From Bloomsbury to Newham

It’s been three weeks since I moved out of my flat on the award winning Lambs Conduit Street. [Genuinely, my former street won a 'Great Street' award last year.] I’m now starting to feel at home in Forest Gate – I’ve worked out various transport options; located a large Sainsbury’s; begun identifying walking routes to places of interest and my landlords have finally returned from holiday and made me feel extremely welcome.

Conduit House

Leaving the wonders of Bloomsbury and Zone 1 life was always going to be a wrench. I’m not sure I have ever lived anywhere that I’ve loved more, that suited me and my interests so well and that was a genuinely lovely community to be part of. (My parents and friends repeatedly tell me that I’ll never live anywhere like it again. That doesn’t help!)

From my flat I could walk in any direction and end up somewhere useful/interesting – Gloucester Road for college in 90 minutes; Wapping for Matryoshka Haus fun in 75; Liverpool Street in 35; Covent Garden in 15; and the South Bank in just under half an hour. Do you know how good it is to be able to walk home from an evening out? To not be frustrated by the eccentricities of public transport and other travellers? [Apparently my 'J-ness', in the MBTI sense, is particularly evident in my belief that walking is always better because the time it takes never varies!] Everyone should live in Zone 1 at least once in their life!

LCS 4 seasons Lambs Conduit Street through the seasons – spied from my bedroom window.

Despite its awards, LCS had its disadvantages. There was the noise – from the wine bar and restaurants late at night, chatter bounced off the high buildings lining a narrow-ish street; from the wine bottle collection every morning (which a year ago moved to 8.45am on weekdays, which was nice and 6.55am on Sundays, which was not); and the accordion player who had recently taken to playing on a regular basis below my window. There was the 6 flights of wonky stairs up to my front door and the insane detail of our rubbish and recycling collections. But honestly, it was a small price to pay for an almost idyllic location. (Idyllic for an urbanite, obviously.)

But, I do genuinely enjoy the experience of getting to know a new (to me) bit of the capital. When I first moved to King’s Cross, I described it as fitting together the patches of a quilt, colouring in sections as I got to know them, and over the last couple of weeks I’ve been busy colouring in a patch just beyond the Bow roundabout. Until a coach journey back from Stansted last month, I’d no idea that Stratford was just beyond that roundabout (I’d only ever visited by tube – yet again the benefits of travelling around London by bus are evident). Now I’m working out routes to the Olympic Park and beyond, establishing where I can get my long distance walking in and piecing together the far end of bus routes I’d used in the city.

Life in Zone 3 is different, but good different. There’s a garden, albeit currently a building site (but I like building sites), which produces amazing produce one would spend a fortune to acquire in one of the city’s many ‘Farmers’ markets. The other night I did battle with my 2 year old housemate over the small number of raspberries ripe for picking in the front garden. We’re currently, as a household, trying to think of a variety of uses for the glut of pears that’s imminent. (Ideas appreciated.)

Garden BountyThis particular bit of Zone 3 also does parks rather well. A long absence from running has been ended thanks to a large flat piece of grassland just 7 minutes walk away (the appropriately named Wanstead Flats) and that’s just the beginning of an epic stretch of park that goes on for miles. No pesky pedestrians will now hinder my runs! I could even try to find a route that takes me into the Olympic Park, which would be good because then I can claim to have run at the Olympics.

Wanstead Flats Finally, while life is generally calm and collected in the new abode, every so often I begin to feel like I’m living in a soap opera…

Albert Square

Accidentally opening cans of worms

As part of my general musing on social media and our behaviour there, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s generally not the place in which to have an informed discussion about a contentious issue. Twitter especially – 140 characters is not conducive to erudite arguments. Regardless of the platform, nuances are missed when views are typed rather than spoken. There’s a tendency to type first, think later. To not care about the person whose avatar you’re responding to. To always reply, because you can.

A direct result of this was a decision to not get involved in such discussions, unless what I could bring to the table was helpful. For example, I recently stayed silent during a 150+ comment Facebook thread on feminism when one commenter ranted over many comments and in thousands of words as to why feminism undermined men. (Other people got involved, it wasn’t like their views were going unopposed.) I don’t get involved when friends who have opposing political views to mine rant on social media. There are times and places for these kind of discussions and quite frankly, I really don’t think Facebook or Twitter ever is that place.

That is not to say that I sit and let debate pass me by. That I don’t raise my head above the parapet on things that are important. [In fact, I have two defined areas in which I'm committed to speaking up, but perhaps more on that on another occasion.] I also have a huge amount of respect for friends/acquaintances/random people on Twitter who do stand up for their opinions and receive vitriol from total strangers in return. It’s just really, I’d rather be speaking my piece in real life, with the nuances of the spoken word and preferably the convivial atmosphere of a pub.

But, every so often, these debates come right out of left field and I inadvertently get caught in the midst of them. Like earlier this month when an innocent photo in my holiday album accidentally resulted in a can open, worms everywhere situation.

