Tag Archives: church


To sunny Rochester to see our curate get vicared in Borstal.

For a small suburb surrounded on three sides by a saltmarsh, a motorwpay, and a prison, Rochester is a surprisingly nice place!

And Michael Nazir-Ali doing just about his last formal Anglican thing before not going to Lambeth – which in fact isn;t at Lambeth but just down the coast in Kent in a place he could get to with a bus-pass.

Really badly put-together new developments by the river though. Unimaginative buildings wrongly positioned. If I had time I would rant on them…

rochester_cathedral_6304 rochester_cathedral_6306
rochester_cathedral_6307 borstal_6314
medway_6311 borstal_6323

rochester_cathedral_6302 St Matthew's, Borstal St Matthew's, Borstal

I was going to post links to my photos of Cardiff but it has just taken 2 hours to sort them out and if I don’t leave the office in the next ten minutes I’ll not get home till after 11pm. And then I will be late for work again tomorrow and stay late again and… 🙁

A picture may be worth a thousand words but even with digital cameras its easier and quicker to do a thousand words rthan one decent picture!

And on to Greenwich

Well, that was that. Here is a picture of the index page of the map book I used. Tomorrow I ought to buy another A to Z – that last book was kept going far too long – and focus more on Greenwich.

Second Circumnavigation of London

In a few weeks the Southwark Diocese Reader’s course starts over a month of “placements”. Which, being interpreted, means we go to church somewhere else for a bit. I’m to be at a church in Greenwich on Sunday mornings. At the momenrt it is looking like a good idea to get to know the area better in other ways as well. Walk around the parish. Maybe visit some of the pubs and cafes there. Relocate a bit of my life for a month or so.

I’m looking forward to it. I love an excuse to meet new people or go to new places.

Smoking’s last day at the pub.

To Battersea briefly.

A. went to the Pride march, and I went to the Vicarage Tea Party. OK, it was the sort of Vicarage party with Rioja and Cotes du Rhone, and it wasn’t our vicarage, but it was over soon after eight and I missed the last episode of Dr Who – the things we suffer for the Faith.

St Michael's  Battersea

Has Battersea changed or have I? When I first started visiting London back in the 19-ahem-0s I used to go to Battersea to see friends from Brighton. Some living in a squat, some in one of those slab blocks by the railway. It was one of the grottier bits of London as far as I could tell. Not so different from next-door Stockwell or Vauxhall.

But nowadays I read Battersea as posh.

Maybe it because I’ve been living in Lewisham or nearby for twenty-odd years and compared to South East London Battersea always was a bit upmarket. Maybe its because I’m remembering the area towards the river and this church is up almost on Wandsworth Common. Though even the shops by Clapham Junction (which never was in Clapham, its always been Battersea) are rather trendier and flashier than anywhere in the South East. (Maybe they always were – Battersea, unlike Lewisham, kept its department store, even if it is now only a Debenham’s) Or maybe its creeping Claphamisation. There were certainly plenty of bars with plate glass windows or cafes opening onto the street and rather unfeasibly cute 30-something mothers eating organic food with young kids and with skinny white-haired blokes who in Lewisham I would assume were the children;s grandfathers but here I suspect their fathers.

Round the back of the church a small high-density estate (“…nicely in scale, with pedestrian ways replacing some of the roads” according to Pevsner) that looks a lot like the one I saw in Jarrow the other week.


Behind Cobham Close

Then walking in the pouring rain through some medium-sized streets towards Clapham Common, (“Between the Commons” to estate agents) and a Blast from the Past at the sight of a house. Not because it was unusual but because it isn’t unusual any more. An ordinary house in an ordinary terrace, large bay windows with no net curtains or blinds, almost inviting passers-by to look in. You can see straight through what must have been two rooms knocked into one, with some sort of French doors or large window at the back, so you can see right through to the garden. The floor is polished bare floorboards, with maybe a round, shaggy, dark green rug towards one end. There are tasteful prints on the walls – these vaguely early 20th-century black-and-white drawings of dancers or tramps or something. There is a musical instrument of some sort. Two or three bookshelves, maybe one or two hundred books in them – more than most people will have but still nothing like as many as a vicar or sf fan might.

