increased when we discovered that Prince Nicholas von Preussen, who was presenting the award, has a son who works with one of the contractors involved in one of the other projects. We were perfectly relaxed by the time Prince Nicholas came round to look at our display boards and asked a few, desultory, apparently uninterested questions. So we were completely unprepared when Prince Nicholas announced that the medal was being awarded to a Victorian church, which could only be us (and was).

Beth had done all the preparation for the ceremony, producing the display boards and a Power Point presentation to be shown in the event of one's winning. She did as she was told and produced a 10-slide presentation, to last 5 minutes. Then, on the day, our sheet of instructions said it was to be no longer than 2-3 minutes, and the slides would be moved on accordingly, but of course that didn't worry us as we knew we wouldn't be delivering a presentation. We did confer, though, as Beth really didn't want to do it, and so I said that, hypothetically, I would, if she would advise me of what the slides showed (as I hadn't actually seen them). So, as we walked up to receive the medal (and cheque) I was putting thoughts in order. It all went very well.

The ceremony also involved the award of the National Churches Trust President's Prize, which is for new work in a church, and that was presented by the Duke of Gloucester, so our sheet of instructions gave us etiquette for dealing with the royals. The Duke was very pleasant, but everything was so informal (and he's not the most immediately recognisable of the royal family) that none of us got our "Your royal highness" in on first meeting. As for Prince Nicholas, I huffed to my colleagues that it was all a bit rich, since his family ceased to be royal a hundred years ago, and he's not actually a prince of anywhere, and his surname is not von Preussen but Hohenzollern, so I'm not quite sure what etiquette applies beyond common politeness. It has to be said, though, that he was totally upper-class British, utterly charming, and lives in Knightsbridge.

Next year, we shall enter our new building for the President's Prize!


Men in Black

The awards ceremony was on Thursday, All Saints' Day, so the next day, All Souls', was the day of the Requiem. Our biggest event of the year is a High Mass of Requiem on All Souls' Day, celebrated with choir and full orchestra, doing a French Romantic setting. We have a nice set of black vestments for this, bought from the bequest of a deceased parishioner, who loved it, and which replaced a set that were falling apart. My friend Fr Martin Quayle usually comes to help as deacon, and Fr Frank acts as subdeacon. An old-fashioned ritual is part of the evening, as we try to use a nineteenth-century setting in an authentic way, but in a modern rite. This year we were singing the setting by Alfred Bruneau, which remained unperformed in England between its controversial premiere in 1896 and its revival at St Mary Mags in 1986. It is exceptionally loud, and jolly long. We break up the Dies Irae (in what I genuinely think is quite a creative way) to make it a bit more digestible, singing two movements during the intercessions.

There is always a lot of preparation for the Requiem, and Nicholas Kaye, who organises it, gets very tense. This year, the main anxiety was having only the temporary heating provided by our contractors, because the musicians get very grumpy about getting cold. We had also disposed of some chairs (expecting that our new chairs would have been purchased by now, which they haven't) so Nicholas had to hire in more seating than usual. A few unfinished repairs were also not aesthetically pleasing, but I did my best to see that we followed health and safety rules. With four hundred people in church one has to be reasonably careful.

I have always felt that the way most places use traditional Mass settings is silly, because you stand around in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer while the choir sing the Sanctus and Benedictus, as a very long musical interlude (quite unlike a congregational setting, which is a snappy acclamation). In reality, the traditional way of doing it was that the celebrant continued the words of the Eucharistic Prayer while the Sanctus was being sung, as an accompaniment. In the past they weren't terribly concerned about the faithful knowing what was going on, but we provide a service sheet that explains everything and prints out the texts of what is being sung (and their translation) as well as what is being said quietly. The result of this is that we at the altar are going about the business of the Mass enveloped in this wave of sound, and you get some marvellous moments when the music reaches a climax (by pure chance) at the elevations. With Bruneau the Sanctus alone was long enough to cover the whole Eucharistic Prayer, so the Benedictus became a meditation for us (as it is meant to be). At the altar this is exhilarating, and spiritually uplifting, and often deeply moving. So at the end of the evening I was on an adrenaline high that lasted a while. It all went very well, despite my making a crass error (which fortunately had no consequences and hardly anyone noticed).       