It was from my Parisian adventure in July and had actually gone entirely unnoticed initially, until a friend commented and I replied – throwing it into the newsfeed of many of my friends. All of a sudden, things went a bit mad…

Parisian Locks

I happen to have a VERY strong opinion on the issue of ‘love locks’ on bridges (anywhere, not just in Paris). I’d ranted about this during the Easter Chateau Duffy trip and had been shouted down by a couple of people who accused me of being a bitter single person, moaning about the things couples do to express their love. Now, if you’ve read this blog for more than a couple of months, you should be well aware that I am a hopeless romantic. That nothing pleases me more than gestures that could be taken straight out of the plot of a Richard Curtis movie. I am not bitter or twisted. My issue with love locks is that the bridges came first, the locks came later and the former was not designed for the purpose of the latter. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the locks are causing big problems for some bridges – so much so that some Parisians are calling for them to be banned. For goodness sake, in June, part of the side of the Pont des Arts collapsed because of the locks!

Anyway, this photo prompted a massive discussion as to whether it was right to remove them; whether people were right to put them there, whether those criticising it were being unromantic etc etc. As I was moving house at the time, I didn’t get involved until late in the day – right after a friend provided the scientific evidence for my argument being correct (thank you geeky friends), but by that point the photo had already been shared by someone I’d never met (a friend of a friend) who was criticising my views over on their wall.

(Oh, and someone suggested coloured ribbons would be an excellent lightweight compromise on the padlock thing. Happy couples of Europe, try that for a while and see what happens!)

It’s now died down, I think everyone’s happy, and we’ve moved on. But I mention it to demonstrate the craziness that can be caused by something that really, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t something to get your knickers in a twist about. And, if this can happen over an innocent photo, what on earth do we expect to happen when it’s genuine hot potato of an issue? 

Construction and confection

Cake making is something I know a fair amount about. Not a lot. Not in comparison with Berry or Hollywood, but I have a reasonable grasp of the subject. Enough to use it for illustrative purposes in every day life…

…well, when I say ‘every day life’, I mean life on a construction site. Specifically, the small patch of French land a group of dysfunctional wannabe builders like to refer to as Chateau Duffy.

I’ve made the analogy before, but I think only in retrospect. On this trip, it genuinely became the logical way for me to pass on the knowledge I’d been given regarding cement mixing in a cement mixer.

The beauty of cake making is that it’s a shared knowledge. Most people understand the principles of icing, mixing in dry ingredients, ensuring everything is combined etc – thanking you GBBO. Will, a professional builder, taught me everything I needed to know about cement mixing (which I handily filmed on my phone for future reference – do shout if you have pointing needs), but it was then up to me to ensure that anyone the task was delegated to knew the ropes too. And this was where the universal language of cake making proved its worth…

For a start, there’s not a lot of difference between a cement mixer and a Kenwood. Well, aside from the 63.5 litre difference in mix capacity. And the fact that one requires you to shovel the ingredients into it, while the other needs only a delicate spoon or a shaking of packet. Plus the important issue of cement mix not being edible (it really, really isn’t – trust me). Also, unless you have an allergy to icing sugar, I don’t think you’d need to wear a face mask to prevent the inhalation of dangerous components. But there are similarities, trust me!

Mixing

You need to regularly pause the machine in order to scrape the dry ingredients away from the sides of the bowl and into the wet mix. As is the case with icing, it’s important to not add too much water. Doing it gradually, in between the addition of bucketfuls of sand, helps ensure that the mixture isn’t overly wet. As in the world of baking, working with overly wet cement is a flipping nightmare – won’t stay where it’s meant to, runs off your implements, dribbles down the sides. Dreadful calamity. You also have to make sure the bowl’s at the right angle so that the batter/cement doesn’t splatter the kitchen or your face. Like this: 

Splattered FaceAs with kitchen mixers, it can be tricky to clean a cement mixer. Ever tried to remove firmly set royal icing from the blades of a mixer? Dried cement is very similar in consistency and adherence. The difference? I’m pretty sure Mary Berry would throttle me if I attempted to clean a Kenwood using large rocks. (Although, it is an interesting principle – that the action of the rocks hitting the bowl, with some water added, helps to break down the dried on stuff. I am wondering what could be used in a domestic context…) Oh, and as with washing up a mixer, beware splatters – again!

Splattered. Again. The front of my t-shirt reads ‘time to play dirt or tan’ – it’s my 2014 Chateau Duffy themed shirt – and was a very apt choice for that day! 

However, do you know where baking analogies fall down? When you’re trying to educate teenage boys in the ways of cement mixing.

Men MixingAs observed from atop of a scaffold. 

And the point of all this cement? Pointing. Obviously.

We did good. In fact, we did very good. What had taken our builder friend Will a couple of weeks to do on a similar project took us about three days. It helps when you have an enthusiastic team! We’ve done some pointing before on previous trips, but some of it wasn’t quite up to scratch and had to be gone over; other parts hadn’t been touched at all. By the day we left, the whole of the front of the house is now re-pointed (the less said about the back, the better) and honestly, it looks like somewhere you might actually want to live!

Before:

Chateau Duffy 2007Very much ‘before’. This was 4 years before our first trip.

After:

Re-pointed, 2014Doesn’t it look lovely? (Just imagine that dismantled scaffold rig isn’t there. And that the window was back to being a window. And you didn’t need to wear a hard hat indoors…)

It should also be mentioned that a second mezzanine level has (partly) been constructed inside the house and the level that was built last year now has permanent support. Plus, the bathrooms have started to take shape, which is a massive deal. All of a sudden there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel!