A young couple, maybe late twenties or early thirties. He is tall and thin and sitting on a chair, dressed all in black, clean-shaven with slightly spiky short hair. She is actually sitting on the floor, with her arm resting on the arm of the chair, smiling up at him in a Sergeant-where’s-mine-evoking sort of way. She’s wearing a chunky knitted jumper. Which she (or rather her mother at the same age) could have been wearing thirty years ago, except she probably wouldn’t have been wearing it on the first of July, such are the strange effects of global warming.

Back in 1967 or 1968 when we were kids helping our Dad campaign for the Labour Party for Brighton Council there were probably five hundred houses like that in Brighton (for all I know they might have been half of the whole number that there were in England) and it sometimes seemed as if we we knew all the inhabitants. These were the sort of Labour supporters who did not (as we had been) live on council estates or in little flats, but had just discovered that you could University lecturers (they were well-off in those pre-Thatcher days), advertising copywriters, architects, people you who didn’t quite seem to do anything for a living but mysteriously ended up working for the government next time Labour got in (and one or two, then in their twenties not in their fifties or sixties, who have been on the outer fringes of the Cabinet these last ten years)


Knocking through was all the rage, and white-washed minimalism and Chinese paper lanterns were big, though on the way out, moving through stripped pine towards “restoring” the “original features”. A fashion that still seems to have the artier half of the middle-middle-aged middle-middle class in its grip. It had just become possible to make a living by stripping out old Victorian and Edwardian decorations from poor people’s houses and selling them to the richer people moving in next door, as the middle classes started to move back into the city centres and inner suburbs. Though it took the government and councils twenty years to notice – so by the end of the 1970s you had councils still wanting to demolish terraces that were by now full of prosperous lawyers and well-informed accountants and replace them by slab blocks and dual carriageways in the name of redevelopment and regeneration, and by the middle of the 1980s millions of people all over the country had knocked through and pulled up carpets – though in a slightly jollier version of the style with walls brightly painted in solid colours, and shiny ethnic ornaments.

The thing that stopped me about this house was the way it was so very, very, exactly like my memories of houses years ago when all this was rare. Though of course it is probably all different really.

Webbs Road Battersea

And of course no photos – as I’m not really given to taking pictures of people I don’t know just as they start a canoodle in their own living room. You can get arrested for that.


Later that same night, waiting in the rain on the north side of Clapham Common for a bus back to urban civilisation, a genuine bus-stop conversation. You don’t get many of those in the South of England. She perhaps 60, years old, from Glasgow. He (or she?) maybe in his thirties, very camp possibly Scouse accent. He being English wants to move on, she is up for a chat.

Had I heard about the idjits in Glasgow who drive a car into the airport? No, I hadn’t – I’d been at a party then walking for a couple of hours.

She reckons its a good thing, as they’ll all take notice in Glasgow now and do something about all the wee Paki shops. Apparently the trouble up there is that these Muslims and Pakis are all integrated. Not like Leeds where she lives now where they all keep themselves to themselves. The thing about the Scots – and especially about Rangers supporters – is that they take no shite. Or so I was told.

On the other hand she (like me) says she has both Protestants and Catholics in the family, so there cause of integration is perhps not yet lost.

Clapham Common North Side

They go indoors. I wait for a 37 bus to Peckham. When it gets to Clapham South a whole load of posh white people get off the bus, and lots of rather less posh black people get on. Battersea is behind me, and the last night of legal smoking in the pub ahead. Once in the pub I win 20 quid at Texas Hold’em which can’t be bad. Though between the beer and fags I must be down on the deal somehow.