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

A BREATHLESS HUSH IN THE CLOSE

Wildlife Notes

We were kept awake on the Estate a few nights ago by a very loud and determined fox, evidently walking up and down between my house and the flats. There seemed to be another fox, somewhere distant, answering. It's very hard to describe the noise, but once you've heard it you recognise it. This time it was exceptionally loud. I eventually got out of bed, and from a front window watched the fox come out in front of the church and saunter away up the road, presumably in the direction of the other fox. One of my callers (from Golborne Road) remarked that she had been kept awake by what she was told were foxes, "Sounded like a baby!" she said, "Why do they do it then? Are they talking to other foxes?" I replied that I believe their intention is to meet up with other foxes. "Why's that then? I thought they didn't like other foxes!" I explained that I believe they want to get to know each other better. "Ooohh, yeah."

This is a real St Luke's Summer, for which God be thanked! In the late afternoon sun one day last week I was able to watch a lesser-spotted woodpecker on a rather weedy tree, and then on the wall of the flats behind me, which was a pleasant surprise.


The Ascension of Our Lord

Some of you will remember the War Memorial Calvary ("What have you done with Jesus?") and its structural problems that required it to be taken down three years ago (having been held up by scaffolding for more than fifteen years). The plan had been to restore it quickly as a visible sign of our intent for the whole church, but of course it didn't work that way. In fact that was just as well, because when we came to scaffold the outside of the church the whole of the sunken area over which the Calvary stood was filled with scaffolding, and the wooden cross had to be carefully placed against a wall. The cleaning of the exterior brick and stonework also produced a huge amount of dirty run-off, and it became obvious that if the Calvary had been re-erected in its place it would have got absolutely filthy. So, the fact that the (cast-iron) corpus was waiting in a forge somewhere in Sussex was a good thing.

The exterior scaffolding came down some time ago, and the specialist contractors began the process of reconstruction. Meanwhile, the corpus was restored to his original state. Martin Travers (who designed the Calvary in the 1920s) never stinted on bling if he got the chance, and so our cast-iron corpus was gilded. Now, Travers was more of a designer than an architect, which is perhaps why he had fixed the wooden cross onto a cast-iron beam. It was the rusting and subsequent distortion of this beam that had caused all the problems. So our contractors had to cast a nice new concrete beam, in situ, as the new base, which meant that lots of brickwork had to be taken down, making it quite a task. Then the old stone plinth had to be restored and re-erected, and then the wooden cross was oiled and put in place (which involved more scaffolding and a block and tackle).

Finally, last Friday, the corpus returned, in the back of a van. The gilder came with him, in case of touching up, and there were the men from the forge, and the contractors, and a man with a lorry with a hoist. They had the unenviable task of moving an extremely heavy cast-iron figure that was now covered in very delicate gold leaf and hoisting him up onto a cross about fifteen feet off the ground. Matters were not made easier by three cars ignoring our parking suspension; the contractors told me that one had actually been parked there while they were there, and the driver had just shrugged when told the bay was suspended. The result was that the hoist couldn't get very close, and they decided not to lift the corpus over the cars. Instead they carried him round in a circle, rising to a considerable height to get him round behind a streetlamp. Frankly, I held my breath. All was accomplished beautifully (though not without acute anxiety for the watching Vicar). They fixed his hands in place, but then came an alarming moment when the cross-beam flexed, and indeed the whole cross moved, which worried the contractors sufficiently for them to call the architect. They were reassured, and when his feet were fixed the whole structure became rock-solid. So now, for the first time in decades, the gilded figure of Christ presides over Rowington Close. Best of all, the job has been done in time for the centenary of the end of the Great War.