Departing Chateau Duffy, 2014Departing Chateau Duffy. [NB: that un-pointed bit at the top of the house is deliberate - there's going to be a window there too.] 

Past, present and future

Many of you will be aware that there has been a stoney silence as far as my post-Vicar School plans are concerned. While people may think that the entirety of my life is shared with social media [it really isn't, ever], there has been a significant absence of information regarding my next steps.

What should have happened was this: in June, I’d have finished Vicar School; said goodbye to St George’s; moved house; gone on an ordination retreat; been ordained a Deacon; and begun work in a brand new parish. I only managed the first two in June and the third happens tomorrow. The ordination bit has been delayed for a year.

As of today, I can officially say what these next steps are. Next month, I’ll be returning to St Mellitus to spend a year studying a MA in Christian Leadership. On the side, I’ll be doing some freelance research type things [if you have research/writing needs, do get in touch!] while at the same time sorting out a curacy for 2015. I’m moving to Forest Gate (just beyond Stratford) tomorrow, living with some Matryoshka Haus friends who happen to need lodgers right now – as they’ve just put in a hot tub, it should be an excellent home for the next 10 months.

That short explanation puts things very simply, but in reality, the last year has been something of a roller coaster. The curacy process was not an easy one – there were No’s, disappointments and doors that stayed firmly shut – and by Easter it really didn’t look as though things would work out in time for June’s ordinations. As most of my classmates had their curacies sorted out by Christmas, I’d endured a long, seemingly never-ending period of not knowing what was happening yet, while all those around me were excitedly making plans for the next three years. Thankfully, I happen to have studied amongst the best people. Friends who wouldn’t ask the dreaded question unless I volunteered information and who regularly pressed tissues into my hands. Tutors who were unbelievably supportive and made lots of time for me to talk and process things. Countless people who checked in to see how I was doing, who prayed, made tea and generally tried to help me see a way through the fog.

When you’ve been working towards a particular outcome for years, it’s incredibly demoralising when it doesn’t seem to be happening. God had called me into ordination training, the end point of this is meant to be ordination and a lifetime of ministry. Why wasn’t it happening for me? [There are lots of possible answers to that, but I'm not dwelling on them here.] Where was God in all of this? Why me? I had a great report, I’d done well at college and in my placement – why couldn’t I find the right curacy? I was left frustrated, disappointed and rather angry.

God is in the details Spotted this in the window of a shop around the corner from my flat back in February. True words. 

Watching my friends – the people I’ve been alongside for the last three years, going through all kinds of joy and trials together – go on to the next stage without me was horrible. Early on in the year it was easy enough to put on a brave face, heading off to the vestments fair (buying a cassock that has gone unworn in the process) moderately cheerfully, for example. Presenting on my current placement  in our final assessment, while everyone else used their new parish was tough (but at least gave me something of a head start). Standing up in front of the whole college on Leavers’ Sunday and admitting that I had no idea what was next took all the guts I could summon up – but the response I received to my prayer requests was staggering and I was so glad I hadn’t bottled it. As for ordination weekend, I didn’t hide away but instead greeted my London friends on the steps of St Paul’s as they emerged from the service. Their delight at seeing me there made it worth it, as did a fabulous drinks party overlooking the city. Combine that with excellent people paying me a flying visit the following day, and actually it was nowhere near as bad I’d feared.

What I’ve had to hold on to is that this isn’t ‘never’, it’s ‘not yet’. I will be ordained. It is what God’s calling me to do. I am going to be a perfectly decent Vicar. Just not this year. And this year won’t be a waste, God’s got plans for it – I’m just still in the process of working out exactly what they might be! I’m back in the curacy process for 2015, so all being well this time next year I’ll be a fresh-faced curate. I’m not the first ordinand this has happened to and I won’t be the last.

Remember why you started I discovered this at a church craft fair before Christmas & it’s sat on my desk ever since. 

So, this year…

I’ve had a long-held plan to do more theological study (there’s a PhD idea in the offing) so a MA would clearly be a good step in that direction. Part of the delay in announcing my plans is thanks to having gone through a process of applying to the Church of England for funding for the course, a process that took forever – I received the result nearly a month after I’d had my interview. This too was a no, but thankfully, an alternative option has come up, one that I’m exceedingly grateful for.

Today, I went into college to talk to my tutor & the person in charge of the MA – just to clarify my thoughts and to make a final decision. Chatting with them reminded me yet again of just how supportive St Mellitus is as a place to train [honestly, best theological college ever!] and that in no way is this a soft option for a year. Having managed to land a First last month, I am going to be stretched and encouraged to realise my fullest theological potential. There were also conversations about other things I might get involved with and general enthusiasm from everyone I met that I’d be back next month. I left the building feeling excited about the next year for the very first time. That is a long time to have not been excited!!

I won’t be working at a church, but I am looking for a new one to belong to (things aren’t that desperate!!) Hopefully I’ll get to preach occasionally [invitations welcome], and I’ll still be part of the college worshipping community (albeit minus a significant number of friends – luckily I have some in others years too). It has the potential to be very exciting – I get to check out the ways different churches work; visit newly ordained pals in their parishes; spend a good chunk of time working on a relationship with God that’s been rather bruised of late; and bury my head in some fascinating theology.

