The treasure behind the chicken wire

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a friend entitled: “Embankment Station – Eastbound Platform” – an intriguing subject for an email, I think you’ll agree.* Upon opening it, I was greeted with the following:

‘Get yourself there. A panel has come off, revealing this awesome old map behind it. It features delights such as Aldwych and Holborn Viaduct Stations and describes the Heathrow Terminal 4 station as “under construction”.
It encourages you to “Get to know London”. I missed two trains looking at it and might spend my entire lunch break tomorrow revelling in it once more.’

This photo was attached:

Embankment map Thank you Ollie E for being a fellow TfL Geek.

My brain immediately got to work. Firstly, when was I going to manage a trip to Embankment to see this for myself?? Secondly, how old was the map?

The first question was difficult to answer, given that it’s not a station I often find myself at – but this was definitely worth a separate journey. The second one could be answered, but only with a bit of detective work and logical deduction. Ollie had provided me with some initial clues:
- Heathrow T4 was ‘under construction’.
- Aldwych station was still in use.
- Holborn Viaduct station existed.

Now, anyone who’s been on the Aldwych station tour can tell you that the station ceased to operate in 1994, so it certainly wasn’t older than that. A quick Google revealed that Holborn Viaduct shut in 1990, so we were probably looking at a map from the 1980′s. Wikipedia informed me that Heathrow T4 station opened in 1986, and thus we had a few years in the 1980′s to choose from…

It’s taken two weeks, but today I finally got chance to visit the map myself. The eastbound platform of Embankment station is theoretically on my way home from college, but I’d not taken that route on the first Mondays of term. However, after a meeting there this afternoon, I made a plan to make a brief stop at Embankment before continuing home. In the end, I missed four trains while I pondered the map and my goodness, it was worth it!

Now ‘protected’ by chicken wire (not glamorous!), it was utterly entrancing. No wonder Ollie had missed a couple of trains and been tempted by a return trip. Amongst the features that fascinated me were:

Monument escalator The escalator graphic between Monument & Bank. (Also, the East London Line used to be purple! Presumably that’s from the days when it and the H&C were part of the Met line?)

East LondonThe wonder of East London and Docklands (below) without the DLR. Plus, station names when the docks were still ‘docks’ and not ‘quays’. Oh, and Stepney East? That would now be Limehouse.

Docklands

HeathrowThe aforementioned Heathrow Terminal 4 and also, look how far out west the map goes!

Of course, while this is indeed very interesting, it still didn’t answer the question of the map’s date. [Although, now that I'm thinking about it, most TfL maps have a date on them somewhere. Why did I not choose to look for it??] Another clue lay not in the map, but in the last panel of the platform’s artwork:

Embankment Art

The panels which covered up the map are dated 1985. [Can I just take a moment and decry the artwork at Embankment? I mean honestly! It's reminiscent of a 1980's duvet cover! When you think of the amazing designs featured across the network, I feel this station has been let down rather badly. Incidentally, the tiles around the map suggest that the original platform had the classic District Line style, which has unfortunately been obliterated.] And thus, one may conclude that the map was current immediately prior to their installation – somewhere around 1984.

Of course, Ollie and I are not the only ones to have been fascinated by the map (indeed, someone joined me to peer through the wire – but perhaps they were just curious as to what was captivating my attention). This blogpost reveals that the map dates from the introduction of the ‘Capitalcard’ – the Travelcard’s forerunner – an event that took place in 1983. It would appear that my deductions were pretty much spot on.

Here’s hoping that the treasure behind the chicken wire remains visible for a good while longer!

*Non-Londoners may not be aware that currently (and until the end of the year) the only functioning eastbound platform is on the District/Circle Line. Neither the Bakerloo nor Northern stop at the station at the moment.

Let me count the ways…

Scotland, I don’t want you to go! I realise that I may not have expressed my love adequately in recent years (you have been unvisited since 2010 and for that I am sorry), but please, could we have a second chance?