Back Home

We returned to worship in the main body of the church this weekend. Our Sunday Mass was exactly 150 years after Fr West celebrated the first Mass in the newly-built chancel, and 145 years after the building was consecrated by Bishop Jackson. It's not all finished, with three significant bits of repair work still to be done, and the lights not sorted out properly, but at least we are back, and you can see the brilliant ceilings. It was a deep joy to celebrate the Dedication Festival, and (I hope) to do it as Fr West would have wanted. We had a decent crowd, and a nice party afterwards, and people's joy and relief was palpable. The next thing is to get the new extension finished, so that the parishioners who have waited so long for level access and lavatories can finally come back as well.      

Thursday, 18 October 2018

FROM WESTMINSTER, WITH LOVE

Loves, Labour's Won

Our "heritage pioneers" at St Mary Mags are an excellent lot. They have been researching local history (and aspects of the history of the church) for the Project website, and to provide us with the raw material for future exhibitions, and some have been trained in the techniques of oral history (by a professional) and have been out interviewing people. These interviews will provide an archive of local experiences, but will also be the material for the recordings in the "whispering walls" in the new building, places where you will be able to learn more about the recent history of Paddington from listening to people tell their stories.

The excellence of the heritage pioneers was demonstrated by the fact that they wanted to do more, and organised a pub quiz (partly to ask questions based on all the things they had found out), which they called the "Keeping It Local" quiz. This was held a couple of weeks ago in the Eagle in Clifton Road. This is the pub that used to be the Robert Browning, but I imagine Eagle was an older name, so I'm all in favour of that reversion to tradition. It seemed generally a fairly traditional pub, but they were happy for us to take over their upstairs room, which was a good venue for a quiz attracting thirty-five people. We organised ourselves in teams, and I was quite positive about the make-up of ours, with a wide range of knowledge and several people who were Paddington born-and-bred. I hadn't bargained with the presence of the Westminster Labour Party team, but when I spotted Cllr Dimoldenberg (who is an even bigger geek than I am) my heart sank. I also shouldn't have had that pint of beer (shockingly unprofessional, but I was trying to look relaxed). They beat us by three points, and maddeningly we knew three answers that we had got wrong through pure silliness and indiscipline. Helen didn't like me doing quizzes because I am such a bad loser, so when we have them, I usually help set the questions; here I enjoyed myself but came away sore. Did I shake Paul Dimoldenberg's hand? I did not.


The Heart of Westminster

The Dean of Westminster, Dr John Hall, is one of the smoothest and most charming clergymen in the Church of England (though Helen once got under his skin by asking too-probing questions after a lecture he gave about religious education). At Westminster Abbey he has assured his place in history by building the "Weston Tower" which gives public access to the Triforium, part of which is now a gallery to display some of the Abbey's treasures, and by commissioning a window from David Hockney, just installed. The Weston Tower is a very clever piece of work (designed by Ptolemy Dean, the telegenic Surveyor of the Fabric) which is tucked into a corner formerly occupied by some loos, and which gives astonishing views along the south elevation of the Abbey as you go up the stairs. I suspect that the conceit of using specimen pieces of every type of stone used in the Abbey's history will look rather twee in the future, but it's a pleasing touch. I can't say I like the metalwork that loops across the glazing; neither Gothic nor contemporary, but kitsch in my view. But, as I say, Dean Hall's place in history is assured (even if he misses out on a coronation).