As for what you can do…

  • If you’re a praying person, please pray – for my move; for settling into a household that’s going to be quite a contrast to my quiet 2 bedroom flat (especially as there’s only been me since June); for the new year and adapting to a new way of studying and working; for getting enough work to finance the year; and for the curacy process as its gears start to whir.
  • As the months progress, I’ll keep you posted when I have concrete information. If I’m not saying anything, please don’t ask (unless you’re an in real life friend). Trust me, I’ll be shouting from the hill tops once it’s all sorted! (I know that there are some people on Twitter who love to have discussions about CofE processes there, but I am not one of them!)
  • Be patient. I’ve really struggled with blogging over the last 6 months, because there was this massive part of my life that I couldn’t write about. A new friend of mine gave me some very wise advice last week, suggesting that I write up all that I’ve felt this year out of the public eye, and I’m going to do that, if only for journalling purposes. But when things are tricky in life, writing becomes really hard – which is hugely frustrating! But trust me, I will try and make sure the wit & wisdom continues somehow.

To those who have very much been alongside me on this journey, thank you SO much. Even a verbose blog post can’t say just how grateful I am to you all!

The light at the end of a 9 and a half hour journey

Yesterday, the crew from the 6th trip to Chateau Duffy returned from a week of fun, food and a lot of work. In a moment, I’m off to see how much of my ‘tan’ is left once I’ve had a thoroughly good shower, but first, I’m going to revel in the memories of what I was doing exactly 8 days ago.

Given that the dates for the trip were fixed in late 2013, it’s pretty ridiculous that I ended up delaying my flight booking until the only flight to Limoges on the 26th was fully booked! An alternative route to the Chateau was required – Eurostar was full too (curse school holidays) but as long as I could get myself to Paris I could join a car convoy heading south. And thus, I found myself at Victoria Coach Station on a Friday evening, ready to board a 9 and a half hour coach journey to the French capital. Nine and a half hours. Overnight. On a coach (and a ferry). Not at all my kind of transport! [Incidentally, when you start telling people that you're planning on taking this trip, everyone will turn out to have their own horror story of the one time they did it. No one, it appears, does it more than once!]

In all honesty, it was fine. Aside from the couple in front of me who snogged consistently throughout the journey, except when they were asleep – at which point they both fully reclined their seats squashing me into a teeny-tiny space. And aside from having to get onto a ferry at 1am. And aside from it being a flipping long time. But all was forgotten when we pulled into the coach park at Port Malliot. I woke up (three and a half hours of sleep, that’s a win) just as we slowed down and caught a glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe out of my window. Immediately, all plans of heading straight to where my friends were staying (and waking them up in the process) were shelved, and instead, I had a overwhelming desire to see as much of Paris as I could, in the few hours I had available to me.

Arc de Triomphe

Paris at 7am on a Saturday morning is a very quiet place. The only people I saw were through the windows of boulangeries and a long line at the Algerian embassy. It was a massive contrast to my first trip to the city three years before, when hoards of tourists ploughed through the streets, taking all the obligatory photos. I walked towards the Arch, arriving at 7am to a sight that very few tourists have photographed:

Triomphe, desertedNo people. No cars. Only pigeons. 

A fifteen minute walk down one of the roads off the circle stood the Eiffel Tower (well, the park across the river from it – but it was the view I wanted). A few more people were around by this point, but mostly the ever-present Parisian hawkers and just a few bleary eyed tourists. This is clearly when they take the postcard photos.

Eiffel reflected

I was on a roll. I checked a map to see what else I could hit before needing to rendez-vous at Gare du Nord and figured that a walk along the Seine at 7.30am would be a good way to spend an hour. Would it matter that I was still towing my suitcase along? No. This was too good an opportunity to miss. After all, I just spent the night in a cramped coach seat, and was about to take a 4 hour drive, so the leg stretching was definitely needed.

IMG_7249

Musee d'Orsay

Louvre

One of my favourite spots in Paris is the area around Notre Dame, but I was aware from my map reading that this was a long way from where I’d begun my riverside stroll. (I’ve just checked, it’s 3 miles – and I’d already walked 2 to get there.) However, when I’ve got a target in mind, I’m a determined individual, so despite the 14kg case and the sleep deprivation, onwards I went!

A glimpse of Notre Dame

Shakespeare & CoOnly disadvantage of it still being pre-10am was that this fabulous place was still shut.

It’s unsurprising that by the time I decided I should catch the Metro and find my friends I was rather over-tired and unable to make sense of Parisian transport and its weekend engineering works. But, being Paris, there was an attractive French man who came to my aid not once but twice (well, the first time he managed to point me towards a closed station, so it was only fair that he rescue me again) – even carrying my bag down to the platform and engaging me in London-based conversation until we reached his stop. Paris, you were an excellent place to be that morning!