Four Calling Birds

To Greenwich on New Year’s Eve (yes, I know it was three days ago but we’re only just recovering today – a Certain Person got out of bed for the first time today just after midnight, and no, it wasn’t me, I was up by 4) to “celebrate a civil partnership” as the URC liturgy put it. You can imagine Basil Fawlty stage-whispering “whatever you do, don’t mention weddings!” while it was being drafted. I found myself sitting next to Alison Adam, who I vaguely recognised from Greenbelt and other places, though I don’t think I’ve ever actually talked to her before. And surprise surprise she led the singing. Rather well as usual. So that was alright.

Great service, if just possibly a teensy-weensy bit long-winded – Meaningful Poems and three or four Bible readings and stuff with loving cups passed round (I only got the non–alcoholic Methodist grape-juice, though it was just as Symbolic, the minister assured us) and hand-holdings, and rings, and some stage-business with the minister’s stole, and signings of things, and having their new wills witnessed (that was a first from my point of view) and various vows and promises. No symbolism left unturned. And pink fizzy wine at the end. I like pink fizzy wine.

And then off to the reception – sorry, party, how can it be a reception without a wedding? and a civil partnership is not a wedding, is it? – which was in a CofE church where the ceremony couldn’t have been for reasons too tedious to go into here, but anyone who has been paying attention will know far too much about already, and which the vicar explained rather well over the meal. Which was a sort of Nepalese buffet and very good too, though it took a long long while to serve as there were rather more people than the room could comfortably hold. Which was just as well – the long while I mean – as I was late, because although I knew the way I made a sort of detour through a council estate I’d not walked through before and then round the corner by the railway so I could walk up Humber Road which has one of the best views in South London. Not quite as good as the view from Nunhead Station of course. So I pottered around taking photos in the dark and the pouring rain. River, Dome, Canary Wharf, more or less the entire London Borough of Newham. Or as my mate Mike insists, “New Ham” – an invented name when East Ham and West Ham were merged and they couldn’t call it “Borough of Ham” could they?

The little device wot copies pictures from my camera is at work, where I amn’t. So maybe some photos get posted here tomorrow or the day after.

Twelve tables in the church, with turned-round pews for seats, and each labeled for one of the twelve days of Christmas from the Partridge-in-a-pear-tree song and all of us sitting where were were planned for. I was slow on the uptake. It took me an hour or so to realise that the table with all the fit-looking women labeled “Ladies Dancing” was the one where all the lesbians were… so then I tried to work out what the others meant. OK, maybe the labels didn’t mean anything, maybe I was making it up. I always was a natural-born conspiracy theorist. “Swans-a-swimming” seemed to be mostly married couples with young kids. “Maids-a-milking” had some older children. We were at “Calling birds” and mostly seemed to be vicars and preachers and religious folk. So is that how I’m seen? Or it could be even more subtle than that of course – according to one widely circulated and totally stringy and almost certainly completely untrue theory of the text of the song each verse refers to some Symbolical Thingy to do with the Church, and Calling Birds are the Four Gospels, which fits with preachers. Or is that going too far? Maybe I am making it up after all.

First time I’ve ever seen belly-dancing in an Anglican church.

Then walking back over Blackheath in the misty rain and smell of dead fireworks, vaguely losing my way, though its hard to tell whether you are lost or not on Blackheath, and I did exit the heath at the right place more or less, though it took about half an hour longer than it should have. For some reason the dodgy knees that are so troubling when going to work on a normal morning, and cause me to wait for a bus rather than walking even the half mile to the station, don’t seem of any moment at all at 1am in the rain tramping back the long way round from Greenwich.

The pub was sort of open when I passed so I popped in. Probably only the third time in my life I’ve been there in a suit, and the other two were after funerals. Bad idea of course. I usually haven’t had anything to drink before I get there, or if I have its just a pint or two from the college bar. On New Year’s night I’d been sipping the wine – mostly pink fizz – since about 5pm. I bowled in, had a pint or two, had some fags, started talking to Simon. No idea what about. Probably made all sorts of fool of myself.