In my view, though, the most important thing he has done is to raise the profile of religion at the Abbey. It's a building with tremendous history, it's always referred to as the church of kings, and is in fact the burial place of most of our medieval and early modern monarchs, and it also functions as a sort of national pantheon, as the actual burial place of such as Chaucer, Newton and Darwin, and the place of commemoration of countless other national heroes of one sort or another. It also contains, in Henry VII's Lady Chapel, the finest piece of renaissance sculpture in Britain (Henry VII's tomb, by Torrigiani), and indeed the Chapel itself is one of the most important works of art of its period anywhere. So it's not unreasonable that the Abbey should be a tourist attraction, and as a "Royal Peculiar" it doesn't have a very clear spiritual function, beyond ensuring that a daily round of worship is celebrated (not a trivial thing, but an alien concept for the managers who run the contemporary C of E). So, it's never been a great surprise to me that it mostly feels like a tourist attraction in which worship occasionally takes place (it's not alone in that) but Dean Hall has ensured that religion has been brought back. I don't know how much income the Abbey expects to make on a Saturday in October, but they have chosen, under Dean Hall's leadership, to forego one Saturday's receipts by closing the Abbey to tourists and making it a place of pilgrimage for the day. So it was that I went, with an intrepid band of parishioners, to the National Pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor last Saturday.

Because of course the medieval abbey was intended as a place of pilgrimage, housing the shrine of England's royal saint, (famed for his gentleness and radiating the love of God for the poor) and it functioned in that way until the dissolution of the abbeys. At that point the shrine was destroyed, but the Confessor's royalness trumped his saintliness, and so his remains were not scattered (as happened at most English shrines) but reverently buried. Hence, the reconstructed shrine still contains the saint's remains, and the modern Abbey has created a day of pilgrimage, around the Confessor's main feast day, at which the Abbey is absolutely given over to prayer, devotion and worship. We walked down from Paddington (which took an hour and a half, on a beautiful warm, sunny morning) and arrived in time for one of our number to make herself a pilgrim badge, while others used the facilities. We then took our seats for the Solemn Eucharist, which was very well done (Mozart was sung and the Bishop of Ebbsfleet preached). Afterwards there was the opportunity to visit the shrine, behind the high altar, where incense was burning, candles were being lit, and people were kneeling in prayer in the niches beneath the saint's tomb, and around the space. Genuine devotion. Real prayer. That absolutely brought home why all those kings wanted to be buried as they are, in a ring around the shrine, close to the holy man, so full of the grace of God. After the vergers finished clearing up from the service the east end of the Abbey was opened up again, and you could pray in the chapels. The highlight was praying before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the Lady Chapel. Actually you could see the Sacrament in the monstrance from a particular spot in the Sacrarium  (the space around the shrine) which I would never have imagined, but was itself a very revealing detail, because the monstrance was placed on the Lady Chapel altar, that lovely little gem under its baldacchino in front of Henry VII's tomb. To be able to pray before our Lord, present in the Blessed Sacrament, in the very centre of power in this land (knowing that beyond the window in front of you was Parliament) was intensely moving and impressive. The silence there was stunning. That experience on its own was enough to justify all the nonsense. Last Saturday, for a few hours at least, the Lord was truly the heart of Westminster.         

Thursday, 11 October 2018

THE CONCRETE AND THE CLAY

On the Road

An unpleasant accident on the Harrow Road yesterday evening caused traffic chaos. It was clear that a car had struck a motorcycle.  It didn't look good for the motorcyclist. not least because the police were still doing their investigations two hours later. If it's only a collision they are keen to get the traffic moving again, but here a large section of road (and pavement) was taped off for a long time, and people in high-vis were using cameras and surveying equipment. What I couldn't understand was how the car came to be sideways on  across the road, nowhere near a junction. That appeared to be the place where the accident had happened, as the motorbike was there under his front wing. The natural conclusion is that the car was executing some strange manoeuvre when the collision happened. In truth, it is surprising that there are not more accidents with motorcycles and mopeds, given how rashly many are ridden along the Harrow Road.