So, the moral is this. (There is a moral, this wasn’t simply an excuse to drop a ton of holiday photos on you.) Get up early. Get out and walk around. See the touristy sights, but do it when the regular tourists are still sleeping or just sinking their teeth into a glorious croissant. You don’t need to get an overnight bus to do it (you really, really do not) but just make the effort, you really will be rewarded. It’s a lesson I’ve learnt from my years of occasionally walking across London first thing in the morning – you see things in a new, cleaner way and the light is so much better. Plus, you’ll feel slightly smug for the rest of the day.

Actually, I’ll be feeling slightly smug for quite some time – I’ll be keeping that Arc de Triomphe photo on my phone for ages, just to prove that I was there when no one else was!

Tour d’Angleterre

Given that I rarely attend live sporting events, it’s somewhat unlikely that I would be present at two internationally renowned fixtures within a week of each other – but, such are the joys of living in London in July 2014!

You know about my Wimbledon obsession, but despite several visits to London over the years, I’ve never bothered to go and watch le Tour en route through the capital. (In fact, on one of these occasions, I instead babysat a restless 6 year old who would not have enjoyed the spectating process at all.) Given that I had little better to do last Monday afternoon than stand by the side of a road and watch bikes – plus, a new Matryoshka Haus intern was very keen on spectating – I figured this year was a good year to start.

Unless you’ve been living under a stone (or outside the UK) you’ll be aware that the country went Tour mad last week. Especially in Yorkshire. Choosing to hold the Grand Depart in that particular county was a stroke of genius, Yorkshire – and anyone who could get there over the weekend – rejoiced in all things cycling for 48 hours. This included my father, who not only has a passion for cycling (as I noted during a recent visit of his to London, where our urban perambulations were frequented with pauses to examine bikes locked up along the road) but also has parents who own a mobile home on Ilkley Moor. For the first time in the history of this holiday property, it had a real use as it provided Dad with easy access to key points along the route.

TDF Yorkshire

Dad likes to keep the family updated while he’s away and his emails to us are always amusing – the weekend of le Tour was no disappointment and whetted my appetite for what would await me on Monday. Here are some extracts:

A Sad Finish:
“We were all cheering Mark Cavendish till he crashed. Looks like he’ll be out of the tour. 
Off to look for fish and chips soon.
The day has been so sunny I had to get a new sun hat.” [This was the entire email. I love the way Dad's mind works.]

Le Tour Day Two:
“The tour seems to be the biggest thing to hit Yorkshire since the wars of the Roses.
This morning walked through a series of lanes and footpaths to Silsden. Little knots of pilgrims were converging along the lanes with their yellow T shirts and folding chairs. It was a bit reminiscent of the closing scenes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

I stood on the upper high st where people had simply taken their dining chairs out of the house onto the pavement. Still thousands on the streets. Silsden has obviously never seen the like and everywhere – homes and businesses – was decorated. Personally, I thought the yellow wreath hanging on the door of the funeral director was a bit tasteless!

I listened to Radio Leeds to find out how near the race was and heard a wonderful interview with a spectator: ‘I’ve been in t’ Champs Elysee for the end of the Tour, but it were nowt compared wi t’ Keighley bypass today’. Yorkshire pride doesn’t get prouder than that! Afterwards I had soup at the Methodist Church where they were doing a roaring trade in light lunches. Paused to admire their knitted bike and watch a bit of the race on their screen.”

TDF Yorkshire 2

Surely it would be just as exciting in London? London, the most successful Olympic host city in the history of the games? Well, perhaps if I’d gone to one of the Spectator Hubs. But even if I’d done that, I think I’d still have been a little disappointed. Yes, there was a great atmosphere – despite the torrential rain that arrived just as it was clear that the cyclists weren’t going to arrive on schedule – but we were definitely lacking in yellow decorations!

Cameron and I waited for nearly two hours just below Monument. We had a pretty good view and were right on the roadside, and it did give Cameron time to share his knowledge of the tour, cycling and other professional tours – ensuring that I wasn’t quite the cycling imbecile I might have been. 3G signal was minimal, preventing any attempts at keeping track of where the peloton was. Instead, we had to rely upon the positioning of stewards, the sound of helicopters approaching and the noise of clapping further up the route.

A damp view Our excellent, but damp, view. 

In typically brilliant timing, my phone spontaneously ran out of battery (despite being on 35%, grrrr – entirely the fault of my external battery charging cable giving up its ghost that same afternoon). As a result, I only have the above photo and this one. This is not a competitor in le Tour, it’s some joker who pedalled down the route 15 minutes before the professionals. He caused a lot of excitement.

Fake cyclist

Fortunately, Cameron made the most of the 30 seconds it took the riders to pass us:

Le Tour en LondresSee, so close!

In honesty, it was a bit of an anti-climax! Especially when photos of friends’ experiences in Cambridge began appearing on Facebook – they’d managed to photograph more than one cyclist. One friend, who had been singing in front of a college to celebrate the tour (how very Cambridge!) had a marvellous view of the pack as they set off – largely thanks to an enforced speed limit at the start. Those of us towards the end of the course caught them in their final sprint. Quite the contrast.

Still, please Tour de France, don’t hesitate to return to our shores very soon!