How about if I listed all the reasons why I love you? Why I think, in the words of a political slogan writer, that we really are better together? Here goes…

  • We’ve officially been together for over three centuries, but go back even further than that. Three hundred years takes work! Are you really ready to throw that all away??
  • Without you, we’d never have reclaimed the Wimbledon men’s singles crown – and that day was one of the happiest in my entire life.
  • You make life so much more tasty! Where would we be without Tunnocks? [Incidentally, are there any plans to make teacakes as large as the ones featured in the Commonwealth Games? I may be interested...] Without potato cakes and oat biscuits; or porridge; or Dundee cake; or whisky; or, quite frankly, anything baked by the lovely Scottish James Morton.
  • You’re beautiful. Perhaps this isn’t mentioned enough. Ok, I was two when I made my only visit to the Highlands, but I totally intend to return one day and I’m proud to be a citizen of the same country as them. And the islands! And the lochs! And the mountains!
  • You produce great people! Not just the aforementioned wielder of a tennis racquet, but also people who have changed the world. For goodness sake, Scots enabled us to both recover from infection quickly and watch TV and chat to friends far away while doing so!
  • Where would Harry Potter be without you? Harry Potter who???
  • You make the rest of us better. Not just thanks to penicillin, but thanks to all those who have shaped what society and its infrastructure looks like today. What would Britain look like if all the Scots were removed from its history? What does our future hold if you’re absent?
  • You throw cracking New Years Eve parties – and that’s saying something, given my loathing for that particular festival!

There are plenty of other things I haven’t mentioned. Like tartan, because I know how you hate being stereotyped. And deep-fried Mars bars, because everyone makes mistakes at least once in their lives. We’ve had our issues in the past, but could we possibly agree to forgive and move on together?

Please Scotland, give us a second chance!

Highlands 1983Surveying the beauty of the Scottish Highlands, 1983

The quirks of regional programming

[Another brilliant example of my ability to completely forget to publish something, even though it's finished. Pretend this was published a week ago, it'll work much better...]

The UK comprises many parts – as we are increasingly aware as September 17th and the Scottish referendum approaches – but it can be the most mundane things that highlight that it is not simply one, monochrome whole. Travel into Wales and immediately road signs are twice the size and only half as comprehensible. Go north of the border or over the Irish Sea and the currency stays the same, but the notes change colour. Even within the entity that is ‘England’, things are different – try buying the humble bread roll in 5 different counties and you’ll probably need 5 different words in order to manage it. [Bap, barm, cobb, bun, muffin...]

As a child, one of the most obvious differences whenever away from home was on the TV. Regional news bulletins involved unfamiliar accents and places I’d never heard of. Holidays in Llandudno provided The Smurfs and Superted in Welsh, which was rather disconcerting to a 6 year old. When we moved to Gloucester, we discovered that our house (thanks to an aerial on a building over the road) was alone amongst our friends in that it picked up BBC South West and HTV as opposed to Midlands Today and Central. [It might not seem like much of difference, but it did mean that we got classic NZ hospital soap Shortland Street, which wasn't shown on Central - it's the little things!]

Fast forward to 2004 and my parents’ move to Belfast. Move to another province within the UK and things change considerably. Many Brits of my generation will remember with fondness the Broom Cupboard of CBBC which was the lynch-pin of weekday evening TV. A daily feature, before that day’s Neighbours was shown (an essential part of 1980′s/90′s TV viewing), was the presenter bidding Northern Irish viewers goodbye several minutes before Neighbours started. I didn’t give it much thought at the time (I was more concerned with what Brad had been up to in Erinsbrough), but once subjected to TV in Northern Ireland on a regular basis, I wondered what they were watching when we were indulging in Ozzie high jinks…

[I've just Googled it. According to this interview with Andi Peters, they had Neighbours an hour later than us. At 5.30pm they had local news instead. Who knows why!]

BBC1-2012-XMAS-ID-TREE-2-NI-1

There are a lot of differences in the scheduling of TV in Northern Ireland. It becomes a bit of an issue at Christmas, when the rest of the country is watching something significant – one year it was the Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special – and instead, viewers in NI are treated to a local comedy like The Folks on the Hill. (That’s not to say that this satirical cartoon isn’t quality entertainment – it is – it’s just that I’d rather have been watching a keenly awaited show that everyone else was enjoying!) Regularly, Mock the Week is shown over an hour later in the province, a fact that led my mother to inadvertently tweet a celebrity for the first time. [Chris Addison had tweeted something witty about the time of that night's episode, which I had retweeted. My mother (thinking that the 'Chris' in question was my friend Christopher, not an award-winning actor/comedian) tweeted back: "...except in Northern Ireland, when it's on at 10.40pm - it takes longer for the boat with the tape to get here".] 