Fall of an Emperor

Councillor Robert Davis has resigned. Robert Davis has been a towering figure in Westminster for years, a councillor for more than twenty years, Deputy Leader for years, a past Lord Mayor, but most significantly, Chair of Planning for seventeen years. An enquiry has found that while he did not do anything illegal, he breached the councillors' code of conduct. This was after he referred himself to the City Council's monitoring officer back in February, after the scale of the gifts that he had received from property developers had been revealed. He had registered receiving more than five hundred gifts (or instances of hospitality) over the past three years, some of which were of the scale of trips to five-star resorts. Why were  property developers (admittedly not a rare breed in Westminster) so keen to lavish gifts on Councillor Davis? Perhaps because he had been chair of the Westminster Planning Committee for seventeen years. It should be pointed out that the laws against corruption in local government are very strict, and the enquiry has found that Councillor Davis did not break the law, but the monitoring officer makes reference to the impression that was given being a bad one. Because the sense was that you needed Councillor Davis to look kindly on your planning application if it was at all controversial; he did not sit on every panel, but as chair he chose which applications went to which panel, and the belief was that if he liked your application he would see that it came to his panel. In my (very limited) experience, Councillor Davis seemed a pleasant man, though rather grand, but anyone who made planning applications to Westminster (as we had to for our extension) was conscious of his shadow over the whole process. It did all feel a bit imperial. I see that the current Council  Leader has "welcomed" his decision to resign, "Et tu, Brute?"


Concrete

Wherever you look in London there are tower cranes, and then there are all the building sites (like ours) where it is impossible to install a crane. Building is constant. As well as cranes, the indicator of construction activity round here is the scale of traffic generated by the concrete batching plant at Westbourne Park. It's not an aesthetically pleasing building, but it's inconspicuously placed between the main railway line and the Westway. Now when it was built all its raw materials were clearly transported by rail, so it made perfect sense, next to Paddington New Yard, but now it appears that the cement no longer arrives by rail. You never see freight trains of bulk powder wagons on the sidings. In fact, I'm not sure that there even are any sidings any more; I suspect that they may have got in the way of Crossrail. So now, not only do we have constant movements of concrete mixers taking the concrete to building sites, but we have the "goods inwards" as well, huge lorries carrying cement and aggregate. I constantly grumble to myself about what these exceptionally heavy trucks are doing to our roads (and how dangerous they are to cyclists) but I have to remind myself that you are obliged to have batching plants like this reasonably close to construction sites, because the concrete only has a limited lifespan once it has been mixed, so no-one is going to close one down that is so convenient for the builders' promised land, which is central London.


The Benefits of Landfill

There are, however, no waste disposal sites in central London. Rubbish has to be transported out. Historically, the Dust Wharf on the Grand Union Canal (just behind Paddington Station) was where the street sweepings were collected before being shipped out on barges. There is still a very big waste disposal contractor based right next to the canal at Willesden Junction, though nothing now travels by barge, certainly not from the Dust Wharf. "Dust" is a Victorian euphemism for faecal matter, which used to be piled up, higher than a house, on the Dust Wharf. The "dust" was carried out into Middlesex and spread on the vegetable fields. Yum, yum! Now, of course, we produce mountains of waste that can't be spread on the fields, and that generally goes into landfill sites, which are mostly old worked-out gravel pits, located in a ring around London (it's one of the useful things the Green Belt accommodates). If you think that's not very nice, try visiting a city in the developing world where nothing has been planned, and the housing has encircled the landfill (which wasn't even in a pit to start with, and so has become a mountain). The landfill sites are at places like Thurrock (where the new Thames tunnel will start) and Sipson, where the third Heathrow runway may eventually be built. A few years ago the government imposed a landfill tax to discourage the use of these sites, and the resulting money is meant to be applied to projects of public benefit. So, we have been after it for years. When we were first planning the project landfill money seemed like a good bet, but you couldn't apply that early, and by the time we were at the right stage, the rules had changed. Finally, we have managed to qualify for some, and the diligence of our fundraisers has been rewarded. So, benefits can come from landfill.      