Permission granted to wear purple (should I aspire to)

I will never forget the evening of November 20th 2012. As I reflected on the morning of the 21st, I hadn’t expected the failure of the women bishops’ legislation at General Synod to hit me quite so hard, but it did. For me and for many within (and outside) the Church of England, that very public, very painful moment had a huge impact.

18 months ago, we didn’t quite realise that new legislation would get through quite so quickly – originally, it was believed it would have to wait until a new Synod was elected in 2015. But wisely, those in charge thought differently and enabled the revised measures to go through the system in (realistically) the shortest time possible for the government of the Church of England.

I’d love to be able to tell you that I had a great story of where I was when I heard the vote had gone through, but I don’t. I was in my bathroom, cleaning – or rather, I’d interrupted my cleaning to watch the live stream of Synod. A live stream that was too over-burdened by demand and didn’t finish loading until the results had been announced. The thunderous applause gave me a clue as to which way it had gone, as did the text I immediately received from my mother containing two words: “Deo Gratis!” [Yes, that is the way in which Clutterbucks like to rejoice.]

Yet again, I was surprised by my reaction – the hands holding my phone were shaking and when a good chum rang me minutes later (entirely unaware of what had just happened, she just usually rings me at 4.30pm on a Monday), I could barely hold a conversation together. Partly thanks to my excitement and partly because of social media’s explosion of joy. Finally, on paper, women are on an equal footing with men in the Church of England.

Episcopal PedicureIn 2012 I had an intentional episcopal purple manicure. Monday’s pedicure was entirely accidental, but welcomed!

Looking back, what has also surprised me is how much we needed that 18 months of delay. I know that I wouldn’t have said this at the time – and some may disagree – but I think its done the church an awful lot of good.

    • The revised legislation is better. That was clear from many of the speakers on Monday – hearts and minds had been changed and that was a very large step forward.
    • While many felt the issue would divide the church, I actually believe that if anything, post-no vote, church unity was more evident. On the one hand, different church denominations have come together in their condemnation of the No vote. But within the CofE itself, groups and traditions that would usually be miles apart from each other, came together in solidarity for women in the church. Personally, I’ve benefitted hugely from the Gathering of Women Leaders, an ecumenical group of women in leadership who have been hugely supportive of women across the board (not just us Anglican ones!).
    • Was the extra 18 months also required in order to fan the flame of flame of passion for the cause of women within the Church of England? Yes, there was already a fervent campaign for women bishops, but with many assuming Synod would pass the legislation in 2012, was complacency a problem? Have we now realised that we cannot afford to be complacent (on this or any other issue) and that there is actually a fight that needs to be fought? It may feel like a broken record, but as far as women in the church are concerned, numbers still need to be counted; inequalities noticed, reported and resolved; and voices shouted. There’s still a long way to go.

Yesterday, a new chapter in the Church of England’s history began. It’s an exciting one, but it doesn’t mean an end to the discussion of gender in the church. There are many who are not rejoicing today, and we should remember them. Just because women will soon join the episcopate does not mean there will now be equal representation of women throughout the church.

Yesterday, a good start was made, but it will need a lot of effort, co-operation and courage for things to change.

Something old and something new

I have two history degrees. I like old things. I particularly like the old things that reside in London. And this is why I now have a reputation for being something of a tour guide on call for visitors (generally Americans) arrive in the best of Big Smokes. Thanks to guiding a couple of Texans around the city two years ago, this reputation is particularly valued by Matryoshka Haus. The arrival of interns or random visitors often elicits a request for a tour, which I’ll usually provide unless utterly overwhelmed with work.

Touring with Shannon & LaurenAs 2013 MH intern Lauren put this at the time (she’s unpictured – this is me chatting to her friend Shannon), I was their “Royal racontour”. Got to love Lauren’s puns…

Two weeks ago, I did it again, this time for the winners of Matryoshka Haus’ regular raffle prize of a trip to London. Suzy and Jeff had never left North America before, and this trip coincided with their 25th anniversary. No pressure there then! As ever, it was a joy to show off the city. In case you’re interested (or want your own – my fees are reasonable…) the tour begins at Embankment station, travels along the Embankment to Westminster, around the Palace, across Parliament Square, down Whitehall, through Horse Guards and into St James’ Park towards Buckingham Palace. It’s a nifty way of getting in the best-known landmarks in a minimal amount of time. But, while I was showing my new friends sights that were old friends to me, it turned out they had something new (yet old) for me.

Jeff & SuzyAmerican guests on the bridge mid-way through St James’ Park – one of the best spots to get a view of the Eye, or Buckingham Palace.

It turned out Jeff had one burning desire for his trip to London – a visit to the Churchill War Rooms. He wasn’t sure if they were open [bad Imperial War Museum, the pop-up notice that the main museum is currently shut is not helpful when looking at the website of one of your other sites!!], but we popped by en route to Horse Guards and discovered it was indeed. We immediately joined the queue (and met some Americans who had lived/worked in the same neighbourhoods as my Americans – because the world is that small and American tourists really like to chat with each other) and the visitors were incredulous that I’d never been before.

Turn off the switchThe signs were terribly polite in WW2.