And then challenged B. at pool. And when I went up to play after his break I cued a yellow ball instead of the white. I hadn’t realised quite how worse for the drink I was till that moment. Of course I graciously lost the match (as if I had any choice!) and went back to my stool and witterd on about something else. But later ended up playing Simon the pool captain till the bitter end. And did in fact beat him at one point. I know this because Someone has a mobile phone voicemail from me sent at about 4am that goes something like this: “Bugger. Bugger. Its four in the morning. I feel funny. I’ve just beaten Simon at Pool. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Bugger bugger bugger” except at greater length and with less coherence.

It’s trendy oop North

I’ve been spending a lot of time in north London over the last few days because my Mum is staying at my brother’s house. (He’s not there at the moment himself – another story) We were there over Christmas for three nights and I’ve been up once before and so far twice since.

My main problem with the district is what to call it. Its the northernmost cranny of the London Borough of Islington, in the angle between Holloway Road and Seven Sisters Road. And more precisely is an island of once rather upmarket housing between Hornsey Road, narrow, full of Turkish clubs and shops, and Stroud Green Road, which becomes Crouch Hill round the corner, once an island of West Indian settlement in a mainly white district, and now surprisingly trendy, if still a little downmarket of nextdoor Crouch End, full of theme bars, traditional bakeries, and delicatessens – but we are unreliably informed that Dave Stewart, Bob Hoskins, Lily Allen, Gillian Anderson, Ho Chi Minh, Marina Sirtis, Josette Simon, and most famously Bob Dylan got there first – almost as cool as New Cross!. Climbing up the Northern Heights, full of infill and rebuilding, very densely populated. The local authority ward is “Tollington” but no-ones ever heard of that. I suspect that mildly dishonest estate agents would sell it as “Finsbury Park”, and very dishonest ones as “Crouch Hill”. But both those places are on the border of Hornsey, nowadays in the London Borough of Harringay – which apparently started as a typographical error for “Hornsey”. Or perhaps the other way round. Hornsey Road is not Hornsey, its the road to Hornsey. We’ll have to settle for “Upper Holloway” in the knowledge that most people who hear that name would think of somewhere about a mile to west. Most of the few people who know anything about the detailed layout of inner London suburbs that is,

On Christmas Eve we went to St. Thomas’s Finsbury Park (same street as the better-known mosque) for midnight mass. Wonderful place. Well it was then. Enough incense to blur the edges of the robes of the gold-clad priests against the golden east-facing altar with traditional Christmas carols with dodgy new words bowdlerised by brain-dead Anglo-Catholics from the New Engerlish Horribymnal. All this and a woman celebrant too. Wonderful. Our clothes still smelled of incense the next day.

On Sunday morning and Christmas Day we worshipped at the parish church, St. Mark’s Tollington Park (Rt. Rev. Preb. +Sandy Millar, NSM incumb.) which was really rather nice. I was half expecting – no, be honest, three-quarters expecting – a congregation of young middle-class white couples with excessively clean children, but it wasn’t like that. Well, it was at first, but this was a real Anglican church. Most people arrived late. I sat down two minutes into the service at the back of a mostly white congregation, and stood up an hour later in the middle of a typically Inner London congregation, maybe 40% black , 50% white, the balance made up by Asians. In fact a lot more diverse, both by ethnicity and age, than St. Thomas’s.

Bishop Sandy can certainly preach. Twenty-five minutes of decent rambling evangelicalism, with a gospel challenge at the end. Illustrative quotes from Thomas Merton, the Book of Common Prayer, St. Francis, and the Times. As well as that dubious anecdote about the secret police who burst into a church and said everyone had to leave or they would be shot – I know you know it, so there is no point in repeating it. The burden of the Christmas Eve sermon being that just as we prepare materially for Christmas – food, drink, decorations, presents – so we should be preparing ourselves spiritually for receiving the gift of Jesus Christ. The early church decided, and the Reformers agreed, that today is still the Fourth Sunday of Advent in the church calendar. Which is why we are talking about John the Baptist this morning, and waiting till evening to talk about the baby Jesus.

If I was giving point scores it would be eight out of ten for delivery, nine out of ten for content, but maybe only five out of ten for form and structure – it was all good stuff but you had to keep awake to see how it fitted into his theme. But a good sermon, and we could do with more preachers like him.