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

HIGH CULTURE

Seeing Stars

Do you ever see people on the street who resemble the famous? A man looking exactly like David Wagner, the manager of Huddersfield Town FC has just walked past my office window, twice. It seems unlikely to be him, as presumably he should be supervising training somewhere in West Yorkshire, although I did once see the team bus of FC L'Orient on the Edgware Road. The thing was that he was dressed convincingly, as you would expect a football coach to dress. Actually in central London you do genuinely see public figures quite often; it was no surprise to pass Dominic Grieve MP at Westminster Tube Station a couple of weeks ago.  Richard E Grant nearly ran over my mother-in-law while riding his bike across Portobello Road (obviously a few years ago). I could go on.


Back in the UK

I returned from France to a Confirmation Service two days later. Bad planning (there were extenuating circumstances too tedious to go into). I had realised that we had some young people who had been admitted to Communion years ago, but who were now approaching university age, and so should be offered the chance of Confirmation, making an adult commitment now that they are beginning adulthood. So I wanted them confirmed before the autumn term. I was making arrangements when there was no Bishop of London, (and experience suggests that the diocesan bishop is inordinately busy and can never come when you want) and so I approached the Bishop of Fulham, who happens to be an old friend (we were neighbours in Reading). Bishop Jonathan was happy to do it, and informed the new Bishop of London, when she arrived, and she was happy, so that was all fine. I know that some of my neighbours thought I was making a political point by using Bishop Jonathan, but it was really a matter of convenience. I gather that the Bishop of London is intending to use Bishop Jonathan rather more in this way.

Of course I fretted and worried about the service beforehand, but it went well. To be fair, worship at St Peter's is fairly simple and relaxed, so there's not so much scope for things to go amiss. Still we were late starting, as we were waiting for one of the confirmation candidates (and family) to arrive. It's always educative for bishops to encounter rough sleepers as they come into church, and we ticked that box as well. There was a good lunch afterwards, and we were joined by two or three of the St Peter's extended family who use our services but don't make it to worship. Unfortunately the Christian Aid box, containing donations towards my sponsorship, disappeared during lunch, which was a pity. Such is life. Fortunately I had emptied it before church, so there wasn't much in there.


Back to Normal

On my first Monday morning back I had four callers wanting help, some known to me, some new. It doesn't help one to greet everyone with grace and generosity when one is trying to do something fairly complicated on the computer and one is interrupted four times.   

I went to the Police ward panel meeting and learnt about an incident on Westbourne Green that had passed me by. Apparently, about a week before Carnival, one evening when the young men were all hard at work on the gym equipment, an altercation occurred and a shot was fired, which was heard by residents of Gaydon House, who also saw the gym bunnies scattering to the four winds. Apparently it was some sort of spat over drugs. It attracted a lot of immediate police attention, but they were playing it down by the time of the panel meeting. It's all very well being cool and not panicky about these things, but I have a nasty suspicion that the use of guns is beginning to become normalized, and to be regarded as routine, which seems like a step towards America. That worries me.

Apparently the Carnival went off well. People report it as being well-managed and enjoyable. The figure of nearly 300 arrests makes for easy headlines, but compares well to something like the Reading Festival, which involves far fewer people. Bizarrely, there were a couple having breakfast alongside us in the Croydon Premier Inn on Bank Holiday Monday who were heading for the Carnival (former West Londoners, now living in the Midlands).


Literary Legends

Thanks to the generosity of one of the organisers I was invited to a remarkable event; Joan Bakewell in conversation with Margaret Drabble, at The Avenues Youth Club (up in Queen's Park, just off the Harrow Road, next to the Mozart Estate). The Avenues has some well-connected supporters who were able to organise this fundraiser for them. I'm not sure what the actual clients of the youth club made of having a room full of grey-haired folk listening to two elderly ladies talking about novels and Newnham, but actually it was really interesting, because they were bearing witness to the extraordinary changes in women's lives in their lifetime. I would observe that Joan Bakewell (Baroness Bakewell DBE) has remarkable charisma, even at 85. The Avenues now has to fundraise for all its work, as Westminster City Council simply abolished all its spending on youth work. In what universe does that make sense?