It’s got to be said, it is VERY worth shelling out the dosh to visit! I can’t believe this historic site was nearly left to rot away into an historical footnote – saved by the efforts of Michael Heseltine, of all people. The rooms that housed the Cabinet office and its staff during WW2 have been preserved (or restored, some were used as storage rooms after the war) meaning that you get an excellent idea of what it would have been like to work down there (one word: unpleasant). Utterly fascinating – even for non-History buffs – especially as everyone is issued with a highly informative audio guide. Mid-way through the tour, there’s a newer section featuring a museum of Churchill’s life (hence the change in name just over a decade ago) which has been done brilliantly – especially the virtual filing machine style timeline of his life laid out across a table at its centre.

A key on his majesty's serviceA secret key? 

The moral of this tale? It is never too late to discover new joys in London!

Talking of new joys. An actual new joy – as in physically new, as opposed to new to me – is the Shard. Specifically, as discovered a week ago, its cocktails on the 55th floor (the views aren’t too shabby either).

Shard cocktailsThat would be a Spring Julep, served in a frozen mini chalice. (Oh, and note to parents: my hair has changed since this photo…)

Shard ViewThe view from the 55th floor.

Friday Fun for sports fans in mourning

Disclaimer: this week’s fun isn’t necessarily sport related, it’s just that I’m aware that fans of both football & tennis could do with some cheering up this week…

First up, a rather niche piece of TfL fun – that will make sense only to devotees of the BBC’s flagship film review radio programme. (Aka Wittertainment.)  A couple of weeks ago, there was a conversation about film-related names that sound like tube stations, so someone made a map. Genius.

Wittertainment tubeCredit.

You’ll note that some station names aren’t ‘names’, rather random phrases like ‘Totes Emosh’, ‘Dead Amaze’ and ‘Clergy Corner’. These are Wittertainment in-jokes and at this point, I’d like to publicly congratulate Revd Phil Hoyle for making his debut in the aforementioned Clergy Corner the week after he was priested. An inspiration to all of us clergy/nearly clergy types who aspire to such heights.

Continuing the London theme, there’s a trend of visualising various bits of data over maps – and this one of photos taken in London is particularly pretty. Yellow dots are outdoor photos, purple at night/indoor. It’s a great way of spotting tourists’ favourite spots, as well as other concentrations of photographers – like gigs at the O2 in Greenwich.

London Photography Map by Alex Kachkaev and Jo Wood, giCentre, City University London

In other map news, the history geek within me was very taken with this animation of the changing borders in Europe over the last 1000 years. You need to watch rather closely, and potentially several times, in order to take it all in, but it’s a brilliant piece of work. Fun and educational!

Finally, just to keep things incredibly diverse, some text-based fun. Thanks to Twitter, I’ve been alerted to the existence of a blogger who has been chronicling her responses to the movies that defined her coming-of-age years, when watched in the present day. It helps that she’s a similar age to me, so the films are ones that are favourites of mine too. These are LONG blog posts, that’s the whole point of the exercise. Take her most recent one on While You Were Sleeping, published last month: ‘While You Were Sleeping: 19 Years and 6,000 Words’. But they are fun to read, especially if you’re a contemporary of hers. Trust me! Other films featured so far are 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s All That. You won’t look at either in the same way again.

It pays to be persistent…

I’m generally a pretty persistent person. When I come up with an idea or a plan, I will intentionally go about my business until I’ve achieved it. I like to think of this as one of my better character traits.

Every so often, this persistence really pays off. And I mean REALLY…

Long-term readers/Twitter followers/Facebook friends will be well-aware of my passion for Wimbledon. [Incidentally, I finally caved to downloading TimeHop last week and predictably, there hasn't yet been a day that hasn't mentioned the tournament.] This year, owing to some unforeseen free time during the tournament, I was determined to make the most of it – so last week, a plan was hatched with a couple of friends to pay a visit on the first Friday. However, the MET Office app declared much heavy rain and thunderstorms for that day when checked the night before, so we called it off. Not a drop of rain fell on SW19 that Friday. Sod’s Law.

In the queue The finest queue in all of England. 

We rescheduled for Monday, when one of the friends landed a ticket. The plan was that I’d queue and then meet her inside (we had some celebratory Pimm’s drinking to do) – which was fine by me, as I usually enjoy the queueing element of the experience. (Honestly, it has to be done!) This time though, I made a couple of errors (missed the first tube, got the wrong station – don’t ask!) and combined with it being the earliest in the tournament I’ve attended, the queue was VERY long. Every other time, I’d purchased my ticket before the gates opened at 10.30. This time it was gone midday before I’d even got to the turnstiles. Add to the mix the frustrating families queuing near me, and it wasn’t as joyous as in previous years – although thankfully, it was super hot and I had an excellent book.

However, I managed less than an hour of sunny tennis watching because then, irony of ironies given Friday’s debacle, the heavens opened and I found myself on The Hill [I cannot call it the mount/mound] in what the MET Office app described as a ‘light shower’ but instead felt like a mini monsoon. I had been sitting on a pac-a-mac and had used my newer waterproof as some form of water resistant blanket. At one point I mused that there ought to be a waterproof equivalent of the Slanket, so I could cocoon myself in waterproof-ness, avoiding the puddles that were collecting in the folds of my mat. Then I realised that there was, in the form of the much older poncho, and felt like a twit.