I’ve been over in Belfast for most of the last week and spotted a trailer for some interesting looking drama on BBC1 (it’s got Olivia Colman in it, so it’s got to be good) but noticed that they were being shown at 10.40pm. Lauded new dramas are not broadcast at that time of night – they’re on at 9pm. What was Northern Ireland getting instead? On Monday night, I experienced the schedule shift for myself. While the rest of the country was (potentially) enjoying New Tricks (can’t see the point myself), we settled down to a BBC documentary commemorating the 20th anniversary of the IRA ceasefire.

I was rather surprised that such a programme wasn’t on the national schedule. [You can catch up with it on iPlayer - there's a dedicated Northern Ireland section there.] When I was growing up, and for decades before that, the Troubles were usually the top item on the news. Living in London, I experienced at first hand some of the effects of the IRA’s actions – feeling the tremors of a controlled explosion of a bomb in John Lewis Oxford St during my first term at secondary school; being prevented from taking my usual route to school because of overnight bombs; the secret service protection of a neighbour who worked in the NI Office; not to mention the shock and horror everyone felt at the atrocities carried out by both sides over the years. Without the ceasefires, the Good Friday Agreement and everything else that has paved the road to peace, I wouldn’t now be travelling to Belfast on a semi-regular basis.

The Troubles were not solely a Northern Ireland issue, they were a national issue – an international one in fact. This documentary was an important reminder of how far things have progressed in a comparatively short space of time and thoroughly deserved a national airing. But as I watched, I realised that it was far more detailed than most of the programmes I’ve ever previously seen on the conflict. It was made with those who had lived in and with it year after year after year in mind. For a population where everyone knows someone who has been directly affected by it. Maybe it wouldn’t have made much sense to the typical 9pm BBC1 audience?

As a result, I’ve been somewhat reconciled to the peculiarities of regional scheduling. Clearly, Northern Ireland deserves programmes that cater to their knowledge and experiences, that would probably go over the heads of many people in England, Scotland and Wales. They deserve to watch them at a sensible hour and on a ‘normal’ channel. But, we need to be careful not to exclude the rest of the nation. What happens in one province doesn’t leave the others unaffected. We are – for now – a United Kingdom.

Friday fun for the season of new starts

It’s the first Friday in September. Not the cheeriest of days, but a day for many to celebrate simply because it means that they’ve got through the first week of term. For others, it’s just another Friday to be got through. Either way, let’s find some fun…

To start, how about some DLR themed fun? The Secrets of the London Tube series has featured on previous Fridays, but as many of you will know, the DLR is considered to be a somewhat separate element of the network – nonetheless, the Secrets of the DLR is now available. For many Londoners it remains a line of mystery, never having cause to use it. However, for others, the joy of getting the driver’s seat on a DLR train never dies. [Further joys of living near Stratford: it's where DLR trains begin, therefore the driver's seat is highly attainable!]

If that gets your tube-geek juices going, let’s see how you fair on this (actually quite tricky) Buzzfeed quiz on the tube map. I will disclose that I got 24/25 – my knowledge of the outer rings of the Overground isn’t as good as it could be.

Talking of London, what about a bringing together of the world’s best city, excellent literature and maps? The result is utterly lovely and fascinating:

Exhib artwork.inddLiterary London Prints

And talking of maps, I’ve seen this map of an introvert’s heart a few times on Twitter recently, but wanted to find out where it was actually from (bad, bad Tweeters for not linking directly!). It’s by Gemma Correll and is quite frankly the truth about life as an introvert:

Map Introvert Heart

With the start of the university year fast approaching, now is not really a time for a ‘fun’ visit to Ikea – unless you thrive in a milieu of stressed parents and anxious offspring. [I say this, but Belfast Ikea was perfectly pleasant on Monday, despite a city-wide issue with chip and pin machines.] What is fun, if you’re a lover of Swedish furniture and meatballs, is this collection of every Ikea catalogue front cover since 1951, dutifully collated by Home Designing. I was pleased to discover that both the Poang chair and the Lack coffee table are older than I am…

IKEA-1951-CatalogIn 1951, Ikea seemed to be catering for the likes of Sherlock…

IKEA-1974-Catalog-600x521This would appear to epitomise the 70s’.

Thanks to a four-hour internet outage, this was published after 5pm, but no matter, hopefully it’s still fun!

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!