Wet souls on the hillI was very envious of the souls who had acquired the picnic benches! 

Anyway, within half an hour the storm had passed. I’d acquired both a cup of tea (purchased from a surprisingly short queue) and my Wimbledon companion, and we set off to see some live tennis while the sun shone. One British victory later (in the 1st round of the Girls’ Singles) and it was time to climb the hill for Murray’s fourth round match with the until now unknown South African, Anderson. All went well – Murray took the lead and was playing well – until the rain came down again.

Boulter beats HomUnseeded Brit Boulter beats the Girls 13th seed Hom. (It’s great what you happen to witness while taking a stroll around the grounds.)

A lesser mortal might have departed for warmer climes at this point. Or, at the very least, a pub showing the match on a big screen, rather than a patch of grass becoming soggier by the minute. But, after another stop for tea during the break to bring the roof over Centre Court, we returned to the hill (standing on steps rather than grass) and stood it out for the final set. The hill is THE place to watch a Murray victory (if you can’t get into the court itself) and we Brits stood firm. Clad in cagools, bearing umbrellas, and silently judging fashionistas tip-toeing over the mud in their fancy shoes, we made the best of a damp situation. I was not alone in rejoicing that Murray wrapped things up in 3 sets. [Things were so bad that I don't even have a photo of this!]

Departing after Murray’s victory at nearly 7pm would have been quite acceptable, but I had a plan that had been brewing ever since I missed out on a Centre Court ticket for the final set of Murray’s 2013 semi-final. [There was a pause to put the roof over, during which we queued for returns - we were asked if any of us were 'on our own', had we gone for the single tickets, we'd have got in - and we only realised this just too late!] This year, I was determined to get onto Centre, so as Murray’s fans departed, I sought out the end of the Centre Court returns queue…

Wimbledon is special, there’s no underestimating that. Each of my trips there have been special in their own way, and I have great memories. [2002 - No1 Court tickets in the queue; 2003 - Ladies' QF's on No1; 2004 - rain stopped all play; 2013 - immense sun & Murray's 2nd victorious semi...] But, in five trips (this was number 6) there had been something missing – a seat on that hallowed court that I’d watched on TV countless times. In 2012, I’d hoped for Olympic tickets there, but no. I was never going to be the kind of person to queue for them (you have to be a hard-core camper) and I’ve never joined the ballot in the hoping of getting some myself. But Centre? That was always going to be the icing on the cake.

…when I arrived at the queue, I was warned that there was ‘several hours wait’. I decided that this was rubbish. I’ve been to Wimbledon (and watched enough of it on TV) to know the following:

  • Murray matches are the big draw. When his game ended so late in the day, a lot of people will have left.
  • Many people coming to Wimbledon travel a long way. They’ll have booked tickets or have long journeys to get home that evening. On a ‘normal’ day, one might expect matches to be done by 7.30pm (it’s why Today at Wimbledon’s scheduled for 8pm).
  • Play had just re-started on the other courts, so other wet tennis fans would try their chances there, rather than the queue.

Women's DoublesThe returns queue overlooked this court, so at least we got to watch tennis while we waited. 

I was so confident that I wouldn’t have a long wait (despite approximately 400 people ahead of me) that I shared these opinions with a British guy behind me, who was trying to persuade his Mum that queuing was a good idea. (We did a lot of chatting, we were highly un-British.) For half an hour the queue moved at a steady pace and my theories were proved correct. When I was still around 70 people away from the front, a steward came along calling out to those on their own. It was my moment to redeem last year’s fool-hardiness. “I’m on my own!” I cried, and eagerly handed over my £10 in exchange for a ticket. One high-five from the lovely British guy later, and I was jogging through the club down to Centre Court. Mission accomplished. 

[At this point, I'd like to give a massive shout-out for Wimbledon's fabulous returns system. This year it celebrates its 60th anniversary, raising £1.75million since 1954. When leaving the grounds, show court ticket holders are invited to have their tickets scanned, and the info is then relayed to the returns office by the hill who resell them for £10 a ticket. It's yet another reason why I believe the Championships to be amongst the most egalitarian in the sporting world.]

Centre Court

Centre Court. Flipping Centre Court!! And what a seat! It took watching the match back on iPlayer later (because the parents insist that they spotted me, but I couldn’t find evidence of this) to realise that I was above the scoreboard on the Royal Box side of the court. The view was fabulous. The seat was comfy and dry. Thanks to the roof, it was warm and rather humid. It was weird to watch a match on grass with all the echoes of being indoors – I can see why some players might not like it, but we must be thankful for the roof ultimately!

I may have only got 2 sets of Djokovic V Tsonga, but it was an awesome match (Tsonga’s straight sets defeat did not reflect the quality of his playing). My insane grin of joy at being on tennis’ hallowed court did not escape me for the entire 90 minutes. And, most importantly, I am now a bona fide British tennis fan because I have slow-clapped a line call challenge on Centre Court.

The verdant green of SW19Djokovic & Tsonga on the verdant green of SW19.

In case you’re wondering, I do now have a new Wimbledon ambition (well, several). I’d love a full day on Centre – perhaps complete with a hospitality package?!? Then there’s a final, or finals. With a Brit winning? Am I pushing it? A girl can dream…